Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Interview with Kathleen George and Book Give-Away

Kathleen George turned from penning an award-winning book of literary short fiction to writing a critically acclaimed series of police procedurals set in her hometown of Pittsburgh. George’s The Odds was nominated for the Edgar. Her new book in the series, Simple, will publish August 21, and is, in my opinion, a real must-read. Kathleen will be giving a copy of Simple to a commenter on today's post.

For those new to your series, can you describe the Pittsburgh Richard Christie mysteries? 

My series has been called suspense, mystery, thriller, and procedural.  I think all things apply in different mixes in different books.  The series is very character oriented.  Both the victims and the criminals have personal lives in each book and sometimes those lives mirror those of the police.  The police have an ongoing story of their personal relationships.  They fall in love and out.  I feel I know them.  One reader told me my books reminded her of the Inspector Morse series.  I love that compliment because I like to make my police, and especially Christie, human, flawed, contradictory, thoughtful.  Lots of people have told me they've fallen in love with Christie.  I have too.  As I write him, I love him.  There are other important police characters--and one of them is Colleen Greer who is a rookie in book three but well on her way in the profession by book six.  She and Christie pretty much share the stage.  

How would you describe Simple to someone who has not read any of your previous novels? 

The police have to work this case like any other case.  The victim is a young woman of great promise, about to start law school.  They find out soon enough she was gorgeous, yet somehow so secretive that nobody knew her personal life.  When they suspect a handsome and charming gubernatorial candidate of murder, they have to tread carefully.  The police are the same recurring characters, but the suspects and victims live a bit better than in previous books.  I got to write scenes in Simple between people who have enough money to travel, to eat well, to cater parties, etc.  That was fun.  Christie is surprised when the wealthy people eat hot dogs.  He expected foie gras. 

What sparked the idea for Simple?

Quite frankly the repeated news stories of political candidates and their affairs.  I'm not casting a condemning eye so much as wanting to figure out how and why it keeps happening, what feelings are involved, how people square secret desires with public life. 

Secrets are a large part of Simple. What function do you think secrets perform in peoples' lives?

Well, I teach theatre (dramatic literature and playwriting) and without secrets and lies, theatre in the western world would simply not exist.  Secrets provide the motivation and the high stakes for criminal behaviors. 

In Simple, you venture into politics for the first time. In what ways did you find that writing a political thriller differed from the rest of your novels?

I always do research.  For Simple I went to the county jail for instance and got ideas for scenes.  But I also went to law offices and took in the mood, the decor, the work atmosphere.   Besides that I consulted with a super attorney who just knows a lot about the world of politics. 
How long have you been writing? 

Two answers:  all my life.  From babyhood, I was telling stories, apparently.  But the other answer is:  From the late 80s when I got serious and decided to get an MFA in writing even though I had a Ph.D. in theatre.  Getting that degree was fun and it gave me confidence.  Everybody likes to be cheered on.  At first I wrote short stories.  Then I wrote novels that now sit in drawers.  Then one summer, just exhausted with revising the same novel over and over again, I played around with an idea to "teach myself plot."  Actually to "make myself plot."  I made myself do what I'd been telling students to do:  high stakes, actions with consequences, etc.  That was how I wrote my first in the series, Taken.  

How has your work or life experience affected your writing? Is there an incident that has changed your life and influenced your writing? 

Meeting my husband, the wonderful writer Hilary Masters.  He influenced me to write every day whether I liked it or not.  He was right, the routine, the habit, is important. But more than that, he's an amazing person.  I always tell him he's highly spiritual.  There I am making lists of tasks and he is noticing cloud formations.  He says he's a failed poet.

What’s something no one ever asks you?

No one has ever asked me why I cry so easily.  I ask myself that all the time.  I was reading the paper this morning about how when Pirate's pitcher A.J. Burnett had a bad game, the fans cheered him anyway as he left the mound.  He was stunned by that much love.  I cried to read about it.  I said, "Oh, what is wrong with me?"  My husband said, "You're right at the bone, always."  It's why I write.  What would I do with all this otherwise?

KATHLEEN GEORGE is the author of The Odds, which was nominated in 2010 for the Edgar for Best Novel. Her new novel, Simple (Minotaur Books), will launch on August 21. She is also the editor of the short story collection Pittsburgh Noir. A professor of theatre at the University of Pittsburgh, she and her husband live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


  1. Kathleen,

    As a self-described "pantster" I have come to the conclusion that my approach has the same negative consequences implied by a remark once overhead about someone who "talks until she thinks of something to say."

    In the individual's situation if you pay attention, you can learn much about her actual thinking process. However, it is exhausting.

    In my case, I've spent way too much time on revisions because the first draft has so much that needs to be cut and the beginning often does not fit the ending.

    For my next WIP I am consciously determining plot points before writing words. So far all that means is that the pantster stuff is going on in my head rather than at a keyboard.

    This plotting process does not at all feel natural to me. Perhaps I will learn the discipline. In the meantime I find myself singing the closing lyrics of Paul Simon's "Fakin' It"

    I've just been fakin' it,
    I'm not really makin' it.
    This feeling of fakin' it--
    I still haven't shaken it.

    Was the change natural for you or difficult?

    ~ Jim

  2. Kathleen, thanks for joining us. What world does your next book take us into?

  3. Sounds like a wonderful series. When you said that your criminals had lives like the police and that their lives mirrored each others, I thought--wow, what a great idea and the irony....

    I try to plot--books and series. But I've found the complexity makes it very hard to do well. Sounds like you've mastered that aspect of writing. What is the most difficult part for you?

  4. Jim and Elaine, I know Kathleen is on the SIMPLE book tour right now. She will be checking in as she can, but we all know what getting online while traveling can be like.

    I've been a fan of her writing since before she started writing crime fiction. My husband published her first collection of literary short stories at the university press he runs, and they were stellar and deserved the critical acclaim they received. So I've been following her career since the beginning. And I think SIMPLE is her best yet. When I got the ARC for review, I stayed up all night to finish it.

  5. Kathleen,

    As an avid reader who is ALWAYS looking for new authors, I was happy to come across this interview today. Your name has just been added to my "Try Out Her Books" list for my next trip to the library.


  6. Kathleen, on my library shelves with books TBR - a huge amount - is your book FALLEN. Reading this interview, I'm going to dig it out and put it beside my chair to read next. Of course, I probably should try to locate TAKEN first. Anyway, it sounds as if your books are ones I would love to read.

    You're almost a neighbor, by the way. I live just across the Ohio/PA line and love Pittsburgh.

  7. My goodness, everybody, I just got out of all day meetings and am about to go into a three hour class and I discovered that the wonderful Linda's interview was up! Thank you all so much for your interest. Pantsing is hard and time consuming, I agree. And irony--yes, I live on that from my theatre training. So much to say and I have to go to class, darn! More later.

  8. I had a wonderful class this afternoon. It makes it all worth it. I've been thinking. James, not everybody likes to work without an outline. I have successful friends who swear by outlining. Oh, I've been there, with the throwing things out. The novel I was trying to write before I wrote a thriller had 13 drafts and I finally gave up and played with a highly plotted story and, well, ended up a thriller writer. Plotting was only easy once I plopped a detective into it. Cheers and good luck. Before the day is gone, I want to post about this site.