- Interview conducted via email by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
We are happy to be hosting Trudy Nan Boyce along with Minerva Koenig for our New Hard-boiled Voices panel this Friday, February 26th, at 7 PM. Miss Boyce’s debut novel, Out Of The Blues, follows newly minted Atlanta homicide detective Sarah Alt (nicknamed Salt) as she stumbles into a cold case that unlocks secrets involving race and city politics. We asked Miss Boyce a few questions about the book and how her dual professions of police officer and psychologist shaped it.
MysteryPeople Scott: Atlanta plays like a fascinating character itself. What did you want to explore about the city?
Trudy Nan Boyce: Atlanta is my home. I’ve lived here for more than fifty years. I went to undergrad and grad school at the downtown university. I policed the city for more than thirty years. And I’ve lived in my downtown neighborhood for at least thirty years. And I continue to be delighted by Atlanta, its sweet and tragic mysteries seem endless. It is a city without geographic gifts; no bays or oceans, no mountains, no river flows through it. It is a city built at a crossroads, built around the intersections of railroads which were built primarily by black people, slaves and those conscripted though the “justice system.” The more I learn about Atlanta the more I realize that as a white person much of the history and culture of the city has remained segregated. Atlanta is soulful and exemplifies much about the racial divide in the United States. Most white people have no idea about the importance of the blues to our culture. Atlanta was and is a crossroads for the blues and our nation.
MPS: The politics of race play an important part in the story. What advice would you would you give to writers writing about a race other than their own?
TNB: My stories are character driven and I’ve been fascinated by the evolution of all of my characters, black and white. One the pivotal characters in Out of the Blues is Lil D. When I began writing I didn’t know him well but as the story progressed he revealed himself to me. I just had to stay out of the way and live in his shoes when he was “on stage.” So, though I’m not much for giving advice since I still feel like I’m learning, I’d probably recommend that no matter what characters one is writing that the writer know the character, what they have in their pockets, what they did or did not have for breakfast and what each of them longs for.
MPS: Did your psychology background help you as a writer?
TNB: Good psychologists I believe must have a curiosity about people and it helps to have some theories to help explain why people do what they do. And it helps to have techniques to help people help themselves. So in the sense that psychology teaches us what motivates and sustains people I am helped by my academic background. And I have been fortunate to have had parents, especially my father who was a minister, who encouraged the importance of relationships. Policing was another eye opener allowing me access to a diverse population of people who at some of their hardest moments called the police for help. It was rare in moments of crisis to have time to process a theory about why a person was in crisis but it was and is helpful to know what skills are likely to work to resolve the crisis. Anais Ninn said, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Writing has allowed me to re experience the streets with some understanding helped by my academic background.
MPS: I loved the culture and people of the squad room. What did you want to get across about your former profession?
TNB: So many times when we see people in uniform all we see is the uniform. We don’t think about that they might have put that uniform on after having to tend to a sick child or elderly parent. We forget that they may have just come from taking a report of an abused child or a wreck with injuries or death. As I hoped to do with the citizens and those on the other side of the law I hoped to do with the cops, to give them a story.
MPS: What is the biggest thing writers get wrong about police work?
TNB: It’s rare to read about the emotional toll that policing can take on officers. Of course if you’re writing speeding tickets all day that’s one kind of spiritual taxation, having folks irritated at you constantly, and if you’re responding as a detective investigating abused or neglected children that’s a different sort of emotional injury. But most days there is insult to a person’s psychological stamina. And that doesn’t often enter into the stories about cops. One might see cops drinking too much or being a less that stellar family member but the whys are often missing.
Come by BookPeople this Friday, February 26th, at 7 PM, for a panel discussion featuring Trudy Nan Boyce and Minerva Koenig. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public. You must purchase a copy of the author’s latest in order to join the signing line. You can find copies of Out of the Blues on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.