I’m happy to have mystery author Martha Conway back at Reviews and Interviews. She’s chatting with me about her newest historical mystery, Sugarland: A Jazz Age Mystery.
She was here back in 2014. You can check out that interview here, if you like.
Martha Conway is the author of 12 Bliss Street, Thieving Forest, and most recently Sugarland. Her short fiction has been published in journals including Iowa Review, The Carolina Quarterly, The Quarterly, the Massachusetts Review, and Folio. Born in Ohio, she moved to California after college and received a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Currently she is an instructor at Stanford University’s Online Writers Studio and UC Berkeley Extension, and lives with her family in San Francisco.
Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews.
Thanks for having me!
Please tell us about your newest release.
Sugarland is an historical mystery that takes place in the early days of the Roaring Twenties. It’s set in the jazz clubs and speakeasies of Chicago in 1921, when Prohibition is in its first months. Eve Riser is a professional jazz pianist who is touring on the circuit when an accidental death in the middle of a romantic tryst puts her in danger. Her would-be boyfriend sends her to Chicago with money and a letter that she must deliver to a bootlegger in town. But before Eve can deliver them, the bootlegger is killed in a drive-by shooting that nearly kills Eve, too, and when she recovers, she finds that her stepsister Chickie has disappeared. Eve must get help from the bootlegger’s sister Lena, who wants to know who killed her brother and why.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have always loved the Roaring Twenties — the clothes, the excitement, the music, everything. In particular I love the very earliest jazz that came out of New Orleans and migrated first to Chicago and then everywhere else. In fact, it was when I was listening to song called “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” (If You See My Mother), that I got the first glimpse of the story I would write: I saw an image of a woman looking for something in the snow. I think a lot of us see stories or scenes when we listen to music. This one compelled me to start thinking of the story behind Sugarland.
What’s the next writing project?
I’m doing the final edits for another historical novel, with the working title The Floating Theatre. It’s set in pre-Civil War America, on the Ohio River, which is the natural divider between the North and the South in the United States. The main character is a costume designer on a ramshackle riverboat theatre, and she gets caught up in the Underground Railroad.
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
My biggest challenge is getting the research to match up with the story. Often my ideas fly faster than my research, and I have a notion of what I would like to happen in the story that, when I dig a little into the facts of the time, just could not happen. I try to do a lot of research on the front end, before I start, to offset this, but it’s frustrating to find that, for example, a white woman for the most part would not have been able to play the piano professionally in 1921 in Chicago, or go to a club by herself unless she was a prostitute.
If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
Yes, I do try to do a lot of the research first. However, I find that as the story goes along it changes with the writing of it. In other words, although I start with a vague outline and at least a partial list of scenes, as I write I find that my story changes. That is exhilarating and daunting at the same time. I often have to go back and do more research when new developments occur. Luckily, I find that the act of doing research itself—reading interviews, taking notes on as many first-hand sources as I can find as well as scholarly secondary sources—really helps me find my way into the story. When I’m stuck, I do more research.
What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I am a very habitual person, and I work best in my own environment that is so familiar to me I don’t even really notice it. I have an office in my house; for many years I shared it with my husband and son who played computer games on the computers behind me—but sitting at my desk all I see are my own notecards, my shelves of books, and my writing quotes / inspirations, so it felt like my own space. Also they were not allowed in during daylight hours! Luckily, my husband recently set up another office in another room, so now I have a reading chair and lamp where his computer station used to be. Hopefully I won’t use it too much to procrastinate by reading other people’s books! Jury is yet still out on that.
What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
Right now I’m reading Sarah Waters and Anthony Trollope. I usually have a couple of books going at one time. I also enjoy reading contemporary literary fiction like Ann Patchett and Jane Smiley (I guess Jane Smiley could lay claim to many different kinds of genres!). Some of my favorite mystery writers are Cara Black and David Downing.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
I just found out that Sugarland has won a Reader’s Favorite Book Award, and I’m thrilled!
Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!
Thanks so much for having me again, Lisa!
Readers, if you'd like to learn more about Martha and her writing - and enter for a giveaway, here's a list of her other tour stops:
*Monday, October 10(today!) @ The Muffin - Interview and Giveaway
Wednesday, October 12 @ Renee’s Pages - Review
*Wednesday, October 19 @ Thoughts in Progress - Guest Post and Giveaway
Friday, October 21 @ Bev Baird - Review
*Monday, October 24 @ Building Bookshelves - Interview, Review, and Giveaway
Tuesday, October 25 @ Choices - Review
*Friday, October 28 @ Mystery Thrillers & Romantic SuspenseReviews - Guest post and Giveaway
*Sunday, October 30 @ Vickie S. Miller - Review and Giveaway
Wednesday, November 2 @ Bring on Lemons - Review
Thursday, November 3 @ Deal Sharing Aunt - Review
Monday, November 7 @ Celtic Lady’s Reviews - Review