Monday, July 30, 2012

Scene of the Crime with Author Francine Mathews!

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Francine Mathews' Jack 1939, a book that brings John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt to life in a way you've never seen them before. Since then I've had the pleasure of meeting the author and being able to talk with her for a brief moment at the 2012 Poisoned Pen Conference. At the beginning of the conference I had no idea that she also writes the Jane Austen mysteries under the name Stephanie Barron. When I got home, I found one of her Stephanie Barron books (The White Garden) on my to-be-read shelves, and ordered another, A Flaw in the Blood. Now all I've got to do is read through a pile of advanced reading copies so I can get started on these two titles!

Francine Mathews
As I always do before getting started with the interview, I've rounded up a few links for all of you so you can learn even more about this talented writer:

If you've never read any of her books before, I hope you give them a try!

And now, what you've all come here to read... the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.  I undoubtedly read other books before this, but I remember Willoughby Chase so vividly because it was a marvelous adventure in the lives of two young English girls, who overcame wolves, kidnapping and a horrific governess to restore their birthright and the lives of all the adults around them.  I suspect the book was precious to me because I received it during a day in New York with my father, when I was about eight years old.  He worked at Rockefeller Center, and for some reason I was with him in the city alone as evening came on.  We walked into Charles Scribner’s & Sons, which was a marvelous old bookshop on 5th Avenue that’s gone now—and he bought Willoughby Chase.  I read it during the train ride home.  The book begins with wolves attacking a train—so it was immediately enthralling.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

Free time?  I’m the mother of two teenaged boys, one of whom is applying to college this year, so free time is a scarce commodity.  That said, I love to travel the world when I can.   I steal weekends away with my husband.  During the winter, I ski the Colorado Rockies, where I live, and during the summer, I garden obsessively.  I love food.  I’m a good eater.  I’d drive miles for a great restaurant.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

16th Street Mall, Denver
I would urge you to walk the length of Denver’s 16th Street Mall to the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge that spans part of the western edge of the city.  The bridge itself is a spectacular structure with a canted steel mast; but the point is to pause in the middle, turn around, and look back at the skyline.  The walk earns you a layered view of architecture, which is exhilarating.  On the way back, you could dive into the Tattered Cover Lodo, which sits on 16th, for coffee and a muffin as you browse the books; or turn right into Larimer Street and have a classic French steak frites in the garden at Bistro Vendôme.

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

George Clooney
George Clooney.  Nobody misses a Clooney film.

[I see you must be related to Denise Mina.  *grin*]

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

Peter Wimsey.  And then Harriet Vane.

George Smiley is also right up there.

Name one book that you've read that you wish you had written. What is it about that book that made it come to mind?

Possession by A.S. Byatt.  I am passionate about that book.  It offers such effortless mastery over so many distinct worlds of literature and scholarship; it plays so deftly with characterization and the passage of time; it engrosses wholly with its emotions.  To me, it is a lifetime achievement that dwarfs everything else she’s written.

[I agree. An absolutely mesmerizing book.]

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?

I was first published almost twenty years ago, and it was a gift I attribute entirely to the skill of my agent, who has been my agent ever since.  That contract gave me permission to work at home, on my own terms and schedule, which to my mind is the height of privilege in this life.  I told my husband first.  We had a wager about whether I could sell a book—and I won.

Seeing your book in a bookstore is a source of immense anxiety.  You cannot help looking around and wondering why nobody is reading it, much less buying it.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event? 

I had an aggressive and verbally careless ex-Navy guy stand up and shout a political diatribe at me during a signing for The Cutout in 2001.   He scared everybody at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park out of their wits by announcing he was “Tim McVeigh’s evil twin.”  He recently surfaced in the Comments section of my blog (ten years later), reminding me of the encounter in a lengthy note to which I did not respond.  The fact that I once worked for the CIA attracts this kind of thing.  That’s why my phone number and address are unlisted.

What's the best thing about eBooks? What's the worst?

I love eBooks.  I love the speed of purchase and the instant gratification of the desire to read.  I like traveling with an eReader because it can hold an entire library in a package slimmer than my wallet.  The only problem is that I like to read in the tub.  And that’s pretty dicey with a battery-powered device.

My deeper concern for the industry is that eReaders limit reader awareness of available books, because they’ve eliminated the browsing that made bookstores so useful.  Cover art is largely irrelevant, and no longer works to attract the reader’s eye.  Discovery is limited to what one already knows exists.  That has serious implications for narrowing the publishing field, and I don’t know that anyone has devised a solution to it as yet.  But still I download—and I sense the world is increasingly with me.

On Sale Now!
Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Francine. We appreciate the chance to get to know you a little better.

May your book sales do nothing but increase!


  1. Wow! Ten years later the guy tracked you down? Creepy.

    Very interesting interview. I, too, loved Possession.

    Jack 1939 was such a fun book. In fact, my biggest complaint was that it WASN'T true. Oh, how cool would that have been. :)

  2. I thought it was creepy, too. Which is why I did NOT respond. I didn't want to encourage the dialogue. Particularly if he'd been thinking about it for ten years...
    Being in the public eye is part of being a writer. You can't complain about the down side. But I think it still startles us--because most writers are solitary people. We live in our heads first, and the world second.


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!