Master of Disguise: 11 Questions With Author Erica Wright

Erica Wright (Photo courtesy of the author)

Erica Wright (Photo courtesy of the author)

By Daniel Ford

I’ll have plenty more to say about Erica Wright’s The Red Chameleon in next week’s 5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar post, but for now I’ll tell you that Wright’s main character, private investigator Kathleen Stone (or is it Kat? Or Katie? Or Katya?), is the perfect blend of brassy, troubled, and master of disguise.

Wright talked to me recently about what she wanted to do before discovering writing, the origins behind The Red Chameleon, and how she fell in love with her characters.

Daniel Ford: Did you grow up wanting to be a writer, or was it a desire that built up over time?

Erica Wright: I wanted to be a zoologist until eighth grade biology class when we dissected a frog, and I passed out. My teacher was close with my mother and thought, "How am I going to call Paula and tell her that I killed her daughter." I survived, though, so they're still friends. I have been writing poems and stories for as long as I can remember, but never considered pursuing publication until my twenties. I grew up in a town of 500 people, and while their professions are varied (the coolest is a beekeeper who owns her own farm), there are no novelists that I know of. So it was a gradual realization that I could write for a wider audience than myself.

DF: Who were some of your early influences in the crime genre, and which modern crime writers are you currently hooked on?

EW: The first book I remember re-reading as a child was Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. It's not a mystery, but it set the tone for my gothic interests. I've never met a ghost tour I didn't like. In college I went through a Poe phase, but also enjoyed Doyle. (Do we have to say Sir Doyle?) I'm pretty sure that I would still be obsessed with the BBC "Sherlock" if I'd never read The Hounds of Baskerville, but there's also something fun about re-imagining the classic stories. In terms of modern mystery writers, I'll read anything by Sara Gran or Megan Abbott. And I love my press mate M. R. C. Kasasian's Gower Street Detective books, another take on Sherlock Holmes.  

DF: What is your writing process like? Do you listen to music? Outline?

EW: My background is in poetry, so my favorite part of fiction writing is the routine. With a new poem, there's a lot of work that doesn't feel like work. You're walking around the block, thinking about whether "shatter" or "shudder" works better in stanza three. When focusing on a novel, I set daily goals for myself, say, two hours or two thousand words. While I might have to heavily edit what I produce, the effort is satisfying. I didn't use an outline for the first draft of The Red Chameleon, preferring the so-called "pants-ing" method. Of course, that meant that the first draft needed some overhauls to get the plot in shape. I used a loose outline for its sequel, The Granite Moth, and have a detailed outline for the third book. Maybe next time I'll be done experimenting and can settle on an approach that works every time. Probably not.

DF: Where did the idea for The Red Chameleon originate? 

EW: I started teaching in the English Department of John Jay College of Criminology in the fall of 2006. My students were pursuing careers I knew nothing about. They wanted to be detectives, forensic specialists, CIA operatives, FBI agents. I started researching these fields to have something to talk about during our conferences. Since most graduates would end up in the New York Police Department, I became somewhat familiar with the training requirements and different opportunities. While I hoped that none of them would go undercover, an often dangerous and demoralizing job, I was fascinated with this small part of police operations. I was also reading a lot of mystery writers at the time—Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, M. C. Beaton—so looking back, it almost seems inevitable that I started tinkering with this book. At the time, it surprised me.

DF: How much of yourself ended up in your main character Kathleen Stone?

EW: In his book Here Is New York, E. B. White writes, "On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy." I remember reading that opening sentence in the Strand bookstore and feeling a thrilling jolt of recognition. Small town life has its advantages, but privacy isn't one of them. I lived in the city for 13 years, and it was great that nobody knew what I was doing unless I told them. Kat takes her need for privacy to whole other paranoid (rightfully, it turns out) level, but I definitely share that impulse.

DF: When you finished your first draft, did you know you had something good, or did you have to go through multiple rounds of edits to realize you had something you felt comfortable taking to readers?

EW: I fell in love with the characters as I wrote, particularly Dolly. I sat down to write a scene that conveyed Kat's wigmaker, Vondya Vasiliev, as a sort of mother figure. Then Dolly, a drag queen at a famous club called The Pink Parrot, was there, just hanging out. In the books, Dolly sort of insists on being Kat's friend, and that's how I felt about him as a character, too. He insisted on being in the book. What I mean to say is that when I finished my first draft, I knew I couldn't abandon any of these people even though the plot in general and many scenes in particular needed some major rewrites.

DF: The Red Chameleon has gotten some great reviews from the likes of The New York Times Book Review, O Magazine, and Publisher’s Weekly. What has that experience been like?

EW: Fainting goats have nothing on me. As might be obvious from my frog story, if I'm overwhelmed, I fall right over. I managed not to pass out when I read The Times review, but I started sweating and my ears started ringing. It has meant a lot to me that reviewers have written about my book. Not only is it a debut, but it's out from an independent publisher. Even the ambivalent responses haven't bothered me because I know how much effort it takes to read a book and articulate a viewpoint. Book people are the best people.

DF: How do you balance writing and marketing your work (i.e. book tours, engaging with readers on social media, etc.)?

EW: I set aside a little time each week for what I think of as the business side of writing. I see if I have any work that's ready to be sent out, query bookstores about readings, make sure my website doesn't look too amateurish. Last week, I spent an hour creating a newsletter signup form via MailChimp. (My brother's a tech genius, so hopefully he's not reading this. I'm sure that should have taken me about five minutes.) In general, though, I think it's better not to stress about self-promotion. I definitely post to Facebook and Twitter about personal news, but try to make sure that the majority of what I share is about other people. Or, you know, breaking taxidermy news.

DF: What’s next for Erica Wright and Kathleen Stone?

EW: A sequel to The Red Chameleon, The Granite Moth, will be released this November, so lots more shenanigans.

DF: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

EW: Root for others as much as you root for yourself. And if that sounds cheesy, I promise that it's actually kind of selfish, too. If you celebrate the success of friends, you get to have a lot more cake.

DF: Can you please name one random fact about yourself?

EW: I was named after Erica Kane, Susan Lucci's character from "All My Children." Well, “named after” might be a bit of a stretch, but my mother watched the show and liked the name, so here I am. No Emmy, but I do like a good villain. 

To learn more about Erica Wright, visit her official website or follow her on Twitter @eawright.


Author On The Rise: 9 Questions With Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins  Photo credit: Kate Neil

Paula Hawkins
Photo credit: Kate Neil

By Daniel Ford

For a two-week span, I couldn’t turn around without some mention of Paula Hawkins’ novel, The Girl on the Train.

The book, which revolves around a voyeuristic commuter, was reviewed more than favorably in The New York Times Review of Books and earned a gushing feature in Entertainment Weekly. One reviewer even said that the debut thriller is “better than Gone Girl.

Hawkins recently answered some of my questions about her love of creativity, her early influences, and how the idea for The Girl on the Train originated. Owing to the book’s reception, and the passion in which Hawkins talked about her craft, I’d wager readers should be prepared to make plenty of room on their bookshelves for what she comes up with next.   

Daniel Ford: Did you grow up wanting to be a writer, or was it a desire that built up over time?

Paula Hawkins: I loved creative writing as a child. English Literature was always one of my better subjects. Later on, I decided I wanted to go into journalism. I lived in Africa as a child. My father was an academic but he also wrote quite a bit for the papers, and he knew lots of journalists, who used to visit the house often. They were always interesting people who told amazing stories. They made me want to write.

I had dreams of being an intrepid foreign correspondent, but it turned out I wasn’t really brave enough, so I wrote about business and finance in London instead. I wrote fiction on the side, secretly, for myself. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I began showing my writing to others. I thoroughly enjoyed being a journalist, but I never lost the desire to create, to make things up rather than to record.

DF: Who were some of your early influences?

PH: Agatha Christie introduced me to the crime novel, and much later Donna Tartt showed me the possibilities of the thriller with The Secret History. Then of course there are the great books that you read at school, that you know better than any others; novels such as Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, The Outsider by Albert Camus, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

DF: What is your writing process like? Do you listen to music? Outline?

PH: I write in silence. I do outline; I’d be too nervous to just start writing without a sense of where I was going to end up. That said, there are surprises as you go along—characters change and develop, they become different people from the ones you thought they were going to be.

DF: Where did the idea for The Girl on the Train originate? Was it something you’d been thinking about for a long time, or did it come to you like a bolt of literary lightning?

PH: The germ of the idea, of a commuter seeing something shocking from their daily commute, had been in my head for years. The character of Rachel, the woman with a drinking (and associated memory) problem, had been in my head for a bit, too. It wasn’t until I put the two things together, until I put Rachel on the train, that the idea coalesced and became something I knew I could write.

DF: How much of yourself—and the people you have daily interactions with—did you put into your main characters?

PH: There are small bits of me in all the women in The Girl on the Train (and possibly in a couple of the men, too). But the main the characters are works of the imagination.

DF: When you finished your first draft, did you know you had something good, or did you have to go through multiple rounds of edits to realize you had something you felt comfortable taking to readers?

PH: I never know whether something’s any good or not! I wrote about a third of the book before showing it to my agent and her assistant, both of whom I trust completely. They were really excited about it, so that got me excited, too.

DF: Your book has gotten some rave reviews from the likes of The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly and was optioned by Dreamworks. Now that you have your first novel under your belt, what’s next?

PH: I’m writing my second book at the moment. I’m not talking about it too much just yet though. It centers on the relationship between two sisters, one of whom is dead at the beginning of the book. It has quite a gothic feel, I think.

DF: Whose work should aspiring thriller writers be reading right now?

PH: Oh god, there are so many, and it really depends what sort of thing interests you. If spy thrillers and international terrorist plots are your thing, try Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim. If you are more interested in dangers lurking closer to home, The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison, Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, or How to Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman are chillingly brilliant. If you appreciate a book with a broader social context, I’d try So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman, or Long Way Home by Eva Dolan. Or if you’re in the market for a literary mystery, the Jackson Brodie novels written by Kate Atkinson are close to perfect.

DF: What advice would you give writers just starting out?

PH: Perseverance is all, and whenever you’re feeling disheartened, read On Writing by Stephen King. He knows of what he speaks, and he’s really funny, too.

To learn more about Paula Hawkins, visit her official website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @PaulaHWrites

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Always Be Writing: 10 Questions With Thriller Author Brett Battles

Brett Battles

Brett Battles

By Sean Tuohy

Brett Battles ushers his readers into a world filled with shadows, shady dealings, and deadly characters. Just like the hero in his novels, Freelance Intelligence operative Jonathan Quinn, Battles navigates the world of international thriller writer with ease and an eye always set to the future.

Brett was able to sit down and talk about his writing process, the meaning of well built characters in thriller novels, and the future of Jonathan Quinn.

Sean Tuohy: When did you start writing? Was it something that came to you naturally or was it developed over time?

Brett Battles: First story I wrote was in sixth grade. At that time, I told anyone who asked what I want to be when I grow up that I was going to write books. It took me a while, but I finally fulfilled that 11-year-old me’s prediction.

ST: How long did it take you to complete your first novel?

BB: Hmmm, that was a long time ago, so I don’t remember exactly, but I think it took about a year and a half. As a side note, it’s one of my two desk novels (books that will probably never see the light of day). It served its purpose, though. Proved I could finish a full novel, and showed me where I needed to improve. Hey, when you first learn how to play baseball, you don’t immediately get called up to the New York Yankees and inserted into the starting lineup.

ST: As a thriller writer do you believe in letting the action build or just throw the reader right in to the mess of the story?

BB: It all depends on what serves the story best. I’ve done both.


ST: Jonathan Quinn is not the standard hero, where did this character come from?

BB: So many places. I have always had a love of spy type thrillers, and wanted to write my own, but I didn’t want to go down the typical James Bond/Jason Bourne route. I’ve also always had a fascination with what I think of as the after story. In other words, what happens after a big event occurs—like after an assassination or car crash or secret meeting gone wrong. I combined these two interests (and other things I’d been thinking about) to create Quinn, a man whose job it is to make the bodies disappear, so basically the ultimate after character.

ST: How important are characters to a thriller novel?

BB: There is nothing more important. You can have the most ingenious plot ever with the coolest twist anyone has thought of, but without good characters the story will fall flat.

ST: What is your writing process like? Do you outline?

BB: I might write down a few notes, but I don’t outline. Why? Well, honestly, I find outlines too restricting. When I follow one while writing a book, I feel like I’m just typing. What I want to feel is the excitement a reader feels when they read a book. I get that when I write without a net. I love the process of discovery as the scene develops. Do I paint myself into corners on occasion? Oh, yeah. But I just back right out and turn in another direction. The only exception to my no outline policy is when I write a book with someone else, like the Alexandra Poe series I write with Robert Gregory Browne. We outline those ahead of time so that we both know the story.

ST: Do you do any research before starting a new project?

BB: Again, depends on the story. Sometimes, yes. Often, though, the research comes as issues arise.

ST: What advice do you give to up and coming writers?

BB: Always be writing. I don’t mean always be putting words on paper or a screen. But real writing is a 24/7 gig. See story everywhere. Describe in your head the people you meet. Look for the little things in real life that will make your story connect with readers. And when you do put those words down, always be open to learning more and improving your craft. I’m constantly trying to improve, and will undoubtedly be doing that through the last thing I ever write.

ST: What does the future hold for Brett Battles? Any upcoming projects?

BB: I always have something going on. Just finishing up a new standalone novel that should be out in August called Rewinder. It’s a thriller with a bit of a sci-fi edge. And I’m really excited about it! Later in the year, the seventh in my Project Eden series should be out. And, of course, more Quinn next year!

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

BB: I love peanut butter and ketchup sandwiches. No lie.

To learn more about Brett Battles, check out his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @BrettBattles.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Novel Pursuit: Oscar-Winning Actor Gene Hackman On His New Thriller and Why He Became An Author

Gene Hackman

Gene Hackman

By Sean Tuohy

For more than 40 years, Gene Hackman was known for award-winning performances movies in like “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The French Connection,” “Superman,” and “Hoosiers.” His true strength as an actor was developing and presenting real, honest characters.

Now, Hackman brings his character development talents to the written page with his latest novel Pursuit. The pulse-quickening thriller follows Sergeant Juliette Worth— a single mother and police officer—as she tracks down a deadly killer that could cost her everything she loves.

Hackman was nice enough to sit down and chat about why he got into writing novels and offers new writers sage advice.

Sean Tuohy: What drew you to writing?

Gene Hackman: I suppose it was my way of staying relevant. My other job, that thing I did for 60 or so years, was getting tougher as the years slipped by. The characters bouncing around in my head had to play out.

ST: You were an actor before becoming a writer. Did your training as an actor help your writing in away?

GH: Yeah, the exploration of character comes with the territory in acting.

ST: Which authors influenced you?

GH: Twain, Hemingway in my early days. Elmore Leonard. Twain told stories so simply. Hemingway had a great breadth of experience that commanded the story and Leonard was just Leonard. He once said something to the effect of, "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it."

ST: Your previous novel (Payback at Morning Peak) was a western, but Pursuit is a crime/mystery novel. Why the change in genre?

GH: Challenges are intriguing. Julie Worth seemed decent, professional. To me, it's interesting when a woman does what has traditionally been a man's job. A tough-minded female is always an exciting quandary.

ST: Pursuit starts with a bang for the hero, Sergeant Juliette Worth, when she is forced to take down a gunman in a mall. Do you believe a story needs to start with a big bang to grab the reader's attention early on or did that scene happen naturally?

GH: I believe it helps to try and hook a reader early on. As far as something coming naturally, uh-uh. Not for me. It's all teeth grinding, elbows on the floor.

ST: Pursuit has a crisp plot and a ton of character building. How did you develop your writing style? Was it something that came naturally or was it developed over time? 

GH: If in fact I have a style, it came from repeated edits, friends' suggestions, and my wife's unwavering, specific read-throughs.

ST: What was the writing process like for Pursuit? Did you do a lot of research on the novel? 

GH: Time was spent scouting in Missouri, taking photos, just nosing around. A female Lieutenant with the Highway Patrol who had been around quite a bit helped with the police business. Also, a close friend, a senior FBI special agent, made some great suggestions.

ST: Sergeant Worth is a no-nonsense by the book police officer but a single mother as well. Where did the idea for this multi-faceted hero come from?

GH: I was in an art class (of all places) and a gal sitting next to me introduced herself as a former forensic pathologist. It got me thinking.

ST: Will you be returning to western genre any time soon?

GH: I do have a book deal for another western but I haven't worked out that timeline yet.

ST: What advice would you give to young up-and-coming writers?

GH: Stick with it. That's number one. Believe in the editing process. Don't fall in love with your first draft. Take chances.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Unlocking The Mystery of Writing: 10 Questions With Author A.G. Riddle

A.G. Riddle

A.G. Riddle

By Sean Tuohy

In a marketplace crowded with countless ebook authors, one name stands out: A.G. Riddle, author of the award winning and best-selling The Atlantis Gene series. The well-crafted series explores the origins of mankind and is filled with great detailed research and edge of your seat action scenes. In my opinion, its is one of the best original ebook series currently on the market.

I sat down with Riddle and talked about the origins of his writing career and his future plans.

Cover of Book 1 of The Atlantis Gene series

Cover of Book 1 of The Atlantis Gene series

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A.G. Riddle: I didn't grow up wanting to be a writer. I had a reasonably successful business career and was looking for my real calling in life. I thought that could be writing, but I didn't realize it until I finished my first draft of The Atlantis Gene. It was an amazing feeling—finishing and being proud of what I'd created (it's not a perfect novel by any means, but it was the best I could produce at the time, and that's how I measure success).

ST: Who were some of your early influences?

AGR: I loved sci-fi as a kid. I would watch and read about anything I could get my hands on. "Star Trek," "The X-Files," "Star Wars."

ST: What is your writing process? Do you have any pre- or post-writing rituals?

AGR: If I'm in the thick of writing, I usually read the previous few chapters and consult my outline, then get started. If I'm in the research phase, I look at the background and see what I need to fill in; it's a little more methodical then.

ST: How did you get started publishing? Was it through the traditional publishing road or did you go the ebook platform?

AGR: Ebook only. I really wanted to get my work out there to see what folks thought. I hadn't told anyone I was writing a novel except my mother and girlfriend. When the book became popular in the summer of 2013, I considered taking a traditional publishing contract, but I decided that I didn't want to give up the freedom of self-publishing.

Cover of The Atlantis Plague

Cover of The Atlantis Plague

ST: The Atlantis Gene is one of best and original thriller series to come down the pike in years. Where did the story come from? Had it been brewing in you for years or did it just come to you?

AGR: First, thanks! I spent almost two years researching and writing The Atlantis Gene. I started with a mystery that had always intrigued me: 70,000 years ago, the human race almost went extinct. From there, I did a lot of research and wrote a ton of background, pulling together several topics of interest for me (everything from Nazi conspiracies to Atlantis to autism research).

ST: The third part of your Atlantis series, The Atlantis World, will be coming out shortly; did you always know that this was going to be a series?

AGR: I had written the long-arc of a series, but I didn't know how many books it would be (or if anyone would turn out to read them). I had already started on the second book when The Atlantis Gene came out, otherwise I never would have been able to write and release the trilogy so quickly.

Cover of The Atlantis World

Cover of The Atlantis World

ST: Unlike so many thriller novels your series has well-crafted characters, do you believe having strong characters is the back bone to a solid thriller?

AGR: I do. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for a high-concept, plot-driven story, but what I really love is a character-driven story with some big ideas at the center. That's what I try to write.

ST: What is next for you as a writer, a new series or maybe a stand alone novel?

AGR: A new series. I've been working on it a while, and I still have a lot of work to do. And, I'll have a few announcements soon regarding the Atlantis/Origin mystery series.

ST: What advice would you give to up and coming writers?

AGR: Don't let anyone else define success for you. Figure out what you want from writing, then set your own goals (and adjust them based on what you learn).

Success to you might mean writing the book you want to write. Or it could mean earning enough money to take your spouse out to dinner once a month. Or making some list. Or selling X number of copies.

Take some time to figure out what's really important to you, and when you do, don't listen to anyone else. Success isn't a one-size-fits-all in the business of writing.

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

AGR: I grew up in a small town in North Carolina with only one stop light.

To learn more about A.G. Riddle, check out his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @Riddlist.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Writing by Numbers With Mystery Author Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich

Many of us spend time thinking up weird stories, but rarely do we turn those self-made adventures in to a career. However, that's exactly what best-selling author Janet Evanovich did.

Evanovich started her career as a romance writer, moved to writing mysteries, and created heroin Stephanie Plum, a one-time lingerer buyer turned bounty hunter. The long running and much loved Plum series was also turned in to a film, "One For The Money."

Writer's Bone was lucky enough to chat with Evanovich about her career as a writer, how she learned to write dialogue, and what her favorite candy is.

Writer’s Bone: When did you know you were a storyteller? Was it at birth or was it something you realized years later? 

Janet Evanovich: As a kid who lived in a world of my own, I made up stories all the time. After graduating from art school (and discovering that I had an allergy to the pigment in the paint), I started writing those stories down. The first one was about the pornographic adventures of a fairy who lived in a second rate fairy forest in Pennsylvania. That was my starting point and I progressed from there. 

Writer’s Bone: We read that you took an improv acting class to learn the act of dialog. Did this help with your writing? Also, do you continue taking acting classes now?

JE: Yep, I really sucked at writing dialog. I had a friend who was teaching acting and I took a couple improv classes. It taught me to develop character and I became very good at talking to myself. I no longer take acting classes, but I talk to myself a lot.

Writer’s Bone: What's the single best piece of advice an established writer like yourself has for an aspiring author? 

JE: Sit your butt in the chair and start writing. Do it every day. You don't have to write full time—an hour or so seven days a week and you'll be amazed at what you can turn out. Even if your output is only two pages a day, at the end of a month you'll have 60 pages. Writing is like any other muscle; it gets stronger when you exercise.

Writer’s Bone: How many numbers are you planning to go up to? 

JE: This is where I normally would say "infinity." Well, maybe that's too high a number, but the point is that I have no plan to stop the Stephanie Plum series anytime soon.

Writer’s Bone: Can you tell us one unknown random fact about yourself? 

JE: How about two? My favorite Tootsie Roll Pop is grape and my favorite vegetable is birthday cake.

You can learn more about Janet Evanovich by visiting her official website or following her on Twitter @janetevanovich

For more interviews, check out our full archive

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

Mystery Novelist Lawrence Block On Why Writers Must Go On

Lawrence Block (Photo courtesy of the author)

Lawrence Block (Photo courtesy of the author)

Lawrence Block has been writing crime, mystery, and suspense novels longer than the millennial generation has been alive.

Block started out writing midcentury erotica in the late 1950s and eventually introduced the world to colorful characters such as cop turned private investigator Matthew Scudder, gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner, and introspective assassin Keller.

He recently answered questions from Writer’s Bone on why New York City is a fixture in his novels, and what mantra his writing process follows.

Writer’s Bone: New York City is normally the setting—and a character—for your stories. What draws you to the Big Apple?

Lawrence Block: It’s my home. I first visited New York in 1948; my father and I took the train down from Buffalo and spent a long weekend at the Hotel Commodore. I first lived here in 1956, and it’s really been my home ever since, although I’ve spent stretches of time elsewhere. John Steinbeck put it best in 1953: "New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition murderous. But there is one thing about it-—once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough."

WB: Can you tell us about some of your earliest work?

LB: I started writing for publication at a young age, and my earliest stories appeared in the digest-sized crime magazines. They’ve since been collected in One Night Stands and Lost Weekends.

I’d been doing this for a year or so when a couple of publishers, Midwood Tower and Nightstand, spawned the genre of midcentury paperback erotica, and I found it a productive learning ground—although I sometimes think I may have stayed too long at the fair.

WB: Was there a time as a writer that you felt hopeless about the craft? If so, how did you work past it?

LB: There has rarely been a time when I haven’t felt hopeless about something or other. Beckett said it in eleven words: “You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.” And one does, at least until one doesn’t.

WB: You tend to write about detectives, thieves, and hit men. Where does this interest come from?

LB: I have no idea. I’ve known a few detectives, a couple of thieves, and at least one fellow with a couple of bodies on him. But I was writing about such folk long before I was acquainted with any of them. And I know a lot of lawyers and doctors and schoolteachers and guys who sell insurance, and rarely write much about any of them.

WB: Matt Scudder is one of the most beloved and interesting private detectives of the latter part of the 20th Century and in to the 21st Century. What is Matt’s staying power?

LB: I’m probably not the person to ask. If I were to guess, it would be that Matt has aged and evolved over the years, but that may better serve to explain why I’ve continued to find him interesting.

WB: Is Matt Scudder meant to be the voice for New York City?

LB: No, not at all. 

WB: So many of your characters have neat quirks, are they based on anyone?



WB: What is your writing process?


Again: “You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.”

WB: As a New Yorker what are some of your favorite spots in and around the city? Is there a place in the city that really gets your writer’s mind ticking?


I spend most of my time in Greenwich Village.

WB: Who were some of your early influences?


I grew up reading the realistic American novelists of the first half of the 20th Century, and when I began writing crime fiction, I read widely in the genre.

WB: Where did

A Candle for the Bag Lady

come from? It stands out as far as detective short stories go.


There’s a song quoted in the story, and I’d written it a couple of years before I wrote the story. Beyond that, I’ve no idea where the notion came from.

WB: Who are some of the up-and-coming mystery writers you enjoy?


I usually avoid this question, but I’ve enjoyed Wallace Stroby’s books a lot lately, so I’ll mention him. But just this once.

WB: What is something you wish you knew when you first started being a writer?


How fast the time goes.

WB: Do you think stamp-collecting hit man Keller will ever come to the big screen?


One never knows. There’s probably more chance for a television series, but long odds either way.

WB: How has the mystery genre changed since you first started writing?



WB: If you had to solve a case which fictional detective would you want to help you?


Oh, Bernie Rhodenbarr, for sure. He has the most fun.

For more on Lawrence Block, check out his official website, follow him on Twitter @LawrenceBlock, or like him on Facebook.

For more interviews, check out our full archive