The Best and Other Interview Questions to Ask a Mystery Writer

There are certain interview questions to ask someone who has just published a novel in a mystery series. And other questions that are sort of odd. Here are the ones I’ve been asked lately.

1. Why did you write it?

Cover of Cliff DiverI wrote Cliff Diver: An Emilia Cruz Novel because current events in Mexico don’t make it to the top news stories for big media outlets in the US, despite the fact that over 60,000 people have died there in the past 5 years amid the ongoing violence. US news stories are more concerned with domestic politics, the Middle East, and Lindsay Lohan. And, of course, the Kardashians. If news stories on Mexico do make it to prime time, they are viewed in the context of the US national debate on immigration. The real story—the toll that the drug wars is taking on the people and culture of Mexico—stops at the border.

Oh wait—there was the story about a Mexican snack food company’s trucks being targeted by cartels. That made it to the US news. Danger to snack food manufacturing is important.

But seriously. Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko books gave US readers an authentic glimpse inside Russia, creating interest and an awareness that hadn’t been there before. I’m hoping that a contemporary mystery series can do the same for Mexico. The reviews for my 2012 political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City–a story from the heart that took on both Mexico’s rigid social system and the corruption that flows from huge drug profits–made me sure that contemporary fiction can ignite popular interest in what is happening in Mexico better than the news.



2. Who should read it?

When I first started writing, I thought my target readers were the women I’d met in Mexico City; smart, educated women who had jumped into the expatriate lifestyle with both feet, ready to learn new things and assessing and adjusting as they did so. But I’ve been happily surprised by the number of men who read The Hidden Light of Mexico City and liked it.

That’s a long way to say that my readers are those who like

  1. Clever, intricate plots
  2. Real characters who experience change and cope with it
  3. Creativity that stems from current events, history, real places
  4. Books that make other cultures accessible to the reader

3. What is it about?

Cliff Diver launches the Emilia Cruz mystery series, introducing an intriguing cast of characters, and putting the reader squarely into the complicated and conflicted world of an honest cop in Mexico. Emilia Cruz is Acapulco’s first and only female police detective so not only do the books have the usual elements of a mystery series—crime, investigations, evidence, clues, etc—but she also has to navigate her way through Mexico’s culture of machismo.

In Cliff Diver Emilia is forced to lead the murder investigation into the death of her shady lieutenant by a union boss with questionable motives. She faces resentment from the other detectives as well as a blood-spattered crime scene, no witnesses, and the shadow of counterfeit ransom money. Missing police files, the lieutenant’s involvement with a past kidnapping, and a possible link to a gang working for a drug cartel further combine to make this a messy case with too many loose ends.

Expecting to become a target herself because of her own brush with the lieutenant’s counterfeit scheme, Emilia must move quickly to find the killer. But as she pieces together the lieutenant’s last hours, she becomes a pawn in an ugly game of corruption, money, and power being played by Acapulco’s mayor (love this character, think a haughty Salma Hayek at her scornful best) and the union boss. Luxury hotel manager Kurt Rucker has some advice for Emilia but the heat between them quickly becomes a complicating factor. He’ll be back in other Emilia Cruz books.

4. I love mystery series. Tell me more.

Cartels and corruption aside, lots of the tension in the Emilia Cruz series stems from relationships between people. Acapulco’s ambitious mayor and the police union boss who complicate the investigation in Cliff Diver will make return appearances. Emilia’s mother, and the strays she takes in, will keep Emilia’s personal life off balance, as will American hotel manager Kurt Rucker. To keep things fresh, Emilia will have a different lieutenant in each novel.

5. I love Mexican food. What do people eat in the Emilia Cruz books?

Er, well. Acapulco is on Mexico’s Pacific coast so seafood is popular. In one scene in Cliff Diver, Emilia and her partner Rico eat at a seafood lunch bar:

Both had plates of rice, salsa, and pescado empapelado; marinated fish wrapped in foil and grilled by the sweaty proprietor. Emilia pulled apart the foil packet, taking care to keep her fingertips away from the billow of lemony steam. The whole fish lay nestled inside the packet, fragrant with citrus and tomato, the fish’s mouth open wide as if in surprise.

In another chapter Emilia eats ceviche—pickled fish–and avocado from a glass jar at a street stand. Her mother makes tamales and Emilia cooks arroz rojo.

6. What are your favorite lines from the book?

 A minute later Rucker was standing by her desk, sweat beaded on his forehead. The starched collar of his shirt was damp.

   “There’s a head,” he said breathlessly. “Someone’s head in a bucket on the hood of my car.”


     Silvio fired his gun into the ceiling and everyone went silent. A large overhead fluorescent light made a sizzling noise and went out.

     “No doubt Lieutenant Cruz has something to say to us,” Silvio said mockingly.


     “You’re a good cop, Cruz,” Salazar said. “The kind that die young.”

     He stood and turned his back on her to look at something on the other side of his desk.

     A paper shredder ground out a symphony as she left.

7. Do you really know anything about Mexico or Acapulco?

  • Mexico’s new president Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated on 1 December 2012 amid charges of  major voting day irregularities, claims of vote buying, and media bias. You can find him on Twitter @EPN.
  • At La Quebrada, Acapulco’s famous cliff divers plunge 136 feet (41.5 meters) into the Pacific and land in water only 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) deep.
  • Mexican government documents estimate that 25,000 people are missing as a result of drug war violence over the past few years.
  • I used to live in Mexico City and blog about my experiences now and then.

8. Tell us some fun factoids about writing a mystery series

  • I read 4 newspapers every day, plus regularly surf 3-5 websites that give me information about Mexico.
  • I use painter’s tape to post notes above my desk. Looks messy. But nothing falls off.
  • Sometimes I take a break and write about my dog.
  • All mystery series writers drink copious amounts of coffee. I am no exception.

9.  Where can I read an excerpt of Cliff Diver?

Here you go. Enjoy!

Cover of Cliff DiverBuy CLIFF DIVER on today! 


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

The mysterious case of 4 Jars of Inspiration

The mysterious case of 4 Jars of Inspiration

Ready to sweeten life? Throw out a sour mindset?

As the author of a mystery series–a relatively solitary occupation–I can’t afford to let my inspiration  ebb away. I’m constantly looking for new sources of motivation, the confidence to tackle new projects, an trying to keep negative thoughts (I’ll never sell a book again) at bay.

Here are a couple of ideas to keep the inspiration flowing and the motivation high. Go get a couple of empty jars, some paper to cut into slips, and a pen. Now.  Really.

The Small Victories Jar

This is a variation on one of the rituals I wrote about in a New Year’s blog post. Keep a jar somewhere you’ll see it every day before you go to bed, along with some slips of paper and a pen. Before you go to bed write down at least one small achievement for that day. Maybe you resisted temptation and didn’t buy a latte. Maybe you didn’t make a cutting remark to that co-worker. Maybe you got that report done on time.

When you are feeling blue, read the slips of paper that have accumulated. You will realize that you have more strength than you thought.

The Memory Jar

This suggestion for a jar comes from (She’s nice. Read her blog.) Her suggestion is to write down good things that happen and put them in a jar. Date the slips of paper and write a short description of the event. To take it a step further, have everyone in the family contribute. Pull the papers out and read them on special occasions or anytime you are feeling nostalgic.

The Pay It Forward Jar

The December edition of InStyle magazine had this tip in its Entertaining section. When you are hosting a party, fill a jar with notes that contain a suggestion for random acts of kindness. As your guests depart, let them each pull out a suggestion they could do the next day, such as “Let someone else go first in line” or Compliment a stranger.”

Take this one step further by pulling out a suggestion yourself once a week or so. See if what they say about acts of kindness rebounding on the giver comes true.

The Purposeful Tip Jar

When I was young, my family held formal meetings where we made group decisions about things like buying a new television. We took turns recording the minutes (years later my mother and I found my sister’s entries in the meeting notebook and laughed until we cried) and all contributed to the fund for big purchases. The lesson about incremental saving was a powerful one.

Start saving change with a specific goal in mind. It is amazing how much change we all have lying around. Gather it up, put a label on a jar and give it a purpose. Not only will it ensure that pennies don’t get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner but when you have saved enough for the item, you can put a new entry into the Small Victories jar!

Do you have a suggestion for creating inspiration? I’d love to hear it!


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

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