Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Hackney street food and Montana detectives: an interview with Karin Salvalaggio

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the fifth instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 177th overall edition of our long-running author interview series!

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had a lot of fun talking to some amazing crime writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. What a line-up. Thanks everyone.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been part of the 9mm series, please do let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. We've got a few more interviews with cool writers 'already in the can' that will be published soon, so lots to look forward to over the coming weeks and months.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Karin Salvalaggio to Crime Watch. Karin was born in West Virginia and is the author of the Detective Macy Greeley series set in Montana, but has lived in London for the past twenty-plus years (other than two years in Italy). Being largely in one place is rather a change from Karin's nomadic childhood, where as a 'military brat' she moved frequently. As her bio says, "she’s lived in places as climatically diverse as Alaska and Florida and as culturally distinct as California and Iran". All that moving around played a part in her early love of books.

Karin debuted in 2014, with BONE DUST WHITE, where heavily pregnant Detective Macy Greeley travels to small-town Montana to talk to a traumatised young girl who has witnessed the murder of her estranged mother. It's a case that brings to light lots of secrets and tears at old scandals in a place that's struggling economically and socially. Karin, who has an MA in Creative Writing, has followed that book up with three further Macy Greeley mysteries, the latest being SILENT RAIN.

But for now, Karin Salvalaggio becomes the latest member of the 9mm club.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I’ve always been drawn to strong, female-led, crime fiction but have not been properly obsessed with a series since the days Patricia Cromwell and Kathy Reichs reigned supreme. There was a time when I could not get enough of Kay Scarpetta and Temperance Brennan. I devoured those books. I’m sure having a science background fuelled my obsession. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d have gone into criminal forensics.

More recently, I’ve enjoyed Val McDermind’s books as Karen Pirie is my kind of complex heroine. Ditto for Tana French’s Cassie Maddox. Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson is a welcome addition to the action thriller genre. It’s nice to see a female character out there kicking ass as a bounty hunter. And if you haven’t read Rattle and The Bone Collector by Fiona Cummins, you’re in for a treat. The troubled detective Etta Fitroy is hugely entertaining.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Though there were books that inspired me in my early years, I’m going to give SE Hinton all the credit for making me want to read my way through the rest of my adult life. The Outsiders; That Was Then, This is Now; and Rumble Fish are three of my all-time favourite books.

I was in high school when I first read The Outsiders. The author was only 15 years old when she wrote it so she understood what it was like to be a teenager growing up in America. Set in an Oklahoma high school, the coming of age story follows the relationship between two young men as they negotiate a confusing world of gang violence, underage drinking, and family dysfunction. The characters, setting and storyline were all immediately recognisable to me. In a single stroke SE Hinton democratiSed fiction. Not only could I, as a teenager, consider writing a book, but I also was free to depict the world from my point of view. All that really mattered was the story.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I wrote a lot of bad poetry and a few mercifully unpublished YA novels. Over the years the poetry has improved but I shelved the idea of writing a YA novel when I realised I wanted to write for adults. While I was doing my MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, I wrote a short story that was published in an anthology. “Walleye Junction” bore no mention of special investigator Macy Greeley, the detective who was to feature in my crime series set in Montana, but the work was pivotal, as I believed it was the first time readers really connected with my writing on an emotional level. In a sense you could say that I found my territory. The style and tone of the four Greeley novels owes much to that work. It’s no accident that the third book in my series is also called Walleye Junction.

Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I was at a talk Hilary Mantel gave when she described the perfect holiday as one where she could write and read more than she does normally. I’m with Hilary on this one. I love writing and second to that, I love reading. I spend a great deal of time, leisure and otherwise, doing both. Other than that, I enjoy cooking, taking my dog on long walks along the Thames, exploring London’s galleries, going to pubs, and spending time with my children and friends. If I had the money I’d travel more. I’m thinking of treating myself to a good six months abroad next year. A combination of California, Canada, Italy, and France sounds about right. All I need to do is sell the house and get Seamus a pet passport and I’m off.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider? 
That’s is a bit of a difficult question as I never actually lived in my hometown, having moved to Iran shortly after my birth. Besides, I’m not sure the town where I was born does much in the way of tourist trade. The last time someone I know was in Beckley, West Virginia they were chased out of their old neighbourhood by meth addicts.

I’ve lived in London longer than I’ve lived anywhere else so I’m going to cheat and call it my hometown. I’m not sure if there’s anything left to do in London that isn’t already in the tourist brochures. I enjoy going on what I lovingly refer to as ‘urban safaris’. If the weather is nice start at Angel Tube Station and head east along the Regent’s Canal. On Saturdays you can stop off at Broadway Market in Hackney to enjoy some proper street food. After lunch continue walking along the canal all the way to Canary Wharf where you can catch a ferry back to Embankment. If all else fails, it’s a great way to see London’s backside.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Please let it be Jessica Chastain. Barring that, Idris.

Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
Bone Dust White will always have a special place in my heart as it was my debut and the first novel in the Macy Greeley Mystery Series, but it wasn’t an easy delivery. Man, did I suffer for that book! Relatively speaking, my second novel Burnt River was a breeze. I learned so much from the mistakes I’d made in the process of writing my debut that Burnt River’s stories and characters flowed right from the start. Both novels are highly complex and packed with characters who I grew to love as much as my children––Macy, Grace, Jared, Hayley, Jessie, Dylan. I miss you!

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
Shock. I was definitely in shock. I’d almost given up on Bone Dust White’s publication when Matt Martz (formerly of Minotaur and now at Crooked Lane) saved my proverbial bacon. I was so relieved, I barely noticed that I only had four weeks to complete the massive rewrite that was required. As I’m published in the US and not the UK where I live, it was a long time before I saw my novel in an actual book store. I was in Hamburg Airport when the moment came. After disembarking I stopped in a bookstore to buy some gum and there I was on the shelves and proudly speaking in German! I think I may have squealed. I definitely took a couple of selfies. I excel at selfies.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
It wasn’t particularly strange, but it was kind of funny. It happened when I was attending my first Bouchercon in Long Beach, California. In truth, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing there. My debut novel had come out in May and the uber-talented Deborah Crombie strongly advised that I attend. So, there I was wide-eyed, jet-lagged, and completely overwhelmed.

At some point, I struck up a conversation with Lee Child on an escalator (Did I mention that I’ll talk to anyone?). I’d recently learned that my German cousin was an uber-fan and would love me forever if I managed to get Lee Child to sign one of his books. I asked Lee if he minded if I took up a bit of his time and, as he was and is utterly charming, he said yes. Anyway, we were standing at a table chatting after he signed a copy of Personal when we spotted a very excited woman coming toward us. I assumed the woman in question was looking for Lee Child so began to make my exit. She said something like, ‘Thank God, I finally found you. I’ve been looking everywhere.’ She then held up a copy of my debut novel Bone Dust White. She wasn’t coming for Lee. She was coming for me!

I’m not sure but that may have been the moment my career peaked.

Thanks Karin, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch.

You can keep up to date with Karin and her writing by following her Facebook author page, or on Twitter. 

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