Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Deborah Crombie's To Dwell in Darkness: A stunner!

HALLIE EPHRON: FANFARE!! Our very own Deborah Crombie's new Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James novel, TO DWELL IN DARKNESS, is out today(!) and it's a stunner. I read the last page and just sat there, literally gasping for breath. And came away loaded with questions for Debs to answer.
Starting with... At the start of this book, almost every one of your returning characters is out of his (or her) element and profoundly uncomfortable or in scary new situations. Especially Duncan Kincaid. Challenging for you, having to create a whole new setting and supporting cast, but also fertile ground, yes?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Yes, very challenging, but fun. I particularly liked getting to create a new team for Duncan at Camden’s Holborn Police Station.
HALLIE: Duncan Kincaid has a new foil, DI Jasmine Sidana — 35, single, smart, fiercely ambitious, prickly, starched, judgmental, complex… a teetotaler (do Brits use that word?)--if not the un-Duncan, certainly the un-Gemma. She is an inspired choice, so I’m wondering what inspired you to create her?
 DEBS: Ah, Jasmine. Duncan has always been a bit of a charmer. He’s used to everyone liking him. And as I wanted to throw him even more off balance, I thought why not give him a prickly female colleague who not only resents him taking what she thinks should have been her job, but just plain doesn’t like him, and see how he responds to that? And I liked the idea of a smart, ambitious female officer who didn’t fit into the “one of the blokes” mold. I don’t usually physically model my book characters on real people, but with Jasmine I was thinking of the British actress Parminder Nagra. Oh, I would love to see her play Jasmine Sidana!
HALLIE: The plot has some fantastic twists that I will not reveal, multiple narrators, and yet you manage to play fair with the reader. Do you know all the twists in advance, or do you come upon them as you write, and does that mean you have to go back and revise all the time (the way I do!)
DEBS: I did know most of the twists from the beginning, but I wasn’t sure how I could make them work. But instead of doing a lot of revising, I wrote REALLY SLOWLY, trying to figure out how to structure things.
 HALLIE: What was the hardest thing about this book to pull off… what was the easiest?
DEBS: The family scenes are always fun to write. I think there were too many difficult things to list! I had given Gemma a case with the idea that she would be able to make a parallel between the personality of the murderer in her case and the murderer in Duncan’s case, even though the crimes were quite different. And then I realized she actually had to solve what seemed an unsolvable case!
The compressed timeline was a monster, too. Most of my books take place in a fairly short time period, but I realized once I got into this book that this one was going to be very short. Everything happens over four days, which meant that every single scene had to count.  In the final revision I cut about forty pages, the most I’ve ever had to axe.
And then there was the continuing crime storyline—the one that is NOT resolved in this book—which is giving me fits as I’m working on the next book…
HALLIE: There’s a lovely subplot in the book about a cat and kittens that Duncan’s and Gemma’s children rescue. And knowing what an animal lover you are, I’m wondering if this echoes anything that happened to you in real life?
DEBS: Yes, actually, something like this happened to us in real life, but it didn’t have a happy ending. We had a female cat turn up on our front porch, literally starving. But she was very tame and very, very sweet, so we brought her in (isolated from the dogs and other cats) fed her and looked after her.

After a few days we decided we should have her checked over by our vet. He scanned her and she was chipped. The owner lived a few blocks from us. We had to surrender the cat to the vet for the owner to reclaim. We were devastated, but happy that she was back with her family. Then we learned a few weeks later that they’d let her out again and she’d been hit by a car and killed.
So I wrote a happy ending for Xena—and yes, I had named the real cat Xena.
HALLIE: I am dying to know, did you know how the novel would end when you started, and if not, where in the process of writing the book did you find it, because it’s a stunner?
DEBS: I did know from the very beginning. I knew, in fact, when I was writing the previous book how this book would end.  Sometimes I write the end of books part way through, if it comes to me. But this time, even though I knew what was going to happen, I wouldn’t let the scene play out in my head until I actually got to it. And then I wrote it almost without stopping to breathe, and I didn’t change a word.

HALLIE: Wow. I love this picture of Debs because she's got that mischievous look, like she knows something we don't. Like she's got more plot twists already up her sleeve.
So now we'll open it up for questions... Cats, kittens, continuing timelines, prickly sidekicks, and taking your characters OUT of their elements. Let 'er rip!


  1. I am really looking forward to reading "To Dwell in Darkness" --- Happy book-birthday day . . . .

  2. The great thing about a series this fantastic--everything doesn't have to be resolved in one book--it can provide the genesis for the next book (or two or three).

    Can't wait to get my hands on To Dwell in Darkness!

  3. I don't have any questions, but am dying to read it, and delighted I'll get to see Debs right here one town away in my own corner of Massachusetts in a week and a half!

  4. me too, me too, to all of that! Debs, love the description of holding the last scene and writing in one breath.

    Weren't you afraid you'd forget something?

  5. I have a question for all you Reds, thinking about Deborah holding onto the ending scene from the very beginning of writing the book. JK Rowling-- not a Red, but maybe should be? ;-) has said that she kept this image in her mind all through the books until the ending--of Hagrid carrying Harry's body from the Forbidden Forest.

    So I wonder--do you "see" something and then find the words to describe it, put it down on paper? Or do the words come first, building a scene, a character, that you then visualize? Not sure I'm expressing myself clearly--not ewnough caffeine yet!

  6. Happy book pub day, Debs! I love that you named the cat Xena.

  7. Debs,
    I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want to take the day off, run out to the bookstore to get the book, run home, turn off the phone, and read all day.

    Duncan, Gemma, and their family and friends are so real to me that it's hard to believe you've made them up! And thanks for giving them to us!

  8. Fantastic, fantastic. I devoured this interview, nd am coming back later to savor it. But hurray!!! Cannot wait to read this.

  9. And can I just say, it's just that kind of book. Once you start you won't want to stop.

    And FChurch, YES, often (when it's working) I have is a visual image of something I'm writing toward. In There Was an Old Woman, there's a huge twist where the old woman realizes she's not where she thinks she is, and I wrote toward that from Page One.

  10. What a treat to glimpse inside the brain of a master story teller! I am in awe. And I assume that this book will also be steeped in a sense of PLACE. Bravo!

  11. As I reread the interview I realized that's exactly what I forgot to ask about. Place! In this one it's St. Pancras (the church, the station...) which is where the action begins, and every chapter starts with a fascinating historical tidbit. I'd love to hear about the research that yielded those gems.

  12. Such a great interview. I am resisting the urge to buy the book today, since Deb will be in Baltimore next month and I want to go to that event (and support both her, the library, and the sponsoring store in that way).

    If I can wait that long, this just might be the perfect book to keep me occupied on my cross-country flight to Bouchercon in November.

  13. Congratulations! I know what I'm getting my father for Christmas (and I'll be able to get it signed for him when you come to Pittsburgh).

  14. Wonderful, wonderful book. I have no questions. I loved the book, and just wanted to thank Debs for such a terrific book. You will want to read it in one sitting. And, I called a friend who goes to London a couple times a year just so she could tell me about St. Pancras International Station. Terrific book, and, as always, I love how she blends family life and work life. Stunning is the right word.

  15. Thanks everyone, and thanks, Hallie, for such great questions!

    FChurch, yes, as Hallie said, I often have a visual picture of a scene that I write towards, sometimes through a whole book or even longer. A sort of target.

    And Lucy, I have written the ends of books out of sequence several times before, having got the whole thing so clearly in my head I was afraid I wouldn't remember it all if I didn't get it down. But even though I knew how this book ended, I couldn't write it ahead of time, for reasons which I think will be apparent once you read it.

    Hallie, thanks so much for including the photo of Parminder! Isn't she perfect? Is that how you saw Jasmine, too?

  16. Loved this interview! we're on vacation at the beach and I'm driving to Quarter Moon Books this morning to pick up my copy of TO DWELL IN DARKNESS. It just doesn't get any better than this. Happy Pub Day, Debs!

  17. Hallie, St. Pancras! It's one of my very favorite places in London. I was fascinated by the renovation and the history and wanted to set a book there long before the pieces of this story began to come together. I read some wonderful books, and there is a great deal of information on the Internet, some of which you can find using the links in the chapter epigraphs.

    The chapter epigraphs give me a way to add another layer to the sense of place in the story, and are such fun to research. And of course spending time at St. Pancras was the best research of all. I've taken the Eurostar to Paris, had champagne at Searcy's, listened to a rock band playing in the concourse, had lot of cups of tea and sandwiches at Le Pain Quotidien, which is the unnamed cafe in the book. And I have a drink and dinner a couple of times in the Booking Office Bar in the Renaissance Grand Hotel. It's an amazing space! Unfortunately, I didn't manage to stay in the hotel, but maybe another day when I'm feeling very flush:-)

  18. Deborah - I'm glad you said that. In the book I just sent off, I had the climax in my head first. The book went through a lot of changes over time - but that scene stayed pretty constant. It gave me a goal.

  19. I DO think Parminder is perfect. Though the role would require her to scowl quite a bit and dress very buttoned-up. If you ever start a new series, I'd love to see her lead.

  20. When we met in April, you told me you were up against a deadline, still working on finishing this book. Do you write better like this? Or was this a one off? Now I have to get off this computer and go read my new book! xox

  21. Parminder Nagra, one of my favorite actresses. I'll keep her in mind while I read the new books, Debs.

    Happy book pub day!

  22. Congrats, Debs. So excited for you and I can't wait to read it. In fact I'm going away for a birthday trip next week and guess what I'll be reading!

  23. Oh, my fingers are twitching. I want to read this book after reading the interview. But I'm not there yet in the Gemma/Duncan series. Darn it! I had hoped to meet you at Murder by the Book Friday but it's not going to happen. Schedule conflict. A friend is celebrating her 70th birthday and we will be at that shindig. Come to think of it that happens every time an author is in town I want to meet. Have fun on your tour Debs. The weather in Houston is perfect right now.

  24. I'm so excited, Deb! Can't wait to get my hands on this novel!

    I ditto what the other Deb said: I want to take a day off from life to read all day. (Maybe this weekend? Hmmm ...)

    You mentioned a storyline that's giving you fits. What's your strategy for working through plot struggles? Do you ever get so foiled you don't know what to do for awhile? How do you work that out?

  25. Happy Publication Day, Debs! My copy arrived via UPS this morning, making the start to my day an especially great one. I just returned yesterday from a vacation in Key West with a stop in Orlando, and while it was a fantastic trip, I couldn't believe that I didn't get any reading done. So, this week I have Hank's ARC copy of Truth Be Told to Read and my freshly delivered To Dwell in Darkness. I will be kicking it into high reading gear this afternoon and be in my happy place for the rest of the week.

    I'm excited about the setting of St. Pancras in To Dwell in Darkness. For some reason, I love train stations and their prominence in books. Linda Fairstein's latest was set in Grand Central Station in New York, and I was spellbound by the history of it. Of course, no one does setting better than you, Debs. I have learned so much that is fascinating about the different areas of London and some areas outside of London and that wonderful Scotland departure. I just know that I'm going to come away from this new book champing at the bit to visit St. Pancras.

    It's so good to be back here at Jungle Red Writers. I have missed checking in and reading the great posts and comments. It's a lovely part of my day.

  26. Congratulations on your publication day, Deborah! I plan on picking up a copy of "To Dwell in Darkness" tomorrow at your author signing and talk in Dallas. I love the chapter epigraphs in your books, and I especially like the maps (a bonus) in the hardcover copies. In how many of your books has Laura Maestro created those wonderful maps?

  27. Can't wait to read this one - it sounds great! A mystery that carries over to the next book is a definite plus for me.

    I'd just noticed the item on your website a few days ago about the series being optioned for British TV. I can only hope we'll eventually get to see it here. (My local PBS station has yet to show the second season of Case Histories and hasn't aired any of Vera.) I'd love to see Parminder Nagra get a good role again - she had so little to do on Blacklist.

    If you had a choice, who would you like to see portray Duncan and Gemma and their supporting characters?

  28. Debs and Hallie, this was a great interview. Thank you.

    Debs, there is so much I'd like to respond to and ask you about… but will try to reduce the size of my conceptual cloud clutter—which only happens when I have an extraordinary number of ideas I need to sort and not lose—about your comment that left me smacking my forehead.

    "Sometimes I write the end of books part way through, if it comes to me."

    While writing the book I am working on now, I find the end reappearing as I write in places that are nowhere near the end. It keeps intruding itself everywhere making it difficult to actually write the larger story. I hadn't wanted to lose these pieces yet truly didn't know (until now) they were all that connected to one another.

    My writing buddy/critique partner has wisely encouraged me to write all these parts down and store them in Scrivener—which I do—of course… she is very, very smart. Until now, however, I hadn't realized that they were inserting themselves into the larger piece like parts of train being pulled along like some kind of magical story engine making sure everything stays on track. I am afraid if I write the ending now it will turn into nothing but a caboose trailing along for the ride.

    But… while reading your interview with Hallie today I realized what it is and where it fits. I had a Scrivener meltdown last night that said writing buddy talked me through. Now I know where I'm going with all these intrusive pieces… brilliant interview.

    Happy Book Birthday!

  29. Congratulations!

    I am loving this book. Totally. I am so caught up in it that I was afraid to read your interview. I don't want a hint of what may happen. It's totally brilliant.

    And I just adore Duncan. There was one scene I just read that had him running his hand over his 5 o'clock shadow and I'm trying to picture how he must look. *sigh* I assume you have an idea of how he looks. I don't have a picture of him in my head but I imagine a really handsome man.

    Best wishes with this book. It's a hit!

  30. Weighing in late in the day - just want to say how much I'm a fan of your books, Deb, and I can't wait to read To Dwell in Darkness. Congratulations!!