INTERVIEW WITH SARA GRAN

We are excited to have Sara Gran join us at BookPeople tomorrow. She is a first class author, creating one of the most unique detectives in crime fiction today, Claire DeWitt, who fits the Nancy Drew mold, with a lot of dark undercurrents, — a young woman who grew up to be a professional private detective. In her latest, Infinite Blacktop, someone from Claire’s past is out to get her and it is tied to two other mysteries in her past, one being the disappearance of the teenage friend she solved mysteries with. Sara was kind enough to sit through an interrogation with us earlier.

MysteryPeople Scott: Usually a series detective character is entrenched in a city, but you have moved Claire DeWitt about in each book. Is there a particular reason for that decision?

Sara Gran: I keep moving! Life certainly takes you in strange directions, literally and metaphorically. Also, given that place is always a big character in detective fiction, it makes sense to push my character (Claire) up against these other characters (different cities and places) and see what comes from the meeting.

MPS: The Infinite Blacktop is a detective mystery that looks at the idea and concepts of mystery and detection. What did you want to explore in those ideas?

SG: I think the idea of the mystery that needs to be solved is a very central metaphor for our time. You’ll notice that when storytellers — writers, newscasters, politicians, doctors — want to interest their audience in something, they will often frame it as a whodunit. I also think the linguistic and historic link between mystic and mystery is not to be underestimated.

The Infinite Blacktop: A Novel Cover ImageMPS: As with many of your books, Claire is dealing with her past. What draws you to people with damaged histories?

SG: I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone without some damage in their history.

MPS: What I enjoyed about these books is that they are somehow both gritty and ethereal, like we’re on the edge of reality. Did that come to be as an attempt to build the mood or simply grow from Claire and her world?

SG: Thank you for a really interesting question I’ve never been asked before.  The answer is both: the two desires — the desire to build a specific, evocative, slightly magical world that hopefully provokes some thought and emotion in the reader about their own world, and the desire to be absolutely true to this character as she presents herself in my brain — inform each other and work together to create the world of these books.

MPS :As a writer, what has made Claire DeWitt worth coming back to as a character?

SG: Everything that fascinates me in life is wrapped up in this series, so both the character and the world are more interesting to me all the time. Originally I thought I’d stop after four books, but now I think I’ll write this series for the rest of my life.

 

INTERVIEW WITH EDWIN HILL

Edwin Hill’s Little Comfort introduces us to Hester Thursby, a librarian who uses her research skills to find missing persons as a side hustle. Her latest job has her dealing with family secrets, false identities, and more than a few gunshots. Mr. Hill , who will be with Scott Von Doviak on September 22nd at 6pm at BookPeople, was kind enough to take some of our questions  in advance.

Little Comfort (A Hester Thursby Mystery #1) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: How did Little Comfort come about?

Edwin Hill: Do you remember the Clark Rockefeller case? He was that guy who claimed to be a member of the Rockefeller family and married a successful business woman, and then went on the run with his daughter when everything unraveled. And it also turned out he’d murdered people.

I was fascinated by that story, and one day when it  was all over the news I sat down and wrote a scene about a guy who’d been impersonating someone (I wasn’t sure who) and needed to leave town. The character’s name was Sam (no last name) and I knew I wanted him to be a sort of Tom Ripley-like antihero. Like Clark Rockefeller, I also knew I wanted him to be someone who could charm his way into any situation. But that’s all I had, and that scene sat on my computer for about two years before I did anything with it. Once I started working in earnest, I added in a foil for Sam, and the protagonist, Hester Thursby, was born. Hester is a librarian at Harvard’s Widener Library who finds missing people as a side gig, and her case in this story is to find Sam. Sam doesn’t want to be found, and things go downhill from there!

MPS: I also have to ask how you came up with your protagonist’s name, Hester Thursby? It is almost from another era.

EH: When I am drafting a novel, it’s really easy for me to get distracted by, well, anything, so I name characters very, very quickly – otherwise I can lose hours “researching” on baby-naming websites. I’ll name characters after friends’ pets or people I know or just random names that come to me in a flash. Some of these names stick, and others I change later on in the drafting process. (For example, I wound up using the name Sam Blaine after my friend’s beagle.)

When I came up with Hester as a character, I didn’t know much about her besides that she was a single woman with a child so the first names that flashed through my mind – and this is so pretentious it makes me want to throw up in my mouth – were Hester, for the woman, and Pearl, for the child. I quickly (and I mean the next day) changed the girl’s name to Chloe, and then changed it again to Kate. I liked the name Hester, though, and it stuck.

When I first started drafting the series, I thought it would be lighter than it wound up being, and I played around with titles based on movies. One of the titles I considered was His Girl Thursby, and Hester’s last name was born. Of course, Little Comfort wound up being much darker than I planned, a psychological thriller rather than a traditional mystery, and the title no longer fit. But, again, I liked the full name of Hester Thursby and decided to keep it! (A few people have asked if Thursby is in homage to Floyd Thursby in The Maltese Falcon. Alas, no. Just a happy coincidence.)

MPS: The book deals with the past’s relationship with the present. What did you want to explore in that idea?

EH: There are three main characters in this novel: Hester, Sam, and Sam’s best friend, Gabe DiPursio. They are each haunted by things that have happened to them in the past, but they all choose to move forward in different ways. (For more on that, see this terrific review on BOLO Books

Some of the people in this book do really terrible things to other people, but I didn’t want that to be what this book was about. I wanted to be sure to separate the action of the character from the humanity of the character. Every person on earth has something good and worthwhile at their core, or at least that’s what I believe. When I focus in on that good, it makes the contrast of terrible actions and decisions all the more powerful.

MPS: This being a debut, did you draw from any influences?

EH: Sure!  Like most writers, I read all the time. One of the influences for this book is Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, but there are other influences as well. When I first wrote that scene I mentioned above, the one with Sam escaping town, I happened to read Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. I was inspired by the way she mixed genres – mystery and literary – and was able to infuse so much humor into the Jackson Brodie series. She also really tore apart the structure of a “mystery” novel and made it something completely unique. I’m inspired by the humanity in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. One novel that I read regularly (maybe because it’s short!) is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. She is such a craftsman, and is able to move through time so effortlessly in that novel. I like to read it to remind myself what’s possible.

MPS: You’ll be doing an event with us on the 22nd with Scott Von Doviak and another Boston native with a book set there. There is rich tradition of crime writers from your city, Lehane, Parker, George V. Higgins. What makes Boston great for crime fiction?

EH: I think there are a lot of reasons. Boston is a beautiful town filled with iconic landmarks, to start, which always makes for good storytelling. Scott, for example, makes great use of Fenway Park and the Back Bay area of Boston in his novel. Because his novel is set in three distinct time periods, he’s able to pull in many of those sites and neighborhoods, like Dewey Square, that have changed with city. Those details give his novel a fantastic texture.

New England has a varied landscape too, going from urban to rugged very quickly, which is one of the things I use in Little Comfort, where much of the action takes place in rural New Hampshire in the depths of winter.

MPS: What do you think is the biggest misconception of the city?

EH: When I think of Boston in the media, I think of crime (The Town), education (The Paper Chase), and rabid sports fans (Fever Pitch). But like most places, Boston has many sides.

One of the reasons I set Little Comfort in Somerville, was because it shows a different part of the metro area. Somerville (which used to be nicknamed Slumerville) is diverse, with people from all different backgrounds. It’s vibrant, and a very accepting and open community. And like many urban areas in the country, like Austin, Somerville is experiencing a boom, which is creating tensions between older residents and the new people moving in. I hope to explore that in a later book in the series.

At the same time, Somerville also has many of the elements that people think of when they think of Boston. It’s right next to Cambridge, so you still feel the glow of Harvard, but with a bit more grit. Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang was named for a neighborhood in Somerville. And the Boston Garden and Fenway are each only a T ride away. So maybe there is some truth in those media images!

INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT VON DOVIAK

Scott Von Doviak’s Charlesgate Confidential is a one-of-a-kind read, with three storylines of different periods in Boston’s Charlesgate building that affect one another. Von Doviak binds them together with a liberal use of the city’s history and lore. Scott will beat BookPeople along with Edwin Hill (Little Comfort) Saturday September 22nd at 6pm to discuss and sign their books. He was kind enough to take some questions from us earlier.

Charlesgate Confidential Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Charlesgate Confidential  is a very unique book. How did the idea for it form?

Scott Von Doviak: Several ideas came together. I’d been wanting to write about the Charlesgate building in Boston for some time, both because of its fascinating history and because I’d actually lived there in the ‘80s when it was an Emerson College residence hall. I wanted to come up with a story that could encompass several different eras in the building’s history, but I also wanted to write a crime novel rather than a ghost story (which would have been the obvious way to go, given the building’s haunted reputation). Incorporating a fictionalized version of the Gardner Museum heist solved some problems, especially once I decided to move the heist back in time from 1990 to 1946. I really liked the idea of telling the story in a nonlinear way, by rotating through these time periods, sort of like solving a Rubik’s Cube twist by twist. At first you wouldn’t see any connection between the stories aside from the building, but as you go along, all the pieces slide into place.

MPS: How did you handle juggling the three time periods?

SVD: I didn’t have a spreadsheet or a True Detective wall with note cards and string or anything like that. It was all pretty intuitive. It was more fun that way because I would leave myself a little cliffhanger at the end of a 1946 chapter and then I’d move on to 1986 and 2014, which would give me time to think about what should happen next back in the ’40s. The way the time lines dovetail was kind of tricky, because I had to time all the revelations just right and make sure I didn’t give certain things away too early. So there was some trial and error involved, but that made it exciting for me.

MPS: Was there any Boston history or lore you wanted to get in there but couldn’t?

SVD: I considered some other things, notably the Coconut Grove fire in 1942, but in the end I felt like I had enough for this story. I flirted with incorporating the Red Sox 2004 World Series run, but that would have felt like overkill. There’s certainly plenty to explore, though. I don’t know that I’ll ever write a sequel, since this novel is very self-contained, but one idea would be to explore some different eras in the Charlesgate’s history, which stretches back as far as 1891. I’d need a good story to pull it together, though.

MPS: So many great crime novelists come from Boston like Robert B. Parker, George V Higgins, and Dennis Lehane. What makes the town such a hotbed for crime fiction talent?

SVD: Well, the city does have a noir-ish quality, particularly in the fall when the temperatures drop and the nights get longer. There are plenty of famous crimes and criminals—the Brinks Job, the Boston Strangler, Whitey Bulger. But I attribute most of it to Higgins. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the ultimate Boston crime novel (and movie), and along with his follow-ups Cogan’s Trade and The Digger’s Game, really set the template for Boston as a crime town teeming with colorful characters. Higgins was a huge influence on Charlesgate Confidential, particularly the way in which story and character emerge from dialogue in his books.

MPS: What is the biggest misconception about the city?

SVD: Well, first of all, not everyone has that accent! I think our pop culture has become over saturated with one particular slice of Boston. You’d think everyone who lives there is either a criminal or an obnoxious sports fan, and sure, there are plenty of those. The friends I still have there are nothing like that, though. They’re artists and professionals and they don’t sound like Casey Affleck in that SNL Dunkin’ Donuts sketch. I confess, though, I do love the accent (maybe because I don’t live there anymore) and I’ll have a hard time not lapsing into a bad version of it during my reading.

MPS: What are you working on now?

SVD: I have a few things in various states of completion, and I’m not sure exactly what comes next. I definitely want to stay in the genre, and one thing I’m working on would be a series of books set in Austin that would sort of chart all the changes that have been going on here through the lens of crime fiction. I don’t know whether that’s my next project, though—a lot depends on how things go with Charlesgate Confidential. Meanwhile, you can still find me at The Onion’s AV Club writing about your favorite (or maybe not so favorite) TV shows.

INTERVIEW WITH REED FARREL COLEMAN

Reed Farrel Coleman has put his own literary stamp on Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone. In the latest, Colorblind, he has the Paradise police chief in AA and encountering a new character who will change his life, all while dealing with a case that puts him up against a hate group when his black officer is accused of shooting the leader’s unarmed son. Reed will be at BookPeople September 16th at 5PM. We got to him ahead of time to talk about the book and the new paces he is putting Jesse through.

MysteryPeople Scott: In Colorblind you tackle the issue of race relations. Did you have a certain approach or aspect in looking at it?

Reed Farrel Coleman: The amazing thing here is that I turned this manuscript in a full month before Charlottesville. And for me, I’m not really tackling an issue. I don’t write message books and readers can take from the book what they will. My intent is always how the issue approaches the protagonist—in this case, Jesse Stone—not how the protagonist approaches the issue. I was also harkening back to the very first Jesse Stone novel, Night Passage, written by Bob Parker in the late ‘90s. I suggest readers go back to that book and see the connection between it and the new one.     

MPS: Is there anything you have to keep in mind as a writer when your dealing with events that mirror what is in the news?

RFC: As per my first answer, I turned the book in a month before Charlottesville, so I wasn’t actually writing a  “ripped from the headlines” book. But I did realize that this was a sensitive issue and that as deplorable as Jesse finds racism, his job is to first uphold the law and to protect the citizens of Paradise. And if that means allowing public demonstrations by groups he doesn’t agree with, he does it. I put Jesse in a very difficult spot. That’s the whole point, putting one’s characters in difficult and/or dangerous situations and letting them deal. The big challenge here was to bring some level of humanity to the “bad” guys. If all characters are is evil, then they are boring to write and boring to read.     

Robert B. Parker's Colorblind (A Jesse Stone Novel) Cover ImageMPS: The big change in this book is that Jesse is in AA. How was it writing him on the wagon?

RFC: Writing Jesse as drunk was easy, but it was getting played out in the same way that Jesse’s  constant on again off again relationship to his ex-wife Jenn was getting stale. The series needed a shift. What makes this book different is that unlike other “dry” periods in Jesse’s life, he has made his desire to stop drinking official, for lack of a better term. He is committed to it and when Jesse Stone commits to something, he hangs in there. For Jesse this is now a lifetime thing and his struggle is no longer with drinking, but with not drinking. We’ll see how that goes.

MPS: Jesse is also dealing with a young man who comes into town as well as the case and his drinking. What do you enjoy about having your protagonists having so much to deal with in a story?

RFC: Life is pretty complicated for all of us. We’re never dealing with just one thing. My dad had a form of bone cancer from the time I was four years old, but that wasn’t the only thing in his life he had to manage. He had his job, his family, he still loved sports. Why should we let our protagonists have it easy by dealing with just one thing? What’s fun for me is watching Jesse juggle all the new stuff in his life with the old stuff and the crimes at hand.

MPS: I was happy to see Suitcase come more into his own. I think that’s the one character in the series that can easily be mishandled and you have always given him three dimensions as well as growth. Do you have to approach him in a certain way?

RFC: I approach Suit the way I approach all my characters. Anyone who has ever heard me speak or teach a class on writing has heard me say, “There is no such thing as a minor character.” I never think of my characters as cartoon-ish. For me, they all have full internal lives and that’s how I think of them when I write them. It’s easy to love Suit, the big guy, the earnest guy with the big heart who is kind of goofy and envious. But he was always so much more than that for me as a reader and I wanted him to become more realized in my Jesse books. He is brave and loving and I wanted to show that. I think I’ve accomplished with him what I set out to do.

MPS: You often have more than one iron in the fire. Is there anything we need to look out for?

RFC: Well, yes, I’m writing the prequel novel to film director Michael Mann’s magnum opus crime drama Heat. It should be out sometime in 2019. Also other big projects ahead about which I am very excited, but about which I cannot speak.  

3 Picks for September

Depth of Winter: A Longmire Mystery Cover ImageThe Depth Of Winter by Craig Johnson

Sheriff Walt Longmire marches into Mexico’s narco territory with a ragged band of misfits and several moral compromises to find his kidnapped daughter and settle things with long time nemesis Tomas Bidarte. Even at his grimiest and grittiest, Craig Johnson finds the humor and humanity in his characters.

 

 

 

Robert B. Parker's Colorblind (A Jesse Stone Novel) Cover ImageRobert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

Police Chief Jesse Stone, who just quit drinking, has to contend with a hate group when his black officer is accused of shooting the leader’s unarmed son. Coleman weaves Jesse’s personal struggle into a timely plot that examines race for a satisfying police mystery with real characters and emotion. Reed Farrel Coleman will be at BookPeople on September 16th at 5PM, to sign and discuss Colorblind.

 

 

Charlesgate Confidential Cover ImageCharlesgate Confidential by Scott Von Doviak

The robbery of a Boston art museum in the forties reverberates through  four generations in the Charlesgate apartments. Von Doviak uses Boston lore to weave his story lines, creating a mix of The Big Chill and The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. Scott Von Doviak will be with Edwin Hill (Little Comfort) on Saturday, September 22nd at 6PM to sign and discuss their books.

One Brings Knowledge, the Other Brings Enthusiasm: Interview with Joe & Kasey Lansdale

Joe Lansdale has written several short horror stories featuring Dana Roberts, an investigator in the supernatural. Later on his daughter Kasey joined him on the stories that have Dana team up with her character, Jana. They recently released a collection of all the stories, plus a new one in Terror Is Our Business. Joe and Kasey will be at BookPeople August 23rd at 7pm to discuss and sign the book. We got to ask them a few questions early about working on the stories and together.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the character Dana Roberts come about?

Joe Lansdale: I was reading some old style ghost stories, and stories involving psychic detectives like Carnaki, Jules De Grandin, John Silence, thinking about The Nightstalker TV show, and I thought, you know, I’d like to write something like that, but in the older more “sober” tradition, as that wasn’t commonly in my wheelhouse, so I wrote a couple stories about a modern supernatural detective, she calls herself a detective of the Supernormal, meaning that she believes all things have a rational and scientific answer, even if we don’t know what it is yet. She’s a bit stiff as a character, in the old tradition, and I liked her quite a bit. I think both of the original stories were picked up for Best Horror of the Year, and I thought, okay, that’s it. But I had the urge to write a couple more, and did, one for an anthology Kasey edited titled Impossible Monsters. Later on, Kasey and I wrote a story together for a Chris Golden anthology, and Jana was born. She didn’t have a connection to Dana, but later we decided to put the two together. And truthfully, that overly sober Dana was wearing me out. I wanted some spice. Dana had that. She was a lot like Kasey, and Kasey came from a horror background, but like me, her interest are broader, and in fact, she was more excited by what is often called Women’s Fiction. I hate the term Chick Lit, as that designates the origin of the usage, which is that women are like hens, running around without design or purpose. But hey, there it is. We blended the ideas, with Kasey taking the helm and me pulling up the sails on that ship.

MPS: How did the stories change when Jana appeared on the scene?

Joe: They got funnier, more irreverent, less serious, at least from Jana’s viewpoint they were. They were still the same sort of stories, but Jana became the narrator. I think it made Dana more interesting to have Jana observe her and comment on her.  Dana is the master, and Jana is sort of the sorcerer’s apprentice.

Terror Is Our Business: Dana Roberts' Casebook of Horrors Cover ImageKasey: When Jana came in the picture, it felt like a natural transition, closer to the way dad and myself usually see things. Darkly humorous. It seemed like Jana’s existence allowed Dana to lighten up some, and find a middle ground with one another like real relationships of any sort do.

MPS: What do you think each of you bring to the stories?

Kasey: I think the female prospective has always been something my father is good at, but it was fun focusing on things that were from my point of view, in my current consciousness in certain instances. I think Jana allowed the humor to come in a little more since Dana was written intentionally stiff.

Joe:  One brings knowledge, the other brings enthusiasm.

MPS: Are there any particular authors who influenced the stories?

Joe: I mentioned my influences for this type of story in the first question, but to pin it more, William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, Seabury Quinn, and Richard Matheson’s original Night Stalker script, which established the character. There were others here and there.

Kasey: For me there wasn’t a particular author I was channeling, more the character of Jana kept calling for me to tell her own story. I felt very character driven with these stories.

MPS: These kinds of tales partly rely on an eerie mood. How do you approach that aspect of the writing?

Kasey: I think for me I just imagine the things that I find eerie. What are the things that make me uncomfortable and scared in a good way, and then try to channel that into the stories.

Joe: With me it’s something that has seeped into my bones since a child. I’ve read a lot of this stuff, and all manner of fiction. I learned by reading, absorbed it.

MPS: What makes them worth coming back to?

Joe: I did it out of nostalgia, but when I did, I began to learn lessons all over again. They’re more severely plotted than a lot of my work. The ones I did alone I didn’t plot out, but my internal knowledge of the stories plotted them as I wrote. When Kasey and I wrote together, we had some discussions, laid out some basic plot lines, thin, but directions. Otherwise, working together, we were riding our horses off in all directions at once. That doesn’t work too well.

Kasey: I think the relationship between the two characters is really the key. The juxtaposition of these two women is really what I am drawn to. I know women like both of the characters, and in some ways I am like both of them, though admittedly more like Jana. It’s about watching them both grow as individuals and as a team, and seeing how even very different people can come together for the greater good.

MPS: Do you see a novel length investigation for Dana and Jana?

Joe: We’ve discussed it. It may be in the cards.

Kasey: We definitely see more adventures for these two in the future. The response has been tremendous, and I enjoy getting to do work with my dad.

FAMILY AND FIREARMS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ACE ATKINS

The Sinners continues Ace Atkins’ southern crime fiction series with Afghan war vet and Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson. His jurisdiction of Tibbehah County is hopping with a murder tied to a nemesis of the previous sheriff, Quinn’s dead uncle. His buddy Boom finds himself working for a questionable trucking company. All his tied to Mississippi queen-pin Fannie. If that wasn’t enough, Quinn’s getting married. Ace will be at BookPeople on July 24th with Megan Abbott with her new book Give Me Your Hand to sign and discuss their latest books and crime fiction. We caught up with him early to catch us up with Quinn.

MysteryPeople Scott: Family plays a big part in the series, but especially in this one, with Quinn going after a criminal family who are in some part a result from the sins of his uncle. You also have him getting married. What did you want to explore?

The Sinners (Quinn Colson Novel #8) Cover ImageAA: When I first started this series, I liked the idea of playing with time. Being able to go back into the history of Tibbehah County and seeing the ripple effect of major events really interests me. Or as Mr. Faulkner says, the past is never dead . . .

I hope as the series moves forward to really explore the county — from its founding to the wild days of bootlegging and beyond. The connection to the important – and infamous – families keep us all tied to one big story.

MPS: I was happy to see Boom get a large amount of time as a character. What made you want to put more focus on him?

AA: I figured it was about damn time. Boom has been a supporting figure for far too long. He’s always interested me as a complex man who’s been to hell and back, coming home from Iraq with a horrific injury. I wanted Boom to to have his own story, away from Quinn, and outside Tibbehah County. I’d always like the idea of truckers, a big fan of the trucker films of the 70s, and thought Boom was ideal to take the wheel. I’ve heard about a lot of one-armed truckers who overcame their disability and conquered the road. There was no doubt Boom could do it.

MPS: Fannie grows to be a more complex and interesting character with each book. How did she initially come to creation?

Image result for ace atkinsAA: Oh, I love Fannie, too. She’s so much fun to write. She really came from a few places. Most notably Joan Crawford’s performance as Vienna in Johnny Guitar. I also borrowed a lot from a woman named Fannie Belle, a real life madame, I’d written about in one of my True Crime Novels, Wicked City.

I think her role – in the big picture of all the novels – has certainly grown. And her relationship with Quinn and her cohorts in the Dixie Mafia has only gotten more complex. She is a very strong independent woman in a male dominated world of crime. But she proves time and again, she can outsmart them all.

MPS: There is a great balance of the crime plot and the planning of the wedding, that never feels like a B story. What does that part of the book allow you to do with Quinn?

AA: That was really the toughest part of The Sinners for me. I knew Quinn was going to marry Maggie going back to The Fallen. It’s high time for him to get hitched, although he’ll never settle down. But I didn’t want write anything overly sentimental or melodramatic. And that’s hard as hell with a wedding. I think Quinn getting married, and now having a family with a young son, will only make the stories more interesting.

MPS: Do you think marriage means Quinn is settling down or will provide new struggles for him to deal with?

AA: I’d look at Quinn being married like Spenser with Susan Silverman. Just because a man is monogamous doesn’t mean his life is boring. In fact, I find the the bed-hopping hero to be a little old and unbelievable. Maybe in the sixties. But not now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at an author writing a hero who’s irresistible to women.

MPS: You’ll be doing an event with us at BookPeople with Megan Abbott. What makes her a stand-out author to you?

AA: Megan Abbott is simply the best! I admire her writing and her knowledge of the genre a ton. Whether it’s film noir or classic hard boiled heroes, few know more than Megan. We’ve been close friends for a long while and can’t wait to sit down and talk about her novel in Austin. Her latest book — Give Me Your Hand – is just outstanding, gut wrenching and mean as hell. I loved it.

FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOUR MYSTERIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH MEGAN ABBOTT

When it comes to portraying the darkest desires of the human heart and the actions they trigger, Megan Abbott writes about them with grace and elegance that creates eerie noir able to completely connect with the reader. Her latest, Give Me Your Hand, uses the backdrop of the science field to look at the danger of ambition and secrets with two researchers reunited in competition for a research project under an esteemed scientist and a shared confidence severed their bond in high school. Megan will be joining Ace Atkins whose new book is The Sinners for an event here Tuesday, July 24th at 7pm.

Image result for megan abbottMysteryPeople Scott: On first glance, the world of science and the lab seem like an atypical setting for noir. What did it allow you to do with the genre?

Megan Abbott: I guess I’ve always thought of labs as spooky places, full of atmosphere. Slick surfaces, dark corners and the body and mortality. Blood. And once I started to read about the hothouse environment in competitive labs, I knew it was perfect.  

MPS: What was your biggest take away in researching that world?

MA: The stakes are very high there. I became fascinated about stories of “labotage”—researchers sabotaging one another’s work, mixing up slides, dumping results. And it’s also a world where women are still very much in the minority, making it very complicated for women working in that world…which is what we see with Kit and Diane.

MPS: How did premenstrual dysphoric disorder become the research subject?

MA: Given the lack of funding for research into women’s health issues, I knew I wanted them to be studying a “female” condition. And I began reading about PMDD (AKA extreme PMS)—how calamitous it can be for women who suffer from it, how it can rule their lives. The extreme mood swings, the anger, the despair. I’m always drawn to stories that enable you to explore the way women’s bodies are seen as disruptive, dangerous.

MPS: Diane is one of those noir characters you often use who is part a full-fledged person and part the gaze of the protagonist. Do you have to keep anything in mind when dealing with that kind of character?

MA: What a great question. I think, with those characters, they’re mysteries to me during the first stages of writing the book. And then I slowly uncover their secrets—as I did Diane. And then ultimately, I grow to love them—as I did Diane. And that love is the only way the book works, if it does. I have to fall in love with my mysteries.

MPS: How did you get the name Diane Fleming, since it fits both who she is and what people picture her to be perfectly?

Give Me Your Hand Cover ImageMA: Boy, names are so hard. I usually keep changing the name over and over until one finally sticks, feels right. And I admit, this one just came to me. I hadn’t even thought of its larger resonances, but you’re right!

MPS: I couldn’t help but think Severin’s lab with a pool of smart talented people working on a project by an esteemed professional in the field sounded to me what the writers’ room of “The Deuce” might be like. Did you pull anything from your own experience for Give Me Your Hand?

MA: Haha! I don’t think so. But it was a very male environment for Lisa (Lutz) and me, so maybe there’s something to it!

MPS: You’ll being doing an event with us on July 24th with Ace Atkins, a writer who you are a big fan of. What do you admire about him?

MA: His ability to pound bourbon and talk Burt Reynolds movies until all hours of the night? His good looks and charm? Yes, yes, and yes. But most of all, it’s his books. I’ve read them all, I love them all, and The Sinners is Ace at his best. No one paints a world more vividly than Ace. No one has a richer palette of characters. He’s the best.

INTERVIEW WITH REAVIS WORTHAM

Hawke’s War, the second novel to feature Reavis Wortham’s hard case Texas Ranger Sonny Hawk, is an action packed paperback that rivals any blockbusters this summer when it comes to blazing guns and perilous chases, with Sonny in the cross hairs of both terrorists and a drug cartel out for revenge in Big Bend Park. Reavis will be joining fellow Texas crime writers Billy Kring and Ben Rehder at BookPeople on July 8th at 2PM, but we talked to him beforehand to get answers to a few questions.

Image result for reavis worthamMysteryPeople Scott: While it can be read by itself, the plot in Hawke’s War is a result from events in Hawke’s Prey. Did you know the first would lead into the second?

Reavis Wortham: The truth is that I have no idea what’s going to happen from one paragraph to the next, let alone from one book to another. Kensington Publishing gave me a three-book contract we call the Sonny Hawke Thriller Series. I pitched the idea for Hawke’s Prey one day and my agent liked it. She contacted Kensington and my editor there was excited about the idea of a contemporary Texas Ranger who walks a fine line between right and wrong. With that, I submitted the first novel for publication and a couple of weeks before they went to press, my editor sent me an email saying she needed the first chapter of Hawke’s War.

I had no idea what would happen. I sat down at my desk, put my fingers on the keys, and Big Bend National Park popped into my mind. I typed the first words that led to more. Before I knew it, four back country hikers were ambushed by an unknown shooter. Even then I didn’t have any idea who he was, or why he was shooting, until one survivor escaped. It was only then, when the narrative shifted perspective, did I know what was happening. It took several more chapters for even me to find out who the assassin was, and who he was ultimately after.

Hawke's War (Sonny Hawke Thriller #2) Cover ImageMPS: Big Bend National Park is the setting for a lot of the action. What made it a great back drop for this kind of story?

RW: After finishing the first novel, Hawke’s Prey, I realized what I was writing was a throwback to the old west. Some might call them modern westerns, but others simply use the term Texas Thriller. While I was working on the first book, the bride and I went out to Marfa and Alpine to explore. We wound up in Big Bend National Park for a few days, hiking and enjoying the high desert. On one of those hikes, I looked up at the rocks overhead and wondered, what if….

The Big Bend area is a vast, rugged landscape where hikers and tourists often get in trouble. The park service routinely rescues lost hikers and discussions with those personnel gave me an idea that eventually became Hawke’s War. To the east of the park is the Black Gap Wildlife Management area with extends down to the Rio Grande. The main two lane road dead ends at Boquillas de Carmen, a Mexican town on the other side of the river. The bridge there has been blocked since 9-11, and the town died. It was the perfect setting for the climax and a wonderful backdrop for a modern western thriller.

MPS: This book has more action packed into it than a John Woo and Stallone movie combined, yet I never lost touch with Sonny, his friends and family. How do you keep us connected to those handful of characters, while keeping things constantly moving?

RW: Wow. What a compliment! Folks are asking me that question more and more and the answer is simple. I don’t know. I truly can’t explain what goes on in my subconscious when I’m writing. I see it appear on my computer screen as if someone else is writing the story, and when character perspective changes, I want to know what’s going on with the others, so I look at the story through their eyes. It’s a juggling act that comes easy on my part, but probably harder with writers who have to outline.

MPS: One of your good friends is thriller writer John Gilstrap. Did you take anything from his books when developing this series?

RW: I haven’t taken anything from John’s books, but a lot from his experience. We routinely spend vast amounts of time consuming either Scotch or gin and talking about the business, sometimes all night long. He’s been a bestselling author for years, and has seen it all. We now read each other’s manuscripts and comment. He’s offered excellent suggestions that have improved my story lines, and helped me avoid a number of pitfalls. This also relates to your question above, about keeping things moving. I read his style and shifting character perspectives, and used those in my own works, with my own twists. Writers learn from other writers, much of the time before they start, when they’re young readers. Then they digest those styles and stories before creating their own characters, books, and series. I’ve learned from the best.

MPS: In both your series, you deal with Texas lawmen. What do you want to get across to the reader about that profession?

RW: As many know, my maternal grandfather was a lawman, a rural constable. I grew up with men and women who upheld the law. At the same time, my parents always told me that “The police are your very best friends. They will help you, and be there for you, if you only ask.”

Law enforcement officers are charged with the most difficult job in this country, in my opinion, and that’s to uphold the law. They deal with difficult people on a daily basis and do their best to maintain this delicate balance we call civilization. If it weren’t for them, this country would dissolve into chaos. That’s why I hold them in high regard, personally and professionally. My characters will always do what’s right and what’s best for the state and its inhabitants to keep them safe. I back everyone who wears a badge, and yeah, there are always a few bad people who damage their profession, but in the long run, they’re all just like us, family men and women who want to do their best every day.

MPS: You’ll have a new Red River book, Gold Dust, coming out in September. What can you tell us about that?

RW: Book 7 in this series, Gold Dust, is a little overdue, but that was to keep two books in two different series from releasing at the same time. For some reason, a number of readers thought the Red River series was over, but that’s not the case. Gold Dust picks up only a couple of months after Unraveled, the sixth book in the Red River series. Here’s the inside flap:

“As the 1960s draw to a close, the rural northeast Texas community of Center Springs is visited by two nondescript government men in dark suits and shades. They say their assignment is to test weather currents and patterns, but that’s a lie. Their delivery of a mysterious microscopic payload called Gold Dust from a hired crop duster coincides with fourteen-year-old Pepper Parker’s discovery of an ancient gold coin in her dad’s possession. Her adolescent trick played on a greedy adult results in the only gold rush in North Texas history. Add in modern-day cattle-rustlers and murderers, and Center Springs is once again the bull’s-eye in a deadly target.

The biological agent deemed benign by the CIA has unexpected repercussions, putting Pepper’s near-twin cousin, Top, at death’s door. The boy’s crisis sends their grandfather, Constable Ned Parker, to Washington D.C. to exact personal justice, joined by a man Ned left behind in Mexico and had presumed dead. The CIA agents who operate on the dark side of the U.S. government find they’re no match for men who know they’re right and won’t stop. Especially two old country boys raised on shotguns.

But there’s more. Lots more. Top Parker thought only he had what had become known as a Poisoned Gift, but Ned suffers his own form of a family curse he must deploy. Plus, there are many trails to follow as the lawmen desperately work to put an end to murder and government experimentation that extends from their tiny Texas town to Austin and, ultimately, to Washington, D.C. Traitors, cattle-rustlers, murderers, rural crime families, grave robbers, CIA turncoats, and gold-hungry prospectors pursue agendas that all, in a sense, revolve around the center of this small vortex called Center Springs.

Gold Dust seems to be fiction, but the truth is, it has already happened.”

Much of this story came from U.S. experimentation on our own citizens back in the 1950s. The more I read about this clandestine and deadly test in California, the more I wondered how many other times researchers used American citizens in their tests. At the same time, a Facebook friend asked if I’d ever heard of gold buried in Lamar County. That conversation led to the book’s second story line and once again, my subconscious took over, tied the two together, and Gold Dust almost wrote itself.

July Top Pick: Megan Abbott’s latest

There are few authors who push themselves like Megan Abbott. In doing so, she has expanded noir as well, demonstrating the elasticity of the genre. She has blazed a trail from seedy bars  and back allies to suburban homes and high school gymnasiums. In her latest, Give Me Your Hand, she proves science can be full of sin.

Give Me Your Hand Cover ImageThe book centers on the relationship of two scientists. Kit Owens toils as a researcher for the prominent Dr. Severin. She is in the running to be part of Severin’s team for a prominent study of premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Her chances are good, until Severin unknowingly brings in someone from the darkest part of Kit’s past.

Diane Fleming moved to Kit’s high school with whispers of her past and possessing the kind of discipline and drive Kit lacked at the time. Their friendship drove the other to be their best, physically and mentally. Abbott is able to describe their relationship with nuance and subtleties to portray something much deeper than competitiveness. The bond becomes severed when Diane shares a dark secret with Kit, not as much for the revelation itself but the fact that Kit is burdened to hold it. Now that Diane has returned to her life in this manner, the secret becomes even heavier.

Image result for megan abbottAbbott deftly uses that secret as the centerpiece of the book. It drives the front part of the narrative with the story building tension by the withholding of it and juxtaposing Kit and Diane’s teen years with their reunion. Both the timing and the subject turn the reveal into a well executed bomb. The rest of the book’s suspense come from where and how hard the fragments crash after the explosion.

The lab setting would seem less fitting for noir, but Abbott uses the world to her advantage. The competition of the study sets up subtle back-biting that could lead to back stabbing, A certain job involving an incinerator comes in handy. The antiseptic environment makes for an interesting contrast to the messy emotions that play out in the harsh sterile light.

With Give Me Your Hand Megan Abbott ratchets the tension at page one and never stops as she delves into female friendship, different forms of sexism in science, and ambition. While seated deep in noir, it never goes for the obvious tropes. Once again, she takes the genre on her her own terms and takes no prisoners.

Make sure you’re here July 24th at 7pm when Megan is here to discuss the book along with Ace Atkins.