Interview with Linda Schroeder, author of ‘Artists & Thieves’

Linda Schroeder divides her time between the bright sun of California and the high mountains of Colorado. She has a Master’s degree in English and one in Communicative Disorders/Audiology. In addition to her novel, Artists & Thieves, she has published a college text.

Her early interest in English expanded to include language disorders and she began a second career as an audiologist and aural rehabilitation therapist working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults.

Currently, she studies and practices Chinese brush painting, celebrating the vitality and energy of nature. She follows art and art theft blogs and writes her own blog about art and sometimes includes reviews of novels. She is working on two more novels, a second Mai Ling novel about the Diamond Sutra, and a Sammy Chan art mystery about the forgery of a Goya painting.

You can visit her website at www.artistsandthieves.com.

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Q: Thank you for this interview, Linda. Can you tell us what your latest book, Artists & Thieves, is all about?

Artists & Thieves won the San Diego Book Awards in the action/suspense category. It is an art mystery. A priceless Chinese bronze bowl is looted from a dig by smugglers and sold to an art collector in Monterey. Mai Ling is an artist who works undercover for Interpol recovering stolen art. She discovers that this bowl belonged to her ancestor in China and her grandfather is duty bound to return it to China. So she is on a quest to get the bowl, not for Interpol but for her grandfather. Four others are also after the bowl.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Mai Ling is a Chinese/American who is twenty-five, clever, agile, witty. She is an accomplished Chinese brush painter and a martial arts expert. She knows the world of art smugglers.

Mai’s best friend is Angelo, a flamboyant, arrogant, emotional artist. He is preparing to turn Monterey’s Custom House into a representation of a 1840 sailing ship. He has inside information which helps Mai steal the bowl.

Mai’s counterpart is Hunter. He has flaming red hair and rides a Harley. He is an antique dealer in Rome. He is in love with Mai but he is also in competition with her to steal the bowl.

Angelo’s counterpart is Cypress. She owns a flower shop in Carmel and resells stolen items from it. She is also after the bowl.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

My characters are both. I know someone who is similar to every one of my characters. I use some defining personality traits from them. But the details of their lives, their relationships and emotions are unique to the imagined fictional characters.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I discover as I write. I don’t work from an outline. I start with a general idea of a character and a situation. As I write, I add details and find interesting relationships between characters by saying, “What would surprise the reader at this point?” Those “Aha!” moments turn the plot and set up the interconnections between characters. I get a first draft this way but the following drafts are rewrites which tighten plot events, develop the characters more, and add descriptions.

Q: Your book is set mainly in Monterey, California.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

I lived in Monterey for ten years. I know its history and its landmarks. And it is now a major tourist destination, so many people also are familiar with it. It has different aspects within just a few miles of territory.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Absolutely. The setting reflects the characters. Mai lives by the ocean. Like her life the water is sometimes calm, sometimes dangerous. Angelo lives on Fisherman’s Wharf in an artist’s loft. The wharf is full of colors and smells. He is conscious always of sensory input.  Cypress lives in Carmel, part elite establishment, part used-to-be hippie enclave. She straddles both worlds. Mai’s boss lives in Pebble Beach in a wood and glass house designed by a famous architect. It reflects his education and his affluence.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

This is the beginning of the chapter, Ghosts. Mai is on the road, traveling to Locke, a historic Chinese farming town on the Sacramento river. Her grandfather spends the summers there. She had been on her way to her gallery exhibition in Monterey but has been urgently summoned to Locke by her grandfather; she doesn’t know why. Neither does the reader. This is the point on the plot line where the task she faces is revealed.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

This is a point leading to the climatic confrontation between Mai and the smuggler who now has the bowl. Mai is rushing on foot in blinding fog to get the bowl:

“At last she reached the sea. Long bands of glowing light stretched up and down the coast, eerily luminescent in the fog hanging over the waves. The red tide’s tiny organisms sparkled, ebbed and flowed in the ocean’s easy motion. When she’d enjoyed the display Tuesday on her evening run, hundreds of cars filled the beach lots. Now all was strangely empty. Why? The power outage? Road closures? Whatever the reason, the unexpected emptiness grated against her already strained nerves, reinforcing her fear that Toni’s studio would be empty and the bowl already spirited out of the city.

In the sea’s light, Mai ran the short distance to the two story warehouse which was Toni’s ocean view studio. No cars were parked in front. She rattled the front door. A bolt held it tight. A metal shutter secured the only window. A gull screeched a sinister warning. A burst of panic tightened her throat. Maybe she was wrong. How the hell would she find Toni if she wasn’t here?”

Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track? 

I often get stuck “discovering” which way the plot should go next, what the reader needs to know to keep the story moving forward. When that happens I take note cards and write “what if” events, one per card, and reasons why a character might or might not do that.  I have a critique group which usually meets weekly. The deadline to have a scene ready to be analyzed gets me motivated to put something down on paper. Sometimes I keep that scene, sometimes that scene doesn’t work at all and I put it in the “out-takes” folder.

Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?

I love walking in the surf at Torrey Pines beach. The ocean goes to a far horizon. The open distance is beautiful and inspiring.

Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?

I wish I had written Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution. It is an elegant Sherlock Holmes tale, very odd.

Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?

We are lucky today to have many options. We can hunt for an agent, hope for a big press, hunt for a small press, or self publish either print or ebook. Explore the possibilities. But do not let your book sit unread in a desk drawer.  We are storytellers and stories must be read. We only become better writers if someone reads our writing. So crank that book out any way you can. It will not be easy or trauma free. But having a book to sell is worth it.

 

 

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