This week we have something very special for you—absolutely nothing about me or my dadblamed contest!!! Instead we’ve got an interview with veteran crime writer Sandra Scoppettone. Scoppettone has been writing since the 70s. She’s written nineteen novels—five YA (young adult) and the rest crime stories for adults—including the critically acclaimed Lauren Laurano series.
More recently Scoppettone authored the Faye Quick series—and that is just up our mean streets here at Girl Detective, because Faye is a 1940s P.I. Actually she’s a 1940s secretary who gets roped into playing P.I. when her boss goes off to war. The first book in the series is This Dame For Hire, which I highly recommend. The second in the series, Too Darn Hot is due out this June.
DL: Were you a fan of girl detective novels growing up?
SS: Never read a one.
(All the Girl Detectives in the audience promptly faint—I mean, if Girl Detectives fainted—which they don’t.)
DL: How did you come up with the idea for doing a series about a woman P.I. during WWII?
SS: I honestly can’t remember how it came to me. The only thing I can recall is telling my writer friend, Marijane Meaker (Vin Packer), that I had an idea for a woman in the 1940s who takes over a detective agency when her boss goes to war. I can still see that moment because she was so enthusiastic about it.
I love the Forties and I’d never written about them. I’d written about most of the decades in the 20th century, but not that one. I don’t know why as the music and movies of the period were and are very important to me. I was a little girl during that time and I don’t remember a lot about the early 40s except movies and music. My parents took me to the movies every Friday night. And the music played on the radio. We didn’t get a television until I was twelve. Although at the time I sulked about that I’m very grateful for it now. I think listening to radio strengthened my imagination. I didn’t know that at the time but The Shadow Knew!
DL: What kind of research is involved for the series?
SS: I read some books about the period, especially the war years. And Marijane loaned me a lot of material. She had a bunch of Commemorative Yearbooks published by Champlain Publishing Inc. They were called Time Passages and had a page for every month and squares for every day that listed books, music, sporting events, everything that happened on those days in that month in that year. There are also pictures. The most important book I used was the Random House Thesaurus of Slang. This is a completely different type of thesaurus. You don’t have to know the slang word first. It’s the other way around. I would look up girl and be given a myriad of slang.
DL: Is Faye Quick based on anyone -- your grandmother perhaps? Do the women of your family have any particular stories during that era that you were able to draw on for the series?
SS: Faye isn’t based on anyone. I think she’s more a composite of 40s movie stars. Part Stanwyck, part Ann Southern, part Joan Blondell and all the others. There are no surviving women in my family from that era. You couldn’t know this, but the thought of Faye being based on either of my grandmothers is very funny. Of course there’s always a little bit of me in any character I create…especially if I’m writing in first person. I don’t remember any stories, but I do remember my mother crying when the bells sounded that the war was over.
DL: How relevant is the story about a vintage P.I. for contemporary readers?
SS: People are people. I get fan mail from men and women in their twenties, thirties, forties, and I got one from an eighty-two year old man. I think it’s very relevant right now as we’re in a war. But we didn’t need a war to make it relevant to readers. I hope my characters are universal.
DL: I found them real and refreshingly true to their time. Are you familiar with the writings of women writers of the 30s and 40s? Any favorites?
SS: I guess you mean crime writers. The best one of all in the Forties -- or any other time for that matter -- was Dorothy B. Hughes. Three of her novels were made into movies. Probably the best known was In A Lonely Place with Bogart and Gloria Grahame. I would have to say she’s my favorite. I never much cared for Christie. I don’t deny that she was the master of plot, but that isn’t all I look for in a crime or mystery novel. Josephine Bell was English and was very prolific. Helen MacInnes was Scottish. We had Craig Rice and Vera Caspary, but I’m sure I’m forgetting many, although I have a feeling there weren’t lots of American women crime writers during the 30s and 40s. I can hear the tapping of keys now telling me how wrong I am.
(Yes, but we'll let that go.) ;-D
DL: How much of a challenge was it finding a publisher for this series?
SS: No challenge at all. Ballantine was the first to see it and bought it on the basis of 100 pages. This doesn’t happen to me everyday.
DL: What are the unique challenges (or pleasures) of writing a historical series?
SS: My friend Annette Meyers, who has written an historical series with her husband Marty Meyers, is always kidding me because from the time we met I said I didn’t like historical mysteries and she considers the Quick novels historical. I don’t. I guess I don’t think of anything in the 20th century as historical. For me, historical begins with the 1st Century through the 19th. I know I’m wrong but that’s how I see it.
Okay. The pleasure to me in writing in the 40s was not having to worry about DNA or other forensic techniques. And I didn’t have to write sex scenes. Yes, I know people had sex then. But to show Faye or any other character having sex wouldn’t be right in the context of these books. If Faye ever gets around to it there’ll be a fade out or a cut to a roaring fire.
(The Girl Detectives are chuckling at this, being rather fond of fades and fires ourselves.)
DL: Tell us a little about the new book, TOO DARN HOT.
SS: This one takes place in the summer of 1943. All I’m going to say is nobody is who they seem to be. And I deal with anti-Semitism.
DL: Okay, well then we'll just have to buy the book--which I, for one, planned on doing anyway. So what's ahead for Faye Quick--and Sandra Scoppettone?
SS: I don’t know about Faye. Ballantine hasn’t offered me a contract for another Quick novel at this point. So it might end up being a series of two. As for me, I’m writing a stand alone crime novel. It’s contemporary and I’ve never written anything like it. But I’ve always wanted to. It’s a slippery devil and I’m learning as I go along. Some days I feel very confident and then there are those other days we all know about. This one has multiple points of view and is written in the third person. I don’t intend to give a hundred pages to my agent this time. I want to write the whole thing. Just to make sure I can actually do it.
Thanks to Sandra, and our sincere hopes that Ballantine is smart enough to give this series time to find its audience!
For more information on Sandra Scoppettone, check out her website or her blog.