Saturday, December 30, 2006
Hi Julia! Thanks so much for the interview invitation!
No problem. What’s that really cool building/castle thing at the top of your blog, Static? Is it a real place? Can I go there?
I took that picture at the James Hill House in the Cathedral Hill area of St. Paul. The main mansion is to the right of the building on my blog. I just really liked the repetition of trees and windows. Yes, you can go there! A tour takes about two and half hours, so you’ll also be glad when you’re done going there.
A little history: James Hill built the Great Northern Railway.
Cool! Why is your blog called Static?
That’s a really sad thing… You know how you have to name your blog in order to register on blogger? But you can change the name later? Static just popped into my head and I entered it as a placeholder. I piddled around and didn’t change it. And didn’t change it. Pretty soon it seemed too late. I’ve gotten used to it, but I still sometimes wish I’d called it Popcorn and Prozac. Seems more appropriate somehow. And I get a lot of emails about static cling.
I don't know--I like Static. I went to your MySpace page and saw that you are 96 years old. Wow, you look awfully young and pretty for a 96 year old. Although I understand 96 is the new 76.
Vodka enemas. Fountain of Youth. Well, not really fountain.
So let’s talk about your fame. You have written many acclaimed books, and your latest, Pale Immortal, has one of the coolest titles ever. How did you come up with it?
Thank you, Google. I kept toying with the word immortal. Googled it, and came up with the Keats quote. It was one of those this-is-it moments. And I don’t have those very often.
I find the opening chapters to be satisfyingly creepy, and I love the young protagonist, Graham. My son is named Graham, and I sure wouldn’t want him to find himself in Tuonela, Wisconsin! Is it a real place? If so, does Tuonela resent the fact that you have creepified it?
Ooh, love the name Graham!
I’d originally planned to call the book Land of the Dead. Then that Romero guy came along with that zombie movie, and I had to go on a title quest. I Googled land of the dead and came up with Tuonela, which means land of the dead or dead land, taken from the Finnish epic The Kalevala.
A real place? Hmmm. Some people have been a little miffed by my intro, but I thought everyone would see the wink in it. Apparently not, but now I’ve ridden that ambiguity even though trickery was never my intention.
Have you always been a writer?
I’ve been writing over twenty years.
Publisher’s Weekly says that you “have perfected the art of making a reader’s skin crawl.” Why do you want to make a reader’s skin crawl?
Hah! I really don’t know, but I definitely like it. For me the process tends to recapture that childhood feeling of sitting in the dark telling a spooky story. Where everybody is leaning forward while ready to scramble.
I was the kid who left before the story started. :)
Your books become bestsellers. Is this amazing to you, or is it something you’ve come to expect? What’s your formula for best-sellerdom?
I really do think the publisher determines what will be a bestseller. My publisher put a lot of backing behind my first thriller. I was a single, unemployed mom, and I’ll admit my goal was to write a book that would sell in airports and book clubs. I studied the market and came up with Hush. Not that there’s anything wrong with targeting the market if you aren’t unemployed; I just think the desperation of my financial position gave me the incentive to aim high.
What do you like your writing environment to be?
Complete solitude. I’ve gotten kind of crazy about that.
I met you at Bouchercon (as evidenced in these rather blurry photos of you and Bill Cameron) and I found you to be a very fun person. But you mentioned that you tend to be rather quiet. Is this always true?
Yes. I was painfully shy growing up, and always kind of slinked around and clung to walls hoping nobody would notice me or say anything to me. I still do that. Which makes writing the perfect occupation for me unless somebody asks me to speak on a panel.
You are also a very slim person. But there must be a food out there you would eat too much of if we gave it to you. What’s your guilt food?
Haha! I’ve gained 10 pounds since I started blogging. That means in ten years I’ll weigh 100 pounds more than I weigh now. I love chocolate. All kinds of chocolate in every form. I’m also way too fond of scones.
When you’re not writing or promoting, which I’ve come to realize takes up vast amounts of time, what do you like to do for fun?
Listen to music and go to local music shows. Music is probably my first obsession, although books and music are similar in so many ways. I have a small recording studio in Minneapolis, and sometimes I think about starting a label. But it’s even harder to make a living with music, so I’m pretty sure that’s just a fantasy. Maybe.
Oh, wow. Aren't you afraid that people like me will ask to record a song in your recording studio? Like a whole album? I'm already trying to decide between Abba and The Eagles.
You’ve won both the RITA and the Daphne Du Maurier awards for romantic suspense. Are you a Du Maurier fan?
I was a HUGE Du Maurier fan growing up. I’ve probably read Rebecca five times. Reread it a few years ago, and it’s still wonderful.
You live in Minnesota, as do about seven people I’ve interviewed on this blog. Is Minnesota a mysterious place?
I think Minnesota is too cold to be very mysterious, but we do have a high level of artistic energy here. I used to live in a small town where people were easy to impress. I’d like to move back to a small town, but I worry that I’ll slack off. When I’m surrounded by talent I push myself. And I think art feeds art. Many people say Minnesota has so many writers because of the long, cold winters. That might be true, but I think I write best when I can get outside and walk out a plot problem.
How can people find out more about you and your splendid works?
My website hasn’t been updated in a year or more, so that’s not the best place to start. I would say my blog, Myspace, and the pale Immortal blog.
Thanks for chatting with me, Anne!
The boys and I went out for a little birthday luncheon. The restaurant we chose gives you a discount for your birthday based on how old you are. If you are one hundred, you get a free meal; if you're 92, you get 92% off. I thought this was nice, since I'm getting to an age that will make a significant difference in the bill. :) They also bring you a piece of Tollhouse Pie, which I am about to enjoy in the photo.
Having an almost-New Year's Eve birthday always makes me feel a blend of nostalgia and responsibility. I need to think about how to make the future better while making sure to enjoy the blessings of the past. I also need to plan, as a writer, what I can realistically accomplish in the coming year--with writing, agents, publishers, etc. It's a problem I didn't once have, so that in itself is a blessing!
I have a book that will come out in 2007, but I hope to sell at least one other one in this same year. And yet I don't want to be a bad or neglectful mother, so I'll have to find that special balance that I suppose all parents seek.
Tomorrow I'll be contemplating all the wisdoms I have, hopefully, gleaned from 2006, but I'll be planning carefully for a 2007 that will make me proud to say that I accomplished something before that next birthday, and that next slice of Tollhouse Pie.
Today is my birthday. My son took this photo, and I thought it was appropriate to put it here, since these are my parents, and I consider them at least partially responsible for my birth. Okay, fully responsible. My mother, Katherine, and my dad, Bill, threw me a little party at their lovely home yesterday. They made chicken paprikas and German spaeztle, and an apple strudel with real whipped cream for dessert. Naturally, I ate large quantities.
Since my mom has saved every cake decoration since about 1960, she put a little tribute to birthdays past on the cake. It looked like this:There's the stork who brought me; and Alice in Wonderland-- to represent, I suppose, my confusion about life in general; and Bambi and a couple of ballerinas (one fell down, as I would if I attempted ballet); and then there are lots of beach umbrellas to protect Alice and the dancers from the bright flames. I found this cake very fun.
This also marks the birthday of Rudyard Kipling, long a favorite poet of mine because of his masterful use of rhyme and meter. As a teen I was greatly moved by his poem "If," which told me that if I did a lot of wise things, I'd be a man, my son.
But I suppose it says a lot about me that one of my current favorite Kipling poems is gruesome and bitterly ironic. It's called "The Hyaenas." And I'll share it with you now.
by Rudyard Kipling
After the burial parties leave
And the baffled kites have fled;
The wise hyaenas come out at eve
To take account of our dead.
How he died and why he died
Troubles them not a whit.
They snout the bushes and stones aside
And dig till they come to it.
They are only resolute they shall eat
That they and their mates may thrive,
And they know that the dead are safer meat
Than the weakest thing alive.
(For a goat may butt, and a worm may sting,
And a child will sometimes stand;
But a poor dead soldier of the King
Can never lift a hand.)
They whoop and halloo and scatter the dirt
Until their tushes white
Take good hold of the Army shirt,
And tug the corpse to light,
And the pitiful face is shewn again
For an instant ere they close;
But it is not discovered to living men--
Only to God and those
Who, being soulless, are free from shame,
Whatever meat they may find.
Nor do they defile the dead man's name--
That is reserved for his kind.
See what I mean? Yeah! You tell 'em, Rudyard! Indict humanity with your clever verses!
Anyway. I suppose it's odd that I chose to put a poem about corpses devoured by hyenas in my birthday blog, but there you have it.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Today I need to do some major revisions on a book that I hope to be sending to my agent soon. Unfortunately, the following things are impeding my chances of getting that done.
1. Blogging is easier than revising.
2. I want to take a nap.
3. While my mind is racing with things I need to do, phone calls I need to make, new toys I need to put away, dishes I need to wash, etcetera--my body mostly wants to sit in a chair.
4. The office is the coldest room in the house. I would rather be sitting ON the heater, inside a tub of hot tea.
5. I found my morning shower to be a difficult task.
6. I want to take a nap.
7. I need to make some sort of nutritious food, but I don't have the wherewithal to open cabinet doors and make decisions.
8. Upon reflection, the entire book seems dumb.
9. The cat is sitting on me.
10. The children just popped in a movie--that's just about my speed.
Anyone else ever been in this bind?
(image from marthaschindler.com)
Monday, December 25, 2006
"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'"
A Christmas Carol
Sunday, December 24, 2006
From A Child’s Christmas in Wales
“Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like pure and grandfather moss, minutely white ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb numb thunderstorm of white torn Christmas cards.
‘Were there postmen then too?’
‘With sprinkling eyes and wind cherried noses, on spread frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was the ringing of bells.’
‘You mean the postman went rat-a-tat tat and the doors rang?’
‘I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them."
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Every year I make gingerbread cookies for the children in my son's class, in honor of Ian's Christmastime birthday. He was born on December 23, 1994--one week before I turned thirty. I think of him as the last accomplishment of my twenties, and as usual, I was getting things done just before the deadline. :) Now Ian tells me that he'll always know how old I am, because he simply has to add thirty to his own age.
Here he is with his traditional breakfast present (and that's sparkling grape juice, at his request). We have the day all planned out. One of the pleasures of a near-Christmas birthday is that you're guaranteed you're never in school on your special day, not with a date this close to the holiday. And of course this year it falls on a Saturday, so that's not a problem.
Some people say they see a strong resemblance between us. Here's our decade photo: he was turning ten, and I was turning forty. I think I can see the mother/son resemblance a bit here (despite the blurred photo). In any case, though, even if we didn't look alike it wouldn't change the fact that we ARE alike. We're both Capricorns; I don't know if that has anything to do with our very similar natures, but my son and I tend to think alike. This has caused many an argument, since we tend to feel stubborn at the same time, but it also means that we see the world in the same way, and we laugh at the same things.
And here's the thing we have most in common: when asked what he might like for a birthday meal, Ian said wistfully: "Fudge."
That's how I know he wasn't switched with some other child at the hospital. :)
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The Library Journal loved your latest mystery, The Motive From The Deed. How did you come up with this interesting title? What’s the premise of the novel?
The title is from a quote by Alexander Pope, “Infer the Motive from the Deed and show, that what we chanced was what we meant to do.” The hard part about plotting historical mysteries is figuring out how the detectives will solve the crime, when they don’t have any hard evidence. The quote suggested to me how Blue Satan and Mrs. Kean should think about this one.
The premise is that a disreputable bookseller is murdered in the shadows of St. Dunstan’s Church (London). Mrs. Kean’s brother Jeremy is a chapbook writer who has scraped by under the murdered man’s patronage. When he is accused of the crime, Mrs. Kean must call on Blue Satan’s assistance to help her brother. The bookseller is modeled closely on an actual bookseller of the day, who was much hated by Pope and his friends.
You have also written two other mysteries in The Blue Satan series. Who or what is the Blue Satan? It’s very intriguing!
Blue Satan is the name given to my detective, Gideon Fitzsimmons, Viscount St. Mars, when he is mistaken for a highwayman. Gideon is arrested in the first book for a crime he did not commit, and unable to prove his innocence, he escapes and becomes an outlaw. When he stops a carriage, dressed in a mask and a blue satin cape, he is believed to be a highway robber, and is given the name.
You are joining a stellar group of writers interviewed on this blog who are from Texas. Do Texans in particular like mystery?
LOL! I don’t think Texans like mysteries any more than the average person. I meet mystery lovers wherever I go.
You’ve been nominated for both the Herodotus and the Ben Franklin awards, and you describe yourself on your website (very cool site by the way) as “a starving author with a passion for history.” What fascinates you about history?
I wish I knew. I can’t remember a time when I was not interested in the past, specifically people in the past. It has always seemed to me that they led much more exciting lives. I’m sure I romanticize it, but I’ve always been fascinated by people who lived a life very different from my own, and you can’t get much more different than the physically challenging lives of people in the past.
You also had a career in International Banking and a shortlived veterinary career. Are you an overachiever, Patricia? :)
I’d better correct the record. I was in international banking for a very large bank, but when I decided to leave it, I had to go back to school to take all the prerequisite courses for veterinary school. I worked without pay for three different vets while I took biology and physics, and retook chemistry since mine from college was too old to count. Then I got pregnant (on purpose – I was nearing 30), and I took some time off, not wanting to expose my child to the chemicals in a lab. When we moved back from Chicago to Houston, I realized the vet school was more than 100 miles away, and I did not want to leave my new baby to commute. So that was the end of my veterinary dreams, but I think I’m much more cut out to be a writer. I’ll be a doctor in my next life.
You now live in Newport Beach, California. How does it compare to Texas? Do you like it there?
Newport Beach is beautiful, and a paradise of sorts. The weather is perfect most of the time. People are friendly, and healthy and very glad to be lucky enough to live here. What I miss about Texas is the big sky, the space (there are WAY too many people in California), and the more relaxed atmosphere. It is casual here, but the standards are very high, so keeping up with the Joneses is a challenge for a sluggard like me.
What’s the most fascinating period in history, from your perspective?
That’s the toughest question you’ve asked. Right now, I would say the early 18th century, since that’s my period, but you can scratch the surface of any period and once you get into the research, it becomes fascinating. I never thought I’d be interested in Orange County history, yet I’ve bought three books on the history of my little town out here and have loved learning more. Wherever I go, I always read about the history of my destination. I like uncovering the past. It’s rather like a mystery or a puzzle.
If you could travel back in time, would you go there?
I’d go if I could return. The worst part about the early 18th century was that it was before the English novel was developed. What would life have been like before Jane Austen?? Books were very expensive, and they were aimed mostly at men. I doubt I could have been happy in a world with so little to read, and without reading the classics, I doubt I could have become an author myself. I suppose I could have entertained myself with daydreams, the way I always have, but after a certain age, I’m not sure it would have been enough.
One of your romances is called The Parson’s Pleasure. Is that as deliciously naughty as it sounds?
Probably not. The parson is handsome, and I hope he’s sexy, but there was no sex in Harlequin Regency Romances, so you’d have to fill in with your imagination. I’ve had no trouble doing that with my favorite authors, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, however, so I hope I managed to convey the same.
You have a puppy named Puppet. What sort of pooch is he?
He’s a she. She’s a little mutt we got from a rescue group. She was 8 weeks old, and the cage said, “Spaniel mix.” We haven’t found any spaniel yet and now she’s almost 3. Although she does like to chase birds, so maybe there’s some cocker in there. But she looks a bit like a Papillion without very big ears, a little more like a Pomeranian in the face, and she’s black and tan.
If you could hop on a plane right now and go wherever you pleased free of charge, where would you go? Why?
London. I need to do some more research, and I’d like to look for some more antique prints. The endsheets of my hardcover books are always a copy of an antique print that I choose and buy myself.
But if you’d give me a little more time to plan, I’d go to Africa. I’ve always wanted to go. It’s one of my life’s goals.
How can readers find out more about you and your mysteries?
They can always google me, or visit my website http://www.patriciawynn.com/. I am thinking about starting a Blue Satan yahoogroup next year, but I first have to come up with a name that doesn’t include Blue Satan. Unfortunately, I have found that the connotations of both words can attract some strange folks! And I’d like to keep the talk clean. I may need to name it for Mrs. Kean.
Thanks for the interview, Patricia!
Thank you! This was fun.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
CAT ON A NIGHT OF SNOW
by Elizabeth Coatsworth
Cat, if you go outdoors you must walk in the snow.
You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,
Stay by the fire, my Cat. Lie still, do not go. See how the flames are leaping and hissing low.
Outdoors, the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night,
and more than cats move, lit by our eyes' green light,
Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might,
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
You are a former racecar driver, now a writer and psychology teacher, and a self-proclaimed social phobic. What’s more frightening—being in a car hurtling through space at more than 100 miles per hour, or facing a room full of strangers?
That’s easy – the room full of strangers scares the willies out of me. Racing, if done right, should raise your heart rate once in a while, but overall it’s actually kind of relaxing – after the green flag falls. It sounds strange, but when you think about it racing is just a bunch of cars all going in the same direction at roughly the same speed – kind of like the interstate (or perhaps more precisely the Autobahn). The main difference is that, unlike on the ‘Bahn, you’re taking very sharp corners at ridiculously high G-forces, at the limits of the tires’ adhesion coefficients (science-speak for ‘burning rubber’). I’ve been scared once or twice on the track while racing with someone I didn’t know who did something I didn’t expect, or when something critical broke unexpectedly on the car, but a room filled with people I don’t know ALWAYS gives me flopsweat. I try not to show it, though, because being “out there” is really a large part of this writing game. It’s funny – I also teach college psychology, and standing in front of a group of strangers and speaking is a cinch. It’s just having to interact with them that makes me antsy. Go figure.
If I had my druthers, I’d probably live on top of a mountain somewhere in a cabin with a really nice woodworking shop attached, and only come down once in a blue moon for groceries or other supplies. Thank goodness for my socially competent wife Elaine – without her I surely would have become a hermit!
You also make your own guitars—a hobby you just sort of picked up along the way. Are you a person who actually craves a creative outlet? What does the psychology teacher in you say about this?
Creativity is very important in my life. I grew up in a family where self-expression was highly encouraged. My brother is a fine guitarist, but I can’t play two consecutive notes correctly, so I build the instruments. People seldom think about it when they go to a symphony concert or a jazz festival, but almost as much work goes into crafting the instruments the musicians play as the musicians put into learning the music. A good guitar takes between 100 and 150 hours of close-tolerance woodworking, often with exotic hardwoods that would cost a week’s wages to replace if you were to – say – break a side while bending it to the traditional guitar shape. Since I can’t make the music, I make the music maker, which is an art unto itself.
As for the psychology instructor inside me, he would tend to say that I am stuck in Erikson’s Generativity versus Stagnation stage. With both the novel-writing and the guitar-building, I’m obviously aware that I have more good years behind me than ahead, and I’m concerned with leaving something behind that says, “I was here.” A truly good book or a fine musical instrument can last centuries beyond the lifetime of the person who crafts them. I kind of like the idea that, perhaps a hundred years from now, some bluegrass picker will be pounding out Rocky Top on one of my guitars.
Ah, Good Ol' Rocky Top. You have been nominated for the Shamus Award three times, most recently for Cordite Wine. How did you celebrate this last nomination?
It was interesting. We had just gotten back from our annual beach vacation, and my wife and daughter had decided to redecorate my daughter’s room. They were in the process of pulling down the old wallpaper, with shreds and shreds of paper at their feet, when I read the email in my office down the hall. I got up, walked to my daughter’s room, pulled my wife to me, and said, “Kiss me, you fool!”
She did, and it was pretty good. Then I said, “I bet that’s the first time you ever kissed a three-time Shamus Award Nominee.” I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t call the cops, she screamed so loud. Then I went out, bought four Angus ribeyes for the grill, and a very expensive bottle of merlot. We had a first class dinner that night. That’s about as celebratory as I get.
On your blog you noted that “Nobody is going to give a major mystery award to a guy published by a micropress. It ain't gonna happen. They'll happily nominate me, and I'm grateful for that, but to expect any more than that is folly.” Why is this, do you think?
First of all, I don’t want anyone to think that I meant that in a disgruntled way. I really am extremely grateful for the nominations I’ve received, even if I never have really expected to win. A small press – say, someone like Akashic or Hard Case Crime, or maybe even Bleeker Books – has a much better chance of grabbing off an award than a one-author house generating a single book each year. Before my first nomination, the smallest houses receiving major nominations for the Edgar, Shamus, or Anthony to that point were The Imaginary Press (K.J.A. Wishnia), and Ugly Town (Vic Gischler). Neither won. Back Alley Books probably most closely matches Imaginary Press in size and format, and I am damned proud to represent the only press of its kind ever to get three nominations for any major mystery award.
This is a crazy business, but it is – when all is said and done – a business. Cordite Wine has sold fewer than a thousand copies. Okay, a lot fewer than a thousand copies. I’ve been an award judge myself (Edgars once, Shamus twice), and I am happy to say that – for the most part – judging is based on the quality of the writing.
On the other hand, speaking now as a psychologist, I tend to believe that books from major publishers tend to be read with something like a ‘halo effect’ surrounding them. It is my belief, again having been a judge, that some books may be given ‘subconscious points’ in the judging process, either because they arrive with some degree of critical acclaim as a result of active promotion by their well-heeled publishing companies, or are written by authors the judges already know to be excellent – most of whom are published by major houses. That being the case, the likelihood that a book which is virtually unknown and published by a mousehole house is going to take home all the marbles is extremely remote. If it does happen at some point in the future, I’d say it will happen with the Shamus Awards, because the PI genre just isn’t terribly strong at the major houses right now, and is largely being preserved by independent publishers.
I’m not holding my breath, though. Last year, I secured the services of a terrific agent, who is working her butt off to get me signed with one of the major houses. I would love to see my next nomination come for a book with a much more recognizable colophon.
I feel obligated to say this again. It is an honor to be nominated. Sounds like the mantra of losers, but try it sometime. Just being nominated can have you walking on clouds for months.
I will let you know. When did you start writing mysteries?
When I was about fourteen. I wrote a series of short stories featuring a character named Tucker Donovan. They were dreadful – very derivative of the worst that television had to offer at that time. Lots of maiden-saving and wisecracks while beating up the bad guy. I cringe to think of it.
However, it was around that time that I had the very great fortune to be taken under the wing of Belva Dare Steele, a playwright who was also a teacher in my high school. She liked my writing, and decided to nurture it. I took her Creative Writing course, but she also provided me with many extra assignments which we worked on outside of class. The biggest lesson she taught me was to persevere, and that there was nothing I couldn’t achieve if I wanted it badly enough and worked hard enough. She also told me to write something every day, even if it was only a couple of paragraphs or a particularly well-crafted line of dialogue. She said that writing is a physical as well as a mental act, and that frequent exercise keeps your chops in shape. Over time, it also helps you learn how to recognize dreck when you produce it.
Sadly, time was something she did not have in abundance. She passed away the next year. She never told me while she was working with me, but she was dying even then of cancer. I dedicated one of my books to her. It would be completely accurate to say that, but for Dare Steele, I never would have become half the writer I am today. I owe her a lot. I’m aware of that every time I sit down to the keyboard, and I realize that, as I write, she is looking over my shoulder.
It’s starting to creep me out a little.
What was your major in college? Was racing a career you planned?
I did consider a career in racing. That was in 1973, however (yeah, I’m kind of old…), and back then racing was nothing like it is today. There wasn’t a huge amount of money to be made by the average driver, and the glamour factor was definitely much lower than it is now. At that time, NASCAR’s top division ran up to 60 races a year, many of them on dirt tracks slightly less illuminated than your typical high school football stadium. Most of the drivers openly smoked and chewed tobacco, and there was a lot of sleeping around. Fights in the pits were common. It was not very respectable at all.
The upside back then was that you could build a car in your garage for less than $10,000 and go run with Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and Cale Yarborough. A company could put their name on the side of your car by buying two or three sets of tires. There was no corporate pressure on the second tier drivers to produce every time the green flag dropped. Nobody had a wind tunnel or a squadron of engineers working overtime to squeeze one more horsepower out of the engines. The cars actually looked like the street cars on which they were based.
I worked for the late Rick Newsom’s Winston Cup team between 1973 and 1976. I was racing from time to time at the local dirt tracks, and entertained thoughts of moving up. I asked Rick what he thought. He asked me if I enjoyed what I was doing. I told him I was. He told me to keep doing it, because going pro meant turning your entire life over to racing. If you weren’t tire testing, you were making a PR appearance at the opening of a new grocery store, or doing lunch with potential sponsors, or simply trying to put the pig back together well enough to get to just one more race. Rick eventually talked me out of going racing, and my parents talked me into going to college at the ripe old age of 22.
I graduated with a degree in psychology, but that was all an accident, or maybe fate. My intent for the longest time was to get my degree in physics, and then go to Cornell for grad school, to sit at the feet of Carl Sagan and learn all there is to learn about cosmology and astrophysics. Then, I wanted to move to Socorro, New Mexico, to work at the Very Large Array radiotelescope range, perhaps with the SETI project. You may recall the VLA from the movie Contact with Jodie Foster. Mile after mile of huge radiotelescopes sweeping the heavens to measure all sorts of celestial radiation, and perhaps the wayward remnant of an intelligent broadcast from an ancient alien civilization.
Yeah, it’s another solitary profession, I know. What can I say? There aren’t any lighthouse keepers anymore. In any case, I didn’t become an astrophysicist. Instead, I became a psychologist. As you might imagine, there was a woman involved. But that’s another story…
Speaking of women, what does your wife think of your multitude of successes and creative endeavors? Did she always know you were a creative person?
The older I get, the more convinced I am that I don’t understand a damned thing about women. My only consolation is that my wife, Elaine, clearly doesn’t understand men. I have tried to get her to see things from my point of view.
“Man like fire,” I say, when referring to cooking.
“Man like wood. Man like stone,” I tell her, regarding interior decorating.
“Man like to yell at television during football games,” I explain, repeatedly and futilely.
She, to her credit, has attempted to get me to abandon animal skins and eat with utensils.
She is also my number one fan, though she does note sometimes that I seem to maintain employment solely to support my hobbies.
She might be right. She knew I was creative when we married, but I think she believed it would wear off. Almost twenty-three years later, I’m still going strong. I try to finish at least one book each year, because she likes to read them on our beach trips. Man, if that isn’t loving support, what is?
I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention that she is a graduate of the UNC School of Journalism, and has been a professional editor for almost thirty years. She has edited all my books, and is easily as responsible for any success they’ve enjoyed as I am. She refuses to take any credit for them, but I couldn’t have done it without her.
At Bouchercon, you wore a tag that said “Will blurb for beer.” Does this still apply if I SEND you some beer?
I’m rather partial to Anchor Porter and Anchor Steam right now. I also like Scrimshaw Pilsner, Labatt’s Blue, and Bass Pale Ale. Just be aware that I tend to blurb after drinking the beer, so it may come out something like “Juckith Buddley’s epic cozy ‘In Hot Thighs’ will leave you drooling in the aisles…” or something to that effect. It won’t be spelled well, either. But thanks for the beer…
Foiled again. There’s a cool picture of you and Robert B. Parker on your website. He also wrote a blurb for your Shamus-nominated mystery novel, Cordite Wine. Did you feel intimidated meeting this big name in the business?
Y’know what’s funny about that picture? If you go over to Diane Vogt’s website, she has a picture of herself sitting next to the Bobster, and he’s in the exact same pose! The pictures were taken about two minutes apart during a booksigning at SleuthFest in Fort Lauderdale a couple of years ago. Somehow, Parker and I wound up signing at the same time, just three seats away from each other, so I asked if he would mind doing a picture.
He had just finished saying in his panel presentation that nobody on earth had seen his doctoral dissertation since it was published in 1971. As it happened, I had a copy in my briefcase, and asked him to sign it. We became fast buddies. We tossed back a few beers and told war stories. He renamed his dog Pearl after me…
Well, not really. Actually, we did the picture, and he eventually went his way and I went mine. However, when Cordite Wine was in prepress, I sent him a copy of the galley proofs, reminded him of the poor schlub who carried around his dissertation like a crazed stalker, and asked him if he’d consider blurbing my new book. Got a letter back from him several weeks later, with the blurb and his warmest wishes for the book. I have it framed in my office now.
This was a big moment for me. I started reading Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels back in the early 1980’s, at a time when I was writing thrillers. He really turned me on to the private eye novel as an art form, and was a huge influence on my own PI novels, especially my Eamon Gold series.
Interestingly, I didn’t feel intimidated, any more than I am when I’m around people like S.J. Rozan, Reed Coleman, P.J. Parrish, or any of a number of other big names in the business. By the time I met him, I was in full conference mode, and was relatively in control of my interpersonal anxiety.
There was a moment, however, when I was overcome with pure awe. At Sleuthfest last year, I was chatting in the bar with one half of P.J. Parrish, Kelly Nichols, when the other half, Kris Montee, walked up and said, “You have to come join us at this other table!”
We followed her, and I found myself sitting at a table with Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, and Robert Crais!
I’m sad to say that my social phobia kicked in with a vengeance, and it was all I could do to get through the introductions. After that, I just sat and marveled at the fact that – just five years earlier – I had only known these people from book covers, and now I was sitting at a table knocking back jello shots with them! Okay, not really. I actually nursed my ginger ale and listened intently, hoping to learn whatever I could from the masters. Didn’t learn much, but it was really cool.
Your writing contains a lot of snappy dialogue. Is this the sort of thing you hear in your head? Perhaps while you’re making guitars or driving racecars?
Actually, it comes to me in the shower. I’m really snarky in the shower.
You know how, sometimes, you come up with just the right comeback line five minutes after you really need it? The fun thing about writing is that you have time to think dialogue through, run it a few times to work on timing and delivery, and get it just right before you put it down on paper. For some reason, this works best for me in the shower. Often, my lovely spouse Elaine will walk into the bathroom to ask me a question, note the wallpaper peeling off the wall, and the cloud of steam hanging two feet down from the ceiling, while I stand in the shower mumbling to myself.
She’ll just say, “Oh, you’re writing. I’ll come back later.”
I owe whatever success I’ve enjoyed as an author to a very large hot water heater.
I’m trying to write my natural gas bill off as a legitimate business expense. As for the ‘snappy’ part, that’s just the way the people in my head talk. I’ve had several friends read my books, and then say “It sounds just the way you talk!”, but I’m not aware of ripping off sharp rejoinders or witty repartee on a regular basis. I have been told that I have a curious way of describing things, but I probably ripped those off from more interesting people I’ve encountered along the way. It’s possible that I’m nothing more than the Uncle Milty of hardboiled fiction.
What are you writing now?
I am actually spending most of my time re-writing. I submitted a manuscript to my incredibly wonderful agent a couple of months back, and she loved it, loved it, loved it… except…
There is an issue of action and immediacy. I wrote it as a character-driven piece, and it came out just the way I wanted it, but apparently the way I want it is… how can I put this? I think the word is unsellable. So, I’ve jacked up the main characters and most of the snappy dialogue, and I’m putting a new book underneath them. I hear this is not uncommon in the world of major publishing, which is where I hope this book will land. I suppose I should get used to it. It’s called The Unresolved Seventh. I think. They might want to change that, too.
When not rewriting, I’m working on the third Eamon Gold novel, entitled Brittle Karma. I’ve just recently finished the first draft of the sequel to a book my agent is trying to sell, featuring the police chief in a three-cop North Carolina town. The first title in the series is Six Mile Creek. My sequel is Thunder Moon, and I think I’ve let it cook on the back burner long enough to return to it with a fresh eye for rewriting.
I’ve been toying with a fifth Pat Gallegher book, still set in pre-Katrina New Orleans, entitled Paid in Spades. I have about twenty thousand words in the can. I have a forensic psychological thriller in the early stages of first draft, entitled The Four-Nine Profile. The lead character in that one will be more like me than any protag I’ve ever written, as it is derived from experiences I had working for the courts in Cabarrus County, North Carolina.
I’ve laid down about ten thousand words on a sort of Jack Armstrong, All America Boy meets Indiana Jones adventure yarn entitled Carter Crossfield and the Excalibur Runes. It’s very self-indulgent, which is the fun part. Basically, I’m just waiting for inspiration to strike on one of them, and then I’ll probably write it all the way to the end.
I’ve also been on a tear writing short stories of late, including a noir amateur detective piece I have out to Linda Landrigan at AHMM entitled "Paper Walls/Glass Houses"; a Pat Gallegher short story which introduces the protag from Six Mile Creek and Thunder Moon (Judd Wheeler) entitled "The Gods for Vengeance Cry"; an Eamon Gold short called "Religious Wrong"; a piece set in the 1920s revolving around the use of detective agencies to break up labor strikes entitled "Busting Red Heads"; and a sort of wacky satire piece in which a costumed crimefighter named Captain Dynamo, in his secret identity as divorce dick Eddie Shane, investigates the serial murder of other caped crusaders. It’s entitled "Superheroes".
Listen, it's time to quit slacking off and actually do some writing. Geez. You make me feel like quite the layabout. What’s your reading-for-fun table look like?
Right now, it’s a little skinny, because I’m waiting for Santa to replenish it. Over the last several months, I’ve read: S.J. Rozan’s Absent Friends, which made me want to slit my wrists because I fear I’ll never write that well; Reed Farrel Coleman’s Redemption Street; Robert B. Parker’s Blue Screen; James Lee Burke’s Crusader’s Cross, after which I actually did slit my wrists, but only enough to make my autobiography interesting; and right now I’m reading Jonathan Kellerman’s Rage.
Kellerman and Clive Cussler are two of my guilty pleasures. I don’t believe that either one is a particularly outstanding author, and in fact I don’t think Cussler can write at all. I do love their stories, though. Cussler writes ripping yarns, and Kellerman has such interesting characters that I read them but don’t really admit to it much. The thing that bugs me most about Kellerman is that he refuses to end the book when the story is over. He writes the longest denouements since the fall of the Roman Empire. But I read them, bless their hearts. And I can’t wait for each new title.
In my ‘waiting to be read’ bookcase next to my bed ( is that lazy, or what? ), I have a couple of Michael Connellys (The Closers and The Lincoln Lawyer ), Robert Crais’ The Two Minute Rule, Kellerman’s Gone, Larry McMurtry’s Duane’s Depressed, and five or six Ross Macdonald novels I’m going to re-read, because I haven’t read them in thirty years, so they’ll be practically new to me. I also have a copy of Richard Brautigan’s psychedelic PI novel Dreaming of Babylon that I want to get to soon. I have a Dale Brown techno-military thriller in the wings also, and a couple of nonfiction books I’ve been meaning to crack.
I hope that Santa brings me a case of books…
What are your other hobbies that don’t relate to the world of mystery?
I am a gourmet cook, which always surprises people until they see me waddle in through the door. I specialize in Italian, grilling, and fish dishes. My signature dish is something called Shrimp Gamberini, which is sautéed garlic seasoned shrimp, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and Portobello mushrooms served over pesto-drenched capellini pasta. Sometimes I add three or four grilled and marinated bacon-wrapped sea scallops. It’s the dish my wife asks for on special occasions.
I’m also an amateur astronomer – a holdover from my days as a physics major. I have several scopes, including a 60mm short-tube refractor I use for quick glimpses, and a monster 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain with electronic slo-mo controls and off-axis guiding for astrophotography work. I use the monster for deep-sky photos of nebulae and galaxies and stuff.
I enjoy other kinds of woodworking in addition to instrument making, including building arts and crafts furniture, and woodturning.
Lately, I’m getting into building stereo speakers. Next month, I’ll get turned on by something else. It drives Elaine crazy. Every time she turns around, I have a new passion, and I have to read everything that’s ever been printed about it.
Is there one mystery you read that made you think, “Yes, I’d like to do this one day?”
Oh, hell yeah. Most of the stuff by James Lee Burke leaves me deeply depressed for days after I shut the covers, because I would love to have his lyric sense and feel for the magnolia-dripped Louisiana bayous. He’s one of those authors who write stuff that makes me stop and think about the words. His prose is about as transparent as a brick, but I do love reading it.
As I mentioned, I recently finished S.J. Rozan’s Absent Friends, a paean to post 9/11 New York City. It is a beautiful book, which I believe marks S.J.’s transition from exceptional genre writer to first-class literary author. I dearly look forward to her next book, In This Rain, which she describes as a mature love letter to Manhattan. I consider S.J. one of my friends in this crazy business, and it’s a true honor to be able to say I know someone who writes this well.
I have been reading Reed Farrel Coleman a lot lately (Walking the Perfect Square, Redemption Street, The James Deans). He’s another author, like Burke, with a background in poetry, and it shows in his prose. I also like his insights into his characters’ backgrounds and motivations. I met Reed at a conference several years ago, and he subsequently changed part of a new book he’s written based on a talk I gave on traumatic amnesia. Gave me credit in the Acknowledgements section, too. Reed and I were both nominated for the Shamus this year, in the same category, and I knew right after reading The James Deans that he was going to win. I joke about him taking my award, but he really deserved it. The book was head and shoulders above the competition.
The best book I’ve read in the last fifteen years was Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. I’ve heard the same thing from a lot of people. After finishing it, I considered trying my hand at a historical epic, but decided after a couple of halting starts that I needed a little more seasoning before taking it on. I have a back-burnered project waiting for me to get back to it, a story covering seventy years in a man’s life, from the moment he observes the birth of the baby who will become the woman he loves unrequitedly all his highly accomplished life. Working title is Hopsewee Plantation. On my thumb drive, it’s slugged as ‘Oprah Book’.
The hard thing about having a favorite book over the last decade and a half is that you expect the author to match it with every title. After Pillars of the Earth, I read everything Follett subsequently wrote. I especially liked Night Over Water, and A Dangerous Fortune, but then he began to devolve back into writing second-rate thrillers. Finally, after I reluctantly slogged through the nearly unbearable Code To Zero, I decided it was time to get in touch. I wrote him an email and asked him not to do that again. He actually wrote back, and apologized that I hadn’t enjoyed his book, as he had put a lot of work into it. He hoped that I would enjoy his next book better. Sadly, that book was the execrable Jackdaws. I haven’t read a lot of Ken Follett since then. I hear he’s planning a sequel to Pillars of the Earth. When it comes out, I’ll probably give it a spin.
How can readers find out more about you and your award-nominated mysteries?
You can always drop by my website: http://richardhelms.net/ . I update it relatively frequently, and you can even watch me build a guitar step-by-step. Also, I will be appearing in a Southeast Mystery Writers of America Skill Build at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC, on February 3, 2007. I’ll be doing a panel with Reed Coleman on Character, Dialogue, Serials, and Standalones, and after a break I’ll sit on a panel on publishing. It’s a full day of writing tips for a very low price.
Hope to see you there!
And I hope you don't get flopsweat.
Thanks for chatting, Rick. See, it was painless because we didn’t have to meet in person. Although now if we ever do meet, we won’t feel like strangers, and there will be less of an intimidation factor. :)
Sunday, December 17, 2006
by John Greenleaf Whittier
". . . Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingëd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa's leaning miracle. . . . "
I love Snowbound because it takes a child's view of the miraculous transformations wrought by nature--something we adults far too often fail to see.
By the way, the other fireside poets were also in the Three-Name Club: They are Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. I wonder when poets and writers stopped using their full names. Do we sound less impressive now?
(image from www.seacoastnh.com)
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Granted, the child is going to be twelve, but that is the worst age for what I call the Sisyphus Syndrome. That is, wait until your mother has cleaned something (with much angst, sweat, and secret swearing), and then decide that the newly-cleaned spot is perfect for the game you wanted to play. Bring out all of the things needed for the game: swords, action figures, paper and markers for map making. Bring the smelly dog along, naturally. And don't forget some kind of crumbly snack. There! Now you have transformed your mother into Sisyphus. And this can be done with ease ALL OVER THE HOUSE!
After twelve years, though, I should have learned my lesson. It's just family coming, and they know by now that I do not live in the most sparkling of castles. I should meet them at the door and say, "You're here because you love me and my children, so please reserve judgment on anything you see that might be termed slovenly." But I don't do that. I stress, and clean, and complain, and spend too much money on food that my ever-dieting family will not eat, and when the party is over I slump exhausted in a chair, viewing the new mess that I must now put away.
Oh, Sisyphus, move over. There are plenty of us pushing with you.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
However, my nostalgia continues to make me slaver over things like this, and I know my sons would love this show. Remember what a great straight woman 99 was for Agent 86's idiotic behavior? And how she called him "Mox," because of her posh accent? I wanted to be 99 when I was a kiddy, so sooner or later we'll have to buy this (or rent it, but that's not as fun).
Granted, we're pinching pennies this Christmas--we're even sort of poor (but rich in love, happiness, blah, blah). But I might have to start socking away the pennies for a purely indulgent gift.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
This is a copy of my Christmas card photo this year. I'm sharing it with you as well, along with the wish that you have a peaceful and happy holiday season.
Also in the spirit of giving, I'll be sponsoring a contest later this week--the prizes are free copies of The Dark Backward! More on that later.
May your days be merry and bright!
Sunday, December 10, 2006
"It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself."
Saturday, December 09, 2006
You always sign your letters with the postscript “Bubba Says Hey.” What makes Bubba so affable? Could it be his new movie deal for Lonely Street?
Bubba acts friendly in hopes that people might not notice what an incompetent doofus he happens to be. Bubba and I are both pretty chipper these days, since the move deal came through.
Speaking of Lonely Street, which was your first book—how did you happen to conceive of Bubba Mabry and the idea of writing mysteries about him?
I was a feature writer for the Albuquerque Journal, trying to write mysteries on the side, when I did a Sunday piece about old Route 66 and the neon-lit motels that still exist on East Central Avenue. Some of the those motels are "residential" now, and I started thinking about what kind of a private eye might choose to live in one. Not a very good one, for sure, or he could afford something nicer. So the bumbling private eye arose.
What’s the Hollywood set like? You don’t seem to have been traumatized by the process of going from book to film.
The process has been pretty pleasant for me. Lonely Street is being made into a film of the same name by independent film producers. The film's in post-production now, and should be out sometime in late 2007. They're making the movie on a shoestring budget, but have attracted some pretty big names – Jay Mohr, Robert Patrick, Joe Mantegna – for the cast. A lot of the movie was shot in the Los Angeles area, with some exterior work in Albuquerque. I visited the shoot for two days in September, while the film was on location at a big park in the San Fernando Valley. I'm a huge film buff, so it was a blast to watch the actors and crew in action. Actor/producer Kevin Chapman showed me some of the dailies, and I was really pleased by how the film looked.
The critics seem to be pleased with your latest effort, Monkey Man (which has a great cover). What came to you first for this seventh Bubba novel—the title, or the story?
The opening gambit came first – Bubba's sitting in a coffee shop with a potential client when a guy in a gorilla suit walks in and shoots the client in the head. The title was a natural. All the Bubba titles are from songs – Lonely Street, Baby Face, Dirty Pool, Crazy Love, etc – and I'm a big fan of the Rolling Stones, who recorded "Monkey Man" years ago.
How do you feel about the casting of Jay Mohr in the role of Bubba? Is he someone you would have chosen yourself?
I have to admit, Jay had never come to mind when I was thinking of who'd make a good Bubba. But he turns out to be great in the role. That was the thing that impressed me most about what I've seen of the film so far – Jay Mohr makes a terrific Bubba.
Is it odd seeing your fictional creation given a real life persona?
A little, but it helps that he's doing a good job with the role. If somebody was really screwing it up, maybe I'd feel differently about it. I was more freaked out the first time I heard the audiobook version of one of my novels. That voice, reading my words out of stereo speakers. Brrrr.
You’ve actually written a lot of books. Is writing your full time job? If so, has it always been?
Monkey Man is my 15th book. Writing is indeed my full-time job, and has been for the past ten years. I worked as a newspaper reporter from the time I was 18 years old until I was 40. The last 10 years of that time, I was trying to write fiction on the side. Around the time my fourth book hit the stores, I quit having a regular job. I still write a weekly humor column, "The Home Front", that runs in a lot of newspapers around the country.
How did you decide to write mysteries? Did you read them as a youth?
I was one of those kids who read everything in the town library, but for pleasure reading, I always preferred mysteries. Still do. When I decided to try to write fiction, I naturally gravitated toward crime. I was reading John D. MacDonald's books at the time, and those really inspired me.
If you found yourself in a bookstore with a little time on your hands, what would you look at? Would you necessarily gravitate to the mystery section, or do you enjoy reading other genres?
I always gravitate to the mystery section, partly to see which of my books they might have on the shelves. Plus, many of my friends are mystery writers, so I want to check out their books, too.
Since you would go to the mystery shelf, which authors would you visit first?
I'm always on the lookout for certain writers – Ross Thomas, Donald Westlake/Richard Stark, Elmore Leonard, Adam Hall. I think I've read all their books, but I keep my eyes peeled for more. Other authors I seek out: George Pelecanos, Ken Bruen, Pete Hautman, Sean Doolittle, Jason Starr, Duane Swierczynski, Sara Gran, Theresa Schwegel, Chuck Hogan, Jan Burke, Jess Walters, Mo Hayder. I prefer hard-boiled stories or those that have a lot of humor.
When I met you at Bouchercon, I realized you’re a very tall person. Is this ever disadvantageous when you’re touring? As in small plane seats, short hotel beds, little bookstores?
I'm six-foot-five and weigh close to 250. The size of your average modern NFL quarterback. However, quarterbacks tend to be V-shaped, while I'm shaped more like parentheses. I do get a little claustrophobic in crowds because I worry about bowling people over. Airplane seats are the worst problem. Once, it was purely a legroom issue. Now I need more room than most people in every direction.
Would you ever wear a gorilla suit to promote Monkey Man?
No. I've done most everything else to call attention to my books, but a guy's gotta draw the line somewhere.
Are they considering making a second Bubba movie? Would you want them to?
The same filmmakers are talking about making other Bubba movies (depending on how well Lonely Street does), or making one of my standalone crime novels, Bank Job or Boost or Whipsaw, into a movie. We'll see…
That must be nice to contemplate! What do you like to do in your leisure time?
I live in an area (Redding, Calif.) known for its outdoor attractions, but I'm mostly an indoorsman: Reading, poker, watching sports on TV, listening to music. I have two teen-age sons, who take up an inordinate amount of my time.
I can relate. They're time sponges. How can readers find out more about you, Bubba, the upcoming movie, etcetera?
My publisher set up a website for me: http://www.stevebrewerbooks.com/ and there are some links there to movie and book news.
Thanks and good luck in Hollywood, Steve!
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Time has flown, and last night the boys realized with surprise that it was already time to put their boots out for St. Nicholas, that distant cousin of Santa Claus, who comes in the night and leaves fruit and nuts and toys for good little children.
Children are surprisingly unfazed by home invasions in December, even those perpetrated by strange men in costumes and untrimmed beards.
One year my little son, only four, had gone to his boot and turned it upside down. He said sleepily, "Is that all?" At first I thought he was particularly greedy, and then I realized that a huge red apple had lodged in the boot and kept his other treats from flowing out. It's become a favorite family memory--his disappointed little face staring at the boot in disbelief.
Today they were pleased enough--St. Nicholas doesn't give an obscenity of gifts, but he's thoughtful--and it was a nice thing to do before a day of school. I'm sure they wish every day started this way.
I'm wondering how a mystery could be worked around the idea of St. Nicholas and his nocturnal visit . . . .
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
But it should be interesting talk. I'll chat about my book and the fascinating year I've had learning all about the world of publishing.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Your book, Destroying Angels, has gotten terrific reviews. It’s your first novel; was there anything in particular that prompted you to write it?
I started writing Destroying Angels at the suggestion of my son, Chris, who said, “Mom, you’re always reading mysteries--why don’t you try writing one?” I’d been reading mysteries for years, but had never thought about writing a mystery. My son’s suggestion intrigued me. So I decided to create a female sleuth who was tough, female and vulnerable. That’s why I made Leigh Girard a breast cancer survivor—I wanted her to be vulnerable.
The destroying angels are actually poisonous mushrooms. What sort of research did you have to do for this book?
I did quite a bit of research. At the time I started writing DESTROYING ANGELS, I was taking a class on mushrooms through the Lake County Forest Preserves. One of the instructors said that sometimes people mistake a poisonous mushroom for a harmless one. So that planted a seed. I also interviewed our county coroner concerning the physical symptoms of mushroom poisonings. For the two scenes involving bow and arrow hunting, I interviewed a bow and arrow hunter.
Interesting! The first victims in this book are an “amateur naturalist” and a local librarian. This in itself is intriguing to me. Were these people marked for death by the plot itself, or did you have other reasons for wanting to kill them off?
The amateur naturalist was marked for death from the beginning. The death of the local librarian came out of the writing. I’m a very organic writer, which means I have an idea about the crime and several suspects in mind when I first start writing, but all the rest, including the murderer, comes out of the writing. What I try to do is make the act of writing an act of discovery for me.
Your writing is very poetic. Did you start out your writing career composing poetry?
Yes, I’ve been a published poet for about 25 years. My poems have appeared in over 60 literary journals, such as The Georgia Review, Carolina Quarterly and The Illinois Review. My book of poems, Landscape Toward a Proper Silence, was published by Eye of the Comet Press. In 2002, the Illinois Arts Council gave me a literary award for my poem, “In Country.”
You danced with the Cleveland Civic Ballet. Do you see parallels between dancing and writing?
What an interesting question. The parallels I see are probably the same parallels with any art—discipline, creativity, and structure. But specifically between dancing and writing, I’d say the sense of movement. In dance you have to know how to fill the space on the stage while moving to the music. And in writing it’s the same process. You’re filling the page with words that have their own rhythm in relationship to the other words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters.
That's a neat distinction. You have a Ph.D—is it in writing or literature? Or both?
My Ph.D. is in English with a specialization in Creative Writing/Poetry.
Do you still teach?
I do. Since 2002, when I left the University of Illinois at Chicago where I’d been teaching, I’ve been doing writing workshop at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest. I also conduct my own writing workshops for adult students. I get a great deal of satisfaction from teaching, because I help other writers develop their skills.
You live in Libertyville, Illinois. What’s notable about this town?
The most notable thing I know about Libertyville is that Marlon Brando lived here at one time.
Stella! Sorry. It had to be done. :)
What sorts of promotion have you done for Destroying Angels?
Everything!! Since April I’ve done about 40 events, including signings, readings, presentations and workshops at libraries, bookstores, schools, and conferences. I’ve also done radio and television. I was fortunate to be interviewed on WBEZ-NPR Chicago in August and to appear on WLUK FOX 11 – Good Day Wisconsin in Green Bay, WI. It’s been a tremendous learning experience for me.
What takes up most of your time these days?
Writing, reading, exercising, family, and my part-time job.
What would be an ideal day for you?
I’m at the computer by 9 a.m. and the words just flow all day.
I hear you. I understand you have just celebrated the birth of a grandchild--a boy. You look a bit too young for this! I assume he is your first?
Actually, the newest grandchild is my second. My first granddaughter is now 2 ½ years old.
Congratulations on the baby boy!
What do you like to read?
I’m pretty eclectic in my reading—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
How can readers find out more about you and your novels?
They can visit my Web site at http://www.gaillukasik.com/. They can read an excerpt from DESTROYING ANGELS and read about the second book in the series, DEATH’S DOOR.
Thanks for the interview, Gail!
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I remember the year of this picture: it's early in 1994. I had gone to the mystery bookshop across the street with my mom (we're in the back) and met three wonderful writers who were doing a mini publicity tour together. From left (if you don't recognize them) they are Dorothy Cannell, Patricia Moyes, and Joan Hess. I was thrilled to meet these women; I had read books by all of them, and they were wonderful together, answering questions, joking among themselves, being exquisitely charming.
The reason I remember so well is that I had wondered, that day, if I was pregnant. I had been extremely tired lately, and I thought that might be the cause. But I told my mother I didn't think so. Later on it turned out that I had been right the first time: my son Ian was born about 8 1/2 months later, in December of 1994.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
But now the world looks like this:
And the trees look like this!
My sons offered to clean off my car, since I managed to twist my knee. They did such a good job I may have to pretend I'm ailing a bit longer than I need to. :)
That's my neighbor, Burt, cleaning off his garage in the background.
Here's Ian, braving the wrathful temperatures and the flakes of ice that keep shooting up from the scraper. I'm inside by the heater, taking photographs. For once, Mom got the better deal.
And this was the car when we started. That's not snow, it's ice. It was quite a challenge, let me tell you.
Anyway, in honor of the snowy weather, I found this lovely poem by Melville Cane that I'd like to share.
Suddenly the sky turned gray,
Which had been bitter and chill,
Grew soft and still.
From some invisible blossoming tree
Millions of petals cool and white
Drifted and blew,
Lifted and flew,
Fell with the falling night.