I’m delighted to have fellow Imajin Books author Kristina Stanley with me on Moving Target today. Kristina lives surrounded by natural beauty at Panorama Mountain Village in British Columbia where, at one time, she was director of security. That job, her love of skiing—she’s skied all over the world and met her husband on the slopes—and the Purcell Mountains of southeastern British Columbia were her muse for her Stone Mountain mystery series, which is set at a fictitious ski resort not far from Panorama. Kristina’s protagonist Kalin Thompson is director of security at Stone Mountain Resort, and she has to rise to the challenge when an Olympic-calibre skier is murdered. Descent, the first book in the series and finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Crime Novel, will be released TOMORROW, Saturday, July 25. Its sequel Blaze, a finalist for Britain’s 2014 Debut Dagger, will be published this fall.
Kristina, was there a specific incident that inspired you to write a mystery series set in the world of skiing?
Late one night in Unteruhldingen, Germany, I was reading Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark. The opening—a woman trapped in a grave. Darkness and silence surround her, and she doesn’t know where she is. I can still see her fingers clawing at the edges of the coffin.
Tucked in my bed, I knew a driver would arrive at 4 a.m. to take me to the Zurich airport for a flight to London. The sensible thing to do was sleep. But I couldn’t. I turned the pages until the car arrived. I was exhausted, bleary eyed and excited. At that moment, I realized I wanted to write something that forced a person to read and to forget about life for a while.
When I finally started my first novel, I’d been living in a ski resort for five years. Skiing is one of my passions and the world of skiing seemed to the obvious setting.
Kalin Thompson is your protagonist. Is she at all like you? If so, in what ways?
I like to think not, but there has to be some of me in every character I write. Kalin pushes boundaries in a way I never would. She’s more direct and cares less about what people think than I do. We are alike in our love of dogs. I gave Kalin one green eye and one brown eye as a tribute to my grandmother who died before I was born, so I’ve used Kalin to create a link to my past.
Do the Stone Mountain mysteries take a lot of research?
Part of the research is living the ski life for five-and-a-half years. After I left the resort, I kept in touch with ski experts, binding experts, RCMP, snowmakers, lift operators, and security officers. Many of these people were a great help in answering specific questions. My novels contain skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling. These are activities I’ve done, so I can smell, see, hear, feel and taste them, and I consider this part my research. A fun and healthy part of research.
What are the most difficult scenes to write in the novels and why?
Death scenes. Even though the event is make-believe, I put a lot of thought into whether a character needs to die to make the story better. I’m not a huge fan of excessive violence, so it can be tricky to find a balance between suspense and over-the-top bloodshed.
Are there any other mysteries or thrillers on the market set in the world of skiing?
I don’t think so. There are mysteries that take place in the mountains of British Columbia, but I hope I’m the first to murder a skier while he is racing. And I mean that in the fictional sense. Readers, if you know of another mystery that targets a racing skier, please leave a comment and let me know.
What is your fiction writing schedule?
My husband and I love to travel, so I don’t have a set schedule for writing. I guess I write around my life. I wrote four novels while living on a sailboat in the Bahamas. Boating life provides quiet times to write but also moments of excitement that demand instant attention.
Floating in a calm anchorage is a productive place to write. My husband would leave the boat and set alarms for me, knowing that I would lose track of time. If the water maker was running, it would need to be turned off in two hours. He’d set the alarm, so I would remember to do that. Writing aboard a sailboat meant things other than writing took priority. I had to spring into action no matter what scene I was writing.
I learned to write when writing opportunities arose instead of scheduling time. I also learned to write with interruptions.
Do you have a plot nailed down before you start writing?
Never. First I create the crime. For Descent, I was enjoying the sun at the cottage. Water lapped on the rocks. Wind kept the temperature cool. My mind wandered…How to kill a ski racer? I can’t give the answer here, or I’d spoil the story, but I had the “how” of the crime. Once I know the crime, I like to build my cast of characters and work with them for a while. What would drive a balanced person to murder? How do the characters know each other? How did a relationship change from love to hate? Questions like these lead me through the plot.
If I knew up front how the story ended, I don’t think I’d be interested in writing it.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
That’s a tough question. The first book I wrote took me a couple of years. I think the first novel comes with the biggest learning curve. That novel is in a drawer where it belongs…for now. The novels that followed took me about five months for a first draft, but the work afterwards can take much longer.
Who has influenced you the most in your writing career and why?
Joan Barfoot, author of Exit Lines and many other books, was my mentor through the Humber School for Writers Creative Writing by Correspondence Post Graduate course. She taught me to pay attention to the craft of writing and not just the art.
Her advice: Learn how to use punctuation and grammar! You wouldn’t try to paint without knowing how to create colors by mixing them, would you? Or play the piano without practising scales? This advice stayed with me, and I often refer to Joan’s notes on that novel, reminding myself what she taught me.
In what direction do you plan to take the series?
Descent occurs in winter. Blaze follows in the spring with arson. Avalanche occurs the following winter and is about a theft, and yes, you guessed it, an avalanche. The fourth in the series, which I still have to name, takes place in the summer and a murder occurs during an ATV adventure. Of course, the who, what, where, when and why of the murder could change by the time I finish the novel. Readers, if you have an idea for the title of the fourth novel that fits with the preceding three, comment below and let me know.
Rosemary, thank you for hosting me on your blog!