An Interview with Anita Page
By Cherie Jung
DAMNED IF YOU DON'T by Anita Page, is set in a small community in the Catskill Mountains and introduces readers to community activist Hannah Fox and Senior Investigator Jack Grundy.
1. Am I correct that DAMNED IF YOU DON'T is your first published book? Is it your first book that you have written? (For example, I have six unsold/unpublished novels in my file cabinets. If I ever get a book published, it won't likely be the first one I actually wrote.) You don't write like a beginner, you write like a seasoned pro. What's your secret?
AP: Cherie, thank you for those very kind words, and for the opportunity to do this interview. DIYD is my second novel. In the first, I was truly walking around blindfolded and bumping into walls. I'm sure it would have taken me longer to turn out a publishable manuscript if not for the help of a wonderful writers' group. Also, while struggling through that first book, I began reading other writers analytically, trying to understand what makes a novel work and what I was doing wrong. For example, I remember reading Donna Leon and being struck by a beautifully economic scene in which Brunetti has dinner with a friend. As I read the scene I began to understand the difference between dialogue, which moves the plot along, and the kind of chit chat I was writing that did the opposite.
2. According to a printed bio I read, you have experience as a freelance feature writer for a regional newspaper and have several published short stories. Some say a short story writer can't write a good novel and vice versa. Clearly, in your case, that's not true. Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you think that your work as a freelance journalist gives you an edge, a writing edge, when it comes to writing both long and short fiction?
AP: It's true that novel writing and short story writing make different demands, but many writers do both well. I've heard people suggest that writing short stories is a warm-up for writing a novel, as if one is easier than the other. That makes as little sense to me as claiming sprinting is practice for long-distance running.
Journalism taught me to respect the truth, to listen when people speak, to write to deadline, to write tight, and to expect to be edited — all very useful lessons when it comes to writing fiction.
3. Aside from the fact that there isn't a lot of money in short story writing (there isn't all that much in book length writing either, I would imagine) do you have a preference for writing short fiction or novel length fiction? If so, why?
AP: For me, writing a short story is pure pleasure. I love the fact that I can see the story as a whole from the beginning. Of course a story might change along the way, but still there's a sense of being able to hold the thing in your hand. Also, I enjoy the demands that short stories make in terms of language — saying more with less, getting rid of the flab.
The pleasure of writing a novel comes from creating a fictional world, and characters about whom you care deeply. The hard part for me is working in the dark — making that leap of faith that allows one to follow the headlights, as E.L. Doctorow suggested.
4. Back in the 70s, I used to volunteer with a Suicide Prevention Hotline and an all-night crisis chat line at a local drug clinic. Domestic abuse calls were rather rare for us back then, but still chilling. You handled the topic so well in DAMNED IF YOU DON'T. Are you a trained counselor, or do you have some experience volunteering at a crisis hotline?
AP: Cherie, it's very gratifying to hear from someone with your background that I got it reasonably right in the book. I have no training and I never volunteered for a hotline, but (also back in the 70s; it seems we're of the same generation) like Hannah, I worked with a group of friends who were community activists, and very much involved in feminist issues. That included offering support to women who were victims of domestic violence.
5. Do you plan to develop a Hannah Fox Catskill Mountain Mystery series? If so, do you intend to keep the dark edge?
AP: I intend to keep writing about Hannah Fox and Jack Grundy, both in short stories and in the next novel, which is actually a couple of shades darker than DIYD. I'm not sure 'series' is the right word for it, but I'll let readers decide.
6. When you started writing DAMNED IF YOU DON'T were you thinking in terms of a series or did you have a story to tell whether it resulted in a series character or not?
AP: I started writing DIYD because I wanted to tell the story, and I also wanted to write about Hannah and her friends and the fictional Catskill Mountain community that very much resembles the town in which I lived after leaving New York City. At the time, I wasn't thinking much beyond the first book. In fact, my big fear was that I'd be hit by a bus before I could finish it.
7. Are you working on a new book now? Any details you'd like to share? Topic? Publication date?
AP: The new book is coming along slowly, but I hope to have it finished by the end of the year. To further address the series question: I made the decision to set the new book in Laurel Pond and to keep Hannah and Jack as important characters, but to introduce a new protagonist. The reason for the change is that I didn't want to turn Hannah into a serial amateur sleuth, which would be out of character for her. My new protag is a young journalist, a woman with a very dark past who investigates a story in which Hannah has a heavy emotional stake.
8. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
AP: MURDER NEW YORK STYLE: FAMILY MATTERS, the third anthology by members of the New York/Tri-State chapter of Sisters in Crime, and on which I served as editor, will be available in September from Glenmere Press. We're going to be signing and selling the book at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and I invite anyone who attends to stop by the SinC/NY table and say hi.
Cherie, thank you again for the invitation and for the great questions. It's been a pleasure.
DAMNED IF YOU DON'T is available as an eBook from Glenmere Press. It was originally published in 2012 by L&L Dreamspell.
The author's short stories have appeared in anthologies, e-zines and print journals, including MURDER NEW YORK STYLE (L&L Dreamspell), MURDER NEW YORK STYLE: FRESH SLICES (L&L Dreamspell), THE GIFT OF MURDER (Wolfmont Press), THE PROSECUTION RESTS (Little, Brown), Beat to a Pulp, Mysterical-e, The Back Alley, Kings River Life, Word Riot, Mouth Full of Bullets, and Ball State University Forum. She received a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society in 2010 for "'Twas the Night," which appeared in THE GIFT OF MURDER. (Note: Both Murder New York Style anthologies are soon to be re-released as eBooks by Glenmere Press.)
Anita Page can be found online at www.womenofmystery.net and www.anitapagewriter.blogspot.com.
Please click here to read a review of DAMNED IF YOU DON'T by Anita Page.
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