Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Hi Fiona, I’m Tracee de Hahn, thanks for hosting me!
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born in Cape Girardeau, which sounds exotic, particularly when said by my husband with his European accent. In actuality, it is a small city located on the Mississippi River in Missouri. “The Cape” referred to a rock promontory overlooking the river. When I was quite young my family moved to Kentucky.
To me, “where are you from” is interesting because I modify my response according to the questioner. Now that I live in Virginia I tend to say Kentucky. If I meet someone from the American South I might say I grew up in Kentucky, but my family is from Arkansas (whereupon distant relatives start to interconnect in our conversation). When I lived in Europe I said the United States. Often while traveling in the Far East or India I say the US and the immediate reply is New York or California?
Fiona: A little about yourself (i.e., your education, family life, etc.).
I stayed in Kentucky for university and graduate school – a bachelor of architecture followed by a master’s degree in history. After practicing architecture for some time I moved to Europe with my husband who is Swiss and Canadian. We lived in Venice before moving to Switzerland where we were based in Lausanne. Eventually we returned to the states, living in Kentucky, California and now Virginia.
When Henri and I married we were torn between a wedding in the US and one in Europe but either way privileged one side of the family or the other…. We happened upon the idea of being married crossing between the continents. Unfortunately, that year the Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II could no longer perform marriage shipboard. After re-grouping we decided to marry in Hong Kong (another between two continents places). It was magical – we had a small service with witnesses, then a lovely dinner at the house of a friend on Victoria Peak overlooking the harbour. The house had an indoor swimming pool and our hostess spread rose petals across the water. We return to Hong Kong frequently and over the years have expanded our love of the far east to include Japan and India. (My husband adds Singapore to his list, but I haven’t travelled there yet.)
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I’m very excited to welcome my newest niece Charlotte to the world. I know it is expected to say that she is beautiful but she truly is! In a photograph you wonder if she is real or if she’s a perfect ‘baby doll.’
At home the news is that my second book, A WELL-TIMED MURDER launches the 6th of February while thefirst book in the series, SWISS VENDETTA, is out in paperback in January. Every time a new edition arrives the thrill is renewed. I had no idea what to expect when SWISS VENDETTA came out in audio and large print and seeing that cover art was amazing. I should add that seeing my book in the Zurich airport bookstore was a big thrill. I was jet lagged but that certainly woke me up!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
While I was in architecture school my father was a practicing Emergency Medicine physician. This meant he worked several days in a row then had several days off. He had the idea for a story and, since I was a voracious reader, he asked me if I thought we could turn his idea into a book. I was excited about the idea – plus he was paying my tuition! – and we spent a summer writing. It was a self-taught master’s class involving lots of research, lots of examination of other books, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Theresult was a thriller, and in retrospect I think that it was quite good. Interestingly, neither of us were much into sales so we didn’t push for publication. We did go on to write another book, which I really think was quite good.
By this point I had the bug. I started my architecture career and kept writing. I moved to Europe and kept writing. Honestly, I was obsessed with stories and putting words on paper. It wasn’t until a few years ago that a British friend insisted I make an effort to be published. Maybe it was simply the right time, but it all came into place.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I signed the contact with my agent and a few months later with my publisher.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
If you mean the first one I wrote alone…. I was on the writing train by then. I always read widely – although mysteries were my first love because of Agatha Christie – and I tried my hand at a few genres. Thrillers with my father, a romance on my own, before turning to a mystery. That mystery is the one that was published as SWISS VENDETTA. The literal inspiration was life in Switzerland. I had in mind a chateau based on Chateau Chillon and a manor house attached to a Romanesque church owned by friends of ours on Lac Leman. Next question was who lives there and why does someone die on their property?
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I had a very different working title and my agent said Switzerland is too important to the book to not include it in the title. We bounced ideas around involving Swiss and Switzerland coupled with other words. Vendetta was the right pick! The next in the series is A WELL-TIMED MURDER and I knew we couldn’t keep Swiss in every title but I tried the same technique using words that represented the theme. My publisher liked the working title and it remained!
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
That’s a hard question to answer. I suppose that my writing style is my own and I can’t characterize it differently. I do love descriptions and have to remember to trim them! And readers say that they can tell I have a love of architecture because the places feel real. Recently I had a colleague in the publishing industry say that he liked A WELL-TIMED MURDER and its pacing, and that he found my style almost journalistic.
As far as genre goes, writing in the mystery genre means you have to embrace it. Or at least start off from a point of respect. Clues must be given, along with red-herrings. The reader wants to be challenged, yet the solution must be reasonable. As a mystery writer I am often reminded that all stories are a mystery – why was her heart broken, why did they lose the farm, why did the family emigrate? In all stories there is a search and a reason.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Such a great question. Nothing is literally based on someone or something. That said (and it’s almost like a legal disclaimer!) everything is based on something real. For example, in SWISS VENDETTA, Vladimir Arsov’s backstory is based on the tremendous amount of reading I did for my master’s degree with a concentration in Russian history. While his story is not true, there is truth in it. The marquise is another good example. My mother-in-law was the daughter of Swedish and Canadian diplomats and she had a fascinating childhood (pre-World War II). Then she married a Baltic baron. She was certainly the inspiration for the marquis. Not in the details of their lives, or where they are from, but in their attitude toward life, and a certain stoicism toward the past and the future.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I am perhaps fortunate to have travelled a great deal. I first went to Europe when I was sixteen and have been back nearly every year since then, and that’s over thirty years ago. Since the Agnes Lüthi series is set in Switzerland, I am able to pull upon my memories of living there, and past visits to set the basic structure of the books. I then make a specific trip or trips to see the places again, and to talk to people about details of the book. For example, planning A WELL-TIMED MURDER I knew that I wanted the crime to focus on the watchmaking industry since it is central to the Swiss economy. We have good friends who own their own watchmaking company and they were a starting point for my journey of discovery. I hadn’t been to Baselworld – the annual watch and jewellery show – and when I arrived I knew that I had my openingscene.
I plan to spend several months in Switzerland next year, a great fact finding adventure! This time living in the Italian speaking Ticinese region.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
St. Martin’s Press, which is the parent of the Minotaur Press mystery imprint, handles all of the cover design and they have done a marvellous job. When I saw the very first cover I had no pre-conceived notion and it was perfect. The designs are based on iconic images featured on Swiss post cards in the early part of the twentieth century.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I hope that they have some pleasure diving into a world they may not know, or one that they are returning to from their armchair. That’s the first objective. Beyond that, I hope that the experiences of the characters, where their personal and work lives intersect, resonate. Agnes is a recently widowed mother of three and we see her mainly through her work. I know that some readers will wonder – where are the kids? For me, Agnes is a woman making her way in the world, wanting to create a center that is a balance of family and ‘other’ life and experiences. (I have taken care that her children are in the very good hands with their grandparents. They aren’t abandoned. Although these decisions haunt Agnes even when she knows she’s right.)
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I recently finished a book by Susan Rivers titled THE SECOND MRS. HOCKADAY. It is a mystery, but not a mystery. It is the story of a woman during the American Civil War, and at the heart of her story a mystery emerges (technically it is a death, and they suspect murder). But it doesn’t read like a mystery novel. At the end the mystery is explained (which does feel like a mystery novel). I enjoyed this book on many levels.
As far as a favorite author. I find that difficult to answer. I have so many ‘old favorites’ including Martha Grimes andElizabethGeorge. And there are the truly old favorites, the classics, including Agatha Christie. Today I find myself reading so widely I perhaps haven’t latched onto a new one.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
The Angonkian New York Pitch Conference. What a great experience and great people.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely. I have the good fortune to write full time now. This allows me flexibility to travel – there is nothing like the thrill of meeting readers in stores or libraries or through book clubs. I’ve had great fun Skyping book clubs who are too distant to visit in person.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
The impossible question. I’m sure that if I set it aside and revisited it in a year I would change things, but that is writing. Nothing is ever perfect – quite possibly this is why so many people never finish their manuscripts. All I hope to do is learn from my ‘mistakes.’ I should note that part of never being satisfied is that every reader approaches the book from a different perspective. I’ve even changed my feeling about a book dependant on when I read it. I’m sure that with each reading I would find something entirely different to change. In the end, like life, once the moment has passed it is over and written into the annals of time.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Absolutely. I learned quite a bit about the specifics of watchmaking and the industry in general. Part of the setting is also at a boarding school and my husband took advantage of this to clarify the experience he had. (He started in boarding school just after turning 9, quite a young age.)
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I never have an answer for this. A film is so entirely different from a book and I would trust that the director understood the project and would make the best decision.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Keep at it. Read as much as you can, and write as much as you can (that may mean five minutes a day or five hours). Don’t ignore expert advice. As writers we are so close to our projects that objectivity is difficult. Listen to criticism, set it aside and listen again when it’s not so fresh. The best books have probably been edited so many times it would make your head hurt. Writing is really re-writing. Prepare for that.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Mainly, thanks. Time is a precious commodity and I want to thank each and every person who shared time with me. And thanks for the many emails sharing your favorite parts, asking questions or simply talking about your experiences and how the book resonated with you.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Hmmm. I’m at the selection stage tonight. My To Be Read pile is huge; however, I suspect I may turn to non-fiction for a bit since I’m also trying to make great headway on my own work. Non-fiction can clear the head.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I would be hard pressed to name the first book. Probably one by Dr. Seuss. By the end of 1st grade I’d read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE books, by the end of 4th grade all of Agatha Christie’s. That was a pretty good start.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Cry? Practically anything. Any sort of dramatic music – I’m the person who cries at commercials. Laugh? That’s a harder question. I suppose I see joy in many things and laughter follows.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
This is a constantly changing list. Recently, I’ve been thinking about Winston Churchill. You ask what makes me cry – turn on a clip of Churchill’s funeral, at the point where the river cranes bow to the barge passing with his body. I know that it was planned as part of the overall parade ceremony but it was so incredibly effective. Even writing this I am teary eyed. Seriously.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Oh, yes, I come from a family of hobbyists! I particularly enjoy painting, mainly portraits. I would like to enjoy gardening more than I do. I think I undertake too much and it is literally fatiguing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I was a huge fan of JUSTIFIED, probably because Timothy Olyphant was fantastic. Plus I’m from Kentucky and loved seeing how the state and its culture were portrayed.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
The list of favorites would be too long, which likely means I don’t really have favorites. In my family we ask“if you could only have one type of cheese for the rest of your life what would it be?”Gruyère, is the easy (and only correct answer). I’m also a big fan of chocolate and bourbon. Really big fan.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I’ll always write. Even if I have to speak into a recorder instead of using my hands.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
I don’t have words in mind as much as I envision an entire carved effigy – there is a lovely one of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I would look very nice carved in stone!
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
They can find all things Tracee at www.traceedehahn.com including links to my appearances and other updates. They can also sign up for my newsletter and my blog. I also blog with a great group of mystery and thriller writers at MissDemeanors.com
To A WELL-TIMED MURDER (arrives in stores February 6)
Barnes & Noble: http://hyperurl.co/WTMBN
Paperback edition of SWISS VENDETTA (which arrives in stores Jan 9), as well:
Barnes & Noble: http://hyperurl.co/SwissTPBN
Fiona, thanks for having me!