Fellow Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime member Jim Jackson allowed me to select from his “Chinese menu” of questions to give an inside look at me and my writing process. 

You have an all-expense-paid long weekend to spend with three guests. The Starship Enterprise has agreed to beam you to the place of your choosing, so travel time is not a consideration. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you staying (and why)?

Makes me feel like a kid in a candy store! I love to travel, so I’d be up for almost anything, but I’d head back to Antarctica. As a geologist, I’m absolutely fascinated by the mountains and ice, and who can resist a penguin?

I’d invite mountaineer Peter Hillary who attempted to trek to the South Pole and back – his book, In the Ghost Country is a haunting story of survival. I’d also invite international correspondent Christiane Amanpour for her knowledge of global affairs because nowhere else on earth do we have a continent managed solely by a committee of 52 countries. And finally, I’d invite geologist Robin Bell who’s researching a hidden mountain range in East Antarctica – an intriguing real life polar mystery. We’d stay onboard a ship, so we could sail the Ross Sea and head ashore whenever we see something interesting, and then spend long evenings chatting over wine. I’m sure I’d come back with some great story ideas!

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’m somewhere between the two. I use mind-mapping software to roughly lay out my plot ideas and then I start writing. My characters often take me in a different direction than planned or suggest a sub-plot or two, and sometimes I find what I had planned doesn’t work. I incorporate these changes into my mind map as I go and that can reveal more new ideas and plot twists. Still, I find it helpful to work from this quasi-outline because it holds my story on-track and gives me direction for the next chapter.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

I’m always adding between the first and final drafts. I write in layers, setting down my general story in the first draft and then making several passes to add more character, plot and sensory details. By the time I have a final draft, my story may have swelled by 30,000 words or more.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I used to feel that I had to finish every book I started, but not any longer – I just don’t have the same reading time that I once did, and there are just too many books on my to-read list! But still, I like to give an author at least 100 pages to hook me.

If the story doesn’t fire up my imagination or intrigue me, then no matter how much the characters might be likeable, I find myself not caring whether they live/die or solve the crime. But I also need characters that are fully developed. They don’t need to be complex, they just need to feel like something other than cardboard cutouts.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Michael Crichton because he wove scientific fact into thrilling stories that were something other than science-fiction, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

Terry Brooks for his masterful ability to keep you on the edge of your seat with a story told from different character perspectives.

Daniel Silva for his intensely satisfying stories and interesting characters – I can’t wait to find out what happens to Gabriel Allon next!

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris. It’s a crime novel set in Saudi Arabia that features a female medical examiner. Her interactions with male/female law enforcement colleagues, suspects and victims, provide an intriguing look at life in the Middle-East. And it’s a page-turner too!

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I do read my reviews because I’d like every reader who picks up my book to finish it, and that means I have to be prepared to listen to feedback. But I also don’t let a single review influence me because no book will ever satisfy every reader.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

Thirst took root in a “what-if” question I asked myself about a fifty-year-old treaty between the U.S. and Canada that governs management of the Columbia River, an important water resource shared by the two countries. When I learned that the treaty, which soon expires, includes three dams built in Canada for the benefit of the U.S., and I discovered the fascinating history of the Slocan Valley, home to those dams, the seeds of a story took hold. After that, I just let my imagination guide me.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Give your reader a central character they care about and trust, and do it early. It’s a reminder that readers need a reason to keep reading.

Posted on My Two Cents Worth