I’m delighted to interview Sarah Madison here today, to talk a little about her bestselling new book, Walk a Mile, but also to confess that her being technically challenged is why Jerry Parker is who he is, and that she twirls moustaches while emitting an evil laugh. It’s astonishing what secrets authors will spill if you only just ask them…
Welcome, Sarah! Starting with an easy question on the mystery angle, what got you writing mysteries in the first place? What are your influences there?
I love mysteries! I am a huge fan of the stories written in the Golden Age of Mystery—the thirties and forties—written by some of the greats of the day: Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey… I read and re-read these stories as a pre-teen and a teenager. I still read them today. I love the British cozy, the country house murder, the body in the library. It’s a time and place that is gone—an era that has past. The gentleman/amateur detective can’t really function in today’s CSI-type crime dramas, but whenever I need a good old-fashioned comfort read, I reach for the classics.
I must have imprinted on Lord Peter Wimsey as a young woman. I thought him the embodiment of everything perfect in a leading man. Intelligent but sensitive, ruthless when necessary, impossibly athletic, rich, a member of the aristocracy… this was all window dressing. What made me fall in love with Lord Peter was his tangled, jangled but ultimately self-sacrificing relationship with mystery writer Harriet Vane. He’d have given her up if she hadn’t come to him willingly, to stand by his side as his equal, his partner, his lover. Nothing less than that would satisfy him. He taught me a lot about what a healthy relationship between lovers should look like—and it is entirely his fault that it took me so long to find a partner who made me feel that way.
What inspired you to write this particular series? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
Well, I’m a big fan of the ‘what if…?’ scenario. I also love exploring what happens to ordinary people when put them in extraordinary situations! I knew that some people would be thrown completely out of the stories by the paranormal twist to them—and some indeed were. The challenge was making the reactions of the characters to an inconceivable plotline so believable that the reader would simply blink, and then start reading faster to find out what happened next.
What are your thoughts on writing a book series –the perils and pitfalls?
HAH! It’s a lot harder than it looks! I have a story arc that is playing out over the entire series while also trying to juggle the subplots occurring in each installment. I have to keep checking my facts and previous storylines to make sure I’m staying on track and not making any big whopping mistakes. I’ve had some readers toss their hands up in the air and express frustration at not getting resolution to certain elements currently in play. All I can say to that is be patient, Young Grasshopper. It will all play out in the end.
By far and large, however, the response to Walk a Mile has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve never had a story rocket to the bestseller lists the way this one has. People from all over the world are contacting me to tell me how much they love Flynn and Jerry, and how they were so delighted to get more stories about them. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have delayed so long between the first and second book! So writing a series has been a learning process for me.
You obviously have a deep affection for your two main characters. Can you give us an insight into Parker and Flynn? Why are they so special?
Well, I’m fond of ‘opposites attract’ kinds of couples because they are so much fun to write! The sparkage and banter is so much more lively, and you certainly don’t have any trouble telling the two apart! I think more than that, however, Flynn and Jerry have their flaws as well as their good points. They’re working hard to make their relationship viable, but everyone has to do that. Relationships are work—particularly in the long term. Flynn and Jerry have become very real to me as I continue to write them. They are constantly evolving as characters and surprising me with their demands and actions, too!
For me, the characters in books have lives outside the pages that you, the writer, don’t always tell us about. Spill the beans on some surprising things each about Parker and Flynn, part of their history or habits or hobbies, that don’t actually appear in the books.
Oh gracious! Well, let’s see. Jerry Flynn did a lot of theater in high school and college. One day at rehearsal, most of the cast was absent for various reasons, and Jerry had a scene onstage in which he was the only person present. He did all the parts. He knew them of course, but he bounced through the scene, first as the suspect, then as the detective, then as the leading lady… he had the director and remaining cast members in stitches. Some actually thought the play would have been better if he’d done it that way for real. He briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a professional actor before he decided to join the FBI.
Jerry has a brother he doesn’t speak to. Flynn doesn’t know this—Jerry doesn’t even think about them. I think Flynn would be upset, having lost his only sister when he was a teen, if he knew that Jerry had a brother that he pretended didn’t exist.
Flynn reads. He reads a lot. He re-reads his old favorites, treating them like old friends well-met on a journey. He reads mostly at night, though, when he can’t sleep. Part of him is a little embarrassed about the reading—he got ribbed about it in school and in his former job. But he also feels bad that when Jerry reads a book, the words are there in his memory for all time. Jerry never gets to experience the comfort of re-reading a story you haven’t read in a while, and finding joy in the familiar words that nonetheless aren’t engraved in your memory. So he hides his reading from Jerry a bit.
Flynn is having a hard time finding relief from the thoughts of others. Reading or watching movies, helps. So does listening to music. But the strain of non-stop bombardment (or the shielding from the same) of the noise around him is driving him to seek alternatives to shutting it out. He won’t touch alcohol or drugs because he’s seen what that has done to his mother, but he is looking for something else to help combat the noise.
If I were a big Hollywood producer about to put your book on the big screen, who would you want me to cast as the leads. And why? And can we have pictures to drool over?
Oh, believe me, I have played this game myself! Most days I have a fairly good idea of what they look like, though the casting changes from time to time. At this immediate moment in time, the roles are best filled by Karl Urban as Flynn and Chris Pratt as Jerry.
Urban because he has that same steel-jawed closed off grittiness I think of when I think of Flynn in action. Flynn as the guy who always gets his man. (Anna’s intrusion here because, well, GUH and Urban would be a *perfect* Flynn!)
Pratt because he has a lot of that little boy goofiness and appeal that I see in Jerry. His
looks are understated, and typically overpowered by his personality. But then there is the element of ‘stripped down for battle’ to Jerry as well. We haven’t seen much of that yet, but we will, I promise! One of the disadvantages to writing the series from Jerry’s POV is that we don’t always realize how hot Jerry is because he is always comparing himself to Flynn.
(Another Anna intrusion here. Sarah gave me two pictures to use, one with Pratt in a baseball cap and, well, this one. Please don’t tell me you’re surprised which one I chose to use?)
What secondary character would you like to explore more? For instance, in Walk A Mile, you create subsidiary characters who are mostly all from Flynn’s past, including his mother. I would love to know more about the life she has lived and what her take on Walk a Mile would be.
Well, we’re going to get to know Jean a lot better in the next installment, tentatively titled Truth and Consequences. J Jean has come to terms with her past, though she still struggles with her role in creating some of Flynn’s problems connecting with people. She’s at a point now, however, where she realizes time isn’t on her side and life is too short to keep on making the same mistakes. She has her suspicions about Flynn’s sexual orientation, but hasn’t said anything to Flynn about it, and that’s the way he wants it. But Jean isn’t likely to settle for the status quo. Not anymore.
You’ve been writing for a few years now. How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Golly, I certainly hope I’ve evolved! I’d like to think my writing is stronger than when I first began. I think I have a good grasp on characterization, dialog, and story-telling, but the execution is shaky at times. I still read other people’s work (I’m looking at YOU, Anna) and despair of writing anything as eloquently beautiful or emotionally engaging.
I can say this much: I don’t just want to tell a story. I want to see my characters grow and evolve over time. A steady diet of romance makes my teeth ache as well, so there is always going to be more than the trials and tribulations of a couple getting together. Sometimes that means the romance will take a backseat to the plot, but in the end, the romance will be stronger for it.
More than anything, I’d have to say I’ve developed a tougher skin. I know longer let ‘meh’ reviews undermine my belief in what I’m trying to do, and the outright mean ones, complete with silly gifs, just make me laugh. I appreciate nice feedback as much as the next writer, don’t get me wrong—a lovely review can make my day! But lukewarm or bad reviews no longer ruin my day.
What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?
I thought I was a well-read person and reasonably up on my history, but when I began researching the Battle of Britain as part of the WW2 dream sequence for The Boys of Summer, I was appalled at my level of ignorance. The more I read, the more I knew I couldn’t do justice to the lives of those young men who fought and died to protect their country, nor the young men for whom being homosexual was a crime so great that not even their war record or service could protect them from prison or worse. Not with the simple dream sequence I had in mind. That was why the middle section of The Boys of Summer took on a life of its own. I had to share some small part of what I’d learned with the readers. I hope I managed to convey even a fraction of what I discovered. This is how we learn from the past. Making connections with it through stories and wanting to find out more on our own.
If you could change ONE thing about your novel, what would it be? Why?
Hah! Jerry’s name. No seriously. I wanted to change his name partway through Unspeakable Words. Jerry? Jerry? What kind of name is that for a grown man? It’s the name of a cartoon mouse, for heaven’s sake!Tru fax: I was going to change it to ANYTHING else but I couldn’t because I didn’t know how to use the ‘find and replace’ option in Word. *face-palm*
One of the best parts of writing the Sixth Sense series, however, has been watching Jerry grow as a character. He’ll be put to the test in the next story, as he struggles to connect with his past again. I’m enjoying the process!
And finally, books about detectives solving crimes are one thing, but you give this series a delightful twist. Tell us what makes Unspeakable Words and Walk a Mile stand out from the rest.
Heh-heh-heh. *twirls mustache with an evil snicker* Nothing is what it seems. Just when you think you know what is going to happen next, surprise! Plot twist! No, I guess the simplest answer is that in this series, there are bigger mysteries than just the cases to solve. What are the origins of the artifacts? How many are there? What is their purpose? Who else is looking for them?
And if you received supernatural abilities, would you want to go back to normal if your gifts made a difference in the world? What if you could catch bad guys because of it? What if it was destroying the most important relationship you’d ever had? If you had a choice, could you choose between those options? Because that’s the kind of dilemma Flynn will be facing…
Thank you, Sarah! I’m delighted that Walk A Mile is doing so well – it’s totally deserved and I wish you all the best with the book tour.
Read on to find out more about Walk a Mile and to read a sexy extract from it.
Six months after starting their hunt for a serial killer who is still at large, FBI agents Jerry Lee Parker and John Flynn are partners in every sense. But Jerry has serious doubts about their relationship and whether they would even be together if not for the way Flynn changed after touching a mysterious artifact in a museum.
Flynn hates the extraordinary power bestowed on him by the artifact and wants nothing more than to have a normal life again. Jerry fears that without the unusual connection they forged, Flynn will no longer want or need him. Chasing after a similar artifact takes them back to Flynn’s old stomping grounds in Washington D.C., where his newfound abilities uncover long-buried secrets, the kind people would kill to protect. But they aren’t the only ones looking for these powerful relics, and what they discover will threaten their relationship—and their lives.
Flynn was waiting in the middle of the room.
Jerry had no idea how long he’d been there or what he might have picked up on as Jerry had showered. He had a rumpled look about him that went deeper than usual. His expression on seeing Jerry come out of the bathroom was bleak, almost angry. Jerry couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d been waiting impatiently, however. Expectantly. Almost needy.
Jerry pulled up short at the sight of him.
Not taking his eyes off Jerry, Flynn tugged at his tie until it came loose. “I need you to fuck me.”
Jerry gaped at him for a second, and then plunged all thoughts into the soundproof booth as he rapidly processed them. Flynn rarely bottomed—not that Jerry minded. He often thought he was getting the better deal. But even when they’d been going at it like rabbits, Flynn had never asked for sex. It had just happened. Like spontaneous combustion.
Jerry felt his eyes narrow as he fought to keep his thoughts hidden. Flynn looked exhausted. His hair and clothing were damp—he must have been walking in the rain. He seemed to want to be punished for some reason, and he had chosen bottoming as the means of achieving self-flagellation. What that said about his feelings toward sex with Jerry wasn’t to be thought of right now. What mattered was giving Flynn what he wanted the way he wanted it without ever having spoken about it before. Jerry had only one shot at getting this right.
“Fine,” he said, when he’d found his voice again. Frost chilled his words. “Strip.”
Flynn raised an eyebrow.
“You heard me.” Jerry spoke in the clipped tones he reserved for the truly stupid co-worker. “I’m not going to ask twice.”
He buried the internal sigh of relief when Flynn shrugged out of his jacket and began unbuckling his belt.
“Yeah. That’s it.” Jerry felt an astonishing rush of power come over him. His cock approved, slowly filling to tent his towel. Flynn undressed carelessly, his underlying anger causing him to tug at his shirt buttons in a manner that normally would have pained Jerry to watch. This time he felt a simmering excitement at the knowledge that Flynn was pulling roughly at his clothing at Jerry’s command.
For once, he was in goddamned control. Unexpected confidence surged through him and he cast aside his towel. He planted his feet firmly and stood as though he expected to be worshiped, and by God, for once he felt as though he should be worshiped.
Flynn watched him with flattering attention, to the point that he fumbled with the buttons on his fly.
“Stop.” Jerry infused the word with all the authority he’d developed from years as an agent and was gratified when Flynn froze and looked up in confusion.
“You can’t take your pants off before your shoes.”
Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.
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