By Jane Dentinger of the Mystery Guild (12/05)
(Both of Patty's novels have been chosen as Featured Alternates of the Mystery Guild!)
Q:From your books and your web site, it's clear that Los Angeles is the perfect setting for both you and the Tucker Sinclair series. But what prompted you to give Tucker a career in financial management?
A: First, I didn't think it had been done before. Second, like Tucker, I have an MBA and have also done some consulting. More to the point, with Tucker's involvement with corporate America, she'll never run out of crimes to solve.
Q:Your first mystery, FALSE PROFITS, got rave reviews and hit the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list. Did this make embarking on Book Two, COVER YOUR ASSETS, easier or more intimidating for you?
A: Actually, neither. I finished COVER YOUR ASSETS before FALSE PROFITS arrived on bookstore shelves. A seasoned author advised me to start the second book immediately after completing the first one. She claimed that too many neophyte writers got caught up in the waiting game, i.e., waiting for rave reviews, award nominations, and movie deals. She felt if I followed suit I might be "waiting away" my whole writing career. I'm grateful for that advice because it reduced the pressure to make the eventual deadline. Besides, waiters wait. Writers write. Having worked as a waiter, I find writing easier on my feet.
Q:Now that you've done your fair share of signings and book events, what surprises you most as you meet your mystery fans?
A: What surprises me most is that people actually show up at my book events and know who I am! Aside from that, I'm delighted that so many of my fans are men. I had a discussion with several man-fans at one of my recent signings. The consensus seemed to be that guys like spending time with Tucker because she's not only smart and funny but she's also a bit of a challenge.
Q:I know you started your love affair with mystery fiction early with Trixie Beldon. Who or what else has inspired you along the way?
A: As an avid reader and a devoted mystery fan, I went on to read classic authors such as Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and Raymond Chandler whose descriptions of L.A. still dazzle me. Later, I discovered Sue Grafton. Kinsey Millhone's sense of humor and her quirky but loveable sidekicks grabbed my attention. Another author who influenced my writing was Susan Isaacs. Her mystery novel After All These Years was an infectious blend of good writing, humor, and romance. Still, the dominant influence on my initial career was Elizabeth George. Over the course of nine years I was one of ten aspiring authors who met with her regularly to work on our manuscripts. During that time, I began to better understand not only the writing process but the writing life as well. While in George's group, I wrote FALSE PROFITS and COVER YOUR ASSETS plus half of my current Tucker Sinclair manuscript now scheduled for publication in 2007.
Q:There are a number of mystery writers who, like you, have acting experience. Has that helped you in crafting your crime fiction?
A: Having a background in acting is enormously helpful to a writer. Actors and writers are storytellers and they both use similar techniques to create multi-dimensional characters. Both begin by establishing the character's physical appearance and mannerisms. For example: How is his head carried when he walks? What is the length of his stride? Does he hold his pencil between his index and middle fingers because the cigarettes are gone but not the craving? Both delve deeply into the character's life history and the events that have shaped his worldview. Both scrutinize more specifics: emotional and psychological makeup, ambitions, likes, dislikes, and needs. Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman obviously did intensive character work to create his role in the recently released film Capote. Hoffman's performance is astonishingly complex and nuanced, which provides the moviegoer with a voyeur's peep inside Capote's motives for behaving as he did. If Capote were a novel, the author would use keen observations coupled with imagination to reveal dialogue, facial expressions, setting, mood, and action as if the audience were blind. Whether you are an actor or a novelist the goal is the same: to craft larger than life characters that are challenged and eventually changed, and to leave the audience feeling emotionally connected to the story when the screen fades to black or the last page is read.
Q:Lastly, Mystery Guild members are big pet people, so I must askwas there a real life prototype for Muldoon, the Westie?
A: Muldoon is the spitting image of my Westie, PJ, whose picture is featured on my Web site (www.patriciasmiley.com). The guy is so ruggedly handsome that we call him the Marlboro Man. Like Muldoon, PJ is a "used dog." As a result, both pups have abandonment issues, which they use to justify sleeping on bed pillows, begging for "people" food, and leaving yellow stains on couch legs. Both have smiles that melt your heart and ears that can hear a refrigerator door opening in the next galaxy.