Tonight continues a weekend with Jill Edmondson as I post questions and answers with the author. Her forthright personality is evident in every answer. Below this post are the reviews of her books Blood and Groom and Dead Light District. Tomorrow evening I will post some reflections on Jill’s answers with references to and quotes from her academic work on the mystery genre.
1.) My first reaction to seeing Sasha as your character's first name was to think of a man. Why did you choose Sasha as her first name?
That name has long been a favourite of mine, no idea why. I remember, as a kid, hearing that then PM Pierre Trudeau had a son named Sasha and thinking to myself “why did he give his son a girl’s name?”
2.) Canada has few tough guy let alone tough girl mystery heroes. Why did you make Sasha such a hard edged P.I.?
That may be exactly why... I saw a hole and decided to fill it. Her personality is like mine in many ways (but I can’t sing, don’t play drums, and have never worked for a phone sex hotline!)
When I was doing my MA (at Athabasca University), I did two independent reading courses in which I studied women in mysteries, in Canadian mysteries in particular. One paper I did was called “From Spenser to Yeats: Feminism’s Answer to the Hardboiled Sleuth is on the Wagon and Rides a Harley”. “Spenser” was for the Robert B. Parker sleuth, and “Yeats” was for a sleuth named Jane Yeats, written by Liz Brady. Jane is hard-edged, ballsy and someone I’d love to have a beer with.
I’ve long been a fan of the modern day hardboiled sleuth, which includes Spenser, but is also defined by Lawrence Block and his character Matthew Scudder, and Elvis Cole by Robert Crais, plus many others. As well, I’m a die-hard fan of the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich. I like the humour in the Evanovich books, and I like the “down these mean streets...” characteristics of hardboiled private eyes. My intention was to capture the best of both worlds.
Full disclosure: All through college and university (eleven years fulltime, plus two more part time), plus during the phases when I was starting and aborting one career after another, I worked in bars. Much of what ends up in the books is loosely based on things I’ve seen or people I’ve met in real life... usually in a bar, and usually when I was cutting them off, or when asking the bouncer to escort someone out. A “movie producer” once tipped me a condom covered cucumber. He had autographed the condom. You can’t make this shit up! I used to get tipped in hash quite a lot... I’m not a toker... why are people giving me hash??? Obviously, there are parallels between the hardboiled gumshoe world and my spotty bartending history.
Also, since I mentioned the MA thing above, I should say that Dead Light District is a result of a paper I wrote when I was taking a course called “Equality in Context” at Athabasca University. The final paper was on human rights and the sex trade. I had lots of fascinating “leftover” research that didn’t make it into the essay, but became a book instead. Much of the “grittiness” of the commercial sex world comes from that. Dead Light District practically wrote itself.
3.) My maternal aunts and uncles and cousins have lived west of Yonge. Of the third generation to live in Toronto the farthest east any of them has gotten is Cabbagetown. With Sasha residing east of Yonge is that your area of Toronto? Will Sasha ever head to western Toronto?
When I wrote Blood and Groom I was living on the 22nd floor of an apartment at Broadview and Danforth, overlooking the Don Valley Parkway. The book was totally inspired by my view. I kept thinking: That would be a great place to kill someone! It can be so noisy (trains, traffic) and it has so few people (witnesses) that is could be an ideal place to find a corpse.
With Blood and Groom, I never really said where Sasha lives, but I had an idea it was along the Danforth because that was (and is my ’hood). In Dead Light District, I specify that she lives on Carlaw, a few blocks south of Danforth Avenue.
As for the blocks around Church and Carlton, Jarvis and Wellesley, and the area where the investigation in Dead Light District takes place, well, that’s old stomping grounds for me. I lived on Wood, then Maitland, then Alexander for many years. I know the area well, and know which blocks to avoid and/or when to avoid them. Also, Sasha’s office (in Blood and Groom) is based on where I had my office for a while, at Yonge and Gloucester. The other tenants who rent office space where Sasha does are, well, not that far from the truth...
In the next book, The Lies Have It, there is a fair bit of action west of Yonge. Sasha spends part of her investigation in Kensington Market, the Annex, and High Park. The home that figures prominently in that book is a fictionalized version of the house on Parkside Drive, where I lived in 1987-1989.
4.) In my review of Dead Light District I have noted Sasha walks through her investigations. It is interesting to have a walking investigator. Why did you put Sasha on foot?
Because I don’t drive...well, not exactly. I’m really bad at driving, so I haven’t been behind the wheel in about a decade. I try to walk wherever I can, if it’s nice out, I’ll bike.
I guess, to some extent, Sasha is pretty normal for a lot of young, childless Torontonians in that she uses public transit. I just did a mental checklist of my close friends, and only about one-third of them own a car, and they seem to only use it on weekends to get out of town. Driving in the core of the city isn’t necessarily advantageous or quicker. More than once, I’ve hopped out of a taxi and walked the rest of the way.
5.) Do you have a favourite place and time of day for writing?
Any time of day or night. Usually just at my desk on my computer. Any place is fine for writing, as long as it’s quiet.
6.) Do you set a page or word goal when writing?
I have absolutely no system or routine. My day job (teaching) has an ever changing schedule, and I am fortunate to have a lot of free time, at times. I write whenever I’m not busy at work (Reading Week, X-mas vacation, summer, etc.), which means I also stay away from writing for long stretches (marking exams, doing final grades, etc).
Blood and Groom took about 6 months to write; Dead Light District took 5 months.