If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th. In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

An Interview with Will North by E. B. Davis


 
Will North and I have a few things in common—actually dang few—but we both started our careers as environmental policy analysts in Washington, D. C. Will then advanced to an appointed position in the administration of Jimmy Carter, while I did not. We also live on islands; his in the Pacific Northwest, mine, Mid-Atlantic, Hatteras Island. Will fell in love with Cornwall England, the setting of his detective series and the place my ancestors fled from to emigrate to the New World. Like I said, we’ve got few things in common!

Deb Crombie, New York Times bestselling mystery writer over at the Jungle Red Writers, interviewed Will back in November. So as not to replicate Deb’s interview (http://www.jungleredwriters.com/2015/11/will-north-too-clever-by-half.html), use the link to read her interview, which provides information on Will’s varied and successful writing career, most recently in mystery fiction. Then, come on back here to WWK for a discussion of his books and, I hope, a story. Will and I will wait for your return, enjoy some wine, compare D. C. stories, and talk about island life.

Please welcome Will North to WWK.                                                                        E. B. Davis

I want to follow up on Deb’s interview by asking Will to tell us a story (gather round) about one of Martha Grimes’s pubs, “The Lamorna Wink.” Take us away, Will.
           
In 2004 I went for a walk in England. It took three and a half months and I covered between 1,200 and 1,400 miles. Roughly halfway through, I stopped in to the Lamorna Wink, a tiny pub near the English Channel coast of Cornwall and the namesake of one of Grimes’s mysteries. The pub was tucked in a narrow coastal valley and its walls were hung with maritime antiques, mostly salvaged from shipwrecks. The publican was a cranky older woman who, when I mentioned Martha’s book, flew into a rage: “Nothing to do with us! None of that ever happened! She got it all wrong!” I suggested that it was, after all, a book of fiction but she was having none of it and stomped off fuming. I had to remind her about my pint; my doctor told me I needed to stay hydrated on my trek.

Manuscript organization is an art. In Harm None, the first in your “Davies & West Mystery” series, you divided the book into the parts: Some There Are Who Know—8 chapters, Some There Are Who Know Not—13 chapters, Some There Are Who Doubt—18 chapters, and Some There Are Who Learn—9 chapters. Why these divisions?

            Cornwall, the southwest tip of England, is a place of mystery and witchcraft. The pagan tradition is strong there. A “village wise woman” is a key character in the novel and, as the story progresses, the detectives, Morgan Davies and Calum West, have to overcome their doubts to solve the case. Thus, that progression of three parts. I interviewed several such women in researching the book.

“I usually have only three things in my head when I start a novel:  a sense of place,
a couple of quirky characters, and a larger theme I want to explore.”
Will North, from Deb’s interview

After reading Deb’s interview, I understand the circumstances that took you to Wales in your earlier love story, The Long Walk Home, and then your travels to Cornwall. First—where does Cornwall start? Is it the entire peninsula? Why Cornwall? What was the attraction?

            That leg of England that stretches away to the southwest, into the Atlantic, is composed of both Devon and Cornwall, with a bit of Somerset thrown in to the north. Cornwall is the tip, separated and very nearly severed from Devon by the River Tamar. My affection for Cornwall has several sources but the strongest draw is the sheer depth of its history and the fact that this history, in the form of hundreds of Bronze and Iron Age sites—stone circles, towering burial quoits, nearly intact ancient settlements, mysterious underground chambers, sacred wells, hilltop fortresses—is all about you on this storm-wracked peninsula.  History and mystery are all around you. It begs for stories. (Daphne du Maurier set some of her stories here…)

While reading the first book in the series, Harm None, I wondered what was fiction and what was real. After reading your acknowledgments, which appear at the end of your book, I realized all of it was real, except the plot and characters, of course. I knew of the ghosts and fairy stories from my mother’s ancestors, but I was unaware of how common paganism is in Cornwall. Has that always been the case or is this “new age” stuff?

            Paganism, by which I mean primarily the reverence for the cycles of the seasons and the natural world, has persisted in Cornwall partly, I suspect because it is remote. Most of the members of the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) is composed of pagans of one faith or another. They do wonderful work. There’s also a splendid Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall with an extensive library. So no, it’s not all “new age.” As for the realism, I must credit a whole team of faithful advisors in Cornwall: detectives, scene of crimes managers, forensic pathologists, museum directors, archaeologists, mortuary managers, and the occasional witch. They keep me honest.

Both Harm None and Too Clever By Half seemed as if they were written in a different language. I was thankful you explained most of the terms used. For example, athame, benzoin, mullein, hawsers, tor, quoit, piskies, fogou, claircognizance, and troyl, are just a few of many terms I didn’t know. Some of these terms come from paganism, some from the geography, and others from Cornwall’s history. Do you create the story and then research the specifics, or do you research first and then write?

            I would like to say I am as methodical as your question suggests…but I’m not. When the germ of an idea strikes me I just begin writing. It’s like setting sail across an uncharted ocean. Characters show up out of the blue, scenes emerge and develop, and soon the arc of the story reveals itself.  I often say to readers, “Look, I’m just taking dictation from my characters!” And it is largely true. Having said that, I am also obsessive about factual accuracy; I can’t even finish a sentence if I’m unsure about the facts. So I am constantly researching as I go. This is no doubt a habit from my long years as a nonfiction writer and ghostwriter for people like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, when getting facts wrong was lethal.

I thought all of Cornwall stuck out into the Atlantic, but I learned from your books that the west coast is on the Atlantic and the east coast faces the English Channel and the two coasts are very different. Harm None, your first Davies & West Mystery, was set on the Atlantic coast. Too Clever By Half was set on the English Channel coast. The murders and crimes portrayed vary in intensity, in nastiness. Did the opposite coasts have a factor in your choice of the criminal milieu?

            If you think of Cornwall as your flat right hand pointing away from you, the hand is tilted, thumb down: the Atlantic side rises in massive cliffs above the ocean waves while the Channel side is, effectively, a drowned coast. The Atlantic side is wild and windswept; the Channel side is soft, pastoral, and indented by rivers which are really “rias”—they’re largely tidal: two entirely different personalities only a few dozen miles apart.  But insofar as criminality is concerned, I suspect they are equal opportunity locales!  The soon-to-be-published third book in the series, Trevega House, is set farther north on the Atlantic side of Cornwall, near the port and artists’ colony of St. Ives.

Do you think some people possess intuitive supernatural gifts like a sixth sense?

            In short, yes. My paternal grandmother was unquestionably and stunningly clairvoyant.

Morgan Davies, your detective, is a likeable character. She is self-aware. What are her strengths and weaknesses?

            Likeable? Well, in some respects perhaps. She has a big and good heart, though she keeps it heavily disguised. Mostly she’s irascible, impatient, and doesn’t suffer fools.  She’s intuitive but also dogged in solving a crime. She’s not above flaunting procedure to trap a suspect. She has little respect for police bureaucracy. There are reasons, buried in her childhood, for this attitude but the plain fact is that she solves cases. She’s brilliant.

Calum West, your delightful CSI guy, provides the facts. Davies goes on logic and instinct after assimilating the facts West provides. It seems a yin/yang balance, a female/male dance. Does criminal investigation require both traits?

            I suspect so. Calum is nearly Morgan’s antithesis: his job as crime scene manager is to gather and protect the evidence that might lead to a conviction. He is methodical, detail-oriented, and most of all an island of calm in the midst of Morgan’s whirlwind. He is in charge of “scene.” She’s in charge of investigation. The division is not always clear and they spar a lot. She is divorced; he is a widower with two young daughters. They are attracted to each other but are too stubborn (or fearful) to admit it.

You flavor your prose with the geography and flora of Cornwall. Readers get a sensual treat of plant-filled vistas. Did your rambles through Cornwall give you insight into the elemental Earth aspects of paganism? Do you have biology/botany in your educational background?

            No, no science background. My degrees are in English Lit and Journalism.  But I did have a previous career in natural resource planning and analysis, so I am deeply aware of the natural world around me. And spending time with helpful Cornish pagans deepened my appreciation. They are all now great friends. Also, I am blessed with a photographic memory for “place”—the natural and built environment, right down to which wild flowers would be blooming in a particular month. Many of my readers have told me they don’t have to visit Cornwall because they’ve already “seen” it in my books. That delights me.

My favorite character is Arthur Penwarren. He’s cool. He gives his team leeway to follow their instincts, isn’t out for status and power, and plays the game only to protect his team. I found your inclusion of the staff meetings surprising and insightful, drawing personalities, defining relationships and alliances, and revealing pecking order. Most people find meetings boring. Do you?

            For some years, after being in the Carter Administration, I worked as an independent public policy consultant and one of my clients, a famous foundation, would hire me to sit in on meetings because they knew eventually I would start throwing firebombs around to challenge people to get to a conclusion. Patience is not one of my virtues. I suppose I am like Morgan in that regard. I, too, am fond of DCI Penwarren. He is a consummate gentleman, but he doesn’t fit the senior police mold. He insulates his team from the idiocy of his superiors, especially Detective Superintendent Crawley. In the third book in the series we learn a lot more about his personal history. But I’m not giving that away…

In any business the key to success is finding and employing the best people. What gives Morgan that ability?

            Morgan doesn’t get to choose her team members, but she is very good at recognizing talent and works to get those young people she notices advanced. Penwarren trusts her judgment and bends rules so she can work with people she respects and who, she hopes, ultimately will succeed her, like young Terry Bates. She also is good at training, being both “good cop” and “bad cop” as necessary to deepen their experience and build their confidence in themselves.

You’ve created interesting backstories for your characters, providing them with the best mind/skill set for their jobs. Before you started the series, did you consider each character’s arc?

            No. And I’m serious. I am simply their servant. They tell me who they are and what they want to do next. But I am constantly curious about what drives them, how their current character was shaped. Take Morgan Davies, for example: her family was wiped out in a (true) industrial disaster in Wales after which no official was ever charged. Is it any wonder she constantly strives for justice to be served? Is it any wonder she has no respect for authority? People, and characters, have histories which shape them, for good or ill, and from which it is devilishly hard to escape. That includes murderers.

Are you planning on attending any mystery conferences this year?
           
            I’ve been urged to attend Bouchercon in the fall and perhaps be a panelist, given my somewhat usual career arc. Don’t know yet.

What are your dogs’ names/breeds and how did you find them?

            Sadly, both the big, elegant Siberian husky (“Vada”) and the goofy Afghan/Golden Retriever mix (“Peaches”) you see in my website author photo (www.willnorthonline.com) have died.  But I made the mistake of recently marrying a veterinary technician and now we have two rescue dogs, a German Shepherd/Lab mix (“Baxter”) and a King Charles spaniel (“Flora”) as well as two hosted long-haired Dachshunds who don’t seem likely ever to disappear. And that does not include the four cats. Lesson: never marry a vet tech.

Since you were fired by Reagan, would you care to make a statement about the contribution of bovine flatulence on air pollution levels?

            Certainly not. But having Reagan fire me from my appointed position in the Carter Administration set me off on my writing career (20 books so far), so I adore him…Sort of.

             

24 comments:

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Welcome to WWK, Will. Fascinating to hear the story of your ramblings (and much better than having your ramble about your story!). George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have called the U.S. and Britain “Two countries separated by a common language.” I suppose that is what in part continues to fascinate us on this side of the pond. Of course, Shaw could have applied the same logic when applying language to the various components of Great Britain.

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

After reading this interview, I think a trip to Cornwall (real and on the page) is in order. Great interview, Will and E.B.

Margaret Turkevich said...

agreed, hiking trip in Cornwall on my bucket list! It's Cornwall month: looking forward to reading your book and recently finished Todd's No Shred of Evidence, set, I just checked, on the north side of Cornwall.

Warren Bull said...

My family rambled in the Cotswolds. It is one of my favorite memories.

Gloria Alden said...

Welcome to WWK, Will. Hiking the England countryside has long been on my bucket list, but I don't see that happening now, much as I'd like to do it. However, I can do it by reading books such as yours. I love almost all mysteries placed in Great Britain - some more than others, of course, but I am so looking forward to reading your series. I wrote it at the top of my TBO list.

P.S. I'm a dog and cat lover, too.

KM Rockwood said...

Thank you for an intriguing look at your newest books and yourself! I think Reagan may have done the world of fiction readers a favor by freeing you to pursue your writing.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Will, welcome to WWK. I loved reading your descriptions of place and look forward to reading your novels. As a current government worker, it's great to know there can be life after service. Best wishes for your continuing success!

will north @ hotmail.com said...

Jim, lovely to hear from you. Yes it is a bit of a juggling act to use British (especially Cornish) words and phrases so Americans can understand them. And did you know that the Shaw quote has never been confirmed? It is also occasionally attributed to Bernard Russell and Oscar Wilde.

Shari and Margaret, thanks for your comments. If you DO go, Cornwall (and Devon) are encircled by the Southwest Coast Path, a brilliant walking opportunity, and there are organizations that will arrange walks and forward your luggage. I kept mine on my back...

Warren, some years ago I wrote a thee-book guidebook series called "The Best of Britain's Countryside." The cover of the second in the series ("Southern England") pictures my favorite Cotswold village, Burford. The whole area is postcard-pretty, thanks largely to the local limestone of which everything is built.

Gloria, I hear you. What I can say is that much of my fan mail comes from people who say, "I don't have to go to Cornwall now; I feel I've already been there in your books." Hope you'll feel the same.

Ms. Rockwood, thanks for the compliment. Let me know what you think of the mysteries. For more of my books check www.willnorthonline.com.

Margaret Turkevich said...

good to know about the footpaths and forwarded luggage. As a student, I did one week trips from the Cotswolds to Tintern Abbey, Yorkshire, and Northumberland (Lindisfarne), carrying a change of clothes on my back.

Lourdes Venard said...

Thank you for this interview and all your insight into that area of England. I also was unaware of how widespread paganism was (despite reading about it in several crime fiction books set in that area). Fascinating stuff for writers!

Karen D. said...

As a Martha Grimes fan, I loved your story of the Lamorna Wink. Always wondered what the fine folks of the local pubs thought about her.

And now, you've done such a masterful job of bringing the English countryside to life in your interview, I can't wait to read your novels!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Great interview, Will. Lovely to read about walking the English countryside.When I spent a few weeks in Oxford a while back, I had the chance to wander the countryside around it. Still one of my favorite memories. I'll look forward to reading your book.

will north @ hotmail.com said...

Margaret, isn't Tintern Abbey splendid? It stands so proud on that bend in the River Wye. When Henry VIII crushed those abbeys the basically became quarries for precut building stone among the locals. We're lucky to still have the remaining skeletons.

Lourdes, it is hard to say how widespread paganism is in Cornwall but it just the sort of landscape and history-rich place to create many believers. And the one's I've met are lovely people.

Karen D, Wouldn't you love to meet Martha Grimes? Such a sharp wit! To be able to read beautifully crafted mysteries that also make you laugh out loud...well, that is a great treat (though I must say I haven't enjoyed her most recent mysteries). Do let me know what you think of the Davies & West series!

Hi Linda, yes that area around Oxford is so pretty and sweet you almost need an insulin shot. Sadly, many of the homes in those villages are owned now by rich folks from London. Much has changed and the villages often feel hollowed out.


Polly Iyer said...

“Look, I’m just taking dictation from my characters!” I was struck by that part of your process in letting the characters take the lead. It is also mine. In fact, I just wrote a blog post about that. secondary characters by plotting the book, and I'm a big believer in secondary characters. It's a great idea to set a series in a place you love, especially because it gives you the chance to research. Smart guy. Very nice interview, Elaine and Will.

will north @ hotmail.com said...

Hi Polly,

Just between you and me, I often love my secondary characters best. But don't tell...

Will

E. B. Davis said...

It's been a wonderful visit, Will. I can't wait until you release the third in your series. I'd like to know more about it if you can tell us without the reveal. Thanks for the interview, and anytime you'd like to come back, give us a holler!

Julie Tollefson said...

Thanks for visiting WWK, Will. I'm intrigued by walking vacations in the UK. Maybe someday.... In the meantime, I'll visit vicariously through your books!

will north @ hotmail.com said...

Julie...when and if you decide to undertake a walking holiday in England, let me know. I walk independently,backpack on my back, staying in B&Bs or simply camping in a field. But there are respected organizations which can make it easy for you (setting up accommodations and forwarding your luggage) for as reasonable fee. Just let me know. And thank you for writing...Will.

will north @ hotmail.com said...

Ms. Davis,

Like you, I am a salt water person. I live on an island in Puget Sound only 30 feet from the high tide line (which is an occasional problem in winter storms). I have finished the third volume in the Davies & West series but am holding it off because of a possible new and better publisher. I could send you the Word Document.

Will

Kait said...

I'm sorry to be late to the party. What a great interview! Cornwall is an amazing place. It's easy to see why it has a fey reputation. I have always promised myself a walking vacation in England. Cornwall calls to me, but I want the sea there, wild surf, and heavy storms. The center of the country on foot seems like a good starting place. My firm has British clients and I had one call me one day to tell me he'd be out of touch. "I'm going for a walk," he said in his very plummy accent. "We British do that." Best of luck with the books. I know they are on my TBR.

Kaye George said...

I always love to read about Cornwall, and your story about the woman who was upset at Martha Grimes' fiction is hilarious. I think a lot of paganism is alive and well. I took part in midsommar in Sweden one year and that was totally pagan--a fun time, too. Thanks for the insight into your works!

E. B. Davis said...

Wonderful, Will. I'd love to read it, and docs upload onto Kindle! Thanks! I'll be a full-time salt water person in just a few weeks. Can't wait.

will north @ hotmail.com said...

Hi Kait! If you want the sea, surf, and storms then you want the Atlantic coast of Cornwall, The cliffs and sea are so dramatic.Let me know when you want to plan something and I'll help.

Kaye, I don't want to exaggerate paganism in Cornwall; it is just part of the culture and the folks who call themselves pagans of one sort or another do a wonderful job of caring for the ancient Bronze and Iron Age sites which litter the landscape down there.

Ms. Davis, let me know what address you want the third book emailed to, but please remember it is not yet released! Delicate negotiations underway.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Will,
I fell in love with Cornwall when I visited that area some years ago. I have a picture of Tintagel Castle up on my wall. This is where King Arthur supposedly had his castle, though many say that isn't so. Such a fantastic, magical setting. I plan to read your mysteries.