(Here's the complete text of my interview with Publishers Weekly from their Oct. 7 issue. The Q&A was trimmed somewhat for space, but is presented here in its original form.)
WALLACE STROBY: When I started doing research into professional criminals, I found that – almost without exception – all the women who were in that life had been drawn into it by a man, usually an older mentor/lover. So that was part of my first thinking about her, that she had a chaotic childhood and adolescence, followed by a series of bad and abusive relationships, and involvement in petty crime. And that this older man – Wayne Boudreaux – had taken her away from all that and, in doing so, brought her into his own criminal life, where he would gradually depend on her more and more for her intelligence, instincts and nerve.
PW: Crissa Stone is a compelling character – she dominates even if she’s not always the one in charge of putting together a team for a heist. Did you envision this character as female from the beginning or did she evolve as you worked on it?
A: I’d always wanted to write a complete novel from the point of view of a career criminal, to get under their skin and see what makes them tick. I’d done this a little bit in THE HEARTBREAK LOUNGE and GONE ‘TIL NOVEMBER, where half the story was told from the point of view of a criminal, but I really wanted to stretch out with it a little. And the idea of having the character be a woman made it more intriguing to me, because it opened up a whole realm of possibilities. A woman would do things differently than a traditional lone wolf male protagonist. She’d have loyalties and relationships, make alliances, and avoid violence unless she had no choice. That became very interesting to me.
PW: In concept, putting together a new team specifically for each caper reminded me of Westlake’s Dortmunder without the comic setbacks his plans always encountered.
A: Well, Westlake was the undisputed master of the caper novel, whether it was in his Dortmunder books, or the more-serious heist thrillers he wrote as Richard Stark. Plenty of novelists have done classic one-offs in the genre, but I think only Westlake sustained that throughout his career.
PW: Two characters who play a large part in Crissa’s life are largely offstage in your books – her imprisoned lover and her daughter.
A: That goes back to the idea of having the character be a woman. I wanted someone who was committing crimes for money,but who was not personally greedy. She’s trying to get her lover out of jail, and financially support a daughter who’s being raised by a relative. These are the things she values, rather than personal gain, and, with them, she’s hoping to eventually achieve some semblance of normalcy in her life, which, to a certain extent, she’s fooling herself about. She starts to recognize that near the end of KINGS OF MIDNIGHT, and even more so in SHOOT THE WOMAN FIRST.
PW: Many crime fiction series appeal primarily to either men or women, but often not both. Do you have a feel yet for the demographics of your readership?
A: Not really. I would hope it appeals to both. The books are about a smart, capable woman, but they’re still, I hope, realistic and honest when it comes to dealing with the crime elements. I’m just trying to come up with ideas and plots that feel true to the character, and that work in that context.
PW: Because Crissa has no real home base for her activities, she can go anywhere for her next job. Do you like the freedom of choice that gives you? What kind of problems result from needing to learn a new locale for each novel?
A: It’s both freeing and restricting. I’d like to write more about the Jersey Shore, which is where I live and where Crissa’s eventual home base is. The only thing is that she would never work close to home, so there’s only so much I can do with that setting. The challenge with the other locales is getting the details right, especially if I’ve never been there.
SHOOT THE WOMAN FIRST is set mainly in Detroit. I’d only intended that the first couple chapters take place there, so I decided I didn’t need to go personally. Eventually, as the book grew, more and more of the action stayed there, and then it was too late to go. I didn’t want the reality of the city to violate what I’d written, strangely enough. So I had a Detroit expert vet the book, and I incorporated all her fixes and suggestions – and there were a lot. Nothing against Detroit though, it’s just the way things worked out.