Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Barbara Fradkin

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Barbara Fradkin

Acclaimed mystery author Barbara Fradkin talks to Open Book about the inspiration for her popular Inspector Green novels, her writing habits and her involvement with the strong and supportive crime writing community. Her latest novel, Beautiful Lie the Dead (RendezVous Crime/Dundurn Press), finds Inspector Green in pursuit of a missing bride-to-be.

Open Book:

Tell us about your novel Beautiful Lie the Dead.

Barbara Fradkin:

Beautiful Lie the Dead is a story about love, deception and the dangers of family secrets. It opens with the disappearance of a young bride-to-be in the middle of an Ottawa blizzard. The police suspect a simple case of cold feet, but Meredith Kennedy is a young woman full of hope and idealism, and her fiancé, a young doctor from a wealthy family, is convinced she would never disappear of her own accord. As the clues mount, including a mysterious bus trip to Montreal, old newspaper clippings about the death of the fiancé's father, and the discovery of a stranger’s frozen body mere blocks from his Rockcliffe home, the young man comes to believe that she is fleeing for her life, possibly from his own family. Green travels to Montreal, convinced that the key to her disappearance lies in a secret that, even after 30 years, someone is desperate to keep hidden.

OB:

Beautiful Lie the Dead is the eighth book in the Inspector Mike Green series. When you wrote the first Inspector Green novel, did you know that the two of you would stick together for so long?

BF:

Absolutely not. I had just finished eight years of graduate school, and I was feeling murderous, so I wrote a mystery about the pressures, passions and politics of academia, and hence Do or Die was born. Writing had always been a creative counterpoint to my busy life, but I had not thought seriously about my future as a writer until, to my surprise, the book sold. But I have always loved British detective novels, and once I had one Inspector Green novel, it seemed natural to give him another case.

OB:

How has Inspector Green developed over the course of the series?

BF:

Green has matured enormously, developing from a brash, impetuous, self-absorbed cop into a more layered, reflective and tender man. In the first book he was a new husband and father, trying unsuccessfully to make a go of marriage after many years of having no one to answer to but himself. His only emotional tie was to his father, an elderly, widowed Holocaust survivor who adored him. Green loves the hunt, and although he always had a passion for justice and a sympathy for the underdog, he often got caught up in his own cause at the expense of mundane family needs. With each book, I added complications to push his growth, from a prickly teenage daughter and neurotic rescue dog to the heart-breaking human toll of each case he faced.

OB:

You had a career as a child psychologist before you retired to devote more of your attention to writing. How did your experiences in this field help you to become a better writer?

BF:

It helped enormously in my creation of character, but not just in the ways you would expect. Writers need tremendous empathy in order to step into others’ shoes and write about them convincingly. We psychologists spend our lives trying to see the world through others’ eyes so we can help them effectively. Over the decades, this becomes second nature, and I think it makes it much easier for me to slip into a scene, see that scene from my character’s viewpoint and imagine what he’s thinking and feeling. Another useful aspect of being a psychologist is that I meet people from many walks of life and hear their personal stories. And I get to be nosy and ask them questions about their personal life that few others could get away with.

OB:

Describe your average writing day.

BF:

I’m a binge writer. I write for hours some days as the inspiration or the deadline dictates, but may go days without writing at other times. However, if I’m writing a first draft of a novel, I try to be disciplined and write a scene a day, because it’s important to keep up the momentum. But I ease into it. First comes my morning coffee. I’m a fanatic about coffee. It has to be dark, smoky and scrumptious. While I drink it, I read the paper, do email and other web activities, and when I can’t put it off any longer, I pick up my pen and paper. I write long-hand, without an outline, and develop the story as the ideas come to me. The first draft is always chaotic and disjointed, but that’s what rewrites are for.

OB:

Do you conduct a lot of research for your novels? For instance, how did you become so familiar with police procedures?

BF:

Research is critical! My novels are gritty and realistic, reflecting real problems, so I believe it’s important to be accurate. I also hope that in the course of reading a good page-turner, people will learn something about the issue I have tackled. For example, in Honour Among Men I researched not only post-traumatic stress disorder, but also peacekeeping, the history of the Balkans and the military. As for police procedure, I have taken a forensics course and consult the police routinely, including one officer who reads all my finished manuscripts. I also belong to a writers’ group that has monthly speakers from the police and other relevant experts. I’ve learned about eye witness testimony, arson investigation, interrogation techniques, post mortems and all sorts of fascinating topics.

OB:

You are involved in a number of crime-writing organizations and often travel to writing conferences throughout North America. What do you gain from being so active in the writing community?

BF:

Writing is a solitary life, and now that much of our promotion is done on the internet rather than through book tours and readings, it’s possible to go days without talking to a real person. It’s also a frustrating, discouraging business much of the time, for which you need a thick skin and a sympathetic ear. The crime writing community is our community of kindred souls. It’s like a gigantic friendship circle, and conferences are our chance to connect. We share horror stories and successes, learn from each other, network and problem solve.

OB:

It seems like crime and mystery writers have an especially strong support group, with active organizations such as Crime Writers of Canada and Capital Crime Writers. Why do you think this community of writers is so robust?

BF:

The first time I walked into a crime writers’ meeting and heard people discussing the relative merits of poison vs. bludgeon, I knew I was among kindred souls. Other writers tackle all kinds of topics and styles, as do we, but we do have one unifying passion. We love the dramatic device of murder. I don’t think other writer’s groups share a common vision to that extent. And you’re right. Despite our dark themes, crime writers are friendly and warm, perhaps because we get all our back-stabbing out on the page. On a more serious note, we don’t tend to be in competition with each other. There are no career-altering $50,000 prizes, and if readers read one of us, they are very likely to read the rest of us too.

OB:

Can you recommend a novel or two that you read recently which really knocked your socks off?

BF:

I read very widely in the Canadian crime writing community, and many of the authors are my friends. I enjoy our broad spectrum of books, from the sassy humour of Mary Jane Maffini to the brooding darkness of Giles Blunt. In order to avoid a cat fight among my friends, I will pick a surprise discovery that I made recently — A Carrion Death, by South African writer Michael Stanley, which brings the rich history, landscape and culture of Botswana to life and introduces Detective Kubu, one of the most engaging and unique cops ever to leap from the page.

OB:

What are you working on now?

BF:

I am juggling three writing projects at the moment, all in the development stages. One is a non-fiction biography, and another is what I hope will be the second in my Rapid Reads series starring Cedric O’Toole and published by Orca Books. Also in the wings is the next Inspector Green novel, entitled Faint Hope. It’s still just a vision in my head, but I have a strong hope it will be out sometime in late 2012.


Award-winning novelist and short story writer Barbara Fradkin was born in Montreal and obtained her PhD in psychology at the University of Ottawa. Her work as a child psychologist provides ample inspiration and insight for plotting murders.

Her mystery novels feature the exasperating Ottawa Inspector Michael Green, whose passion for justice and love of the hunt often interfere with family, friends and police protocol. Green’s Jewish background also contributes to the psychological interest of the intrigues and his family relationships. The first seven novels in the series are Do or Die, Once Upon a Time, Mist Walker, Fifth Son, Honour Among Men, Dream Chasers and This Thing of Darkness. The fourth and fifth in the series won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel in 2005 and 2007. Beautiful Lie the Dead was published in the fall of 2010.

An active member of Canada’s crime writing community, Barbara resides in Ottawa with assorted pets and children. Visit her at her website, www.barbarafradkin.com.

For more information about Beautiful Lie the Dead please visit the Dundurn Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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