Publisher: Seventh Street Books
An Interview with
1. What do you think sets your detectives, Giuliana and Renzo, apart from other detectives?
One way they’re set apart is by having spouses and young children, like most people their age. After all, who can imagine Reacher, Spenser, Kinsey Milhone, or Mary Russell with a conventional family life? I think that, for readers, watching Giuliana and Renzo interact with their kids gives the characters depth, and it also gives me a chance to show the book’s concerns infiltrating the detectives’ homes. A problem like bullying, for example, can cause a child to cry—or it can cause a murder.
I’m certainly not the only writer to give cops families. Deborah Crombie’s police detectives, for example, are married to each other and have a patchwork family; their children are part of every book she writes.
2. How have real world Swiss political issues shaped Pesticide?
For a start, the rave-turned-riot that begins the book is based on something that really happened in Bern in 2013. Afterward, Swiss journalists argued in the press about whether or not the police had overreacted.
Two other topics that shaped Pesticide’s plot are drug-dealing and organic farming. While Switzerland may have a reputation for being clean and orderly, that doesn’t keep it from having the same problems with illegal narcotics that most wealthy countries do. It was fascinating to talk to two of Bern’s public prosecutors about which drugs in the city give them the most headaches. As for organic farmers, they’re a politically active part of both Bern’s and Switzerland’s agricultural scenes.
3. What do you think makes a “good person” in crime fiction?
I’ve thought quite a lot about this, because I wanted my two detectives to be unmistakably ‘good guys’, but without getting on my readers’ nerves. I also didn’t want most of my criminals to be complete ‘bad guys’, because, well, most people aren’t that simple. I believe some people are truly evil, though, and I’ve got some of them in my books, as well. I’m very interested in what makes someone consider themselves a good person, because it clearly depends on all kinds of factors, like nationality, gender, profession, religion, and much more. I wrote my doctoral dissertation about adolescents trying to figure out how to be ‘good’, and that was long before I started to write murder mysteries, so you can see this is a long-term interest of mine.
4. How have the places you’ve lived affected your writing?
I wouldn’t have felt comfortable setting a novel in Bern and making all the characters Swiss if I hadn’t lived in the city for thirty-three years. I lived in San Juan, Vancouver, Stockholm (and six US states) before I moved to Bern, but I don’t think that has influenced Pesticide in a direct way. I do think growing up in different cultures has made me aware of how differently we react to everything from babies to alcohol, from a kiss on the cheek to a death in the family. That’s one of the reasons I gave Renzo Donatelli, one of my two detectives, Italian parents, so that he could roll his eyes every now and then at Swiss behavior.
5. What advice or resources helped you when you were working towards becoming a full-time author?
Few people can afford to write full time. There’s the huge problem of money, since writing doesn’t pay well, and also the distraction of all the other responsibilities most adults deal with every day. I didn’t switch to full time writing until my son left for college, and even then I eased out of my job, cutting down on my hours bit by bit. I was extremely fortunate that my husband could earn enough alone to support us. Another, completely different kind of resource I was lucky to have was a group of friends and family members who were willing to read what I wrote and give me useful feedback. Believe me, a writer can’t take that for granted—it’s a huge help.
6. What kind of research went into Pesticide?
Pesticide is the first novel in the Polizei Bern series, so the most important research I’ve done is on how Bern’s police force works. Luckily, I have a wonderful neighbor who’s a high-ranking police officer. I’ve also walked organic farms with their farmers and interviewed farm inspectors. I’ve learned how illegal (non-medicinal) marijuana is grown and sold in Bern, and I’ve spent time in the city’s alternative culture center, the Riding School, which plays an interesting role in the book. It’s always important to remember, though, that mysteries are fiction, which means the people who write them don’t have to be accurate all the time. Sometimes, for example, buildings appear where they never stood, and jobs get created that don’t exist–all in service to the plot!
7. How did you approach blending romantic elements into a mystery?
That’s a good question, because I was surprised by how hard I found it to write realistically about two adults—not crazy-in-love teenagers—trying to manage their romantic feelings for each other while working together. And, on top of that, they’re two married adults with kids. Romance is particularly difficult when you’re writing a series since you know that anything that happens between your characters in Book One will have repercussions in Book Two. So how did I approach romance? With extreme caution. I guess it’ll be up to my readers to decide if what I wrote worked.