I was born
and raised in New England and I live in Massachusetts now, with my
husband and benevolent feline overlords. Mine is a quiet, fairly
ordinary life. I love that because it's what saves me from an
overdeveloped sense of paranoia and a tendency to expect the worst. Or the weird. Combined with an eye for detail and a quirky take on life, these traits give me a vivid internal life, one that's sometimes
nerve-wracking, but very useful for writing all kinds of fiction.My interest in archaeology stems from childhood, where my interest in books and the opportunities I had to travel made me begin to think about cultural differences. The thing I like best about this work is that it is a real opportunity to try and resurrect individuals from the monolith of history. I've worked on prehistoric and historical sites in the U.S. and in Europe, and like to teach in the field, in museums, in the classroom, and through writing.
In my urban fantasy series, Zoe is also an archaeologist (with a secret!), and it turns out that archaeology is a great way to explore the world and culture of the Fangborn. In archaeology we try to piece together the past; in writing, we try to piece together a world. In my mystery series, my protagonist Emma Fielding discovers that archaeologists are trained to ask the same questions that detectives ask: who, what, where, when, how, and why. When I started on these mysteries, I realized that archaeology is also good training for writing because research, logic, and persistence are so important to both endeavours.
My training worked with the archaeology mysteries--and it also helped with the Anna Hoyt colonial noir stories set in 18th-century Boston and the Fangborn stories set in the past. But how has it worked when I've tackled subjects like werewolves and vampires or covert ops ("One Soul at a Time" and "Dialing In")? Easy: it's all about getting into someone else's shoes and walking around for a while. Preferably getting into (fictional) trouble while you do it. Asking "what if?" and thinking about how a culture--any culture--along with personality, shapes behavior.
FAQs1. How did you become a writer?
I never thought I'd be a writer--I thought it was too exalted a calling, and frankly, I thought you had to get into bar fights and run with the bulls to be a writer, which did not sound like fun. But ever since I was a kid, I read constantly, fiction, social history, and lots and lots of plays. Later on, reading about how actors interpret their roles from the text of a play, I began to realize that they are doing the same thing that archaeologists are trained to do: drawing conclusions from the available data. It was a short step from interpreting the text to figuring out how to hide the clues in the text myself--not only the clues to a mystery, but clues needed for good story-telling and character. So when I started to write fiction, many of the tools were already there. I snuck up on it or it snuck up on me, depending how you look at it.
3. How much are your protagonists like you ?
It's funny; folks always assume that your protagonist is you. That makes sense, because you spend the most time in the head of your main character. But readers seldom remember that writers also conjure up all the bad guys, too. Remember: all that evil has to come from somewhere--bwahahaha!
As for the urban fantasy, Zoe Miller and I don't share much in the way of life experiences, but we do share similar touchstones: a fascination with the past, a taste for travel, and the desire to understand how cultural things work. Also: I'm not a werewolf.
In the mystery novels, Emma's a lot like me in that my experience is what shapes her professional life. We are definitely not the same person: I have a stranger sense of humor (Emma is rather more straight-laced), can't handle caffeine (E would be incapable of functioning without her joe), and am at my best in the early morning (she thinks morning properly starts at 10:30 or so; I'm starting to think about lunch at that point).
But there are more similarities between me and Anna Hoyt (an 18th-century tavern-keeper), Gerry Steuben (an ex-cop and werewolf), and Jayne (a "retired" covert operative) than you might think. Even if I've had none of the experiences these folks have--and for the record, I've never been a bartender, a man, a PI, or an assassin), there's got to be an overlap. Maybe we share some opinion, a home town, a craving for Cheetos. There's something in each of these characters that gives me a connection to them, and a desire to see what they'll get up to.
I never take my characters straight from life, there's never a carbon copy of anyone I know in my work. For one thing, real life doesn't translate perfectly to convincing fiction; you'll always have to make leaps, tart things up, fix dialogue (ever really pay attention to the number of sub-verbal noises and um's you make in a day? It's not riveting dialogue, and neither are most mundane conversations). For another thing, it's much more interesting, from a writer's point of view, to endow a character with certain traits and then ask--why is she like this? What will these characteristics make her do in this story? There's more exploration that way and it's really much more fun.
4. Why are Zoe and Emma archaeologists?
I figured I could go one of two ways with a protagonist, both based on my professional training. I could endow a character with the skills an archaeologist uses to investigate the past and let her tackle a mystery or a problem with them. For example, Zoe's been raised outside Fangborn culture and needs her training to help her navigate a lot of new knowledge. I'm also able to use the unusual sort of situations, characters, and settings one encounters as an archaeologist and show readers life "behind the scenes," which I think is fun. That's what I do with Emma, especially. The other great thing about using an archaeologist as a character is that I get to explore historical situations I think are compelling.
The other thing I could do would be to take what I've learned about the past and create a main character who knows those things because she lived during those times. That's a lot more work because I have to make sure I keep my characters' personalities and opinions true to a particular period of history and not just dress a 21st-century character in a corset and petticoats. That's another way of teaching and showing life behind the scenes, I guess. I explore the criminal world of the 18th century with Anna Hoyt, who always seems to have the deck stacked against her. And I've done it with a variety of other historical characters in settings ranging from classical Greece to the 1940s.
5. Why mysteries and thrillers? Why urban fantasy and historical fiction?
That's a good question. Part of the answer lies in the opportunity to examine different emotions and reactions that tend come out during situations where there is a lot at stake. Part of it has to do with the structure of a mystery or thriller--the crime, the investigation, and the solution (or the prevention of the Very Bad Thing happening)--which forces me (and every other writer) ask lots of questions that are worth thinking about. Part of it is the comforting notions that judgement will come to wrongdoers and that an individual can make a difference. Part of it has to do with being able to examine certain situations I've observed in life by creating a fictional story about them.
With urban fantasy, I have the opportunity to look at very big issues in a safe environment. Writing in a fantastic world lets me ask "dangerous" questions that would be polarizing in real life, but are easier to think about when the context is changed.
I like fiction because you get to tell stories. You also get to introduce a lot of complex and play around with them: fiction can be the experimental simulation of real life. And I think there is a certain virtue in creating characters who you think set a good example, because there's always the chance they will resonate positively with someone. And crime fiction and monster stories--as old as human story-telling--are great forms of recreation. I think we really need that.
6. What order should I read the Fangborn books and stories? The Emma Fielding mysteries? And, oh, everything!
The Fangborn world is introduced in "The Night Things Changed," so it's best to read that before you tackle "Swing Shift," "Love Knot," "Pattern Recognition," "Finals," or "The God's Games." The novels and Kindle Shorts are interwoven, so start with Seven Kinds of Hell, then "The Serpent's Tale," and Pack of Strays.
The Emma books: Although each of the books is designed to be a "stand alone," if you want to read them in order, it goes: Site Unseen, Grave Consequences, Past Malice, A Fugitive Truth, More Bitter Than Death, Ashes and Bones. If you don't read them in order, the only thing I would suggest is that you read Site Unseen before Ashes and Bones: the plot of Ashes totally gives away the ending of Site Unseen!
The short story, "The Lords of Misrule" is more fun to read after you've gotten to know Margaret through Emma's research. That takes place mostly in Past Malice and A Fugitive Truth.
The Anna Hoyt stories follow an arc, and should be read in order (though they also stand alone): "Femme Sole," "Disarming," and "Ardent."
Read the a/k/a Jayne stories anyway you want!
7. What organizations do you belong to?
It is hugely helpful to develop a community with other people who are interested in writing and reading what you read and write. I am presently a member of Sisters in Crime (National and New England Chapters), Mystery Writers of America, The Femmes Fatales and the American Crime Writers League.