In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing the which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Alafair Burke, author of the novel Long Gone, played along and answered seven questions. Here is what Alafair had to say about reading, writing and avoiding spillover in a novel.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
I write crime fiction featuring female protagonists. I came to writing primarily as a reader and then as a prosecutor.
I was a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon, for several years. After leaving to move to New York, I missed my office. I missed Portland and my friends. And as a long-time mystery reader, I had always wanted to write a crime novel. I thought I’d finally learned enough about the world to give it a try, so I started with a character named Samantha Kincaid, who is a prosecutor in the very office where I served.
By the time I was working on my fourth Kincaid novel, I’d been living in New York for a few years. I thought the anonymity that comes only in a city this big was exciting territory for me as a writer. I was also ready to write a faster paced book with an investigator, instead of a lawyer, at the center. I had a story I wanted to tell that involved Internet dating, and I thought a young New York City detective was the perfect narrator. I actually meant for that book (Dead Connection) to be a standalone, but I knew when I wrote the final chapter that I’d still be hearing more from the main character, Ellie Hatcher. My next three novels focused on her.
My latest novel, Long Gone, is a standalone thriller about Alice Humphrey, who takes what she thinks is her dream job managing a small art gallery after nearly a year of unemployment. She thinks everything is going smoothly until one morning she comes to work to find the gallery space vacant, stripped bare as if it had never existed. Even worse, the man who hired her is dead. Needless to say, trouble ensues.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the proccess of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
I’m a big believer in exercise to relax both body and mind. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ll be struggling at the keyboard, only to find inspiration on the treadmill.
Alcohol works too 🙂
People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?
When I got the idea for Long Gone, I knew it would not be an Ellie Hatcher novel. It was right when the economy was getting really, really bad. I take morning walks through the village, and every day, I’d see yet another boarded-over storefront. Literally, a store would be open to customers on Monday, and completely gone on Tuesday. I started to wonder what it would be like to go to work one morning to find that your entire professional life had vanished overnight. That’s the kind of story that has to be told from the perspective of a civilian.
What surprised me is the personal story that emerged from that kernel of a plot idea. Alice Humphrey truly changes over the course of the novel. She has to confront truths about both herself and her family.
Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?
I try to read work that is different from my own when I’m in the trenches with a novel. I don’t want to risk any spillover in the voice.
Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?
Maybe my very first book would have been better if I’d cut back on some detail, but debut novels are detailed for a reason. New writers share some of the same habits. I like to think that every book I’ve written has been better than the rest. As someone who cares more about the longevity of my publishing career than dollars and cents, that makes me pretty content.
How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?
I don’t believe in scrapping projects. I don’t start to write until a voice really speaks to me. And then I try to write every single day – without starting over – until I finish. Once you have a beginning, middle, and end, it is much easier to make adjustments than you’d ever believe. The hard part is getting it done.
I’m working on my next Ellie Hatcher novel.
Alafair Burke is the author of what the Sun-Sentinal has hailed as “two power house series” featuring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid. Alafair’s novels grow out of her love for writing, her experience as a prosecutor in America’s police precincts and criminal courtrooms, and her ability to create strong, believable, and eminently likable female characters. According to Entertainment Weekly, Alafair “is a terrific web spinner” who “knows when and how to drop clues to keep readers at her mercy.”
Her highly anticipated thriller, Long Gone, has already been praised by some of the world’s most respected crime writers: Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Scottoline, Lisa Unger, and Nelson DeMille.