If you’ve been reading my reviews, you know that I adore The Sasha Jackson mysteries– Blood and Groom and Dead Light District— by Toronto author Jill Edmondson. I met Jill via Twitter and we have quite a bit in common. We’re both single, childless, writers (though she’s published books and I’m in-progress) and strong feminists who like good music. Sasha Jackson is liberal, savvy, strong, daring and a fascinating private detective character.
Recently, Jill agreed to answer a few questions.
Amy Steele: Why did you decide to write mysteries?
Jill Edmondson: The short answer is because I’ve read so many of them, and I eventually began to read them with an analytical and critical eye. I did a fair bit of work on women in Crime Fiction when I was doing my MA. As well, for many years I ran a mystery book club, and a few years ago, I was a judge for the Arthur Ellis awards… in which I had to read over 50 mystery novels in four months! After reading as many as I had, I thought to myself “Hey, I can do this…”
Amy Steele: Is there some sort of fellowship of mystery writers?
Jill Edmondson: Yes, indeed there is. We trade-off tips about poisons, bullet wounds, and which cops are on the take. You must know the secret handshake to join the inner circle.
Amy Steele: How important is place to a mystery story?
Jill Edmondson: In my opinion, it’s very important. I believe that setting becomes a character (and I don’t think this applies exclusively to crime fiction). Each city has its own personality, its own vibe. Agatha Christie’s works wouldn’t be the same if they were set in Vancouver, and Raymond Chandler’s books wouldn’t be the same if they were set in Des Moines.
Amy Steele: I read an interview you did with another author on your blog. You mentioned that setting a story in Canada and its appeal to American audiences. Can you expound on that?
Jill Edmondson: The quick answer is that I like proving people wrong…
First of all, I live in Toronto (and have lived in Ottawa and Mexico as well). I have read tons of mysteries, and a high percentage of them are set in London, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and I’ve never lived in any of those places; nevertheless, I enjoyed the books. I like taking a little escape to the hard-boiled streets of LA or to Spenser’s Boston.
There seems to be a belief among Canucks (or at least among Canadian writers, agents and publishers) that if a book is going to “make it” it can’t have a Canadian setting. We’re told to substitute New York or Chicago for Toronto, Dallas for Calgary, and Seattle for Vancouver.
Let’s face it: Canada’s population is too small for a writer to achieve much $ucce$$ (this applies to musicians, actors, artists, etc. as well) and we need to “break into” the American market. While I recognize that we do indeed need to create a presence south of the border, I think it’s short-sighted and a bit parochial to buy into the myth that Americans don’t like reading a story set outside the boundaries of the USA.
Amy Steele: Your descriptions of Toronto make me want to visit very soon. How do you decide what to include and how much to say so that the story’s not overwhelming with detail or lacking detail?
Jill Edmondson: Many of the places Sasha goes are places where I’ve hung out, or neighbourhoods that I’ve lived in, or restaurants that I frequent, or bar where I worked when I was a student. I worked at The Pilot when I was in university, I love Café Diplomatico on College Street. Once upon a time I lived about two blocks from where the bulk of Dead Light District takes place. Woody’s (where Todd does his drag show) is real, so is the Wheat Sheaf (I went there for wings and beer when I was writing Blood and Groom), “Chadwick’s” is loosely based on Holt Renfrew, “Pastiche” is loosely based on Adega, Sasha’s office in Blood and Groom is where I once rented an office (with equally shady fellow tenants!), Sasha’s new office near St. Lawrence Market is one of my favourite parts of the city.
Best writing advice EVER: Write what you know. Sasha’s impressions of places generally echo my own, and she notices the same things that I do. An author I once met said that writing is about observations, that writers are observers, and I couldn’t agree more.
Amy Steele: What do you like best about Sasha?
Jill Edmondson: I love the fact that she has the balls to do things I never would or could (no matter how much tequila I had to drink) And I really wish I could sing and/or play the drums! She’s fearless and confident. .. Attagirl!
Amy Steele: What do you and Sasha have in common?
Jill Edmondson: Attitudinally and philosophically we are the same. I share Sasha’s views on religion (!!!), politics, diversity, and her short fuse for assholes and idiots. We’re both pretty open-minded and both try to be non-judgmental. We’re also more or less the same in terms of men and relationships (commitment phobic!!!) Neither of us likes plaid or cinnamon or the letter V.
Amy Steele: What makes a good mystery?
Jill Edmondson: You probably expect me to say something here about plot, but as important as the puzzle is, it’s not the key to a good mystery, in my humble opinion.
I think a good, solid, likeable character is paramount. So many mystery writers do a series featuring a sleuth or a detecting duo and readers have to like them, whether it’s Holmes & Watson, Sam Spade, Miss Marple, the Hardy Boys, Scudder, Elvis Cole, or Stephanie Plum. Readers have to want to get together again and again with their old friends.
Amy Steele: How do you come up with your story ideas?
Jill Edmondson: The view from my (old) apartment was the inspiration for Blood and Groom.
An essay on human rights and the sex trade, which I wrote as part of my masters, was the inspiration for Dead Light District.
The crazy-assed fetish parties in the place above a bar where I worked while in university were the inspiration for The Lies Have It (coming in Fall 2011).
You gotta agree: in and among all those bushes – with the roadways & train tracks – would be a great place to kill someone… I’m just saying.
I lived on the 23rd floor of the last building in picture #3 and this was the view from there (facing west).
Amy Steele: You wrote these first two novels, Blood and Groom and Dead Light District, rather quickly it seems. How did you do it? What kind of pressure did you have?
Jill Edmondson: Blood and Groom took six months, Dead Light District took five months.
I’m single, I don’t have kids, I rarely watch TV and I am pretty high energy once I finally get moving. I’m also impatient. Once I decided to do it, I just zipped along until it was done. More or less.
On the other hand, The Lies Have It was started in 2005 and took until Christmas 2010 to finish (it still needs to be edited).
I had the hardest time making the plot work for this one, but the idea always struck me as good, so I never gave up on it, but it did spend a lot of time on the back burner.
I work somewhat flexible hours (teaching), so I take advantage of the breaks (summer, Christmas, Reading Week, etc.) to really crank it out. I like to write/edit in long stretches – I can plug away for twelve hours at a time. But then I may not even think about it for three weeks. My approach is similar to the way I tackled essays when I was a student: procrastinate and then do a marathon. It works for me, so far.
Amy Steele: What do you like best about being a writer?
Jill Edmondson: I love interacting with/hearing from readers. The writing process itself is a bit of everything – frustrating, exciting, tedious, creative, but the end result (however I manage to get there) really leads to a good feeling.
Authors write so that people will read what they’ve written. You’re putting something out there – whether it’s a poem, a novel, an article – for someone to read, and it’s essentially one-sided communication. So reactions (at a library Q & A, at a store signing, via Facebook or “fan letters” and such) are welcome, and important, and immensely satisfying.
This isn’t to say that all of the responses from readers have been positive, but I am glad to say that very few have been negative or even lukewarm reactions. The positive stuff makes me feel all warm and fuzzy (and maybe even a bit puffed up!), but I pay special attention to anything that’s lukewarm or negative; I learn from it and keep it in mind for the next book.
One fucking reviewer of Blood and Groom said there was too much fucking swearing in the fucking book, so I fucking toned it down for book fucking two. Actually, that’s a lie; in Dead Light District there’s probably just as much swearing as in book one, but I “cheated” and substituted a lot of Mexican slang/swearing for the F bombs. The same reviewer still said she’d like to wash the characters’ mouths out with soap… Guess she knows what pinche, pendejo and chinga mean.
buy the books: Dead Light District (A Sasha Jackson Mystery)