‘Crime fiction is about the human struggle. . . It’s the perfect marriage between my love of psychology and fiction’ | Q&A with author Barbara Fradkin

There are many readers out there who are looking for a light story to read yet still want a bit of message about the human condition in the plot. Barbara Fradkin fits that bill. Her ‘Inspector Green’ series of crime novels do have thrills twists but also explore important issues of our time. As she was about to launch a new series of books – the Amanda Doucette series – she answered a few questions for me and allowing some insight into the person who holds the pen.
1) Your website states that you have been writing books since 1995. How did you get involved in writing fiction? How does your background as child psychologist help you in your writing?

I’ve always had stories spinning in my head. I daydreamed in school about adventures with exciting, imaginary friends, and as soon as I could spell, I started writing them down. I had a ton of first drafts and unfinished short stories, plays, TV scripts, and mainstream novels collecting dust in my basement, but it wasn’t until I tried crime fiction that I found my true niche. Crime fiction is about the human struggle, about conflict and dark choices, and about what people do when they’re desperate. It’s the perfect marriage between my love of psychology and fiction, and I think my years as a psychologist gave me not only insight into people’s struggles, but also lots of topics and themes to write about.

2) Has your writing changed over time? If, yes, how so?

I hope so! Each novel and story, however bad, teaches me more about character development, story structure, pacing, and balance. And when my first book, Do or Die, came out in 2000, I became much more serious about my writing. It wasn’t just a private venture and a creative outlet, it was a public story aimed at readers, and I wanted to make sure it was the best it could be. With each book, I have challenged myself further to make it better than the one before. My later stories are more layered, with more points of view, and historical stories woven into the narrative.

3) You have written three books for the Rapid Reads series at Orca Books. How did you like writing for that series? Was it easier or harder to write for Rapid Reads as compared to a regular novel?

I have written quite a few short stories, so I was familiar with tight story lines, minimalist writing, and singular focus. I find writing the Rapid Reads stories are halfway between short stories and novels. The guidelines require a linear plot with few characters and no subplots, all of which shape the story. The most difficult challenge is telling a complex, compelling story within these guidelines, while keeping the language simple.

(Link to my review of The Night Thief)

4) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I like the British crime tradition—for example, Kate Atkinson and Denise Mina. However, I like variety and read quite widely, but fairly slowly. With the demands of my own writing and research, I don’t get through as many books as I’d like. This year I had to read several non-fiction books on ISIS for my next book. During the holidays I read God Rest ye Murdered Gentlemen, a light romp by Eva Gates, who is actually my good friend Vicki Delany, and now I’ve just finished reading Fifteen Dogs.
5) How have your books been received by the public? Are there any memorable experiences you care to share?

The challenge for Canadian crime writers is getting exposure, particularly with the reduction in review sites and the dominance of international blockbusters. Much of the growth in my readership has been due to word of mouth, and for this I am very grateful to readers across Canada, and even in the US and UK, who have discovered my books and recommended them to others. People become hooked on the series because they grow to love the characters and want to know what happens to them next. Inspector Green, for all that he’s flawed and exasperating, is a mensch and has people rooting for him. People also care about the other characters and want a say in what I do to them next. Once at a reading, I mused about what I should do next to shake things up for Green, and a reader threatened “Don’t you dare kill off his father!”

Link to my review of The Whisper of Legends– A Inspector Green Mystery

6) You have partaken in public readings of your works in the past. Is that an activity you enjoy? Have any of your works been the subject of any book clubs? If yes, did you partake in the discussions of your books?

In twenty years, a writer can do a lot of readings! Yes, I’ve done readings at festivals, bookstores, libraries, and even at a museum in Yellowknife. I love readings, because I love meeting people who enjoy books. We writers toil alone in our little garret and we send our book out into the world, like bread cast upon the waters. It’s wonderful to find out what becomes of it. That’s the same reason I love going to book clubs, and I have done dozens of them. Most of the time I attend them in person, although occasionally via Skype. Book clubs are great social clubs, and it’s nice to be invited in to share the friendship for the evening. People are very curious about the writing process and what I have in store for Green, but they are always very kind and enthusiastic. If they rip the book apart when I’m not there, I don’t ever find out!

7) I am going to assume that you are doing some new writing and have some new books coming out soon. Are there details you care to share?

Yes, I am currently working on a new series. I have taken a trial separation from Inspector Green, much to the chagrin of some of his fans, in order to explore new characters, settings, and story structures. I don’t want to fall into a rut; I want to stay fresh and continue to grow, so that I enjoy the process of writing as much as those who are reading. The new series is not a police procedural. I’d say it’s a hybrid mystery thriller. The main character is a thirty-something international aid worker, Amanda Doucette, who is back in Canada to recover from a traumatic experience on her last assignment. But her passion for social justice and helping people leads her into tricky situations. The first in the series, Fire in the Stars, (Link to my review) is due out this September, and I am now writing the second one, entitled The Trickster’s Lullaby.

8) You seem to be active on the social-media fronts (Facebook and Twitter) How do you like using those platforms?

I don’t like Twitter, and haven’t figured out how to use it except for retweets and for very immediate notifications. Tweets are lost in a matter of minutes. Facebook, on the other hand, allows for much greater interaction with friends and readers, and I love the way it has allowed me to connect with old friends, family, new readers, and fellow writers. I feel as if I have truly made friends on Facebook, and should I meet them in real life, we would already have a base. I do have an author page, but tend to post only on my personal page, because readers have become friends and friends have become readers.

9) Do you have any advice for any want-to-be writers?

Read, read, and read the type of book you want to write. Don’t worry about trends or hot tips for the break-out novel. Write the story that excites you, because that excitement will shine through and make the story sparkle with life. Also make sure it’s the absolute best story you can make it before sending it out. Ask a few trusted, experienced book people to read it, and give their advice careful consideration.

*****

Link to Barbara Frankin’s website

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