Saturday, July 01, 2006

INTERVIEW: Caroline Upcher/Hope McIntyre

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I was delighted to have a chance to chat with Caroline Upcher on the phone today, and I learned that this British-born writer has a wealth of stories to tell, both about writing and publishing and the interesting chain of events that led her into the worlds of both. Caroline's mystery How to Seduce a Ghost has received stellar reviews; (look for my review next week). Here's what Booklist had to say:

"A winner all the way; Lee Bartholomew is one of the most engaging protagonists to come along in ages. Both hilarious and heart wrenching, this beguiling mix of of chick lit and hip thriller - Helen Fielding meets Janet Evanovich - is the must-read of the crime fiction fall season."

Caroline, however, has not always written mysteries, nor has she always been a writer. Her story is a very interesting one, and I'm going to let you eavesdrop on our conversation, or selected portions of it, so you can find out for yourselves!

JB: Carolyn, you're an editor of some renown. Do you think of yourself as a writer first, an editor second, vice versa, or are the two indistinguishable?
CU: I think of myself as a writer. The two [occupations] are not at all indistinguishable. I was an editor first, and when I began writing I created a pseudonym, because I didn't want the writers I worked with to know who I was. As I got published, and began to have contracts and deadlines, I found I needed more time to write, and so I left working in an office. I absolutely love writing and working from home, and I would have done it much earlier if I had known it was an option.

Tell us about your book, How to Seduce a Ghost.
HOW TO SEDUCE A GHOST is the first in a mystery series featuring ghostwriter Lee Bartholomew, whose ghosting assignments somehow always lead to her murder investigations. But the irony is that she has an almost pathological fear of violence and is convinced she will be attacked every time she goes out the house. The thought of murder fills her with complete terror, which makes it such a nightmare when she has to investigate one.

I began this book a very long time ago when I was living in Notting Hill in London, the book's setting. My experiences as Naomi Campbell's 'ghost' were obviously an influence on my making Lee a ghostwriter and I had the idea for her personality one night when I was awakened in the night by a loud scuffle in the passage leading from the road to the garden outside my apartment, which was on the ground floor. I heard someone say I'm going to stab you and yells and screams and I was absolutely terrified. I stood behind my front door and listened to this violence (probably drug related) just the other side. By the time I relaxed enough to call the police, they were already on their way, alerted by someone else. My character Lee's existence in Notting Hill was born out of this experience. I had to put the book aside for a few years to do other projects and when I picked it up again, it coincided with my agent suggesting I write a murder mystery.

Some of your books are set in England, some in America, on Long Island. What's been your experience of living in America? What do you miss about the UK? In addition, if you ever returned to England, what would you miss about the US?
I fell in love with America when I first came here. I made my first visit thirty years ago, and then I bought a house ten years ago. I don't think I'll stay, though; I think I will return to England. I do miss England, and I think my fascination with America has faded, rather. I do feel that money is very important here, and that in fact people tend to judge you based on how much money you have.

I miss the English people, the way they think and the way they speak. English and American people really are different from each other, even in their humor. I miss having people understand me, because even now I'll say things to American acquaintances and they just don't get it.

There are lots of things I'd miss about America, though. I'd miss the Mets--I love baseball--and I'd miss the energy that American people have.

You've traveled extensively, from the time you were a child. How do you think your travel has influenced your writing?

Travel hasn't particularly influenced my writing; in fact I write about very domestic places. After all of my travel, I relish the thought of being in one place; I yearn to settle down. In my book, you'll see that Lee is a loner and she's very much like me.

You seem to have known early on that you wanted to work in the publishing world. Was there some particular event, when you were a teenager, that made you lean toward writing?
Actually I didn't know I wanted to work in publishing; I left school rather early, and my first job was as a secretary in a publishing house, but then I got into making movies, because I spoke several languages; I worked in movies for about ten years, here and in England. It was when I was working on the movie Julia, with Jane Fonda, that things changed, because we were just about to leave for Paris and Strasbourg to work on location, and I didn't want to go. I had a boyfriend at the time and my life in England would have been entirely disrupted, so I simply walked off the film. I didn't know what I was going to do, so I walked into a bookshop and asked if I could have a job on the sales floor. The bookshop was owned by Pan, the second largest reprint house in England after Penguin and their offices were above the store. The editor in chief, Sonny Mehta, came down to the bookshop on a regular basis and we chatted often. He wound up offering me a job as 'Film and TV Editor' (publishing novelizations of screenplays!) and from there I was promoted to Editorial Director for Fiction, a job I held for eleven years. That was how I got into publishing. Sonny is now Publisher and President of Knopf in New York.

As you mentioned earlier, you ghosted a novel for Naomi Campbell, who is quite notorious these days for allegedly abusing people and flinging phones at them. Did she ever throw a phone at you?
She was actually incredibly nice to me--she was always wonderful when I was dealing with her.

Ghosting a novel has to be a peculiar experience--what is it like to have to take on someone else's identity? Is it irksome to receive no credit for a book over which you've labored?
I don't mind at all that her name was on it, because that was something that was agreed upon up front. It was a mystery novel; it needed to be about the modeling world, and it was.

Did it do well?
It did remarkably well. It was up to number four on the English charts, although it didn't sell well in America. It was sold in twenty-two countries around the world; I still have all these foreign translations in my basement.

Did anyone ever tell you that you resemble the actress Angie Dickinson?
I don't look anything like Angie Dickinson.

You're attending Bouchercon in the fall. Will you be on any panels? Which of your books will be available for fans?

I am attending, but I don't know if I'm on any panels. My Hope McIntyre book will be available, because that is in the mystery series. How to Seduce a Ghost will be there, but my latest novel, How to Marry a Ghost, isn't out yet.

You publish books under two names, Caroline Upcher and Hope McIntyre. Do you find yourself, now, developing two personas, Hope and Caroline? As in, "This is something Hope would do, but not Caroline?"
They're the same person with two names--the only difference is that in Hope McIntyre's books people are murdered.

How can your fans find out more about you?
They can go to my website ( I love to be e-mailed. If they are writers, they can apply for my editorial service, which is discussed in detail on my website.

What has been your best experience in publishing?
In writing, it would be the excitement of first being published. My first books were published under the name Carly McIntyre. I also enjoyed switching to mystery and writing the Hope McIntyre books.

My best experience in publishing was what happened once when I had the 'flu. I felt terrible, and I was lying there in the office and hadn't much energy to work, and I picked up a small manuscript called The Bridges of Madison County. I read it and I just wept. I didn't know if I was weeping because of the book or because I had the flu, but I immediately called the publisher and told them we had to buy it from the publisher in New York. I said, tell them to take it off the table, because we're buying it. We bought it for not much money, because the writer was an unknown at the time. And of course it was a huge seller.

That was a great decision, but I made a mistake, as well. I changed the title to Love in Black and White, and it didn't sell well at all. We changed it to The Bridges of Madison County and it sold quite well. So I was wrong--I was right, but I was also wrong. Still, it's a favorite memory of my publishing life.

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