Today my guest is the author of the “Barking Detective” mystery series, Waverly Curtis!
Waverly Curtis is the pseudonym of Waverly Fitzgerald and Curt Colbert. Our publisher asked us to choose a female pen name so we combined our first names.
Curt Colbert is the author of the Jake Rossiter and Miss Jenkins mysteries, a series of hardboiled, private detective novels set in 1940’s Seattle. The first book, Rat City, was nominated for a Shamus Award in 2001. A Seattle native, Curt is also a poet and an avid history buff. He is the editor of Seattle Noir, a collection of crime stories published in 2009. He was a judge for the Edgars in 2008 and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Curt and his wife live in a Seattle suburb under the thrall of their cat, Esmeralda.
Waverly Fitzgerald is the author of four historical romances set in Victorian London under the name of Nancy Fitzgerald. She has taught writing classes for adults at the UCLA Writers Program, the University of Washington Extension, and Richard Hugo House, a literary arts center in Seattle. Waverly is also the author of Slow Time: Recovering the Natural Rhythms of Life. She lives in an apartment in the heart of Seattle with her daughter, Shaw, and Shaw’s Chihuahua, Pepe.
Pepe is an eight-year old Chihuahua, adopted by Waverly’s daughter Shaw, when he was a puppy. He likes stuffed toys, especially if they squeak. He hates the rain, which is unfortunate since he lives in Seattle. Like his namesake character, he hates being dressed up and thinks he is much bigger than he is. Unlike his namesake, he has a sweet disposition and doesn’t talk much, but he does have his own Facebook page.
And now…Waverly Curtis! (or Waverly and Curt)
R: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
WC: I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I told stories to my sister at night, always ending on a cliffhanger. I wrote my first story, on a typewriter, at age 8. I wrote my first novel at age 13 (it’s terrible but it was a great learning experience and it was well-received since I only shared it with my best friend and my cousin, who were the heroines, along with me).
R: How did the idea for a mystery series revolving around a talking Chihuahua evolve?
WC:The idea came from my writing partner, Curt Colbert. He wrote a series of historical mysteries set in 1940’s Seattle, featuring a hard-boiled PI. The novels are named Rat City, Sayonaraville and Queer Street. Next, Curt was the editor of Seattle Noir, and was subsequently invited to be a judge for the Edgars, which involved reading hundreds of mysteries during one year – so many books that one of his fellow judges used the bathtub in her spare bathroom to store them. As a result he stopped writing for that year, and, since I was his writing coach at the time, I was pretty annoyed with him. I actually fired myself. But we kept on meeting to talk about writing. After the year was over, Curt decided to write a novel called Who’s Killing the Edgar Judges?, partly out of revenge, I think. As he began that novel, he was inventing fictional mystery writers to be the judges in the story, and came up with a guy who was writing a book about a talking Chihuahua. I said, “I would totally read that book!” And the next week, he brought me the first chapter of what became Dial C for Chihuahua. I volunteered to help him write the book, since I had some knowledge of Chihuahuas (my daughter and her Chihuahua, Pepe, live with me) and that’s how the series began.
R: The Pepe series is a collaborative effort. How challenging is it to be part of a writing team?
WC: It’s challenging but Curt and I have known each other for years. We met in a writing class and Curt took one of my classes on writing the novel. While Curt was writing the Rat City novels, I was his writing coach. And afterwards, we met once a week just to share our latest work. I was writing mystery novels about a female PI and he was working on a new series about a Vietnam Vet who was a PI. So we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Curt is better at starting things than finishing them, so he usually starts a chapter and I edit what he has written and finish the chapter. He is very gracious in allowing me to edit his writing while he rarely edits mine.
R: Tell us about your upcoming release, THE BIG CHIHUAHUA!
WC: We like to put our characters in ridiculous situations and then see how they will get out of them. In the first novel, Dial C for Chihuahua, the ridiculous situation is that Geri’s newly-adopted dog, Pepe, talks and insists he is a private detective. In our second novel, Chihuahua Confidential, Geri and Pepe compete in a reality TV show called Dancing with Dogs. In The Big Chihuahua, they go undercover in a cult that worships an ancient warrior dog called Dogawanda. The key here, and I’m not sure we got it exactly right, is that dogs do have much wisdom to impart. On the other hand, we wanted to push the idea over the top. I think we managed to do both.
R: Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share? How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
WC: In searching for an agent, I was inspired by Mindi Scott, who was a student in a Popular Fiction class I taught for UW Extension. Mindi submitted her first novel 50 times, and got rejected 50 times. Then she wrote a second novel, submitted that 50 times, got rejected 50 times and then submitted the novel one more time. That was when she found her agent and she’s gone on to write two more novels. I thought if she can do it, we can too. So we set a quota: we would query 50 agents. We did a lot of research using agentquery.com and then looking at agent web sites. We were particularly looking for agents who had photos of themselves with their dogs. Our agent, Stephany Evans, was the 21st agent we queried and she had a lovely golden retriever in her photo. We were delighted when she said yes. She sent out the book to about six publishers and we got one of the best rejection letters I’ve ever read. In fact, I’m tempted to use it as a blurb. The editor said: “The authors do a fantastic job of going for broke on the idea of a woman talking to a dog and the dog talking back. It’s done without winking, without being cloying, with humor, and with sheer, maniacal panache.” The same editor said it was “six different kinds of ridiculous and eight different kinds of wonderful,” Unfortunately that editor passed on the book but we were elated when shortly afterwards we got an offer from Kensington.
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
WC: I must have tea. For Curt, it would be coffee. Other than that, I can write anywhere. Longhand or on a computer. In a coffee shop. In the morning. Late at night.
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
WC: I used to write Victorian historical romances. Maybe that’s not so surprising since lots of romance writers have crossed over to writing mystery. My friend Ellen Pall (who also wrote both romances and mysteries) said she could still see the traces of the romances in these new mysteries: in the descriptions of clothes and rooms.
R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?
WC: Taking a workshop on communicating with plants. That’s probably a great idea for another mystery novel. Since Geri can talk to her dog, why not to trees?
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
WC: One thing I love about mysteries is the sense of place and culture that a good mystery can evoke. I hope readers get a sense of the Northwest and the kind of characters who live here. But more than that, I think the books should evoke the sense of pleasure we get from our animal companions.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
WC: Both Curt and I figure out the story as we write. We want to discover what’s happening the way a reader will. We don’t usually know who committed the murder until about two-thirds of the way through the book. Then Curt usually writes the ending so we know what we’re aiming for. But we love the surprises and twists that happen when you write without knowing where you’re going.
R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
WC: Curt fishes. I dance tango. Curt loves research on history. I love to do research on seasonal holidays. I’m also a perfume aficionado.
R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
WC: Our mystery novels are featured at this website http://thepepenovels.com
I also have a personal web site at http://www.waverlyfitzgerald.com
R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
WC: I think if you are enjoying what you are doing, then the reader will enjoy it as well. It’s important to have a good time, since external rewards (fame, money, awards) are hard to come by.
It’s also important to learn the craft: first by doing the writing (that’s the best way to learn) but also by taking classes and reading books and working with a professional editor.
R: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
WC: Genealogist? Historian? Librarian? Probably something that involves research and writing.
R: What other writing genre would you like to try that you haven’t yet? Historical, screenwriting, etc?
WC: I love historical fiction and have a rough draft of a historical novel set in Victorian London. I am also working on a book of creative non-fiction called My Year in Flowers. And I love writing family history. So I have plans to do genealogical research and then write about my various family lines. Curt has plans to write a non-fiction book about the history of crime in Seattle.
R: What new adventures are in store for Pepe? What can we look forward to?
WC:Pepe goes to the charming Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth at Christmas time to help a little girl find her lost Chihuahua. That’s a short story called A Chihuahua in Every Stocking that will be available as an e-book in 2014. After that, Pepe is heading to Sequim, Washington for the Lavender Festival. He and Geri have been asked to help protect a pack of cocker spaniels. The wealthy woman who owned them died and left the dogs her fortune. But her heirs are objecting. That book, tentatively titled The Chihuahua Always Sniffs Twice, will come out in 2015.
And now, something I call:
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Night
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Waverly says dog. Curt says cat. Hope that is a safe answer.
Beach or Pool? Pool
Steak or salad? Waverly says salad. Curt says steak.
Favorite Drink? Waverly says Darjeeling tea sweetened with stevia. Curt says coffee, black.
Favorite Book? Too many to name. But Waverly says that Dog Years by Mark Doty is on her top ten list. Sorry, Rocco!
Favorite TV Series? Psych! We steal from them liberally, for instance, the name of the mean judge who got murdered in Chihuahua Confidential: Nigel St. Nigel
Favorite Movie? Pepe says, ‘Lady and the Tramp.’ (He has a romantic side.)
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Neither. Waverly is currently a fan of Moscow Mules.
Hawaii or Alaska? How about the San Juan Islands?
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be: Mark Twain (Pepe appreciates wit.)
If I had just one wish, it would be: Pepe says, “That cats would not carry concealed weapons.” R: Sorry, Pepe, these shivs are non-detachable, heh heh.
Thanks, Waverly and Curt, for a great interview! and Pepe, too! (I am nothing if not an equal opportunity interviewer, heh heh)
To find out more about Waverly and Curt’s novels, you can visit:
Waverly and Curt will be giving away one copy of Dial C for Chihuahua to one lucky commenter! Just leave a comment below with your email address to enter! Winner will be chosen at random using random.org. To get extra entries, you can:
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