Sunday, July 6, 2014

Barbara Smith: Death at Painted Cave. Interview

1. When did you begin writing?  Why?

I’ve been writing since graduate school (trained as a scientist).  As I was writing a textbook, Psychology of Sex and Gender (2004), I felt constrained by the demands of scientific writing and began a novel . . . Green Grows the Grass, a complicated historical story, which I just finished!  My son was in the hospital for many months—while staying with him, I worked on a mystery that arose from my time living in Santa Barbara, California.  That book was Death at Painted Cave.  Writing helped keep me calm and allowed me to be with him and still give him space.

2. When and why did you begin writing mysteries?
I love mysteries—trying to solve a problem, after all, is what science is all about!  The draw of writing them, I suppose, is the freedom involved in creating my own mystery and then solving it. 

3. Are you writing a series or a stand-alone?  Explain your basic idea for your series.   
Death at Painted Cave is the first in the series:  Robin Crane Mysteries.   I am currently completing the second in a series, Floater in the Baltimore Harbor.  The basic idea is a series featuring a woman detective, with a young son, that combines a mystery and suspense, flavored with police procedural, as well as a dash of politics and current issues.

4. Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.
I’d written a text book that had been professionally published and was not impressed with the publication and marketing process.  I was attracted to the independence related to self-publishing and decided to give it a try.  I’m blessed with family and friends who were willing to serve as readers and provide me with feedback regarding the cover.  

5. Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?
Two of the social issues that arise in Death at Painted Cave are domestic violence and human trafficking.   Early in life, I volunteered at a shelter and was appalled, at so many levels, by domestic violence.  As a developmental psychologist I addressed domestic violence in the classroom, particularly as it relates to child development—I suppose my books are an extension of communicating my concerns.   Moreover, I lived and worked in Latin America for many years and was shocked at what I learned about the trafficking of children.  An overarching theme repeating itself in my writing relates to the effects of war on subsequent generations.

6.  How have you found it to be published?  Share that experience.

I love the sense of completion that comes with publication—with the letting go of a project that has consumed me for months and, in some cases, even years.  In addition to the feeling of accomplishment, publication enables me to more fully focus on my next project.   Exciting!

7.  Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?
The following are some of the reviews on Amazon:

· This is a terrific suspense story, I really enjoyed this book. The sense of place was well-wrought, and I'm glad to know it's going to be a series. Love female detectives. I can't say more without giving something away. So when is the next one coming up, B A.....?

· Although I've never been to Painted Cave, as a native Californian I loved being transported to this fascinating location and then led seamlessly into an intriguing story, complete with a Nicaraguan connection. Smith's finely-tuned character portrayals and the interweaving of immigrant and academic life, political intrigue and detective work are deftly melded. It looks as though Robin Crane is already on the path to tackling another mystery and I look forward to her further adventures!

· Great read! Held my attention completely and I could not put it down! Can't wait for the next Crane mystery.

· This is a very good novel. The author makes a very good job at keeping the reader engaged. What it seems a simple and straight forward crime investigation turns into an international political scandal that will have you go back to your history books (or you can Google it). If you like mystery and crime thrillers, this is the one for the season.

· I found the story and its characters very real and with so many details. You can actually see the story taking place. The author gives you the background of the story and relates it well to the progression of the plot. Robin Crane is more than a character in the story; she is a mother, a detective, and a friend. I can hear her thoughts and ideas and understand her  well.  B A brings in her own cultural knowledge through the language in the story and information about Nicaragua. It is the first Robin Crane mystery thank goodness. This character deserves more stories.

8.  What other books have you published and where, when?

Psychology of Sex and Gender, 2004, through Pearson.

9.  Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series?

Green Grows the Grass is finished.  It is currently a stand-alone, though I cut so much that there is a possibility for a follow-up. 

10.  If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How?

Absolutely!  Judy Hogan strongly recommended belonging to the Guppies—so I’m new to that group—but am looking forward to future events and developing more relationship with like-minded folks.

11.  What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

I found the greatest benefit to be the meeting with other authors.  I am pretty much isolated with my writing—the encouragement and education I received at my first Malice Domestic Conference was so helpful.

12.  What else would like to say about your books, the next one in your series?

The title for the next book in the Robin Crane Mystery series is Floater in the Baltimore Harbor.   Detective Robin Crane has left the police department of Santa Barbara, California for the Baltimore, MD, PD.   After training and some street work, she is assigned to a murder case:  the body of a young boy was discovered in a culvert.  Though apparently well-cared for, Crane and her partner do not even have an identification for the dead child.  As she works on that case, she finds herself unaccountably disturbed by the memory of a body found floating in the harbor one day while taking a walk.  Complicating the murder case are rumors of child trafficking taking place in the mid-Atlantic area.

Green Grows the Grass is a novel that pulses with an exploration of the life of Katie Stewart, a privileged professor and cancer survivor who returns to her childhood home of Costa Rica to do research.  Her close friend is Felicia, an uneducated and poor Nicaraguan who fled her war-torn homeland for prosperous Costa Rica. Through their friendship, Katie faces painful memories of her own past, including the tragic disappearance of her father.  As the novel unravels the historical and political strings connecting people, the immediate and long-lasting effects of war become heartbreakingly apparent.  


 B A Smith received her doctorate in psychology and taught and carried out research at the Johns Hopkins University for twenty years.  As a Fulbright Senior Scientist Award recipient, she studied healthcare delivery in an economically impoverished community in Costa Rica.  Smith has lived in Central America and across the United States but currently calls Maryland home, where she is at work on the next novel in the Robin Crane series, Floater in Baltimore Harbor.  Above all, she is a proud mother and grandmother who, in addition to writing, enjoys travel, gardening, and reading.


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