Author Interview with Anita Page by Diane G. (icesk8tr)
Diane: Thank you for allowing us to interview you for the PaperBackSwap Blog! I really enjoyed reading Damned If You Don’t, and once I started it, I did not want to put it down! You have the ability to draw the reader into the story from the first few pages!
Anita: Thanks so much for the kind words about the book, Diane. I’m delighted to be here.
Diane: I see that you have had success with writing short stories, and have received the Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society in 2010 for “Twas the Night”, which appeared in The Gift of Murder. So, with this background in writing short stories, what inspired you to write a novel?
Anita: For one thing, the story I wanted to tell demanded the space a novel would allow. Also, I looked forward to the challenge of writing a novel. The best thing I can say about that first book, which preceded Damned If You Don’t, is it taught me a lot about how not to write a mystery —e.g., you don’t give away your red herrings in chapter three.
Diane: Was it hard to transition from writing short stories to writing a novel?
Anita: The short answer, yes. The long answer: Each form has its own challenges and rewards. I love writing, and reading, short stories. I love the fact that when I begin writing a story, I can see it as a whole. The challenge is that there’s not a lot of room to establish the setting, tell the story, and develop fully-realized characters. Also, to my mind, the shorter form demands greater attention to language. If you’re looking at a huge mural, you won’t notice that one brushstroke is a bit off. You will notice that, though, if you’re looking at a miniature painting.
Writing a novel feels to me pretty much as E.L. Doctorow described it: driving on a foggy night when you can only see as far as the headlights. Scary? Absolutely, especially when one of the headlights burns out. While the novel gave me and my characters room to breath, it also demanded a complex structure involving multiple story lines. Since I’m organizationally challenged, I set up a large poster board with sticky notes spelling out the main action in each chapter. I used different color notes for the various subplots. Low-tech, but it worked for me.
The great pleasure in writing a novel is getting to live in a world of your own creation. However, the people you live with may not enjoy those long, silent car rides when you disappear into book world.
Diane: How long did it take you to write the book?
Anita: I worked on Damned If You Don’t for two years, and took it through six or seven re-writes. This was after I retired from teaching and had the luxury of writing full time, which meant five or six hours a day, often seven days a week. I was lucky to have the help of a wonderful writers’ group, and a journalist husband with a keen editorial eye.
Diane: How do you come up with ideas for what you are going to write about?
Anita: Newspapers, the police blotter, conversations overheard in diners—I’m a world-class eavesdropper. The trick is to take snippets of real life, and then listen to your imagination. I recently read an article about a second-story burglar who fell out the window when he was trying to drop his haul to the ground. This man obviously needs a new career, but what great possibilities for a short story.
Diane: Hannah Fox, the protagonist in the story, is a very put together woman. She is complex, intelligent, and seemed so real to me. Is this character based on someone in your life?
Anita: I’m so glad you like Hannah. She’s not based on any one woman, but was inspired by a number of women who’ve been important in my life, especially a group of feminist friends very similar to Hannah’s Women of Action crew.
I’ve been asked whether I’m Hannah, which is flattering, but the answer is no. We have some things in common though, including our politics and our careers—Hannah’s a teacher, as I was. Also, we’re both indifferent cooks, have a high tolerance for clutter, cherish our friends, and love our dogs. Hannah’s more of a risk taker than I am, and our backgrounds are very different. She grew up on communes in the sixties, and her childhood took second place to her parents’ politics. While she resents that, she finds herself on a similar path because her social conscience doesn’t allow her to ignore injustice. Also, I’m happy to say that our marriages are very different.
Diane: Why did you pick the Catskill Mountains as the location for the story?
Anita: I’m originally from New York City and lived in the Catskills for nine years before moving to the mid-Hudson Valley. When we made that move, I promised myself I’d be back one day, and setting the book there was a way of doing that. Also, the Catskills are a perfect setting for a crime novel, given the gorgeous landscape, the endless winters, the isolation, and the fact that everyone seems to be related to everyone else.
I also chose that setting because I knew I was going to deal with the issue of eminent domain. In the book, Hannah organizes a campaign to prevent the town from forcing the sale of undeveloped land that’s been in a friend’s family for generations. The drama of that struggle is heightened, I think, with the mountains as a backdrop.
Diane: There is a lot of great information in the story relating to domestic violence. Is this something you would like readers to learn more about so they can recognize the signs of it in someone they may know?
Anita: I didn’t set out with that as an agenda, but domestic violence is certainly a central theme in the book. Hannah volunteers at a domestic violence hotline because she’s concerned about the issue. However, only when she hears victims talk about their lives, does she really understand what it means to be subject to brutality on a daily basis. If DIYD inspires readers to reach out to someone who needs help, or to ask for help themselves, that would be gratifying.
Diane: Do you plan on writing another novel, perhaps another story with Hannah Fox?
Anita: I’m working on the next book, same setting, new protagonist. Hannah and Jack Grundy, the police investigator with whom she may or may not be having a serious relationship, are still around, but this time Hannah’s an important secondary character. I made that choice because as a reader I’d be skeptical if an amateur like Hannah once again became involved in a murder investigation that put her in life-threatening situations. In the new book, my protagonist is a journalist on tryout at the local newspaper. She’s young, edgy and has a very dark past. I’m having fun writing her.
Diane: Do you enjoy reading yourself? If so, which author has influenced you?
Anita: I can’t imagine not reading. As for influences, I’ll mention a few writers whose work I re-read because I learn more each time I pick up one of their books: Denise Mina, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Ngaio Marsh, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, John Harvey, Stewart O’Nan, and the list goes on. Right now, I’m reading Charlotte Bronte. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre since high school, go back and re-read it—wonderful characters and setting, great suspense. Bronte was a marvelous story teller.
Diane: Do you have a website or a blog?
Anita: I’ve been blogging for a few years at Women of Mystery with a group of friends from NY/Sisters in Crime. A number of us have short stories in the anthology Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices that was published last year. It’s a tour of the city’s dark side, with stories set in neighborhoods visitors rarely see.
I’m also at anitapagewriter.blogspot.com, a hybrid web blog that I find more flexible than a website. A few of my short stories are available there for free download. Also, readers can find the first two chapters of Damned If You Don’t at Criminal Element.
Diane: Thanks again for an enlightening interview! I look forward to reading your next novels!
Anita: Diane, it’s been so much fun talking to you. Thank you for the great questions. Thanks also the PaperBackSwap Blog for this opportunity to talk about Damned If You Don’t.
Anita page has generously offered a copy of her book, Damned If You Don’t to a member who comments here on this Blog. A winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!