Sunday, May 9, 2010

Interview with Deborah Crombie

From Belleville News Democrat --

Writer Deborah Crombie is obsessed with her characters --

By: Connie Ogle --
Mar. 17, 2010 --

Some suspense novelists grow weary of reprising their characters in book after book and seek respite by writing stand-alone novels.

But Deborah Crombie's fans need not worry.

"I hear writers say they are bored and that they would like to do something else, but I don't feel that way at all," says the creator of the Duncan Kincaid/ Gemma James mystery series, which follows the personal and professional lives of two Scotland Yard investigators in London. "I miss them when I'm in between books doing research. I always want to be back with them, back in their lives."

Crombie speaks with a friendly Texas drawl - she grew up in a Dallas suburb and now lives with her husband in McKinney - and sounds as if she could happily talk about Duncan and Gemma and their friends and family for a good long time. She likes them that much, although she admits that Gemma's young son Toby is "lots of fun, but if I had to live with this kid, I would kill him."

Solving crime and domestic disasters plays a part in Crombie's works, with the domestic issues as important as whodunnit. The relationship between Duncan and Gemma has deepened over the 13 novels: Crombie's latest book, "Necessary as Blood" (Morrow, $24.99) involves not only the disappearance of a young mother and the murder of her solicitor husband but also a big development in the lives of the couple. The two finally joined households in "And Justice There Is None."

The menage now includes two dogs and a cat, given that animal lover Crombie has two cats and two German shepherds. (You can see photos at

"I have a soft spot for cocker spaniels, too," she admits, "which is why Gemma has Geordie, her cocker. But I sneak some shepherds into the books, too."

Q: When you first started the series, was there any criticism about your being "an American who writes about England"?

A: Not as much as I thought there would be. Martha Grimes was already published, and so was Elizabeth George. ... I don't know if I would have had the nerve to do it otherwise. I've wanted to write since I was a teenager. I was not an English major. I was a biology major. But I took a creative writing class that kept me from writing for about 10 years. The teacher hadn't published anything but would tell you what was wrong with what you wrote and persistent in telling you that you have to write what you know. I think that's true in a certain sense. You need depths of research to learn about your subject, and you need to create authenticity, but if you take it literally, nobody would ever write anything! We'd have no science fiction, no historical novels, no women writing from men's viewpoints. And I thought, "I don't want to want to write a story about a girl growing up in suburban Dallas!" I loved English crime fiction.

Q: So when did you finally settle down and write your first book?

A: When my daughter was born in 1983 I was working on a master's in humanities, not because I wanted to teach but because I had grad-school syndrome. I quit because I couldn't juggle everything. ... But when she was 4 or 5 my ex-husband and I made a trip to Yorkshire and stayed at the place that becomes the time share in "A Share in Death." I had thought, "Wouldn't that be a fun place to set an updated country-house mystery?" I went home and thought about it. I thought, "I need a detective," and went from there.

Q: Were you thinking in terms of writing a series?

A: Yes, because that's what I like to read. I had very specific things in mind for the characters. Not in terms of the story arc - I didn't know that when I started - but I had really specific things in mind for the people. I was tired of severely emotionally damaged characters. I wanted to write about people who were police officers because they were good at it, not because they were alcoholics or their fathers were serial murderers. I wanted people who I could identify with and who readers could identify with. And with Gemma, in particular, I had a small child at the time. I had functioned like a single mother though I was married, and I wanted to write about a character who was dealing with those things and still really cared about her job and wanted to do well at it. I wanted the characters to be different in background and class, so you would have those irritants in the relationship.

Q: Did you worry about breaking the cardinal rule of fictional relationships when you brought Duncan and Gemma together as a couple?

A: That was a deliberate decision from the first book. I don't want to write static characters. You knew Inspector Morse was never going to get sober, and if he loved a woman she'd be the victim or the murderer. I want to write about characters who have real lives. People said about Duncan and Gemma's relationship, "You can't get them together. You'll kill the series!" But people move on in their lives. Relationships evolve.

I very seldom get letters from people about the crime in the books. About 95 percent of my e-mail is about Duncan and Gemma and what's going to happen with them. Obviously something hits the reader about them as much as it does me.

Q: All of your books touch on some intriguing bit of British life - say, the history of the narrowboats in" Water Like a Stone" or Scottish whisky making in "Now May You Weep." Why do you enjoy including those sorts of things?

A: I would have been a perpetual grad-school student if anybody would have paid for it. But I had to get a job! I was a huge Dick Francis fan, and in his books everything had something to do with horses, but you could tell he would find something he was interested in and research it and work it into the story, like hot-air ballooning or the jewelry business. I always loved that. I'm a real magpie. I'm into all kinds of things.

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