Today, I’m excited to sit down with mystery writer N.A. Granger. She has a very interesting background in writing that eventually led her to writing mysteries. She is going to share some of her work, her inspiration and a bit about herself in this edition of 20 Questions.
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I wish I could describe a light bulb moment or swear I came out of the womb wanting to write! The real truth is, because I spent my career as a bench scientist (and teacher), I actually was a writer as an academic – manuscripts, reviews, book chapters and books. Obviously creative, but formulaic and not the let-your-mind-wander-where-it-will sort of writing. I vowed when I had time (not until I retired, as it turned out) to just write what I wanted to write, and I put a writing mystery book on my bucket list.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
I wrote my first book in about six months but figured out pretty quickly I needed to join a critique group to learn some skills in writing fiction. That took about three years, so it was nearly four years before I published. The second book, written in about nine months plus the research, took about 18 months to publication because of the necessary feedback and editing. My third book (coming out in June) is just about the same. Obviously I love research, so I devote time to interviewing people (arson investigators, tribal elders, crane operators) and experiencing first hand areas of interest – flying a small plane, growing pumpkins, lobstering, sail making.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I’m sort of a flibbertigibbet, so my writing time can be whenever, but usually in the morning before noon to 1 PM. I get a lot of thinking done while doing laps in my pool in the afternoon, so I might leave the pool and head back to the computer to write stuff down. Always with a cup of coffee.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I write in my pajamas! I think there’s some magical dust in them.
Q5) How are your books published?
Indie, via Create Space. I’m still looking for an agent, but I could be six feet under before that happens, so I’m going to continue writing and publishing on my own.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Life – I get ideas from just living (in my case, a loooong time). Plus from my work as an academic anatomist. I taught anatomy, histology and radiology and after being dared by one of my students (a paramedic), I got my EMT license. There’s lots of good material there.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
Well, my mother told me there are three things a man should never ask a woman: her age, whether she dyes her hair, and how many lovers she’s had. So I will just tell you that I wrote my first scientific book four years before I retired and my first mystery right after I left the university.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Think about what I will write next (I’m sort of a pantser) and observe life (see #6). That’s the filler around reading, knitting, swimming, blogging and writing book reviews. I figure no one wants to know about washing, cooking, and cleaning.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
What a difficult question to answer. I’m not sure I can! I read voraciously, and many different genres, so I have favorites in each. In terms of sheer story-telling, Ken Follet’s books have my vote. Then there’s those by Wilkie Collins, the Bronte sisters, Agatha Christie, Frank Herbert, Charles Dickens, Maeve Binchy…
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
I think they really like my books. At least they tell me so, but with family you never know. My husband reads the nearly final drafts of each book, and I can hear him yelling from his office, “There’s an error on the first page!” My daughter helped me considerably when I struggled with dialogue in the first book. She was a creative writing major in college and I had to make use of that expensive education, right? We read the dialogue to each other over the phone until it became natural. She’s also the model for each of my book covers – or at least parts of her are.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
How my brain works when I let it run around unfettered. I read things I have written and think, Did I do that? Where did that come from?
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
This will be no surprise to anyone: editing and re-editing, polishing and re-polishing, and then marketing. I usually do this while writing the next book, just to keep myself from going mad.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’ve now written three mysteries, and I think the third one (Death by Pumpkin) is my favorite (for now) because of the fun I had researching for it and because I think my writing is getting better. At least I hope it is. I’ve started my fourth in that series but am alternating with writing a historical novel, just to stretch my writing wings.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Join a critique group! They give you great ideas, tell you what works and what doesn’t, encourage and support you, and can be your best teachers.
Attend writer’s workshops and conferences, at least twice a year. My ideas run rampant in that environment and you can never stop learning.
Blog. It hones your writing skills and let’s your personality shine.
Review books. This will expose you to other writing styles and make you think critically about what you are reading.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
When I meet with readers face to face, I get lots of positive reinforcement. It does a body good! They like the characters and the plots and are following the development of a romance and a child growing up as the series continues. I’ve never received any negative feedback face to face (not so surprising), but I do read reviews of my books because sometimes there’s a useful nugget of advice hidden in them, especially in the less than glowing ones. Never take a thoroughly mean and negative review seriously.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
That’s easy – everyone! – but I think my major audience would be mystery readers, ones that like some forensics, a female sleuth and a story that encompasses family and friends. Some real romance is creeping in, so maybe readers of romance might want to wander over to the mystery aisle.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
An opening that grabs you, a story that keep you reading, characters with whom you can identify or empathize, or whom you can hate or love. I once did a post entitled “A Good Mystery is Like a Turducken” – in other words, like a chicken within a duck within a turkey (you can find these!). A good mystery begins with a whodunit, but one that should wrap around at least one other story, and maybe two. A good mystery, as Winston Churchill once said about Russia, “…is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.”
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Depending on my age, a cowboy, a famous athlete, a forest ranger, a marine biologist, or a vet. Writing never crossed my mind!
Q19) Where can we find your books?
Goodreads, Amazon US and UK, and Kindle. You can also order them from most bookstores. I will be doing signings in many of the Sherman’s Bookstores in Maine, this summer. Sherman’s usually has my books in stock.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
From Death in a Red Canvas Chair:
The white commercial van drove slowly down the driveway to the left of the elementary school and pulled to a quiet stop alongside the gate leading to the soccer field. The gate was unlocked; he’d made sure of that the night before. The driver looked around, saw no one, then scooted across the front seat. Before exiting on the passenger side, away from the field, he pulled a blue ball cap snugly down on his head, tied a scarf over his mouth and nose, and pulled on heavy rubber gloves. He walked to the end of the van and surveyed the field. Small boys were swarming a soccer ball, flailing and kicking until it extricated itself from the beating and rolled down the field toward the far goal. Parents, predominantly mothers, stood on both sides of the field and cheered their progeny on.
Was she here? He scoured the sidelines. Yes! There she is – on the far side. The object of his interest was a tall woman with thick, shoulder length auburn hair, standing on the side lines at midfield, dwarfing the diminutive blond standing next to her.
He waited until the hive of boys surrounding the ball had moved to the far end of the field, then opened the van’s rear door and took out a canvas folding chair. He unfolded it and reached back into the van to pull a plastic tarp aside. The stench, which had been bearable while he was driving with the windows open, hit him with an intensity that caused him to gag, but he held his breath and managed to drag the soft, decaying body from the van floor and ease it into the chair. He quickly lifted both to the far side of the van and closed the door. From one of his pockets he pulled a straw sun hat and placed it on the body’s head. Sunglasses from his other pocket were forced over the swollen tissue of the face.
Waiting patiently until the action on the field focused the parents’ attention was once again on the far end, he quickly picked up the chair with the body and carried them around the front end of the van, through the gate and out to the field. He deposited them at the near end but far back from the goal. After straightening the body and adjusting the hat, he quickly walked away, glancing back at the field only once he’d reached the van. Good, no one’s looking this way, he thought as he climbed into the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition with a shaking hand. God, I hope she finds it. But even if she doesn’t, I know she’ll get involved. She’ll find the killer. He made a careful circle of the parking lot and drove away, as slowly and quietly as he’d come.
What once had been a vibrant being slowly collapsed into the canvas chair, dripping water and decay, gazing at the soccer game with dull, unseeing eyes.
About N.A. Granger:
N.A. GRANGER is a Professor Emerita at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. After forty years of research and teaching undergraduates and medical students, she decided to turn her knowledge of human anatomy to the craft of mystery writing. In addition to the Rhe Brewster mystery series, she has written for Death South and Sea Level magazines and the Bella Online Literary Review. You can find more of her writing and musings on her website: saylingaway.wordpress.com. She lives with her husband, a cat who blogs, and a hyperactive dog in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and spends a portion of every summer in Maine.
Connect with N.A. Branger:
Find her books:
Death in a Red Canvas Chair:
Death in a Dacron Sail:
Death by Pumpkin (July 2017) blurb:
At the annual Pumpkin Festival in the coastal town of Pequod, Maine, Rhe Brewster, an ER nurse and Police Department consultant, responds to screams at the site of the Pumpkin Drop. Racing to the scene, where a one-ton pumpkin was dropped from a crane to crush an old car, Rhe and her brother-in-law, Sam, Pequod’s Chief of Police, discover the car contains the smashed remains of a man’s body. After the police confirm the death as a homicide, Rhe embarks on a state-wide search to identify the victim and find the killer. During the course of the emotional investigation, she survives an attempt on her life at 10,000 feet, endures the trauma of witnessing the murder of an old flame, and escapes an arson attack on her family’s home. There is clearly a sociopath on the loose who is gunning for Rhe and leaving bodies behind. With Sam unable to offer his usual support due to an election recall and a needy new girlfriend, Rhe realizes that the only way to stop the insanity is to risk it all and play the killer’s game.
Maine’s most tenacious sleuth is back, this time to confront a menace that threatens to destroy her life and those closest to her. The latest instalment of the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, Death by Pumpkin, is a murder mystery and thriller that tests the limits of Rhe’s strength and resolve like never before.