MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Dorsey

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Blogger Meike Alana

Tim Dorsey, known for his mischievous characters and their bizarre adventures, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest novel of Floridian high-jinks, Clownfish Blues, on Sunday, March 5th, at 5 PM. Our Meike Alana interviewed Tim via email to give us all some insight into the weird, wonderful world of Dorsey’s novels.

Meike Alana: Your books include a lot of Florida history, but not the textbook kind–you are a master at revealing the weird and wacky side of the state.  How do you manage to unearth so much fascinating material?

Tim Dorsey: It’s simply a matter of wearing out a lot of tire rubber. I get a map and look for all of the most remote roads. It’s a labor of love driving and poking around at these places.

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Judgement, Absolution, and Crickets: MysteryPeople Q&A with Alexandra Burt

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

If you’re out and about tomorrow night, have we got a great event planned here at the store! Alexandra Burt joins us to speak and sign her latest psychological thriller, The Good Daughter (also our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month for February) on Tuesday, February 21st at 7 PMThe Good Daughter follows a daughter’s search for her own, and her mother’s, true identities. The novel takes place in a small Texas town, and weaves together modern-day murders with historic injustices for a well-crafted and suspenseful tale. 

Molly Odintz: You’ve spoken a bit about the experiences that inspired you to write The Good Daughter – could you tell us a bit about the real story behind the characters in the novel? 

Alexandra Burt: The Good Daughter was inspired by the demise of a marriage I witnessed. A middle-aged woman disappears and her husband finds their house void of her belongings. There are questions but no answers and he makes it his mission to get to the reason as to why she left him. Through detective work her life story unfolds and with every passing day more secrets come to light. It becomes apparent that he knows next to nothing about her; thirteen years of marriage yet she has remained a stranger. This is not just the whim of a middle-aged woman looking to end a marriage, but bombshell after bombshell explodes and a story unfolds of victims she has left in her wake.

When I found out her entire family suffered from mental illness, I struggled to assign blame, I bounced back and forth between judging her and absolving her from guilt. She was in no way responsible for any genetic predisposition regarding her mental health—but I questioned the choices she had made that impacted people around her, especially her children. In The Good Daughter Dahlia says about her mother: “Before she committed a crime against me, there were crimes committed against her. And though I know one cannot understand someone else’s pain, I want to say that hers was much heavier, reached much further beneath her skin.”

I wrote The Good Daughter because I felt the need for her story to end, to conclude itself into some sort of lesson learned, something fathomable; after writing the book, my preoccupation with her story became less powerful. Her life still haunts me and I have a feeling it will for a long time.

MO: I loved the creepy cricket imagery – so perfect for a Texas setting!  Can you tell us a bit about Texas as a sort of character in The Good Daughter

AB: There was an organic relationship between the setting of Aurora, Texas, and the crickets. In Texas, crickets are a plague of biblical proportions. You can’t escape them; they cover sidewalks and buildings, especially after periods of prolonged dry weather. Crickets are a symbol of the ugly parts of someone’s past that can’t be denied and the secrets we keep. A little known fact about crickets is that they display cannibalistic behavior and killing a few makes things worse. I chose a fictional town because the character Memphis has created this fictional story about her life, this condensed version that Dahlia, her daughter, can no longer accept. Big cities conjure up sentiments of loneliness and abandonment with literally millions of people around but small towns are places where secrets just won’t die. In The Good Daughter the past only comes alive because the characters find themselves in the same place where the past has been stuck in a dilapidated farmhouse, almost lying in wait. Small towns are unforgiving that way. It was a perfect setting for the story.

MO: The characters in The Good Daughter take the families they can get, assured in the knowledge that they probably can’t do better, yet frequently surprised by the secrets their loved ones hide. What did you want to explore about mother-daughter relationships, and family in general, in the novel? 

AB: I revisit mother-daughter relationships because it allows me the opportunity to live vicariously through my characters. My mother passed away when I was in college and her passing left such a vast black hole—I felt grief beyond loss, beyond darkness and despair. Her death was the end of nurturing, the end of safety, and the end of who I was. I was no longer a daughter. Eventually I became the mother of a daughter, and I was able to speak for both sides. I love to explore the mother-part as much as the daughter-part, I step inside that relationship and I poke around, see what they are made of, what it takes to pull them apart and bring them back together. We become parents and raise children and we have to define what our childhood was all about and what it means to be a good parent. It’s a very profound experience, much more than I expected it to be.

MO: You’ve described the novel’s setting of Aurora, TX, as like any small town in Texas. We cover the topic of small town secrets quite a bit on this blog – what drew you to a small town setting? 

AB: Setting is literally my first thought when I start a project: which city/town/area lends itself to telling the story, how is the setting a mirror of the theme? I live in a small town in Texas and I have come across old farmhouses and buildings that have remained abandoned for decades. In cities, buildings are usually demolished and new ones take their place but in rural areas buildings sit undisturbed and are left to their own devices for decades. Most people don’t give them a second thought—but there are stories left behind within those walls, remnants of peoples’ lives. An abandoned farmhouse on the outskirts of a small Texas town is a metaphor for time passing yet being stuck in the past at the same time, and that creates the friction. Abandoned houses are not just bricks and wood and stucco but they are a state of being.

MO: What inspired the rather brutal folk magic in the book? What did you want to say about responsibility and ritual? What is the purpose of the witch in the novel? What is her message?

AB: There’s an elephant in the room/novel and it is the fact that the story has a witch in it. It was a peculiar yet crucial part of the story. A long time ago, wise women lived on the edge of their communities and made a living with herbalism, prophecy and divination as well as healing and midwifery. In The Good Daughter the character Aella lives on the outskirts of the town of Aurora, practicing folk magic. The ritual she suggests, as brutal and horrific as it is, is historically authentic and was relayed to me during my research. Aella’s presence in the story is foresight of justice to come; there’s a price to be paid for everything, nothing will be given to you without the universe demanding something in return. So be careful what you wish for. The truth Dahlia is after contains not only facts and explanations but also pain. It’s like tearing open curtains allowing sunlight to flood in—suddenly everything is exposed; cracks in ceilings, chipped china, and dented furniture. We have to take the good with the bad and we instinctively know that but often it comes as a surprise. Aella’s presence in the story is my paying homage to the wise woman in all of us.

MO: With your first crime novel, Remember Mia, you immediately became not just a Texas writer but an internationally best-selling author. How has it felt to reach bestseller status so quickly? 

AB: It doesn’t cross my mind often, I’m just too busy. More than anything I’m incredibly humbled by the fact that people believed in me. A bestseller is the combined effort of countless people and I’m reminded of that when I get an email from my editor on a Saturday at midnight, the extent to which people go to help me succeed. All the copy editors and line editors, the booksellers, the librarians, and of course the readers. When I think of a bestseller, I think of all those people whose names do not appear on the cover of a book. I am so full of appreciation and so many people gave so much to make this possible. Eternal gratitude is what I feel and the hope that I have many more good books and some bestsellers in me.

MO: Who are some of your writing inspirations, both in the genre, and outside of it? 

AB: I have a passion for crime fiction and a love for literary fiction so if an author can combine the two, I’m in hog heaven. One of my favorite books of 2016 was Descent by Tim Johnston, it combined crime and literary fiction. I adore classic crime writers like Patricia Highsmith and my favorite contemporary crime writers are all across the board. I have come across many novels that aren’t from known authors but were amazing, just blew me away. The name of an author is not important; if you captivate me, you will inspire me, regardless of the genre, literary or not. I’m always looking for a dark horse, an underdog, someone fresh and daring with a bold, weird tale that catches my attention and draws me in.

MO: As someone who has lived in multiple countries, would you be tempted to use Germany as a setting in some of your future work, or do you plan to continue writing Texas tales? 

AB: Yes, I am tempted, very much so. I can’t say that I have a concrete story in mind but I have been thinking about the possibility for years. So the answer is yes, I am tempted but I’m not sure when. My next book is also set in Texas but I see myself mixing it up a bit in the future. Whatever the story demands is where I’ll take it.

MO: What are you working on next? 

I am working on a book that is loosely based on and inspired by a true crime in which money allowed the guilty to evade criminal justice. I diligently follow unsolved crimes and there is one high profile crime that went unsolved and I have been fascinated with it for decades. The story is very much set in stone but it is structurally still wobbly. I’m still toying with it, trying to figure out what it demands.

You can find copies of The Good Daughter on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Alexandra Burt joins us tomorrow, Tuesday, February 21st, at 7 PM to speak and sign her latest. 

MysteryPeople Review: BEHIND HER EYES by Sarah Pinborough

  • Review by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Sarah Pinborough comes to BookPeople this Saturday, February 18th, at 3 PM to speak and sign her new genre-bending psychological thriller of suspense, Behind Her Eyesreviewed below. 

9781250111173When given an opportunity to read master-of-all-genre-fiction Sarah Pinborough’s shocking new thriller, Behind Her EyesI had no idea what to expect – aside from the cover’s promise of a twist at the end. After finishing the book, staring at nothing for a good half hour thinking “wtf just happened?!?!!!,” and rereading various parts of the book to reinterpret the meaning of significant passages in the light of new information, I felt grateful that I came into the book with no expectations. The reader who thinks they know what to expect should just toss that idea out the window right now. You cannot possibly predict that wonderful horrorshow of an ending.

Pinborough’s latest appears, at first, to tell the story of a love triangle. As the tale continues, sinister agendas arise and reshape our perceptions of characters, plotlines, and reality itself. In the elaborate, many layered nature of its twist, Behind Her Eyes conjures the specter of the films The Sixth SenseThe Spanish Prisoner, or any other tale that can be finished and reconsidered in an entirely new light based on the end.

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The Inconsistencies of the Human Heart: MysteryPeople Q&A with Reed Farrel Coleman

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

If you follow MysteryPeople to any degree, you know that I’m a die hard fan of Reed Farrel Coleman. Just check my Top Ten List of 2016. His latest, What You Break, the follow up to the Edgar nominated Where It Hurts, continues with wounded ex-Suffolk cop Gus Murphy as he tries to help his co-worker and friend Slava take care of some men out to kill him. Murphy also takes a job for a shady energy czar, Micah Spears, to look into the murder of his adopted granddaughter. Both cases deal with how people deal with the darkest parts of their lives. It’s a book I can’t wait to discuss with Reed when he comes to BookPeople on February 10th with Robert Knott. Consider these six questions below a warm up.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did you want to challenge Gus in What You Break?

Reed Farrel Coleman: Without giving too much away, I have always been fascinated by the inconsistencies of the human heart. For instance, early in my career I did book signings with a retired NYPD detective who was later convicted of being a mob hit man. He and his partner killed at least seven people, one of them the wrong man, but I knew him as a nice, gregarious guy. Even after I found out that he was a coldblooded murderer, I could not force that other view of him out of my head. In What You Break, Gus is confronted with two men who have done some heinous things. His challenge is what should he do with the knowledge he gains and how should he feel about these men.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames

We’re happy to be hosting Terry Shames tomorrow, January 24th, at 7 PM, right here at BookPeople, for a panel discussion on small town crime fiction with Melissa Lenhardt and James W. Ziskin. Her latest, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, looks into the earlier days of the central Texas police chief. Meike Alana was able to ask Terry a few questions before the event. 

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Meike Alana: An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock takes us back to Samuel’s earliest days in law enforcement. What made you feel it was time for a prequel?

Terry Shames: After my first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, came out, my editor said he would like me to write a prequel. I loved the idea, but I already had several current stories in mind, so I put it on the back burner. Eventually I had enough Craddock books published so that people knew Craddock and were invested in him, so it seemed like the right time for the prequel. I knew all along that I wanted to explore how Samuel became the kind of man he is in the later stories, a man of integrity and responsibility, with compassion and a strong sense of ethics. And I also knew the true story that I was going to base the book on.


MA: When your series debuted Samuel was an aging widower, and fans of the series know of the deep love and admiration he had for his late wife Jeanne. In this novel, we get to witness their relationship in its earliest formative period. Was Jeanne as a character already fully formed in your imagination, and was this a chance for the reader to get to know her too? Or was the novel an opportunity for you to explore and discover what Jeanne was really like?

TS: I always knew that Jeanne was not the person the readers saw in the first novels through Samuel’s eyes. He was grieving, and as many people do when they are in the first stages of grief, he made her into something of a saint. I knew that as the books progressed he would start to remember her more clearly. When I tackled the sequel, I knew there would be some things about the young Jeanne that might surprise people. It may even upset some readers who thought they knew her. You have to understand I actually see my characters as real people. If they didn’t have some negatives traits, they would be boring. And as a writer, I feel strongly that sometimes you have to surprise readers with a little dose of reality.

MA: Samuel initially takes the job as police chief thinking it will an easy gig; right away he’s confronted with a multiple murder, drug dealing, and corruption—all while dealing with family drama surrounding his brother. Without giving anything away, can you tell us about how these contribute to Samuel’s character development?

TS: Samuel did not have an easy upbringing, and that could have made him a bitter and irrational person. But he stepped out of that life and went into the Air Force and on to college. Both are institutions that take over of a lot of the choices people have to make while they grow into adults. In a way they are protected from the outside world because there are strict rules that have to be followed if you are going to succeed. When Samuel comes back to Jarrett Creek, he is a different young man than the one who left. He hasn’t decided what he’ll do with himself, and in fact his choices are limited in a small town.

When the job of chief of police is offered to him, he thinks it will be easy—after all how much can a small town of 3,000 people get up to? It turns out they can get up to the same things people get up to in cities. When a horrendous murder is committed in his town, he is not actually responsible for the investigation. State law enforcement agencies are responsible for that. Only when he realizes that the person who in charge is going to do a shoddy job does he confront himself with his choice—will he be a man of character who pursues the true guilty party, or will he let it slide? To force the issue, I conjured up a reporter who is ten years older and who is fiercely dedicated to reporting the truth. She challenges Craddock, and it moves him ever closer to his crisis. I loved this part. It says so much about people and circumstances.

MA: In the titular unsettling crime, a local black man is arrested for murder and Samuel is certain that he’s been wrongfully accused. Knowing that the law works differently for black men, he goes to grea lengths to clear the man’s name despite receiving threats. The racial themes resonate even (or maybe especially) today. What was your inspiration for tackling such a difficult and complex topic?

TS: I grew up in Texas at a time when racial prejudice was rampant. But I grew up with high regard for my grandfather, who once said, “I don’t care what color a man is. If he can work alongside me, he’s okay by me.” That made a great impression on me. I know that Texas has gotten much better at racial inclusion, but there’s still a lot of racism and bigotry alive and well. Not just in Texas, but all over the United States. I really think that as a serious writer, it is up to me to explore these issues. You say it’s difficult and complex, but in reality, Samuel has a core of decency that made the book easier to write than you might think. When decent people take it on themselves to confront a corrupt system, things can be rectified.

“I think for many of us the place where we grew up is deeply embedded. I do return to the town where these books are set and I always have a strong sense of homecoming. The smells peculiar to the town; the taste of the water; the sights of pickup trucks and gravel and the railroad tracks and the vegetation; the sounds of people’s accents are all familiar.”

MA: Which character from Samuel’s past was your favorite to explore?

TS: I enjoyed trotting out Samuel’s mother. I hoped she would not become a caricature. I have actually known people like that who never seem to be able to say a kind word and who live with resentment and bitter judgment. It might have been interesting to explore why she is the way she is, but this story was not hers.

MA: “Terry” is one of those names that could be masculine, and when I started your series I was quite certain it was written by a man living in Texas. I was pretty surprised to learn you are actually a lady living in (of all places) California. I know you spent your younger years in Texas, but you write so convincingly about a place that isn’t actually still your home. Do you write just from memory? Do you make frequent research trips to Texas?

TS: I think for many of us the place where we grew up is deeply embedded. I do return to the town where these books are set and I always have a strong sense of homecoming. The smells peculiar to the town; the taste of the water; the sights of pickup trucks and gravel and the railroad tracks and the vegetation; the sounds of people’s accents are all familiar. That said, Jarrett Creek is really a town that lives in my head. I first wrote about it in the 80s when I wrote some short stories set there. The town in my head bears a lot of resemblance to the real one, but there are also “convenient” differences. For example, in the book I’m working on now I’ve erected a whole line of homes near the lake that don’t actually exist. That’s the value of not sticking to reality.

MA: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

TS: I’m working on the next novel in the series, set in current time. It has a very dark core. I usually like to add humor into the books, but his one is going to take some work to put in light moments. The last Craddock book I wrote was a prequel, so I haven’t written about Samuel Craddock in current times for two years! I found it hard slogging to get back to things as they are now. I keep wanting to refer to people that were in the prequel, but they aren’t part of the story anymore. It wasn’t a problem I envisioned, and it’s slowly subsiding. The book is called A Reckoning in the Back Country. I’m interested when certain words crop up in book titles. Only after I had settled on the title did I hear of another book with the word “Reckoning” in the title, Louise Penny’s current book. It gives me a chill to think of that word roiling through the current zeitgest and cropping up in titles.

You can find copies of An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Terry Shames comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM. She’ll be joined by James W. Ziskin and Melissa Lenhardt, fellow masters of the small-town mystery. 

Researching the Not-Too-Distant Past: Guest Blog from James W. Ziskin

James W. Ziskin’s Ellie Stone mysteries have become one of our favorite series here at the store, and we’re pleased to say that James will be joining us in person on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his latest, Heart of Stone. He’ll be joined by Terry Shames and Melissa Lenhardt for a panel discussion on small town mysteries. 

Researching The Not-Too-Distant Past

  • Guest Blog from James W. Ziskin

I write the Ellie Stone Mysteries, a series of traditional whodunnits with hints of noir set in the early 1960s. Readers often ask me about the research necessary when writing stories that take place in the past. I always say the research is one of the most rewarding and frightening aspects of writing historicals, especially ones set in the not-too-distant past. Rewarding why? Because it’s fun to immerse yourself in another era, to reflect on what people did, how they did it, and what they were wearing when they did it. But for me, the rewards of recreating a believable past come with the fear of getting some historical detail wrong. And having some gleeful know-it-all point out the error for all to see. That’s enough to keep me on my toes.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Mette Ivie Harrison

 

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

 

 

Mette Ivie Harrison has been one of our favorites at MysteryPeople over the past couple years, both for her psychologically astute protagonist and for her richly detailed depiction of a Mormon community. We’ve selected each of her crime novels as our Pick of the Month, including her latest, For Time and All Eternities, which continues her exceptional depiction of internal debates within Mormonism, as well as establishing her growing mastery over the genre.

We’re excited to announce she’ll be joining us to speak and sign her latest next Monday, January 24th, at 7 PM. Mette was kind enough to answer some questions ahead of the event. 


Molly Odintz: I loved the locked-compound aspect of your latest. What inspired you to do a locked-door mystery?

Mette Ivie Harrison: It was only after I’d started writing it that I realized that was what it was. I had to go back in and add a few details to make it a little more locked, like the fence around the compound, and then I had fun, playing with the more elaborate reasons not to call the police and have Linda be the detective without having to step around an official investigation.

“One of the pleasures and pains of this series is that I get to (and must) grapple with Mormonism now, which means that it is changing every moment and I have to be able to write about that in a cogent way.”

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