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Interview with Eleanor Taylor Bland
by Jon Jordan

Eleanor's Web Site

JON:   What gave you the idea for this series with Marti MacAlister?

ELEANOR:  When I started writing Marti, maybe twelve years ago, I had no idea of what I was doing. Gar and Walter were publishing, Barbara's book came out a few months after mine. I had only been reading mysteries for two years. So, I didn't have any ideas beyond writing a mystery and getting it published. And, even now I stay about three to five chapters ahead of the reader. Everything
that has happened since DEAD TIME, has just happened. I got a contract for another book, so I wrote it, although I would have regardless, I was hooked. The primary reason why Marti is a cop is because I was working full time, raising an infant grandson and for a while going to grad school and it seemed counterproductive to make writing a book any more difficult than it had to be and I didn't want to waste too much energy on figuring out how a private citizen or PI would keep falling over bodies.

JON:   The setting in your book is an important part. Almost another character. Do you work at that?

ELEANOR:  Yes, but again, I fell into it, it wasn't planned. A friend at work who liked DEAD TIME said he really liked figuring out where the places were. I told him that I appreciated that and would do my best to continue to do that, but that Waukegan (Lincoln Prairie) wasn't a big city like Chicago and I wasn't sure what I could do. However, from that day to this I work as much about the local scene into the books as possible. I enjoy it as much as the locals.

JON:   Once people start your series they get hooked. What do you think makes them so addictive?

ELEANOR:  Marti. Or at least that's what they tell me. Readers say that she is like the person next door or that they wish she was the person next door. I would also like to think Vik, the rest of the regulars , the social issues and other characters as well, but I know that most of all it is Marti.

JON:   How important is the relationship between Marti and her partner Vik Jessenovik?

ELEANOR:  Absolutely critical. They are a team. They have to think, act, respond, in tandem, they have to be able to intuit what each of them are thinking, they have to interpret non verbal signals. They have to get along with each other, sometimes in a prickly kind of way, and Marti has to drive.

JON:   Gone Quiet was being adapted into a play. Was it weird to see your characters come to life?

ELEANOR:  The playwright, David Barr, is still developing the script. I have met the actress and she is very enthusiastic about doing this. They want me to be involved and have input. We will be meeting again soon. I will be involved in whatever capacity is comfortable for both of us. However, Marti exists in my mind and I have a strong hunch that when I see the final version of the play it isn't going to be as real to me as the books.

JON:   Whatís the best part of being a writer?

ELEANOR:  Getting it right. That paragraph, scene, whatever that needs little or no revision, and says and does exactly what you want it to.

JON:   How do you keep busy when you're not writing?

ELEANOR:  Grandchildren, grandchildren, grandchildren.

JON:   Youíve also written a fair amount of short stories. Do you like writing in the shorter format?

ELEANOR:  It depends. I could not just think them up on my own. I need to write for a specific anthology, have some predetermined goal. I don't ordinarily think in sound bites.

JON:   In the new book, Whispers In The Dark, the case revolves around arms without bodies. Where did this idea come from?

ELEANOR:  I have no idea. I always have at least three books floating around in my head. Some things I can go back to impressions, events that happened ten, fifteen years ago. Eventually things begin surfacing. Whatever floats to the top and grabs my attention first is it. One of the things I do deliberately though, is give Marti and Vik as little as possible to go on when they are solving a homicide, and this was minimal, wasn't it?

JON:   Fans seem to take to Marti in a big way. I would guess that people always want to see certain things happen for her. Are you influenced by fans requests?

ELEANOR:  yes. Actually, I run things by them at fan conventions and signings, especially if it is anything major. Readers were pleased when I said Marti and Ben would not have premarital sex, one reader told me 'No, you can't let Ben and Marti get married !!!" When I asked why not she said "Because I like Ben and if they get married you'll have to kill him. Apparently that's what we do in mysteries. Hopefully I have made it clear to the readers that I am not going to kill Ben. Recently, a reader asked about Denise Stevens, the juvenile probation officer. Denise was featured in GONE QUIET, and has had walk-ons ever since. That reader got me thinking, so there will be a little more of Denise in number ten, the book I'm working on now. Oh, and then there's the spider plant. I didn't mention it in one book and got lots of people asking if it was dead - No, it's alive and thriving on caffeine

JON:   Does having Grandchildren around influence your writing?

ELEANOR:  They are a constant, healing, life source. Also they keep me in touch with and focused on what it is like to be a child. I go into schools as often as possible also. Children have no voice in our society. Parental rights seem to supercede their rights most of the time. We're now sending juveniles to adult jails .....and the list goes on.... in number 10 I am once again focusing on children, and it feels right.

JON:   What kind of movies do you enjoy?

ELEANOR:  Very few. My sons and grandson know the ones I will like and point me toward them, I would never seek them out on my own. one that I particularly enjoyed was The Negotiator (?) I think thatís the right title. I've also seen all of the Jurassic Parks, I LOVE THE ANIMALS - not impressed with the story line. I will watch any of the Jaws movies, although the first was best, I saw Planet of the Apes and thought the original was much better, took the granddaughters to see one about The Princess and enjoyed it. Also going to see, and have read, Harry Potter. Plan to see Monsters, Inc, but haven't gotten around to it.

JON:   If you were able to talk to Eleanor as a teenager, what advice would you give her?

ELEANOR:  Not to do anything differently. I'm not a strong believer in fate, but I do believe that you do the best you can at any given time. You work with what you know, what you've learned, who you are, and kind of apply that knowledge and experience to the situations you are in - if you are smart - I've had a lot of difficulty in my life but I wouldn't change any of it.

JON:   Who are some of your favorite authors?

ELEANOR:  Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, Peter Lovesey, P.D James, Ruth Rendell, among the Brits, And since Bouchercon I have more books by Brits and that list will probably increase. I think Walter Moseley's Always Outnumbered always outgunned is the best thing he's ever written. I read about all of Sara Paretsky, although I sometimes have a hard time with the heavy stuff, Marcia Mueller, Fred Hunter, Linda Barnes, Penny Mickelbury, Gar Anthony Haywood's Loudermilk series, Grace Edwards, Chassie West, Terris McMahon Grimes, Sujata Massey, Jerry Healy, Terry Flaherty, and Martha grimes especially Cold Flat Junction. There are probably more but these folks come immediately to mind.

JON:   Do you set aside time to write, or do you write when the mood hits you?

ELEANOR:  I retired in 1999 and was sick most of 2000 so I haven't really hit a rhythm yet. I usually get up about 6:30, turn on the computer and write off and on all day. When I do this consistently the output is about 3-8 pages a day - however this is interspersed with what I call down time. I am very right brained and need to allow time for subconscious process. I usual know when it's time to stop because not much comes to mind or I'm at a stopping place in the book, i.e. part one is done. and I usually know when to start writing again because the thoughts are coming faster than I can keep up with them. Sort of haphazard I guess, but this is the tenth book in the series and I am in no way bored. Also, when it's convention time I tend not to write and listen to the fans instead. One came up to me at a book signing and asked about one of the continuing characters, Denise Stevesn, my 'hat' lady, so Denise is getting more of a story line in this one, One of my doctor's who has read the books suggested that i write something about black males and prostate cancer, so that's going in. Then too, I do not write repeated drafts of the book in it's entirely, I write one book, from beginning to end and go back and revise as I go along. Little bits and pieces pop up, usually right after I start writing after a down time, that are not of major significance usually, but loose ends, or a bit of common sense police procedure that I've overlooked.

JON:   Do you enjoy meeting the readers of your books?

ELEANOR:  I absolutely love it and have ongoing e-mail correspondence with a number of readers. I am always fascinated by the fact that people enjoy Marti as much as I do. And - they care about what happens to these people. I would like to say that is a humbling experienc3e, but it's not. It is a very affirming experience.

JON:   How important is it to have a good editor?

ELEANOR:  Absolutely Critical. I demand objectively from everyone who has any say in the Marti books, from my agent, to my editor to the copy editor, publicist, and I do demand their honesty. I want to put out the best possible book, every time, that is extremely important to me, and the truth is that after a while I loose my objectivity and just can't see the forest for the trees, so I need their input. They are very good about this, and very gentle, but they all are absolutely honest.

JON:   Do you put any of yourself into Marti?

ELEANOR:  Not on purpose. People who have known me for a long time see bits and pieces, like her patience and tenacity. Also, the human issues, the social issues, all of that is me - thinks I care about and am involved with. No matter what anyone says to the contrary, if you don't make that emotional investment in your character, nobody else will either.

JON:   How did you first decide to write novels? Did you ever think they would become as popular as they are?

ELEANOR:  WHEN I STARTED WRITING, AND PUBLISHING, I DIDN'T KNOW ENOUGH TO THINK MUCH OF ANYTHING. I CAN REMEMBER BEING AT WORK ONE DAY AFTER DEAD TIME CAME OUT, AND ONE OF 'THE BOYS' CAME UP TO ME AND TOLD ME HOW MUCH HE ENJOYED IT. Well, I was quite surprised. I had never given a thought to, or even understood, what audience was. I had just written a book, not for women, not for men, just a book. I can remember being so impressed though, that the 'guys' liked it too. It's not unusual for a man to come up to me at an out of state signing and bring hardback copies of all of my books - and they are not for his sister and don't belong to his mother.

JON:   Is it hard to keep track of everything that has gone before when you write a series?

ELEANOR:  Yes, I keep no records, no bio's, no nothing. I few years ago I painted and papered my bedroom, where I also work, and took down the map of Waukegan where I had renamed the streets. I've never found it , so I just started over again, and I have no map now, so the names aren't necessarily consistent. Sometimes I have to go back and flip through books to find out something important. In "Shadows" I make one reference to Vik's father, and I couldn't remember his name. At first I let it go, but somewhere during the revision process took the time to go to a prior book and find out the name. Now I'll probably remember it.

JON:   What is the one thing that is always in your refrigerator?

ELEANOR:  Actually, I hide cookies. I'm the 'Cookie Monster" so I have those that the children may have, and those that I absolutely must have when I am writing and or fiending - those are hidden. I used to just keep them in the frig and tell my sons hands off, but I get no such respect from the grandkids.

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