Monday, June 13, 2011

Scene of the Crime with Author Zoë Ferraris

When I read City of Veils last year, I was blown away at how easily Zoë Ferraris put me in the very different land and culture of Saudi Arabia. The mystery is absorbing, but the setting is a stand-out for me because the author shows it from multiple perspectives.

Needless to say, I'm eagerly awaiting her next book, Kingdom of Strangers, and thrilled to pieces that she said yes to an interview here on Kittling: Books.

If you'd like more info about Zoë, here are some links:

Without further ado, let's get right to the interview!

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

Gone With the Wind. It was the first book I read that wasn’t a hidden morality tale instructing children to be nice to their peers and treat parents with respect. Scarlett was sexy and ridiculous and selfish and manipulative, dammit, and she was going to stay that way forever. And Margaret Mitchell was totally in love with her world. She created it without apology and I fell into it and happily watched her do her crazy magic.

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

Zoë Ferraris
This is probably obsessive, but I think of my free time as having been created for the sole purpose of optimizing my writing time. So just like Italians will tell you never to put cheese on fish -- because every time you do, an Italian dies – there are certain things I can’t do while I’m writing, because if I do, a novel may perish. I can’t read someone else’s writing. I can’t play team sports. I can’t party. I can’t go on a date for longer than an hour. (That’s a bummer. It really argues for becoming a dentist.) I can’t fight with anyone. (Also a bummer.) And I can’t read Twitter, Facebook, or email. So in the end, that leaves me to walk my dog, go swimming once a day, and call my daughter to make sure she’s still alive. It’s no surprise then that I’ve managed to write a whole novel in four months, and then taken the rest of the year off.

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.)

Well, San Francisco has been guide-booked out, so I would recommend going to the Presidio – a former army base, now a national park – and parking your car on the main post by the old HQ, and then setting off on foot in whichever direction feels right. You will walk through 250 years of military history and a few thousand years of native Ohlone history, through seven distinct ecological zones, past hundreds of plant and bird species and a whole variety of wacky San Franciscans. I always think it’s best to discover its real secrets yourself.

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

I took a poll on this one time and the consensus was Ann Margret.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

Bob Lee Swagger. I know, I know, not exactly crime….but that’s the answer.

Before your very first published mystery, what else had you written (short stories, articles, unpublished manuscripts)?

I have the beginnings of six novels in different genres. And I have a bunch of short stories and two poems in formaldehyde on a basement shelf.

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

My first reaction to seeing Finding Nouf in a bookstore was embarrassment. I hoped to God that no one saw me standing there looking at my own book on the shelf. Then I got paranoid and walked away. I still find it hard to react to. If someone else is there, they usually expect you to be delighted, and sometimes they’ll even start talking loudly about it, and other people will notice, and before you know it you’re signing copies and people are congratulating you. It’s taken me a long time to talk with enthusiasm about my writing, and I still think there’s something indelicate about it, so I usually wind up talking about Saudi Arabia instead.

However, I do get a kick when people send me photos of my book from stores around the world. I’m always amazed that my book doesn’t just exist in my head anymore, that it’s actually alive and well in the Manama Airport in Dubai. 

When I first heard I was going to get published, I celebrated by not crashing my car into a tree. Then I held my breath for a year until I saw the book in print, and then I cried.

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?

 Well, it’s not exactly unusual because it happens to me a lot, but I’ll get up on stage and start talking, and immediately someone at the back of the audience will raise their hand. They have a pressing question. It’s usually along the lines of “How on earth did you wind up living in Saudi Arabia?” I don’t see other authors fielding urgent questions like that at readings. I figure there’s something about me that encourages people to feel close and gossipy, and I like it.

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author?

I love the idea, and the potential behind it, but I’m seriously sick of electronic devices at the moment and have been taking a hiatus.

I imagine the ebook affect will be bigger every year, and eventually the electronic medium will combine text with image so much that reading a book will become more like surfing the web. I hope this type of book will be done with taste and not commercials.

I see ebooks giving writers more power vis-à-vis publishers and agents. A lot of writers are going rogue and dropping traditional publishers altogether. This is being done with a lot of writerly self-importance, but with some legitimate grievances as well. I will admit that it has never sufficiently been explained to me why a publisher should take 90 percent profit on a book while many writers still pay for all their own publicity. 

I think ultimately one of the best things to come out of this will be simplicity and ease of use. You can carry an ereader anywhere, buy an ebook anywhere, and that might just be the greatest encouragement to reading since the invention of Harry Potter.

Thank you so much for spending this time with us, Zoë. It's easy to see why your books are so original. The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree!


  1. God, I love her sense of humor! I will definitely read her books and it will be due to this interview.

  2. Wonderful interview! I loved City of Veils and look forward to Kingdom of Strangers. I think you need to take that trip to the Presidio - it sounds right up your alley.

  3. A lovely post, but the most endearing part was this one:

    Then I held my breath for a year until I saw the book in print, and then I cried.

    (perhaps because I also tend to cry when publishers take note of my stories).

  4. I was in a constant ripple of laughter and head-nodding! Loved the interview, Cathy. Zoe, I like your style!

  5. Barbara-- I have to agree. If I hadn't already known how good her writing is, after reading this interview, I'd be running to the bookstore!

    Kathy-- I've already been there, and it was right up my alley!

    Dorte-- That same part brought a tear to my eye, too.

    Susan-- She's one of a kind, isn't she?


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