I love meeting fellow playwrights and chatting about stage vs. books. Today Elena Hartwell, author of One Dead, Two to Go is my guest, and I brewed a new selection of black tea. I also had some fresh coffee on hand just in case. Come on in and have a seat. I hear Ms. Hartwell at the door.
Great to see you here! I brewed both coffee and tea. I wasn’t sure which you preferred. Cream and sugar?
Definitely a coffee girl! Just cream, thank you, unless we’re breaking out something a little stronger? No? Too early in the day? Isn’t it five o’clock somewhere?
Well heck it can be five o’clock right now. Here… have some of this, um, special Irish Creamer… So I love that you also have a theatre background. How do you incorporate stage dialogue techniques into your fiction?
Switching from playwriting to fiction has been quite the journey. I like to compare it to kayaking vs. sailing. With kayaking vs. sailing, they both happen on water, but other than that… With playwriting vs. fiction, they both use words, but other than that… Seriously, there are some similarities. Story structure, story arc, character development, these things tend to be the same regardless of being on the stage or on the page. Writing good dialogue has definitely been an advantage for me. While I was looking for a publisher for my Eddie Shoes Mystery Series, I had a lot of agents and editors tell me my dialogue was one of my strongest skills as a writer. It brought my work to the top of the slush pile. As a playwright, basically all you get is dialogue, so I’ve honed my ability to make dialogue sound natural, be specific to a character, and move the story forward. The thing I had to work the hardest on in making the switch was environmental details. I was good with creating atmosphere, but not the specificity fiction requires.
So tell us about Eddie and how she came to be.
I always say Eddie is the love child of Kinsey Millhone and James Rockford. Sue Grafton was the first author I chose on my own, and I have followed her ever since I was a teenager (Before Sue, I read whatever mystery my Granny had on her shelf, lots of Tony Hillerman and Agatha Christie). I’m also a child of the 70s, so I grew up with The Rockford Files, Murder She Wrote, and Cagney and Lacey, which set the stage for my Private Eye. Eddie is smart and capable, but she makes mistakes. She’s independent and savvy, but she’s also funny and cares more than she lets on. She’s not the hardboiled PI from the noir era or the ass-kicking, physically intimidating superstar of the new generation, she’s a little bit retro and a little bit suspicious of technology, and her world is changing a little bit faster than she’d like.
What is your favorite aspect of your character – her strongest trait, etc.
I love her capacity to change and grow. She’s currently learning to trust other people to help her out.
Which of Aristotle’s six elements (plot, character, thought, language, melody, spectacle) do you feel is your strongest and why?
Character. I am an astute observer of human nature. Aristotle stated that Characters must have obstacles to overcome. I try to imbue my characters have both external and internal struggles, which I think makes them more human and relatable.
If your main character were dropped off at the cinema, what movie would she choose?
I love this question! Eddie would see the action movie, she’s not sentimental, romantic or overly intellectual.
Is that a gift you brought for me? You are so sweet!
Yes, I brought you a coffee cup from Twin Peaks! Complete with a picture of The Great Northern Hotel and the fantastic waterfall right next to it. I know you like your coffee and tea too, so I thought you’d enjoy this, and I actually live in the town of Twin Peaks. We know it as North Bend, Washington, but when you watch the series, you’re actually seeing my little town along with the town of Snoqualmie, just a few miles down the road. The Snoqualmie river runs through my backyard, with the Salish Lodge and those beautiful falls less than ten miles away.
(I placed the darling cup right in front of me so I could admire it.) I just love it. Thank you so much! So how does your main character’s goal conflict with your antagonist’s goal?
Eddie wants people to play fair. She expects others to treat her as she would treat them. She’s often disappointed. Her antagonists (in books one and two) both want Eddie to play by their rules and not be swayed by her own moral compass.
Who is your favorite playwright and why?
I have favorite plays more than I have favorite playwrights. And I have favorite theatrical experiences more than favorite plays. For instance, I saw Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife on Broadway performed by Jefferson Mays and directed by Moises Kaufman. Maybe the best 90 minutes I’ve ever had in a theater, but that was in part because of the totality of the experience. Jefferson Mays is a phenomenal actor and Wright’s script was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The technical aspects were exceptional, with all the money of a Broadway show behind them. The other show that ranks at the top of my list was a college production of Machinal by Sophie Treadwell. Directed by a first-time director, an undergrad no less, with a cast of young, inexperienced actors. It was brilliant and riveting, and full of heart. So it had no fancy sets or lights or costumes, and no polish from weeks of rehearsals and previews, but I sat on a concrete step (sold out show) for the entire event, barely noticing my discomfort and twenty years later it’s still with me.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to other authors as they settle in for a second draft.
Don’t try to fix every problem at once. Set an intention for each rewrite and focus on just a few things at a time. It’s doubtful one rewrite or even three or four is going to be enough, so take a breath and address one issue at a time.
What other fun things or words of wisdom would you like to share?
Writing, like most careers, requires balance. Go to the gym, spend time with your animals, enjoy your hobbies, suffering doesn’t make better art. If you’re paying attention to the world around you, that’s enough.
(I packed away leftover cookies and handed them to Elena as we headed to the door.) Thank you so much for visiting ePen! Come back anytime and share your latest book news!
Thank you so much for having me! I’ll be sure to come back with Two Heads Are Deader Than One, launching April 15, 2017.
Take a look at Elena’s book then visit her website to say hello!
Private Investigator Edwina “Eddie Shoes” Schultz’s most recent job has her parked outside a seedy Bellingham hotel, photographing her quarry as he kisses his mistress goodbye. This is the last anyone will see of the woman… alive. Her body is later found dumped in an abandoned building. Eddie’s client, Kendra Hallings, disappears soon after. Eddie hates to be stiffed for her fee, but she has to wonder if Kendra could be in trouble too. Or is she the killer?
Eddie usually balks at matters requiring a gun, but before she knows it, she is knee-deep in dangerous company, spurred on by her card-counting adrenaline-junkie mother who has shown up on her doorstep fresh from the shenanigans that got her kicked out of Vegas. Chava is only sixteen years older than Eddie and sadly lacking in parenting skills. Her unique areas of expertise, however, prove to be helpful in ways Eddie can’t deny, making it hard to stop Chava from tagging along.
Also investigating the homicide is Detective Chance Parker, new to Bellingham’s Major Crimes unit but no stranger to Eddie. Their history as a couple back in Seattle is one more kink in a chain of complications, making Eddie’s case more frustrating and perilous with each tick of the clock.
After twenty years in the theater, Elena Hartwell turned her dramatic skills to fiction. Her first novel, One Dead, Two to Go introduces Eddie Shoes, private eye. Called “the most fun detective since Richard Castle stumbled into the 12th precinct,” by author Peter Clines, I’D Tale Magazine stated, “this quirky combination of a mother-daughter reunion turned crime-fighting duo will captivate readers.”
In addition to her work as a novelist, Elena teaches playwriting at Bellevue College and tours the country to lead writing workshops.
When she’s not writing or teaching, her favorite place to be is at the farm with her horses, Jasper and Radar, or at her home, on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog, Polar, and their trio of cats, Jackson, Coal Train, and Luna, aka, “the other cat upstairs.” Elena holds a BA from the University of San Diego, a M.Ed. from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and a PhD from the University of Georgia.
Webpage – http://www.elenahartwell.com
Twitter – https://twitter.com/Elena_Hartwell
Blog – http://www.arcofawriter.com
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/emhartwell/