Who among us hasn’t secretly wanted to write a killer mystery? Not a one, we would venture, not a one. So for a vicarious sense of what it’s like to write sleuths and red herrings for a living, we asked this year’s Arthur Ellis Award Best Novel and Best First Novel finalists a few questions. Nine of the ten finalists responded. This morning, we’ll post the Best Novel finalists’ responses. Then tomorrow, the Best First Novel contenders will have their say! The participating finalists for Best Novel are (and NB: the Arthur Ellis Awards will be announced May 30!) Linwood Barclay for Trust Your Eyes (Doubleday Canada), Giles Blunt for Until the Night (Random House Canada), Stephen Miller for The Messenger (Delacorte Press), and Carsten Stroud for Niceville (Knopf).
Kiley Turner: What's the best season for murder?
Carsten Stroud: From my experiences working with an NYPD Homicide squad in the South Bronx for two years, the middle of August, on any night when the temperature hovers around 90. Any hotter, and it's too damn hot, any colder, and people can handle it well enough not to take an axe to a room-mate who snores.
Linwood Barclay: Christmas. Everything is more fun at Christmas.
Giles Blunt: Tuesday.
Stephen Miller: Well, any season but where I live it helps if it's socked in and rainy. That's when it's most depressing, the rain covers the sound of your footsteps, and washes away the blood.
KT: What's the oddest end a character of yours has met?
Blunt: One murder victim was fed to the bears (post-mortem) to hide the evidence. Based on a true incident, of course.
Barclay: Probably a pencil driven up the nose, and into the brain, of a bad guy by an exploding car airbag, in my novel Stone Rain.
Stroud: In The Homecoming, the sequel to Niceville, a guy took a very bad lawyer hostage and tied him up pretty securely … then got himself killed. Nobody else lived with him or cared about this lawyer. So after a while, when the food ran out, his fifteen cats got interested in the lawyer ...
Miller: I had a character in Field of Mars that was dismembered and packed in a fish barrel, does that count?
KT: What is the best idiosyncrasy you've given a main character?
Blunt: I never give a main character idiosyncrasies. Idiosyncrasies are more appropriate to minor characters, who have to be made vivid quickly and briefly. As to those, I'm quite fond of one of my thieves, who is a Jeopardy addict.
Barclay: In my novel Trust Your Eyes, my main character Thomas is obsessed with a Google Street View-like site called Whirl360. He spends every waking moment on the site, virtually traveling the world's great cities.
Stroud: Don't know how to answer this, since they seem to arrive as idiosyncratic as I could reasonably hope for.
Miller: Most of my main characters are depressingly normal, they have toothaches, they are fed up with their lives and their jobs, they are propelled by illusions and dreams that won't ever come true. They don't usually stick out, they blend in and either have to do horrible things, or survive them.
KT: When you need inspiration, where do you turn?
Blunt: Shopper's Drug Mart.
Stroud: My wife Linda and I hit the road, travel the interstates, go to Italy, go to Central America ... get out in the world, shut up, look and listen.
Barclay: A bottle. No, seriously. That's a tough one. Because when you're writing a book, and hit a wall, sometimes the best thing to do is walk away and think about nothing. You clear your head. And then, out of nowhere, the solution to your problem comes to you.
Miller: To history. Everything has been done. To death. Every conspiracy has been plotted, covered up, and most have been discovered. All those dead people in the past? They were just trying to be like us.
KT: "If you are a mystery writer, you are also ___."
Stroud: … burdened with a well-developed sense of Justice and Injustice and the parallel understanding that there's a whole lot of difference between Justice and The Law.
Barclay: ... driving everyone around you nuts, because you're always working out a puzzle in your head, and not paying attention to what's being said around you.
Miller: …a geek with a knife. A suspicious husband. A natural actor who plans revenge served cold. A flatulent miser. A frustrated politician with no chance to remake the world.
KT: What's the weirdest real-life consequence of being a mystery writer?
Stroud: Everyone I meet tells me that when they retire from whatever the hell it is they do, they are going to write mysteries. And I say that when I retire, I'm going to do whatever it is that they do. This works best on surgeons and litigation attorneys.
Barclay: Coolest thing that has happened to me in a few years; I did a signing on the high-speed TGV train from Paris to Lyons. My publisher handed out free copies of my latest novel, and the passengers all came to the bar car to have them signed.
Blunt: Discovering that publishers, agents, and readers are convinced you couldn't—or shouldn't—write anything else.
Miller: People really admire you for just being who you are.
*Sean Chercover, author of The Trinity Game, is also a finalist for Best Novel, making it five authors who are shortlisted in this category.
*Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment with the five finalists for Best First Novel!
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