MLC: Do you remember the first mystery you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: My parents read Sherlock Holmes’ “The Hound of the Baskervilles” out loud to me. I think what really appealed to me was the creepy setting of the moors and the “soft” mud—the quicksand that could suck a man down in minutes.
MLC: When did you first decide you wanted to write a mystery, and what led you to that decision?
AUTHOR: Around 1996, I was preparing a non-fiction book on our Egyptian mummy project at the University of Illinois. I kept thinking about the old attic museum (with broken windows that allowed birds to fly in among the Greek statues) where I used to work and what a perfect setting it would be for a murder.
MLC: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I write non-fiction, both general books like “The Virtual Mummy” (University of Illinois Press 2003) and technical articles for archaeological science journals.
MLC: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: The plot is what gets me started. It begins with a “what if?” idea, such as a group of terrorists trying to infect tourists with smallpox (the major story in my next book, “The House of the Sphinx”). Then I ask how my existing characters will fit into this new story, and inevitably have to invent some new people to go with the new plot.
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: No. I have enough trouble just solving one crime—in my head
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 write most days in the late afternoon or evening. I do still have a day job at the University of Illinois, but fortunately it is part-time and my hours are flexible.
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: I enjoy painting and gardening. The most important thing in my daily life: trying to achieve the right balance between family, work, writing, and friends.
MLC: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Do you try to emulate them in your own writing?
AUTHOR: Barbara D’Amato, Sally Wright, Jane Langton, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Katherine Hall Page, Margaret Maron, Nancy Pickard. Yes, I try to emulate good writing and borrow craft ideas from many other authors.
MLC: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: “The Dead Sea Codex” is part of a series starring museum curator Lisa Donahue. It was written second but is actually the first chronologically (in Lisa’s life).
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 am almost done with the third in the series, “The House of the Sphinx,” which is set in Egypt. I hope to write at least one more in this series—probably two—before branching out with new characters.
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: Yes, all the time. They invent conversations and situations I hadn’t planned on. If it enhances the story, I let them run with it, but sometimes I have to write the scene and save it in a different file to use later (or not at all) because it’s too much of a digression from the plot.
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: Lisa Donahue is patterned after myself in many ways.
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 tried for two years—about 60 letters—to find an agent and had some interest (partial reads and encouraging responses). But marketing my story was a big issue—no one thought mummies were sexy! I ended up self-publishing “Bound for Eternity” at the same time I had submitted “Dead Sea Codex” to Hard Shell Word Factory.
MLC: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: Two in Chicago: “Love is Murder” and “Of Dark and Stormy Nights.” I am going to my first Bouchercon in Madison, WI in September.
MLC: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: I have to promote my own work for the most part, although Hard Shell Word Factory does a very good job with promoting the ebook edition of “Dead Sea Codex.”
MLC: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: Email lists and postcards.
MLC: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: Yes, both Hard Shell and iUniverse send or post regular sales and royalty reports.
MLC: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: The reviews from Bill Grescens are the best from my point of view because he is a fellow archaeologist and understands where I am coming from.
MLC: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: I was a finalist in the 2004 Malice Domestic contest for the Best First Traditional Mystery.
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: One reader wrote that she felt like she was really in Jerusalem—that was great, especially since I haven’t been Israel for thirty years!
MLC: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: “The House of the Sphinx” is nearly ready to submit. In it, Lisa Donahue and her husband travel to Egypt and discover a plot to infect Western tourists with smallpox.
MLC: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: I’d probably write the same stories, but they would be shorter than standard industry length. My favorite length is between a long short story and a full-length novel—a novella.
MLC: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring mystery authors?
AUTHOR: Go to mystery conferences—you will have fun, learn a lot, gain moral support, and likely find a publisher. This last is more likely if you are willing to start with one of the smaller presses that don’t require agented submissions—and these folks come to conferences.
MLC: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: Lisa Donahue goes to Egypt—just as I did a year ago. While on a Nile cruise, several tourists develop fevers, rashes, and other symptoms. Is it just food poisoning, or something much, much worse?
MLC: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: That the already published ones would have all the typos magically fixed and that a new publisher who would let me publish exactly what I want and offer me a five-book contract!
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.