1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?
I am an avid reader of all types of prose, and as CEO of a small nonprofit I’ve written daily for years—policy analyses, business memos and a blog. But I’d never considered attempting fiction until three years ago, when I picked up Case Histories, a murder mystery with complex elements and intersecting themes written by Kate Atkinson. I remember using the word “profound” to describe Atkinson’s book to friends. I started writing One Murder More the next day, and in three months had completed a manuscript. Through the process of rewriting and polishing the many drafts that followed, I learned that what I want to do with the rest of my life is to be an author.
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird. Betty Smith, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind. When I was a girl, books featuring strong female characters in harrowing or suspenseful circumstances drew me in. Now my favorite authors include John Lescroart—I'm not alone there, I think he's had 18 mysteries on the New York Times best-seller list. Robert Dugoni, Kirk Russell and David Ignatius are among my favorite thriller writers. I'm not big on violence in books, but it seems to me they use it when warranted, not as the centerpiece of their stories. Recent reads: Spring Warren’s Turpentine, a sprawling novel set in the 18th century Wild West with cowboys and buffaloes, pigs and cigars, Eileen Randahl’s romance and mystery novels and Catriona McPherson’s Come to Harm. I get through two to three books a week. I wish I had more time, there are so many great reads out there.
3. What was the inspiration behind the stories in your novel One Murder More?
I work daily in politics and advocacy in Sacramento, California's capital, on issues related to children's health—the high-stakes inherent in partisan lawmaking struck me as an ideal incubator for a range of entertaining motives for murder.
4. Were any of the characters personalities or emotions taken from real life?
I started my novel with a couple of broad ideas—a twist that I liked and a “voice” or tone that I was comfortable with. But I don’t outline, and as I began to write it often felt as though a character would lead me through their emotions and actions rather than the other way around. The identity of the murderer in One Murder More changed from the first to the second draft—I couldn’t force the person who killed in the first draft to do it again when circumstances had changed.
5. What other genres would you like to try your hand at?
Memoir. My dad worked closely with Martin Luther King, and I grew up understanding that compassion, nonviolence and respect are paramount values for which our society must strive. At the same time, issues in my own childhood and family life presented challenges for my survival. I think there’s a story in the contradictions.
6. What would you do if you were in your story?
It's hard to answer this after the book has been written, I wouldn't want to insert myself too much into the action or disrupt the story. Perhaps I could provide mild comic relief— as a friend of Maren’s, channeling Phoebe Buffay’s twin sister, Ursula, from the TV series Friends.
7. Would you like to see One Murder More as a film? If yes, who do you want to see play your characters?
It would be great fun to see my characters in three dimensions, brought to life by actors. I can see Zoey Deschanel (from New Girl on TV) as Maren Kane. Deschanel could try her hand at playing an accomplished, professional woman, but do it with her trademark quirkiness and vulnerability.
8. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
I have two books in the works featuring Maren. I might do more. In any case, I want to write a book a year over the next 10 years.
9. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?
I can’t picture myself giving up writing fiction, I came to it too late and enjoy it too much.
10. Can you tell KSR what you're working on next?
A Timely Murder, the second book in the series. The mystery develops against the background of a nasty political campaign, Maren’s younger brother Noel, a physicist, decides to run for a seat on his local school board. (I ran for and served on a school board, so I have some stories to tell.) Noel, though undiagnosed, is high-functioning on the autistic spectrum. While there’s a lot written about autism in children, I’d like to explore what it might mean in an adult who achieves “typical” career and life success. Like One Murder More, a Timely Murder is based in Sacramento. But it also takes Maren to Las Vegas, where state-of-the-art methods to cheat the casinos for millions create ample motive for mayhem. (I'm thinking House of Cards meets Ocean’s 11!)
11. What authors, dead or alive, would you like to collaborate with?
W. Somerset Maugham or Hemingway. Neither had easy lives, both found a way to turn that into art. Beyond that, I’d like to experience their thought processes and learn from great writers of a different era, who weren’t trained to write in the age of "you have to hook a reader on the first page or you’re lost”.
12. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
- I fast every other day. I believe it helps free the mind to be creative. My 87-year-old dad, who still works full-time and commutes two hours a day, had been fasting in that manner for five years when he suggested it to me.
- I’m a knowledgeable and passionate sports fan. My teams are the Golden State Warriors, the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers and I can usually tell you their exact records and starting line-ups at any point in time.
- I attended five colleges as an undergraduate.