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A Q&A with Sarah Graves

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Photo courtesy: Random House Photo courtesy: Random House

Maine-based mystery author talks new series

Sarah Graves is the author of the popular 'Home Repair is Homicide' series of mystery novels. There have been 16 offerings in the series thus far, following the exploits of Jacobia 'Jake' Tiptree in her hometown of Eastport.

With her latest novel 'Winter at the Door,' however, Graves is shifting gears, moving from the coast to the County as she chronicles the adventures of Lizzie Snow, former Boston homicide detective now working as a deputy in the remote Aroostook County town of Bearkill.

Ms. Graves was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about her new book and new direction for The Maine Edge.

The Maine Edge -The 'Home Repair is Homicide' series has proven very popular over the years; what prompted you to create this spin-off series? Is it simply the desire to branch out or is there more to it than that?

Sarah Graves -I've loved writing the Home Repair series. But there are some darker aspects of life that don't belong in it, and because its light tone is well-established, I wanted another venue for those things. 'Winter at the Door' let me work with some grittier materials, tougher themes-- and of course to try out some new settings and characters, as well.

TME -What was it about the character of Lizzie Snow that prompted you to move her to her own series? How would you compare her to your extant heroine Jake Tiptree?

SG -Lizzie Snow demands top billing. I love her dearly, but her ego's a mile wide and she has no interest in playing second fiddle to anyone. Also, her idea of fixing a faucet is calling the plumber, so she wouldn't fit too well in theHome Repair series. (And finally, don't tell anyone but Lizzie thinks Jake is kind of a twit.)

TME -Will you continue going forward with Jake's adventures or will you be bidding farewell to Eastport and shifting your primary focus to the town of Bearkill and the adventures of Lizzie Snow?

SG -I'm not saying'never' to more of Jake's adventures, but right now I'm hip-deep in Lizzie's second outing, called 'The Girls She Left Behind.' And because I'm a bear of little brain, I can'tthinkmuch past that.

TME -The 'Home Repair' series takes place in and around Eastport, where you live, while 'Winter at the Door' takes place in Aroostook County. Did you adopt any kind of different attitudes/sensibility in making the move from Down East to the County? What sorts of connections do you have to northern Maine that inform this new setting?

SG -I didn't have to adopt a different sensibility on purpose -- all I had to do was go there. I had no previous experience with the County and it was a revelation to me: the beauty and variety of the land, the take-no-prisoners rural remoteness, the French heritage Who knew that Houlton was so musical, for instance, or that there were Gothic-style churches made out of wood up along the river? That there is still so much more for me to discover about it just seems like a wonderful gift to me.

TME -What sorts of cases can we expect Lizzie Snow to undertake as the series moves forward?

SG -Ones in which the things people think thatthey must have -- that they deserve -- bump up hard against the reality of their situation. Love, money, freedom, respect -- everyone wants those things, and the prevailing notion nowadays is that if you just try hard enough, all on your own you too can -- should! -- achieve them. But the truth is that there's no such thing as pulling yourself up entirely by your own bootstraps -- it's against the laws of physics. And that contradictionmakes a lotof trouble for people.

TME -You've created a pair of strong, compelling - and fairly different - women in Jake and Lizzie. How much (if anything) of your own personality can be found in either of them?

SG -Everything good in Jake or Lizzie I've learned from the women in my own life. My grandmother started out buying eggs in the countryside for a penny and selling them in the city for two cents so she could feed her kids, for instance. And although I never saw her with one, I have no doubt she could handle a gun. On the other hand, I'm sorry to report that Jake and Lizzie's less-admirable traits -- bonehead stubbornness, sarcasm, short temper, a tendency to isolate .for those and many more,all I had to do was look in the mirror.

TME -Would you mind sharing with your readers a little bit about your writing process? Where/when you write, perhaps a rough timeline regarding how long your books typically take to get from concept to publication?

SG -I set a pages-per-day goal for the first draft, five when I'm first getting going, ten pages per day when the motor is warmed up and running smoothly. In the rewrite, things slow down a little, usually. Start to finish is usually about a year, butI like what Steven King said about it (in paraphrase):'Do it till you're satisfied.'

TME -Is there anything else that you'd like our (and your) readers to know about 'Winter at the Door' and Lizzie Snow?

SG -(Long pause, heavy sigh)No. I put it all on the pages. I hope people like it. If they do, I hope they tell their friends! And if they don't, they can tell me

Last modified on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 12:53


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