Karin Salvalaggio’s debut thriller, BONE DUST WHITE, just came out this month, and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the new book, and much more! Please give her a warm welcome!
Bone Dust White has already gotten some amazing buzz! Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it?
BONE DUST WHITE is a tale of abandonment and betrayal set in the icy depths of a northern Montana winter. After witnessing a murder, a troubled young woman named Grace has to negotiate a whole host of unseemly townspeople who are hell bent on settling old scores. Past crimes are revealed and the community quickly unravels under the strain. Detective Macy Greeley is brought in to uncover the truth, but untangling Collier’s web of complex relationships and long kept secrets isn’t a task for the faint-hearted. Grace’s story is what originally inspired me to write the novel. Because of her heart condition and background she has been raised in near isolation and didn’t expect to live beyond her 18th birthday. She’s been given a new lease on life, but in order to survive she must change. I wanted to show the full arc of her transformation. I wanted the reader to go from feeling ambivalent to being fully engaged. I was also interested in examining the aftermath of crime on a community. I created a point of contention, a cast of characters and a setting. By throwing in an inciting incident I was able to explore how the shock waves rippled through the town of Collier. It was by following those waves that I found the real story.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve harbored a secret ambition to become a writer for as long as I can remember, but never imagined that I’d be able to earn a spot on a bookshelf. As a reader I was both captivated and intimidated by well-written novels. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned that these novels seemed effortless for a very good reason. Readers don’t see the sleepless nights, endless drafts and the line-by-line edits. There are a great number of people in the publishing industry who are working very hard behind the scenes. Copyeditors hold a very special place in my heart!
Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
My father was career Air Force, which meant we moved quite a few times during my childhood. Landscapes changed and friends came and went, but whether we lived on or off base, the Air Force was very central to our lives. Early on I learned to quickly adapt to new situations, but in hindsight I realize I didn’t have a clue how to function outside of an institutionalized environment. It was only after I married and relocated to London that I feel I really moved beyond those initial boundaries. I now live with my two teenage children and my rather bossy Schnauzer. My son starts university in the autumn and my daughter will soon follow. I’m hoping I’ll have even more time to write.
Why do you think readers will connect with your detective, Macy Greeley, and what did you enjoy most about writing her character?
I think readers will connect with Macy because she is a reflection of all of us, but on those rare days when we don’t have to follow the rules. Most of us are too constrained by our personal circumstances to say and do as we wish. I guess in that way Macy’s character is aspirational. She’s intelligent and I love her sharp wit. She certainly has some great lines. I will admit that I’ve worked out a few of my own issues through her character; I’m just not going to tell you which ones! I’d say she thinks like me, but that’s where the similarity ends. I’m not a cop living in Montana. I’m a writer living in London. Macy allows me to spread my wings.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Research involved spending a lot of time combing the Internet for information on everything from meth production and addiction to forensic science and police procedure, but you only see a fraction of what I learned in the novel. I needed the information so I could write with confidence, but tried not to weigh the book down with too much detail, as it’s not what drives the plot forward. This is really a book about characters that have conflicting motivations and personalities. It was those colliding forces that interested me. Let’s put these two characters in a room together, put them under stress and see what happens.
What is your writing process like? Plotter or pantser?
I had to look up pantser on Urban Dictionary and it turns out that I am most definitely a pantser. My writing style is very organic and therefore time consuming. I spend most of my time tethered to a laptop. When I began BONE DUST WHITE I had an image in my head. I set it down and went from there. There was no plan. Sometimes I wish I outlined, but I think I’d become very bored if I knew how a book was going to end before I started writing it. In many ways I want to be as surprised as the reader.
What authors have influenced you the most in your writing?
There are so many, but those authors who most directly influence my work are Joyce Carol Oates, Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson, Cormac McCarthy, Alice Munro and Daphne du Maurier.
What are you currently reading? Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to this year?
finally starting Tom Robb Smith’s new book THE FARM. I’m looking forward to reading CARTHAGE by Joyce Carol Oates, MR MERCEDES by Stephen King and THE SKIN COLLECTOR by Jeffery Deaver. There is also a French author named Fred Vargas who writes brilliant detective novels. I believe there’s a new translation available of one of her earlier books. I need to track it down.
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
It may be because I moved around so much or that it was such a long time ago, but I have no memory of anything I wrote as a young adult. I do remember creating a cookbook in the 4th grade. We all had to submit a ‘favorite’ family recipe, which would be copied out and compiled to create the Christmas cookbook that would be given to our parents. To my mother’s horror I submitted a recipe for Kentucky Whiskey Cake. For some reason my teacher found this very amusing. I think my mother still has the cookbook somewhere.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
You know I was asked this recently and I chose WINGS OF A DOVE by Henry James. Upon reflection I want to change my answer to ALL THE PRETTY HORSES by Cormac McCarthy. Next week a new title will probably come into my head…
What’s next for you?
I’m almost finished writing my second book. It’s also set in the Flathead Valley, but this time it’s high summer. A young army veteran, who has served his country in some of the most dangerous places in the world, is gunned down in his hometown of Wilmington Creek, a sleepy ranching community where there is little crime. Detective Macy Greeley is reluctant to take the case. She’s been struggling to balance work, motherhood and an increasingly fraught relationship with her boss Ray Davidson. Her nerves are shot and she has to fight hard to stay focused. It doesn’t help that the heat is oppressive, an arsonist is setting wild fires, and the victim’s friends and family are keeping secrets. When an undercover officer, who’s been investigating a member of a private militia turns up dead, the scope of the case widens further.
About BONE DUST WHITE:
Someone is knocking at the door to Grace Adams’ house, and he won’t stop. Grace thinks she knows who it is, but when she goes to her second floor window for a look she sees a woman she doesn’t recognize. The woman isn’t alone for long before a man emerges from the dark of the surrounding woods, stabs her, and leaves her for dead. Trying to help, Grace goes to the woman and is shocked to find that it’s her mother Leanne—a woman who abandoned her 11 years before. There’s nothing she can do, and Leanne is already past the point where she can tell Grace what happened all those years ago or why she came back now.
While Grace was only a child when Leanne left her, Detective Macy Greeley has been waiting for Leanne ever since she disappeared from Collier, MT. She’s looking to close a case that has been haunting the town for far too long, but Collier is a hard-bitten place where the people are fierce when it comes to keeping their feuds between themselves and keeping secrets hidden in the past.