The mass market edition of Secrets to the Grave is on sale now. What do you have coming out next?
Down the Darkest Road will go on sale 12/27/11, so everyone getting bookstore gift cards for Christmas can run right out and get it! It is available now to pre-order in book, e-book, and audio formats.
What is the story about?
The story opens in the summer of 1990, four years after the abduction of 16-year-old Leslie Lawton. Leslie has never been found. Her family has been left in a terrible limbo between hope and despair. Her mother, Lauren, believes she knows who took Leslie, but the police donít have enough evidence to charge the man with anything. All they have is one tiny blood sample too small to test with the technology available in 1990.
Deeper Than the Dead was set in 1985, and Secrets to the Grave in 1986. I have enjoyed exploring law enforcement in that time before all the sophisticated forensic science we have today. Today we can derive a lot of information from a very small DNA sample. In 1990 DNA science was still hampered by the inability to multiply samples in the lab. Evidence was being held as they waited for the science to advance. Testing a sample that was too small would result in the destruction of the sample with no guarantee of gaining any useful information.
Is Down the Darkest Road set in Oak Knoll as well?
Yes. I never expected I would write a series. I have a short attention span and am bored easily. I’m not a reader of series, either, for the same reasons. But I’ve so enjoyed the characters from Deeper Than the Dead and Secrets to the Grave, theyíve become like family to me. I’m not done spending time with them.
However, you don’t have to have read the first two books to read Down the Darkest Road. The focus of the book is on a new character, Lauren Lawton, and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Leah. Sheriffís Detective Tony Mendez has a key role, and readers get to revisit Vince and Anne Leone, as well.
Have you written other series?
Prior to the Oak Knoll books, I wrote Night Sins and Guilty as Sin as a book and a sequel. And there are two other sets of characters I like to revisit, but because I donít write book after book about those characters, I really don’t consider those books to be any kind of a formal series per se. Detectives Kovac and Liska from Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust and Prior Bad Acts, and Elena Estes from Dark Horse and The Alibi Man are the characters I will continue to go back to from time to time, but each of their books stands on its own. You donít have to read them in any particular order to follow the story.
FYI: If you want to read an author’s work in chronological order, check the copyright date on the back of the title page to see when a book was originally issued. That information is also readily available on book buying websites.
Oak Knoll seems like an interesting small city. Is it based on any place youíve lived?
No one specific place. It’s kind of an amalgam of several of my favorite places, including Santa Barbara, Carmel, Monterey, and the Santa Ynez Valley in California. I think of Oak Knoll as a boutique city—small, affluent, artsy. I want to live there! It’s a city with a prestigious private college. I love small college towns. I love that feeling of the town being a part of the school and vice versa. The academic community and the artistic community create a wonderful blend. The mix of people is interesting and stimulating.
Why a small city as opposed to a large one? Youíve also lived in LA.
In a small city life is more intimate. There is a tighter sense of community. People know their neighbors. It’s that sense of intimacy that makes a brutal crime seem all the more shocking. I love LA, but if the average citizen gets killed there, the story isnít going to lead the evening news or make the front page of The LA Times.
What happens behind closed doors seems to be a theme in your books. What does it tell us about your view of the world?
It probably says that I’m cynical and have a low opinion of the human race, but that’s not really it. My biggest fascination is human psychology and unraveling the puzzle of why people do what they do, why they are who they are, and how they react to adversity or stress or fear or kindness or love. In my experience, few stories can be taken at face value. Thereís always something deeper to learn.
You’re known for a meticulous attention to detail in terms of the police work, the forensics, and the psychology of your characters. Do you do your own research or do you have an assistant who does that for you?
I’m a one-woman show. I love the research, and I find that I often come across crucial pieces of information I didn’t know I was looking for. That would never happen if I had someone else doing that work for me. Also, nowadays so much of my research is fast and easy using the Internet. I can do it on the fly while I’m working on the book. I would have a hard time justifying paying someone else to do it. Itís not like the old days when I would spend hours at the public library trying to ferret out information.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the brainstorming phase of my next project. One wall of my office is covered by eight feet of white board. I will make a lot of random notes about things that might happen in the book, things that have to happen in the book. I’ll make notes about the characters. I’ll jot down a lot of questions for myself as well. Which character or characters will be the focus of this story? Am I going to be telling one story or two?
How many more books do you foresee in this series?
Who knows? I ride life by the seat of my pants. I tell the stories that come to me. There will be more, for sure. Those characters arenít about to let me go.
What are you reading now?
Because I have two careers, I get very little time to read for pleasure. When I do, I usually read outside my own genre. Right now I’m reading George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords. Next on my “To Be Read” pile is Three Maids for a Crown by Ella March Chase. Most of my pleasure reading happens on airplanes and in restaurants.
What is your second career?
I get up every day and train top-level dressage horses. Dressage is one of the Olympic disciplines of riding. My goal is to represent the US internationally, which means a lot of dedication and hard work on a daily basis. Click on AKA on the menu bar of the website to read more about it.
Have any of your books been made into movies?
Night Sins was made into a mini-series in 1997, starring Valerie Bertinelli and Harry Hamlin. It still airs from time to time on cable. Several other books were optioned to be made into movies, but for various reasons, none of them have ever gotten made.
Why haven’t more made it to the big or small screen?
Because Hollywood is a weird and fickle place. A book has to be in the right place at the right time to be seen by the right person. And then a million other serendipitous things have to happen. It’s a struggle just to get a book read by anyone in an industry where most projects are presented in a one-sentence pitch.
Are you a movie fan yourself?
Not so much. I have a hard time sitting still for an entire movie. Those are hours of my life I will never get back. I prefer to multi-task. So I might have a movie on my television while Iím doing research and folding my socks. It takes a hell of a movie to get me to go to a theatre.
What about TV? Are you fan of any of the current crop of crime shows?
I watch almost no fictional crime television, except for a couple of British shows on BBC America. The curse of being a stickler for procedural detail in police work is that television shows seldom bother with reality. I watch mostly true crime shows on A&E and Discovery ID: The First 48, Homicide Hunter, Dr. G: Medical Examiner. I also watch I Survived on Biography. I find it fascinating and enlightening to listen to the stories of people who have survived extraordinary circumstances.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My motto has always been: Work hard, Be talented, Get lucky. Of course, we only have control of one of the three, but it’s by far the most important. Talent goes nowhere without hard work, and hard work makes its own luck.
Educate yourself about the craft and the business of writing. It isn’t enough that you think you have a story to tell. This is a business. You have to know your market and where your story might fit into that marketplace. You have to know about publishers and agents, and how to go about getting published. Get on the internet and do your homework.