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Monday, October 17, 2011

Author Interview: Sharon Pape

This week we interview the author of the portrait of crime mysteries that mixes a former police sketch artist with a wild west Marshal's ghost.  I reviewed the first book in the series, Sketch Me If You Can (click here) and the second To Sketch a Thief (click here.)  

Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

For me, the plot idea generally comes first. I guess somewhere in my subconscious little gremlins are busy thinking up mayhem 24/7.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that before sitting down to write?

I don't like outlining too much. I prefer being able to stretch out in any direction that feels right as the story moves along. Having said that though, I always know how I want the story to end before I begin. I also create a detailed bio of both the victim and the murderer. And although I think I know the  protagonist inside out, she still often manages to surprise me. No doubt the work of those gremlins again.

What is your process for developing a character?

It depends on which character we're talking about. For the main character, after I decide what kind of person I need for the book or series, I develop a detailed back story for her that explains how she came to be who she is at the point in her life where the reader meets her. I find that the more minor characters seem to pop to life in great detail when they enter a scene and I can focus specifically on them.

Were you always interested in ghosts, the old west and sketch artists? What sort of research do you do with these differing aspects?

That's a huge question -- let me break it down a bit. 

Ghosts:  I've always been fascinated by subjects that don't have definitive answers, so I'm immediately drawn to anything paranormal.  

Old West: I've traveled throughout Arizona and love all the different and distinctive landscapes to be found there, as well as the amazing ruins left by the ancient Anasazi, Hohokum and Sinagua. 

Sketch Artists: I'm not much of an artist myself, but I love art and admire people capable of creating it in any medium.  

Research: The internet is a fabulous tool for researching just about anything you can imagine, but there's nothing better than actually visiting a place you're writing about. I've lived on Long Island nearly all my life and have spent a great deal of time in Arizona over the past twenty years. The museums and historical societies in both places are a great help in researching the past.

Do you have anything special you do before writing that helps you get in the zone and write?

The best thing I can do to get the creative juices flowing is to reread the last pages I wrote. I always write in my study where the computer resides. It's a very book-oriented room with a floor to ceiling bookcase that my husband built when we first moved into the house. We're both avid readers with a ridiculous number of books we can't seem to part with. I know some writers like to have music playing while they write, but peace and quiet work better for me. Of course those are two commodities that aren't always easy to come by, so I've learned to tune out a certain amount of commotion.

What is your schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

Unfortunately my work schedule is dictated by the frequent migraines I get. I generally work for a few hours in the morning, then take a break to rest my eyes while I run errands, go to the gym, etc. I write again in the afternoon for as long as my head allows and for a while after dinner. Since I'm also pretty compulsive about polishing each chapter before I move on, it generally takes me close to nine months to finish a book.

What in your background prepared you to write mystery novels and particularly paranormal mysteries?

Reading is the best preparation anyone can have for writing. I doubt there's a writer out there who isn't also an avid reader. In other words, to be a writer you have to start with loving books. 

Since I'm drawn to all things mysterious and supernatural, I've always read a lot of books in those genres. It would probably have helped if I'd lived with a ghost, been abducted by aliens, or had an affair with a vampire, but I've had to rely solely on my overactive imagination.

Who is your favorite mystery character? Paranormal character?


When I was a kid, the teenage sisters in "The Dana Girls" were my favorite mystery characters.

As an adult, I'd have to say that Joanna Brady in Jance's series edges out a pack of contenders, possibly because of the Arizona connection. When it comes to paranormal characters, my absolute favorite is Einstein, the golden retriever. He's one of the subjects of an experiment gone wrong in the fabulous book Watchers by the master of the paranormal, Dean Koontz. To be honest, I have to admit that Vampire Bill from the Sookie books is also up there on my list of favorite paranormal characters, but for entirely different reasons. 

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

Dean Koontz and Stephen King are right at the top of the list, not only because of the paranormal subject matter, but also because of their masterful use of the English language. But since I enjoy nearly every type of book ever written, a complete list of authors who have influenced me would be endless. 

How did you get your first break to getting published?

Another unpublished writer I knew went to a writing conference where she met a new literary agent from an established agency. Since my friend wasn't yet finished working on her book, she gave me the agent's number. I sent the agent my manuscript, she signed me to a contract and went on to sell the book to PocketBooks.  

What are you currently reading?

I'm reading the Plains of Passage, the fourth book in Jean Auel's series that began with Clan of the Cave Bear. I had read the first three books many years ago when they first came out, but after attending an interview she did recently, my interest in the series was reignited. As soon as I finish it, I'll be running out to get the latest Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris. Then maybe the new one by Anita Shreve or the fifth Frankenstein book by Dean Koontz many books, so little time. 

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I think writing itself is a quirk. Writers sit by themselves all day writing down what the characters in their heads are saying and thinking. In some cultures that might well qualify as the definition of "crazy." More specifically, I think my quirk is how I cure writer's block or resolve difficult plot  points -- I  go to the gym. Working my body energizes my mind. For me it's like a hefty shot of adrenalin straight into the creative process.

If your "A Portrait of Crime Mystery" series were made into a movie, whom would you cast in your characters' roles?


Marshal Zeke Drummond would be a young Sam Elliot type. Since Elliot's too old for the part, maybe Josh Holloway. I think Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls would be a great Rory McCain. 

Is there anything you'd like to share about the next book in your series?

Rory's free-spirited and slightly whacky aunt Helene plays a larger role in the third book, Sketch a Falling Star(to be released March 2012), since the murder victim is a member of her amateur acting group. Rory and Zeke discover how hard it is to single out a killer when everyone who knew the victim had a different reason for hating him, but the same opportunity to kill  him. Rory will also be meeting her strange, new neighbor who seems to know all about Zeke.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

THANK You Ms Pape for that interview.  I had long forgotten the name of the Dana Girls mysteries.  I read everything of theirs I could get a hold of as a girl.  I liked those better than Nancy Drew even.  So glad to have the name of the series again.  Since I am a fan of Sam Elliot that gives me quite a visual for when I read the next book.

Readers, what do you think?

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Harvee said...

I'm enjoying your inerview and mysery rreviews, but just to let you know, your blog takes me a really long tme to load, etc. Maybe because of the detail in the blog background??

Liz said...

Have enjoyed the series.

A.F. Heart said...

Thanks for the comments.

Harvee, I think it was the Ipod music player that was slowing down the page load. I have removed it and hope that helps.

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