What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I started writing short stories when I was in the third and fourth grades. I can even pinpoint the book that put me on the path—John Bellairs’s The House with the Clock in its Walls. I identified with the main character, Lewis Barnavelt, and the story so pulled me into it that the entire outside world completely vanished. It was such a magical experience I wanted to be part of that world and realized that the way to get there was to start writing.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I’ve always been a fan of mysteries, but I really just stumbled into it. I spent most of my teenage years writing horror stories or just flat-out weird stories—writing that goes under the heading of speculative fiction these days. I still write a lot in those areas, much of which is tied to folklore and legends of the Pacific Northwest.
Everything I write tends to be very character driven—far more than plot driven. I hope to create characters that are engaging and would be the type of people that readers would like to spend time with them—having a meal, going to the movies, or whatever. I think once you’ve got really good characters, you can have them do anything and the reader will follow along. That said, I do try to make sure I keep the mystery in the story tight. I have to follow an outline a little more closely with a mystery so I don’t get completely distracted on finding the way to whodunit. For Final Departure I had the idea, and it just lent itself to good mystery, and off I went. I loved my characters so much, it just spun out, and the first one was followed in short order by six more.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
My family and friends have been tremendously supportive of my writing. Point of fact, they were the ones really pushing me to get off my duff and send something in to be published. They’ve been following my main characters around in draft after draft for the last…wow, ten years and told me to get on with it. It’s a gift having that kind of encouragement and support.
Where do you get your ideas?
Well, for Final Departure I’m sorry to say it was loosely based on a real case that happened where I grew up when I was a teenager. Right up to the part about suicide not being ruled out for the victim, but I took it a little bit beyond that for the book .For my mysteries, a lot does come from real life, and for my other work I draw a lot of inspiration from the landscape around here.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
For the Finnigan mysteries, I have to outline. It’s too easy to step on my tail if I don’t. I keep the outline spare, so that I can move in any direction I want, but certain points I have to keep track of. That isn’t to say things can’t change—in one of the books the murderer changed from who I thought did it in the beginning. Turned out it still worked beautifully for the plot I’d outlined. Better, in fact. It sounds bizarre to people sometimes when I tell them that or that “My character did this today and I didn’t see it coming,” but that’s how it happens sometimes.
For the actual nuts and bolts, I have a pretty strict routine—up early, coffee, breakfast, exercise, and then writing. Usually ten pages or 3000 words or so, sometimes more, sometimes a little less. Sometimes if I’m on a roll that takes two hours; sometimes it takes ten. Just depends on how things are going, but always those ten pages.
What makes Final Departure special to you?
It’s the fruition of a life-long dream, getting a novel published. I’m still in a state of disbelief.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
When I started writing Final Departure I had a heck of a time because the main character was far too much like me. I finally decided that in order to get into the story and make it work, I had to make him as opposite of me as I could, both physically and in personality. Jake’s nine inches shorter, an extrovert, and thrives on working out all the time. We share the same impatience, but that’s about it. I’m more like Sam in appearance, but Sam is like the eye of a hurricane in his serenity with the world, and that is so not me.
Several friends are characters in the books. They know who they are, too.
And well…all the murder victims are inspired by a long list of very real politicians and bigots and religious zealots. There’s something very cathartic about bumping people off who have nothing but hatred and contempt for their fellow man—in the fictional world, of course.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
I have to give credit to Armistead Maupin and the Tales of the City books. I think he was the first gay author I read, and he created all those characters I just loved and wanted to know what happened to them in book after book. Big inspiration there. So many others in the years since, but I’m a fan of Anthony Bidulka’s mysteries. Some others off the top of my head…Patricia Highsmith, Steve Berman, Augusten Burroughs, Daphne Dumaurier…so many others! Oh, and for humor you can’t beat David Sedaris.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Write. Write and write and write. Even if you can carve out only twenty minutes a day, just keep at it. And read everything you can get your hands on.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Spring, summer, and fall when the weather is good you can find me working out in the yard and tending the flowers. (In winter I hibernate.) I’m an amateur photographer and historian, with a focus on (surprise) ferries of the West Coast. I’ve always got a couple of books I’m reading, and I’m a huge fan of old movies. And of course lazy afternoons with my husband and cats are always a preferred way to spend a weekend.