Interview: July 2, 2010
Carla Neggers is the bestselling author of over 50 books, including THE RAPIDS, DARK SKY, ABANDON, and the newly released THE WHISPER. In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Amie Taylor, Neggers talks about what first inspired her to write this follow-up to her previous works THE WIDOW, THE ANGEL and THE MIST, and explains how she first became interested in Celtic history, which figures greatly in the novel. She also gives insight into how she plots her narratives, shares a useful writing tip from writer Gary Provost, and hints at what readers can expect from her next book, which releases in November.
Bookreporter.com: THE WHISPER is a continuation of the stories that take place in THE WIDOW, THE ANGEL and THE MIST. What inspired the plot direction of this latest installment?
Carla Neggers: I knew the first scene of THE WHISPER. I could see Scoop Wisdom in the Irish ruin, recovered from the bomb blast that almost killed him and determined to get back to Boston to find out who was responsible. I could see Sophie Malone arriving with the mysterious black dog who plays a role in THE ANGEL and THE MIST. I didn't know as much about her as I did Scoop. The story took shape from that first scene. Though it doesn't always happen that way for me, it did for THE WHISPER!
BRC: Archaeologist Sophie Malone is a great character. She is especially interesting due to her academic work and her knowledge of Celtic treasures. Is this something you have an interest in yourself, or was it new to you when you began the series?
CN: Thanks! I've always been interested in archaeology and "lost treasure," but Celtic history is a more recent passion. I became interested in Bronze- and Iron-Age Ireland during our visits there, which inevitably led to learning more about the Celts in general. Totally fascinating. I can't wait to learn even more.
BRC: Where does Sophie get her gumption and determination from?
CN: She's a professional archaeologist, with training and experience in the field, but she's also naturally gutsy with a great sense of adventure. She takes sensible precautions and then goes after what she wants. I knew early on that Sophie ran into trouble and found what she is convinced is ancient Celtic treasure while she was alone on a tiny Irish island. I asked myself what was she doing there? Why did she go alone? What kind of woman would do such a thing? And there was Sophie Malone!
BRC: Cyrus "Scoop" Wisdom is a fascinating character; he is extremely self-reliant. What made him eventually let his guard down with Sophie and let himself take a chance on love?
CN: I can't say for sure, but I wonder if Irish fairies might have played a role...!
BRC: In THE WHISPER, you have combined characters from several different branches of law enforcement, including the FBI, the Boston Police Department and the British Special Services. What kind of research was involved in being able to detail these various agencies the way you did?
CN: I've been developing a body of knowledge on various branches of law enforcement and such through interviews, informal chats, observation and traditional means of research (Internet, books). Family and friends have been a huge help! My detective cousin was very gracious in answering my questions for THE WHISPER. I remember once he said, "Now, Carla, we're going off into the land of fiction." Which was a good thing!
BRC: Your characters in THE WHISPER came from such a variety of backgrounds, yet they all seemed so easily believable. Were you inspired by any people you actually know in real life, or were the characters solely fictional?
CN: Purely fictional, although my daughter, who recently earned her PhD in history, was a huge help in shaping Sophie's academic career. One of the joys --- and challenges --- of writing fiction is being able to create characters who are so believable they could be real people. I swear, if Sophie or Scoop, or Myles or Josie, walked into my office right now, I'd immediately know who they were!
BRC: One thing that really kept the tension in THE WHISPER is that information is revealed bit by bit by small bit. We seem to learn something new at every turn. Is it difficult as a writer to hold back and just let your reader know what you want them to know?
CN: I try not to get bogged down in analyzing what the reader knows or doesn't know at any given moment, but instead try to focus on the story. I'd ask myself, "Okay, what are Sophie and Scoop up to now?"
BRC: Damian, Sophie's brother who is an FBI agent, seems like a character just begging to step into the limelight. Are there any plans for giving him his own book at some point?
CN: Tempting. Very tempting. We'll see what happens. I'm just back from two weeks in Ireland and a few days in Boston and bursting with ideas!
BRC: You really put the characters in this series of books through the wringer. Do you ever hesitate to throw a new crisis into their paths?
CN: I remember Gary Provost, a wonderful writer and teacher, saying to dig a hole for our characters and throw them in it --- then warning us not to help them out of the hole but to kick sand in their faces. I'm not as conscious of doing that as I'm writing, maybe, but it gets at the essence of what makes a story exciting and compelling. It'd be pretty boring if Sophie and Scoop faced no or just easy trials. The ones they do face definitely put them to the test.
BRC: With THE WHISPER, you had me guessing until the end as to who was behind the crimes. Do you always have a clear-cut idea of "whodunit" when you begin writing?
CN: Not always, but I did with THE WHISPER. I knew exactly "whodunit" and why, but I didn't have all the particulars on how. Tricky logistics, but interesting to work out!
BRC: As you write the series, does the writing get any easier? How difficult is it to create the back story for readers in each book? Do you keep copious notes on all your characters and settings for consistency?
CN: I love to read connected books as well as to write them. THE WHISPER can be read as a "stand alone" novel, but Scoop appeared in THE WIDOW, THE ANGEL and THE MIST. The bomb blast actually occurs in THE MIST (I'm not giving too much away!). Sophie's a brand-new character. I started keeping basic notes on the characters with THE ANGEL, but I still found myself referring to the books themselves. I always have a solid feel for each character as an individual, though. I would never confuse Simon Cahill, say, and Scoop Wisdom!
BRC: The last time we spoke, you said that Boston is "your" city. What is it about Boston you love the most, and what gives you that great connection to it?
CN: Boston's great! It's an attractive city, with the harbor, the Charles River, Beacon Hill, Back Bay...and it's a walking city. I love to walk. I attended Boston University and have lived in or near Boston most of my life. We just got back from a few days shopping, wandering around and seeing family and friends.
BRC: From reading these books, it's clear you have a love for Ireland. What draws you to it?
CN: I spent two weeks on my own on the southwest Irish coast last fall, hiking and writing and researching THE WHISPER. What an incredible experience. Ireland's easy for us to get to, and we love the openness of the landscape, the mild temperatures, the food, the people. My husband and I were just there again... during rhubarb and strawberry season, no less. Nothing like fresh rhubarb crumble! We hiked miles and miles every day. I've put some pictures of our trip up on my photo blog. I think you'll easily see what draws us there.
BRC: Any travel suggestions for those of us planning a trip to Ireland? Any must-sees?
CN: For me, there's nothing like “walking the ground.” Don't just see Ireland from a car window! It's worth it to get information on the Kerry Way and the Beara Way and plan to do a chunk of them --- even for just an hour. And there's a reason Killarney National Park is so popular: it's gorgeous. We love the restaurants and shops in Kenmare. We've only spent a day in Kinsale and want to go back. And Dublin --- loved it, want to go back and see more.
BRC: Are you a writer who does extensive outlining and plotting before you begin, or do you prefer to just follow an idea and see where it leads you?
CN: Well...I'm somewhere in between, and it depends on the story. With THE WHISPER, I had the opening scene, the first main "plot point" and a good sense of the villain --- and a lot of questions. The questions kept me excited about diving into the story each day. I'll often start with a basic idea, write 75 pages or so, then see what's what and do some left-brain plotting work.
BRC: Is there any process or routine that has helped you through the years as you've written one bestseller after another?
CN: I love to write. I always have, and I'm as excited about writing now as I was when I first started. I've learned to go with my own creative process. I can't do the X number of pages, X number of hours a day thing. I love to hear how other writers work, but it doesn't mean I can adopt their methods. For instance, I still write a lot by hand. That might seem inefficient to someone who does everything on the computer, but it works for me.
BRC: What advice would you give to anyone with an interest in writing?
CN: Enjoy writing itself and be happy now, not just when you've sold, or hit the bestseller lists, or won an award, or gotten a good review, or a movie deal, or whatever. All that's to be celebrated, but don't let them determine whether you're happy or not.
BRC: Can you share with us what you're working on now, and when might we look forward to seeing it?
CN: I just finished the edits on COLD DAWN, the third book in my Black Falls series set in Vermont (with a touch of Washington, D.C., and Beverly Hills!). It'll be out in November 2010.
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