I enjoyed reading your work and getting to know you, Linda. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce you to my readers.
I liked that this novel surprised me right away. Not a mystery of who did it, but the suspense of a woman assassinator assigned to do it. What inspired you to take this perspective?
The first book in the series began as a short story. I was playing with the idea of what it would take for a “nice” person – say, someone like me – to kill for money. What would have to happen in your life for that to occur? The resulting short story was very powerful and this character who is still with me now, is very engaging in ways it’s difficult to understand. Despite her actions, she is sympathetic. How is that possible? It creates an interesting dynamic for the reader… and the writer!
A female assassinator vs. a male assassinator. What did you see as the definable differences in character?
In a very general way, I would say nothing, but then I’m one to see (and search for) commonalities rather than differences. I am more interested in how we are alike than how we are different.
Did this influence your theme of “child loss”? Without giving readers the ending, of course. No spoilers in my reviews!
That’s such an interesting question, DJ! See, for me, the theme of Dead West is not child loss but when you ask me that, I can see how you might think that.
The question of theme is itself interesting. What is it? Where does it come from? I never go into a book with a theme in mind. Rather there is a situation, or something has happened and I follow the story from there. Afterwards – on my first reading after the first draft is complete – I go in looking for the theme. And there always is one! It’s a miraculous part of the process for me. And then I take those threads and deepen them, so that the theme is more sharply felt.
In the case of Dead West, the theme I discovered was belonging.
This is the third book in The Ending Book series. In this book, her moral justification seems to wane. Yet, she finds herself moving to a need to kill as she investigates why her “target” vanishes. What are you trying to say with this character’s coming to the thought of leaving her “trade” and still have the urge to kill?
I would not ever say she has an urge to kill. Urge implies she does it for some sort of satisfaction. She doesn’t do that. Rather she finds herself in situations where she decides killing is the best option. And I don’t think she ever does it lightly, though she seems so detached, it might be possible to see it that way. She is not careless with it. She kills for money. Or she kills for self-protection or the protection of others. That does not mean it’s justified, but maybe she has justified those killings for herself. I think that’s why she’s so conflicted all the time. It’s difficult for her to know what is right. I don’t think she sees that as clearly as you or I.
I thought the love interest added to the mystery of your story. But, as I thought back, I wondered the difference between a male author and a female author writing this story. Would a male author feel such a need to protect the man she was sent to kill?
I don’t know about that. The emotional connection of those characters, in this instance, was a way for you to feel them more completely. Without that element of love in the air, you would feel all of it less keenly. Also, without that connection it’s a different book. She goes in, kills him as she’s supposed to, then moves on. I’m not certain the gender of the storyteller has much to do with it.
This book (and I want to emphasize that it can be read as a stand-alone) is not your first rodeo in publishing novels. You also have a Madeline Carter series. So why do you like writing series over stand-alone?
I don’t. All of my series have begun (in my heart and mind) as standalones. In the course of writing the books I guess I deepen my relationship with the character. And I start thinking: well, what if this happened? Or: what about that?
In the case of Dead West, the entire main plot of the rancher and the wild horses and Arizona began as a subplot in Exit Strategy, the previous book in the series. In the course of writing that book, when this “subplot” got somewhat out of hand (it grew and grew and grew!) I pulled all of it out and set it aside, suddenly realizing I had found the heart of book three.
I know you will want to talk about Wild Horses. A reader can feel your passion for this subject. And you also wrote the book Wild Horses. So, I take it that the idea for this book came from your research on the subject. Or did your interest create the plot for this story? Which came first?
The non-fiction book came first, for sure. Writing that book was very painful in ways I just didn’t see coming.
When I pitched the wild horse book to my editor at Orca Publishing, I thought it was going to be an easy, joyous ride. I had written a book on elephant seals for them not long before. (This is Return from Extinction: The Triumph of the Elephant Seal published in 2020.) I had so much fun doing that book, I wanted to do it again. And I know a lot about horses and thought I knew about wild horses. I thought it would be fun! It was not fun. To discover what was really going on with wild horses in America was incredibly painful: the politics, the manipulation, the money. And the book is for nine- to 13-year-olds. How do you distill that into something that is both true and correct, but for kids? It was so difficult. I didn’t mean for it to leak into the novel. Honestly, I did not. But it did. Initially, as I’ve mentioned, as a subplot. Then it took over a whole book! But it was not my intention.
What do you want the reader to take away after reading Dead West? Is there a message in the title?
There is no message in the title, though the title occurred to me very early and everyone liked it, so it stuck. If anything, it’s like a triple entendre. She’s in the west for most of the book. Very rural Arizona, which is a very western vibe. Things around her often get dead. And dead west is, of course, a heading: if one is driving dead west they’re doing it exactly. So the title just seemed to fit nicely on every level.
Please, give us an idea of your writing schedule.
I don’t really have a schedule. I write every day, that’s the one solid rule I have: even when I have houseguests or I’m traveling or whatever. I have to write at least a small amount each day. That helps keep the story I’m working on alive in my heart and mind. (And there is always a story I’m working on!)
A typical day might be I get up, make coffee and write for a bit. Then I pack up and go to my club, where I’ll write before tennis or a workout. After that, I’ll write for a bit in the lounge, before a steam and a sauna and shower, etc. Then more writing, either poolside or in the club somewhere. Then I might hit a Starbucks or something: more coffee, more writing. Then home for still more writing.
I should add that first thing in the morning, I’ll be transcribing the previous day’s work. All the rest is longhand, which will be transcribed the following morning.
Hmmm… it sounds like I do have a schedule, after all!
What are your following goals as an author? Trying different genre forms? Different craft techniques? Another series? What challenges you?
I want to keep always growing as a writer. I know that at this stage in my career I’m a stronger, better writer than I was a decade ago. A decade from now I hope to have the same feeling.
Also, I aspire to continue to have the privilege of telling these stories. And it seems to me that it is a rare privilege to have people (agent, editors, readers) looking forward to these tales I get to continue telling.
Thank you so much, DJ. They were terrific questions!