Patricia Dusenbury is my publication day sister. Our debut crime novels launched on the same day – mine in German and in print, hers in ebook form to the world. Pat’s novel, A Perfect Victim, is an elegant crime thriller that tells the story of Claire Marshall, a professional house restorer who is caught in a web of deceit, lies and fear when one of her clients dies. Still coping with the untimely and tragic death of her husband in a house fire, Claire is emotionally bereft and struggles to cope with daily life, let alone becoming prime suspect in a murder case. Set in the suburbs of New Orleans, A Perfect Victim is spare and evocative. It is also the first in a trilogy featuring Claire Marshall.
I asked Pat some questions about her writing process and the route to publication.
1. Pat, thanks for joining me at Charlotte’s Web. Uncial Press just published A Perfect Victim. Is this your first novel or do you have a couple of manuscripts under the bed?
APV is my first novel and I have about one and a half more written. Together they are a trilogy, following Claire Marshall, my protagonist as she recovers from the shock of her husband’s sudden death and builds a full life for herself. Each book is also a murder mystery, and the last two include elements of romance.
2. How long did APV take you to write? And are you a planner or a pantser?
I wrote APV on and off for ages and as a total pantser with no idea what I was doing. About five years ago, I finished it, wrote off to lots of agents, and started writing a sequel. I went back and forth with an agent for almost a year, meanwhile working on book #2. The agent eventually lost interest, but by that time I had two books and parts of the third.
By then, I’d learned a bit; for example, you probably should put your first novel in a drawer and leave it there. It’s a learning experience. But I didn’t want to put two and a half books in a drawer, so I went back and totally rewrote APV. This version was accepted for publication by Uncial Press. APV has changed a lot since that first version. My approach to writing also has changed, and now I’m more of a planner.
3. What is your relationship with writing? It is something you came to late, or have you always loved it?
I enjoy writing, and have always written something. Over the years, work required me to write lots of reports, analyses, even an occasional political speech. After completing an especially dry document, I would joke about owing the world a poem, but when the time came I decided to write a mystery because I’ve always read mysteries. This turned out to be a lot harder than expected. The difficulty plus the vast room for improvement keeps me engaged.
4. Writers tend to be avid readers. Which are your top five books?
My all time favorite book is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Other favorites change over time. Today the next four would be Bel Canto, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and In the Lake of the Woods. My favorite genre is mysteries, and I’m a huge fan of Donna Leon, Dennis Lehane, Michael Dibdin, John LeCarre and Kate Atkinson to name my current favorites.
5. I love Kate Atkinson too! You talk about many rewrites with APV. Where do you find the energy, the resource inside yourself to keep going?
I have a head like a rock, perhaps from beating it against brick walls until the walls crack. My husband assures me this can be very annoying. However, it kept me going through the multiple rewrites.
6. What are your top tips to aspiring writers?
I would advise aspiring writers, myself included because I aspire to get better, to listen to what people you respect say about your writing and think about the best way to use their advice.
Find out more about Pat and her books on her blog: patriciadusenbury.com. As an economist, she was responsible for writing numerous dry reports and is now trying to atone for that by writing novels that amuse and engage the reader. She has been married to the same man for about a million years and lives with him and two Alaskan Malamutes in Atlanta, Georgia. They met on a blind date. Pat is not on Twitter, as she is busy hoping it is a passing fad.