Q: What are you working on now?
I have a very exciting new project on the horizon at the moment: my YA debut, scheduled for publication in the Fall of 2017. It’s a historical fantasy titled GAME OF SECRETS–a spy thriller set in an alternate Victorian London–and I can’t wait to share it with you! In the meantime, see this post where I talk about where the idea for this story came from, and a bit about the beginning of my publishing journey with this book.
Q: What was the inspiration for your Agency of Burglary & Theft books?
I thought it would be fun to write a story about a woman who is basically a good person, but whose job happens to be entirely illegal. I personally love stories with criminal protagonists—heists and capers, with lots of action, and you find yourself rooting for the people who would traditionally be the villains. It’s a common setup for the big screen (Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job…) but I don’t see it in books very often. I thought it would be fascinating to explore what motivates people to either do good or do bad…and all the shades and nuances in between.
Q: Your second book, A MAGNIFICENT CRIME, reads like it was written by someone with an insider’s knowledge of Paris. Have you spent time there, drawn on personal experiences for the setting, or was it all researched?
I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Paris several times. My husband and I own a house in Normandy, just three hours outside Paris, and we go overseas every other year. Setting this book in Paris was a labor of love for me—it’s definitely my favorite city. It has a richly layered history, plus a wonderful literary vibe and café culture. Through my writing, I got to revisit all my favorite spots, plus explore some of the creepier parts of Paris, like the Catacombs.
Q: Do you have a writing space? A writing routine?
I’ve had to readjust my writing schedule many times—through various stages of motherhood, maternity leaves, and overseas moves. Currently my writing schedule starts at 5 am and I write until 7 am, when my day as a working mother begins (I’m a family doctor in my regular life). Recently I’ve been writing in the evening, too, after the kids are in bed…and then on the weekends, whenever I can sneak out to the nearest Starbucks.
A coffee shop is my preferred writing space. The ambient sound, the comforting aroma, the endless supply of caffeine…but mostly I like to write in a café because there are no kids there. Well, that’s not strictly true–there are kids there, of course, but they don’t happen to be mine, and conveniently enough, nobody seems to need me to feed those kids or change their diapers or anything. It’s great.
Q: Why do you write?
I think a key moment for me was attending my first autopsy, as a first year medical student. Before we started, the pathologist was reviewing the chart and informed me that the man lying naked on the cold slab table had been, in life, a doctor himself. And it hit me then, very hard: we all end up like that. No matter who you are or what you do.
So you have to follow your bliss. I’ve gone through my fair share of existential crises, and many people have asked me why on earth I’d want to write when I’ve worked so hard to be a physician. But writing is something I love to do. It’s not a replacement for my career in medicine—medicine is wonderful, but the truth is I need a little more poetry in my life. I’m motivated to write because, basically, I can’t help it.
Q: If you could leave this world for your “book world,” would you?
No way, I am such a chicken. I could never do the things my protagonist does—she gets herself into some pretty sticky spots. I think it’s one of the reasons I had so much fun writing about her. She’s in extreme peril, dangling from a tall building, and I’m safely at my desk with a steaming cup of coffee beside me, wondering how she’s going to get out of this one…
Q: Are any of the characters based on people in real life? Or just figments of your imagination?
Some of the characters are inspired by people in real life—not wholesale, but little pieces of them, stitched together with other bits, like Frankenstein. My protagonist, Cat, has a rival in this story, Brooke—and she’s an amalgamation of all the mean girls I’ve encountered in my life. Most characters, though, are pure figments of my imagination.
Q: Who would play your characters in the movie version of your book?
This would be a dream come true, of course. And to be honest, I’ve thought about this a lot, because my book is very visual and the scenes have plenty of action. I created Pinterest pages, in fact, for my dream cast for the major characters, and wrote a blog post about that when I was counting down to book launch. (here’s the link to that post).
For Cat, my protagonist, I see Rachel McAdams, or maybe Emily Blunt. Jack (her FBI agent ex-boyfriend): Hugh Jackman or Eric Bana. Ethan (the charming art thief): Chris Pine, perhaps, or Bradley Cooper.
Q: Which scene or characters were the most difficult for you to write and why?
Writing the stuff about Cat’s sister, the terrible thing that happened to her, and how hard it was for Cat to live with the fact that she could have protected her and didn’t…that was hard for me to write. I have two younger sisters and I grew up with a very strong urge to protect them. Bad things happening to my sisters have been the subjects of many a nightmare for me, over the years.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?
I would say: don’t worry about “writing what you know”. If I did that, I’d only be writing about medicine.
Writing fiction is play for me—it’s fantasy and dream time. In the past I did try to write stories about medical characters and storylines, but it always felt too much like work, too much like my day job, too much like doing what I’m supposed to do…like being made to eat my veggies or something (which, PS, I do recommend. Eat your veggies!) Once I ignored the “write what you know” mantra and let my imagination stretch—that’s when I became truly inspired. And yes, Cat’s world is a completely different world than my own.
At least as far as you need to know. 😉
Q: What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
During the final keynote speech at the end of my very first writing conference many years ago, Elizabeth George said: The writers who get published are the writers who persist. It has stuck with me all this time.
Q: How much research do you do prior to sitting down to write a book?
I did lots of research for A Beautiful Heist, and for the sequels—but not necessarily before starting to write each book (that’s a good way to never start writing a story). Instead I research continually, as I write. Given my subject nature, however, sometimes it’s difficult to get all the details I need. So I research as much as I can, and when I get to the point that requires a higher national security clearance than I possess, I splice in a little imagination. The beauty of fiction!
Q: When did you want to be a writer?
Growing up, I was a major bookworm. I loved reading and I wrote many stories; I entered writing contests and had a story published in our town newspaper when I was twelve. Then I reached high school and discovered a bent for science and math. I loved performing dissections in my biology class, for example. The thing is, when a girl starts showing an interest in the sciences these days, said girl gets big-time encouragement from her family, her teachers, random strangers…
So I studied bio in university and then got into medical school. Throughout, I kept reading and writing, for enjoyment and as a stress-reliever. It was during my first year in medicine that I realized I wanted to make a go of being a writer. Rather inconvenient timing, to say the least. I didn’t quit, though (I credit my Type A personality for that), and I now don’t regret my medical path at all. W. Somerset Maugham was a doctor, too, before becoming a writer, and he said, of medicine: “I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief…”
Medicine is a beautiful education in the human condition, which is what we’re all writing about anyway, at heart.
Q: Share a typical Tuesday. What does an average day look like for you?
I get up at 5 am. I creep downstairs, make coffee, and fire up my computer. Then I write for two hours—the one blissful time of day when nobody needs me for anything.
The rest of the house awakens and it’s a mad frenzy of Cheerios and school lunches and hot rollers (this one is mostly just me). I take off for work at the clinic, and my husband takes the boys. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who is primarily a stay at home dad.
I work all day at the clinic, spend my lunch break mostly catching up on email and phone calls and try to squeeze in a little blogging, and come home at the end of the day in time for supper, baths, and bedtime stories.
After the boys are in bed I often try to do a short yoga practice, using an awesome online yoga program that I love, then usually spend the better part of the evening blogging and writing and organizing. After all that I crawl into bed, and if it’s not too late, I read in bed for half an hour before crashing (pleasure reading at this point, no more work stuff).
Rinse and repeat.
You’ll note: there’s no TV in there. That’s probably the most significant factor responsible for me getting stuff done. I just don’t have the time. (I have been known to go on manic downloaded marathons of Downton Abbey from time to time, though). While I don’t watch much TV, I do love movies. My husband and I have a weekly date night to the movie theatre.
Q: What’s your favorite sport?
NFL football. The Patriots have been my favorite team since before I met my husband in 1997, and the Steelers have been his favorite team since childhood, so we’ve had many a divided house on game day.
Q: Scariest moment?
Sleeping in a tent on the Serengeti, while lions walked around outside.
Q: What are your favourite movies?
I love going to the movies—my husband and I have a weekly date night to the movie theatre. I like the complete story arc of a movie, plus I love the physical environment, the total sensory experience, of the movie theatre. And the popcorn.
Faves? Not surprisingly, I love big action movies: Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond, Mission Impossible…but I also love when action and intrigue is layered with lots of character issues and internal conflict. If there’s humour, all the better. Indiana Jones will forever be a favourite because of that reason. All that being said, though, probably my favourite all-time movie is Moulin Rouge.
Q: What’s your favorite season/weather?
The fall is my favourite season: warm fires, apples, soup, sweaters and boots, richly colored trees. Plus my birthday is in October (just two days before Halloween—which I love, also). And did I mention I’m a mom? Three words: Back To School.