E.F. Watkins has written in several closely associated genres. Her style is tight, sometimes gritty and always dynamic. Her characters will steal your heart in a subtle and powerful way. Today, E.F. Watkins joins us to talk about writing and her new series, the Quinn Matthews Haunting Mysteries.. I hope you enjoy – please leave comments if so desired, or email them to me and I’ll forward them to her. Nancy Q.
NQ: Welcome, E.F.! It’s terrific to have you here on Faith, Hope, and Grace today! I’m excited about this interview because you and I go back quite a number of years. I think you were the first person I knew who was in the Garden State Horror Writers. And of course, we have both been Sister in Crime members for many years.
Although I totally enjoyed Black Flowers, Dance with the Dragon and Ride a Dancing Horse, which I suppose would be slotted in the thriller-horror genre, your jump to the mystery genre with Dark Music was well done! A spattering of romance, tinged with a strong paranormal element, made Dark Music an engaging read. Your characters are always very compelling. Tell us a bit about how Quinn came about.
EFW: I conceived of the idea a long time ago, when mystery and paranormal were considered kind of incompatible, and I wrote a version that was a bit more horrific, though that wasn’t really the story I wanted to tell. It went nowhere, and I shelved it until recently, when I started getting more into reading mysteries. I saw that mystery readers were now accepting of paranormal elements, so I re-worked my story as a “cold case” murder mystery with touches of dark humor. I always felt it essentially was about a young, single woman who buys a Victorian house and has romanticized that era, but experiences the dark side of the period when she discovers the place is haunted, and why. As an educated, independent, 21st-century woman, she ends up identifying with a sensitive, talented girl who lived 116 years in the past and faced very limited options. So it was never meant to be a bloody, violent horror story, though I do aim for a few good psychological scares!
NQ: My husband just shivers at the idea of living in an old house, but I suspect you enjoy it very much. What is it about the “ladies” that fascinates you?
EFW: I don’t have a Victorian, though I’ve always coveted one, but I do live in a modest little Colonial from 1922. Taking care of that, alone, is enough to keep me busy—and cash-poor! I love the architectural details and the solid, natural materials of an old house, plus the sense that it’s been on that site for many decades and has a history. The house itself becomes a mystery to be solved! Mine always seemed to have very pleasant, cozy vibes and no sign of restless spirits. But I did write from experience about several of the weird discoveries Quinn makes and the problems she goes through during her renovations.
NQ: Once upon a time I renovated an old farmhouse. Interesting endeavor is all I will say. I just volunteered at a local writing event where Andrew Gross was the keynote speaker. Someone asked him where he got his ideas, and I think he was ready to cry. He told her, and everyone, not to ask him that. Said he had NO idea where they came from but he was grateful for them, none the less. But I’m going to do it anyway – when or how did you know you were going to write the Quinn Matthews Haunting Mystery series? How did you develop the ideas?
EFW: I don’t mind that question, at all! My original vision for Dark Music, decades ago, was of a modern woman in a Victorian house looking out the front window and seeing the street outside the way it would have been when the house was new–and a carriage driving up and stopping in front. Being me, I didn’t envision a sweet time-travel romance, but tried to figure out how to make it dark! (I do use that exact scene in the new book, and in a context that’s terrifying for my heroine.) Flash forward to about four years ago, and I was reading a lot of amateur-sleuth mysteries and wanted to try writing one—but with a paranormal twist. The haunted-house plot seemed to work perfectly. I could never make the story work right before, but once I treated it as a murder mystery, it came together well, I think!
NQ: It sure did! And that scene stayed with me for days. In addition to winning the 2004 Eppie Award for Best Horror Novel for Dance with the Dragon, you’re always being acknowledged for your great characters. How do you go about developing your characters and making them realistic and empathetic at the same time?
EFW: I try hard to avoid stock characters, and when I find myself writing a “type” I throw in some traits to make that person an individual. For example, I love creating nasty villains but I will never write one who is totally evil—I find that very boring. My bad guys always have something a bit sympathetic about them and my heroes and heroines have their character flaws. Psychology always has fascinated me, including abnormal psychology, so I really enjoy delving in my characters’ heads, putting them into challenging situations and having them react in unexpected ways.
NQ: There is nothing boring about your characters, I promise you! Tell us what you can about your new Quinn Matthews book, including when it will be out.
EFW: The next one is called Hex, Death and Rock’n’Roll, and is due out this November. Having barely survived the haunting in her house, Quinn has vowed to never get involved with the paranormal again. But her experiences with the ghosts have awakened her latent psychic talents. In the next book, through a series of coincidences, she is recruited to help a successful rock band that has been told it is under a curse. The lead singer doesn’t really believe the curse part, but does think Quinn’s intuition could help flush out their saboteur. (Of course, because I’m writing this, there also is something to the curse part—and a couple of pretty colorful villains.) While investigating, Quinn learns more than she ever wanted to know about the skeletons the band members are keeping in their closets; meanwhile, her reporter boyfriend is not happy about her spending so much time around a sexy rock star! It’s the first time she uses her new abilities to help someone else solve a paranormal problem, and it’s been a lot of fun to write.
NQ: I can’t wait to read it – and I promise a review when I’m done! I know I’m going to love it – especially having been a musician, in New Jersey no less. Thank you so much for being with us today, E.F.! Please tell the readers where they can find you and your books.
EFW: Thanks so much, Nancy! Dark Music is available now on Amazon, and if all goes according to schedule, Hex, Death and Rock’n’Roll should come out in mid-November. My publisher, Amber Quill Press, makes everything available in both trade paperback and several e-book forms, including Kindle. For updates, please check out my website at http://www.efwatkins.com.
Keep reading and writing! See you Wednesday with FWA Conference Highlights! Nancy Q.