Ghost Music moves readers through a previously hidden, multi-generational mystery that a killer forces into view. Everything is seen through the eyes of Seattle Detective Marcus Brace, who is falling apart, both professionally and personally. Before he can put his demons to rest, a brutal homicide and a summons from family long-forgotten force Marcus to confront everything he’s been running from. With the killer targeting those closest to him, Marcus is on a journey to find not just a murderer but also pieces of a family mystery that no one wants to acknowledge.
Ghost Music is a fast-paced thriller, but it also looks at how we interact with our history and the sins we’ve kept hidden. It pushes a traditional mystery closer to the literary. It’s a mystery that also examines how the past continues to haunt our present.
How much has your PhD in American Literature aided your writing process?
Great question. The biggest impact has been an interest in exploring the big questions we all have. For me, narrative is how we create meaning and make sense of life. Earning my PhD helped me explore that idea and see how other thinkers approached it. I had great advisors and a great program at the University of Washington that let me look not just at literature but also philosophy and American cultural history.
From a mechanical standpoint, writing a dissertation and writing a novel are completely different beasts as far as style and tone. But planning a dissertation certainly gave me good practice on managing a giant project and keeping multiple threads working at the same time.
You are currently working on your follow up novel to Ghost Music, so what can you tell us about this?
This is a fun question for me--everything is in process still, so it's a bit like baking a cake: trust the recipe, let it bake, and even when you think it's done, be prepared to let it keep cooking. So what's still cooking? Ashlynn figures even more prominently in the sequel. I don't want to reveal too much, but I will say that the initial murder is tied to Ash more than to Marcus. We learn more about them individually, about them as a couple, and about them as a team. I'll also say that the first body is found buried in sand. That's a first chapter revelation, so not a story-killer but I'll also say that the sand isn't from a beach. I'll let you work on that one and would love to hear what you and your readers come up with given that start...
Please tell us a bit about the character of Marcus Brace.
Marcus is flawed. And strong. And maybe strong precisely for having to come to terms with those flaws. He's an introspective guy who is looking not just to solve the most pressing crimes that have been dropped in his lap but also the mystery of who he is and how the past continues to live in the present.
What is the appeal of crime fiction for you?
It speaks to the mystery of life itself for me. At the heart of mystery is the search for meaning and making sense of what is otherwise chaotic. That's about more than an individual crime. And, if you strip crime fiction down to its base level, there's also an exploration of good vs. evil and all of the grey in between. I'm a fan of the grey. It's where most of us live.
Who do you most like to read?
I absolutely love the work of James Lee Burke. Dennis Lehane is another favorite. Both of them have a very literary feel to their mysteries that I admire. Cormac McCarthy is brilliant. John Connolly and Tana French are great as well.
Outside of mysteries, Don DeLillo has always been a favourite. And if we want to stretch to the past a bit, I love Faulkner--there's definitely an influence there, not so much in the writing style but in the look at how history continues to live in the present and in how we create stories to make sense of the world.
What is your writing process?
I'm definitely not a writer who just sits down and lets the characters take me wherever. Mysteries need all threads brought together, and for me that means lots of prep work before the writing itself begins. Those who know me will laugh at that--my desk is incredibly messy and I'm not a big planner with my everyday life. I have to be, though, with writing: plots and subplots and thematic echoes that weave in and out aren't developed haphazardly or by accident.
Beyond the planning stage, I'm an emotional writer. Or maybe a better way to say it is that I am a writer of emotion. Within the skeleton of the story sits the emotional flesh. Often, I will have an individual chapter explore a particular emotion as it also advances the plot. For me, that gives a richness to the story.
If you could have dinner with any author who would it be?
That's another fantastic question. If we're thinking of present-day authors, I would have to choose James Lee Burke. Oddly enough, we have a shared connection in Wichita, Kansas. I was born and raised there; he taught there for a while and his daughter Alafair has a great series with a detective who has Wichita roots.
If we can consider authors from the past, it would have to be Mark Twain. That would be a fun dinner. His humour is wonderful but often is the vehicle for some tremendous insights into human nature. Plus, I have a Mark Twain bobblehead on my desk, so we could talk about that.
What is next for you?
More writing. Ghost Music is my debut novel but I have two more Marcus Brace mysteries already planned and also have thoughts for a novel exploring corporate America. All of them touch on that larger search for meaning that I think we all crave. I tell people that writing is my "cave painting," my way to prove that I was here and loved and felt deeply. I think that's a feeling that many of us have. In some sense, even my mysteries explore that desire.
Beyond writing, I'd love to do more traveling. I got a late start on exploring the world but hope to make my way all over. Last year I visited Angkor Wat and was amazed. Next up could be a trip to Peru to experience Machu Picchu.