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Barbara D'Amato

e-interviewed by Hilary Williamson (February 2011)

Barbara D'Amato is a native of Michigan, and has been a resident of Chicago for many years. She was the 1999-2000 president of Mystery Writers of America and is a past president of Sisters in Crime International. She writes a mystery series starring Chicago freelance investigative reporter Cat Marsala, a series starring Chicago patrol cops Suze Figueroa and Norm Bennis, and standalone novels.

Her latest book, Other Eyes is the very model of a modern archeological mystery, with an edge-of-your-seat opening, and ongoing fast-paced action. It introduces spirited forensic archeologist Blue Eriksen, and features an international assassin, an archeological mystery, and a shocking new discovery about early humans, magic mushrooms and religion. The genre doesn't get much better.

Q: I'm sure everyone is asking you this, but where did your chilling opening (an infant crawling across a freeway) for Other Eyes come from?

A: I wish I could tell you. If I knew where ideas come from, I'd go get some. It just appeared. But I can tell you I was really, really happy when I thought of it.

Q: I like Brad, a rather lost teen who is given his life focus through serendipity (and his own courage) - do you think there are many Brads out there?

A: There are a lot of Brads. My two boys had friends who took quite a while to happen upon some subject that really lit them up. That's one reason it's good for teenagers to be exposed to lots of stuff. Now let me admit that Brad was going to be just a walk-on--save the baby and leave the story. My two writing-group friends, Jeanne Dams and Mark Zubro, said "Don't abandon Brad!" and I'm glad they did.

Q: Your lead, forensic archaeologist Blue Eriksen, is intelligent and spirited, with a passion for her subject - how much of yourself is reflected in Blue?

A: Quite a bit. One important thing that archaeology can do for us it to emphasize how alike all humans are. People think of archaeology as showing the strange and different things people did, but that's not the take-home lesson to me.

Q: I was aware of the fascinating research into ancient consumption of wine, beer and chocolate, but not of use of hallucinogens. Is such research ongoing at ancient burial sites?

A: Some yes and some no. There seem to be archaeologists out there who think research into psychoactive substances is too woo-woo or too new age. But there is a lot to be learned from that research.

Q: The theory of a link between intake of psilocybins and early religions seems plausible - is it widely held?

A: I'm not sure how widely, but the connection between hallucinogens and early religions is talked about, and has been since the mid-1800s at least.

Q: You mention the Good Friday experiment, in which theology students given psilocybins 'felt a sense of sacredness and a sense of unity with each other and the world', while a control group did not. Has there been any follow up to this research that you know of?

A: There has been follow-up. Psilocybin is used, for instance, as an end-of-life treatment. It has long been known to give people a sense of oneness with the world and to dissolve the fear of death. As to formal experiments, Roland R. Griffiths and his colleagues performed one at Johns Hopkins in 2006. Anybody interested in the field can Google him and get a lot of information.

Q: The possibility that early use of hallucinogens can prevent drug addiction seems like a much bigger leap - does this have any basis at all in science or is it simply a plot ploy to bring in the multinational bad guys?

A: It was a pretty clear result of the Good Friday experiment, although the sample group was small. Later research seems to be showing the same thing.

Q: Why are the multinationals always the bad guys in modern thrillers? Is it because we distrust power without accountability?

A: Yea, and rightly so. Also, huge multinationals are quite new in human history, so they are still interesting. As far as a multinational DOPEC, controlling drug distribution and prices like OPEC does oil, I think it's inescapable. The numbers just call out for big management. Marijuana production in the U.S. is about thirty-five billion dollars annually. That's more than corn and wheat put together--corn twenty-three billion dollars and wheat seven and a half billion. Drugs have the same issues as oil--they are not grown where they are sold, mostly, and both refining and distribution are necessary.

Q: I enjoyed Blue's ability to immerse herself in ancient sites (in Peru and Turkey) and imagine ancient lives lived (and ended) - did you visit these sites personally and dream those sequences there?

A: Oh, I wish. I used the Internet, well-traveled friends, and experts like the archaeologist and novelist Sarah Wisseman.

Q: I learned a good deal about archaeology from reading Other Eyes, and your earlier novels also dig deep into their subject matter (e.g. international adoption in White Male Infant). Do you set out to educate your reader or is this simply a by-product of your own lifelong learning?

A: I really like finding out new things. It would be boring to me to rehash stuff I already know, and it would probably come out as boring to the reader.

Q: Can you tell us anything about what are you working on next and will there be more of Blue Eriksen (who certainly has my vote for a series)?

A: Thank you! I'm working on a book with Chicago Police Detective Emily Folkestone, who was in Death of a Thousand Cuts. But the plot is being very stubborn. I think I'm trying to push two plot lines together that don't really work. I would like to have Blue take on some new adventure, too.
Find out more about Barbara D'Amato and her novels, short stories, and many awards at
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