Monday, April 20, 2009

The Writing Porch Author Q&A with Frankie Y. Bailey

Frankie Y. Bailey is an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany (SUNY). She specializes in crime history, and in crime and mass media/popular culture. She is the author or co-author of a number of non-fiction books, most recently (with Alice P. Green) "Wicked Albany: Lawlessness & Liquor in the Prohibition Era" (The History Press, 2009). Frankie is also the author of a mystery series featuring Southern crime historian Lizzie Stuart in four books, including "You Should Have Died on Monday" (Silver Dagger, 2007). Frankie is a member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), Romance Writers of America (RWA), and Mystery Writers of America (MWA). Frankie is the 2009-2010 Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America.

Her book, "African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study"
(McFarland, 2008, 271 pp) examines the works of modern African American mystery writers in the context of the long history of African Americans writing about crime and justice. The first section provides historical context; the second focuses on issues such as sleuths, settings, victims, and offenders; the third section includes the results of a survey of readers and interviews with mystery writers and scholars.

How did you get your start in writing?
My parents allowed me to sign up for the Famous Writers School correspondence course when I was a teenager. Then later at college, I had a double major in English and Psychology, both provided me with an opportunity to write. The first time I actually sat down and tried to write a book was when I was in the Army (between college and grad school). I was living in Seattle, where I was assigned as a food inspector. I came home every day, had dinner, and spent the evening pecking away on my typewriter. I managed to produce two romantic suspense novels that would require a lot of editing before they could be sent out. But I did prove to myself that I could write a book. I wrote my first non-fiction book around 1989-1991 when I was living and teaching in Frankfort, Kentucky. The book was about black characters in crime and detective fiction, and to my utter disbelief was nominated for an EDGAR.

What does your writing routine look like?
It more or less depends on the day. On some days, I don't write at all.
Instead, I spend the time preparing to write by doing research or just thinking. Or procrastinating. I generally write my mysteries at home -- or in a hotel room when I'm really stuck and need to focus. I like to write late at night. That works when I don't have to get up the next morning. But if I'm really tired, I go to bed and get up early the next morning and write until around 11. Sometimes I get my best ideas when I wake up and stagger to the computer and write while I'm still almost in a dream state. I like to wake up while I'm writing. Since I don't drink coffee, it's sometimes my substitute for caffeine.

With the non-fiction writing, I spend afternoons/early evenings in my office at school most days. Because U Albany is a public research university and I teach in a grad school, I spend a lot of time doing research and writing in my area of specialization. I do much of my non-fiction research and writing in my office. However, if I'm pushing a deadline, I will work at home so I don't have to drive home in the middle of the night. But, psychologically, I can focus best on fiction at home, non-fiction at the office.

The only caveat to this is that my own research as an criminal justice professor often yields the true crime cases that inspire the plots in my mysteries. So, often when I'm doing research, the fiction and the non-fiction research will overlap. Of course, I also need to go "on location" for the mysteries to get the settings right. So the last book, I spent time in Chicago, Wilmington, NC, and New Orleans. This past fall, I spent time in Maine and on Eastern Shore Virginia doing research for the book I'm working on now, "40 Acres and a Soggy Grave."

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.
I admire many of my mystery writer peers. I think that modern mystery writers are masters at both character and plot. They also often deal with social issues while providing their readers with great page-turning entertainment. However, since I can't mention all my favorites, I won't mention anyone by now. I'm also a fan of historical romance, and one of my favorite writers is Mary Balogh. She is one of those writers who can keep me up all night turning pages.

If I could take only one book with me to a desert island, it would be my worn, tattered "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare." I did three quarters of Shakespeare as an English major and I am still in awe of his ability to create characters that live and breathe. I love some poets for the same reason. For example, Edwin Arlington Robinson. His "Richard Cory" was the inspiration for a character in one of my books. Actually, I'm completely scattered when it comes to reading. I will read almost anything if it grabs my attention. I have more books piled up on tables then I will ever be able to read.

What are you working on next?
My next Lizzie Stuart mystery, "40 Acres and a Soggy Grave." The first book in a new historical mystery series set during World War II. A non-fiction book with the working title, "Strip Search," about clothing, crime and impression management. And (with Alice Green) a book about African Americans in Albany, 1919-1965.

What made you decide to write this book?
"African American Mystery Writers" is really the sequel to the first non-fiction book I wrote back in 1991, "Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction." That first book came out just as what has been called a "renaissance" of black mystery writers began.
Although African Americans began publishing in the genre at the turn of the 20th century, it wasn't until the late 1980s/early 1990s, that more than one or two at a time began to be published. So, now that there are enough of these writers to allow analyze of their works -- and because I had an invitation from the editor at McFarland to submit a proposal -- I decided to write another book.

What challenges did you face with this book?
I went astray in writing my first draft because I didn't realize until it was done that I needed to go back to the beginning and provide historical context. I started again and added another section to the book that began with African Americans as slaves or ex-slaves writing about "crime" and "justice." Of course, having to take additional time to do this research and write another section of the book meant that I missed my original deadline and the one after that. I was grateful to have a publisher willing to wait until I felt the book was done rather than demanding that I get it in on time or else.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?
Write only about a subject you love or would love to learn more about. Books take a long time to write. Writing about something that bores you silly or that is simply alien to who you are is a recipe for frustration.

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is ALMOST finished with her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

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