Eighty years ago, a dead British naval officer named Bill Martin washed up on a Spanish beach. He...
Chatting with Police Procedural Author Linda Berry
Linda Berry’s PRETTY CORPSE was one of the best police procedural novels I’d read in a long time and I read alot! She has a number of other books in the works and I was thrilled that she had the time to chat.
1 Carmen Amato: Linda, thanks so much for stopping by. As you know, I write a police series and am always interested in the genre. I was excited to read your new police procedural PRETTY CORPSE. It was excellent! Tell us how you came to write such an authentic yet imaginative novel.
Linda Berry: Thank you so much for reading PRETTY CORPSE, Carmen. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it. Coming from a seasoned mystery writer, that’s a high compliment.
To write authentically, I do extensive research. That doesn’t mean I let my fingers do the walking. For PRETTY CORPSE, I did dozens of ride-alongs with various female patrol officers in San Francisco. I chose the night shift when the city was rife with criminal activity, and I got to see these courageous women in action. Several of my characters were inspired by the female cops I came to know. Many of the side stories in PRETTY CORPSE are based on actual events relayed to me by police officers.
I lived in the bay area at the time, and happened to meet Officer Nancy Guillory. She had just won the medal of valor, the highest decoration for bravery exhibited by an officer. I asked if I could interview her for a police thriller I was developing. She enthusiastically consented, and that began our journey—real life feeding fiction.
2 CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead character Lauren Starkley? Her life is very complicated, with a powerful backstory. Yet she’s a character we can all identify with.
LB: As a life long artist, I’ve learned to be a keen observer. I watch people—their nuances, expessions, body language. I spent a lot of time observing female officers, and I interviewed them extensively. I saw beyond the uniform, to women who LOVED their jobs, and had completely different personas in their personal lives, where they took on the roles of wives and mothers.
Creating multi-dimensional characters comes with years of writing experience. I was a copywriter/art director for 25 years. I now use words as my medium to paint a scene, to give breath to characters. I read great books, of every genre, and I study technique. I take what I learn and put it to practice.
3 CA: You chose San Francisco as your setting and described it so well throughout the book that I could feel the drizzle soaking into my shoes! Why is that city a good setting for a mystery? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?
LB: The story is set in San Francisco because Officer Nancy Guillory worked there, and that’s where I did my ride-alongs. Also, I knew the city well, after living in the Bay area most of my life. It is a very atmospheric city—with the ocean, rolling hills, the mist, rain, and fog, the city smells and activity, and the rich diversity of architecture and people. Wonderful elements for an author to draw from.
4 CA: Your knowledge of police procedures shone through in PRETTY CORPSE. The villain’s motivation was very inventive, too. How did you research the novel?
LB: The captain of the station gave generously of his time. We discussed many of the scenes up front and he laid down procedures, codes, and officer conduct. He also set me up with many people who accommodated my needs, from the medical examiner to homicide detectives. As far as the villain, I was in a great critique group at the time, really seasoned and talented writers. I thank them for pushing me beyond my comfort zone to make the villain more ominous. I kept plugging away until I had well developed characters, and twists and turns that were really surprising. The first draft took about a year to construct.
5 CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?
LB: Good question. Do I only get one dinner? One author? So many influenced my work, I couldn’t pick just one. I would invite Ann Perry, Louse Penny, Kathy Reichs, Craig Johnson, and John Grisham to dinner. I would serve mystery food—dim sum—Chinese dumplings, because they are delicious and what’s in them is a mystery until you try them.
6 CA: What can we expect next from you? Another police procedural?
LB: Part Two of HIDDEN comes out in September, a mystery with a contemporary western setting. QUIET SCREAM will be out soon too. The protagonist is a female detective who has a big city homicide background. Suffering from cop burnout, she takes a job as sheriff of a small town where the crime is nominal. And then a serial killer moves into her district.
7 CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?
LB: Here is my all time favorite author quote:
“Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.”
More about Linda Berry: The themes of Linda Berry’s novels are murder, suspense, and romance. Her latest, Pretty Corpse, follows a gutsy female police officer who hunts a rapist, only to find the tables turned, and she becomes the hunted. Layered into the story are complicated relationships with her daughter, her mother, her partner. For professional reasons, she struggles to resist her maddening attraction to her captain. Visit www.lindaberry.net to find out more.
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