1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your debut mystery novel “Winter Witness”, and I’m eager now to read the second book in the series. Congratulations on the positive reviews. What is the most rewarding thing about your writing journey so far?
By far, the most rewarding thing has been receiving positive reviews and feedback from complete strangers! When my dear friends and family praise my book, it is lovely and so welcome, but when a stranger does it, it’s validation. Sometimes someone will review my book in such a way that I realize that they totally “get” my book, that they understand my characters and what I was aiming to impart. That’s a remarkable feeling. And to top that off, because I have such wonderful fans and readers, WINTER WITNESS was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel! (Final voting takes place July 17th.)
2. After reading your book AND your bio, I see that several aspects of the book stem from events and/or characters in your own life. Your son is living in Japan, your cat is named Shelby, etc. Will you continue this trend in further novels?
WINTER WITNESS is the first in a series, so many of the existing aspects will definitely remain. In addition, I find my local community to be very rich in characters as well as situations, and they will continue to find a home in my books as well (in disguise, of course!) I plan on bringing Bianca to Japan in book three, so that aspect of Bianca’s life will resemble mine even more closely.
3. While reading your novel I was strongly reminded of the work of Louise Penny and from reading online, I am not the first to think this way. Do you think the setting is mostly responsible for this, or are you a fan of hers and soaked up some of the ambiance of her novels?
I do believe that the setting has something to do with the comparison to Louise Penny’s books. Did I mention that I never get tired of hearing that? I think my village has a similar feel – quaint and tight-knit but with enough simmering below the surface to keep it from being too comfortable. I think another point of comparison are the themes and the fact that her Three Pines and my Batavia-on-Hudson are cozy settings but are not cozy books. We are grittier than most cozies, so perhaps there is something there.
When I started writing WINTER WITNESS I did some online research and thought from the descriptions I found that I was writing a cozy. Then I read that cozies were dead and that I’d never get one published. I since have discovered that cozies are far from dead and that I wasn’t even writing a true cozy. Then I discovered Louise Penny and realized that there might be an audience for my book after all.
4. Do you have family and/or friends proof-read your novels, or do you depend on your publisher’s editorial staff? Who is the very first person to read your finished work?
My husband reads first. I trust him. He is an educator and knows how to critique. He’s also tender and wonderful so he is a safe place to start. After that, I revise, and then I have a few beta-readers who give me feedback. Then I revise again and do several close readings checking for certain things I am concerned about such as descriptions, humor, dialogue, continuity etc. Then I do a few close readings for editing/proofreading purposes. Then off to the editors.
5. You have based your mystery series in the Catskill/Hudson River area where you live. How important is ‘setting’ to your series?
Setting and character are my main reasons for writing this series. The setting dictates the ambiance, the types of problems the characters have. It also gives the reader a place to escape to. I want this series to be entertaining and thought provoking, but I also want it to be an invitation at the end of the day for someone to relax and unwind. Certain settings are better for that than others.
6. Your protagonist, Sheriff Mike Riley, seems to have a less than ideal marriage. Do you plan for him to have any romantic involvement with co-protagonist Bianca St. Denis in further books? (I hope your answer is yes…)
This is probably the most common question I get and I’m so glad. I always enjoy a little romantic tension in my reading and watching – subtle things that remind us how it feels to blush around someone. I intend to continue to put Bianca and Mike in each other’s way throughout the books and have them work out their feelings. I won’t give anything away, but they will need to keep dealing with each other…
7. I was tickled to learn that you worked in a public library – as I retired from a public library career five years ago. Was it exciting to see your own work on the library shelves?
Okay, so now that you mention it, maybe this answer should be in question number one. Because – Yes! Seeing my book on a library shelf was miraculous! Libraries have always been my favorite places in the world and to see my book take a spot on the shelf made me cry. Seeing it on bookstore shelves was a close second, but libraries are where my love of reading originated.
8. What was the hardest part of writing “Winter Witness”? The beginning, the middle, or the end? Do you create an outline first?
I am very visual, so as soon as I have a basic outline, I start with a whiteboard and map out the trajectory of the story. Then I develop a thorough outline. I also tend to revise as I go. I know that many writers consider this a no-no. It probably slows me down, but I feel much better tightening up my work as I proceed. Once I get past the middle hump I put the remaining scenes on index cards and work my way through, one at a time.
The hardest part is the middle, I think many writers will tell you that. Some call it the messy middle. You need to start tying things together and gearing up for the last third without boring your reader. It’s where I do the most cutting. My beginnings and my endings tend to be tighter from the start.
9. Reviews, both good and bad, are part of the writing experience. How important do you think they are to the success of a book? Do you think blogger’s reviews are honest and fair for the most part?
I certainly hope they are fair and honest. I get the impression that bloggers tend to choose to review what they are interested in, so I think a certain amount of winnowing out the negative starts there.
I write reviews of Japanese books in translation and you will find that I, as well as most of my colleagues on the Books on Asia website, write fairly positive reviews. What I think happens is that we will pass on a book that we aren’t enjoying rather than reading to the end and writing a bad review. There is so much good writing out there, there is no need to focus on what isn’t good. It appears to me that most honest reviewers will tell you what works for a book and why it gets the stars they give it while also telling you the shortfalls. Often these shortfalls are not enough for the reviewer to tell you not to read a book.
Today, more than ever, reviews are important. We have evolved into a culture that has access to so much that reviews help us make difficult choices. So I do think reviews contribute to the success of a book.
10. Writers are also avid readers. What type of book do you like to read for pleasure?
Mystery is always a favorite. I came to the genre via Martha Grimes, and I read all Louise Penny’s books and Julia Spencer-Fleming. I read literary fiction, especially foreign works in translation. I am deeply immersed in Japanese writing at the moment. I started out as a Murakami fan many years ago, and over the years I have discovered several others I enjoy. Female Japanese authors are finally getting their due and I’m very happy about it.
I have read all of Anne Tyler several times because she is a master at character development. I also love flash fiction, and write my own. If you write flash or want to try, visit my new blog where I am providing prompts.
11. If you could sit and enjoy a chat and a glass of wine with another crime novelist – who would it be?
There are so many great answers to that question, but I would have to say Louise Penny. I have met her a couple of times and I have even chatted with her (lucky me, I found myself alone with her in an elevator once), but I would love the opportunity to pick her brain on the subject of small communities and their special entanglements. I would like to share ideas on bringing small town characters to life with all their flaws and aspirations.
12. Are there some books that you find yourself recommending to all your friends? Tell us two titles that you recommend. One mystery, and one other.
The Man with the Load of Mischief – the first in the Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes. Before Louise Penny there was Martha Grimes. A small town with interesting, quirky characters and well developed mysteries.
Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto is a treasure. Her ability to tell a long arc story with such well-developed characters in the confines of her setting is a miracle.
13. How long will we have to wait for the second installment in the Batavia-on-Hudson series?
Book 2 – DEAD MAN’S LEAP is due out April 2022. The first draft is done. I am now in revisions. I have done a broad outline for book #3. It is looking for a title but it will have Bianca traveling to Kyoto Japan.
14. How much input did you have in choosing the cover for your novel?
I was very lucky because my publisher was happy to work with the artist I wanted. Sachi Mulkey is so talented. She has done two covers for me now and the map of the village – which you will find in the opening of the book. She recently completed a colorized version of the map as well. I am so glad that Level Best Books liked her work because I had very clear ideas of what I wanted and I felt she could make them materialize for me. She gave me some terrific initial sketches based on my ideas, but the cover we went with was her idea completely. We designed the second cover with a similar feel. You will clearly see the continuity between those covers and we already have the third one in mind.
15. Has your novel been equally well received by readers in both North America and the United Kingdom?
Yes, so far I have been very blessed with positive feedback wherever the book has had exposure, but being with a smaller press means that getting the word out isn’t as easy. I have had some readers from all over, but most of my readers have been from the United States.
16. Do you imagine that someday “Winter Witness” will be made into a movie or television show? Who do you see playing the lead roles?
My son is a film maker and we have discussed this idea at length. We think Vera Farmiga would make a good Bianca. She has a feminine warm quality and seems down to earth. Clive Owen would be a good Sheriff Mike Riley. He is rugged and looks like a handsome version of the guy next door. Robbie Coltrane, better known as Hagrid, would be a must for Big Ben Sawyer. Kate Winslet would be a natural as Olivia Last, Bianca’s best friend. Rebecca should be played by the stunning Rachel Weisz. Between the two of us we have cast most of the many quirky characters in WINTER WITNESS.
Oh, I love your casting Tina. I’m familiar with all of these actors and think they would be perfect for your series.
17. What current novelist do you feel is underrated or deserves to be more well known? (I like to ask this question because it gives me and my readers fodder for our TBRs!)
There is a ton of great writing coming out of my publisher Level Best Books. We are a smaller press, so we have to work harder to be heard. Take a look at what we offer and you would be very impressed. We are diverse and we also have a fairly new historical imprint. Keep your eyes open for Mally Becker’s series. Her first book The Turncoats Widow came out this year. It’s an American Revolution mystery. While Gabriel Valjan’s Shane Cleary series is a gritty noir following a Boston PI set in 70s Boston – think Robert Parker’s Spenser. Linda Norlander’s Cabin by the Lake Mysteries have a country, small town feel similar to my books. Those are just three of the many great new works coming out of Level Best Books.
18. I’m a retired public library cataloguer and have known for some time that mysteries/crime thrillers are some of the most read genres of fiction. Why do you think crime fiction is so popular?
I have no doubt that most people love a challenge and a puzzle. I know I do. In addition, most stories, even those not clearly labeled a mystery, often have a secret at the heart of the story – something that needs to revealed to the characters. Once this mystery or secret is revealed, it unravels other mysteries in the characters’ lives. We love secrets and puzzles and these books provide some of the excitement we crave but from a safe distance.
19. What interview question have you never been asked that you wish had been asked? What’s the answer?
What films influence me? I like this question because I’m a very visual person. My son Alessandro is a film maker and I often say to myself, how would he shoot this scene? My favorite film for its visual impact and storytelling are Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express. Also, Kore-eda’s family dramas are so poignant and demonstrate how impactful a simple everyday story can be. The television series Broadchurch was excellent at revealing motivations, secrets, and drama in such a visually stunning way.
20. How do you wish to be contacted by ‘fans’? Facebook? Twitter? Your own blog?
I’d love it if readers would friend me on all those platforms. My blog is recently started with flash fiction writing prompts, so please play along. Write your own. Comment on mine. I would love the interaction. Here are my links:
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tinadebellegardeauthor/?ref=pages_you_manage
My Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tina.tersigni/
Website: https://www.tinadebellegarde.com/ (sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of the main page)
Feel free to email me! email@example.com