I met Karin Salvalaggio as part of The Prime Writers, and was lucky enough to get to read an early proof of her latest book – Silent Rain!
Grace Adams has spent three years trying to move on–mentally, physically, emotionally–from the traumatizing events of her past. But it’s not easy when the world is morbidly curious about the crimes that shaped her childhood, when despite her changed name, people still track her down for the sensational details. Now in college in Bolton, Montana, the one person Grace has trusted with the truth about her past has betrayed her. The bestselling novelist Peter Granger wants to use Grace’s story in his next book, regardless of how desperate Grace is to keep the details to herself. And then, on Halloween night, Peter Granger’s house burns to the ground and his and his wife’s bodies are found inside.
Montana state detective Macy Greeley is sent to Bolton to handle the investigation into the fire and deaths…which soon appear to be arson and murder. It doesn’t take Macy long to realize that Grace isn’t the only one whom Peter Granger has betrayed, and there are no shortage of others in town who took issue with him and his wife. What at first looked like a straightforward investigation is poised to expose some of Bolton’s darkest secrets, and the fallout may put more than one life in danger.
I loved Silent Rain. It’s a well-crafted, intelligent crime novel, with characters who play off each other brilliantly, and settings so well described I can see the characters walking through them in my head. Thanks so much to Karin, for letting me read it.
Karin kindly agreed to answer some questions for my blog. There were so many I could’ve asked!
You can find out more about Karin and her work here.
Much of Silent Rain focusses on writer, Peter Granger. Did your own experiences of being a writer and being within the publishing industry influence his character or experiences?
Peter Granger’s character is loosely based on several people, some I know personally and others through reputation. Not all of them are writers, but they do have one thing in common. They can’t make room for talented women. This is where Silent Rain gets a little personal. There is a literary fiction writer I once admired. For a time I considered him a friend and a mentor. One evening we were out at a bar. I was in a celebratory mood. I’d signed with Felicity Blunt at Curtis Brown and my manuscript for Bone Dust White was almost ready to be sent out to publishers. There was so much promise in the air. I’d been working my ass off so I was tired and a little strung out. As we were saying goodnight he asked me what I was going to do with my life. I remember feeling confused as we’d already discussed the progress I’d made earlier in the evening. I felt like I was repeating myself. “I have an agent,” I said. “My manuscript is going out soon. People are really excited about my writing.” He couldn’t have been less dismissive. “No really,” he’d said. “What are you going to do with your life?”
It would be wrong to say that this was the man was in my thoughts when I killed off Peter Granger in a fire as I’d moved on from that particular betrayal years ago, but he did push me to prove myself and he has my gratitude for that. And before you go thinking I have no love for literary fiction authors I must add that one of my best friends writes literary fiction. Silent Rain’s dedication is addressed to two writers– the one I set out to prove wrong and the one who has been with me through the whole gruelling process:
To that man who dismissed my chances as a writer and that friend who dismissed him as a chancer. I needed both of you.
Silent Rain is part of the Macy Greeley series. I’ve recently finished writing a series and found it brought its own challenges, ie continuity of character. Did you find any specific challenges to writing a series and how did you deal with it?
Writing a crime series is incredibly difficult. Publishers usually require a book a year, which doesn’t give you much time to sit back and reflect, let alone plan. I’ve made it even more challenging by setting my series in Montana, a place far removed from my home in West London. Location is one of the many factors a writer needs to take into account from the outset. Knowing your setting inside and out will make continuity issues easier. Another factor writers should be aware of is the amount of backstory they give their central characters. All good characters come with baggage. Leave it unattended at your peril. Eagle-eyed readers will spot discrepancies! They will send mean Tweets. They will call you out on Goodreads. It’s a good idea to write detailed character descriptions even if you have a photographic memory. Make sure you update this material with each book. Stuff can and will slip through.
It’s also a good idea to try to treat each book in the series as a standalone. Only give the minimum backstory information required so as not to distract the reader from the story that’s playing out on the page. If you write crime novels this is doubly important. You don’t want to give away too much information about previous cases as your readers won’t want to go back and read earlier books in the series if they already know the outcomes.
I think writing a crime novel is a real skill – giving the reader enough information, but not too much, and at the right time, etc. How do you approach the planning of it and do you have any specific methods or advice?
I’m not much of a planner. I start with a scene in my head and go from there. It could be Grace Adams witnessing a murder in Bone Dust White; Dylan Reed riding on horseback through the Montana wilderness in Burnt River; a catastrophic car accident and murder in Walleye Junction; or a drunken conversation between an Elvis impersonator and university student in a bar in Silent Rain. I obsess on these opening scenes until I’ve teased out a strong sense of where the story will take me next. I then follow the trail, adding new elements and characters as and when they are needed.
I find it easier to write a novel if I try to tackle it in thirds. By the time I’ve reached 30,000 words I’ve introduced all the characters and set the various storylines in motion. I will work this first third of the book until it is a solid foundation. If this first section is at all flabby the centre of the book, that problematic middle 30,000 words, will fold in itself like a half-baked cake. It’s about this time that I get out my coloured pencils and paper and produce a twisted hybrid of a dysfunctional family tree and a murder mind map. I analyse all the relationships in the book as I look for weaknesses. Why is the character out there on the margins? How can I make them work harder? Do all these tangled relationships make sense? Is there room for more characters or has it grown too complex? Can I eliminate a character and have another one take up their role? Once these issues are worked out I step into the unknown again. I usually have a good sense of where the book is going when I’m writing the final third. I just won’t know how it ends.
The line in Silent Rain ‘…made his living writing crime novels so he knew enough about the law to realise he was in a lot of trouble’ made me realise that you must know an awful lot about the law too! Do you have any background in law/policing or is this something you’ve researched?
I have no background in law enforcement and therefore can claim no expertise. My books are categorised as police procedurals, but there are many authors who write about policing in far greater detail. For guidance I rely on a combination of Internet research, newspaper articles and the many of the bloggers who post a wealth of information online. I have a degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, which gives me a slight advantage when researching forensic investigation techniques, but I shy away from getting into too much detail, as it doesn’t really interest me. I established from the outset that my main character Special Investigator Macy Greeley is squeamish around dead bodies. She’ll read the coroner’s reports but will never visit a morgue. She relies on her colleague Ryan Marshall, a crime scene investigator who works for the state, to explain what’s going on, but as I don’t write from his point of view, I only have to know the bare minimum.
I especially like the relationship between Greeley and her colleague, Ryan Marshall – they’re very professional yet they still have a laugh with each other – and I admire the balance you keep between them – that she is never over-powered, professionally, by him. Did you make a conscience decision to keep her as a ‘strong, female lead’ or is that the way it evolved?
I remember finding a note from my editor in the margins of my second novel Burnt River. She wanted more Ryan Marshall because he lights up the scenes he’s in and the banter he shares with Macy gives the books much-needed comic relief. Ryan also provides another valuable role when I’m writing the books. He’s the one person who is going to tell Macy the truth every single time and in doing so his character sometimes reveals larger more problematic issues that need to be addressed in the narrative.
I am an unapologetic feminist so can’t imagine writing a central female character that isn’t strong, but I didn’t hand Macy that strength you see in Silent Rain. I made her earn it. Macy was in a great deal of trouble professionally and personally when the series started, but she managed to pull herself out. It is important that her character arc is as strong as the narrative arc given she’s at the centre of everything. She is as shaped by outside events as any of her male counterparts. She just doesn’t allow herself to be defeated by those same events. Against all odds she has carved out a successful career in a profession that has little time for women. US national averages put women working in policing at roughly 14%. In rural communities it is as low as 5%. And this covers not just women working in the field, but support staff as well. Don’t let the number of female police detectives on television and in crime fiction fool you. In the real world they continue to be a very rare breed.
And some quick-fire questions –
If you’re stuck on a desert island, what three books would you take?
The Norton Anthology to American Literature, The Norton Anthology to Modern and Contemporary Poetry, and The SAS Survival Guide.
You can only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The all-you-can-eat buffet on just about any cruise ship and added bonus being that they’d be able to deliver my meals right to my desert island (see above).
What one place in the world would you like to visit?
I’d like to visit Africa in its entirety. It would take at least a year to do it justice, but I plan on living a long time so there’s always a chance I’ll be able to pull it off someday.
You can invite three writers (dead or alive) to dinner, who would you choose?
Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson and Cormac McCarthy.
KARIN SALVALAGGIO received in MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck at the University of London. Born in West Virginia and raised in an Air Force family, she grew up on a number of military bases around the United States. She now lives in London with her two children. “Bone Dust White ” was her first novel. Her latest, Silent Rain, is out with Minotaur Books on 9th May.