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Monday, October 11, 2010

Author Interview - Rhys Bowen

I am excited and happy that Rhys Bowen has given an interview to Mysteries and My Musings!  She writes two mystery series that are each wonderful.  She writes the Molly Murphy and the Royal Spyness mysteries.  Check out the review of Last Illusion here and Royal Blood here.

 A little background about Ms. Bowen.  Rhys was born in Bath, England, of a Welsh/English family, and educated at London University. She worked for the BBC in London, as an announcer then drama studio manager. She sang in folk clubs with luminaries like Simon and Garfunkel and Al Stewart, and also started writing her own radio and TV plays.  She married and settled in the San Francisco area, where she has lived ever since, raising four children. (Although she now spends her winters in her condo in Arizona.)

- Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
Since I write two series currently they each start from a different point. The Molly Murphy books, set in 1900s New York City, usually start from an area of the city or a part of society I'd like to explore. Once I sent Molly undercover in the garment industry. Next time she's going into Chinatown. And the crime evolves from what she encounters there.
For my lighter Royal Spyness series about a minor royal in the 1930s the book starts with somewhere fun to send Georgie, somewhere that will make life really complicated for her, as well as something that ties in to real history. So, for example, in the latest, Royal Blood, I thought wouldn't it be fun if Georgie had to attend a royal wedding in Europe and it turned out to be in Transylvania and I could do the whole vampire spoof thing.
So I rarely know who is going to be killed when I start to write, and even more rarely know who the killer will be.

- Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

I start knowing almost nothing. I send my character into a situation and see what happens to her. I just follow along. This way I'm shocked and surprised when things go wrong for her. I'm not the puppet master jerking her strings, I'm her side-kick, viewing the action from behind the drapes. I think it makes for a much stronger book.

- What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?
I think creating character is like developing a friendship. When they first come on the page I know the essentials--how they look, what they are doing at this particular place and time, why I've introduced them to my story. It's like meeting someone at a cocktail party. They tell you the essential facts about them. If you enjoy the conversation you meet again and as a friendship develops gradually they reveal more about themselves. Thus by book four I've learned a lot more about my characters than I knew in book one. But I couldn't have arbitrarily created those facets of character. I had to find them out by watching that character in action and gradually becoming closer to her (or him).
This is the huge beneft of a series--we come to know a whole cast of characters really well.

- How do you find time for writing, what works for you - and do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I'm a professional writer and I write two books a year. Doctors don't have to get in the mood to examine patients. They do it every day. Pretty much the same for me. When I'm writing I write every day. I have a home office. I go to my computer with my morning cup of tea, read my emails and then start to revise what I wrote the day before and then start writing. Some days it flows easily, some days it doesn't, but I do not allow myself to leave until I've finished 5 pages a day. That way I know I can complete a first draft in the required period of time.

- What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
As I mentioned I write two books a year. I try to block off three months for the actual writing. Both series require quite a lot of research as they are both historical. I do a lot of background reading before I'm ready to write, but then once I start writing I write every day until I have a first draft on paper. Then I revise, it goes to trusted readers and I get their imput, then final polish and off to publisher. This is fine unless I have agreed to too many speeches across the country during that three months (which I'm afraid I tend to do.)

- What in your background prepared you to write mystery novels?
I wanted to kill half my teachers in school! No, seriously, I've been a writer all my life, have always created fictitious worlds for myself and have always loved to read mysteries. I like the puzzle aspect, and I especially love the way the mystery can bring justice to the universe.  I also love the type of book that takes the reader to another place and time--hence the historical aspects.

- How did you get your first break toward getting published?  Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter etc? 

Sorry, I've had a rather serendipitous career that just isn't typical. I started writing plays when I was with BBC drama in London. I took my first play to the head of drama. He said he liked it and they were going to produce it. Simple as that.
After a stint with ABC in Australia I married and found myself in California. Nothing like BBC drama, so I wrote a children's book. First publisher declined. Second accepted it and teamed me with famous illustrator. I published many books and some TV tie ins before I turned to crime, but by that time I had learned my craft and my agent had two competing bids on my first crime novel.

- What are you currently reading?
I just bought a Kindle today so I'm going to start by working my way through the complete Jane Austen. Then Connie Willis's Blackout. I've just re-read Harry Potter 7 as a comfort read as I rushed to finish my next book.

- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
 I can tell quite dark stories with humor without in any way making light of them. Laura Lippman once said of me, "Few writers create this mixture of light and dark." I see the humor in life, and I think I tell stories in a great first person voice.

- Do you participate in a critique group (or have you in the past?) What are the pros and cons of critique groups?
I have certain trusted people who read and comment on my books before they go to the publisher. Not a real critique group. I do think it helps to have more than one pair of eyes look at a manuscript before it goes out. We tend to overlook a lot of our own faults. There are two things against a critique group that I can see: they are too nice and never give true critiques so they don't hurt your feelings, or they tear it to shreds and take away your belief in yourself. Also they need to be your peers and to know what they are talking about.

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