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Author Interviews

Author Interview: Nancy Pickard

Nancy Pickard is the author of two series. The Jenny Cain mysteries feature a non-profit arts administrator in Virginia, and the Marie Lightfoot mysteries feature a fictional true crime author. The chapters featuring Marie are interspersed with chapters from whatever book Marie is working on. Pickard also continued Virginia Rich's cooking series with great success. She has been nominated for an Edgar three times, and has won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards.

Q: Two of my favorite mysteries are actually one from each of your previous series - Twilight and The Whole Truth. To backtrack, did you feel Twilight was a wrap up for Jenny Cain? It felt that way to me.
A: I feel that way, too. That was a series that felt like ten big chapters in one long book, and Twilight was the denouement. I get a lot of inquiries about Jenny, though, so it is possible that she will show up again for one more adventure in another book. I even have a plot in mind.

Q: I LOVE Marie Lightfoot. Are you a true crime reader yourself? We sell both mystery and true crime but find very little cross over between readers of those genres - so I loved that you mixed it up a bit. Where did the idea for those books come from?
A: I don't think I can make this long story short, so you better settle in!
Some time before starting that series, I was on an Edgar committee for Best True Crime book of the year. I got on the committee because I thought true crime books might give me a deeper understanding of why people kill. But after reading 75 of them that year, I was surprised to see that only a couple of books did that. Most of them concentrated on the lead-up to the crime, the crime itself, the search for the killer, and the legal aftermath, but hardly any of them "explained" the killer to any satisfying degree. When I gave it some thought I realized how hard it must be for a true crime writer to do that. For one thing, they're dealing with people who might sue them, so they have to tread carefully. Plus, if the killer is alive, he's hardly likely to tell them the truth, and nor is his family if there's been any abuse in that killer's background. So that leaves the true crime writer with her hands tied - probably knowing or guessing a lot that she can't actually put into her book. So I thought what if I created a true crime writer and I tried to tell both stories - the one she's writing and what's really going on behind the scenes of the book.

Now to get a bit more specific: the idea for the crime in The Whole Truth came from an actual case, as did the crime for Ring of Truth. The crimes in The Truth Hurts didn't come from any specific cases, but rather from the history of the many crimes committed by segregationists.

Q: And now a whole new direction from you, and another great one. The Virgin of Small Plains reminded me some of Jane Smiley's wonderful A Thousand Acres. Is she an influence at all?
A: No, but thank you for the comparison. It has also been compared to Ken Haupt's Plainsong, to Martha Grimes' Hotel Paradise, and to Jodi Piccoult's novels, which is kind of funny because even though I'd certainly like to claim them, the truth is that none of them were influences. If any authors influenced me in the writing of that book it would be Alice Hoffman, with her magical realism, and Louis Erdich with her luxurious character development and story-telling.

Q: I think many, many good modern mysteries deal not so much with the actual puzzle, but with the aftermath of the crime. Certainly Virgin fits this pattern. What was more important to you as you were writing the book - character or plot? I thought both were very strong.
A: Character, though without the plot there would be no grist for the mill that formed those characters, so plot was also very important to me.

Q: To me the most heartbreaking character in the book was Mitch, because of what was stolen from him (it really sticks with you). Did you personally feel a special affinity for a single character in the book more than another?
A: Mitch is turning out to be the character that most readers tell me has the greatest effect on them. For me, it's Rex, which is funny because as one reader commented to me, "he's the most unstable of the three of them". Hmm.

Q: I feel like the blurbs and reviews of this book give away too much of the story, and it's something I plan to warn readers about. I know the book is about repercussions, but the plot is complex and full of surprises that are more fun for a reader to discover on their own. What are your thoughts on that?
A: I agree! What are those reviewers thinking, to give away so many surprises?! It's so vexing to work so hard to provide those surprises...hoping they WILL be fun for readers... and then to have them so blithely spoiled by a review.

Q: Who are your influences, mystery-wise? Your skillful use of multiple threads reminds me of another favorite write of mine, Sharyn McCrumb.
A: Sharyn's a wonderful writer, so thanks for that. My influences mystery-wise? Oh, god, the list is so long and so crazily diverse! Agatha Christie, James M. Cain, Dorothy Sayers, Raymond Chandler, Catherine Aird, John D. MacDonald, Sue Grafton, Mickey Spillane, Josephine Tey, Celia Fremlin, Dick Francis, Mary Stewart...and not to forget Nancy Drew or Perry Mason!

Q: What's next for you? What can readers look forward to?
A: More books "like" Virgin, which is to say a bit "bigger" in concept than I used to do, and all set in Kansas.

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