Mystery Writer Rebecca Cantrell on Why Writing Should Be Fun

Rebecca Cantrell (Photo Courtesy of the author)

Rebecca Cantrell (Photo Courtesy of the author)

Not many people would give up the sand and surf of Hawaii to move to Berlin, but that’s just what award winning and New York Times best-selling author Rebecca Cantrell did.

For those of you who don’t know, Cantrell writes the popular Hannah Vogel mystery/thriller series that is set in Berlin in the 1930s. According to her official website, the Vogel character was inspired by a faded pink triangle found on the wall of the Dachau concentration camp and her time going to school in Berlin in the 1980s (is it us, or does this sound like #badasswriter fodder?).

She graciously took some time away from Hannah’s world to answer Writer’s Bone’s questions about her life as a writer.

Writer’s Bone: What is a word or phrase that you hate to hear about the writing craft?

Rebecca Cantrell: Writers must suffer for their art. Every time I hear that it drives me crazy. If writing isn’t fun, why do it? I have lots of fun writing and so do most other writers I know. It doesn’t have to be about suffering.

WB: You were 7 years old when you decided to become a writer. How did you go about reaching your goal?

RC: I read every spare moment as a child and teenager (I still do), and I started writing all the time. I wrote poems and short stories as a kid, plays that I convinced other children to act out in my early teen years, and bought my first electric typewriter with my babysitting money when I was 14 years old and clacked away on it just about every day.

WB: Reporter Hannah Vogel just leaps off the page and grabs you by the neck and pulls you in. Where did the inspiration for this character come from?

RC: Thank you! Hannah Vogel was first invented as a counterpoint to her brother, who was the murder victim in the first novel, A Trace of Smoke. She’s not based on any one person, historical or otherwise, but has very much determined her own character since her very first page.

WB: What are the similarities between you and Hannah Vogel?

RC: Probably more than I’d like to admit. I think we’re both stubborn and have a strong sense of right and wrong that gets us into trouble. I don’t have her reckless streak, I’m happy to say.

WB: You are one of the few modern authors who write short story fiction. Do you have a preference of short stories or novels?

RC: I think short stories are enjoying a Renaissance right now. For years I wrote nothing but shorts stories, but now I have to fit them in between novels. I like them both for different things. You can pare things down to one essential moment in a short story, without having to build the structure of a novel around it—you can show a moment in a different way. But I also like the sweep and space of being able to add in more time and setting and emotions in a larger work. I’d like to do more of both.

WB: Do you have any new projects in the works?

RC: Let’s see. I just released The World Beneath, the first in a series starring Joe Tesla, a millionaire who is stricken with agoraphobia and lives in the tunnels under New York City. I plan to be working on the second in that series later this year tentatively titled The Danger Below. I’m currently writing Blood Infernal with James Rollins. That’s the third book in the Order of the Sanguines series. And early next year I want to get back to Hannah Vogel, with a new book set in 1945 as the Russians are taking over the city where Hannah will be going in with American troops as part of Operation Paperclip. I’m also putting out a new short story, The Man in the Attic, next month set at the beginning of World War II but with some fantastical elements.

WB: Describe your process for writing a novel. What do you do from the idea to the moment you write “the end?”

RC: First off, let me say that I don’t recommend this process to anyone. There are way more efficient ways to work. My process is that I have an idea for a book. Sometimes it’s a moment in history I want to explore, other times it’s a moment in the life of a particular character. Then I do loads of research, particularly for my historical novels. I love learning everything I can about my characters’ worlds so that I can walk in their footsteps and hope that readers can walk with me. After the research, I develop a plot for the book. Then I write the first 50 pages and discover that my plot isn’t working as intended. Then I re-plot and write 50 more pages and get stuck again. On my co-writing projects with James, I get stuck every 100 pages. I’m guessing that means that two pair of eyes can see further ahead into the story.

WB: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?

RC: I wrote my first short stories on that typewriter I bought when I was 13 while living a haunted house. Surprisingly, it was not horror. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t very good. But it was a start.

You can learn more about Rebecca Cantrell by visiting her official website, or following her on Twitter @rebeccacantrell.

For more interviews, check out our full archive