A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
ISBN: 978-0-7710-1468-0 (0-7710-1468-6)
Pub Date: September 13, 2005
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Q: How did you get into writing mysteries? Has it always been a favorite genre for you?
A: I always make a point of mentioning that I was in my late 40’s when I started writing. So often people think if they haven’t begun something by the time they’re 30, it’s too late. Luckily for those of us who are late bloomers, writing is not ballet.
I was asked to write my first book, 1919: The Love Letters of George and Adelaide. The book was co-written with Ron Marken, who teaches at the University of Saskatchewan, and Ron and I are both still very proud of it. As we worked on 1919, I discovered that I really enjoyed the writing process. After it was published, I wanted to keep going.
I’m not wild about people who hand out advice, but one piece of advice that I think makes sense is that a writer should write the kind of book she likes to read. From graduate school on, my husband and I have loved mysteries. Because of my voracious and totally indiscriminate reading, I knew what I liked in a mystery: a strong central protagonist with whom it was a pleasure to spend time; a vivid sense of place, and a problem (not necessarily a plot problem) that would engage my mind. That’s the kind of book I wanted to write, and I’m still trying.
Q: Do you have a favorite mystery author? Which books would you recommend to readers?
A: There are so many terrific Canadian mystery writers, and many of them are friends, so I’m not venturing into that particular minefield, except to say that whatever your passion, you can’t go wrong by reading Canadian.
Now to my choices: one dead writer, two Americans and one Brit.
The Nero Wolfe series will always be my favourite. The plots occasionally creak, and Archie has an unfortunate habit of referring to women as skirts, but there’s nowhere I would rather be than in Wolfe’s brownstone talking about orchids and waiting to savour the incredible meal Fritz is preparing in the kitchen.
I’m also a huge fan of Carl Hiaasen. My kids aren’t impressed with much that I do, but they are impressed that I’ve done a reading with Carl Hiaasen. So am I. He is passionate about what developers have done to his beloved Florida but he is never strident, and he is always funny.
I did a reading with Ruth Rendell once. It was so bizarre that I’m still longing to write a play about it, but I digress. Ruth Rendell is sooo good, and I still believe Judgement in Stone is the best mystery I’ve ever read.
Q: The Last Good Day is your 9th book in the Joanne Kilbourn series. What keeps you motivated to continue the series?
A: This is an easy one to answer. I get a lot of mail from readers, and it seems I’m motivated to continue the series for the same reason that they are drawn to it. We all want to find out where Joanne’s life is taking her.
Earlier, I mentioned that when I began writing, I wanted a protagonist who was good company. Ten novels later, I still find Joanne good company. I decided early on that I would let Joanne grow old--a decision incidentally that Ruth Rendell told me I would regret. For once, Ruth Rendell was wrong. It’s been an incredible luxury for me as a writer to watch Joanne and her children grow and change. At the risk of sounding self-promoting I’m particularly struck by how Joanne has changed in “The Last Good Day”. I read recently that as we get older we get hungrier for life. That’s true for me, and in “The Last Good Day” it’s true, in a surprising way, for Joanne.
Q: Do you have a favorite among the Joanne Kilbourn books?
A: My favourite is always the most recent one, perhaps because it seems the most vulnerable. So my current favourite is “The Last Good Day”.
Q: How do you research topics for your books?
A: Like every writer I know, I am immensely grateful for the Internet. It’s such a treasure trove of shining facts and odd and intriguing little bits and pieces of knowledge. But my real research still comes from people I meet. I’m constantly amazed at how generous people are about sharing specialized knowledge. My new book has a number of lawyers in it, and I was helped by one of my closest friends, a judge and by one of my daughter’s closest friends, a young lawyer. Incidentally, I now have the hots for law school. I may get there yet.
Q: Several of your books have been made into television movies. How does it feel to see your characters on the screen? Are you involved with the screen adaptation?
A: Shaftesbury Films, who produced the books, were immensely generous about letting me read and make notes on manuscripts. They listened to some of my suggestions and ignored others. That puts me on a par with everyone else associated with the making of a made for tv movie.
I like the Joanne Kilbourn movies but they bear very little resemblance to the books I wrote. I think often of the consolation that a movie producer offered Louis Begley, author of About Schmidt after Begley saw the film made from his book and didn’t discover much that was familiar. “Look on the bright side,” the producer said. “All we used from your book was the title. You can sell the rest to somebody else!”
Q. Many of your readers may not know that you are also a playwright. Can you tell us a little about that? Anything new in the works?
A: Like everything else in my career, I came into playwriting through the back door. Ron Marken and I were asked to write an adaptation of 1919 for production by the Globe Theatre here in Regina. At that point, I was in my 50’s, and I’d learned that the great secret of life is to say ‘yes’ to everything. So I said ‘yes’. It was a tremendous experience. In addition to everything I learned about theatre and actors, and the joy of working in a field that is truly collaborative, we had a special production of the play for Prince Edward, so I got to have dinner with a Prince.
Since then, I’ve done adaptations of children’s stories (all of which have been produced somewhere). My newest theatrical play is also for children. It’s called “The White Bear” and it’s about a grandmother, her 12 year old grand-daughter and the bears of Churchill, Manitoba. My husband and I went to Churchill last August and I’m already counting the days till we return.
And, in accordance with my resolution to do something new every decade, I’ve just finished my first radio play. It’s for CBC, and I’m very excited about it.
From the Hardcover edition.
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