Crime author P D Martin has written five novels featuring Aussie FBI profiler Sophie Anderson. The author spends a lot of time researching police (and FBI) procedures, and checking facts with her pool of experts – a forensic pathologist, a doctor, two profilers and one retired US cop. She’s also worked as a corporate writer for over 10 years, for companies such as Genesys Wealth Advisers, AXA, BHP Billiton and Momentum Technologies Group.
Her current novel Kiss of Death is out now.
She met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about E Books and offender profilers.
What are your views on the rise of the e book?
The rise of the ebook has been phenomenal and there have been some amazing success stories of authors self-publishing ebooks. Certainly ebooks provide a great opportunity for unpublished authors to get their work out to the general public. However, I am concerned about what we lose by cutting out the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ (publishing houses and agents). While there are exceptional books that DON’T get picked up by publishers, there are also many books that are rejected because they’re examples of an author learning his or her craft. Writing is something that we refine over time, and often an author’s first book is not up to scratch. Self-published ebooks also often miss out on the editorial process, something that published authors highly value, having been through that process. I definitely think that every self-published ebook should be edited. I have one ebook novella out, Coming Home, and I made sure to pay a professional editor to review the book before I even thought about posting it on Amazon. I think this is an essential step in self-published ebooks. I also think ebooks are a great way for authors to get their back-list out to the public (sometimes these books are out of print and the rights have reverted to the author), and ebooks are also a fantastic mechanism to get short stories or other works to readers.
Ideally, it would be great if there were still some ‘gatekeepers’ for ebooks to make sure the quality is high, although I read on a blog (sorry, can’t remember which one) that with ebooks the readers themselves act as gatekeepers. A badly written ebook will get bad reviews, where as a stellar novel will get rave reviews and hopefully that will lead to more sales. And maybe even a big traditional publishing deal!
Do you think writers are motivated by a fear of death?
When I first read this question I was assaulted by images of someone standing over a writer saying: “If you don’t finish this book your punishment is death.” But then I came back to reality and realised I often think about all the books and stories I want to write and feel a sense of urgency. At some stage, my time will run out, right? I think writers are motivated by lots of things, but certainly there probably is a desire to get that one great novel or their many stories out there before death comes knocking.
Is there a particular experience that has had an influence on your writing?
The experience that probably influenced my writing most was a trip to Europe when I was 21 – it was on this trip that inspiration hit and I decided I wanted to write. I’d always been a keen reader in my childhood and also loved creative writing. However, in my adolescence I moved away from that, taking subjects in sciences and maths, before studying psychology at university. Then I spent four months back-packing around Europe with my boyfriend and I was blown away by the history and beauty, particularly in Paris. A sense of creativity was surging through me, and I started writing. I even tracked down an English bookstore in Paris and bought a book on creative writing, then and there!
Do you think female killers are motivated by different things to male killers and what do the differences show about gender?
I think the differences between males’ and females’ motivation to kill depends on the WHY behind the crime. For example, both men and women are motivated to kill by jealousy and monetary gain. So that’s one similarity. But men seem more likely to get caught up in ‘spare of the moment’ violence and are more likely to be part of organized crime and gangs, where violence and often murder is all part of the deal. Is this higher propensity to violence a biological difference or socialized? An ongoing debate! Plus when it comes to serial killers, obviously the majority of them are male, and they’re often motivated by the perverse sexual pleasure and sense of power they get from killing.
Men and women are polar opposites in the way we approach many things, and murder is an extreme example of this. I have seen studies that show men are more likely to focus on one message or cue whereas women see the bigger picture. Perhaps this contributes to the different violence levels of the sexes. Men are also more likely to take risks–and let’s face it, killing anyone has major risks.
Who are your literary influences?
Early on, I was definitely inspired by the likes of Enid Blyton (especially the Famous Five series and The Wishing Chair) and then Agatha Christie who served as my initiation into adult crime fiction. Since then, I’ve read across different genres and authors, but I like to change what I’m reading as much as possible. In addition, I read lots of research books, usually written by cops, profilers, forensic pathologists, etc.
Tell us about ‘Kiss Of Death’.
Kiss of Death was born from the concept: ‘What if there was a cult of people who thought they were real-life vampires? People who really felt they needed blood to survive?’ When I started my research I discovered there were lots of people out there who feel they need the blood or energy of others to survive, and most of these self-labelled vampires have willing donors.
I guess the subject matter for Kiss of Death also comes back to the fact that I’m a closet Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and a fan of some vampire fiction! For me, Kiss of Death was a way I could bring together my two loves. Having said that, Kiss of Death is a police procedural with a murder at its centre, and it focuses on the psychology behind the perpetrator and the cult of real-life vampires who are suspects.
I always love the research element that goes into my novels, and this was particularly fascinating stuff. I’ve written about the vampire research and the cult research on my blog too.
Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
I actually think that in most cases writers are big softies! We have to be able to relate to many different characters, which requires us to be big-hearted and empathetic. Or maybe it’s like ‘method acting’ and Lawrence Olivier saying to Dustin Hoffman – “Why don’t you just act?” Perhaps some writers tap into their characters through empathy and ‘method writing’ while others just act/write it. On a different note, for writers starting out I think a piece of ice in the heart is a helpful thing – handy for rejection letters.
How does your perspective as an Australian influence your writing?
Originally I think being an Australian held me back in terms of writing the Sophie Anderson series. You see, most people set their books in countries where they live or have lived. However, I knew early on I wanted my main character to be a profiler and when I started researching I realised Australia only has three profilers! I wanted Sophie to be working in a team of profilers, which meant placing her overseas. The FBI then became my preferred choice. Of course, I could have made my main character an American working for the FBI, but I felt like I needed to keep some of my own cultural identity in the book! But it can be tough setting your book overseas.
Also, because Australia is a much smaller country than the US with a lower crime rate, there are many more realistic storylines available if the story is set in the US.
How much do you think a crime writer needs to understand about the criminal mind and do you think crime fiction is ultimately a morally conservative genre?
In my case I need to understand a great deal about the criminal mind because my main character is a profiler with the FBI, so it’s all about the psychology behind the offence and the offender. Luckily for me there are some great research books out there and I’m in regular contact with one of the Australia’s three profilers! In general, I think crime writers these days do need to understand the criminal mind, because for most readers the WHY is just as important as the WHO. And, of course, the why is in the perpetrator’s mind.
I don’t think crime fiction is morally conservative, but I don’t think it’s ‘radical’ either. Crime fiction these days is often graphic and while some people may say it’s gratuitous violence (and therefore NOT morally conservative) I think the level of violence and forensic detail is more about how the genre has evolved over the years. The genre, and the writers, are keeping pace with the science — and maybe the style of crime TV shows too (but that’s a whole different subject).
Talking about crime fiction’s evolution, how do you think the genre has changed since the days of Agatha Christie?
I was a huge fan of Agatha Christie when I was growing up, but times have certainly changed and I’m not sure I’d enjoy those books if I read them now. I prefer the more modern, forensic-driven novels and that’s probably why I write that style of book myself. As I mentioned above, I think the changes in the genre have been largely driven by the science and forensics used in law enforcement. Early crime fiction focused on obvious and traditional ‘clues’ but the developments in forensics and technology have been massive and led to so many changes in law enforcement. From DNA and scientific techniques to computers, which give law-enforcement officers (and our fictional characters) access to national and worldwide databases of fingerprints, shoe prints, DNA, etc. I remember researching the presence of lipstick on clothes, and discovering the US has a database of most lipstick manufacturers’ chemical make-up and colours — a match is quite simple.
I think many crime fiction novelists have kept up with the times by writing more forensic-driven books. Plus, nowadays, you see lots of authors who used to work (or still do work) in the field. Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist, Jonathan Hayes is a medical examiner and Stella Rimington is the ex-head of MI5 (yes, that’s spy/action thriller rather than crime fiction but it’s a great example). For us ‘normal’ crime fiction authors, that’s meant we’ve really had to take our research and own knowledge of forensics and police procedures to the next level. The style of popular crime novels has changed dramatically in the past ninety or so years – but so has law enforcement, forensics, technology and the world, in general.
Thank you Phillipa for an informative and engaging interview.
Check out all PD Martin books and trailers here:
‘Coming Home’ (Murderati Ink, 3/21/11) eBook, US and UK
‘Kiss of Death’ (Mira, 8/1/10) Paperback and eBook, US and paperback, UK. See the trailer here.
‘The Killing Hands’ (Mira, 11/1/09) Paperback and eBook, US and eBook, UK. View trailer.
‘Fan Mail’ (Mira, 7/1/09) Paperback and eBook, US and UK
‘The Murderers’ Club’ (Mira, 12/1 08) Hardback, paperback and eBook, US and UK
‘Body Count’ (Mira, 1/1/07) Hardcover, paperback and eBook, US; Hardcover and paperback, UK; and eBook, UK