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Author Interviews

Author Interview: Victoria Thompson

Victoria Thompson is one of the most popular writers we carry - her books set in turn of the century New York city, featuring midwife Sarah Brandt, have attracted lots of readers, a number that grows with each book that comes out. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions..

Q: First of all, what drew you to this particular time period and setting? It's delightful to read an historical set in the United States, much as I enjoy many of the British series.
A: Berkley PrimeCrime often selects a setting and then looks for an author to write it. They wanted a series set in turn of the century NYC with a midwife heroine, and they asked me to send them a proposal. I'd written another book in this time period and I love NYC, so it seemed like a natural fit.

Q: I love your main characters. Let's talk about Sarah first. I'm assuming, obviously, that there were female midwives, and the liberties you took were with her class. Are there any documented cases of someone from Sarah's class actually working as a midwife?
A: Not that I know of, and it seems unlikely. Sarah's family history is unique, however, and her sister's death motivated her to rebel against everything she knew. Midwives are always female, and they've been around forever. Having a doctor deliver a baby is a very modern notion. It was only in the 1800's that doctors decided to take over this duty and started having laws passed to hamper midwives from practicing.

Q: The police force at the time gives you some freedom in some ways, doesn't it? I mean that a book set in the present would be bound more by procedure and regulations whereas Frank has a bit more freedom to run things as he wants to. Was the reward system really so prevalent? Where was the police force headed? Is Frank a believable part of a coming "new wave" of honesty?
A: Frank is being very realistic when he predicts that Theodore Roosevelt's reforms won't last. In fact, after he leaves, the NYPD goes through a very bad time, even worse than what came before. The entire legal system at this time was corrupt, and only the very poor, who could not afford bail or bribes, would even come to trial, much less be convicted. Reality was actually much worse than my depiction of the corruption of the times.

Q: You have a few plot lines going that have long time readers wondering what will happen - really makes you want to read the next book. Do you see any resolution in the future for Frank and Sarah's relationship? Obviously the tension is the good part, and Frank & Sarah's apparent cluelessness about their feelings for each other really adds to it. It's wonderful!
A: I know readers are dying for Frank and Sarah to get together, but let's remember how difficult it is to keep people interested once they do! That's why most books END with the wedding! I'm certainly not ready to end the series, and Frank and Sarah have lots of obstacles to overcome before they can be together. Just remember, getting there is half the fun!

Q: The other plot line, of course, is the mystery of Sarah's husband's death. I thought a resolution was coming in Murder in Chinatown - but I sense some big development with Sarah's father? Are you going to resolve it or leave it to dangle?
A: Tom's murder will be solved in the next book, Murder on Bank Street. This time Frank will get some investigative help from some very unexpected sources. Of course, we still have the mystery of where Catherine came from.

Q: Another character I really like is Frank's son. The resolution of his medical problem - his clubfoot - illuminated some things about medical care that don't seem to have changed (i.e., you get what you pay for & it's who you know). Do any of the issues you are writing about in Frank and Sarah's time have a root in the present day for you? Obviously the racism in Chinatown is another example. I'm sorry - this is about three questions in one!
A: I think the issues in all of these books are rooted in the present day. People at the turn of the 21st century are still dealing with the same issues that people dealt with in Frank and Sarah's day - middle class drug use, incest, immoral clergymen, women trying to balance family and a career, the challenges of finding Mr. Right.

Q: Your narrative skills are so strong, as a reader I really appreciate them. You keep the story moving in a nice, brisk, concise way. I think it's garnered you a strong readership - these books are great sellers for us. Who are your writing influences? Anne Perry comes to mind, but your stories are much tighter.
A: I'm a big Anne Perry fan myself, particularly the Monk series. Oddly enough, I never read any of her books until after I started my own series, though. I was particularly interested in how she got Monk and Hester together, but of course she didn't have the pesky Catholic/Protestant thing to deal with! I really can't say I've had any particular author that influences me. I've always been a voracious reader and my tastes are very eclectic, so I think everything I've ever read has gone into the mix.

Q: What's your feeling on switching over to hardcover? I have to say that as a bookseller it's something I hate to see because I think it cuts sales but I have noticed there are a few authors people will go for in HC, your series being one of them, this most recent title (this is the third hardcover, correct?) selling particularly well. I think it takes people three books to get used to a change!
A: Chinatown is the fourth hardcover. The switch to hardcover was my publisher's decision, and I wasn't even consulted. Hardcover books receive a lot more attention and reviews than paperback originals, so this is the only way to move the series to a new level. The books still come out in paperback for all those readers who don't buy hardcovers. I've been pleasantly surprised by the sales figures, though, and my publisher is very pleased, too. I think it's a very different market for hardcovers - libraries, collectors, and certain people who only buy hardcover. These are mostly new readers for my series, and it doesn't really affect the paperback sales. I get letters all the time from people who want to buy the first five books in hardcover and can't figure out why they can't find them!

Q: Can you give us a sneak preview of the next book?
A: As I said, they find Tom's killer and solve the mystery of his murder. I think readers will be very pleased and even a bit surprised at the direction this book takes. They will meet some interesting new characters and see some familiar ones in new roles. Even I was surprised!

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