If you read my review of Esri Allbritten's Chihuahua of the Baskervilles yesterday, you probably understand why I was eager to interview her. The book was a terrific mystery debut, and I loved the team from Tripping Magazine. But, Esri was even more fun to interview than I imagined. I hope you enjoy "meeting" her.
Lesa - Thank you, Esri, for taking time to talk to us about yourself and your books. Would you start by telling my readers a little about yourself?
Esri - I live in Boulder, Colorado, with my husband, Joe, and my cat, Musette La Plume. We have two sweet-cherry trees, and when they're full of ripe fruit, I like to go outside, turn the hose on high, and blast the robins that are busily taking one peck from each cherry. "Get out of here, you red-breasted bastards!" I yell. This both enhances the experience and keeps the neighbors from interrupting my workday with needless social calls.
Like most writers, I love learning about subcultures and imagining myself in other careers, other lives. I also enjoy the marketing aspects of selling myself as a writer (I used to work in advertising). Aside from that, I'm a big computer geek and have a folk-singing alter ego named Jenny Blossom.
Lesa - I've already reviewed Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, so I won't ask you to summarize it. But, I will ask you to tell us about the members of the staff of Tripping Magazine.
Esri - Suki Oota and Angus MacGregor are from previous, unpublished books of mine. Those projects didn't pan out, but I wanted to work with them again. I'll give you some of the back story I work with on all three characters. Most of this stuff is not mentioned in the books or anywhere else, so your readers can feel smug. I reserve the right to change any and all of it.
Suki Oota is Tripping's photographer. She used to work at National Geographic, but got fired for fraternizing with natives. Suki's overt sexuality and "I just want to have fun" attitude are ways in which she rebels against the expectations of her Japanese mother. Suki was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her father works in the film industry, and she has a trust fund. She is prone to coming up with T-shirt slogans.
Angus MacGregor's name is a sly tribute to M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series. Angus wants to make a name for himself, and he believes that with persistence and luck, he can do it by discovering some new supernatural phenomenon. Angus doesn't have a college degree. He gets by on personality and good salesmanship. He takes whatever jobs he finds and keeps his living expenses low by renting rooms in houses. He grew up in gritty, poor surroundings and is a recovering alcoholic.
Michael Abernathy is a literary writer who feels cheated that his Jewish mother married a gentile engineer and moved from New York to Colorado, thus depriving him of the support and intellectual stimulation of the east-coast Jewish community. He is a skeptic, and works at Tripping for the piddling salary, the resume' credit and because it's such a break from his real work. Michael's novel is called Don Juan Conejo, and it's about a woman in an abusive relationship who develops an intense relationship with her pet rabbit. This is a story I actually considered writing, and bits of it appear in the Tripping series as Michael works on it.
Lesa - Tripping, a magazine devoted to the paranormal, offers a lot of possibilities for the series. Where would you like to take the staff in future books?
Esri - I have strict criteria for a Tripping location. 1) It must be a U.S. city that I would be happy to visit repeatedly. 2) The location must have some kind of fun festival, landmark or activity. Manitou Springs has the Emma Crawford Coffin Race. For book three, I'm looking at Phoenixville, PA, which has Blobfest -- a tribute to the movie, The Blob. People should feel free to contact me through my website and suggest cities. I'm particularly interested in New England and also the South. Lots o' history there. New England in particular is lousy with stories of ghosts and ghouls.
Lesa - I know you answer this question on your blog. Tell us why you used a Chihuahua in this book.
Esri - It started when I was researching dog breeds for one of my characters or myself, I can't remember which. (Musette will be my last cat, as my allergies have worsened.) Chihuahuas (Chis) are smart, funny, cheap to keep, and I love their "canonical dog" shape -- like a tiny Dingo. They're the size of a baby, and when it's cold, the short-haired ones definitely need a little coat or sweater. What's not to love about a baby-sized dog that you can dress up? Some folks like to mime vomiting when I say that, but how long has it been since dogs were a "natural" animal rather than a creature we consciously designed for our own use and pleasure? Then there are people who insist that a dog's dignity suffers when you put clothes on it. To that I say, "Dogs have dignity? Are we still talking about the animal that eats cat poop and rolls on dead squirrels?"
Public Service Announcement: If you're thinking of getting a Chi, please consider adoption before buying a puppy from a breeder. Chihuahuas aren't for everyone. They're unsuitable for homes with small kids (those little bones are very breakable) and can be hard to housebreak. There are a lot of Chihuahuas in shelters.
Lesa - I know dog lovers will appreciate that public service announcement, Esri. That's important. Now, can you tell us anything about the next book in the series? Is the title based on another classic? Where are you taking the team?
Esri - I just finished The Portrait of Doreene Gray. Tripping goes to Port Townsend, Washington, a Victorian-era town on the Puget Sound. Port Townsend built beautiful buildings on the strength of the railroad's plan to go there, then lost most of its population when rail passed it by. It was almost unchanged when artists and retirees rediscovered it in the 1970s. In addition to being the location of the annual Wooden Boat Festival, Port Townsend is a place of mists, shipwrecks, and very strong coffee. My story revolves around fictional painter Maureene Pinter. Maureene painted a portrait of her twin sister, Doreene, about 40 years ago. The woman in the portrait appears to have aged since then, but Doreene hasn't. When Doreene decides to sell the portrait at auction, Maureene seems determined to stop her, but why? There's also a Chihuahua named Gigi.
Lesa - You wrote two other books. What is different about writing a mystery? Have you had much exposure to the mystery community yet? If so, what has been your experience?
Esri - Writing a mystery is about logic, secrets, and logistics. I have three sleuths and about five suspects per book. Every time a character acts, all the other characters react, and I prefer that they not behave stupidly, hide things from the police, or act against their own interests. I put each additional action through this litmus test while still keeping previous actions in mind, so it gets increasingly complex until, by the end of the book, I just want these people to die or go to jail, which is handy.
I learned most of what I know about publishing from the romance-writing community, and I still have great friends and colleagues there. Those are some warm and fuzzy gals. My experience with mystery writers is limited, because I'm farther in my career and haven't had time for much involvement. My impression is that crime-fiction writers are slightly more solitary, way up in their heads, and a little tetchier. (I fit right in.) The exception is thriller writers, who display a level of jocularity that's unprecedented in my experience. It must be the paychecks.
Lesa - Is there anything you'd like to tell us that I might not have covered?
Esri - Nope. These are great questions.
Lesa - And, my final question. Since I'm a public librarian, I always end with this question. Do you have a story you can share about libraries?
Esri - Libraries and I go way back. During the summers, our library had reading challenges for kids, and I always won. I would stagger up to the desk with a stack of books half my own height. The librarian would smile and say, "Back for more?"
My dad drove the library bookmobile for a year or so, while recovering from a soul-sucking engineering job. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. He and my mom wrote puppet musicals and performed them at the library during kid's hour. I still hang out at libraries a lot, and get excited when a town I visit has a good one. I've never met a librarian who wasn't very smart and also very kind. You're a unique breed.
This was fun. Thanks so much, Lesa!
Lesa - That was fun, Esri! Thanks for taking time to do it.
And, I have one more fun thing to offer readers. Esri has offered to give one person who comments here a copy of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles. So, if you're interested in the chance to win a copy, include your email address in the comments. Tomorrow evening, I'll pick the winner, and contact you for your mailing address. You're in for a treat!
Esri Allbritten's website is http://www.esriallbritten.com/
Chihuahua of the Baskervilles by Esri Allbritten. St. Martin's Minotaur. ©2011. ISBN 9780312569150 (hardcover), 288p.