Please tell us your latest news!
In the last few weeks, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Kirkus have all given my first novel, The Rhetoric of Death, starred pre-publication reviews! And Berkley Books will publish the second book in this new historical mystery series--tentatively titled The Rhetoric of Blood--in September 2011!
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I worked on The Rhetoric of Death for two years and don't know that I'd change much. Unless, of course, I suddenly had a time machine and could go to 1686 Paris for the definitive answer to vexed questions. Such as, what did 17th century Jesuits wear under their cassocks? The other thing I'd do is start with what my perceptive editor required for the second book: a clear, very detailed plot synopsis--the antidote to slowly closing in on the plot through far too many rewrites.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
My favorite historical mystery authors are Margaret Frazer and Ellis Peters. Their characters are people I like to spend time with and their settings are places I like to be. I especially enjoy and admire Frazer's ability to create characters who live and move and have their being in the 15th century--that is to say, characters who are not just us in costumes.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Not sure how to characterize my style. But I love language, sentences, paragraphs, even the look of words on a page. For me, a novel is a structure lovingly built with words (and silences). The reader enters this structure to discover the sensual and emotional world of the story and to follow the intricate movement of its characters.
Do you see writing as a career?
Having been dancer and choreographer, actress and playwright, I see writing as a wonderful third incarnation in the arts.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Probably from an innate fascination with language. I taught myself to read, and wrote my first story at six. It was strong on character--the main character was my dog--and short on plot. Which is pretty much what my wonderful agent said after she read the manuscript of my first novel. You can write, she said. Now you have to learn to tell a story. (Which she proceeded to teach me how to do!) I also have a sponge-like memory for anything heard or read, which is useful for a writer.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Here's what I know so far. Read everything. Go to the theatre and don't just watch, listen, especially to the silences. Love words and sentences and paragraphs and grammar the way a carpenter loves good tools. When you edit your work, remember the Zen saying: your garden is complete only when you can take nothing else out of it.
Which I thought I'd done, when Berkley bought The Rhetoric of Death. The first thing my amazing editor said to me was, "I love this book!" The second thing she said was, "Cut 20,000 words." I was horrified. But said, "Okay, I can do that." And ended up with a MUCH better book. Which gets at the final thing I know: pay close attention to good critics!
How does your family feel about having a writer in the family? Do they read your books?
To answer the second question first: Yes, many times! After I edit my stuff, the next editor is my husband Jay Rock, who is a very good critic. (He looked over my shoulder at this question and said to tell you that he loves being married to an artist. Which is a very good thing, because I love being married to him!)
What did you do before you became a writer? Do you write full time?
As said above, I danced professionally (modern dance), then did theatre. Also led many workshops, much studio teaching, teaching as artist/scholar in residence, and earned a Ph.D. in art and theology. My dissertation on dance in 17th century Jesuit theatre later became the basic research for these novels. I also spent a few years in law enforcement, first as an auxiliary officer and sergeant for the NYPD, and then as a part-time police officer in Northfield, MN. Now I write full time.
What is your writing process? Do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants or a combination of both?
I've completely incapable of outlining anything! I start knowing the approximate number of pages I need, and knowing the external event and inner conflict which set the story spinning. Also something about what the stakes are in the book for the central character. As stated, I've learned to make and use a plot synopsis--the steps of the story, how the characters (and I) get from point A to point Z. But within that, a lot just happens. The best part is that new characters show up and move in and start rearranging things. About halfway through, I write the last page. Then I go back and write the second half.
Do you have a favorite object that is pertinent to your writing? If so what is it and please describe it. (Pen, Coffee Cup, Pet, Blanket, Chair)
No objects. For me, the essential thing is quiet--preferably silence. I can write anywhere, as long as I have earplugs.
Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing? Example..get coffee, blanket, paper, pen and a comfy place
Close office door and curtains. Turn off phone and e-mail. Get ms. on screen and make sure the juggling balls are beside the desk. If I get stuck, I stand up and juggle. Or lie on the floor and do some Pilates. Basically, I stay in my office until that day's quota of pages are written. Or edited, or whatever.
What main genre do you write in?
Suspense / Mystery
Thanks! And thank you SO much for including The Rhetoric of Death and me on your great site!