HANK: Today we welcome a newbie to Jungle Red. Well, hardly a newbie author, but a newbie visitor! Victoria Thompson is the Agatha and Edgar® nominated author of the Gaslight Mystery Series. And we do mean SERIES. There are seventeen Gaslight books now! And, TA DAH! She’s just been named the Guest of Honor for next year’s Malice Domestic!
Her latest is Murder on Amsterdam Avenue, and she wants your opinion on a very important topic. (And she’s giving away her newest to one lucky commenter!)
HANK: For those just joining Gaslight--tell us about it a bit! Where'd the initial idea come from?
VICTORIA: Oddly enough, the idea was generated by Berkley. They did that a lot in the early days at Berkley Prime Crime. My agent called me one day to tell me she’d just had lunch with a Prime Crime editor who was looking for someone to write a series set in turn-of-the-century New York City where the heroine was a midwife. My agent thought of me, since I’d recently written a book set in that time period and I had been putting mystery subplots in my historical romances for a while.
They sent me their ideas for the series. I liked some of them and threw out a few others. Then I realized that my midwife, Sarah, would need a male cohort, preferably someone who would logically be solving murder mysteries, so I created Police Detective Frank Malloy. Berkley had suggested that Sarah be a poor relation of a rich family, but I made her the rebellious daughter of a rich family, which would give her entre into all levels of society.
HANK: So-- does it feel as if you're spending much of your time in the past? You must have to think about reality in such a different way...
VICTORIA: It’s funny, I’ve tried writing contemporary fiction. I’ve had several really cool ideas and even started the books and finished one, but I just couldn’t love writing them the way I do my historicals.
Last night I was watching Call the Midwife, a series set in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Afterwards, one of the cast members said in an interview that she’d been in many historical shows, but she’d grown up in the 1950’s and it was weird acting in a “historical” era she knew all about first-hand, so she guessed she was historical! I also grew up in that era, so maybe I’m a historical person, too.
I know I feel more comfortable with the language and the manners of the past. I also love discovering over and over that people are still the same after a hundred years. Our technology is different, but we’re still concerned with the same things: finding Mr. Right, spirituality, assimilating immigrants, the media’s role in criminal prosecution, stalking, the proper way to help the poor, and the theme I return to again and again, women’s role in society. I really enjoy reminding readers that we really haven’t made much progress in any of these areas, in spite of the efforts of many well-meaning people.
HANK: Before you started writing the Gaslight Series, you published 20 historical romances. Whoa. Was it hard making the transition from romance to mystery?
VICTORIA: Not as hard as I thought it would be, except for one thing. I had created two wonderful protagonists for the Gaslight series, Frank Malloy and Sarah Brandt. They were about as opposite as two people living in New York City in that time period could be, so naturally they were the perfect protagonists for a romance novel. They should have spent the entire first book overcoming everything that kept then apart, fallen in love, and lived happily ever after.
HANK : And why didn’t they?
VICTORIA: Because everyone told me (and told me!) that mystery readers don’t like romance in their mysteries. My editor and my agent and other mystery writers all warned me. This is why I put so many barriers between Frank and Sarah. They could never get together, so I made it impossible for them to get together.
Then a strange thing happened. I started getting fan letters. They would say something nice about the book and oh, by the way, when are Frank and Sarah going to get together?” Everyone wanted to know about a romance between Frank and Sarah. So obviously, mystery readers don’t mind a little romance in their mysteries at all! And after fifteen years of keeping them apart, the fans were getting angry!
So I knew something had to happen. The problem was that I’d put up so many barriers between them, I couldn’t figure out how to get them married without ruining the series. Fortunately, one of my writer friends, who had never read a single one of the books, came up with the perfect solution, which I won’t mention in case somebody hasn’t read that book yet.
HANK: Is it a spoiler to ask if they finally get married in this book?
VICTORIA: I don’t think so. They’ve been engaged for two books now, so it’s certainly time! Of course they solve a mystery first and it’s a dandy, but then they finally do tie the knot.
HANK: Uh-oh. Is this the end of the series?
VICTORIA: Not at all! In fact, the next book is already written, and I’m contracted for at least two more after that (that’s me signing the contract in the picture!). Frank and Sarah will keep solving mysteries as along as readers keep buying the books.
HANK: What's the secret to your series longevity?
VICTORIA: An excellent question!
I actually teach mystery writing in the Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction, and I cover this very topic. I always tell my students that readers will pick up your book because they want a good mystery, but they’ll keep coming back to your series time and again because they care about your protagonists.
I learned this secret from fans themselves.
They write me letters, saying how much they loved this or that about a particular book, but they always ended by asking when Frank and Sarah would get together. That was when I realized they really cared about Frank and Sarah as people, so I have tried to make their personal journeys as interesting as the mysteries they solve. So far so good! I just hope they’ll be equally as interesting now that they’re married.
HANK: My books don't have to be read in order, even though they star the same two main characters. Do you have to read the Gaslight books in order?
VICTORIA: Not at all, and many readers who have discovered the series recently tell me they read them out of order. I was very careful not to give anything away about past cases, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers. Frank and Sarah’s relationship does grow and change through the course of the series, of course. They don’t like each other much in the first book, and in the new one, they get married! I’d call that progress.
You can read the Gaslight Series in order or not, depending on how important it is for you to see the growth and character development of the protagonists.
HANK: So Reds, some people feel as if they MUST read a series in order, no matter what the author says. How about you? And a copy of Victoria’s new mystery to one lucky commenter!
Victoria Thompson writes the Agatha and Edgar® Nominated Gaslight Mystery Series, set in turn-of-the-century New York City featuring midwife Sarah Brandt. The 17th book in the series is MURDER ON AMSTERDAM AVENUE. She also contributed to the award winning MANY GENRES/ONE CRAFT. Victoria teaches in the Seton Hill University MFA program in writing popular fiction. She lives in Central PA with her husband and a very spoiled little dog. She is a member of Sisters in Crime. You can find her at www.victoriathompson.com.
Murder on Amsterdam Avenue
Frank and Sarah put their family business on hold to investigate the death of an old family friend. As they unravel secrets that reach back to the War Between the States, they also discover that they are in the company of a very present danger…”