Victoria Heckman’s first Hawai’i mystery series features officer Katrina Ogden, K.O., of the Honolulu Police Department. Her second series, Coconut Man mysteries of Ancient Hawai’i begins with Kapu-Sacred. Her third series starts with Burn Out, a mystery starring animal communicator Elizabeth Murphy set on California’s Central Coast and continues with Wet Work (Jan. 2015). Stand alone mystery, Pearl Harbor Blues, begins on Dec. 7, 1941. She is VP of the SinC-Central Coast Chapter.
Visit her website www.victoriaheckman.com
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BMH: Of the many sub-categories of mysteries, such as cozies, police procedurals, amateur detective, what sub-genre describes your book and why?
VH: I have several series of varying types. My recent novel, “Wet Work” (Jan ’15 release) is definitely cozy and amateur sleuth. Elizabeth Murphy lives on California’s Central Coast and is an animal communicator. Animals give her information, which is not admissible in court, nor is there any DNA or professional law enforcement involved! The newest installment of the K.O.’d in Hawai’i books, “K.O.’d at Banzai Pipeline” is a police procedural since she is a Honolulu Police officer. She has access to data bases and the M.E.’s office, etc. as well as all her training and experience. And let’s not forget she’s armed! “Pipeline” is scheduled for a Jan. ’16 release, so cross your fingers.
BMH: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
VH: I write primarily to entertain, but I always have a non-fictional piece, even in my short stories. Sometimes that’s an accident. I just finished a short story for our Sister’s in Crime chapter’s newest anthology, and I put my character in the old apartment building where I lived when I was just out of college. My story is a little ghosty and in researching the building, I found out it has its own real ghost. I never saw him when I lived there, by the way. That story also involves the stock market crash of 1929, too. In my K.O.’d books, I include a lot of Hawai’ian culture and customs as well as events. I don’t get preachy or too teacher-y. I work hard to make sure information is from the characters and their discoveries or experiences as much as possible.
BMH: What is something you wish someone would have told you before you became an author?
VH: I got some great advice from experts, early in my attempts. Earlene Fowler took time at a conference to sit me down and give me some great tips. Marilyn Meredith was kind and supportive and oh, so giving of her expertise. Other writers like Gary Phillips and Jerry Healy as well as friendly book dealers were so open to sharing. I think perhaps what I didn’t understand is that it wasn’t going to be one or two books or stories. I feel like I opened a portal and all these people are waiting in line to share their stories in my head and I have to keep writing them down. They do become pests and can be tiresome. They do kindly let me teach during the school year as long as I start writing as soon as that last school bell rings in June!
BMH: Tell us about your hometown as a child. What influence did your upbringing have on your writing?
VH: Both my parents were teachers and my mom was one of the last ‘real’ school librarians. Hot, hot summers were spent getting stacks of books from the local library and lying reading on the cool tiled floor of my bedroom closet. No A/C! Both my parents were also readers, and so my brother and I had an endless supply of books. On camping vacations we would stop at used bookstores and stock up. I started on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys as well as The Three Investigators and Encyclopedia Brown, but I remember a significant trip camping on the Russian River and we stopped at huge bookstore in Gurneville, CA. That began my love of more complex mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane and others. Those pulp covers were compelling. I was eleven and that was a turning point for me.
BMH: Pick three words to describe your writing style/voice… then tell us why you chose each word.
VH: Humorous: I can’t help but have a dry-ish sarcastic wit and it comes out in most of my lead characters.
Sensitive: I am an extremely empathetic person and it’s easy for me to slip into other personas and feel what that character would feel. I am also an actor so maybe that was early training for writing. I am a sympathetic crier at weddings and funerals, a sympathetic barfer (more common) and try to tune into people’s energy around me.
Realistic: I haven’t delved into writing fantasy yet, but I love reading it. Most of what happens in my various books has happened to me or someone I know, so I do my research and I hope the reader is ‘there’ in the situation with the characters.
BMH: What would you do with a long weekend?
VH: Read, write, have extensive cat-therapy (I love to cuddle with my cat-boyfriend), watch mystery/ crime movies or TV shows and probably bake something that is bad for me.
BMH: Who influenced your writing the most?
VH: Maybe not my style, but my mom definitely encouraged me to keep at it. My first rough and terrible draft of “K.O.’d in Honolulu” was probably more awful than I think it was, but she was only positive. It would have been easy for me to become discouraged in those early days. My boys were both toddlers, and carving out writing time was hard enough, so having support was crucial. I think all the reading I do influences me all the time. I love a well-crafted sentence, story, novel. I think reading GOOD things, makes me a better writer.
BMH: You’re going to a desert island and can only take three things, what are they and why did you choose them?
VH: My husband. Someone’s gotta do the heavy lifting so I can read my Kindle stuffed to the max with books, which would include “The Idiot’s Guide to Desert Island Survival,” and a knife. My mom and I had a great adventure once where in the boonies of Hawai’i I climbed a coconut palm and brought one down. Then with NO tools, we bashed it open to drink the juice (that hadn’t already spilled out) and chip away at the meat. We laughed so much but concluded we would both have died of starvation if put in that situation for real. Did I mention it took HOURS for all of this? I am not a natural palm-tree climber. No, I know that surprises you.
BMH: How did you celebrate when you signed your first book contract?
VH: I think I screamed and scared the family. After that I walked around feeling giddy, superior to my pre-published self, and terrified. I think we went out to dinner, but two small boys were not that excited about it. My mom was! It was her book, too.
BMH: Tell us how you write…do you edit as you go, wait until the first draft is finished…etc.
VH: I can only create new material in the summer. I am a teacher and I simply don’t have the energy during the year to create more fictional worlds. I can edit, promote, attend conferences, etc. I can’t help but edit a little as I go, but I am careful not to fall into the edit-for-the-rest-of-my-life trap. Each day I read what I wrote the day before (yes, I edit a tad) and that puts my head in the right space for what happens next. Also, at the end of each writing session, I jot down what is supposed to happen next and what I’ve set up in the chapter for future reference. (Did I say he had a meeting ‘tomorrow’? A mysterious letter, a shopping trip?)
BMH: Are you a plotter or do you write by the seat of your pants?
VH: I always plot a little. I think I know what’s going to happen at least in general, but I don’t make a formal outline. I write out basic references as I go, but so much changes (which I really like) that I don’t get too attached to what I started with. A character showed up the other day, Mr. Lim, an 80 year old Chinese man, a neighbor who shouts “Get off my lawn!” No reason, but he’s there. I’ve learned to trust that because at some point, Mr. Lim may turn out to be important!
BMH: Tell us about your first public appearance as an author. What is a convention or conference? A book signing? A library event? How did you feel before you did it, and more importantly, how did you feel after?
VH: I have always been a person who once committed to something, really goes for it. I don’t often talk about it, but I put my energy into doing it. So, as a new (unpublished) writer, I attended every workshop and conference I could afford. I talked to everyone (yes, I was probably THAT new writer) and publicized my work at every opportunity. So, my book comes out and I get on a panel at a conference and a LOT of my famous writer friends were not super surprised. The comments were, “Oh, I thought that came out last year.” So, I am big on projecting what I want to happen as if it IS happening. I did signings at the conference and made new friends. I also had book events put on by my publisher. But the most fun things I do are the launches I create myself, I think. That and library appearances. Libraries are the best! As for that first one, I thought, they made a mistake. I don’t deserve to be here! I am on a panel by accident and they will find out and kick me off! After the panel I was so excited and felt really good about people listening to what I have to say. I still get that way when I’m asked to speak. Really? Me? You want to hear what I think? Okay!
BMH: What is a trick you use to develop your characters?
VH: I don’t develop them. They come to me. Just like a real person you meet. Things about them are revealed as we go. I write and I’ll think, I need a person to do this, and someone comes through the door like in a play. It’s really fun, funny, and creepy. I know I can’t move forward until I know the person’s name, however. I have Hawai’ian telephone books to help me with that! Once I have my people, I will go back on future drafts and add details to them. I feel like a voyeur when things are going right. I watch what’s happening and write it down. I get stuck and that means thinking time or researching time. I love talking to people about my plot problems, when I need to know more about an area and I’ve found people are more than happy to help.
BMH: What have you never written about, but want to some day?
VH: I have an idea for a series (like I need another series) based on an ancestor of mine who was a Baptist circuit preacher in about 1863. I have his journals and intend to write a mystery about his life. I will have to interview my relatives and probably spend time in icky church basements and county record offices getting maps and cool stuff of the period. But I’ve had the journals for years and didn’t care about them. But now, I want to do something for my family that will be fun. Of course, I won’t write anything bad about Sam, but he can certainly be accused of it!
BMH: Which comes first the characters or the plot?
VH: Usually a person pops up first. And usually it’s the person with the story to tell. Occasionally it’s a place or event. Sometimes a single thing will spiral out of control. My friend said he wanted to be a dead body in my book. I said great, I can kill you off, no problem. But his one caveat was that he wanted to be mummified. Um, I write in SLO county. He didn’t care. That was my problem. So I did. I love a challenge.
BMH: What do you think is the greatest story ever written?
VH: Holy cow. I fall in love with stories and writers all the time. I am fickle. I can’t answer that the same way I can’t say what my favorite movie is!
BMH: Respond to these pairings:
Ocean or mountains
VH: I write about both. Hawai’i has a varied topography, so it’s about 15 minutes from one to the other! I am an ocean person, though, for sure.
Carnivore or vegan
VH: My animal friends are carnivores, I am a vegan, but my characters run the gamut!
Waltz or Jitterbug
VH: Jitterbug… waltzing makes me barfy—too much spinning!
BMH: Would you rather live without music or television?
VH: Television, but not sure how I could survive without BBC’s mystery
BMH: What are you working on now.
VH: “K.O.’d in Banzai Pipeline.” Half-way done and super excited. Just got a great motive! Ha!
K.O. agrees to chaperone her fifteen year old nephew when he qualifies to be on a pro-surf team sponsored by up and coming company, Bad Boyz Beach. K.O. and nephew Raj are concerned about the sponsor’s motives in having such a young competitor on the team, albeit an alternate. In the surf world, tempers are short and waves are proprietary, not only in the sport but within the team itself. When a body is found in the surf team’s rental house, all bets are off while the investigation heats up and Raj looks like he has motive and opportunity for the crime if it allows him to move up in the rankings of the team if someone is eliminated.