Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Q&A with Catriona McPherson

This week, we sat down with Anthony Award-winning author Catriona McPherson. Her latest, Come to Harm, is out now!

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Catriona McPherson: I started in 2001 and have been full-time since 2005.

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
CM: I love that we can read the stories we want to read and call it research work. Charlaine Harris, who I’m reading now, has a lot to teach about writing an ensemble. Jess Lourey, fellow Inker, does a dry witty voice better than anyone. Stephen King is my writing hero. I adore his big-hearted love of a really good story. And of course his book On Writing.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
CM: Bookseller? Librarian? When I did work I was a university professor. No way I’d do that again. My pipedream job is running an independent cinema.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
CM: More writing!

MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
CM: Hold on to your hats now . . . reading. Gardening, cooking, baking. I’m a wild one.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
CM: Blimey. That’s tough. I’m going to hit the Keurig machine while I chew it over. (I’m currently at fellow mystery author Darrel James’s B&B in Ashland, OR, to do some readings.) Back again and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend a book with than Miss Jane Marple.

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
CM: Margery Allingham’s case of The Beckoning Lady. It’s one of her tricksiest and most exuberant books. I had to read it twice before I had a clue what was going on and it was just as entertaining the second time (and the third and the fourth).

MI: What was your inspiration for this book?
CM: Well, I love cooking and baking (and eating) and I think food is the bit of our culture that touches our lives most often. So, I was fascinated by the thought of a character being so overwhelmed by an alien food culture that she begins to see monsters under her bed and ghosts round every corner. A Japanese scholar living above a butchers shop in Scotland was about the most dramatic fish-out-of-water scenario I could imagine. Japanese food traditions value presentation and precision and make a meal out of small things well combined. Scottish food tradition is more about frying a whole pig in lard.

MI: How does this book compare to your past works?
CM: It’s more gothic than my previous standalones have been.  Just as a gun on the mantelpiece at the start of Act One must go off by the end of Act Three, I think if you’ve got butchers in a psychological thriller there’s one place you’re duty bound to go. You know. 

And that place—where fear meets giggles on the corner of schlock and suspense - is somewhere I’ve only been in my historical series before now. I’ve had Dandy Gilver neck-deep in spirit-mediums, for instance; so turned around that she almost starts to believe in ghosts.

MI: Tell us about Keiko Nishisato.
CM: She’s a psychology PhD student from Tokyo, setting off thousands of miles from home to study “food as modern folklore” in Scotland. She’s caught between ambition and tradition, determined to be the serious academic woman of her resumé but still with her mother’s voice in her head much of the time. “No one is perfect: even monkeys fall out of trees, Keko-chan.”  She’s clever, kind, nosy, vulnerable—I’m very fond of her.

Catriona's haggis

MI: Would you want to live in Painchton?
CM: Absolutely! I’d move there in a heartbeat. I pretty much designed my dream small town in Painchton. I’d love to be able to buy Malcolm Poole’s home-made haggis instead of having to get the ingredients from various Mexican butchers in Sacramento to make my own.

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
CM: I have a black cat, Rachel. She’s a very catly cat. It’s all on her terms. If she wants company you drop everything. If you dare to pet her when she’d rather you didn’t she moves away, sits down with her back to you, and washes the place you touched. Don’t you love cats?

During the drought last year when the pond was dry, we had a water trough for the cows. (They are lodgers; we bought twenty acres for the view and our neighbours use the grazing.) So we had to have fish to eat the mosquito larvae in the trough. When the grass was eaten and the cows went home, the fish came inside to live in a tank. So now I have two goldfish, Lucy and Desi.

MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
CM: I like the cow lodgers. And the hummingbirds, lizards, king snakes and jack rabbits. I love the frog chorus in the pond at night. There’s a skunk who wanders past on his (her?) nightly patrol too. I’m less keen on the gophers and ground squirrels, because they eat the melons I’m hoping will be mine. And I could live without rattlesnakes and black widows quite happily.

MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
CM: Leftover Christmas dinner: turkey; pork, sage, and onion stuffing; sausages with bacon wrapped round them; gravy (left to go cold and jellified, then spread on buttered toast); potatoes roasted in goosefat; potatoes mashed with butter and cream; Brussels sprouts; parsnips; cranberry sauce. I’m hungry.

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
CM: So many. Here’s an easy one suitable for everyone. Well, it’s not dairy-free actually.

Make vegetable stock by simmering onion, carrot, celery, potato, parsley stalks, whole garlic cloves, and peppercorns in a big pot of water. Meanwhile soak 8oz of butter beans overnight in cold water. Lima beans? Fava beans? The big white ones. Slice two large onions and soften them in a big blob of butter until they are translucent and slippery. Add the butter beans and the stock, salt and more pepper and cook until the beans are soft. Then chop up six to eight ripe tomatoes and add them too. Cook another ten minutes and serve sprinkled with parsley.

It’s unbelievably tasty—velvety, unctuous, savoury, and comforting.

NB: if you make it with a stock cube, canned beans, canned tomatoes, and vegetable oil my guarantee of tastiness is null and void.

MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
CM: It should be the beautiful jackets that Kevin Brown has put on my books, or the tight edits from Nicole Nugent. But actually it’s knowing that when I arrive at a convention I’ll be seeing Terri Bischoff’s sweet face. The MI acquiring editor is one of the world’s best people. I don’t mean the mystery world. I mean the world.

Come to Harm is available online and in bookstores now!

Friday, May 8, 2015

May 2015 Books Available Now!

Don't miss Midnight Ink's latest releases!

"[McPherson is a] master of psychological thrillers."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on Come to Harm

"Even teetotalers will enjoy these Martinis."
Kirkus Reviews on Murder with a Twist

"Recipes for both dogs and humans add enjoyment in this clever cozy that will taste just right to fans of both foodie and pet mysteries."
Booklist on Bite the Biscuit

"This one will appeal to readers who enjoy contemporary cozies with a history frame."
Booklist on The Final Reveille

Now available from Midnight InkBarnes & NobleAmazonIndiebound, and your local bookseller!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Jim Grant and Me..."

An Essay by Colin Campbell

Jim Grant isn’t a badass, tough-as-nails cop. He’d rather talk you down instead of get into a fight. He isn’t a tough guy, he just gets into tough situations. If you were to ask how the character came to me I’d say, Jim Grant is me. Apart from the getting into tough situations part. I used to avoid tough situations like the plague.  Back when I served with the West Yorkshire Police.

Grant has certainly struggled to find a quiet life since he transferred to the States. Partly that’s because he always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time but mostly it’s because he won’t take no for an answer and he never backs down. His theory is; people are less likely to hit a man who’s smiling at them. Even less likely if he can get them to smile back. And if they’re smiling they’re less likely to see it coming when he slaps them, smacks them and brings them to justice.

Taking Grant back to his roots in Snake Pass just goes to prove the point. He was never any good at turning a blind eye, even when that’s exactly what he told young Jamie Hope to do when he was off duty. Because if you’re a badass tough-as-nails cop you’re never off duty. Oh, did I say Grant wasn’t one of those. I must have been joking.

Snake Pass is available online and in bookstores now—and don't miss any of the other Resurrection Man Novels!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Q&A with Robert K. Lewis

This week we sat down with Robert K. Lewis, author of the Mark Mallen Novels. His latest, Innocent Damage, is out now!

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Robert K. Lewis: About seventeen years, give or take.

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
RKL: I love a strong voice, so I’ve spent a lot of time with the noir heavy hitters such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ed McBain. A more contemporary example of a strong voice that influenced me would be Kem Nunn. However, beyond the writing, these authors also influenced me by showing me just how hard writing can be, and how much work it takes to get better with every book.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
RKL: Playing blues guitar in a power trio or quartet. I love playing the blues, and playing it very loud is a pre-requisite.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
RKL: I’m the office manager of the art department at UC Berkeley.  Best possible job and environment for me to have, given that my other job is writing books.

MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
RKL: Playing blues and hard rock guitar, learning piano, and drinking.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
RKL: Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddell. He’s tough, never gives up no matter how much he’s been beaten and battered, and will always solve the case no matter what the price. He’s the sort of detective that will come after you again and again, even if it means dragging himself along the road on his bloodied elbows.

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
RKL: The Abbey Grange, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is not only my favorite murder mystery, it’s also one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. The Abbey Grange is actually one of the inspirations for Mark Mallen, because this is where Holmes really becomes judge and jury, and by doing so, gives us a glance into his great heart. This story is Holmes in one of his finest moments.

MI: What was your inspiration for this series?
RKL: Ah, that’s a large question. Mallen is made up of so many things that I’ve watched, read, and witnessed. There are, of course, the classic detectives: Sam Spade, Marlowe, Johnny Liddell, and Mike Hammer. Then there are the New York cop films of the 1970s: The French Connection, Serpico, The Seven Ups, The Warriors, Taxi Driver, and Death Wish. Also on that list would be other gritty films such as Panic in Needle Park and Midnight Cowboy.

MI: How does this book/series compare to your past works?
RKL: The Mark Mallen series bears no resemblance at all to my earlier works. When I began writing long-form fiction (I’d written screenplays before turning to fiction), I wanted to be a literary writer. That died on the vine. After that I wrote an urban fantasy that went nowhere when I queried agents. I would have to say though that if there were any comparison to my earlier work, it would be in how I write my protagonists. I want to write heroes that will not be stopped. They keep going on, no matter what.

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
RKL: Not anymore. However, I’m haunted by the ghosts of three very cranky cats.
MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
RKL: Cats. I love cats. They’re possessed of so many personality layers. They can be fastidious, but have no problem shooting litter all over the floor. They love you unconditionally, until they don’t. They have a fascination with throwing things off of counters and tables. Endless amusement. The only thing I have to complain about is that I wish they travelled better. Can you image a cat loving a car ride, hanging its head out the window, filled with the joy of being in a car? Man, that would be greatness.

MI:What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
RKL: Is Scotch a food? If not, then Patty Melts.

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
RKL: For destruction, or success? Oh, you mean food? Then that would be my mother’s recipe for baked chicken. She was a scratch cook, and her cooking usually included every spice in the house, using her intuition as her cookbook.

MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
RKL: The level of input I’ve been able to give, and having that input acknowledged. There are not many publishers out there that would allow the writer to have a large say regarding covers, but my editor and the artists over at Midnight Ink did. Add to that the level of communication I received from my editor and copy editor and I would say unequivocally that this has been a fantastic experience.

MI:Were the Mark Mallen Novels based off of/inspired by your own life in any way?
RKL: I’ve lived, from time to time, in some very hard environments. When I was sixteen years old, I rented a studio apartment located next to a very old and very large Victorian building, every flat filled with someone eking out a living any way they could, by any means possible. I also lived in the Tenderloin of San Francisco for many years, and if anything, Mallen’s books were influenced by what I witnessed in both of those places, along with the people I saw there and interacted with.

MI: Why did you create Mark Mallen as a former junkie?
RKL: Mallen is a former junkie because I wanted to show that it is possible to overcome our demons. Our world is filled with addictions. Drugs. Alcohol. The Internet. Porn. Our iPhone. You name it, and we seem to have an addiction for it. It takes a strong will, focus, and determination to overcome those addictions, along with the belief that those addictions can in fact be overcome. I wrote Mallen the way he is because I live in hope that we can regain the inner strength and moral compass that I feel our society has lost.

Innocent Damage is available online and in bookstores now!