Friday, December 10, 2010
Interview with Gerrie Ferris Finger
Gerrie Ferris Finger is an author of traditional mysteries and romantic suspense. Her newest work THE END GAME, an award winning traditional mystery, is available from St. Martin's Minotaur.
What is the name of your latest book? And how did you come up with the title?
THE END GAME got its title from chess. Other pieces are used to describe certain characters (bad guys) in the book, i.e., the bishop, the rook, the knight. The end game in chess is the last few moves before the winner captures the king (checkmate), or the players reach stalemate..
What is THE END GAME about?
Dru, the protagonist, and Lake, her lover, are set to share a rare weekend together when Portia Devon a juvenile court judge calls to give Dru an assignment. Dru, a former policewoman left the force and founded Child Trace, Inc. Most of her cases came from Atlanta's juvenile courts. Lake is an Atlanta homicide detective. Judge Devon tells Dru a house fire in an Atlanta community has claimed the lives of Wanda and Ed Barnes, and that their foster girls are missing.
When Dru was in the APD, she partnered with Lake and they had an uncanny ability to solve cases, so Lake's commander agrees with Judge Devon and assigns Lake as lead detective to the case. Thus a romantic weekend turns into a nostalgic time when they were solving cases together.
It's a chaotic scene: emergency vehicles, cops, firemen, curious neighbors, reporters, two search dogs with their handler, helicopter clattering overhead, The fire captain declares the fire an arsonist's work, using a delayed starter. Dru and Lake work the neighborhood. Everybody knows a little something but nobody wants to talk. Before long there's an "eeny-meeny-miney-moe of suspects."
Is the kidnapper Conrad, the universally disliked head of Child Protective Services? Is Doonan, the property-rich architect next door, a child molester? How about Dwight, the ex-con who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of pedophilia? How about Miss Goddard, also known as Gossiping Goddard, who keeps secrets? And who is "Santa," the person the two missing girls were seen chatting with earlier?
After Dru discovers two other foster girls from the area have gone missing in the last eight years, she uncovers an international sex organization that kidnaps American children and ships them around the world for the sex trade. With the Amber Alert sounded and the child traffickers unable to get the two children out of the country, they will certainly kill them and make it look like serial murder – the End Game.
What books have most influenced your life most?
To name a few: F. Scott Fitzgerald, THE GREAT GATSBY; D. H. Lawrence, LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER, (sneaked from my mother's book shelf when I was twelve years old); Harper Lee, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD; Kurt Vonnegut, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE; John Fowles, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN; Margaret Mitchell, GONE WITH THE WIND, everything by Dennis Lehane, Greg Iles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Shakespeare every wrote .
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I would say too numerous to mention. In mainstream fiction, Joyce Carol Oates and Barbara Kingsolver are two. With mysteries, P. D. James, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell. Of course, my love of mysteries started with Agatha Christie (whose didn't?). In Sci-Fi, Isaac Asimov, naturally. Peter Straub's GHOST STORY inspired me to write one of my own, to be published one day later this year.
With regard to my writing style, Lewis Grizzard, a colleague and columnist at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution influenced me greatly.
What are your current projects?
Currently working on the fourth in the Dru/Lake series, working title RANDOM ACTS.
What else have you written?
THE LAST BUS TO ALBUQUERQUE, (Longstreet Press) and SOUTHERN BY THE GRACE OF GOD, (Longstreet Press) are the writings of Lewis Grizzard complied and edited after his death in 1994. Grizzard was a humorist and columnist for the AJC.
“Q&A on the NEWS (Longstreet Press) is a collection of the best news columns that I wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
LOOK AWAY FROM EVIL, (Writer’s Showcase, 2000) a mainstream novel that reflects the mystique of the South and its quirky characters.
The Laura Kate Plantation Series Books One, Two and Three from Desert Breeze Publishing: These are romantic suspense ebooks. WHEN SERPENTS DIE, HONORED DAUGHTERS and WAGON DOGS.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Most involve the plot. Once I've created the characters and put them in the setting, which is partly created by the characters, too, I find it challenging to keep them moving toward the grand scheme I have in mind. I always know the ending, the whodunit in a mystery, but keeping the characters from going in directions that doesn't advance the plot often means wiping out pages of action that goes nowhere.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Only to keep writing. It's hard work and often disappointing when agents and editors reject your work, but stiffen the lip and get on with the story.
Saturday morning in April
Satisfied, Lake and I lay apart on the king bed. The breeze through the window flitted across my skin, fine-tuning the pleasure of cooling down. In a little while, we’d get up, throw on sweats and run the 10-K to Piedmont Park. We’d drop onto a bleacher to watch a pick-up softball game–maybe join in if idle gloves lay nearby. Right now, though, an après snooze was the plan.
Not to be. A train horn moaned into my nap. The bedside clock said the six-thirty a.m. from Birmingham was smack on time, the chug-rumble growing louder by the wheel turn. It’s a miracle how the bricks and mortar of this old cotton warehouse–now lofts– withstands the shakes and has for more than a century. Lake lives on the third floor, and, whenever our schedules give us a weekend together, we alternate between the burbs, where I live, and this place, which I adore.
I also adore train squalling. This behemoth’s air horn warbled loud and long like an off-key contralto. I lifted a finger and tapped Lake’s broad back. “Engineer Number Two.” My brain’s chockfull of useless knowledge, like knowing the signature sounds of seven air horn maestros.
Lake rolled his shoulder toward me. “Your cell.”
“It’s playing your song.”
I got up, amazed at his ability to hear my cell phone tinkling out Mozart with the train screaming by. My cell lay on the window sill. I hoped it was a wrong number, but the display said otherwise. “’Lo, Porsh.”
Portia Devon yelled in my ear, “You in a tornado?”
Cranking the industrial window, I yelled back, “Train. Hang on.” The chill in the room was no match for the cold lump of apprehension beating along with my heart. Last night, Portia and I closed a runaway-girl case. It had taken me three days to trace the sixteen-year-old to San Francisco. Within an hour, I got the call she was a DOA. Portia and I salved our failure with a drink in her chamber. We said our goodnights, and she told me to rest up, we’d talk Monday. “What’s got you up so early?” I asked.
“You and Lake need to put your clothes on. Guess you haven’t been watching the television.”
“No,” I said, looking at Lake who’d raised himself on his elbows. “We haven’t been watching television.”
Lake grinned about the same time his landline rang. He listened for a few seconds, then his face lost its soft edge. He grabbed the TV clicker.
Portia said, “The fire’s in Cabbagetown.” Her voice crackled like the flames leaping on the screen, a replay of the fire that occurred earlier. “Two people dead. Man and wife. Foster parents. Two girls gone. Sisters.”
“They weren’t in the house, dead or alive.”
I watched Lake slam his phone receiver and head for the bathroom.
Portia said, “One’s nine, one’s seven. The seven-year-old is deaf. You’re hired.”
Portia is a juvenile judge, and I own Child Trace, Inc. I search for missing kids, and my main client is the Search and Rescue Division of the Juvenile Court System. “On my way. Which street?”
“Cotton–by the old converted mill. I’ll catch you there with details and bring photographs.”
“Lake’s on the case, too?”
“I talked to the Major Case commander. Thought you’d like that.”
Pressing END, I went for my backpack, slid the cell in, and thought about my poor overworked lover. A big-city detective lieutenant couldn’t count on two whole days to himself unless he escaped to a desert island and changed his name. Neither, it seemed this morning, could an ex-policewoman turned child finder.
I pulled clothes from a wardrobe while I watched the tragedy on the tube. A helicopter hovered above the scene. Video caught firemen tromping through a gutted house and horrified people clinging to each other. The chopper ranged the neighborhood where searchers darted like fire ants. Closer to the ground, the lens tightened on a Search and Rescue dog pulling its handler along an overflowing ditch. Another SAR dog zig-zagged across a playground with swings and see-saws.
Lake came from the bathroom toweling his chest. We exchanged glances. I said, “It was really nice while it lasted.”
“Really nice?” he mocked, flinging boxers and socks from a drawer onto the bed. “You say better things about my wardrobe.”
He’s a tall, broad-shouldered man, but it’s his face that captivates–all angles and irregularities merging to make him beautiful. Then my brain’s devil-voice said, you’re not the only woman in Atlanta who thinks so. I didn’t have the time to dwell on my jealous side and whirled for the shower. I said over my shoulder, “It appears you’re on loan to me.”
“Isn’t owning me enough?”
If only I did. “Portia made sure you got the gig.”
As I washed hair and scrubbed body, I said goodbye to an amorous weekend and set my mind on the reality of what lay ahead. Kids going missing after their house burns down. Foster kids. Troubled kids. My kind of kids.
Out of the bathroom, dark hair dripping, I snatched up pants, shoved into them, and reached for my shirt. While I zipped and buttoned, Lake strapped on his cop gear, cell, radio, guns – his police issue in a shoulder holster and his personal Glock in a paddle holster at the back of his waist. He stuck his arms into his blue jacket, strung badges around his neck, and clamped on his trademark panama – a navy straw now it was spring. All the while, his eyes were riveted on the TV screen. “Those wooden houses are tinder boxes," he said, shaking his head. “A spark is all it needed." He flicked off the remote, and I slipped on my backpack–a compact leather thing with enough room to carry my mini-laptop, PDA, cell phone, and wallet. I'm licensed to carry, but my gun's at my house, not that I thought I'd need it.
Our footsteps on the wooden planks resounded like thunder through the hall and down the narrow steps. Apologies to the neighbors later. We bolted across the street to a security fence. Lake flashed his palm across the scanner, the gate opened, and we dashed to the unmarked police car.
As Lake raced through downtown, my heart beat to the pulsating blue teardrop lights mounted on the dashboard. This wasn’t the weekend we’d planned, but I was ecstatic to be working with him again.
As if he'd read my mind, he reached to squeeze my hand. “Me, too, Dru.”
My name is Moriah Dru, and, except for old friends, I’m called Dru, thanks to my cop days and M DRU etched on my metal name tag. I met Richard Lake when we were assigned to patrol the Atlanta Police Department’s Zone Two. Within three weeks, we’d become lovers. When he got promoted to homicide, I couldn’t adjust to another partner, mainly because each man assumed he was taking Lake’s place in my bed. After two lothario-type sidekicks, against whom I could have brought harassment charges, I quit and started Child Trace, something Portia had been pestering me to do since my maternal instincts (ha!) led me to my first lost child.