Nora McFarland has worked for CNN and is a former community relations manager for Barnes & Noble. She has an MFA from the University of Southern California’s school of cinema and television. Nora lives in Macon, Georgia.
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Q & A
How did you come to write this book?
After finishing grad school I planned to write screenplays – after all, I’d invested three years and lots of borrowed money in a film degree. To pay the bills while I worked on scripts, I got a job as a T.V. News Photographer in Bakersfield – just north of L.A. I recognized almost immediately that the job was a perfect set-up for a mystery. Shooters, as they’re called in the industry, work grueling hours at a frantic pace and report on everything from heinous crimes to bizarrely comical feature stories. I also found myself falling in love with Bakersfield and its unique transfer of rural southern culture to Southern California.
But it wasn’t until I began work at the local Barnes & Noble that I truly considered writing a mystery novel. I had no experience or training for such a large project, but being in the presence of so many books, and meeting the many authors who visited our store, inspired me to make the attempt.
Are any of your characters based on real people?
Leanore Drucker is a nod to two special ladies. The first, Vivian Tucker, passed away several years ago, but I was fortunate enough to work with her in Bakersfield. The second, Leanore Motley, is the mother of an old friend.
All the other characters are completely made up. I worried a lot, when I was first writing, that readers might mistake fictional characters and story elements for real television personalities and events. I can’t stress enough that everything that happens to Lilly, and everyone she meets, came from my imagination.
What are some of your favorite books?
Mysteries will always be my favorite. When I was young, I loved the Basil of Baker Street series and The Westing Game.
Stuart Palmer’s Murder on the Blackboard was the first real, adult mystery I bought for myself in a bookstore. I saw the beautiful art deco cover and fell in love. I loved his sleuth, Hildegarde Withers, and read all of his books. From there I read a lot of the English Golden Age authors like Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. I discovered Patricia Moyes and read all of her Henry and Emmy Tibbet mysteries. That was a fun period in my reading life because the English aristocracy seemed like such a fairy tale world of manor houses and high tea. There’s a part of me that still wants to move to England and find a body in my library.
That period ended when my father bought me The Chill by Ross MacDonald, and brought me back to America, as it were. When I told one of my high school English teachers that I was running out of Ross MacDonald books, she suggested I try some of the contemporary female private eyes. This was the eighties, and the idea that a woman could be tough like Lew Archer, blew my mind. I fell in love with Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky, and Sue Grafton. Around that time I also started reading Lia Matera and Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine.
A little later my mother bought me Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters and I’ve been reading her ever since–including the books she writes as Barbara Michaels.
What’s your writing process like?
When I’m working on a book, I write seven days a week, even if I can only squeeze in an hour or two. If I’m away from it for too long, I have a very hard time gearing back up again. My writing has a certain momentum that I don’t like to interfere with. I think it takes me a lot longer to finish a book than the average writer. I have a lot of bad ideas. I have to get them out of my system in the first draft. Then I can hopefully get down to business in the second.
Even so, there are times when I get stuck and have to walk away for a week or two. I need to clear my head and try to get a fresh perspective. We live in a historic district–which is a nice way of saying our house is old and falling apart. When I wrote A Bad Day’s Work, I tackled home improvement projects when I needed a break. I don’t mind being stuck, as long as the time isn’t wasted.