by Sandra Murphy
& Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we have an interview with mystery author Kate Carlisle and a review of her new book One Book In The Grave. At the end of this post are details on how to enter to win a copy of One Book In The Grave.
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Kate: Writing was a hobby of mine for years before I realized I wanted to make a career of it. I racked up a respectable number of rejection letters in the ten-plus years before my first book, Homicide in Hardcover, was finally published. After struggling for all those years, I was stunned when it hit the New York Times bestsellers list. It was the extended list, but still–to see my name associated with the NYT in any way was an incredible feeling. This year, One Book in the Grave hit the list at #15. How cool is that? Perseverance pays off!
Lorie: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Kate: Homicide in Hardcover was released in 2009. It’s the first book in my Bibliophile Mystery series, which features world-class bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright. While attending an antiquarian book exhibit at San Francisco’s Covington Library, Brooklyn stumbles upon the body of her friend and mentor. He’s been murdered and handsome British security expert Derek Stone suspects that Brooklyn is the killer.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Kate: I’ve always written mysteries, but I also write romances for Harlequin. Both mystery and romance are fun. I love the sense of closure a reader gets when love is declared… or the murder is solved.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Can you tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book?
Kate: The Bibliophile Mystery series is primarily set in and around San Francisco and Sonoma County, though I did pop over to Edinburgh for book two, If Books Could Kill. Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I’d always dreamed of setting a book there.
The latest Bibliophile Mystery, One Book in the Grave, is set in the Bay Area, mostly at the commune where Brooklyn Wainwright grew up and where her parents still live. Their Sonoma commune defies common expectations. The residents jointly own and operate a very successful wine business, and they all live quite well.
Brooklyn’s family is a hoot. Her parents were Deadheads, following the Grateful Dead from concert to concert, naming their children after the place in which they were conceived. Her parents are quirky and loving, and her mom is very opinionated. I get a lot of fan mail for Brooklyn’s mom. Readers love this woman with traditional values such as marriage and family, but with a nontraditional approach to life.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Kate: I write primarily to entertain, but I do love hearing from readers who enjoy learning about the craft of bookbinding. In each book, I include a couple of scenes showing Brooklyn at work, so readers can see the painstaking effort and the awesome combination of artistry and craftsmanship that goes into the restoration of rare texts. I’ve been a bibliophile since I was a child, staring at the copyright page in my dad’s book collection. I take two to three Book Arts classes each year and have done so since long before I started writing the Bibliophile Mysteries. It’s a true joy to be able to share my passion with my readers.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Kate: When I worked full time, I got into the habit of writing early in the morning. Now that I write full time, I still start early, but I’m often interrupted by the business side of writing. New proposals, copy edits, revisions, not to mention promotion and social media, often get in the way. But I do try to write every day, to keep myself in the story. Often, when I’m stuck, I may not be actually writing, but my mind will be working out the solution for whatever has backed me into a corner.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Kate: I structure my books thoroughly before I begin writing. I write up an extensive synopsis and also sketch out an intricate timeline for the action. If there’s a dinner party, I draw a diagram of who’s sitting where. It’s important for me to know every detail of where the story is going so that I can plant clues–both true and false–along the way. But even with all this structure, the characters tend to take on a life of their own and don’t always go down the path I had thought they would. I love being surprised during the process, but it can mean that I need to step back and adjust the plot before I can continue.
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Kate: I try to write during regular business hours so I can take nights and weekends off. But when a deadline looms, I write at all hours.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Kate: Yes! It’s a tough business. The hardest thing in the world is to send your work out there to be criticized and rejected. Writers have to grow a thick skin, to step back and try to accept objective criticism gracefully. But editors really do want to find great books. They’re looking!
Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Kate: I’ve held onto the rejection letters that specifically told me that I’d never be published—and listed the reasons why. This is such a subjective business and the best way to deal with rejection is to simply persevere. Perseverance is the best revenge!
Lorie: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Kate: I adore doing book signings, and I try to fit as many as I can into my schedule. You can see my full list of 2012 appearances on my website.
An interesting signing story…the first thing that comes to mind wasn’t actually a signing. In 2010, I attended my first Malice Domestic conference in Arlington, Virginia, home of the prestigious Agatha Award. They have this event called “Malice-Go-Round,” which is like speed dating for authors. Readers stay in one place, and authors move from table to table, telling readers about their latest book, handing out bookmarks and goodies, and answering questions–all in under two minutes per table! It was frantic and fun and exhausting, and it really did feel like I was asking readers to date me. I felt very vulnerable, but I got such positive feedback that I also felt really exhilarated. It was one of the events that made me feel like an honest-to-goodness published writer.
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Kate: I will continue writing the Bibliophile Mystery series as long as readers love them. Next up is Peril in Paperback this August, and I’ve recently signed on to write at least three more after that.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
Kate: I admire many of the classic authors of the mystery genre–Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These are people who made a career of writing intelligent genre fiction. They respected their audience, and it showed in the caliber of their work. I strive for the same. My modern heroes include Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, and Nora Roberts. Their styles may differ, but their work ethic and the dedication they show to their readers are things I admire so much.
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
Kate: In the interest of accuracy, I travel frequently to San Francisco and to California’s wine country, where the Bibliophile Mystery series is set. In the name of research, I try to sample as many wines and dine in as many restaurants there as I can handle. You see how much I’m willing to sacrifice myself for the sake of my readers?
I also try to incorporate an interesting new facet of bookbinding into each story. For example, in One Book in the Grave, Brooklyn discovers a fore-edge painting on the pages of a book she’s been hired to restore. This hand-painted masterwork catapults the book in question from precious to priceless. In order to get those details right, I continue to take classes in the book arts every year, and I have a list of experts I can go to when any questions arise.
Lorie: What do you read?
Kate: I read what I write–mystery and romance. Some new favorites include the Cheese Shop Mysteries by Avery Aames, Lucy Burdette’s debut mystery, An Appetite for Murder, and the new Lady Arianna Regency-set mysteries by Andrea Penrose.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
Kate: There are so many! I really love shows that have elements of both mystery and romance, such as Castle, Bones, Psych, Covert Affairs… If you enjoy these shows, then I think you’ll enjoy the Bibliophile Mystery series.
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Kate: Read, write, and persevere. The only way to improve your writing is to write. And keep writing. Write something new. I’ve known a lot of writers who put all of their focus into one book. If you want to make a living as a writer, then you need to learn to keep moving forward, to keep writing new books. So when you’re in the pre-publication stage and you finish a book, while you’re submitting it to editors, start the next book. That way, you are continually learning and growing. If your first book gets rejected, the rejection is just a little less painful because your heart is tied up in the new story. And if your first book sells, then your editor will be thrilled to know you’re working on the next! It’s a no-lose proposition.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Kate: I’m all for anything that gets people reading, and I think e-books have brought a lot of people to reading who might have avoided it before. With genre fiction, the physical book itself is not a work of art like the rare books that Brooklyn restores in the Bibliophile Mystery series. So whether readers come to the series via paperback or e-book, the story is the same.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Kate: Thank you so much for helping to introduce readers to me and my books!
Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Kate: For years, I worked on some very famous TV shows. You can read all about it on my website. While you’re there, please sign up for my mailing list so I can send you an email when the next Bibliophile Mystery is released.
Lorie: Are you also on Facebook and Twitter?
One Book in the Grave by Kate Carlisle
Review by Sandra Murphy
Brooklyn Wainwright is a book lover—she restores rare and valuable books, taking them apart, replacing leather, gluing and sewing pages back in place. How much trouble can she get into?
In this fifth book, a rare copy of Beauty and the Beast turns up at a children’s museum. The curator calls upon Brooklyn to restore the volume to its original beauty. The problem is Brooklyn recognizes the book. It’s one she gave a friend just before he died in a car crash. The book was stolen weeks later from his fiancée. Where has it been? Why is it turning up now?
Brooklyn sets out to talk to the dealer who sold the book to the museum, only to find his body and things go downhill from there. Clues left at the scene point to a murder suspect. Too bad it’s her friend who died three years before!
Missing people, psychopaths, survivalists living in the hills, a business rival, dead bodies, cleansing rituals, the commune, wine making, goat cheese, a cat and a dog—there’s a little of everything in this book as the storyline takes Brooklyn back to her childhood in the commune.
This book runs 291 pages; I didn’t guess the murderer until page 260, always a good thing.
There’s a wealth of background to draw on, interesting facts about papermaking and bookbinding without going into distracting detail and a satisfying ending. Mark this one as a good read for a winter’s evening.
To enter to win a copy of One Book In The Grave, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Grave”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 7, 2012. U.S. residents only.