Interview with Author Sally Carpenter by Melissa Brooks
Sally Carpenter is a lifelong reader and writer and currently works at a newspaper. She also loves movies and has worked as an actress and at Paramount Pictures. She has a master’s degree in theater and has written multiple plays. She is the author of the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol Mysteries and the Psychedelic Spy Mysteries. I interviewed her to find out more about her writing, her inspiration, and what she is working on now.
1. Have you always been interested in writing?
Yes, as a child I made up stories and read a lot. In school I did well in English, and in college I had a class in the history of movies, which turned me into an avid moviegoer. Movies are just stories fleshed out with people and sets. In my 20s or 30s, I made a decision to concentrate on writing. Over the years, I wrote and sold articles and short plays. I wrote books, but nothing was published until I started on mysteries.
2. What inspired you to start writing mysteries?
That was totally unplanned. I never thought I could craft a mystery. I work at a newspaper, and in 2008 a press release came across my desk about a Sisters in Crime authors panel at a local library. Something told me “You need to go to that.” I went and listed to the writers describe their craft. When the event ended, I asked one of the writers how I could join SinC. I went on a crash course of reading mysteries and how-to books and started writing my first mystery novel, which was published in 2011.
3. What is your writing process like? How does writing a story start for you?
I have no idea. I do research and scenes pop in my head and I write them down. I get ideas from the books I read and TV/movies I watch. After the first draft, I edit and revise like a maniac. It’s a mystery to me how I finish these books.
4. Do you get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
I call it writer’s procrastination. I seem to find something else to do besides writing. I do a lot of housecleaning when I should be writing. Sometimes I have to push to get started. I recently stopped contributing to a group blog because it was just one more thing taking time away from my books. My writing time is limited, so I have to guard it jealously.
5. How have your various jobs contributed to your writing?
In my day job at a newspaper, I proofread the final pages and edit (more like rewrite) press releases submitted by the public. My grammar, writing, and proofing skills have sharpened quite a bit. I’ve learned how to write lean and tight because newspaper page space is limited. My job at Paramount Pictures taught me how a movie studio works. I used that information in my Sandy Fairfax books, because he often works at a (fictitious) studio.
6. Why did you choose the sixties for the time period Flower Power Fatality takes place in?
It was an exciting era. Young adults were rebelling from the norms of their parents, more so than other generations. Politically, we had the Vietnam protests and the civil rights movement. The space race was on, and the Cold War was heating up. Vatican II shook up the Catholics; the Protestants had Jesus rock music, and East Indian religions were making converts next door. I love the music, art, and fashions of the time—modern clothing and music are blah. Writing “low tech” is fun. I hate characters who have a cellphone glued to their ear and their eyes nailed to a computer screen every minute. The sixties were the James Bond era, so it seemed natural to write a cozy spy caper.
7. In Flower Power Fatality, why did you decide to make Noelle an actress?
Actors have the “right stuff” for undercover spy work. They can assume an alternate identity and go where a police officer can’t. On Mission: Impossible, the granddaddy of spy shows, every week the spies act out different characters on their missions. I’ve done some acting—I have a theater degree—and I liked playing around with costumes and makeup effects, which Noelle does. Theater is something I know and can write about.
8. In the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol Mysteries series, how did Sandy Fairfax’s character develop as you wrote him? Why did you decide to make him a former teen idol?
At the time I started the series, I was a diehard Monkees fan. I was into teen idol (bubblegum) music, and the whole teen idol phenomena fascinated me. I began researching idols from the 1960s and ‘70s and found an identical career path for all of them—a few years of insane fame and wealth, followed by a decade or two of obscurity, then a midlife comeback. All idols, except Donny Osmond, drank heavily and divorced their wives as well. Idols have a certain type of personality that’s fun to explore. A middle-age performer who was trying to reconnect with his estranged family, struggling to restart his career, and looking back on his mistakes was interesting and offered many story possibilities. Plus, at age 38 Sandy has the time and ability to go sleuthing. In his glory days, he was simply too busy to do anything except perform and he couldn’t go out into the world to fight crime because he’d be mobbed.
9. Are you working on anything right now?
I’ve started the second book in the Psychedelic Spy series. After all, one can’t have a “series” with just one book. When that’s finished, I hope to do anthology of several Sandy Fairfax novellas. One story is finished. The shorter stories are nice because I can use ideas that are fun but are not “meaty” enough to expand into a full book. And in each story, I can focus on a different family members or friends of Sandy’s.