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Interview: June 1, 2005

June 1, 2005's Carol Fitzgerald and Wiley Saichek interviewed Erica Spindler, author of KILLER TAKES ALL. Spindler talks about her inspiration for the book's role-playing plot, explains how she made the transition from writing romance novels to suspense/thrillers, and relates the fascinating story of how she began her writing career. What was your inspiration for the role-playing plot of KILLER TAKES ALL? Are you yourself a fan of role-playing games? If not, how did you do your research?

Erica Spindler: I was at a publishing function and talking to a sales rep about my hometown, New Orleans. He relayed a story about one of his visits. Late one night he and some companions stopped by the bar at The Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue. The Columns Hotel is a very old, antebellum style building on New Orleans' oldest, most beautiful avenues. (By the way, it's the hotel where the movie Pretty Baby was filmed.)

Along about midnight several odd characters strolled into the bar --- very pale, dressed in black, really creepy. They looked like vampires --- or what you'd imagine a 2004 vampire would look like --- not a goofy Halloween costume, the real thing. When one smiled at him and showed their fangs, he was really freaked out.

They learned from the bartender that the group was into a role-playing game. That for the game, the players went so far as to have their incisors filed into points.

That totally intrigued me. The idea that a person could be so deeply immersed in a game, they would actually begin to live it. That their own identity would become so entangled with the character/game they were playing, they would permanently alter their appearance.

I knew nothing about role-playing games. I had heard of Dungeons and Dragons --- the first of such games --- but didn't even know it was called a "role-playing" game. So I began researching them online. I educated myself on the various games and the basics of how they're played.

Then I turned to the "Who and why" people play the games, the psychology of them. A psychologist friend of mine told me that role-playing games could be a powerful tool in the hands of someone with a fragile grasp on reality. I likened it to guns don't kill people, but a gun in the hands of a madman...

I was hooked then!

In addition to Internet searches for news stories involving role-playing games, I visited our local gaming place. The store's owner was extremely helpful, describing in real detail the ins and outs of the games and those who played them.

BRC: What made you decide to pattern the game after ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND? Is it a favorite book of yours?

ES: I needed to invent a role-playing game for KILLER TAKES ALL as none of the existing games had all the elements I wanted for my story --- particularly the concept of last man standing taking all, or as I call it, killer taking all.

Why ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND? Lewis Carroll's story of Alice's trip to a world where everything is upside down has always fascinated me. I enjoyed the Disney version with my children, who were also strangely attracted to the story. The idea of changing Wonderland's (mostly) benign creatures and environment into something dark and frightening really intrigued me.

BRC: What made you choose to set this book in New Orleans?

ES: A couple things. First, New Orleans has it all --- a rich and varied culture, history, the divine and the depraved --- what more could a writer ask for? Also, since New Orleans played a huge part in the original inspiration for the story, it just seemed right to set KILLER TAKES ALL here.

BRC: When you began writing SEE JANE DIE, did you anticipate writing a novel with Jane's sister, Stacy, as the protagonist, or did that evolve? Do you anticipate writing another novel featuring either of these characters?

ES: As my readers know, generally, I write stand-alone novels. KILLER TAKES ALL was an exception because of my main protagonist, Stacy Killian. While writing last year's SEE JANE DIE, Jane's sister Stacy sprang so fully to life, I just had to give her her own story. In fact, she kept trying to take over Jane's story, and wouldn't quiet down until I promised her her own book. I'm glad I did --- I got lots of letters from readers asking for a book about Stacy!

When I began KILLER TAKES ALL, it was with the idea of perhaps doing a series with Stacy and Spencer, one I inserted between my stand-alones. I haven't abandoned the idea, just have it on hold as I write next year's COPYCAT.

BRC: How about future novels focusing on Spencer Malone or Tony Sciame?

ES: I would absolutely bring Tony "Pasta Man" Sciame along for the ride. I really liked Tony.

By the way, some readers may recognize Spencer and the rest of the Malone clan from 2001's BONE COLD. I always wanted to reprise the Malones and found KILLER TAKES ALL to be the perfect opportunity.

BRC: You began your writing career in the romance genre before switching to suspense/thrillers. Was the transition a difficult one --- either in terms of selling the manuscripts to a publisher or convincing "non-romance readers" to read your suspense novels?

ES: The writing transition was organic: In 1996 I came up with a story in which the hero was a NOPD homicide detective and there was a serial killer subplot. (FORBIDDEN FRUIT.) I had so much fun writing those parts of the story --- it felt so right --- that when I began plotting my next novel, I decided to focus more on the suspense. Then with the next novel, I pushed the suspense even more. And on and on. My publisher came willingly along for the ride --- a fact I really appreciate.

The way I changed genres posed some real difficulties in terms of building readership. Authors are often pigeonholed by their publishers --- if you write a romantic suspense or Cinderella story or whatever, they want the same book, or type of book, from you again. For a couple reasons that actually makes a lot of sense, I've discovered. The first is reader expectation. Frankly, most readers want an author to consistently deliver a similar type of story. A romance, a romantic suspense, mystery or whatever. The second reason has to do with sales and marketing. The publisher needs to know who they're selling to and how to package it --- to the chain store's romance buyer, for example, to be shelved in the romance section. With several of my transitional books, they didn't fit neatly into the general fiction, mystery or romance shelves. Not just the editorial content, but even the covers didn't quite work --- too romancy in one section, too mainstream in the other.

It took awhile to build a readership, but now that I have I find that my new "suspense" readers are finding and enjoying those transitional books.

BRC: The story of how you began your writing career is fascinating. Would you mind sharing your story again for new readers who are unfamiliar with your foray into writing fiction?

ES: Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself being a multi-published, bestselling author. I'd planned on being an artist and university art instructor. I studied and planned for that career, had earned a MFA from the University of New Orleans and secured a teaching job at a local university when I was bitten by the writing bug.

I came down with a summer cold and had stopped at a local drugstore for cold tablets and tissues. A free category romance novel was dropped into my shopping bag --- a Nora Roberts, no less! I'd always been a voracious reader, but had never read a category romance. Well, I read that one and became addicted to them. For the next six months I read as many as I could get my hands on. Sometime during that reading frenzy, I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing one.

The moment I did, I knew I had found my true calling. Goodbye paint and brushes, hello tablet and keyboard.

BRC: You studied art. How did this influence your creation of Pogo, the artist character? Did you actually sketch the drawings that you were writing about as you wrote them?

ES: Creating Pogo was natural for me because I lived the whole artist scene. I understand an artists' tools and techniques and although I didn't "sketch" the drawings I was writing about, I saw them in my head as clearly as if I had.

BRC: Now that you have tackled romance and suspense/thrillers, are there any genres you would also like to write?

ES: Nope --- I am very happy where I am.

BRC: What writers --- of any genre --- have inspired you over the years? Do you have favorite books/authors?

ES: My early inspirations were women in jeopardy and gothics by Phyllis Whitney and Mary Stewart, the Trixie Belden teenage detective books; then later, Judith Krantz, Stephen King and Nora Roberts.

My all-time favorites include (but aren't limited to): GHOST STORY by Peter Straub, CHRISTINE by Stephen King, THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT by Sidney Sheldon, GLITTER BABY by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and SCRUPLES by Judith Krantz.

BRC: What can you share about your next novel --- and when can readers expect it?

ES: COPYCAT is the story of two female homicide detectives --- one an over-the-hill veteran, haunted by a case she never solved; the other a young hotshot, obsessed with a series of recent murders --- who join forces to catch a copycat child killer.

COPYCAT will be a June 2006 release.