Friday, November 18, 2016

Interview with mystery novelist Sally Wright

Mystery novelist Sally Wright is with me today. We’re chatting about her newest book, Behind the Bonehouse.

During her virtual book tour, Sally will be awarding copies of several of her books to a randomly drawn U.S. (only) winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

Edgar Alan Poe Award Finalist Sally Wright has studied rare books, falconry, early explorers, painting restoration, WWII Tech-Teams, the Venona Code, and much more, to write her university-archivist-ex-WWII-Ranger books about Ben Reese, who’s based on a real person.

Breeding Ground, Wright’s most recent novel, is the first in her new Jo Grant mystery series, which has to do with the horse industry in Lexington, Kentucky. Wright is now finishing the second Jo Grant novel.

Sally and her husband have two children, three young grandchildren, and a highly entertaining boxer dog, and live in the country in northwestern Ohio.

Welcome, Sally. Please share a little bit about your new release.
Behind the Bonehouse is the second Jo Grant mystery set in Thoroughbred country around Lexington, Kentucky in 1964 and '65. Jo is a woman architect in her early thirties who's also a partner with her Uncle Toss in a hands-on broodmare care business. Her newly married husband is a chemical engineer in a someone else's family owned equine pharmaceutical business where a fight over intellectual property brings down the death and danger that affects Jo and her family. There are two other horse related family businesses that are involved in the plot, and the psychological results of having served in WWII in America's OSS (the intelligence organization that secretly worked with the French Resistance) impacts the story as well.

Excerpt from Behind the Bonehouse:
Wednesday, July 3rd, 1963

It was five in the morning, and Alan Munro was alone, again, in the lab at Equine Pharmaceuticals. He’d just looked at the notes in the formulation notebook Carl Seeger, Equine’s lab director, had entered the day before, and he tossed a red lab crayon on his desk with a look of deep disgust. He rubbed his eyes with both hands, and leaned back in his chair—then pushed himself up and limped, slightly, less the longer he walked, to the research corner in the back of the plant.

He’d converted a fifty-four-gallon drum into a mixing tank they could use to develop the proper methods for converting a beaker-size experimental batch of his new horse de-wormer paste into an intermediate batch, before they moved to a commercial size tank.

This latest mixture was way too thin, and the solids hadn’t properly dispersed in the methylcellulose, and as Alan read the batch sheet he muttered words he’d almost never used since he’d come home from World War II. At 8:35 Alan walked into the main lab and asked Carl Seeger if he could speak to him for a minute.

Carl was weighing white powder on a double pan balance, and he didn’t look up before he’d slid the powder off one pan into a large glass beaker and replaced the brass weights from the other in their wooden rack. “I’m busy right now, Alan. I should be free in an hour or so.” He spoke calmly and quietly, his thin mouth tucked under a wispy mustache, his pale brown eyebrows pulled down in concentration, half-hiding his small hazel eyes.

“It’s important, Carl.

What inspired you to write this book?
My dad was an orphan, raised in an orphanage, who, against great odds, got to college in the Depression and became a chemist. When I was four, he started a ma-and-pa scientific business with my mom, and I was raised with it, going to the office, putting labels on drums, talking about the cares and the crises at every meal my whole life. Twice they faced dishonest situations having to do with their products, and I think what going through that is like is something most novels never touch upon. I took an instance they faced and fictionalized it in another type of business, taking the stresses and strains of that situation sideways too, so I could examine human reactions to being wrongly accused. I think family business is a very useful undertaking, for those who work there as much as those who own it, even though it's a cauldron in which the normal interactions that occur in families get put in a more intense context that I believe is worth thinking about.

What story are you working on next?
I'm working on the next Jo Grant mystery which will introduce an equine vet business as well, and the possibilities a crooked vet might have to exploit the Thoroughbred world.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote music in high school and college, and wrote biography articles for magazines before my novels were published. It took a long time to get my mysteries published, and when I'd get discouraged, my husband would say, "A writer is someone who writes." And he was right. A lot of folks care more about getting published than writing really well, and getting rejected makes you focus on your writing and learning to perfect what you do. Still, it was when my first book was finally published that I felt like a real writer.

Do you write full-time, and what's your work day like?
I'm fortunate to be able to write full-time. I've always done it like a day job - 8:30 to 4:00ish, though sitting that long takes a real toll. I've learned to set a timer and get up and get on the treadmill for a short while, or walk around the house, or do something else to take the stress off my body. For years, if the weather was good, I'd go ride my horse in the afternoon, or at least go see him and brush him off, so I could do something sweaty and dirty and a whole lot of fun that had nothing to do with writing. But. My favorite horse died, and the next one threw me badly, and I can't ride anymore, so I walk around our farm field with our boxer dog and enjoy being outside.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I actually have no idea. Still, I do like complicated stories with lots of characters. That's just the way stories come out of me, and in the Jo Grant books (probably more than my Ben Reese series, which was based on a real-life university archivist who had been a WWII Ranger who worked behind the lines in Europe) the structure's complicated too. Jo Grant, in the preface and the epilogue, looks back on the events she describes in the rest of the novel from thirty-some years later. She "writes" the book in the third person, describing herself from the outside like any other character, but she also includes excerpts from the journal she wrote in the early '60s when the story takes place in order to give the reader a sense of the intensity of what she'd gone through every day. I really like that approach, but some readers may prefer a more straightforward story that's told completely chronologically.

When you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I definitely wanted to be writer. I was pretty obsessed with books. I still am. I don't think I could go to sleep if I didn't read a book first.

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Thank you for being here today, Sally!

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Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Sally Wright said...

Thank you so much for hosting me, Lisa. I enjoyed the interview.