Monday, June 30, 2014

@ The Poisoned Pen with Ingrid Thoft and Chevy Stevens!

I have to admit that as the hour grew near to departure this past Saturday afternoon, I came very close to staying home and getting in the pool instead of heading to Scottsdale and The Poisoned Pen. Monsoon season is showing signs of rearing its sweaty head, and I don't much care for making the effort to put on makeup only to have it try to slide off my face minutes later.

But I made the ultimate sacrifice so I could see two authors, Ingrid Thoft and Chevy Stevens. I'd recently read Thoft's first Fina Ludlow novel, Loyalty, so I was particularly looking forward to seeing her.

The traffic was much lighter than I expected as I drove across town, and I have a feeling that a lot of people decided to stay home and escape the heat. I snagged my favorite parking spot and made a beeline for books and air conditioning. Several people were perusing the shelves, so I made my purchase (Shona Patel's Teatime for the Firefly, Eileen Brady's Muzzled, and Brynn Bonner's Death in Reel Time-- hey, The Poisoned Pen was having a 25% off paperbacks sale from 4 to 6 PM!) before parking myself in my preferred seat to read. Bookstore owner Barbara Peters walked in to put some prizes on the table, and as she looked around, she seemed to be a bit worried. "Trying to time these events is a crap shoot," she told me. "I'm going to go back to 2 PM for Saturdays instead of 5 PM [the time for this event]. I think too  many people have decided to stay home out of the heat by this time of day." As it happens, 2 PM suits me better-- although I had a feeling that staff would be putting out those extra chairs they had at the ready. Before she moved on to her next task, Barbara and I also chatted about calling numbers for the prizes that are often given out at these events. As Barbara moved on, she remarked, "Most authors choose the number seventeen. I have no idea why!"

The leaky blue cups...

L to R: Ingrid Thoft, Barbara Peters, Chevy Stevens

When Barbara and the authors took their seats and I fired up my camera, I immediately found another reason to be grateful for the upcoming change in time: the sun. At the angle it was shining through the bookstore window, I knew it would be a miracle if I could get any decent shots. (And I didn't.) Ingrid Thoft was sitting in a dead zone, and the light wasn't optimal for the other two either. So-- I apologize for the lousy photos I've included in this recap.

Before she introduced the two authors, Barbara let us know that there would be plenty of giveaways: four books, an American Express gift card, and a gift basket that had come all the way from Canada. The publishers had also provided tea and cookies, but she asked us to wait a bit before getting any tea: "It's been discovered that the blue plastic cups they provided are leaking, so someone's gone out to get replacements!"

Chevy Stevens
I looked around to see that the staff did have to put out those extra chairs. So far, events that Barbara has planned aimed more specifically at women have been very well attended, so something tells me that there will be more.

Peters then introduced Chevy Stevens: "This is Chevy's first visit here. She's from Canada, and she probably wishes that she'd stayed!" Everyone laughed-- including Chevy. "I spent most of the day working on my next book in my hotel room," Chevy said. "I looked outside and saw the beautiful sky and all the sunshine, so I stepped out on the balcony. I think my hair was dry in two minutes! And the heat!" (I wonder how many of us thought of that tired old line "But it's a dry heat"?)

"Somewhere north of Boston..."

Available Now!
Chevy then proceeded to give us short summaries of her previous three books: Still Missing, Never Knowing, and Always Watching. (Click on each book title for a short summary from Chevy's website-- very interesting plot summaries!) Her latest book, That Night, is about a woman and her boyfriend who were wrongly convicted of her sister's murder and sent to prison. After serving fifteen years, the miscarriage of justice is discovered, and they are released. The book is about what happens to the two once they get out of prison. It's based on a true story in Montana.

"That Night has strong elements of bullying in it," Barbara Peters commented, and Stevens agreed, but the thing that has stayed with the author the most is how it was written. Unable to write it in the order she'd intended, she remarked, "It's amazing how much individual chapters can travel in the evolution of a book!"

Ingrid Thoft nodded her head in strong agreement. "I wrote the first eighty pages of Identity rather quickly, but after I'd finished them I realized that they weren't the first eighty pages, they were actually the second eighty pages!"

Barbara wanted to know if Chevy had had any difficulties in writing when so many of her readers were Americans. "No," Chevy said. "Other than an occasional difference in spelling or changing the name of a business that's not known outside of Canada, I haven't had any. I like to think that my books are set in Canada, but they are not love letters to Canada."

After Barbara mentioned the huge tax the Canadian government adds to any books shipped from the United States into Canada, Chevy was somehow reminded of something one of her readers had told her: "In my mind, the book takes place somewhere north of Boston!"

"She sounds just like my...."

Ingrid Thoft
Since her main character is a private investigator, Ingrid Thoft took a year-long certification class so she would know how to be one. She also decided to set her series in her native Boston because, as a recent transplant to Seattle, she didn't feel as though she knew the area well enough to write about it.

The certification class went over everything. The first semester was spent with a defense attorney, the second with a criminal investigator, and the third with a civil investigator. Thoft learned crime scene reconstruction, laws... just about every single thing she would need to know to be a private eye.

Thoft's main character, Fina Ludlow, is a P.I. for her family, which runs a large successful law firm specializing in personal injury cases. "I have to admit that I was biased against personal injury law because my father is a surgeon," Ingrid said. "This certification class opened my eyes." 

Just as she did in her acknowledgements in her first book Loyalty, Ingrid assured us that her own mother is nothing whatsoever like the matriarch of the Ludlow clan. "So many readers come up to me and say, 'She sounds just like my (fill in the blank)!' Mother-in-law is one of the most common fill-ins," Thoft said with a wry smile.

Available Now!
In Thoft's latest book Identity, a woman wants to sue a sperm bank in order to learn the identity of the father of her child-- even though she signed all sorts of waivers stating that she wouldn't. The conversation then segued into some of the things Ingrid learned while doing research for the book.

When sperm banks first came into being, they were not well regulated, and today some men are discovering that they've fathered up to seventy-five children. This can have huge implications in a small community, especially since there are now online databases which young people are accessing-- and learning how many half-siblings they have. In the beginning there also weren't as many tests run, which means some genetic abnormalities have unwittingly been passed on. 

"Everything I know I learned
 from crime fiction!"

L to R: Ingrid Thoft, Barbara Peters, Chevy Stevens
"Everything I know I learned from crime fiction," Barbara Peters said. When we all laughed, she did, too, but insisted, "No, it's true! I was made aware of some of this by Tony Hillerman when he explained why the Navajo wouldn't let Jim Chee marry anyone from certain clans. The Navajo were already aware that certain genetic traits could be passed on."

"Some people 'buy in bulk' so their children will be full siblings," Thoft added. (See what you can learn at these author events?) In Identity, Fina's father is gung-ho to take the woman's case. Fina is reluctant because she knows the daughter does not want to know the identity of her donor father.  "I like to write about topics that have social, economic, or political implications," Ingrid told us. When asked, she told us that she had the third book in her series written, but she wasn't allowed to talk about it.

Chevy loves to write about family dynamics, and her next book is "Those Girls," about three sisters who are very close. They escape from a very bad situation at home only to find themselves in an even worse one. This is the book that she was working on in her hotel room. 

One reader in the room asked Chevy if she had a background in therapy because she writes about it so well. Stevens replied, "No, but my mom is a psych nurse, I have a psychiatrist that I can talk with, and I read a lot of psych books."

In doing research for That Night, Stevens had to "fill out massive amounts of documents in order to learn things about the corrections system. The Canadian corrections system is not open to talking." Chevy also shared a bit about the first book she ever wrote: "It was one long monograph with no quotation marks or paragraphs. I was in real estate at the time and I had a second house. I sold that second house at just the right time, and the money from the sale gave me the breathing space I needed so I could have time to learn how to write."

Ingrid Thoft's husband has supported her writing endeavors, and she told us that one of the best learning experiences she had was taking a screenplay writing class at the University of Washington.

"With each book, you get to learn something new," Chevy said.

Ingrid told us that she and her husband live in a small condo, and her research books for Identity were stacked all over the living room. One evening when they were expecting friends over, her husband pointed to the books and said, "Do you think you could move these? I think we're sending mixed signals to our guests...." (One of the books more prominently stacked was titled Knock Yourself Up.) Ingrid looked around at the books and asked, "What's the problem?"

Research can be a problem from time to time. Chevy once tried to ask a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer about information she needed in order to write a book. It was difficult to keep her face from turning red as the man became more and more incredulous at her questions. 

"Can you imagine what someone would think if they pulled up my internet search history?!?" Ingrid exclaimed.

"I do have a good piece of advice for any of you who are thinking of writing. Retired experts are much more willing to talk!" Chevy confided.

After many things learned and much laughter, Barbara, Chevy, and Ingrid then began parceling out the goodies. What a fun evening! (And one of the numbers called was seventeen.)


  1. Cathy - What an interesting evening that must have been!! And the paperback sale, too? Yes, definitely worth the trip! :-)

    1. The sale added a certain "je ne sais quoi" to the journey! ;-)

  2. Love Chevy Stevens. I have not read Ingrid Thoft, but will soon remedy that after reading this post..

    1. I think you'll like Thoft, Nise'-- I really enjoyed her first book and am looking forward to reading Identity.


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