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 inspired you to write about an arson investigator?
I came up with the story line while I was serving as the Public Information Officer for the City of Dallas Fire Department. A big part of my job was to explain to the public what had happened at fire scenes–the cause, the department’s response, how it could have been prevented, and so on. The more I learned about fire investigation, the more fascinated I became.
Who has influenced your work on this book?
Two people were the driving force behind it. First, my husband, Bryant Tillery, who retired from the DFD after almost 48 years of service (he tells everyone he went to work when he was 12). His dedication to public service was incredible. However, the care and concern he showed those younger firefighters in under his command was awe inspiring. He once told me that his primary job was to ensure his men got home to their wives and children and would go through hell to ensure that happened. The other person was Deputy Chief of Arson Investigation Tom Oney, now retired. Chief Oney allowed me to follow him through fire scenes for five years like an adoring puppy, answering my constant “How?”, “What if?” and “Why?” questions. He was the most incredible and patient teacher and friend.
When you began writing “Hush Little Children”, did you already know what was going to happen?
Yes. I knew who my protagonist and her team were, what the crime and method was, and who all the victims were. However, the ending changed three times. The more I got to know my characters, the more their personalities, opinions and feelings took over. I also added a huge problem for my protagonist to work around, which ultimately dictated the book’s ending.
This book deals with the deaths of some children. Weren’t you worried about putting some readers off?
I’ve worked in and around the fire service my entire professional life. Children die in fires–sadly, it happens. And, I’ve worked at many fires where children were lost. The opening scene in “Hush Little Children” is based on a fire scene I worked. Having dealt with grief-stricken family members, I understand the subject’s sensitivity.
Do you outline, or do you just write as it comes?
This is essentially a police procedural, so it’s absolutely necessary that investigation steps are followed in the right or logical order. Although I wrote a few important scenes before I did the outline, I had to have a roadmap to keep my investigators on the right track.
You worked for Dallas Fire-Rescue. Are there people who will recognize themselves in the novel?
No. I’ve made everyone up. The character of Battalion Chief Aaron Radley was influenced by an old battalion chief, whose name I don’t remember. He was a big, burly man who retired soon after I was hired. I’ll never forget how kind he was–especially his eyes. When I’d see him at a fire scene, he’d give me the information I needed, and always looked at me as if to say, “I’m sorry you have to see this ugliness.” I certainly drew upon Chief Oney’s professionalism and savvy in creating Chief O’Riley, but that’s where the similarities stop with that character.
Your main character has some real personal challenges. Why make her life so complicated?
That’s one of the challenges every author has. You create this person whom you love, then you have to rough them up a bit to take them from the ideal you’ve created and make them real. Because Maggie has chosen to keep a painful part of her past secret, she now suffers the ramifications of that decision. Soon, she realizes that her decision has taken over the running of her life, and has to figure out how to regain control.
You’re a dog lover, why didn’t you give your protagonist any pets?
I’m one of those crazy dog-moms. However, loving them like I do, I know Maggie’s work schedule and life is too demanding and unpredictable for this responsibility. So, as a compromise, I gave her Bonkers–the neighbor’s huge orange tabby, who hangs out on her backyard deck all the time. Bonkers was our neighbor’s cat, and he was every bit as lovable and pampered as his fictional counterpart is in this novel. Maggie also gets a little puppy love from the department’s arson canine whenever she gets a chance.
How much of you is in Maggie Hayes?
Not a whole lot. Maggie’s much more a loner than I am. I’m happily married, and she’s forbidden–for several reasons–from having a relationship with the man she loves. We do happen to live in the same neighborhood, and our homes are a bit similar. Primarily because of past family experience and her job, Maggie’s a bit grittier than I am. She also has a quicker temper. However, we’re both tea drinkers–she for a very personal reason, and me because I simply don’t care for coffee.
Will this be a series?
Yes. I’ve already got the crimes and story premises mapped out for the next two books.
In this series, who is your favorite character?
Maggie, without a doubt. Life’s been pretty unfair to her, but rather than live one long pity party, she just gets on with it as best as she can. However, I do have a very soft spot for one of her lieutenants, the charming Juan Wu. He’s the youngest and newest member of the division and gets a fair amount of ribbing about his name. He often jokes that the department got to check a lot of boxes when they hired him. His mother was Caucasian, his father Asian, his chosen family Hispanic, and he’s gay. He also wants very badly to impress Maggie. What’s not to love?
PHOTOS Duke Morse
HAIR Stephanie Catalan
MAKEUP Christian Iles