Why did you choose San Francisco to set the Women’s Murder Club series?
I’ve always loved the City by the Bay. And there’s a certain air of mystery to San Francisco that I figured would lend itself well to a detective series.
Do you know San Francisco well? It’s interesting to read the detail of where people live like Joe’s flat overlooking Presido Park – it feels like you know this city.
I have never lived there but it’s fair to accuse me of having influenced more than a few itineraries to make sure I end up there. I have spent a good chunk of time there, and on a pretty regular basis over the years.
Is Susie’s Café based on a real place? If not what inspired you to create a hangout that is a combination of a ‘Cheers’ style bar and a Tiki beach hut?
The Susie’s Café in the books doesn’t exist in real life. As to why I wanted a place with a certain down-to-earth ambiance where Lindsay and the gang could hang out, I have spent a little time around women who work together- and a little time around people faced with solving tough crimes. And it happens that a lot of them like to congregate in unpretentious, spirit-lifting places where everybody knows their names.
How do you ensure that details in your books such as court room etiquette, police methods and legal processes are technically accurate?
You mean beyond having memorized Wikipedia? I do have some very good researchers I rely upon whenever I find the story getting into technical areas. As a general rule, though, I try not to delve too deeply into intricate procedural matters. There are a lot of detective writers who make such matters their stock-and-trade and, except to maintain some degree of realism, my goal is to move the story forward rather than to highlight incidental details.
What inspires you when thinking about the plots for your books? Are they based on real life cases you’ve read or heard about?
What inspires me is when they occur to me and I go, wow, now that’s a neat idea for a story. I don’t know how to describe the process, but I have to see the whole story in my head. Crime details and the rest fall into place later, after I’ve figured out the main twists and turns.
When you develop a character such as Lindsay Boxer how much of their persona is based on a real person and how much is fictitious?
Well I’ll be in good shape if I could develop more characters like Lindsay Boxer I can tell you, so I’m not sure if I can claim there’s a formula. I’d be doing it all the time if that were the case. I’d definitely say she and my other successful characters come more out of my head than trying to capture any single real-world person.
How do you ensure characters like Yuki Castellano are convincing district attorneys?
I don’t mean to be vague, but I really think it just comes from experience meeting and listening to people. I’ve known some D.A.’s and I’ve known some ambitious young people, and maybe Yuki came from some hybrid of my insights into what makes these people tick.
Being a writer yourself – did it help you create the professional background to journalist Cindy Thomas?
I was never a newspaper reporter, but maybe there are some unique-to-being-a-writer insights that helped shape her. I hadn’t thought of it before, but it’s an interesting idea.
Have you ever spent anytime with the San Francisco Homicide Department?
Just in my head, really.
The passages in which Claire Washburn examines dead bodies – which have often met a grizzly end – seem very authentic. Did you ever visit one of these labs yourself?
I’m glad you think they’re authentic but I’m pretty squeamish about things like that. So, no.
Some of the gruesome murders in the series are incredibly plotted and beyond most people’s imagination. Where do you start when you’re dreaming up a murder situation?
Again, I’d say it has to do with how I visualize a book’s plot beforehand. I come up with a great idea for a story, I do a lot of outlining, and the murder situations usually fall out of that process.
Do you ever read about murder scenarios and think they are just too gruesome and inappropriate material for one of your novels?
It’s possible some authors scan the police blotter for scenarios like that, but it’s not my M.O. As to passing judgment on what’s appropriate or not, I mostly confine that to my all-ages thrillers like Maximum Ride and this year’s Daniel X, where I take care not to include anything that a parent wouldn’t want their child reading.
You’re writing essentially about a group of women and in some cases actually in a female voice. How do you get into the mindset of a woman?
Honestly I think it’s just a by-product of having lived my life with a lot of strong, articulate, wonderful women.
As a male writer you also seem to be able to encapsulate female camaraderie very well – how women talk and behave when they are together…
I suspect it’s just a matter of fortunate osmosis with the women in my life — from my mom, to my childhood neighbors, to my sisters, to my wife, Sue.
What inspired the storyline involving prostitute Juni Moon and the former state Governor’s son Michael Campion in 7th Heaven?
Call it superstition, but especially when we’re talking about a new book, I tend not to go into plot details, or even the inspirations for them. I’d hate to spoil anything for anybody is a part of my reasoning.
The characters Hawk & Pidge are particularly intimidating and menacing. Did you base them on anyone in particular or people you had read or heard about?
I suppose I’ve known some unpleasant people in my life but, no, they’re not based on anybody in particular. As with all my bad guys, I do take pains to make them unique and interesting, even if it’s in a repellent kind of way.
Do you get inspiration from other writers that you admire?
I draw inspiration from every book I’ve ever enjoyed. Books are what convinced me to write in the first place. If you’re looking for a list of books I’ve particularly enjoyed, I think I’ve got them listed at my website. It’s pretty wide-ranging in terms of authors – from Frederick Forsyth to James Joyce – but, sure, they’ve all inspired me immeasurably.