Interview: Linda Rodriguez

Please welcome Linda Rodriguez, author of the Skeet Bannion series, beginning with Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), which won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Having a leisurely breakfast with my husband to start the day. Then, I’d read poetry for a short time and meditate on what I’d read to put me in the right place for my own writing. I’d write the first draft of a poem or revise one already drafted. (I find poetry the best way to rev up my writing mind.) Then I’d turn to my current novel project and write for several hours. I’d take a break for a late lunch, perhaps a short walk if the weather’s nice, and decide afterward whether to return to writing or take up editing or research or some other necessary task that must be done for this book or an earlier or future project. At the end of a good, long day, my husband and I would go out to a wonderful restaurant for dinner (quite possibly with good friends). Once we arrived back home, I’d read a novel or well-written nonfiction book (usually history) for pure pleasure and not because I must teach it or review it or learn from it—or we’d watch a movie together (and I’d likely knit or spin or weave while we watched). Also sometimes, we like to choose a book and read it aloud to each other over a period of weeks or month. I’d go to bed at a decent hour and fall right to sleep. I’m basically a boring person who could be happy writing and reading (and eating) all the time.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I’m a fiber artist, as well as a writer. I wear a lot of distinctive patchwork or embroidered or embellished or quilted jackets. I have a lot of woven and knitted shawls and scarves, often made of hand-dyed cloth or handspun yarn. I also often carry handmade purses or tote bags with lots of color, pattern, or embellishments.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
First would be Charles Dickens, our Shakespeare of the novel, from whom I’ve learned the origins of storytelling within character, the importance of mystery and energy within any story, and the necessity of productivity. Next, I’d have to acknowledge my dear friend and mentor, Sandra Cisneros, who taught me that I had to take care of myself and feed my own creativity, as well as helping others achieve their dreams. Third would be either Anthony Trollope or Agatha Christie, each of whom taught me the importance of perseverance, habit, and routine, making writing a job that I take seriously without taking myself seriously.

Do you listen to music when you write? 
I love music at other times in my life and was a formally trained vocalist who sang with a jazz and blues band when quite young. Usually, I don’t play music as I write, however, and almost never music with English or Spanish lyrics. Instrumental music or music with vocals in a language I can’t understand can work for me. Often, if I do use music, it’s because I know my writing time will be fractured and the same music throughout will help to put me immediately back into my book’s world. I have, at times, set a playlist for a novel that brings a time or particular background alive for me. My preference is to have none, however.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A handmade dark chocolate truffle infused with orange flavor.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I can’t really answer that without creating spoilers for the plot of my second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust, which will be published May 7, 2013. A news item came together with a concern I had about a societal issue and the need to present Skeet with circumstances that would crack open the protective shell she had built around her heart so that she could grow and develop as a person. My plots usually come out of character. What circumstances or events will challenge my character or stretch her to the absolute limits?

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I don’t think about themes consciously when I write, but looking back at what I’ve written I see various obsessions that I revisit—the empowerment of women (and the tragedy of women who remain weak), the amazing resilience of children even when neglected or abused, the necessity to protect and help the vulnerable, the way the choices we make shape our lives, the need to have the courage to love, and the possibility of redemption and hope.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Skeet Bannion, my protagonist, was shaped in large part by the influence her Cherokee grandmother had on her. Gran is a practitioner of traditional Cherokee beliefs, and Skeet struggles to find a way to balance those with the modern American world in which she must live and succeed, but she draws real strength from Gran’s teachings. In a more negative way, Skeet was shaped by her childhood hero worship of her policeman father and resentment of her Cherokee mother, who divorced him and took Skeet to live in Oklahoma when she was ten. As an adult, she’s come to recognize her father’s alcoholism, misogyny, and anger issues and to understand why her mother left him, but the many years of angry estrangement have left her feeling alternately guilty or resentful toward her mother. This has helped to create a woman who fights shy of emotional commitment, which makes her such a challenge that she is irresistible to some men.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Skeet has the fiercely protective sense of responsibility for “her people” of V.I. Warshawski. She has the lack of interest in fashion or appearance of Kinsey Millhone. She has the common sense and professionalism of Joe Leaphorn, who’s more interested in getting the job done in a professional way and solving the case than in showing off his physical prowess and bravery or “hotdogging.”

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, Patricia Highsmith, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers

What’s next for you?
I’ll be starting the third Skeet Bannion book soon. Trying right now to figure out how I can make life even harder for her and stretch her further, cracking open her shell some more so she will have to grow as a person whether she wants to or not.

I’m also doing the final polish on my third book of poetry, Dark Sister, prior to sending it off to a publisher who’s requested my next book of poetry. And I’m messing around with an idea for a standalone thriller.

***

Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was selected by Las Comadres National Book Club, and was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick. The second book in the Skeet Bannion series, Every Broken Trust, will be published in May 2013. Linda reads and writes everything, even award-winning books of poetry and a cookbook, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LindaRodriguezWrites.  She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.

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8 thoughts on “Interview: Linda Rodriguez”

  1. Wonderful interview, Linda! The list of “obsessions” you mention is fascinating and all of those are such important issues…brava.

    Two unrelated questions: how did you meet Sandra Cisneros and how did you become a fiber artist? (Love SC’s writing–she came to speak at our college a few years ago and she was amazing and inspirational.)

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  2. CK, I started with fiberarts when I was a child. My own Cherokee grandmother and my other grandmother were accomplished needlewomen and taught me to knit, crochet, sew, quilt, and embroider. Later, I taught myself to spin and took lessons to learn to weave.

    Sandra and I became friends when I brought her into Kansas City to give a presentation (850+ showed up for it) and drove her all around the city. She invited me to come to Macondo, the writing workshop and community she founded with some of her MacArthur genius grant money..She’s one of the most kind and spiritual people I know–and feisty and funny, as well. She’s been a major mentor and friend to many writers. One of my favorite people in the world.

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  3. Yeah, Diane, we love our characters, but we have to make things really tough for them to have the best stories. Whenever I see a problem in revision, it’s usually because I wasn’t mean enough to Skeet, so I have to go back and make things even harder for her. I suspect it’s a sadist’s ideal job!

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