Profile of Kit Sloane

Kit Sloane Goes From Final Cut to Grape Noir on Her Home (California) Ground

by G. Miki Hayden

Kit Sloane is an author who writes elegantly. She understands her characters and doesn't skimp on their motivations. Her sophisticated understanding of the world translates onto the page with beauty, honesty, and a direct communication of her great love of writing. Sloane comprehends the psychology of the reader and knows how and when to tantalize and how to maintain interest.

But getting into the mystery business wasn't a short, easy journey for her. The trip to publication rarely is instantaneous and some writers begin their careers more misunderstood than others.

More than a decade ago, Sloane decided to take a year off from her job as a medical office manager. Her husband had just been granted his Ph.D. in political science and had landed a coveted teaching job at St. Mary's College in the Bay Area. "It was now my turn.," Sloane states. "I wanted to see if I could actually write a novel. Išve always been a voracious reader and I love the intricacies of mysteries, so I hoped to try one." She never went back to her office job.

"After writing that first book, I was aghast to realize that finishing one meant that people expected to see it in print," Sloane laughs. "Išd never even considered that aspect of the business." Her timing in trying to sell the book was terrible, as the industry was in a phase of cutbacks, mergers, and consolidations--an atmosphere in which a first-time novelist was hardly what the nervous editors sought.

She had enthusiastic and well-meaning agents, too, but such are the vicissitudes of the publishing industry that Sloane wrote several novels without a single interested nibble. Her first series, set in the horse world at a boarding stable, was abandoned to a merry life of passing from friend to friend, while Sloane, despite a lack of interest in her full-length tales, bravely forged ahead in her writing career. She wrote articles about the art of writing and lectured on the topic. She sold short mystery stories and became fiction editor for Futures literary magazine, a stint now over.

But, finally, increasingly frustrated over not selling her books, Sloane decided to try a new cast of characters with different background interests. Well, meet Margot OšBanion Lake, Sloane's new protagonist, the one who showed up in Sloane's first-published novel, Final Cut from Deadly Alibi Press, as well as in the sequel, Grape Noir.

Margot, a highly successful film editor, comes across as a quiet, shy, intensely creative person. She is someone who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, but who often finds herself thrust into quite disturbing circumstances. Then, either the threat of physical danger or moral considerations force her into action.

To provide contrast to the reticent heroine, Sloane teamed her up with flamboyant boyfriend, Max Skull, a director who has become the latest Hollywood sensation ("the flavor of the week," he says about his success). "Max and Margo's chemistry suit my imagination to a tee," says Sloane. "Ahh, bliss. New protagonists with all the quirks and weaknesses that make us humans so interesting. Adding their friends and acquaintances, I have a new set of people who are fun to write about."

At last, with the submission of Final Cut to DAP, Sloane found a publisher who admires offbeat mysteries and who wants to promote her mystery series. Final Cut takes place in Northern California, in the valley in which Sloane and husband make their home. "I love the physical beauty of our ranch," she remarks. "I love having the deer eat my flowers and watching the horses from my windows. I chose it as the place where Margot and Max have their first adventure because it's high desert country, mountainous and rugged. The remote valleys are just that--remote."

In this first novel, Margot and Max come to Sloane's area to film a segment of Skull's cowboy opus. The two are hosted by a strange pair of elderly twin women, one the widow of a famed, prior-era film editor. The ambiance is creepy and danger abounds.

Next, issued in the Spring of 2001, is Grape Noir, in which Margot and Max involve themselves with food and wine groupies and Hollywood wannabees in Napa, California, vine-growing country near Sloane's own ranch. "In Grape Noir, the victims might dispute the claim that red wine is good for your health," Sloane asserts, deadpan. The area and the making of wine provide a strong and involving background to the novel.

Living her life as an artist of the word, Sloane looks to other authors for occasional inspiration. One of her favorite mystery novelists is the great P.D. James. "I admire her sense of place, the way she lures the reader into the scenes' settings, her use of architectural details," Sloane comments. "I remember scenes from her books long after I've read or reread the book."

John LeCarre, another of her best-loved authors, hits the spot with his descriptions and his deep, edifying, and satisfying characterizations. "To me, without description and characterization, you just have a plot-driven story that is indistinguishable from a million others," Sloane states. "In other words, you could substitute one set of characters or another place with the same storyline and no one would notice."

People, however, not books, are her greatest stimulus. "In writing the elderly twin sisters in Final Cut, I couldnšt stop thinking about two women who regaled me with their hilarious anecdotes one afternoon over tea. These were not the genteel little old ladies, Išd imagined they would be. These were absolutely vital and amazing people with strong opinions and great senses of humor."

Sloane's plot ideas come, in part, from newspaper headlines. "I see a little blurb on a page and my imagination fills in the rest." For instance, a bland banner like `Insurers Take Over Film,' about a completion bond company assuming control of an over-budget film sets her to thinking. "I have to wonder what the people who work for a completion bond company are like.... And how does the present film company accept having to take orders under stress from these people? Conflict. Great!"

Sloane's husband, the Professor, is in charge of devising her novels' working titles. Steve Sloane, says Kit, is also a fine horseman. But simply having the interest and riding for the fun of it aren't enough. He runs a program from their ranch that teaches riding and horsemanship to people with disabilities.

Son Jonathan, who is bilingual from years spent teaching in Costa Rica, now teaches junior high in the L.A. school system. And daughter Annie makes her living as an artist in Los Angeles. She put together the painting/photography collage that is Final Cut's cover and designed the cover of Grape Noir

. What Sloane has set about explaining to readers in her first released novel is that "life is mysterious. Great and fascinating things can happen when we are prepared for the infinite variety of circumstances that constitute an interesting life.

"Most of us, however, are not particularly prepared for lifešs adventures," she adds. "We meet troubled, troubling people. We meet great characters. We find ourselves in situations not of our making. Life is mysterious because these things happen randomly." When they happen to intriguing characters written by skilled novelists, then this is the stuff of which riveting mysteries are made.

G. Miki Hayden teaches mystery writing at Her book, Writing the Mystery, will be out from Intrigue Press in September 2001. She has two novels in print.

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