My guest today is Mike Wallace, whose third Quill Gordon mystery has hit the market. Great cover, Mike!
Where did the inspiration for Not Death, But Love come from?
In 2012 I was hired by a family foundation to write the family’s history. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, because it paid generously and the work was fascinating. By the end of it, I felt the long-deceased family members had come alive inside my head and that I was able to convey a reasonably good sense of them to the readers.
In the course of that work, I came across several things that were a surprise to the people who hired me. There were no terrible scandals, but there were lawsuits and family schisms they hadn’t known about until I started digging. At the time, I was simultaneously working on my second mystery, Wash Her Guilt Away, and at some point it occurred to me that a family history with a deep secret — one worth killing to keep — could make the basis for a good mystery. One of my plans for a future book had been a story centering on a controversial land-use plan, something that would make use of the knowledge I picked up working as a consultant for Wells Fargo Bank and The Home Depot more than a decade ago. I decided to combine ideas to make the land development part of the family history, and was off to the races.
Having your character
maintain a journal is an
interesting approach. What gave you the idea? Charlotte
It’s an old trope, of course, but when I was working on the family history, I often lamented that none of the family members had kept journals (at least none that had survived). I decided to give my murder victim, a retired English teacher named Charlotte London, a journal. It was originally supposed to provide a set of clues to complement those in the family history, but it ended up being much more than that. Simply put, in the course of creating the journal sections, I discovered that
had come to life most vividly, and, surprisingly to me, became one of the most
dominant and complex characters in the book. Charlotte
You call this a police procedural with no police. How did you manage that?
With a great deal of outlining. The concept was that the local sheriff, facing a tough re-election campaign, was more than willing to accept the murder as an accident, leading my protagonist and some of the victim’s friends to get together and look into it on their own. As with a police investigation, they gather information and get together periodically to share it and put forth hypotheses. I tried to have them put together information that non-law enforcement people would be able to gather. The historian picks up historical information; the newspaper editor contacts public figures; the librarian looks up the sorts of things reference librarians look up, and the protagonist, charged with completing the family history, talks to people he could plausibly talk to in connection with that task.
What one story would you like to share about the trials and tribulations of writing this novel?
This one was pretty tribulation-free, so let me share an unexpected pleasure instead. When I was doing the section of
journal where she and her lover go to just before Christmas of 1970, I went to the
public library and looked up the San
Francisco Chronicle for that period. As a former newspaperman, I was blown
away by how good it was and what writers they had. And to think that people
used to make fun of it! They didn’t know what they had until they lost it. San
Who would you say represent the three most influential writers in the mystery genre?
Because I work in the classical tradition, I’d say Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. And of course Dickens’ Great Expectations (who was Pip’s benefactor?) is one of the best mysteries ever and a great study in how to keep the suspense and story going. If I wrote hard-boiled noir, I’d probably give a different answer.
How has your writing been influenced by them?
From Poe, I got the importance of atmosphere, and from the other two, the importance of presenting the apt detail in the right way. A modern writer has to do more with character and moral issues (although later Christie was pretty good in those respects), but that’s part of the natural evolution of the genre.
If you could name one author who has influenced the current generation of authors, who would that be and why?
Within the mystery-thriller genre, there are so many styles of writing (especially now, when self-publishing has enabled authors to connect with smaller but more passionate groups of readers) that it’s probably an impossible question to answer.
What would you say is the best formula for putting yourself “out there” in front of your readers?
I wish I knew for sure. I do a weekly blog outofglendale.blogspot.com that seems to be steadily gaining readership, and I’ve been growing my Twitter @Qgordonnovel base. Having a website quillgordonmystery.com is essential, and I have a page on Goodreads that I probably don’t tend to as much as I should. The one thing that really seems to work is personal appearances, but there’s a limit as to how many of those you can get until you’re famous, at which point you don’t need them as much.
What would you say is an appropriate balance, percentage-wise, between time for writing and time for promotion/building visibility?
When I became a consultant more than two decades ago, another consultant told me, “The problem with this business is that when you’re working, you’re not selling, and when you’re selling, you’re not working.” So it’s an eternal problem, and not just for writers. With three books out now, what I’ve found is that nothing, absolutely nothing, increases book sales as much as putting out another book. With that in mind, my focus — except for the period immediately surrounding the release of a new book — is on getting the next one written and doing whatever promotion I can on the side. I’d say 80-20 in favor of the writing. But that’s a guess, and people who are better at promoting than I seem to be, might find it worthwhile to spend more time on that.
When did you first know you had a book or three in you?
I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was a kid, but not until I completed my first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, in my mid-40s, did I realize I could pull off a whole book at an acceptable level. What I found, interestingly, was that the structure of the mystery novel enabled me to clarify the rest of the stuff a novel has to have in a way that I could complete it.
MICHAEL WALLACE is a native and lifelong resident of
. He received an A.B. degree in
English Literature from the California University
of California, , worked for 19 years as a daily
newspaper reporter and editor, and has had a long second career as a public
relations and publications consultant. He has been an avid reader of mysteries
since childhood and a fly fisherman for more than three decades. He lives in
the Santa Cruz area with his wife, Linda Ogren, a
university lecturer in biology. Their son, Nick, is in the army. Monterey Bay
The McHenry Inheritance
Wash Her Guilt Away
Not Death, But Love
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