Tell us about your new release. FIRE TOUCHED is the ninth book in the Mercy Thompson series—the ongoing stories of a coyote shapeshifter plunked down among werewolves and vampires and other assorted supernatural creatures. In Fire Touched, the showdown that has been building up between the fae and the rest of the world takes a left turn that will change Mercy’s world forever.
Did you have an interesting experience in the research of this book? My husband, my assistant and I got a tour from the very nice folks at Lampson International and got to crawl all over one of the largest mobile cranes in the world. It was very cool—and left me pretty impressed by the achievements of engineering and physics.
We also spent part of a day crawling all over the cable bridge that spans the Columbia River between Pasco and Kennewick, taking photos and discussing various methods of destruction and mayhem. I’m still waiting for someone to review their security system, notice us, and send the FBI out to investigate us for possible terrorism. Not as much fun as when we discussed how to dispose of bodies at a restaurant—only later to realize that the people in the table behind us were uniformed police officers. But I’ll take my fun where I can find it.
Are any of your characters loosely based on people you know in real life? I’m very wary about basing characters on real people, especially in a long running series because I might have to do something . . . unpleasant to my characters (I wake up every day grateful that I am not the protagonist in an urban fantasy series). That said, there are two characters in this series based on real people. I have a friend who worked at an antiquarian bookstore. One day, when the series was just beginning, he suggested that Mercy should come to his store to look for information on the fae in one of his rare books. We laughed—but the idea took root. So in the middle of the third book, that’s what happened.
The second character was planned right from the start. We had this amazing mechanic shop in Kennewick, owned by an older man who scared me to death. You’d go into Buck’s shop and he’d scowl and snarl impatiently. But their their work was good—and most importantly for us, cheap. Then one day I went into the shop to ask for a gas cap for our old van.
“Why do you want a gas cap,” he said sourly (remember, this guy made his living working with the public!) “It fell off the van,” I told him hesitantly. He frowned and narrowed his eyes. “Gas caps don’t fall off of vans,” he told me sharply. And right then, I’d had enough of being intimidated by him. I frowned back. “My husband told me to come here and buy a new gas cap, because the gas cap had fallen off the van. I’m a good wife, I take my husband at his word. So he didn’t leave it at the gas station—the gas cap just fell of the van.” You know? That scary old man threw his head back and laughed—and that was the last time he scowled at me.
He was crusty, but Buck was one of the kindest, most generous and honest people I’ve known. When we couldn’t pay for a needed repair, he sold us the parts at cost—and had us talk to his mechanic so we could fix it. When one of their repairs didn’t work (not their fault, we drove Very old cars), and left my husband Mike stranded at work—Buck drove (unasked) fifteen miles to make the repair. When a little girl disappeared from our neighborhood, he and his sons stayed out all night with a group of volunteers, knocking on doors. (No, they didn’t find her. Her body was found a year later. It was horrible.) When Buck saw a teenager sitting under a piece of cardboard, he and his wife took her in. Just before I started writing the Mercy series, I knew that his lung cancer had returned and treatment was unlikely to help. I asked him if he minded if I used him as a character in the books and he lit right up—and so Floyd (Buck) Buckner became the core of Mercy’s grumpy gremlin mechanic mentor, Siebold Adelbertsmiter, better known as Zee.
Do you people watch for character inspiration? All of my life. As a child, I found that understanding why people do what they do, made my world make more sense.
What do you hope readers take away from your work? I hope that people who read my books laugh, cry, sweat, and hope with my characters—and that, when readers are through with the final sentence, they are in a little better place than they were when they started.
What do you do when you are not writing? I am privileged to breed Arabian horses. I’ve been involved with horses since I was eight or nine. After more than forty years of riding, lessons, and more riding even a physically ungifted person like me achieves a certain skill level. But I never thought that raising the darn things would appeal to me. Then I bought a lovely mare for my husband to ride—and she came with a breeding to a beautiful stallion. So I bred her. The moment I saw that little chestnut boy, I knew I wanted to do more of that.
The second thing that occupies time and energy is that my husband and I are building a carousel.
I grew up in Butte, Montana, and one of the mainstays of our summers was going to the Columbia Gardens on the weekends. The Columbia Gardens was an amusement park—tiny by the standards of Disneyland or Six Flags, but it was ours. As the name implies, there were beautiful gardens—and three rides—an old wooden rollercoaster, an incredibly dangerous (to my adult eyes) airplane swing we thought rather tame, and a merry-go-round. The merry-go-round, with its lead black stallion, was my favorite.
While I was still in elementary school, the mining company who owned the land the Columbia Gardens was on, discovered that there were gold deposits beneath the old-and-no-longer-profitable amusement park. Legal battles ensued about whether or not the company could close the park. Then, in the middle of winter, “kids” broke into the seasonally closed park and burned down the building that kept the carousel horses, the wooden airplanes and rollercoaster cars safe from the weather. That effectively stopped all the legal battles and closed the park—and left me with a love of carousels that is tinged with loss.
Which overly-dramatic-but-still-true story is the only explanation I can offer for what we are doing now. My husband and I are engaged in what may be the single largest version of a project scope creep ever. We started out to buy a carousel horse for the house—and now we are building a carousel from the remains of a hundred year old frame. People ask us what we are going to do with it when we finish it—but they miss the point, which is a good thing because we aren’t going to be done with it for, probably ten or twenty years. The point is the process of creation with my family. The point is that I’m learning a lot I will use in future stories, not just about carousels, but about immigration in the early 20th century, about art, about mechanical things. There are a thousand stories about theft and corruption and greed that are intertwined with the history of these old things. I’m eating them up to reissue in slightly altered versions.
Have you ever written a scene that ‘creeped’ you out? Hah! Yes. I had to leave my office and write the last quarter of Bone Crossed in my living room where there were lots of lights and people. Usually it works the other way around, though–something creeps me out and I use it in a story. Mostly I use my nightmares. I’m probably one of the very few people in the world who has a nightmare and is happy about it. But sometimes I get to use real life happenings.
I used the following experience to write a scene in Blood Bound. When I was four or five, my bed was right next to a window. One night, while I was going to sleep, some noise outside caught my attention. I woke up and there was a face pressed against the glass of the window (distorted by being smooshed against the glass), not six inched from me. Scared me to death. The nice old lady from down the street who was babysitting me wasn’t particularly fast, and the owner of the face was long gone when she finally made it into the room. She tucked me back in and told me not to look out of the window at night. I know, right? But she was old school—and also the reason why I can’t hang my feet or hands off the bed when I sleep to this day. It was years before I could look out a window at night.
What are you reading now? I just finished Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold. Wow. She is such a terrific storyteller. This one is not a book for anyone who hasn’t read the Vorkosigan saga (If you haven’t, go do so. You’ll thank me for it, I promise.) But for we who love the Vorkosigans, and mourned with them over the events at the end of Cryoburn, this was a welcome gift. Bujold can make you laugh and cry—sometimes on the same page. She rips out your heart and gives it back to you, stronger and better for the experience.
What’s next for you? Currently I’m working on the next Mercy book, as yet unnamed. One word: Vampires. Okay, maybe four: Vampires, golems, and Prague.