Questions and Answers
Why did you choose to write mysteries?
I’m a life-long fan of mystery fiction, and I’m fascinated by the psychology and challenge presented by detection. My husband tells people that if a book or movie doesn’t involve a dead body and a detective of some kind, he’s sure I haven’t read or seen it. That’s not entirely true, but pretty close. One of my favorite quotes is from the late P.D. James. When asked if she always wanted to be a mystery writer, James said that the moment she heard Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, she wondered if he fell or if he was pushed.
What inspires you?
I’ve written entire scenes based on off-the-cuff comments someone made or a story they were telling me about something completely unrelated. After more than 30 years as a journalist, I’m a shameless and very effective eavesdropper. In this series, the wonderful historic Stewart’s Mansion was my greatest inspiration. I was totally enchanted from the first moment I saw it.
The Stewart’s Mansion has quite a history.
There is so much folklore attached to the mansion, which sits on pirate Jean Lafitte’s original settlement site. From the Campeche Hell Dogs to cold breath on the nape of one’s neck, and crying children in the night to mutilated pirates, this place was begging for someone to write about it. I was thrilled to be able to incorporate so much of the property’s history, real and believed, into the series.
Who has influenced you?
My father and I shared a special love of books. My favorite authors have naturally been a great influence. I’ve lost a lot of sleep at the hands of these talented writers and their compelling stories. I hope to return the favor.
When you began writing this novel did you already know what was going to happen?
I knew how the story was going to start and end, I just had to get from Point A to Point B. I immediately knew who my main character was and some of her background, and who the killer was and their motivation. As the story progressed, Abby grew, as did the other characters.
Do you outline, or do you just write as it comes?
As I develop a story, I write a series of key scenes. With those done, I have a pretty clear idea where the story is going, and then it’s time for the outline.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. Being a reporter for so long, deadline is always looming, and writer’s block is a luxury you just don’t have. Fortunately, you can always edit and rewrite. I do have times when I’ve written everything I’ve thought out, and I don’t have anything else in mind to write. At that point, I’ll do something else. While writing “Three Trees,” I got to just such a point. I went out and began doing some gardening, and I thought of a character who should be in the story but wasn’t (Maybe it was handling sharp tools; I’m not sure.). The addition of this character proved to be the catalyst for one of the most important scenes in the book and caused a lot of problems for everyone else.
You live in Dallas and write about Dallas society. Are there people who will recognize themselves in your novel?
Gracious, I hope not. No character is based on any real person. If there is someone in Dallas society as awful as Abby’s billionaire ex-husband, I don’t want to ever meet him.
Why did you decide to write a novel set in Galveston rather than Dallas?
My family has been taking annual summer vacations in Galveston for almost 25 years, and we have grown to love the old seaport town. One day, traffic on the main thoroughfare was backed up, so we decided to take Stewart Road west toward the little community of Jamaica Beach, where we usually stay. Down this country road, we happened upon this rambling old mansion. I fell in love with it that moment. I immediately began to think about who would live there, why, and what could happen. It was as simple as a traffic jam.
Your main character is a former victim of domestic violence. Why?
Mystery novels are rooted in reality. Unfortunately for many, domestic violence is their reality, and sadly too often ends in death. I’ve had the honor to serve on the board of directors of The Family Place in Dallas, the city’s largest organization designed to move families from fear to hope. These brave individuals who find the strength to take control of their lives and stop the abuse inspire me greatly. Also, Abby is in her late 20s, and I’m in my 50s. I needed to make her something of an old soul so she didn’t sound middle-aged. What I’ve put that poor young woman through would age anyone.
Why make your protagonist, Abby Norton, a former reporter? “Three Trees” is essentially a police procedural, so why not just make her a cop?
I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years, and knew I could write about a reporter with an experienced voice. Besides, I’ve got a king-sized crush on my fictional detective. This also enables me to write from both the amateur’s and detective’s perspectives, to mix it up a bit.
Why did you give your character two black Labradors?
We love black Labs, so she was going to have one. Then my husband told me that he really saw her having two. She’s a woman on her own, vulnerable, and rescuing these two pups gave her purpose, companionship and unconditional love. The same evening we had this conversation, I discovered the story of the Campeche Hell Dogs - Jean Lafitte’s fictional pack of black dogs that roam the property protecting his buried treasure.
How are you and Abby Norton alike? Were you really just writing about yourself?
We do have a few similarities. For example, I’m also completely and irrationally terrified of snakes and am obsessive about punctuality. I’m a former police reporter, love mystery novels, British cop show series, Jane Austen and French antiques. And, yes, we both love fashion and are tea drinkers. However, I don’t have long, curly red hair, am not extremely wealthy or compulsively neat, in my 20s, an orphan or short. I’m also very happily married to a wonderful man.
PHOTO Wade Livingston
WARDROBE Escada Dallas
HAIR Stephanie Catalan
MAKEUP Kim Rozell
So this is a series?
Yes. I’m working on the second book, which opens with a tragic reference to The Battle of Three Trees. This was a bloody conflict between Jean Laffite’s men and local Indians that took place on the mansion property. There are a number of reoccurring characters, including John, Paul and George–the mansion’s mysterious pirate murals.
In this series, who is your favorite character? Although I love Abby and all my detectives and firefighters, my heart belongs to Thomas Longfellow, the mansion’s old caretaker. And, of course, there’s Abby's black Labs, Harold and Charlie. The home’s pirate murals are also proving very interesting characters. Oh, my. That’s more than one.