MLC: Do you remember the first mystery you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: I can’t remember the first mystery I ever read but it was probably Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. I did like the Hardy Boys! I graduated to Agatha Christie very shortly after that, though. My mother belonged to a mystery book club, so there was something new to read every month, in addition to all the mysteries she purchased. When I was sick and had to stay home from school, I read mysteries. Recently, I asked my mother, who is 94, if she noticed that I never got well enough to go back to school until I’d finished the book. She hadn’t noticed!
MLC: When did you first decide you wanted to write a mystery, and what led you to that decision?
AUTHOR: I didn’t set out to write a mystery, actually. My interest is archaeology, and in fact at the time I started to write mysteries, I was Director of the Ontario Cultural Programs branch, which is the branch of the Ontario government that licenses all the archaeology in the province. Just for fun I had been studying the Maya calendar, which has a hieroglyph for every day of a twenty day cycle, and began to wonder if it would be possible to write a story set in the present, where the action in the present would parallel the kind of day it would have been: the hieroglyphic gave the day its meaning. So I created an antique dealer protagonist (in addition to my interest in archaeology, I’ve always wanted to have an antique shop) and sent her off to the Yucatan. If there was a Maya day of wisdom, Lara learned something. If it was a Maya day of death, I killed somebody. I now say I write mysteries because there were so many death days in the Maya calendar.
MLC: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I only write mysteries, although I have an idea for a literary travel book. I might get to that one some day.
MLC: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: I start with the archaeology or ancient history of a place, and research it for several months until I find something in it--a myth, a moment in history, an artifact or whatever, that I think provides the basic idea for the contemporary story. Then I send Lara off to do her thing.
MLC: When you are all wrapped up in the story, do you feel like you could solve the crime, or maybe even solve all the world’s mysteries?
AUTHOR: I never think I can solve the crime. About half way through the book, I am convinced I will never finish it. I always say that Lara is a better detective than I am, because she always seems to figure out whodunit.
MLC: Do you write every day, or what kind of a schedule do you have? Do you write fulltime, or do you have a “day job”?
AUTHOR: I wrote eight books in eight years while I was working full time. It’s only the last three books I have had the luxury of writing on a full time basis. I research each book for several months before starting to write, and then, yes, I write every day until it’s done.
MLC: Other than your writing, what do you enjoy doing? What is the most important thing to you in your day-to-day life?
AUTHOR: Because I wrote for so long while working full time, to a certain extent, the writing felt like my hobby. Not that I didn’t take it seriously, you understand, but it was not my biggest source of income. The series has brought together all my favorite things, which is to say mysteries, archaeology, and travel. These are what I like, and I’m very fortunate to have found a way to combine them.
MLC: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Do you try to emulate them in your own writing?
AUTHOR: I have come to know and admire so many authors in the last ten years that it is difficult for me to choose. Some authors I like personally very much, but they may not write the kind of mystery I like to read etc. I do admire and very much enjoy reading Arturo Perez-Reverte, Henning Mankell, William Deverell, Fred Vargas. I don’t write that kind of mystery, however.
MLC: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: I write a series. My sleuth is antique dealer Lara McClintock. Each book is set in a different, often exotic location, and calls upon the past in some way.
MLC: If you are doing a series, do you see an end to it sometime, or do you plan to go on for several years with it?
AUTHOR: I think it’s important to know when to stop a series. We can all point to a series or three that should have stopped before they did. I’ve now written eleven Lara novels--the eleventh, The Chinese Alchemist, will be out in Spring 2007 – and am wondering whether this would be a good time to stop. I haven’t yet reached a conclusion. One of the things that keeps the series interesting for me is the change in location and history in every book. There are lots more places for Lara to go, and many more ancient civilizations for her to learn about.
MLC: Do your characters ever drive you a bit crazy by going off in their own direction? If so, how do you rein them in, or do you just let them run off on their own?
AUTHOR: I never know how a book will end when I start it. I am not an outline writer. I have the ancient theme, whatever it happens to be, the setting, and I send the intrepid Lara off to that place. I just keep writing, and yes, sometimes what she does surprises me. I learned very early just to let her run. If it doesn’t work, then I can always rewrite it.
MLC: Do you pattern your sleuths after yourself or someone you know? If so, do you let that person know they were your “pattern”?
AUTHOR: I am not Lara. She is younger, braver, fitter, and thinner than I am. I also don’t model my characters on anyone I know. It is true that Lara’s business partner and ex-husband, the bane of her existence, Clive Swain bears some resemblance to a number of men I’ve dated--all their bad characteristics rolled into one character.
MLC: How long did it take you to get published? How many rejections did you have to suffer through first? Were you ever tempted to give up? What do you think made the difference when it was accepted?
AUTHOR: I was really lucky to find an agent right away, and she found me a publisher very quickly. I think I was in the right place at the right time, really, but if I had to look for a reason for its acceptance, it would be that my publisher, Berkley Prime Crime in New York, was in an expansion mode, looking for authors, they wanted amateur sleuth, which is what I write, and they didn’t have a series with an antique dealer or with archaeology as its background. Publishers do look for what they call cross-marketing opportunities, i.e. a market outside the traditional mystery market, and I had both travel and archaeology.
MLC: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I attend Malice Domestic in Washington, Bouchercon, and often Left Coast Crime. I also attend Bloody Words in Toronto, which is where I live.
MLC: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: I do all the promotion. I put together a book tour or two every spring when my new book comes out. I often tour with Rhys Bowen, which is really fun. You get to share the good times and bad times, and book sellers seem to like to have more than one author to their events.
MLC: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: I think anyone in this business just has to try everything: book tours, speaking engagements, general PR, and even advertising. In genre fiction, unless you are at the top of the heap, publishers won’t do it. I occasionally do travel writing which does help publicize my series in an indirect way, and I’ve found that works.
MLC: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: Not really. Authors do get royalty statements, and hopefully checks, twice a year, but it is so long after the sales period that it is difficult to have any real sense of how you’re doing. What you hope for is good reviews in prominent publications like Publishers Weekly, and that helps a great deal.
MLC: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: I was excited to be reviewed in the New York Times. It was a lovely review, and of course, it’s not often you get the opportunity to be reviewed in a publication that you admire like that. I’ve been lucky to get some good reviews for the series in a number of publications.
MLC: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: I haven’t won an award. I’ve been nominated twice, for an Arthur Ellis award for best first crime novel in Canada for The Xibalba Murders, and then again for the Ellis for best crime novel in Canada for The Magyar Venus.
MLC: Is there any one certain thing that a reader has written to you that made you just want to jump up and shout “Yes!!!!”?
AUTHOR: I do get really lovely emails from readers. One woman told me that I got her through her recovery from really serious surgery. I felt good about that. Another reader told me she was born in Orkney, Scotland, had been given my book, The Orkney Scroll, by a friend who asked her how authentic the local detail was. She told me she thought she was right back in her birthplace, and now any time she wanted to remember it, she could re-read my book. That made me feel good, too.
MLC: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: The Chinese Alchemist, the eleventh Lara McClintock archaeological mystery will be out in Spring 2007, probably April, although I don’t have a definite date yet.
MLC: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: I have an idea about a series set in the world of the arts, the first of which would be set at an opera company. (I worked for the Canadian Opera Company so I know of what I write.) I think it’s funny, and that world is really interesting. One publisher told me they never had any luck with books with music in them, another told me they loved my proposal but you couldn’t sell a series about the arts. It seems to me those are really ridiculous things to say about us as readers. Anyway, it’s now with my agent, and we’ll see what happens.
MLC: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring mystery authors?
AUTHOR: Keep writing! You learn to write mystery novels by writing them, I’m afraid. Yes, you can take a course, but you still have to keep writing. I’d also say read the very best crime novels you can find, and look at them critically in terms of what works for you as a reader.
MLC: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans
about the next book?
AUTHOR: I will say only that The Chinese Alchemist has something to do with the search for an elixir of immortality.
MLC: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: I want people to really enjoy my books, to puzzle over the identity of the murderer, to stay up way too late at night in order to finish them, and so on. But there is something else that is really important to me. I worked in the heritage field for a number of years, I have a lifetime interest in ancient cultures, and I would be very happy if people would see history a little differently, that they would not be so quick to buy looted artifacts when they’re traveling, that they would think twice about where artifacts in their museums, auction houses and antique shops come from. There are a lot of countries whose patrimony is being plundered constantly, and I’d like people to be more aware of the ramifications of that.
MLC: Please give us your website url and your email address where people can contact you.
MLC: Thank you so much for giving us a little glimpse into your books and your life. We look forward to a lot more books from you.
AUTHOR: Thank you!!