Crime writer Jill Edmonson has created a great female private eye in her character Sasha Jackson, as the reviews of her novels testify. Her writing balances humour and mystery, and her Sasha novels have been optioned for development as a TV series. Dead Light District is out and she is working on Sasha 4, Frisky Business. She met me at Slaughterhouse where we talked about sexual motivation and Sasha’s appeal.
How much crime do you think is sexually motivated?
Probably less than at first blush. The knee-jerk reaction for many people if asked this question might be that any type of sexual assault is a sexually motivated crime, but as far as I know from various readings (and not all that many of them), those kinds of crimes are NOT actually motivated by sex. (Experts can weigh in here to correct me, cite case studies, or give stats…).
I think crime motivations most frequently relate to: greed, anger, revenge, jealousy, desperation and addiction. Greed is probably number one. There are enough well-known greed examples to sink a battleship (Bernie Madoff anyone?), but greed also goes to (many instances) of petty theft, burglaries, counterfeiting, forgeries, fraud, insider trading, and the list goes on.
Your Sasha books have been optioned for development as a TV series. Do you think it is possible to write a novel made for TV?
The first three Sasha Jackson Mystery novels were published before the TV option came about. Sasha book four is about half done, and book five is well underway. The Sasha novels weren’t originally written as a script or a screenplay, so they will have to be adapted for TV.
Do you think Sasha appeals to your female readers or your men?
Now this is interesting… If you look at publishing statistics, the biggest group of mystery readers are (traditionally) women, I think about age 30 to 50 (or something like that…). Some (small scale) personal experiences/observations bear this out. Before I even penned my first manuscript, I was pretty involved in mystery fiction. I started (and for a long time ran) two separate mystery book clubs. All the members were women. There were never any guys asking to join. Then there are groups like Sisters in Crime (members are authors and fans or aspiring writers), and you see from them how very, very loyal female readers are. As well, when I was doing my MA (Cultural Studies), I did three research papers on women and crime fiction.
So, I kind of wrote with women in mind, and – at least initially – when I did store signings, I’d focus more on women than men.
The weird thing is that 99% of my fan letters are from men!!!!
I definitely sell more books to chicks than guys at any given store signing. Female readers will often put a quick comment on the Sasha Jackson Mysteries fan page on Facebook, but men actually send emails to me complimenting the books, saying very nice things about Sasha, and telling me they want to read more!
The above may be attributable to all sorts of different things (e.g. perhaps women are more inclined to join book clubs, maybe men use Facebook less… I dunno!) In any case, it’s really neat that the response from both guys and gals has been great: People really like Sasha.
I think, perhaps, my agent said it best: “Sasha Jackson: Girls want to BE her. Guys want to DO her.”
Do you think female killers are motivated by different things than male killers?
Short answer for this one! No, I don’t. I think the same motives (greed, revenge, etc.) are as likely to apply to female villains as to male villains.
Is there a particular event that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
There’s no particular event that influenced my writing in terms of style or how I approach and feel towards writing. There is, however, an event (actually two separate but related events) that gave me the plot for an upcoming Sasha Jackson book. It will be the fifth book in the series.
The event was the purchase of my first home. I guess you could say that I bought a “lemon.” The house had been renovated top to bottom and looked great. The home inspection I had done before purchasing didn’t suggest and areas of concern. When I took possession – in January 2009 – the nightmare began. There were a TON of “behind the scenes” problems, starting with frozen water pipes (remember, this was January in Canada… brrr!) I found that the house had more that twenty building code violations. Long story short, I got a lawyer, went through a ton of hoops, chased a lot of paper trails. Eventually, I got an out of court settlement that I was happy with, and the house was 100% fixed.
Meanwhile, as all this was unfolding (throughout the winter of 2009) another event happened. The house right next door to my new lemon went up in flames… as it happened, it was Friday the 13th of March (not that I’m superstitious…) I’m the one who called 9-11. The windows from next door blew out and landed on my front porch (that was the noise that prompted things…) When I looked outside, there was this guy, on fire, with chunks of skin falling off him! I called 9-11 and stayed with Dude until the fire and ambulance came.
Turns out the fire was started because the house was actually a METH LAB!!!! Meth Dude was in I.C.U. for a long while. Eventually, he was tried and is now locked up.
So, these events will make up part of the plot for the fifth Sasha Jackson mystery.
Do you think writers are motivated by a fear of death?
Hmmm… I’ve never really thought about this before… I’d have to say: Nope. I don’t think a fear of death motivates writers. Perhaps, though, a sort of “quest for immortality” (the author’s words live on…) may motivate some writers (but my guess would be that this is at a subconscious level). It’s also possible that with certain kinds of crime fiction – such as medical thrillers – a fascination with/curiosity about death may be the writer’s underlying motivation.
How would you like to be remembered?
Hmmmm… Is it a wrong answer to say that I just want the books to be remembered? I guess I’d like to be remembered as a good friend, a good writer and a good teacher. Just those three things. Maybe also as someone with a wicked sense of humour and a degree of creative talent.
Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
Hmmm… I have heard of Greene, but haven’t read any of his works. The quotation has me curious now to check him out and try to figure out why he said that.
“A piece of ice in their hearts” is such a cold (ignore the pun) and negative way of describing writers, or at least to me it feels negative. Not surprisingly, most of the writers I know are mystery writers, and I’d describe the bunch of them as fun and funny, crazy (in a good way), curious, and very warm. If one were going to apply that quotation to mystery writers, maybe it should be changed to “have an ice pick in their hearts…” Aha! Now we’re talking… Who plunged the ice pick into the heart and why…?
I lean more towards other quotations about writers and writing, such as the following:
“A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.” – Joseph Conrad
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.” – Anais Nin
What are you working on now?
Sasha #4 – which will be called Frisky Business. It’s about a murdered porn star, no wait, TWO murdered porn stars!!! The plot was inspired by Chapter 2 in “Empire of Illusion” by Chris Hedges. Hedges is a provocative writer (nonfiction), and Chapter 2 had me SEETHING! Mad enough to kill… at least, fictionally…
I also have rough starts for Sasha #5 and #6. Just because I know what order they’ll be released in, that doesn’t mean it’s the order I’ll actually write them in. I’ll open up whichever manuscript I’m having the most fun with, or have the most ideas for.
I also have two pet projects that I have been tinkering with for a while; both are nonfiction. The first is a Canadiana/History/Popular Culture book. The second is a biography of a blues guitar player, whose name I won’t reveal just yet… I keep changing my mind about the angle or tone of the first, and I’m a bit overwhelmed by the research (I’ve dug up way more than anticipated!) for the second. So, I need to figure out what my approach will be with each of them before I dive in again.
If you were paid a sum of money to carry out a hit how would you do it to avoid detection?
Richard! You are diabolical! What a question! You want me to plan the perfect crime, and then share my brilliant plan with you and your readers? Tsk, tsk.
I’ll play along, but for the record, no matter how much money was offered, I’d never do such a thing. But IF IF IF I ever did, I’d choose poison.
Quite some time ago, I attended a lecture about poisonous plants found in your backyard (or the neighbour’s). It really was quite an interesting discussion. Number one thing I learned that night: The camper’s or outdoorsman’s rule of thumb, that if you see an animal eating leaves or berries of a certain plant, then that plant is probably safe for human, is false. The presenter talked about plants that are safe for dogs, but fatal for horses, or berries that are safe for squirrels but unsafe for people. The list was surprising. Innocent and deadly all at once.
Something that stuck with me from that night is: With a certain kind of flower – a kind you’d normally stick in a vase and display on the dining room table – well, the WATER in the vase of said flower is very toxic to humans. How a murderer could get his victim to actually drink that water is something I haven’t figured out yet. But, it strikes me as a cool idea that I may use in a future Sasha book. You could have the “murder weapon” right there in plain sight! Household poisons or toxic things commonly found in nature seem like a neat plot for a mystery novel.
Thank you Jill for an intriguing and perceptive interview.
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