An interview with Barbra Leslie, author of Cracked

barbraleslieBarbra Leslie’s new book, Cracked, will be out tomorrow, and Barbra kindly answered a few of my questions about it, and more! Please give her a warm welcome.
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Will you tell us a bit about Cracked and what inspired you to write it?

Glad to! Cracked is the story of Danny Cleary, a former personal trainer and fighter who becomes addicted to crack after her marriage ends. When her twin sister is murdered, Danny sets out to find the people responsible – and exact her revenge.

In the late 2000s, my mother was very ill, dying from mesothelioma, and I went to Nova Scotia (where I grew up) to look after her. She was a big mystery buff, and to be honest I hadn’t read much in the genre before then. But I picked up a James Lee Burke one day, and I was hooked. So I was immersed both in my own large family – I have five brothers and sisters, spread over North America, and a slew of nephews and nieces – and distracting myself from the pain of what was happening in my own life, voraciously reading the mystery novels my mother loved.

In fact, I started writing a very early draft of Cracked at my mother’s dining room table.

What makes Danny Cleary such a compelling character? Why do you think readers will root for her?

Danny is obviously hugely flawed – she has jumped down the rabbit hole into addiction. But her fierce love for her family, and her drive to do anything to protect them from evil, makes us root for her on a very visceral level, I think. We all have people in our lives for whom we would do almost anything, especially if they were in peril. But with Danny, the ‘almost’ is taken out of that equation. She isn’t exactly fearless – she’s not a comic book character. But she puts her own safety to the side: she is willing to die – and kill — for her family.

What other characters did you particularly enjoy writing?

There is a character I very much enjoyed writing, but to talk about that would give part of the plot away! But I loved writing the character of Darren, Danny’s musician brother, who is with her on some of her journey. And in my non-writing work, I deal with a lot of police, so I enjoyed writing all of the police characters, particularly Detective Belliveau, although we don’t meet him until the last third of the book.

What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?

There is medical detail I wanted to be absolutely accurate with, so I did a lot of research about that – and again, I can’t say too much without giving away plot details! For the most part, I used locations I am very familiar with, and I tend to remember things very visually – but also smells; I’ve got a very intense sense memory when it comes to smells. The smell of the woods in Maine, the hydrangea in Orange County – it’s there in my memory.

I write drafts in intense periods, intense bursts. When I did edits and a bit of a rewrite of the last draft, the draft you read, I basically did nothing but write, eat and sleep – and the last two, very sparingly — for a week. Didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t read or watch the news, or do anything but this. For me, that’s ideal. It’s very difficult to achieve, though. I do freelance work, and work part-time in the court system, so it’s hard to find the time to sequester myself away as much I would like to.

I’m working on the second book in the Cracked series right now, called Rehab Run, which will be out in November 2016. To finish the draft, I am hoping to take a week or two off in January and do the same. That, to me, is bliss.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?

I’ve always written. I was writing stories and poems when I was a very little kid, and placed in a short story competition when I was 15, back in Nova Scotia. I published short stories and poetry in literary mags during university and after, and published my first novel, Nerve, in 1998. I wrote a couple of novels I haven’t published and may go back to, and one of them was optioned for a film, so I did the screenplay for that – though it wasn’t greenlit, which is the way of that business.

But really, what I always wanted was to have a life full of adventure and interesting experiences, and I’ve done that. I’ve traveled extensively and at some point, that will make its way into my writing. I’ve had huge highs and lows. But through most of it, I’ve worked in the legal world in some capacity, from doing marketing for white-shoe law firms to writing for a legal newspaper; from working for a police force transcribing police interview videos to working for a government ministry tracking criminal cases. So one way or another, I’ve almost always been surrounded by crime! Now that I think about it, I’m almost surprised it took me this long to write a crime book.

Why crime/suspense? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?

Reading my first James Lee Burke – and for the life of me, I can’t remember which one of his it was – was my introduction to the genre. I had read Agatha Christie when I was a little kid, and I had always thought of the mystery genre that way – cozy English whodunits. Not to disparage those kinds of novels; I love them too, now that I’ve been reading more widely in the genre. But there’s an immediacy to a good crime/suspense novel: if you’re enjoying the book or the characters within the first thirty pages or so, you are invested in what happens to them…and in this genre, anything could happen to them! And when you get a writer like Dennis Lehane, for example, who is such a master of the genre, I defy you to take more than a couple of days to get through one of his Kenzie-Gennaro books. (I love his other books too, by the way.)

And for me, writing Cracked was a cathartic experience – I found myself sobbing when I was writing it, at times. Danny Cleary and her family have become as real to me as my own family.

What are some of your favorite authors?

Well, I’ve mentioned James Lee Burke and Dennis Lehane. And as far as I am concerned, those two writers surpass the genre; they’re just fantastic writers. There’s an English-American writer, Nicola Griffith, who wrote a crime thriller series with a female protagonist, Aud Torvigen – the first one is The Blue Place. Those books took my breath away; they are brilliantly written, punch you in the gut and don’t let up. I haven’t yet read her non-Aud books, but they are on my (very-long) to-read list! Stay, which is the middle book in the three-book series, is simply a brilliant piece of writing. I also became hooked on Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books this year.

Right now I’m focused on mystery, crime, suspense – and also dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction. But I majored in Victorian Literature in university, and until the last six or seven years, as I said, I hadn’t really read much in these genres. The enormity of naming favourite authors outside those genres is beyond me right now, so I’ll have to demur.

I’d be kicking myself six ways to Sunday if I left anyone out.

If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?

The first thing that came to mind when I read this question was Stephen King’s The Shining. Seriously. I inhaled that book in one gulp as a kid. In fact, one night as a young teenager I was reading it in the bath when everybody else in the house was asleep in bed, and I was too scared to open the door and face the long dark hallway. As I recall, I eventually just parked myself on the bathroom floor and read until the sun started to come up.

Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend?

I just finished Ben H. Winters’ fantastic The Last Policeman series. My God, those books are good. They’re about an obsessive-compulsive policeman in the months before an asteroid is going to hit the earth, in all probably killing everyone, and definitely making the planet uninhabitable for any possible survivors. So as the world is in its final months, as essential services are pretty much non-existent and most people are either hoarding food, committing crimes or have gone off to fulfill their bucket lists, our hero continues to diligently work and solve crimes.

The writing is spare and poignant and gripping, and boy…there’s a series I wish I could read again for the first time.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading Rachel Howzell Hall’s Skies of Ash, the second in her Eloise Norton series. I love her noir-ish sensibilities – and so far the second book is turning out even better than the first.

But as a rule I read more than one book at a time, so I’m also re-reading Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It’s the best piece of journalistic nonfiction I’ve ever come across. If you haven’t read it yet, you must.

What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am working on Danny Cleary’s next shenanigans in book 2. And I have a pretty good idea where book 3 is going to take her. I’m pretty excited about it.

I have also been fleshing out an apocalyptic kind of thing – possibly for young adults; that’s what my niece is campaigning for – but perhaps not. I’m raring to get started on it, when I can find the time.

I’ll be promoting Cracked here and there, and continuing to do what I do – working part-time in the criminal justice system, and writing about crime at night!

Keep up with Barbra: Twitter


About Cracked:
After her stormy marriage ends, Danny Cleary jumps down the rabbit hole into a world of crack cocaine – delivered to her door by a polite but slightly deranged dealer. But when Danny’s twin sister Ginger is murdered, Danny and her rock musician brother fly to California to find their nephews – and the people who killed their sister. Fighting her addiction, nosy cops and crazy drug dealers, she kicks ass and takes names, embracing her inner vigilante in a quest to avenge her sister and save her family.

Cracked is a darkly comic roller-coaster ride to redemption as Danny struggles with bad guys and her own demons to find out who killed her twin.

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