Q & A for ForeWord Reviews

ForeWord Reviews asks authors to submit some information in the form of a Q & A. I have just submitted that via email and my editor Emily Victorson told me to post it to the blog too. Thanks to ForeWord for the nice review, here’s the info:

When did you start reading, and what did you like to read as a child?

I read lots of Nancy Drew books. In fact my father used to pay me a quarter for every book read and I loved those stories. I thought the roadster she drove around was cool. My father got a big kick out of the sheer number of books I would go through. I grew out of children’s series quickly and soon tackled Agatha Christie and historical fiction.

When you were growing up did you have books in your home?

Not so many. My father had a college degree but he was a real man of action, he received a Silver Star as a PT Boat skipper in WWII, played pro football briefly then was an FBI agent and eventually Police Commissioner of Boston for ten years. My mother could have gone to college and she started but she lost interest. Unlike some of my siblings I was lousy at sports and wore glasses. I soon found I could make a bigger impression by succeeding in academics so I concentrated on that. I was also able to retreat from a noisy family of five kids by reading a book. I probably got more books from libraries then from owning them.

When did you think about becoming a writer? Who inspired you to write?

I had a couple inspirational English teacher in high school and I majored in English at Mount Holyoke College. I needed a job so I worked at Wellesley College Library while getting a Masters in Library Science nights. That wasn’t interesting enough so I also did a Masters in English (and 5 years of Chinese language). But I wasn’t really interested in criticism or teaching. As early as freshman year in high school I made friends with someone who also had read all of Agatha Christie and when our parents rented beach houses near each other I can remember us walking along inventing a story. In college I read through all the golden age writers like Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Raymond Chandler and Dasheil Hammet, as well as all the literary authors I read in my classes. I think Agatha Christie inspired me the most. I really liked her puzzles.

How do you write? Do you have a daily routine? What’s good, bad, and ugly about the process?

It’s good to set yourself up so that you can do the writing and feel like you are avoiding doing something else you don’t want to do. I’m not married and I don’t have children, but I do have a full time job that is very interesting. I write best when I can just do nothing else for a day or a weekend. I do need to rewrite. I get good input from a monthly meeting of my writers group (we named ourselves the Complete Unknowns a while back), and when I get a full draft I pick a couple of close readers who are fans of historical mysteries to give me comments. My editor is very helpful as well.

Do you have any particular story to tell concerning the writing of this book?

I can’t remember how I picked the Pullman strike, because it was a few years ago I started looking into it. But as with my other books I find it very interesting to be able to actually visit a historical site. I have been on a number of different tours of Pullman which exists as a neighborhood of privately owned homes now. You can feel the influence of the people who planned a place like that in the past. Once I started to look into this story I was amazed at the things that happened. I think the fact that an American city was occupied by federal troups was just mind boggling to me. I found a tremendous dramatic build up just in the facts of what happened. These provide a great sense of impending conflict as a background to the fictional story I am telling. Also, I had described some African Americans and Italian immigrants in the first two books. I have some Irish immigrants in this one. My father’s family would have come to Boston from the west coast of Ireland around this time period.

What advice have you received concerning writing? What advice would you offer young writers?

Write a lot, I guess. And at least in the mystery genre, other writers can be very generous. I also worked with a group of amateur actors when I lived in Columbus Ohio. They presented mystery nights to raise money for a local library. I provided the plots and characters. That was fun and a great learning experience. I have a number of unpublished manuscripts in a drawer. You learn by writing. Keep writing.

How did you find the publisher for this book? What has your experience as a publisher been like?

Allium Press is a small local independent publisher. I actually published my first book myself first then moved to Allium. The experience is fine. For me, at this point, a small independent publisher is a way to be able to build a readership without having to sell 10-15K books. I think for my books they can have time to catch on in Chicago, where they are set and to move out to others. Also, Allium is putting out ebooks automatically and I believe that is something needed for the type of book I write.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on DEATH AT WOODS HOLE. I discovered that scholars from the University of Chicago actually attended and ran the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I’m from Boston and have a family house on Cape Cod. The Laboratory is still an important institution, and like the other places I write about you can visit it and wonder about the people who were here in the past. It is a fascinating aspect of that turn of the century that science and scientists were coming into their own. Think of what scientific research brought us in the course of the twentieth century. So, my characters will go to Woods Hole next. After that I’d like to set a story in Chicago’s Chinatown. I’ve already started the easy part, the research for that.

What are you reading now?

I just finished a Rhys Bowen historical mystery Danny Boy. She just published one set in New York’s Chinatown in the early 1900’s. I’d like to read that. Ive run into a number of mentions of Tim Hallinan’s Queen of Patpong, so I’ve started that, and I just finished No Less in Blood a modern story with a parallel story in the 1890’s and I recently read a few time travel stories by Connie Willis. I have piles of to be read materials too.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Besides all of the Nancy Drew stories, I remember I also loved Anne of Green Gables.

What are your top five authors?

Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, for books that helped me lately to do historical mysteries I especially like Laurie King and Steven Saylor. Ah, P.G. Wodehouse

Have you ever bought a book because of its cover? If so, which one?

No, don’t think I have. I do really, really like the covers that Emily Victorson of Allium Press has designed for my books though.

What book changed your life?

Pride and Prejudice. Don’t know why. Just loved the voice.

Do you have a favorite line from a book?

“How could I spend the springtime of my life staring into the eyes of a dead fish?” From P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith.


Chicago Tribune review by Julia Keller

Thanks to Julia Keller for a writeup in the Chicago Tribune


Photographer Heather Charles of the Tribune came down to the Florence Hotel in Pullman and took a fantastic picture. I love having the Florence in the background.

Chicago Tribune books 03122011
Picture at Florence Hotel by Heather Charles