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Jan Burke
(November 2002)
Extracts from
A Conversation with Jan Burke
posted with permission from
Simon & Schuster

Q: NINE is your first novel that doesn't feature Irene Kelly. Did it feel strange to write a crime thriller without her? Was your last book, Flight, in which Irene only played a secondary role, your way of weaning yourself and / or Irene's fans away from the series?

A: Definitely not part of plan to wean fans away from the series. I'm currently at work on another book featuring Irene Kelly, and I still enjoy writing about her. But I've also enjoyed the stretch and the newness of NINE and its characters. After the intensity of Bones, I didn't want to throw Irene into another equally tense situation. A series character is always going to face more dangers than most people will in real life, but I didn't want Irene's situation to become too unreal for my readers. And I had been thinking for a long time about writing a story featuring Frank and told from his point of view - a story that could not be told by Irene. Although I can't claim this was a result of complex career planning on my part, Flight turned out to be a good way to prepare for writing NINE. The story idea for NINE was one that I immediately knew would not work for an Irene Kelly book. I have several ideas that won't fit into the series, and writing the occasional stand alone novel appeals to me. While I was uneasy - scared out of my wits, really - when I first started writing NINE, once I got to know Alex Brandon, Kit Logan, and the other characters in the book, I loved writing about them. They helped me with the process, I suppose.

Q: You once said in an interview, "For me, beneath every novel there is a theme that readers may or may not recognize ... it is crucial to me that in the early stages of writing a book, I find out what a book is about." (Writers Write - the Internet Writing Journal 7/98) What is NINE about for you?

A: NINE is about judgment. Judgment as it has to do with the difference between justice and revenge; with prejudice; with our view of ourselves and others; the exercise of good judgment or the utter lack of it. NINE also has to do with the role that trust plays in all of this - trusting our ideals even when it is not expedient to do so, difficult trust that is ultimately necessary and to our benefit, and trust that is misplaced and should have long ago been abandoned.

Q: The public in NINE embraces the vigilante killers like folk heroes because they kill only notorious criminals. Alex Brandon, on the other hand, believes the vigilantes are no better than those they kill because they are self-appointed judges and juries operating outside the law. Later, however, one of the book's sympathetic characters commits a revenge killing and goes unpunished - do you think readers will or should have mixed feelings about the book's final murder?

A: I'll be interested in their reactions, but far be it from me to say what their reactions should be. One of the most wonderful aspects of this process is that in a sense, each reader creates his or her own book - what I write is just the jumping off point for the reader's imagination. The reader's own ideas about these issues and their experiences will bring them to pass judgment - of one kind or another - on the character you mention.

Q: You have achieved great success and critical acclaim as a mystery writer. Have you always been a fan of the genre? What authors or books fueled your desire to become a mystery writer and / or influenced your writing style?

A: I have loved crime fiction for many years. I enjoyed a few children's mysteries when I was in elementary school, but wasn't a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys addict. I was a tomboy so I was a bigger fan of Annie Oakley. I discovered Agatha Christie's books in high school, but I think my real love of mystery began when I was in college, and in the years just after college, when I read Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen, Margery Allingham, Cornell Woolrich and Ross Macdonald. Writers of the past, but ones I thoroughly enjoyed. Later, I discovered Sue Grafton, P. D. James, Dick Francis, and Martha Grimes. Now I read a mixture of contemporary writers and past masters. At the moment I'm reading Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White. If I were to name the strongest influences on my own writing, they would be Chandler, Hammett, Woolrich and Macdonald. I don't say I write in the way they did; I strive to write better because of them.
Jan Burke is the recipient of the Edgar Award, the Macavity Award, the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Reader's Award, and the Romantic Times' Career achievement Award for Contemporary Suspense. She lives in southern California with her husband, Tim, and her dogs, Cappy and Britches.
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