Please welcome Frankie Y. Bailey to the blog! Her brand new novel, THE RED QUEEN DIES, just came out and she stopped by to talk about the new book, her writing, and more! She’s also generously offered up a signed copy of THE RED QUEEN DIES to one lucky winner, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post.
Your new novel, THE RED QUEEN DIES, is certainly not your first, but it’s a bit of a departure from what you usually write in that in takes place in the near future. Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
A number of things came together. It began when Marcia Markland, now my editor, asked what I was working on. My fifth book in my Lizzie Stuart series was in the works. I had been doing research for a historical thriller set in 1939. But I hadn’t really given any thought to a new series. But Marcia’s question got me playing around with ideas. My idea for a series set in the near future actually occurred to me as the solution to a problem that I had. I wanted to set the police procedural series that I imagined in Albany, New York. I live in Albany. I teach at the UAlbany (SUNY). So the question was how I could write a series set in the place where I live but avoid being caught up in what was happening in Albany and having my books interpreted as on-going commentary. Sean Connery gave me the solution. In one of my favorite off-beat movies, he stars as a federal marshal sent to a space outpost where miners are going insane. So I thought, not a space outpost, but Albany in the near future. Near future because I write mysteries not sci-fi – and, actually, this new series has turned out to be set in an alternate reality. So this book is a police procedural with a twist.
What did you enjoy most about writing your heroine, Hannah McCabe, and why should readers root for her?
I was on a panel at Killer Nashville about “spunky” and/or “hardboiled” female protagonists. The members of our panel had fun with the meaning of the word “spunky” and whether we would apply it to our protagonists. I have two, Lizzie Stuart, crime historian, and Hannah McCabe, police detective. Neither character would use the word “spunky” in a self-description. McCabe would not use it because she has come up through the ranks as a police officer, and she understands that “spunky” (although a word that can be embraced and claimed by a woman) is a word that can be abused in a male put-down.
McCabe had a shattering childhood experience, but that experience is the reason she is a cop. She’s tough, capable, and compassionate. She’s also ethical, which, as the series goes on, will put her in a difficult situation. McCabe is a private person because of that childhood incident, but a lot about her is revealed in her relationships with her father and brother. Even as I make her life miserable, I root for her. I hope readers will do the same.
What kind of research did you do for the novel?
Generally, I do a lot of historical research and research in newspaper archives. That has been what was required with my Lizzie Stuart series. But with this book, I had to step out of my zone and find new sources. But I did find the research that I had been doing for my 1939 historical thriller useful. I had spent some time reading about the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. The theme of the fair was “the world of tomorrow”. So I went back to see what they were predicting about what the future would look like. For a more current take, I joined the World Future Society and looked at future scenarios. And, of course, I spent a lot of time re-reading Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. I re-watched the movies that play a role in the plot. I settled in for some Twilight Zone re-runs. And, I spent a lot of time doing research on Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and searching for information about a 19th century actress named Henrietta Irving. I also spent some time looking back at centuries of Albany history. I love doing research. I always have to make myself stop and start writing.
What do you enjoy most about writing mystery?
Well, as I just mentioned, I love doing research. And mystery writing gives me an opportunity for discovery. First, I have to find what it is that I want to write about – and it always more than one thing. Then it’s the question of how those things tie together. Then there the plotting – the having to keep pushing myself beyond the obvious answers. I like complexity. I love finding connections. And, I get to do that when I’m writing mysteries. But, also the genre, is the perfect place for a criminologist to think about social issues. I try not to be heavy-handed, but in the books I write there is always some acknowledgment of real life social issues.
What is your writing process like? Would you call yourself a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a hybrid. I am not brave enough to plunge in and hope that it will all come together at the end. I am impressed by writers who can do that. But I am also not inclined to do extensive plotting that involves a binder full of information about characters, setting, and books. I do a bit of that. I do character bios. Sometimes I look for images from magazines when I’m trying to describe a character or a setting. But I’m a bit more haphazard than writers who commit to this process. I want to know these things, but I don’t want to spend the time writing it all down – although I have learned by now that it is helpful to have a “series bible” with important information. I haven’t done it yet with this new series, but I’m going to do it. But, getting back to your question, I’m a hybrid in that I have an outline and chapter summaries about what will probably happen. But usually I end up writing to a certain point and then I have to outline again because things have happened in the plot that I didn’t expect or a character has gone in a direction that I didn’t imagine. So I outline and I summarize and I keep moving toward an ending that I think I know, but that sometimes goes in a different direction.
I also edit as I write. I have tried to “power through” the first draft. But I need to use the first draft to find my pace and figure out what I’m writing about. I can only do that when I take my time and go back and forth as I’m writing. But I love revising – my favorite part of writing – so I try to leave enough time for that part of the process.
What are a few books and authors that have influenced you the most, in life, or in your writing?
I think the books that have influenced me the most were the books I read when I was most susceptible to influence. In high school and later at Virginia Tech, I read a lot of the classics. That means I was influenced by the usual suspects for someone who had a double major in English and Psychology. I think Shakespeare, perhaps more than other author. I did three quarters of Shakespeare – immersion. If I had to name a mystery writer it would be Richard Martin Stern. When I was a teenager, I wrote him a fan letter telling him how much I appreciated his character Dr. Cassandra Enright, an anthropologist and museum director, and the first black (biracial) female professional I had encountered in a mystery. He responded with a note that I still have. Years later, I had an opportunity to interview him (by mail) when I was working on a nonfiction book about black characters in mystery and detective fiction. I should note that Agatha Christie, one of my favorite mystery writers and the inspiration for my own first mystery, inspired the title of that non-fiction book.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Gone with the Wind.
As a politically-unaware teenager, I read that book over a weekend as a historical romance. Years later, as an African American social scientist who focuses on crime and American culture, I realized the book is one that I should re-read. When I finally have the time to finish the research and write my 1939 thriller, the film premier of “Gone with the Wind” is going to play a role in the plot. And I’m going to try to read the book as my diverse cast of characters might have in 1939.
How do you like to spend your free time when you’re not working on your next project?
I bought a house a few years ago. It’s almost a hundred years old, and there is a lot to be done. Not that I’m actually doing any of it myself – not handy around the house. But it is fun to spend some time thinking about paint colors, etc. and trying to translate those ideas to my contractor and not spend more than I can afford. I also like traveling, cooking, museums, spending time with friends. Like most writers, I read a lot, alternating between fiction and nonfiction –or usually a couple of books at the same time.
What’s next for you?
I am a few days away from being done with the first draft of the second book in the Hannah McCabe series (working title, Cock Robin’s Funeral).
About THE RED QUEEN DIES:
Frankie Bailey introduces readers to a fabulous new protagonist and an Alice in Wonderland-infused crime in this stunning mystery, which kicks off an exciting new series set in the near future.
The year is 2019, and a drug used to treat soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, nicknamed “Lullaby,” has hit the streets. Swallowing a little pill erases traumatic memories, but what happens to a criminal trial when the star witness takes a pill and can’t remember the crime? When two women are murdered in quick succession, biracial police detective Hannah McCabe is charged with solving the case. In spite of the advanced technology, including a city-wide surveillance program, a third woman is soon killed, and the police begin to suspect that a serial killer is on the loose. But the third victim, a Broadway actress known as “The Red Queen,” doesn’t fit the pattern set by the first two murders.
With the late September heat sizzling, Detective Hannah McCabe and her colleagues on the police force have to race to find the killer in a tangled web of clues that involve Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Fast-paced and original, this is a one-of-a-kind mystery from an extremely talented crime writer.
Want to win a copy of THE RED QUEEN DIES? Here’s how:
About the author:
Frankie Y. Bailey is a criminal justice professor at UAlbany (SUNY). Her areas are crime history, and crime and mass media/popular culture. Her non-fiction books include a study of African American Mystery Writers (2008). Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave, the fifth book in her mystery series featuring crime historian, Lizzie Stuart, was released in July 2011. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series set in Albany, NY, featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, was published in September, 2013. Frankie is a past EVP of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.
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