Good afternoon, Linda – I hope you’re comfortable. Once the Sodium Pentothal takes effect you’ll find everything much easier or not…it all depends on how much you struggle. I advise less struggle more compliance.
Is that why I’m dizzy and disoriented? I’d thought it might be due to being suddenly at the bottom of the world. I’m not very good at compliance, I’m afraid. Always been a struggler.
What’s your favorite type of takeaway?
I’m lucky. In my hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, we have so many good ethnic restaurants that it would just depend on what I’m in the mood for at the time. I could have excellent Indian, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Greek, Iranian, Italian, Irish, Mexican, Salvadoran, Cajun, and Kansas City barbecue all within a short distance of my home—and I love all of those cuisines.
Describe your current mental status.
Optimistic and positive, if overwhelmed.
How much of you is in your main character in your award winning novel Every Last Secret?
Skeet Bannion is younger, thinner, stronger, and better-looking than I. She’s also a trained and armed police officer while I’m a former academic. We have similar Cherokee grandmothers who made a great imprint on us. We both knit. We both have a strong sense of responsibility for others, especially those we’ve taken as our own (relatives, friends, protégés), and will go to the wall to defend or protect them. Skeet has a lot more insecurity about herself as a woman. We both were tomboys in childhood, and we both never cared much for make-up, high heels, or traditional “feminine refinements,” such as ruffles or fashion. Neither of us suffers fools gladly.
Do you have a favorite coffee? Do you drink coffee?
Yes, I drink coffee. Black. A good, rich dark-roast coffee will always make me happy. I love good Mexican coffee with its cinnamon, too. I love to go to my favorite coffee shop and sit for hours, drinking coffee and writing. I drink hot tea on a daily basis at home, though. My absolute favorite is Oxford Afternoon tea, which I’ve only been able to have when I was in Oxford, England.
Where did the concept for your latest book come from?
I spent many years as an administrator in higher education. I worked with the campus police chief often, dealing with many issues. When I wanted to write a mystery because I love to read crime fiction, I decided to write one with a murder set on a campus since I could think of dozens of possible reasons and suspects for murder. I wanted a protagonist who wasn’t just some nosy parker but would have a real reason for solving the crime. I wanted her to have the strength, knowledge, and weaponry to rescue others and herself, but I didn’t want to do another police procedural, so I thought of having her leave the city police force to run the campus police. Most people aren’t aware that many U.S. campuses have their own police forces with duly commissioned officers, often recruited from nearby city police departments. Ergo, Skeet Bannion, former urban homicide detective and new campus police chief, was born.
Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants before you sit down to write, or perhaps you prefer commando? While we’re discussing your underpants, budgie smuggles or boxers…inquiring minds want to know.)
When it comes to underwear, I go for comfort over fashion, as with all my clothes. None of them are lucky, but I do make sure I’m always wearing some before I sit down to write. Though truthfully, some mornings I will get up very early and turn on the computer, and the next thing I know it’s 10:00 a.m., and I’m still in pajamas. Most mornings, though, I get up barely in time to feed my husband breakfast and send him off. I have lupus and fibromyalgia plus a back that’s been surgically redesigned, so early mornings are frequently quite painful for me, and I’m rather slow-moving. Once I’m alone in the house, I sit at the computer and go to work. I treat writing as a full-time job. I spend more than eight hours a day on it, because there’s so much promotion and other business to take care of, in addition to writing my books. When I’m in the middle of a first draft of a novel, though, all that practical stuff goes into the evenings because I stay in the book writing all day. On a good day, if I don’t have to break off to deal with something else, I can write ten or more reasonably good pages. I struggle to keep the world of practical chores of all kinds away during those times and unfortunately don’t manage that often enough. When I do and the writing’s flowing, though, it’s darn near as good as sex! Certainly as good as drinking.
Do you ever see yourself writing a vampire story? (Team Edward or Team Jacob… or are you more likely to join me by stuffing your head into a gas oven than ever going to the Edward or Jacob place?)
I could definitely see myself writing an urban fantasy story, but probably not with vampires. I like well-written vampire stories (not Twilight!) but they’ve been dreadfully overdone lately. (Vampires do not sparkle, nor do they go to high school. They are ancient, dark beings, and if you don’t want that, leave them alone.) I’d want to look at some other myths or make my own.
Who would you turn gay for, or alternately who would you turn straight for? (My Admin tells me she’d be jumping tracks for either MacGyver or Mark Valley.)
Dame Maggie Smith. I’ve always gone for intelligence and class in men, so I imagine I’d find the same things seductive in a woman. And age is a minor thing—unless your beloved is under the age of consent!
Who are your favorite writers?
Charles Dickens, numero uno, our Shakespeare of the novel. Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Virginia Woolf in second place. (I know it’s an incongruous grouping, but not as much as you might think.) Dostoevsky, Austen, Trollope, Steinbeck, Cather, Jane Smiley, Margaret Atwood, and Margaret Drabble all right in after that. And of course, I’ve not named the poets, but that’s another side of my writing life and my influence.
Of today’s crime writers, I’ve many favorites. Daniel Woodrell, Louise Penny, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Charles Todd, Sara Paretsky, Paul Doiron, Nancy Pickard, Margaret Maron, John Lescroart, Kathleen George, Carolyn Haines, and many more. We’re easily in another Golden Age of crime writing.
Who inspires you to do better?
I am fortunate enough to know a number of wonderful writers, including some quite famous ones, and they all constantly inspire me to do better. If I had to choose only one person, I suppose it would be my dear friend, Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and founder of the Macondo Writers Community. Sandra received the MacArthur “genius” grant and used that money to set up a foundation to help other writers. She is constantly giving back to the community, and she’s always challenging herself in her work and her life. She’s the most spiritually evolved person I know—and the most absolute fun to hang around with.
Do you ever put pants on your dog?
My dog is a Plott hound, bred to hunt bears. Imagine a mastiff head on an antelope’s body. You’d have to catch him first to dress him, and then you might be very sorry.
Describe your ultimate day?
I actually had a month of them at Ragdale, a fabulous writers colony outside of Chicago. I woke each morning, showered and went down to breakfast, where I chatted with other writers as we ate. Then, back to my spacious writing studio overlooking virgin prairie to work until I took a break for a solitary lunch. Then, back up to work in such quiet and peace that you’ve never seen. (There were signs everywhere warning visitors, “Quiet! Artists at work!”) At 6:30 pm, I would walk to the next building and the large kitchen to chat with the chef and the other writers until dinner was served around the large dining room table, and we had the most fascinating conversations about our creative work. After dinner, I walked back to my building and worked some more or read until an early bedtime.
Wonderful chef, healthy and delicious food, maid service, the company of other writers and visual artists, spacious living and working quarters, visually beautiful surroundings, peace, quiet, free time—and no phone or internet during working hours so no one could reach me, wanting something. The only thing that would make it better would be if my husband could accompany me and my animals.
Who is your favorite fictitious villain? Or are you all about the hero? Who do you love to hate?
Dickens had some marvelous villains—Wackford Squeers, Quilp, Steerforth, and many more—but probably my favorite is Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty, the archetype of the archvillain.
Tell us a bit about your journey to become a published novelist.
I’ve been a published poet for years and have won a number of awards in poetry, but I’d always wanted to be a novelist. I was forced to leave my job as director of a university women’s center because of health problems. That freed up time to pursue novel writing. I received a generous fellowship to spend a month at Ragdale and was able to write the draft of my next book of poems and finish revising Every Last Secret. An editor suggested that I submit the manuscript to the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. I won, and at last year’s Malice Domestic Conference, my publisher presented me with the award—a publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books and a $10,000 advance. After that, I found an incredible agent, Ellen Geiger. St. Martin’s and my editor, Toni Plummer, have been absolutely wonderful to work with, and it was so exciting recently to hold an ARC of Every Last Secret in my hands with its beautiful cover and generous blurbs. It’s now available for pre-order, and I’ve been pleased to learn from booksellers that a number of people have pre-ordered the book for its April 24th release, and a national book club has selected it for its members.
But publication’s just the beginning. You must work very hard at pre-publication publicity and promotion, and once the book comes out, you work even harder. I’m scheduled for a pretty crowded tour of the Midwest. So many books come out each year, especially now with the boom in self/indie publishing, that you have to work hard to make your book stand out so the reader will give it a try.
Do you have any quirks?
I am riddled with quirks. Or what some people would consider quirks.
In New Zealand, I might be considered normal for spinning, weaving, and knitting, but in the States anymore, I’m considered a little weird in a nice, antique way for using my spindle and wheel and loving fleece. Especially weird for a professional feminist who ran a university women’s center.
Animals are drawn to me. In the midst of a concrete city, hawks, falcons, eagles, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, deer, beaver, as well as the usual raccoons and possums appear to me. Other people don’t see them until I point them out. I think it’s the respect I pay them, which I learned from my Cherokee grandmother.
I’ve also given up housekeeping for writing and related business. I have no dust bunnies because the dust gorillas have eaten them. And I have a large herb and native-plant garden in my front yard, which drives my neighbors, who love only bluegrass, insane. I have trees and shrubs designed to attract and feed/shelter birds and a butterfly and hummingbird garden. All of these things my neighbors hate and consider me strange and probably a witch of some kind for having. Especially when you consider the spinning wheel.
All time favorite movie and why.
That’s a tough question because there are so many. If I have to go with only one, I’d choose Love, Actually. It’s become my family’s traditional Christmas movie, and though it can get a little sentimental at times, it’s a great feel-good movie, and I agree with its simple philosophy—that love is this major force in our lives that keeps us human. For top quality, though, I think I’d have to go with Winter’s Bone, made from a stunning crime novel by Daniel Woodrell. Fabulous direction, acting, screenplay.
What’s your preferred medium when it comes to writing – pen and paper, computer, typewriter, dreams.
I write all the time on the computer, but when just starting to capture an idea for a novel or beginning a poem or writing in the journals I’ve been keeping for forty years, I like to use fountain pen and hard-cover notebook.
How did you enjoy the editing process?
I actually enjoy editing. My first drafts are fairly clean and readable, so when I edit, I’m working to make them richer, more complex, more suspenseful, and more vivid. It’s a time for seeing the potential of the draft and bringing it out into reality. Then, my editor points out more possibilities and that’s exciting, too. Of course, usually the last draft is a severe cutting and compressing of all the work that’s gone before. I dread that until I get fully into it. Then, as the prose really starts to shine, I get excited again. Editing is your chance to take something good and make it great.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
I’ve given quite serious thought to Ireland, New Zealand, Chile, Vancouver, San Diego, Hawaii, and the Great Smoky Mountains where my Cherokee and Choctaw ancestors lived before their respective Trails of Tears, but I think I’d have to go with Oxford, England. I loved it when I was there. From the moment I stepped off the train from Gatwick, I felt as if I’d come home in some very deep, profound way. I just felt more alive while there than I have anywhere else I’ve been.
What is one thing you know about New Zealand? (Do not mention LOTR or the freaking Hobbit. I was seriously over it before they’d finished filming LOTR!)
It’s the land of promise for spinners. Some of the best wool in the world. Plus my favorite of my spinning wheels and my hand carders and niddy noddy were made there by the Ashford family. And it’s fantastically beautiful with all sorts of animals not found anywhere else. But yeah, the wool’s the thing.
What’s the worst book you have ever read?
I can’t remember. I read so many books that I’m lucky to remember the titles and/or authors of the good ones.
Name a book you wish you had written.
There are so many! The most recently read would be either Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny or And One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming. One I often go back to and wish I could have written was Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan. But I could go on and on.
How many novels have you written, both published and unpublished?
Every Last Secret will be my first published novel, though I have two books of poetry and a cookbook already published. I have written three novels before this. A literary novel that I burned while drunk in my twenties because I thought someone else had written and published a novel to similar to mine. (Silly and young, but probably for the best that it was burned since I’m sure it wouldn’t stand the light of day now.) Two science fiction/fantasy novels that were separately accepted at different times at different houses and then left orphaned when my editors got fired or left before the contracts were signed. I gave up novel writing for years after the last of those. (This doesn’t count, of course, the dozen unfinished novels with up to 120 pages written.)
What were you before you became a writer?
I was a hippy, a psychiatric aide at a state facility, a housemother for juvenile delinquent girls, a housewife-mother queen-of-the-PTA, a freelance writer and editor, a literary magazine editorial assistant, an executive assistant to a law school dean, a university women’s center director, a diversity and communications consultant, and a personal-achievement and writing coach.
Wine, beer, or spirits? (We like them all down here.)
I’m not a fan of American beer, but I do like good Mexican beer. I also like good wine. I like mojitos, margaritas, screwdrivers, black Russians, and mimosas. Unfortunately, I now take so many powerful prescription medicines for the lupus, etc., that I am not allowed to have any alcohol. (I have been known to sneak one drink on rare occasions to celebrate winning an award or selling a book, but don’t let my doctors know, please.)
What can we expect from you next?
I’ve just turned in the second Skeet Bannion mystery, Every Broken Trust, to my agent, along with the synopsis for the third book in the series. I have another very different mystery series I’d like a chance to start soon. I am polishing my next book of poems prior to sending off. I have a short story coming out in Kansas City Noir from Akashic Books this fall. I have a big novel about the Vietnam War, both at home and abroad, that I will write some day. I might even write that urban fantasy novel—but no vampires that sparkle or twinkle.
Do you carry a notebook or keep one by the bed for those sudden brilliant ideas?
I carry a notebook with me and have notebooks or notepads and pens all over my house. I get lots of ideas and try to capture them all for the day when I don’t get lots of ideas, though it’s not shown up yet.
What is the most random thing you have ever written with and on?
I have written lines to start a poem with a pencil stub on the back of my hand and my arm when I was walking for exercise without purse or pockets for notebook.
If you’re not writing, what are you most likely to be doing?
Reading, doing fiberarts, watching BBC miniseries of all kinds, gardening, daydreaming (which comes back again to writing).
And lastly, what sort of car do you drive and do you name your cars?
All my cars have had names. The current one is a dark green 1998 Oldsmobile Achieva. (I have a super mechanic who keeps her running despite her age.) Her name is Fridiswede after the patron saint of Oxford. We call her Friddy, for short.
Whoops, no, that wasn’t the last question… how often do you get to NZ?
I have never been to New Zealand, but I would love to come for a nice, long visit. It’s on my list of things I want to do before I die. I have a photo of New Zealand on my vision board, so I’m sure I’ll make it down there to see you all and your breathtaking land eventually.
Wasn’t that fun boys and girls?
As soon as the drugs wear off I’ll send our guest on her merry way…
Every Last Secret (St. Martin's/Minotaur, 4/24/2011) winner of Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition
Heart's Migration (Tia Chucha Press) Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence