PENNED is the fourth book in Eileen Brady’s mystery series starring veterinarian Kate Turner, the first installment of which, MUZZLED, won the 2013 Discover Mystery Award. In this interview, Brady explains why she decided to use the infamous Robert Fisher case from 2001 as the jumping-off point for this latest story; talks about her 20-year stint as a practicing veterinarian, including some of her favorite patients; and shares the most important lesson she has learned about writing mysteries that she wishes she had known in the early stages of her career.
Question: There seems to be a darker, more serious tone to this new Kate Turner novel, with the villain being a serial killer. How did you arrive at the decision to utilize that real-life Scottsdale case from 2001 as the jumping-off point for the story?
Eileen Brady: I’ve thought about the infamous Robert Fisher case on and off for a long time, especially since he murdered his family in 2001 right here in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has eluded law enforcement for 17 years and is still on the FBI’s most wanted list. What intrigued me is this: How does someone stay hidden for such a long time — and how would having to hide your identity change the killer? Using that idea, I created my fictional killer, Carl Wolf, whose next-door neighbor, Gloria LaGuardia, happens to be a gifted artist. Skip to present day when Gloria thinks she recognizes Wolf on Halloween night in Dr. Kate Turner’s small town of Oak Falls. Unfortunately, because the elderly Gloria is showing early signs of dementia, no one believes her.
Q: Kate has experienced a dark period here in terms of her love life, though her self-evaluation also provides some amusing insights at times. Do you find that your readers enjoy this aspect of the books?
EB: Yes, I think my readers want Dr. Kate to find a great guy, and so do I. But like most young people, her love life has its ups and downs. She’s a bit of a workaholic, being in charge of an animal hospital and doing house calls — which provide plenty of funny animal stories, and eccentric pet owners mixed in with the murder investigation. Putting Kate in a realistic setting gives readers an idea of what it’s like to be a veterinarian and how an animal hospital is run — as well as providing a complex mystery to solve. Adding a personal life to the mix gives Kate depth and a life outside of work.
Q: As an animal lover, I particularly enjoy Kate’s day-job veterinarian interludes, as she deals with everything from Nubian goats to cockatoos to the conventional dog and cat crises. Did you have a favorite species as a “client” during your own 20-year stint as a vet?
EB: That’s a great question! I started out as a veterinary technician, and have worked every job in an animal hospital you can think of — from kennel to reception to doctor — which means I’ve cleaned up a lot of poop. The truth is I’m a real “softie” when it comes to animals. I love them all. Comforting an animal that is hurt and is temporarily separated from its loving family was always one of the most rewarding aspects of practicing medicine. I’ve given lots of kisses to my patients over the years. From the dolphins smiling and swimming past me off the coast of North Carolina to the bees giddy with pollen in my rose bushes, each creature to me is a reminder of how diverse and precious life is here on our beautiful planet.
Q: The Kate Turner series is set in New York’s Hudson Valley, near the wonderful town of Kingston — an area in which you used to reside yourself. Now living in Arizona, what do you most miss about life in the Hudson Valley?
EB: This may sound silly, but one of the things I miss the most is my garden. We lived on 12 acres, and I had a huge perennial flower garden and organic vegetable garden surrounded by forest. When I travel to the East Coast to visit, I say hello to all the plants I used to grow. Something else I miss are the seasons. Here in Scottsdale, Arizona, we don’t have seasons. Although Northern Arizona does have fall color, there is nothing like the gorgeous changing of the leaves in the Hudson Valley. But winter and the ice and snow — that’s something I’m happy not to have. Of course, I also miss my clients and friends, but we keep in touch on Facebook, by phone and by email.
Q: With four novels now under your belt, what would you say is the single most important lesson you’ve learned about writing mysteries that you wish you had known when beginning your first book?
EB: Putting the creative part aside, it’s important to improve your organizational skills. There’s a lot of “housekeeping” to do when you write a book. You need to keep track of your characters (what they look like, the correct spelling of their names, etc.), and also the timeline. Nothing is more embarrassing than to describe a fall day and the next chapter it’s springtime! Because writers often have alternative scenes floating around in their heads, things can quickly get confused. Cutting and pasting and suddenly changing your murderer in mid-stream can be a disaster. I know. I’ve been there and done that. Finally, it’s important to create goals and a deadline and stick to them.
For example, during the writing of PENNED, my husband and I went to Iceland for nine days. I had given myself a 1,500-word-a-day goal — so one morning I ended up sitting on the tour bus alone, typing away on my laptop, while everyone else hiked to Gullfoss (the Golden Waterfall). Portions of this new book were also written on planes, in airport terminals and hotel rooms. To be a professional writer, you have to learn to write anywhere at any time, and feel secure in the knowledge that you can always fix your problems in the second draft.