Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Q & A with Ingrid Thoft

Making waves with her new novel and a Shamus Award Ingrid Thoft was a natural to interview for me...

Q: What makes Fina Ludlow different from other hardboiled characters? 
I think that the need to maintain and manage Fina’s various personal relationships sets her apart.  Although she is fiercely independent and very headstrong, she isn’t a lone wolf.  Fina has friends and a mentor, as well as a complicated family life.  Even though she spends her days tailing potential perpetrators and meeting with unsavory characters, she also attends family dinners and cheers on her young nephews at their soccer games.  The issues with which she struggles are universal:  How can she be true to herself, but also be a good daughter, sister, and friend?  How much should she sacrifice to be a part of a particular family or group?  Fina isn’t a P.I. because she’s alone in the world and free to flout society’s expectations and conventions; she’s a P.I. because she’s good at it and loves the work, but she has to do it within the context of a dominating family and a social network.

Q: How did you come up with the character? 
I wanted to create a strong, funny and flawed female protagonist who would push the limits and do all the things I’m too well-mannered to do!  What sets Fina apart, as I mentioned above, is also what makes her a fun character to write.  Like so many readers, I was fascinated by the Lisbeth Salander character in the Stieg Larsson books.  She is strong, brash, and violent and operates outside of society's norms.  That character was born of abuse and neglect and didn’t have a “normal” family.  I wondered what would happen if you created a character who was also strong minded and independent, but came from a domineering family unit and had to operate within the bounds of that family.  If you have nothing holding you back and nothing to lose—like Lisbeth Salander—your actions can be extreme.  But if you're trying to operate within a family system and maintain your standing in that family, you have more to lose, and the stakes can be quite high.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I’m a fan of anything that gets people reading, and if people are more apt to read on an electronic device, than that’s what they should do.  I do worry at times that since the epublishing process is so quick, readers forget that it still takes the same amount of time to write the book.  It may show up on your device instantly, but there was nothing instant about it from the writer’s perspective!
Personally, I prefer physical books to ebooks, although I’ve been known to use a device when I travel to lighten the load. I’m one of those people who loves bookstores and physical books.  I like being able to pull a book off a shelf and examine it.  The tactile experience of flipping through the pages or admiring the cover art is part of the whole experience for me.  I also miss being able to see what other people are reading!  It was fun to scope out other people’s choices at the airport!

Q: What's next for you and Fina?
I’m answering these questions having just sent a first draft of book #3 to my early readers so the next thing for me is probably a nap!  I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, but have a short break before I go on tour for IDENTITY.  I was on the road last year for LOYALTY, and it was an amazing experience.  I love meeting readers and visiting bookstores, which are like little oases sprinkled across the country.  Once I’m back from tour, I’ll turn my attention to book #4 in the series, but I’m not ready to go there just yet!
I can’t say too much about book #3 at this point, but Fina tackles a new complicated case that is fraught with difficult questions.  There will be fallout from the actions she took in her personal relationships, and she’ll continue to pay a price for the choices she made in LOYALTY.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
Read, read, read!  I love to read, and I’m so lucky that my work and hobby overlap.  It sounds trite, but I also love spending time with family and friends.  Travel is a central theme in my life, both to relaxing spots like Hawaii, but also to more far flung locations like Eastern Europe, Vietnam, China, and Australia.  I like to eat good food—Seattle has a fantastic restaurant scene—and fortunately, I like to exercise also!  Movies and TV also make me happy, and my interests are eclectic; I always try to see the Oscar nominees, but I’m just as likely to watch “Top Chef,” “Longmire,” and “Nashville.”

Q: How do you promote your work? 
I’m fortunate to have a wonderful publishing team at Putnam who do a tremendous amount to support my novels.  I also work hard to get the word out, particularly through social media.  I have always characterized myself as “a lurker and a liker” on Facebook and other sites, so it’s been an adjustment to be more proactive.  I do love the ability to interact directly with readers, however; it’s fascinating to learn people’s perspectives and interpretations of characters and storylines that I’ve created.  When something has been in your own head for so long, it’s amazing and a little startling to hear it discussed by readers!  The other thing that helps with promotion is keeping in mind that everyone is a potential reader, and you are your own best promotion when you go out in the world on a daily basis.  I’ve had the most amazing conversations with unlikely people in random places about a shared love of certain books and characters.  You never know who your next reader might be.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like? 
When I’m not reading mysteries and thrillers, I tend to gravitate toward contemporary fiction.  I also enjoy some nonfiction, particularly things related to social behavior, because I’m fascinated by humans and how they live.  I’m generally not drawn to historical fiction or science fiction, but have been known to dip into those genres if someone I trust makes a strong recommendation.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike? 
The sidekick is important in relation to the main character.  Winning combinations of protagonist and sidekick happen when the chemistry and balance between the two is just right.  Both Hawk and Joe Pike provide excellent foils to their leading men; the extremes in their behavior allow Spenser and Elvis to stay above the fray, but still get things done.  In my books, I consider both Milloy and Cristian to be sidekicks of a sort.  The difference, however, is that those two are more measured and risk averse than Fina, so the roles are reversed.  Also, sidekicks often stand in for the reader; they voice the questions and desires that crop up for the reader.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
I hope that we’ll see more women—both writers and characters.  I often cite Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth George, and Laura Lippman as just a few of the writers who have influenced my work, and I imagine that they will continue to influence future generations.  Despite technological advances, a lot of investigative work still requires pounding the pavement and interacting with people so I think that older influences will still hold sway.  Even if some information can be ascertained online that doesn’t make for exciting reading.  Would you rather read a description of a computer search or a battle of wits between a P.I. and a reluctant witness?  Memorable characters are the heart of the P.I. novel whether it’s little old Miss Marple or kick ass V.I. Warshawski.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?
I write in this genre because it’s the genre I love to read.  Many people say “write what you know,” but I’ve always said, “Write what you want to read.”  It takes a lot of time and effort to write a book, and as the author, you are your first reader.  If you aren’t engaged than how can you expect other readers to be?

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