Every Thursday I ask ten questions to authors of mystery, thriller and suspense about their books, their inspirations and how to get away with the perfect murder. In the hot seat this week is... Alexandra Amor.
Alexandra Amor is the author of the Town Called Horse historical mysteries as well as several other novels and a cult-recovery memoir. She is the host of It's a Mystery podcast, a weekly show for readers looking for their next favorite mystery novel.
Q1. Hello Alexandra! Can You Tell Us A Bit About Yourself And Your Books?
I'm Alexandra Amor and I write mystery novels about love, friendship and the search for truth.
My first book was a memoir about ten years I spent in a meditation cult (seriously) in the 1990s and the recovery from that experience. Next, I wrote a series of four adventure novels for middle-grade readers with animals as the main characters.
Currently, I'm writing a historical mystery series set in 1890 in frontier British Columbia. The third book in that series will be available later this year.
Q2. What Three Things Should Readers Expect From an Alexandra Amor novel?
First, readers can expect characters with depth and connection to one another. I love mysteries that are as much about the journeys the characters are going on as they are about the plot, so I make an effort to focus on character development when I write.
Second, my books provide a strong sense of place. I always want the locations where my stories take place - remote frontier British Columbia or fictional islands in the Salish Sea - to be as much a character in the books as the people are. Where we live and how we connect with those places says so much about our character.
And third, the stories and books I write are always love stories. They are not romance novels, but they are always, at their core, about love. The love that a group of animal friends has for one another and the place where they live. The love that a young schoolteacher has for justice. My experience is that love is the driving and guiding force in our lives, and that's what I write about, even when it's disguised as a rollicking good mystery story.
Q3. Can You Tell Us About Your Character Julia Thom?
Julia Thom is a young schoolteacher and the main character in my Town Called Horse historical mystery series.
It is 1890 and Julia has left her family home and moved to the remote town called Horse in frontier British Columbia, Canada's western-most province. Julia grew up wanting to be a lawyer. Her father is a judge and she both adores and idolizes him, and wanted to follow in his footsteps. However, at the time, women were not admitted into the law schools in Canada and Julia's father dismisses her dream of attending one.
Feeling hurt and betrayed, both by her father's lack of support and by the society she didn't quite realize was so set against her ambition, she takes a job in a place she's never heard of and begins a new life. Her passion for justice, the thing that fueled her desire to be a lawyer, is put to good use as she solves crimes in the tiny town that is her new home.
Q4. If Your Books Were Turned Into Movies, Who Would Play Your Main Character?
I have always pictured Julia Thom being played by Julia Ormond, circa the late 1990s, from films like Legends of the Fall. I'm not sure what contemporary actress would fit well with the stubborn, intelligent schoolteacher sleuth, with long dark hair and dark eyes. Rachel Weisz perhaps?
I picture the local constable in Horse, Jack Merrick, being played by a younger Billy Campbell (from my beloved TV series Once and Again, among other things), and the local blacksmith and livery owner, Walter Sheehan, as a young Liam Neeson.
Q5. How Do You Come Up With The Ideas For Your Stories – What Is Your Inspiration?
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to write a 'western'. There was never any question that I would write mystery novels, as they are my favorite things to read. And as soon as I worked up the courage to write my first mystery for adults, I knew it would be set in the era we think of as the western.
I chose to set the series in my home province, and one side benefit of writing these books has been learning more about history and the peculiarities and interesting way of life in the late Victorian era.
I wanted to choose a time in history that was before cars and the telephone, but after the railroad had connected Canada end to end. The lack of technology is challenging for both my sleuth and myself, and I love that challenge.
How I come up with the plot for each story is a much less coherent process. It involves mind maps, timelines, outlines scratched on photocopy paper or in my journal, and much talking aloud to myself. I write my first draft quickly, and once that is done and I can begin the revision process the story really begins to emerge. Even though I think I know who the perpetrator of the book's crime is, very often this crime changes part-way through the process, and often the answer to 'whodunnit' is a surprise to me, which is thrilling.
Q6. What Do You Enjoy Most About Writing Mysteries?
Mysteries are a metaphor for the search for truth - about life, about ourselves and about those around us. That is what thrills me about this genre. The dance between character development and plot is something that I love working with and finding just the right balance for. I want the books to be page-turners, but also for readers to fall in love with the characters, as I have done so many times reading my favorite mysteries.
One unexpected joy from writing historical mysteries is that the stories and characters are educating me about how, no matter the era, people are people. The things we struggle with today are very often things people in 1890 might have struggled with, minus the internet, expensive coffee addiction and traffic jams.
Q7. What Are You Working On Right Now?
I'm currently working on the third book in the Town Called Horse series, called The Horse You Rode In On. Julia is caught up in the mystery of a man murdered at a local bawdy house. She is a young woman who was raised in a very proper and cultured family, and was always sheltered from all of life's seedier aspects. The existence of the oldest profession in the world is an eye-opener for Julia, but she rises to the challenge and comes to admire and respect the businesswomen who own and run the bawdy house. The mystery is an education for her personally and also a challenge mentally.
Q8. Who Are Your Favourite Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Authors?
I am a huge fan of one brilliant author not many people have heard of: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. She writes a series of British police procedurals based in the Shepherd's Bush area of London that are exactly the mix of plot and character development that I adore.
I was a huge fan of the late Robert B. Parker; both his Spenser novels and his Appaloosa series have hugely influenced me. As a teenager I graduated from Nancy Drew and Famous Five mysteries to Dick Francis' racing thrillers, which I still re-read over and over again. I love reading Anne Cleeve's Shetland series, Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series and his Burglar series. Oh, so many books to love!
Q9. You're Being Sent To A Desert Island. You Can Only Take One Book With You. What Is It?
This question is nearly impossible to answer. I can't decide if I would choose a book I read over again regularly - like A Room with a View by EM Forster - or take the opportunity of unlimited time on the desert island to read something I haven't read yet that I've always wanted to try - Lorna Doone perhaps, one of my grandfather's favorite books. Or maybe I'd return to a favorite classic that I've only read once, like The Wars by Timothy Findlay.
I think you'll have to circle back later for a definitive answer to this question. ;-)
Q10. How Do You Get Away With The Perfect Murder?
You write about it, rather than actually committing the murder. That way no one gets hurt. ;-)