Monday, August 14, 2006

The Sisters Hailey Lind Talk About Their Annie Kinkaid Mysteries, Writing Together and The Joy of Creating Art

You are actually two people. Does this create identity issues? Fans doing double takes at booksignings?

Carolyn:(at left) It does create confusion at times! Although fortunately the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and one of the questions we’re asked all the time is, “How does the process work?”

Julie:(right) We used a single name because we wanted the books to have a single voice – and they do. People who don’t realize we’re two people never guess it when they’re reading. But it can make it difficult to explain when meeting new people, or interacting with booksellers and readers, and some are disappointed not to meet both of us (we live on opposite coasts.). Then there’s always the complicated, “I’m Hailey Lind – sort of.” Or my favorite: “I’m Hailey Lind’s better half.”

But the tradition of two (or more) people writing under one name is an old and revered one: PJ Parrish(sisters), PJ Tracy (mother and daughter), Nero Blanc (husband and wife), to name only a few. So we’re in good company.

One of you is an artist. (Or perhaps both of you are?) How does your art experience help in creating the plots of your books?

Julie: I’m the artist. I’ve had my own faux finishing-mural-portrait business in the San Francisco Bay Area for over a decade. I never run out of funny stories about my interactions with clients, designers, and other artists – there’s plenty of material there, believe me! I’m allowed into some of the wealthiest homes in the city, and people tend to forget I’m there, so I hear a lot of interesting tales and family sagas….

And then there’s my interest in art forgery, which I’ve had since I was a child. Our father insisted his daughters go to school to learn “marketable skills,” so I never went to art school. Instead I taught myself to paint by copying classical artists. That’s what makes me a good artist-for-hire—I can paint in just about any style. Art forgery is intriguing to me not only on the technical side, but also because of the moral issues it brings up – why don’t more starving artists resort to it, what does it say about what is “real” beauty and what is fake, etc. Our unrepentant art forger character, Georges, allows us to express a lot of those questions and dilemmas.
In your website’s “Top Ten Reasons Why It’s Great to be an Artist,” number seven is, “You can blame your poverty on a higher purpose.” That’s a good one. Does it apply to writers, too? Otherwise, what can I blame my poverty on?

Of course! It applies to writers, as well as musicians and actors…any of us who pursue what we love despite the fact that it’s a tough road to financial solvency, much less wealth. I’ve been a professional artist for many years, and I work hard to make a living at it—I don’t find the idea of the “starving artist” very romantic or appealing. Still, it rankles that most of my neighbors make loads more money than I ever will, and many of them work fewer hours than I do. But if I joined them by getting a job in the computer industry, I would have to WORK WITH COMPUTERS! Yikes! I use computers to e-mail, to write books, and to run a simple bookkeeping program, that’s it.

It’s not always easy to make a living doing what you love, but if you can manage it, you’re one of the lucky ones. And then you can blame your poverty on a higher purpose, and no one can ding you for it.

On the same list, number one is “You might just meet a sexy art thief.” Have either of you ever met a sexy art thief? What made him sexy, the stealing, or the love of art?

Carolyn: The character of Michael Johnson is a figment of our collective (and possibly wee bit warped) imaginations, but it is his love of art, combined with a hint of the outlaw, that we like best about him. We make a point to portray Michael as nonviolent and even, at times, gallant; otherwise Annie would not find him attractive.

Julie: The sad truth is that most art thieves, like most criminals in general, are not particularly sexy. They’re usually only stealing art because it’s easy (security is often laughingly lax), or the piece is in high demand, not because they have a deep love for art. So far all the sexy art thieves we know are fictional…but I’m not giving up hope yet!

Good for you. If you meet one, please bring him over for dinner. How long has Hailey Lind existed?
Hailey’s been lurking in the background of our lives for the past seven or eight years, though we didn’t realize it. One of our favorite ways to while away time while traveling – especially on long road trips – is to make up stories, and we spent several years batting around ideas just for fun. Finally we decided we should try putting some of these ideas on paper, which proved much harder to do than we had anticipated.

Did you know when you were young that you wanted to write mysteries?

We grew up in a book-filled home, and our parents encouraged us to expand our imaginations by reading. As children read all kinds of things, but as we matured, mystery novels especially caught our fancy. The works of Barbara Mertz, who writes as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, were (and remain) a particular favorite because her writing is so intelligent and her characters so real. She is able to combine character-driven stories with interesting plots, and that’s something we aspire to.

But neither of us actually dreamed we could write novels ourselves until recently. I think for both of us it took maturity to be able to say: what the heck, we could do this…and then actually carry through and do it!

What do you like better—painting, or reading a mystery?

Julie: That’s a tough one. Painting is a deep and enduring love of mine, but it’s always a challenge. Reading a mystery, on the other hand, is pure relaxation – so long as it’s a good one! Writing a mystery, lately, has to rank up there with painting for me: it’s exhilarating, exciting, and a creative challenge. Sometimes tough, often great fun, but always worthwhile.

How did you come up with the idea for Feint of Art?

Julie: As I mentioned above, working in the field of art has given me plenty of knowledge about our local art scene, and story ideas. Beyond that, I subscribe to several internet services that provide me with information about the wild and wacky—I use those terms carefully—world of art and art crime. Check out the Art Newspaper, or Museum Security Network. These people are a hoot! Almost all the stories in Feint of Art, as well as Shooting Gallery and the upcoming Brush with Death, have their basis in true tales gleaned from news stories. The crazier it sounds, the more likely it is to be absolutely true....

Carolyn: Both of us are published academic authors (one in anthropology, the other in history) but academic writing doesn’t prepare a person for fiction. We heeded the old adage, “write what you know,” and added “but make it a lot more interesting.” Feint of Art began life in a very different form from its final version. We spent a lot of time writing and rewriting (and overwriting!) the original manuscript, and essentially learned how to write a novel in the process.

What is your process for writing together?
We are highly dependent upon e-mail – Carolyn lives in Virginia, while Julie resides in Oakland. Julie writes the first draft of a chapter, then sends it to Carolyn. Carolyn ‘re-writes’ the chapter, which is a polite term for what can be something of a bloodbath. Then it comes back to Julie, who re-writes that version, and so on. Typically it goes back and forth so many times neither of us can remember who wrote what, which is our goal. Every other weekend or so we spend several hours of free cell phone minutes to hash out plot details and the like. In general Julie takes care of the art information, while Carolyn does a lot of research and fact-checking. Our team approach is useful because Carolyn can tell Julie when the art passages are too heavy or unclear – it’s hard for an artist to know when to stop.

How did it feel when you were offered a contract?
We were both elated-- November 11, 2004—we remember that day! While we were shopping the manuscript around to agents we were told time and again that “art doesn’t sell.” Meanwhile The DaVinci Code was taking over the bestseller list, and several other art novels were doing very well. So it was especially gratifying to receive an offer from the first publisher who read Feint of Art – Signet/Penguin. The editor there said she’d been looking for an art mystery series for years. For me (Julie) it felt a lot like the day I gave birth to my son: such a long time of wondering, worrying, and working toward a goal that was by no means assured-- and then to hear that the future is bright! But we were a little scared, too -- Here was the opportunity we’d dreamed of, and we wanted to live up to it.

Are you the only two children in your family? If not, do your siblings like writing and painting, as well? Are you a Renaissance family?
We have an older sister, Susan, who has always been a voracious reader, and introduced us both at an early age to the likes of Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters, Dorothy Gilman, Linda Barnes, and lots of other great authors. She’s also artistic, and gave Julie her first instruction in canvas painting. But she enjoys football and fashion, whereas Julie’s more into social justice causes, and Carolyn loves history and rescues needy animals. We love the idea of being a Renaissance family but considering our college grades in calculus and chemistry, we fear we fall a bit short of the mark! Our father’s desire for us all to find marketable skills kind of fell by the wayside, as well, but we’re a happy bunch.

What are you writing right now?
Currently we’re finishing up the third in the Art Lover’s Mystery Series, Brush With Death, TBR July 2007), as well as plotting book 4, in which Annie Kincaid is on the track of stolen erotica (woo-hoo!). We’re also developing an academic mystery set in Princeton, New Jersey, which features a recently divorced graduate student-turned-dog-walker, who’s hanging around town mostly to bug her professor ex-husband (I don’t know why people say all writing is autobiography….)

You said you like painting portraits. What is more lucrative—selling portraits or selling books?

Julie: That depends on the price tag of the painting, and the number of book sales! So far neither is particularly lucrative, but as I said above, I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing, no matter what the monetary incentive. I LOVE what I do, whether it’s painting or writing. Like so many artists, all I really want to do is sit at my desk writing, or out in my studio painting, and let someone else sell me. But as anyone involved in any kind of art can tell you, you have to spend a lot of time and energy marketing your own work. That’s the worst part, in my view. If I had a guaranteed income I’d just paint and write all day anyway!

Your protagonist, Annie Kinkaid, can forge paintings by the Old Masters. This is also something Lovejoy (Jonathan Gash’s protagonist) does for money. Had you ever read the Lovejoy mysteries, or is this a common thing that artists do? :)

Julie: I haven’t read the Lovejoy mysteries, or any other art mysteries other than Iain Pears, who I used to read in high school. I believe I’m one of the last holdouts in the country who hasn’t read The Da Vinci Code. I’m always afraid I’ll pick something up subconsciously and use it in one of my novels, so I avoid any kind of crossover, especially while I’m writing—which has been constant for the last couple of years. But I think the temptation for poor artists to create fakes is awfully strong – it doesn’t take much imagination to see how one could justify forgery in one’s own mind. Besides the money, it’s just plain fun!

Thanks for talking with me, Hailey Lind!
And it's nice to see you at last.


M. G. Tarquini said...

Wow! I love my sister to pieces, but we'd maim each other trying to write together. Good on you both!

Julia Buckley said...

Yeah, it seems fun to work with one of my sisters, but they're both so busy I don't see it happening (and the maiming thing might be a possiblity).

Marlyn said...

I met (or thought I did) Hailey Lind at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books last April. She signed a copy of FEINT OF ART for me. I saw in the back of the book that "Hailey Lind" was two people, which confused me, until I saw the photos on Julia's blog. (It was Carolyn whom I met.)

Julia Buckley said...

I could see how that would be confusing, Marlyn. I'm sure the sisters confuse people all the time, but now they can refer them to the photos. :)