Thursday, May 19, saw me jumping into the Jeep once again to head to my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. This time I was going to see CWA Dagger Award winner Dan Fesperman and Alex Grecian, author of the Murder Squad books (one of my favorite series). Although owner Barbara Peters did stop by the bookstore, she didn't stay long. Dana Stabenow was with her, and I have a feeling that they had dinner plans. Tonight would be Patrick Millikin's turn to interview the authors.
|L to R: Dan Fesperman, Alex Grecian, Patrick Millikin|
Dan's latest book is The Letter Writer which takes place in New York City shortly after Pearl Harbor. Alex's books are about the beginnings of forensic science and the formation of the Murder Squad in London shortly after the Jack the Ripper murders. They also show how Jack the Ripper has influenced our current culture.
"Lost and Gone Forever is the third book in what I call my Ripper trilogy," Grecian said. "I've seen the back of Jack, and now I'm done with him!"
"And we get to see the beginnings of a Hammersmith detective agency," Millikin said. "We were talking a bit in the back about where the private detective entered history. Roughly at the same time as your book, we had the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the United States."
"Yes, in this latest book there are two bounty hunters who were originally going to be Pinkerton agents," Alex said.
|L to R: Dan Fesperman, Alex Grecian|
"I ask many people who write historicals... how do you get the cadences of everyday speech? How do you bring the reader into that era and bring it alive?" Patrick asked.
"I read a lot of diaries," Grecian replied. "They don't explain anything; they're just talking about their everyday lives. Of course that often leads me down other rabbit holes of research!"
"Alex doesn't have recourse to this, but I find watching movies of the period to be a tremendous help," Fesperman said. "Another thing that was a fantastic resource-- since I have police characters-- is the monthly magazine published by the New York City Police Department. It's called Spring 3100 after their old telephone number. It's full of precinct gossip, police slang, and you really get a feel for their social lives."
Fesperman's basis for the character of Danziger was a little vignette done by a woman who wrote Talk of the Town in the 1930s. As he read those few paragraphs, he realized what a repository of information and secrets a letter writer would be, that such a person would have access to better and more reliable information than the State Department about what was really going on in Europe as Hitler's armies advanced. The only other real source material he found for this book was a memoir called My Mother and I about a Jewish girl who wrote letters for immigrants.
"I made a very conscious decision that I wasn't going to bring in any female characters who were going to be victims. This led me to treat Jack the Ripper in a very different way."
Fesperman has written ten books and admitted that the time he spent in Dubai doing research for a book were "the dreariest three weeks of my life."
As a journalist, Dan traveled all over the world covering the news. "I made pizzas during that time," Grecian quipped, which made us all laugh. Another story that made us smile was one told by Dan about a TV repairman in Afghanistan who had to live like a spy because it was illegal under the Taliban to have a television set-- "the undercover TV repairman."
Right after that Patrick wanted to know more about Alex Grecian's earlier years as "the young pizza repairman" and there we were, laughing again.
Alex wrote The Yard as a standalone, but when the book was in the process of being sold, he was asked, "Do you have book two?" He didn't, but replied, "Sure!" The reply to that was, "In thirty minutes can you give me three paragraphs [about the plot of non-existent book two]?" Yikes!
What Grecian had to do was take the character of Walter Day, break him down, and build him back up again in order to make him rounder and more complex.
When Patrick mentioned the old "write what you know" again (ironically), Dan Fesperman quickly responded, "Write what you want to write, and if you don't know it, go find out!"
Dan's work in progress takes place half in the present day and half in 1979 in Berlin, Germany, where a woman administers four safe houses. It's involved a lot of research into the CIA. He's also working on a television series with the BBC, HBO and two people responsible for The Wire. The drama series will begin with VE Day and concerns the early days of the CIA. Season one should cover VE Day to the Berlin Airlift.
As the conversation delved into Germans who fled Europe for Central and South America, Fesperman mentioned a New York Times article he'd read recently about a town in the heart of Brazil with a strong (American) Confederate history. "And what many people don't know is that yes, Ellis Island was the gateway for immigrants to the United States, but during World War II, it was a detention center for deportation," Dan said.
Lots of interesting conversation about little known history... the hour flew by. If you'd like to watch the entire event, I urge you to go to Livestream!