A Legacy of Murder, the second in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, will be released in just six days. So that makes exactly two! I'm in awe of writers with a lengthy backlist, and while I can never catch up, I am working on the third in the series, tentatively entitled A Pattern of Betrayal.
My main character, Kate Hamilton, and I share certain things in common—most importantly, the fact that we were both raised by antiques collectors and dealers. Since I love incorporating history into my stories, giving Kate expertise in antiques made sense. She's a kind of "antiques whisperer," with a gift not only for locating and identifying fine objects, but also for discerning patterns and making connections that others miss. Each of the books features an extraordinary object from the past. In A Dream of Death that object was a fabulous marquetry casket (a small chest) that held clues to a brutal murder. In my new book, that object is a sixteenth-century, blood-red ruby ring that points back in time to a centuries-old legacy of murder.
A Dream of Death was located on a fictional island in the Scottish Hebrides. I wanted Kate and Detective Inspector Tom Mallory to meet in a place where they were both outsiders and could team up and combine their unique skills, unhampered by official procedures. The second book, A Legacy of Murder, takes them to Tom's home territory of Suffolk, England. Operating on his own patch gives Tom insider information but also limits his ability to share that information with Kate. Nevertheless, because he learned to respect her abilities in Scotland, he knows he can trust her. As for Suffolk itself as a setting, A Legacy of Murder is set in the fictional village of Long Barston, not unlike the wonderful real village of Long Melford. I love Suffolk—in my opinion one of England's least visited and most underrated areas. My husband and I have spent a lot of time there and enjoy walking the countryside paths and exploring the impossibly quaint villages. Suffolk has a rich and ancient history, reaching back beyond the Anglo-Saxons to Roman Britain—an intriguing place to uncover old secrets and patterns of thinking and behavior that just might lead to murderous intent in the present.
For a review of A Legacy of Murder click here.
What do you enjoy about the author's lifestyle? What do you not enjoy?
There's so much I enjoy about the author's lifestyle—creating interesting characters and putting them in unusual and stressful circumstances; spending lots of mental time in the UK; the act of plotting story and character arcs; using words to convey both meaning and emotion. I adore the process of revision and refinement, polishing language, and pairing down to essentials. I love research, especially historical research and on-scene research, which means occasional trips to the UK. A year ago in October I had the privilege of spending a day with a detective inspector in the Suffolk Constabulary. That day was amazing and helpful. I love setting my own schedule and working at home with my Keurig nearby and my sweet dog, Millie, to keep me company. What I don't enjoy as much is the promotional aspect. I don't feel comfortable tooting my own horn or asking people to buy my books. But if authors don't do it, who will? Gone are the days when authors can leave the business of writing to others.
Do you model your character after yourself or anyone you know?
In part. Characters do come from our brains after all—from people we've known or observed; from experiences we've had ourselves or heard about from others. I can't speak for others, but my characters are amalgams of many people. Kate Hamilton is like me in some ways—in her background, her interest in the past, and in her curiosity and obsession with solving mysteries (my kids used to call me "Sherlock Holmes"). But she isn't like me in her tragic past, having lost her brother, father, and husband—all suddenly and without warning. Thankfully, I'm not a widow. And she isn't like me in her reluctance to leave her past behind and move forward. I like nothing better than experiencing new things. Kate's mother, Linnea, is very like my mother in her passion for research and documenting the antiques she sold; but Linnea is more logical and plain-speaking than my mother. In that she is a lot like a dear aunt. The same could be said for all my characters. They are patchworks of many people, both real and fictional.
If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?
That's an easy one! I'd say: "Take the time to study and learn story structure." I tend to be impulsive and would rather just begin a task than do the needed preparation. This cost me time and a whole bunch of wasted words. For my first book, I have at least as many words in my outtakes file than ever made it into the final version. My only consolation is thinking I may pull those words out sometime and use them again.
If your books were made into a movie, who would you want to play the lead character?
One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn't want any of the flashy Hollywood types with their perfect bodies, bleached-white smiles, and botoxed faces. I admire the depth and believability of British actors who look like real people. Kate is 46, after all. She's had two children. Her jeans feel tight around the waist at times. Since you ask, I might choose a young Emma Thompson or perhaps Jennifer Ehle—and she could do a believable Midwestern accent.
Who is your favorite author?
Just one?! If I had to read only one author, it might be Dame Agatha or Ngaio Marsh because they were so prolific. My favorites today include Anthony Horowitz, Deborah Crombie, Charles Todd, Tana French, Jodi Taylor, Susan Hill, Ruth Ware…. (better stop).
If you could invite five people—living or dead—to a dinner party, who would they be?
I can think of so many—mostly dead (what does that say about me?). But a dinner party is memorable mostly for the conversation, so I think I would choose a theme—authors who wrote during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction (roughly the 1920s and 1930s). So dinner for six would include Agatha Christie, Cyril Hare, Dorothy L. Sayers, G. K. Chesterton, and Georges Simenon. I would take the sixth place at the table and begin by asking them each to expound on "the perfect murder mystery." Then, because by this time (with great food and glasses of a terrific red wine) they'd be chatting freely, I'd just sit back, listen, and take it all in. Perfect!
If you could not be an author, what would you like to do as a career?
I've already done it. For twenty-five years I lectured on theology and loved every minute. Then I turned to writing about murder. Hmm. Now that I don't have to go to work every day (writing is difficult, challenging, and often painful, but it isn't work), I think I'd knit one-of-a-kind sweaters and jackets out of lovely natural fibers and sell them on Etsy.