Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Background Check on Shallow Grave (Julie Collins) by Lori G. Armstrong

We talked to Lori G. Armstrong about our favorite PI novel of 2007, Shallow Grave...

1) How much time was there between writing your Hallowed Ground and Shallow Grave and how long did it take you to write it?
I started SHALLOW GRAVE, which had a different title, a couple of months after I'd turned in HALLOWED GROUND. Without getting into too much detail, there was an issue with my publisher, and the contract negotiations fell through. So, at that point there was no third book. I'd submitted on a partial, and I had about 16 chapters done. I started working on other things. Then two things happened six months later: a big shake up at my publishing house and I was nominated for a Shamus for BLOOD TIES. The CEO of Medallion contacted me about why I wasn't contracted for a third Julie book and negotiations ensued. All told, it probably took me 5 months to write it total.

2) Where did you come up with the plot, what inspired you?
We're in the middle of a draught in western South Dakota. The stock dams (where the cattle drink) are either completely dried up or really low with very little water. I got to thinking...what if human bones were found in a stock dam? How old would they be? How could law enforcement tell who they belonged to? Who would care? And I was off and running.

3) There's an awful lot of characters and plotlines in the book. How did you keep track of them?
I honestly don't know. I knew I wanted to wrap up the issue with Ben's murder with the third book. I knew I wanted parallel story lines. Did I have everything plotted to the nth degree? No. It just sort of happened, in one of those "magic" moments we as writers hope for. And it seems to be the way I write. I can't have just one thing going on, I have to have multiple issues and plot threads, because in my mind, in real life, we're all dealing with more than one thing at a time. Case in point - last week, our refrigerator died, my husband broke his toe, and our middle daughter had a mini-accident...this was all within 2 days. So the things that happen to Julie aren't so far fetched, in that we all have those "what else can go wrong" days, hers just involve murder and mayhem, not appliance breakage.

4) Do you have the hots for Martinez yourself? ;-)

5) We saw less of 'psycho sidekick' Jimmer this novel. Was that a conscious decision?
I don't really consider Jimmer much of a sidekick. He's her loyal friend, and he does play a crucial role at the end of the book. I don't know how much of that was conscious. I tread very lightly on having Julie be a female who needs rescuing from anyone. Jimmer is a bit more visible in SNOW BLIND, the 4th book I'm finishing up now.

6) The visits to the biker bars, the use of the taser etc. seemed very real… Did you do a lot of research for that?
Yes. And no. The biker bars are not real places, although some local people always ask me if Fat Bob's is based on "so and so" but alas, they only exist in my imagination. And because we live so near Sturgis, SD, there is a large biker contingent all over, so there are always bikers in all the bars. Real time research for the strip club (and yes, my husband did a big WAHOO! when I said, "Hey, honey, wanna go to a strip club tonight?") because in some instances you just have to get a feel for the atmosphere before you can twist it to fit your scene. Ditto for the taser. I looked at them, held them, researched them but didn't go as far as to shock myself just so I knew what it felt like to be zapped.

7) Which scenes did you enjoy writing the most?
Obviously the scene between Martinez and Julie in the strip club :) The hardest scene for me to write was when Julie discovered who'd killed her brother. I'd been leading up to that point in all three books, and when I finally reached it, it was very emotionally draining.

8) Who is your favorite among the characters in the novel?
Julie is always my favorite. Period.

9) What are the best things people have said about the novel and which the worst?
Not pandering here, but the best thing was getting picked as your top book of 2007. I haven't had a lot of reviews. The ones I've had have been very positive, especially from readers. I get the comment a lot that it is a "thick" book and the page count might scare people off. But I do think as a whole the novel moves fast.

10) Is there anything else you'd like to say about the novel?
I think because of the multiple plot lines I really stretched my boundaries as a writer while maintaining a highly readable and - I hope - enjoyable book.


JD Rhoades said...

I'm reading SHALLOW GRAVE right now, and loving every minute of it. In fact, I just read the scene between Julie and Martinez that Lori references and let me just say: male reader or female, if you don't break a sweat reading that one, call the undertaker.

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