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Interview: Sarah Graves by Gayle Surrette
Review by Gayle Surrette
Gumshoe Review *Interview  ISBN/ITEM#: INTSarahGraves
Date: 01 February 2006

Links: Sarah Graves Website / Review: The Book of Old Houses /

I've been a fan of Sarah Graves' Home Repair is Homicide mysteries for a while now. So, when I was trying to think who I'd like to interview this month, I looked at my just finished copy of The Book of Old Houses and the decision was made.

Luckily for me, Sarah was gracious enough to answer my questions and to help me out by sending a second copy when my laptop burped and ate her original response.

Gumshoe: I'm afraid I'm a bit behind on the series, but having just finished The Book of Old Houses, I'm curious how do you manage to keep track of your huge cast of characters. I've noticed that as I dip in and out of sequence that you manage to carry forward characters and have them change and grow. Do you have a system? How does it work?

Sarah Graves: The major characters in the series are very clear in my mind, and I have no trouble letting them grow, because their internal workings are so transparent to me. There are a few times when I've misremembered something about one of them, or Jake (the series heroine) has. We both of us have our human frailties. And if there's a system for this I wish someone would tell me about it!

Gumshoe: You also moved to Maine as did your main character Jacobia (Jake) Tiptree. You are also renovating a big old house. Has having the renovation and some of the same skill sets helped in making Jake come alive on the page? If so how?

Sarah: The physical things we do when working on an old house, the specific tasks and tools, etc., have gone right into the books, and the details you can only know if you do it yourself have enlivened them, I think. More important, though is the way the old house and her work on it have helped Jake to clarify her thinking, and to find some peace in her heart. Recognizable inner reality is to me anyway one of the most important traits in a character.

Gumshoe: Had you visited Maine before you moved to Eastport? How did you choose Eastport? To live in and to write about? Was the transition from Manhattan to Eastport living very difficult?

Sarah: We had visited Maine before we moved here. We chose Eastport because of its great natural beauty, its wonderful domestic architecture, and its exceptionally kind and interesting inhabitants. Oh, and because of the house, which sort of chose us, or so it seemed. I can't say the transition was difficult, particularly.

Gumshoe: I love the home repair tips and have actually managed to remember one or two when I needed it. Have you ever considered a small book of home repair tips that have worked on your "old" home?

Sarah: What an excellent idea. I shall propose it immediately.

Gumshoe: From your bio it sounds like you'd been a writer before moving to Maine, but what got you into writing mysteries?

Sarah: I had been a mystery reader all my life, so it just seemed natural to write one. And perhaps it's in my self-torturing nature to pick a challenging genre? So much to aspire to.

Gumshoe: Has the response to your books surprised you in any way?

Sarah: It's been a surprise to find out how many people seem to like them, and for so many different reasons. Some people like the Maine setting, others the humor (I hope it's humor), others still are fans of a particular character. There've been quite a few who find their own old-house challenges reflected in the books, and I always enjoy hearing from folks who, like me, know how much fun it is to chip lead paint off a very old window-sash.

Gumshoe: Who are your favorite authors? What are the last five books you read for enjoyment? For research?

Sarah: Right now I'm reading PD James' The Private Patient. Before that, PF Kluges' Eddie and the Cruisers, Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, James Frey's Bright Shiny Morning, John Gregory Dunne's Nothing Lost, and Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, Democracy, Salvador, and the essays, many of which I had not seen before, in her new volume of collected works. I'm waiting (still waiting!) for the next James Ellroy, and for Susanna Clarke to return after Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. And anytime Max Brooks wants to write a sequel to World War Z, sign me up.

Gumshoe: What does the future hold for you or Jake? Anything you can tell us about?

Sarah: Interesting question. Her newest adventure, A Face at the Window, is a departure for her – very action-y. I wanted to give her something fast and furious to do, a real thrill ride. But it's the readers who must decide whether or not I succeeded. After that – well, I'm working on the next one now, so we'll see, won't we?

Gumshoe: Thanks for your time.

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