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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

From Romance to Murder: Author Interview with Victoria Thompson

My interview today is with Edgar®  and Agatha Nominated author Victoria Thompson, who writes the Gaslight Mystery Series, set in turn-of-the-century New York City. Her latest, MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, is a May 2016 release from Berkley Prime Crime.  She also contributed to the award winning writing textbook MANY GENRES/ONE CRAFT. She teaches in the Seton Hill University master's program in writing popular fiction. 

Your books have now been published for two decades. Why do you have such staying power in creating interest for new readers?  
First, I would love to know why my series has had such staying power, but I can only guess. I’m so fortunate that MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS is the 19th book in the Gaslight Mystery Series.  I teach writing in Seton Hill University’s Master’s program, and I tell my students that readers keep reading for the mystery but the come back for the next book because of the characters.  I think Sarah and Frank have really struck a chord with readers who want to visit with them again and again and see what they’ve been up to.  

Your earlier works were romances with steamy covers. What made you switch over to historical mysteries? 
My first 20 published novels were historical romances, but in the late 1990s the romance market changed, and  many writers were let go. I was one of them. Because I had been putting mystery subplots in my romances, my agent knew I could write a mystery, so she encouraged me to give it a try.  I had tried writing contemporary thrillers, which I love to read, but I have determined that my voice and my sensibilities are historical. My contemporary characters were acting too old fashioned!  So historical mystery is just the right fit for me. 

What makes for a successful mystery? 
As to what makes a successful mystery, I’d say you need protagonists who appeal to the reader.  Then you need an interesting crime and a good mix of suspects who all have motive and opportunity. I could write a book about this, and maybe I will someday!

Why do you choose NYC for the backdrop of your mysteries? 
I’ve often told the story of how I came to write the Gaslight Mystery series.  I already said my agent was encouraging me to write a mystery, but I was resisting.  One day she called to tell me that Berkley Prime Crime was looking for someone to write a series set in turn-of-the-century New York with a midwife heroine.  I decided to give it a try and wrote a proposal, so that’s how the series got started.  

What type of research do you do for your books? Tell me about the process. 
My research process is pretty routine. When it’s time to send in a proposal for the next book, I sit down with a bunch of books from my personal library on the history of New York. I skim through until I find something that makes me say, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” If I didn’t know it, I figure most other people don’t either.  Then I start building a story around it.

How much “artistic license” do you use in creating locations for your stories? Has your research ever surprised you in something you discovered? 
I try to be as historically accurate as possible, and the history of New York City is very well documented, so I don’t have any problem learning what I need to know.  Sometimes I fudge a little, but I always confess it in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. And sometimes I just make a mistake and then I apologize to the fans who send me an email to tell me.  My research surprises me all the time.  As I said above, those surprises are the things I end up writing about.

Any surprising responses from your readers?
One of my fans was crushed when Frank and Sarah got married. This surprised me, because so many fans had been begging for this for years.  The fan was concerned that if Frank started a detective agency, Sarah would no longer be involved.  Actually, she’ll be more involved because she doesn’t have to worry about interfering with the police anymore.  So if you were worried about that, don’t be! Sarah is very actively involved in solving the murder in MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS.

I applaud you for your numerous nominations for the Agatha Award. What made Christie’s writing so special that she is continued to be read? 
Christie was an excellent observer of human nature, and her characters are real enough to resonate with people year after year.  She also writes about the kinds of places real people still live—small towns where everyone knows everyone’s business—and people who have the same problems and concerns that people still have.  No matter how old her books are, human beings are still the same, so her books still speak to us.

You’ve now published 18 books in your Gaslight series? How do you keep the writing fresh after all those stories? How many more books do you think there will be in the series?
I hope I keep the writing fresh.  Sometime’s it’s hard for a writer to know that, but my fans are still pleased, so I’m doing something right, I guess.  I did sort of re-boot the series when Frank and Sarah got married in MURDER ON AMSTERDAM AVENUE.  Frank is now a wealthy man and no longer works for the police department.  Sarah no longer has to work as a midwife.  

I wrote an extra book last year, MURDER ON ST. NICHOLAS AVENUE, which takes place while Frank and Sarah are away on their honeymoon and features all the secondary characters from the series working together in their absence.  Fans loved it, and in this new book, Frank is going to open a detective agency so he can still solve murders, and now it will be easier for him to ask Sarah to  help.  I hope there will be many more books in the series. My publisher says as long as readers buy them, they will keep publishing them, so it’s really up to the fans.

How much time daily do you have for writing? What is your writing routine? 
I’m fortunate to be a full time writer.  In the morning I sit down at my computer and procrastinate by reading the news and scrolling through Facebook. Then I eat lunch. After lunch, I start writing unless I get distracted by something else.  I try to write 5 pages every day.

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best? 
I post on Facebook and Twitter.  I have a mailing list of fans and I keep in touch with them and send them a reminder email when I have a book coming out. I do guest blogs!  I’m not sure writers ever know what kind of promotion works best.

What is the best advice you’ve been given or learned on writing?
 The best advice I’ve been given is to read a lot and to write every day.
That's it for today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Victoria's writing and upcoming books, here's how to get started.

Website:     Facebook: Victoria Thompson.Author 
Twitter @gaslightvt.          Amazon:

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