Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Interview with Rebecca Cantrell

I've known Rebecca Cantrell since her third Hannah Vogel book, A Game of Lies, came out. I met her at The Poisoned Pen, spent time with her at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, and, best of all, had ice cream with her at The Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale. Now, I have the chance to ask Rebecca a few questions. Thanks, Rebecca!

Rebecca, would you introduce yourself to readers?
Hi! I’m Rebecca Cantrell. I live in Hawaii with my husband and son where I work full time as a cat slave and fit in writing around the kitty’s needs. I like ice cream and chocolate and chai. Luckily, Twinkle the cat has no problem with this. She’s sitting on my ottoman right now, so I can’t move my feet and have to type this at an uncomfortable angle, so I’m getting even in the interview. I know, I know—she doesn’t care! But it’s the only victory I’m likely to win.
Tell us about the variety of books you’ve written.
Sit down and have some tea. This might take a while. I started out writing the Hannah Vogel mysteries. They’re set in Berlin in the 1930s and feature a crime reporter turned spy. Although they started as mysteries, they are often reviewed as thrillers. The first one is A Trace of Smoke. You can read them out of order, but I’d start with Smoke anyway because there is a key relationship that develops across the books. No spoilers beyond that.
Which brings me to thrillers. I write the Joe Tesla thrillers set in the tunnels under New York that feature a software mogul who suffers from drug-induced agoraphobia—fear of going outside. He and his service dog, Edison, work to keep the world above safe. Everyone loves the dog best. Spoiler for nervous readers: the dog lives. The first one in that series is: The World Beneath. Again, these can be read out of order. Actually, you can totally read them out of order.
Speaking of thrillers, I wrote a gothic thriller trilogy with James Rollins called the Order of the Sanguines about an ancient order of Catholic priests who are actually vampires subsisting on the blood of Christ. Lots of action, Biblical history, vampires, and international conspiracies that stretch across centuries. Read these in order or you might have trouble following them. The first one is The Blood Gospel.
I also wrote a couple of YA cell phone novels (iDrakula and iFrankenstein) back when everything was “i.” Great fun and they got some kids reading! If you know any reluctant readers, these books can really move them along, particularly 6th to 9th graders.
Not satisfied with that, I turned my hand to comedy and wrote a supremely silly mystery series with Sean Black about a child star who plays a detective on TV and grows up and resolves to become a detective in real life. Not that it’s easy going undercover when people keep coming over to get your autograph, but Sofia Salgado persists. These can be read in any order, and they’re alphabetized. The first one is A is for Actress.

I want to ask a few questions about the Hannah Vogel books. Tell us about Hannah and the setting of the books.
Hannah Vogel starts out as a crime reporter in Berlin in 1931. When she discovers her brother’s death photo in the Hall of Unnamed Dead, she investigates his murder—a trail that leads to an orphaned boy, a glitzy cabaret, and the top ranks of the Nazi party. In the 1930s, Berlin was on the cusp of change. The first book, A Trace of Smoke, is set in 1931, where the Nazis are gaining seats in the government, but haven’t yet come to power. The second book, A Night of Long Knives, is set in 1934 during the first bloody purge. The third, A Game of Lies, is set during the Berlin Olympics, where the Nazis are trying to present their capital city as an international paradise instead of the fascist state it actually was. The fourth book, A City of Broken Glass, follows Hannah from the refugee camps in Poland to Kristallnacht in Berlin marking the terrible crackdown against Germany’s Jews. History is the backdrop for the relationships and struggles of the humans going through it. Hannah falls in and out of love, adopts a child, and tries to help or at least bear witness to the atrocities going on around her.
I’m a bit of a research junkie, and this is a time period where there are so many secondary and primary sources available that I can bury myself in diaries, newspaper articles, films, and books.

Why are you reissuing the Hannah Vogel books?
I felt like they were languishing with my publisher, so I procured the rights for myself and I’m bringing out my own new editions—new covers, light editing, and new books coming soon. I just completed the first work in Hannah’s Berlin yesterday! It’s a long short story (or a short novelette) called Cigarette Boy about her brother, Ernst, and his world in the gay cabarets of Berlin before the first novel takes place. He tries to solve the murder of cigarette boy in his club and is confronted with the harsh and seductive reality of the Nazis.
It was so much fun to finally get back to Berlin. Of course, ironically, I wrote the first four Berlin books while living in Hawaii, then moved to Berlin for four years and wrote several books not set there. Then I moved back to Hawaii and quickly started the first Berlin short story. It’s like I try to make my life difficult.

Is this a good time to be a crime fiction author?
So far, so good.
Before I move on to unrelated questions, is there anything more you would like to say about this series?
I feel like this series is more relevant than ever before. We, too, are going through a period of tremendous change in the United States, and I think looking to history to see how others have weathered (or not weathered) such moments can give us comfort and direction.
What’s your favorite book you’ve written, and why?
I can’t answer that. All my other books will be angry with me! I love them all equally. I love the Hannah Vogel series because it’s close to my heart and is set in one of my favorite cities on earth and I got to do tons and tons of research to write them. I love the Sanguines series because it was fun working with Rollins and making up an entire vampiric mythology that spanned two thousand years. I love the Joe Tesla series because it’s fascinating to spend time in the in between world of the New York subway and find out what lives in the spaces most of us pass through without ever looking. I love the iMonsters series because writing cell phone novels was a fascinating new way to tell stories. And I love the Malibu Mystery series because they are silly, wonderful fun and that gives me a nice break when my other series are too dark—Sean Black and I work hard to crack each other up.

You’re back in Hawaii after living in Germany. What’s your favorite spot to take visitors in both places?
In Hawaii, I love to take visitors to the volcano. The park is amazing—giant fern trees, lava tubes you can walk through, and a huge glowing lava lake. I also used to take people down to the end where you can see the lava flow into the sea (just at a distance, as steam) and witness the birth of the newest land on earth.
In Berlin, I like to start at the Brandenburg Gate and wander through the Tiergarten to the Victory Column and climb up and see the city spread around us. Or a day on Museum Island looking at treasures and history collected from across the world. Or a driving tour through the city using old East German Trabants. Or...lots of stuff... Throw in a döner kebap or a curry wurst, and any one of those is a great day.

What’s on your TBR pile right now?
Let me see. Luna Wolf Moon by Ian Macdonald just arrived today. It’s the second in the Luna series, a Game of Thrones-esque series set on the moon. I also just started Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler. I just finished The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I can’t believe I haven’t read it before, and I’ll be getting the next books in that series soon. I recently finished The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova-Bailey about a woman confined to her bed with illness and how she rediscovers the world through a snail her friend brings her. Mystery thriller wise I just tore through Andrew Peterson’s Nathan McBride series, Moriarity by Anthony Horowitz, and I keep re-reading my son’s fantasy novel, A Tale of Gods, Mortals, and Jell-O Shooters because it’s just so damn funny. He wrote it when he was 16, and it’s available on Kindle and I just love it! (yes, I’m a very proud mother)

OK, Rebecca. Since I’m a librarian, tell me a story about libraries or librarians.
I went to a pretty nasty junior high school in Alaska where I saw a guy get knifed in the cafeteria on the first day. He didn’t die, but the experience was scary enough to put me off lunch entirely. I would go into the library during third period and prop open the back door with a little paperback and then come back during lunch when the library was closed and slip in through that door and read until lunch was over. I thought I was getting away with something, but by the end of the year I realized the librarian was on to me and letting me get away with it. I’ve always loved libraries—the library is the first place I seek out in a new place, and I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. I almost majored in Library Studies but ended up going for Creative Writing at the last minute.

Rebecca Cantrell's website is, and you can see the new covers of the Hannah Vogel books on her site.


Jeff Meyerson said...

I really liked the first Hannah Vogel book. And I love the Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale!

Lesa said...

Jeff! Kindred soul! You've been to & love the Sugar Bowl!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Jeff! I'm glad to hear you liked the first one! More to come!

What's your favorite ice cream? I only went to the Sugar Bowl once with Lesa and I can't remember what I ordered except that there was butterscotch and talk of a rock star father. Remember all that, Lesa?

Lesa said...

I do, Rebecca. I think we were all a little drunk on ice cream, if that conversation was any indication.

Evy said...

I've known Rebecca since she was born. I have loved all her books and like Rebecca, I don't have a favorite. I will testify that her description of Joe Tesla and his dog in the subway tunnel as a train came roaring through was perfect. I found myself in that situation while I was with my brother and his friends as we explored train tunnels years ago. My brother and his friend ran ahead into the tunnel, while I walked slower because I was leading a blind friend so he could experience the train tunnel as I described it to him. When the guys came tearing back past us toward the tunnel opening because vibrating tracks meant a train was on its way, the blind friend and I could not run. We got as close to the wall as we could, standing on rubble and just waited. I had my small dog in one arm and the blind guy held the other. When the train passed, we made out way out, waving to my mother, sister and the guys like race car drivers after a wreck. Read Rebecca's description, it's much better than mine, but Joe Tesla was far braver than I. I was terrified. I can't wait to read Hannah's new adventures and hope to see more of Joe as well. To think Rebecca as a tiny baby would become such an incredible story teller as an adult, (and a gorgeous person), certainly did not occur to me, but I am so glad she did.

Lesa said...

Evy, I hope Rebecca will come back and read your comment. I'm sure she will appreciate it. And, your description of that train coming while you stood there is terrifying.