Andi, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.
Thanks, Jon! I appreciate this opportunity and hope everybody has an awesome start to the new year and may 2014 bring all kinds of creative output.
Let’s start off with, where do you live?
Mostly Colorado, now. I’m hoping to get back to New Mexico. I consider both CO and NM home states, but my heart is in NM.
As you probably know, writers rarely like to toot their own horns…lol, but what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
That’s kind of a philosophical question, yes? I consider weathering some icky health issues a couple years ago a great accomplishment. I also consider my academic degrees great accomplishments. Finishing a manuscript is also a great accomplishment. I really like that, when I’ve wrapped a project up and I see it out there. I love that. I do have some awards for some of my work, and I’ve made some finalists’ lists. I’ve won a Goldie (Golden Crown Literary Society [lesbian fiction]) and been a finalist a few times there; I’ve won Lesbian Fiction Readers’ Choice Awards, and one of my sci fi books won a Rainbow. One of my romance novellas was a runner-up in two categories at the Rainbows this year, which was super cool. I consider it awesome to get nominated, let alone make a finalists’ list or win. So “accomplishment” can mean a lot of different things. Just getting through a day sometimes is an accomplishment, depending on what’s going on in one’s life. J
Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?
Oh, lordie. Nothing special. My day job and my writing eat up a lot of my days. That plus getting work-outs in and trying to make sure that I have a social life (BALANCE, people!) and get out to do things keep me busy. I do cook and I rarely eat out. Friends and I get together at each other’s houses and hang out, too. Cheap entertainment and always fun, because most of my friends cook, too. So there’s no shortage of yumminess. Sadly, I lost my canine buddy of about 15 years two years ago and I haven’t gotten another dog. I do regularly donate to no-kill animal shelters (my dog was a rescue) among other things. I also travel quite a bit, so I really don’t have the time at the moment to devote to a dog. I’m outdoorsy, so I try to get out as much as possible, too. Fairly mundane, right? And I was just lamenting this morning that I really need to organize a bunch of crap in my house and get rid of a lot of stuff. That’s the first project I’m doing after the new year.
Can you share what inspires and challenges you most in your writing?
I find inspiration everywhere. Yeah, I know. How lesbo woo-woo is that? But it’s true. I can go into a grocery store and some storyline will pop into my head set in that store. I’ll think about zombies, maybe, and where I’d hide in an apocalypse in that store. Or, if I’m in a romance mood, I’ll think about what would happen if two people bumped into each other in an aisle. Which aisle would it be? How would they react, if one tripped and fell into the other? Or dropped something like a jar of pickles near one and the glass broke and pickle juice got all over the other’s fancy pants (maybe she’s on her way to some swanky event)? Or, if I’m in a thriller kind of mood, what would happen if some dude sees another dude in the frozen foods aisle who owes him money? That could be either a scary (depending on who the guy is who wants the money) or kind of comedic scene, depending on how you want to play it out. I’m envisioning frozen chicken flying through the air. And bags of tater tots.
I find inspiration everywhere, and when a reader writes to me and tells me how much they enjoyed something I’ve written, that’s inspiring, too.
Challenging: balancing a day job and all the other stuff I have to do with writing. There are days I come home completely exhausted and it’s all I can do to make something to eat and get things ready for the next day. Some of those days, I’m too tired to write, and I’ve discovered about myself that when I’m really tired, a writing session is completely ineffective because I’ll end up having to re-write. On those days, I try not to be too hard on myself if I simply can’t write effectively. I don’t know how writers with young kids do it, honestly. Those people must be superheroes from some other planet.
You have a few lesbian mystery/thriller series under your belt, such as the Chris Gutierrez, and K.C. Fontero mysteries. How do you sustain serialized, continuing characters that keep readers clamoring for more?
“Clamoring”? One hopes! LOL
Series are hard. Especially one that’s research-intensive like the New Mexico series. For those who don’t know, I write this series a little differently than most. Odd-numbered books star K.C. Fontero (a sociologist/professor type) and even-numbered star K.C.’s best friend, Albuquerque police detective Chris Gutierrez. Chris’s books often require a lot more research because I try to ensure that the police procedure is accurate and that I’ve captured Chris’s reactions and actions while doing her job in a way that’s consistent not only with her character, but in terms of the job. So I have beta readers who are active police officers check Chris’s books over. And like any series, the characters come and go through each other’s books and there are subplots that the characters have to deal with not only in a particular book, but across the other books. Those of you who are also writing series are probably nodding sagely – you know how this can go. And when you’re writing a contemporary series, you have to be cognizant of change and how to keep your series updated and contemporary when time for your characters is only, like, a couple of months while for the author, it’s a year or more. Think about James Bond. That series has been going since the 60s, and no one thinks: “How come James isn’t 120 years old? That would be realistic!” No, they just accept that James Bond is still a 40s-ish guy doing kick-ass things, even after fifty years.
In terms of sustaining – there are days where things feel a little frustrating and maybe lackluster. I call those points in a series “author doldrums.” At that point, I’ll get up and go watch a movie or do something else and usually, something will pop into my head that will freshen the plot or give me a new twist or a new perspective on a twist. Sometimes I’ll need a few days off from the series and I’ll write a short story or a novella or work on another novel. I’ll carry that renewed energy from a new project back to my series, and get through the doldrums.
Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines in detail?
Pantser. I don’t do outlines and I generally don’t know what’s going to happen during the course of one of my books. I do, however, keep a chronology. That is, ol’ skool paper and pen notebook and I’ll write down what day it is in the story and once I finish writing the events during that day in the plot, I’ll list the scenes under the day’s entry in my notebook. I do that AFTER I’ve already written the scenes. That way, I can refer back to my ol’ skool list if I need to rearrange a scene or cut it out. Generally, I remember where in a manuscript something is, but having my chronology there helps confirm things. I also keep lists of characters and quirks they might have.
In terms of getting started, I’ll usually have an overarching theme that I want to explore and then as I write the plot, the explorations tend to fall into place, though I do have to stop sometimes and contemplate whether I like the way a particular exploration is going. I expect my process will change over the years. I tend to be open to different ways of doing things and trying new things.
You recently released the fourth Chris Gutierrez Mystery. As with this novel and others you have written, you’ve tackled some hot social topics, with the likes of an anti-immigration blogger and white supremacy, among others. What would you say has influenced you to tackle such often divisive topics?
Actually, for clarification, it’s the fourth in my New Mexico series, and the second Chris Gutierrez mystery (she and K.C. switch off books; see above).
Books 1 and 3 in the NM series star K.C. Fontero, the sociologist. Book 1, Land of Entrapment, dealt with white supremacy and book 3’s (The Ties that Bind) murder was layered into Diné (Navajo) beliefs and the oil and natural gas industries in northwestern New Mexico. That’s a huge industry in the state, but it’s also an industry that takes a toll on people who work it, and like every extractive industry, there are pros and cons they bring to the communities in which they operate. I added a bit of Diné folklore and beliefs into that plot, and I hope that makes readers think about their own belief systems and why they come to believe what they do.
Books 2 and 4, in which Chris is the main character, deal with other issues. Book 2, State of Denial, dealt with the murder of a young gay man in Albuquerque and both external and internal homophobia, through the lens of organized religion. Book 4, Day of the Dead, as you’ve noted, is murder and mayhem against a backdrop of immigration, both illegal and legal and the role of law enforcement therein. One side of Chris’s family immigrated from Mexico, and she still has family south of the border. She’s also a law enforcement officer, and understands her duties with regard to undocumented immigrants, but she also understands what drives people to try to cross illegally into the United States and she tries to strike a balance between building effective police relationships with immigrant communities and enforcing the law. There’s also an element in Dead that deals with the exploitation of women on both sides of the border, and Chris has strong feelings about that, as well. Point being, there are no easy answers to complex issues.
I use New Mexico as an arena for my explorations of national social issues or regional issues (like the oil and gas industry). What I hope people get from this series is 1) a sense of New Mexico as a place and 2) an uneasiness with their own preconceived ideas about some of these issues I bring to the books. I would like people to question their own ideas, no matter where they’re coming from socially or politically, and to think about how these issues play out not just in the national media, but between individuals on the ground. Life is messy. People are messy. And some of us do the best we can while others end up doing not-so-nice things. But we are all part of the panoply of human crazy and human awesome-ness.
My influences? Natural curiosity and academic training in anthropology and history. Which fed off my natural curiosity. I got that curiosity and interest in just about everything from my folks. I come from a family that was always exploring the region, always meeting people from all walks of life and backgrounds, and always involved in local and community issues. So basically, I come by my topics naturally. I’m probably kind of weird, too. Heh.
Have had you ever had to deal with homophobia after your lesbian novels are released, and if so, what forms has it taken?
Not overt. But then, my mysteries are published by a house that primarily does lesbian fiction (and a few gay authors, too). Plus, I’m open about who I am. I mean, anybody writing LGBTQ fiction knows that not many – if any – so-called “mainstream” houses are going to publish their work. Especially if that work includes overt sex and intimacy between same-sex characters. There’s still an “ick” factor about that, but there’s clearly a market for it. Witness all the LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly houses that have emerged in the last few years that carry F/F and M/M romance and erotica. I’ll know things have totally shifted when Harlequin puts out a line of F/F romances. LOL
So I think I’ve been lucky, and haven’t had any overt homophobia toward my work. My first book did, however, get a weird reaction from some in the demographic it’s geared toward – i.e. lesbian readers of lesbian fiction. There were some who refused to buy Land of Entrapment because there’s a graffiti swastika on the cover image. That is, there’s a swastika that was graffiti’ed onto an adobe wall. I got some comments about that, about how I seemed to be glorifying Nazism and they wouldn’t support the book or buy it. Even though the book in no way supports white supremacy. There are probably a few readers out there who still believe that, though with each book after that one, that criticism has mostly disappeared. And yes, I did expect that there would be a few who would have an aversion to the book. In a way, that’s good. They SHOULD have an aversion to a symbol as it was appropriated for such horrific purposes and they SHOULD think about modern white supremacy and how it plays out in their communities. And they’d see that clearly if they read the book.
Ironically, there’s a ghost town in New Mexico named Swastika, after the Swastika Fuel Company, which organized the town at the end of World War I. That was, of course, before the Nazi Party appropriated the symbol, which as most people know, is an old, old symbol originally associated with life and prosperity and “good.” It’s still used by Indian (as in India) religions. Obviously, my use of it was not in reference to its ancient roots. Sadly, there are those among us who revere its most recent incarnation, and use it to intimidate and denigrate. That’s the point I was making in Land of Entrapment.
Which living actor would you cast to play your protagonist, Chris Gutierrez Mystery series?
Oh, see, I don’t even go there. LOL
I have very clear images of my characters, and when I write, I do envision the story as a movie, but I don’t see actors in the place of my characters. I just see my characters. I prefer that readers have their own ideas about what my characters look like. That said, if anybody ever decided to turn the books into movies, I would hope that I’d get a little bit of input, though I’d respect the creative vision of the writers and director (unless they were trying to make my characters straight or something like that).
Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?
I released 3 projects this year. One is a romance novella, From the Boots Up (which just placed as a runner-up in two categories at the Rainbow Awards), one is the third installment in my sci fi series, The Edge of Rebellion, and my most recent – and shout-out to the publisher here, because they worked feverishly to get it released in conjunction with Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) – is Day of the Dead. Readers can go to my websit to read the synopsis and first chapter [here’s the link: http://andimarquette.com/books/mysteries/].
Here’s a bit about it: Albuquerque homicide detective Chris Gutierrez and her police partner Dale Harper are trying to figure out who killed a Latino man in his home in a neighborhood just off Albuquerque’s Old Town. During the course of the investigation, they discover that he may have been involved in human trafficking over the Mexican border, and that his past may have caught up with him. Add to the mix an anti-immigrant blogger who’s targeted Chris and a mysterious network along the border, and Chris has her hands full.
WIPs (I always think of Devo when I see that acronym: “WIP it baby, WIP it all night…”): I’m getting a novel-length follow-up to From the Boots Up ready for (hopefully) release in late spring. I’ve also started writing the fourth in my sci fi series and I’ll be starting the research for book 5 in my New Mexico series after the new year. I’ve also got another romance novel I hope to release in the fall. And there are some short stories in the hopper, too. I try to keep busy. Heh.
On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time today, answering questions fans of the genre want to know.
Inquiring minds! Thanks a whole bunch, Jon, for having me aboard. And to all you authors out there, keep on keepin’ on! To all you readers, thank you so much for doing that reading. Happy New Year.
Find Andi Marquette on the web:
I also co-admin the site Women and Words, which you can find here: http://www.lesbianauthors.wordpress.com