Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing my blog sister, Zoë Sharp, on her new book, the ninth in the Charlie Fox series: FIFTH VICTIM.
To introduce the interview, I started thinking back to the first few times I met Our Zoë. And I realized when I first met her, I was intimidated. Now, that’s not something you’ll hear me saying often, about anyone. And as I thought about it, it occurred to me that I was intimidated because I knew I couldn’t fool her. Writers are perceptive people as a species, but even so I think most people tend to buy my public persona. Which is not NOT me, it’s just not ALL of me. With Zoë – I knew that wouldn’t work, not for two seconds. There was going to be no hiding anything from this woman. I didn’t know how I felt about that, so I hung back until I knew her better. (It was worth the wait!)
Zoë’s heroine Charlie Fox is that way. You cannot get anything by her; she sees to the core of people and also to the core of situations. She has a wry sense of humor and she can take the piss out of anyone (how’s that for British?) without even trying. But she also has this aura that is pure, white-hot power. You do NOT want to mess with this woman. You especially want to be careful when she gets still. And if you were in trouble, this is the first person you would want to have watching your back.
Just exactly what you would want in a bodyguard.
We sat down over our computers, transatlantically, to talk about the book.
On Long Island, the playground of New York’s wealthy and privileged, Charlie Fox is tasked with protecting the wayward daughter of rich businesswoman Caroline Willner. It seems that an alarming number of the girl’s circle of friends have been through kidnap ordeals, and Charlie quickly discovers that the girl herself, Dina, is fascinated by the clique formed by these former victims.
Charlie worries that Dina’s thrill-seeking tendencies will put both of them in real danger. But just as her worst fears are realized, Charlie receives devastating personal news. The man who put her partner Sean Meyer in his coma is on the loose.
She is faced with the choice between her loyalties to her client and avenging Sean, but the two goals are soon inextricably linked. The decisions Charlie makes now, and the path she chooses to follow, will have far-reaching consequences.
Alex: So how do you research the habits and habitats of the wealthy and privileged? Enquiring minds want to know.
Zoë: My day job used to involve a lot of writing about classic cars – often very expensive and rare vehicles that were, by their definition, owned by people with a lot of disposable income. Spending any time of time around these people tells you that the rich are another country – they do things differently there. For the families I describe in FIFTH VICTIM, I guess I just built on that experience and took the next instinctive leap forwards.
Alex: Well, I love how completely unfazed Charlie is by all of it – her dry nonchalance is a riot. Also I noticed Charlie’s pretty comfortable around horses and slings that terminology around like a pro. Did you grow up riding? Do you still?
Zoë: I confess that I did grow up with horses. In fact, my only professional qualification is as a British Horse Society riding instructor. It struck me when I started planning FIFTH VICTIM that I’d never used this knowledge in any of the books, and yet I’d made mention of Charlie having horses in her background, so I thought I’d like it to play a larger role. Besides anything else, it fitted into the story so nicely, in a way that tennis lessons, say, simply would not have done.
Alex: Wow, I didn’t know that about you, although you do have the aura. I thought it was clever how Charlie uses the horse in that one fight scene. So obvious, and yet I’ve never seen it before.
Okay, since we’re kind of on the subject, when I blog and teach I’m always reminding my readers/students that people read books and watch movies for a vicarious experience. In FIFTH VICTIM you take us into the rarefied world of the Hamptons, the horse culture, the yacht culture. As an author, do you consciously use settings like this to provide a fantasy experience for your readers?
Zoë: Not especially, although for people to require close protection, often by definition they have the most to lose. The higher the stakes, the greater the conflict, and I like to put Charlie in situations of conflict.
Alex: Speaking of conflict, you’ve got a great love triangle going on in FIFTH VICTIM (I’m Team Parker, if you’re wondering).
Zoë: Are you? Hmm, interesting. I thought you’d be more of a fan of Sean’s bad-boy image.
Alex: Maybe I hit my limit in real life. But what I was wondering was – did that complication surprise you, or have you been plotting the triangle for years, now?
Zoë: I’d love to be able to say it was all planned from the start, but the truth is that the awkward relationship between Charlie and Sean and her boss, Parker Armstrong, was one of those things that developed more as the series went along. When I came to write this book and I was looking back, though, I was surprised to realise that there had been little signs previously that Parker looked on her as more than a simple employee. So it must have been fermenting away at a subconscious level somewhere.
Alex: I love it when that happens, actually!
All right, now I have to ask about Torquil. He’s one of those wonderful love-to-hate-him characters. Just that name! You can refuse to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate you, but is he anyone you know?
Zoë: Actually, Torquil is nobody I know – honest. OK, so there might be one or two traits I’ve observed in various people who shall definitely remain nameless, but nobody specific. I think that all through this book I was working on a theme of people appreciating what they have – or failing to appreciate it until it’s too late and they don’t have it any more by which time it’s too late to go back. I wanted to embody some of that feeling in one character in particular, and Torquil was it.
Alex: That is the way it played out – I never expected to feel sympathy for him, but I did.
A completely different question, but fascinating to a non-series writer: I like the way your number titles are always actually significant to the story! Does your series name concept influence your plots at all, or do you have the plots first and then figure out how to integrate the proper number in as a clue or significant phrase? Is it a hassle or does it actually inspire you?
Zoë: It’s both inspiring and a hassle – and totally confusing, as FIFTH VICTIM is actually the ninth book, not the fifth. See what I mean?
Alex: Oh, yike. That is confusing.
Zoë: I wrote the first three books (KILLER INSTINCT, RIOT ACT, HARD KNOCKS) before the title FIRST DROP arrived from the rollercoaster reference. I had absolutely no idea that my first US publisher would jump on that and want the next book they took (actually book six, as ROAD KILL came after FIRST DROP) to be called SECOND Something. I’m dropping the numerical sequence for the next one, a New Orleans-set tale called DIE EASY.
Alex: And you know I can’t wait for that one! Tell us a little about your research in my favorite city.
Zoë: There’s a feel and a texture to New Orleans that really interested me. Plus the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing aftermath give the city a stark edge. People there spent a long time looking into the abyss and you can’t go through something like that and not emerge unchanged. I was in New Orleans in mid 2010 – five years after Katrina – and some parts of it still look as though people evacuated and never went back.
And although you look at the tourist areas and it’s all business as usual, there felt to be something defiant about it, something ever so slightly forced. I found that contrast fascinating. As an outsider I also felt there was a great sense of betrayal. Coming four years after 9/11 I think there was an expectation that if something really bad happened – whether a natural or man-made disaster, the government would be ready for it. Katrina proved they were not.
Alex: Not ready or not willing. But you don’t even want to get me started on the betrayal surrounding Katrina!
So what’s next for Charlie—besides that complicated love life?
Zoë: That’s a good question. I’m planning to take a little break from her next so I can write something new. In 2011 I had a pretty full-on Charlie Fox year, what with organising getting the backlist to e-book format, plus I did the short story e-thology for which I wrote a brand new 12,000-word long short, Truth And Lies, and then did another Charlie short in December, Across The Broken Line, plus DIE EASY. So, I’d really like a breather, just to take stock with the character and the direction she’s moving in. Having said that, of course, an idea for the next book in the series has already been forming vaguely in the back of my mind. I shall try to keep it in check! I’ll keep writing about Charlie for as long as people want to keep reading about her. As long as I continue to have avenues of her character that I feel I can explore – as long as she has something to say to me – then the interest is there for me as a writer. I keep putting her under pressure, whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological, and I see what happens. So far she’s always come out fighting.
Alex: Was your first Charlie Fox book your first novel, or did you have a few practice novels before that?
Zoë: I did write a novel when I was fifteen, which I wrote long-hand and my father, bless him, typed up for me. It did go out to publishers and received “rave rejections”. I believe it may still be in a box in the attic. My father keeps threatening to dig it out and put it on eBay. I just threaten him at this point … Charlie was, therefore, my first real novel, and although I rewrote KILLER INSTINCT several times the basic core of the book stayed true to the original idea.
Alex: And you’ve now got all the first Charlie Fox books up as e-books. Can we get a list, in order?
Zoë: To try to diffuse the confusion I’ve added the book order into the titles. It just seemed the best way to do it.
The full list is:
KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one
RIOT ACT: Charlie Fox book two
HARD KNOCKS: Charlie Fox book three
FIRST DROP: Charlie Fox book four
ROAD KILL: Charlie Fox book five
SECOND SHOT: Charlie Fox book six
THIRD STRIKE: Charlie Fox book seven
FOURTH DAY: Charlie Fox book eight
FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine
DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten – coming 2012!
And today we’re giving away an e book to a randomly chosen commenter – any one of the first five Charlie books, winner’s choice.
Thanks so much, Zoë!