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 first book, Site Unseen,
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 books, I realized that archaeology is also good training for writing because research, logic, and persistence are so important to both endeavors. In the book I'm working on now, Zoe is also an archaeologist (with a secret!); archaeology is a great way to explore the world of the Fangborn. In archaeology we try to piece together the past; in writing, we try to piece together a world.
My training worked with the archaeology mysteries--and it also helped with the Anna Hoyt "colonial noir" stories set in 18th-century Boston. But how has it worked when I've tackled subjects like werewolves ("The Night Things Changed," "Swing Shift," and "Love Knot"), noir ("Femme Sole," "Disarming," and "Ardent"), and covert ops ("One Soul at a Time")? 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.
1. 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 to 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.
2. What would you do if you weren't writing?
Eat something or go for a walk. Oh--career-wise? Probably some other kind of job that involved researching and thinking and analysis and teaching. But really, where can you go after being an archaeologist and a mystery and urban fantasy writer? Astronaut? I haven't got the math skills. Super model? I haven't got the legs. Secret agent? I haven't got the poker face. So I'm probably better off as I am, and very lucky, too.
3. How much are your protagonists like you (or vice versa)?
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 far as the archaeology
mysteries go, 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
The same with Zoe Miller; we 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.
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 werewolf, 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 subverbal 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 Emma and Zoe archaeologists?
I figured I could go one of two ways with a protagonist, both based on my professional research. 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. I'd also be 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.
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. That's what I do with Madam Margaret Chandler, an
18th-century Englishwoman who moves to Massachusetts and has to contend
with life among the colonials. And I explore the criminal world of the 18th century with Anna Hoyt, who always seems to have the deck stacked against her.
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 judgment 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.
I like fiction because you get to tell stories. You also get to introduce a lot of complex ideas in a safe environment 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 Emma Fielding books in? The short stories?
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."
The Fangborn world is introduced in "The Night Things Changed," so it's best to read that before you tackle "Swing Shift" or "Love Knot."
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. I'm also applying for membership in SFWA--go, Fangborn!