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Kris Calvin: One Murder More

May 31, 2015

600px-Sacramento_Capitol_Building_mg_1600HP: In order to provide some background to our readers, in what position were you an elected official?

Kris Calvin: I served as an elected member of the Governing Board of the South Pasadena School District. The campaign was contentious, with eight of us vying for three seats. Still, in my time on the board I came to believe that most people who run for office do so primarily because they want to make positive change, to improve their communities. There is disagreement about how to do that, and we naturally type politicians as “good people” if we agree with them and “bad people” if we don’t. But I found that whether a politician is ethical or unethical is largely unrelated to ideology or party. Like individuals in all walks of life, lots of factors determine who they are and what they do. That was one of my motivations for writing a political mystery novel, to portray politicians and those around them as multidimensional, varied in their motives and actions.

HP: Are you a native Californian? If so, did you grow up where you’re currently living?

Kris Calvin: I was born in Roanoke, Virginia, there only long enough to acquire a southern accent before moving to Portola Valley, California at the age of six. Since then I’ve lived across California from San Diego to Sacramento (where I am now), including 10 years in South Pasadena.

HP: Was your desire to write a novel a slow-growing desire, a constant you’ve felt since childhood or since college, or is it a relatively recent need?

Kris Calvin: I’ve always been an avid reader, and as an adult I get through two to three novels a week.  But it didn’t occur to me to try to sit down and write my own until about three years ago. I don’t know where the desire to write was for most of my life, whether it was buried or didn’t yet exist. But now I can’t imagine myself as anything other than an author.

 

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HP: In your interview with Land of Books, you mention that you write daily and in the morning. How early? How much time do you like to write before kids, lunches, driving, and work for the rest of the day? How long did it take to write One Murder More? Ever take yourself away for a long weekend or week to a beach cottage or mountain cabin to solely concentrate on writing?

Kris Calvin: I get up at 4-5 a.m. most days without an alarm, always have. I generally write for two to three hours predawn before I begin my workday as CEO of a small nonprofit.

The first draft of One Murder More took me three months, at which point I thought it was great, ready to go. However, an excellent developmental editor, Kristen Weber, convinced me otherwise. She sent me back to the drawing board, to learn the basics of novel and mystery writing. For example, I was only showing my characters’ experiences through the single sense of sight. Despite all the reading I’d done, it didn’t occur to me to present sounds, smells, or tactile experiences for my characters. That was something I had to learn, and it required several additional drafts before it came naturally to me.

All told, One Murder More was three years in the making, from the first words I put on paper to the publication date, with 12-18 months of that actually spent writing, the rest learning or simply unable to get to the manuscript due to kids, work, etc.

I’ve never gone away to write— as a single parent with a full-time job that’s not been an option for me. In any case, I’m not sure it would have helped, as I don’t seem to be able to write productively for more than a few hours at a time. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to write throughout the day, though, my characters are never far from my mind, intruding and making their needs known. But that can happen while I’m doing other things, not sitting at a desk.

 

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HP: You’ve stated that you developed your characters, plot, and structure while “moving and occupied” outdoors, preferably. Before you began dictating the story, did you already know the ending or did you learn the story as you wrote it?

Kris Calvin: I had only two ideas before I started One Murder More, relative to the book. One had to do with language; a turn of phrase in politics that I thought could be the basis for a clue. The second grew from my participation in the legislative process in Sacramento. (I’m being vague so as not to give any spoilers.) I started writing with the knowledge that I needed to create a home for those two ideas in the story, somehow. I had fun creating people and settings and actions, some of which got me to where I wanted with the two original ideas, and others that had to be discarded in the final version of the book.

I loved my first chapter, which was largely backstory about one of the victims—what she was like, where she lived, a normal morning for her, and then included one critical clue for the mystery that would follow. I stubbornly kept that chapter in the manuscript through several drafts, despite editors telling me there wasn’t enough action in it, that it wasn’t moving the story. I finally took it out, and I think that was right. But I’ve not been able to completely let go of it, perhaps because it’s the first creative writing I’ve ever done. Even now, I give a copy of that discarded first chapter, signed and sealed, at my book events, to everyone who attends, telling them not to open it until after they’ve read the book, so that the one clue in it doesn’t spoil things to come.

HP: Any “stuck” moments? If so, did you wait them out, attack by writing no matter the quality and figuring you’d come out the other side, or did you go on another hike or swim more laps?

Kris Calvin: One of my favorite writers is John Lescroart, a master of crime fiction/mysteries. I think John has 18 New York Times best sellers over the years. When I was stuck, I developed the habit of rereading a chapter from one of his older books, not something new that would surprise me or pull me into the plot, but a familiar read. Reminding myself of his pacing, his balance of dialogue and setting allowed me to go back to my desk and write in that flow.

 

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Sacramento skyline, © Justin Smith / Wikimedia Commons, CC-By-SA-3.0

 

HP: Is there a part of writing the story that you enjoyed the most, such as in the beginning when no one’s read a word and it’s just between you and the page or developing the characters or being surprised by how the story developed?

Kris Calvin: I find the rewriting process particularly fulfilling. It’s where I close gaps.  Although I don’t outline before I write, once I’ve completed a full draft I become highly organized, creating multiple charts. For example, I track each character individually through the book, so that if someone appears in Chapter 2 and not again until Chapter 8, I can go back and give them a bit part in Chapter 4 so the reader stays connected.

HP: We’d like to ask a few personal questions, if you’re open to this. What is your favorite time of day and if you have it free, what do you do with it?

Kris Calvin: First thing in the morning, and I hate to be unexciting here, but my favorite thing to do then is to write.

HP: If you have a whole day off and could be/go anywhere, where would you go, what would you do, see, eat?

Kris Calvin: Like many people I work hard most of the time, so when I get a day off I often spend it puttering around at home, or getting away to the mountains with a light pack and a book. But if I could literally be anywhere for a day (beaming up without travel time) I would go to Milan, Italy. I went there once, briefly, and wish there had been more time to explore. I was entranced and inspired by the juxtaposition of old and new—gorgeous, weathered churches side-by-side with modern graffiti art. I’d like to set a novel there.

 

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HP: Have you been to Pasadena? If so, is there someplace in particular where you like to go, see or dine?

Kris Calvin: When I lived in South Pasadena I was able to walk to Old Pasadena, it was only about three miles, and I did it often with my youngest son when he was still in a stroller. We would get a treat at 21 Choices. Or if we started early we might head to La Grande Orange Cafe by the metro station, amazing breakfasts. And, of course, I liked to go to Vroman’s Bookstore. I wandered the aisles hundreds of times over ten years, and never considered that I might have an author’s event of my own there or a book on the shelves. The fact that it’s happening now is surreal, I imagine this is what winning on American Idol must feel like.

When I tell people in Sacramento that I used to live in Southern California I get a frown until I say it was Pasadena.  It’s one of the few LA-area cities that gets a pass from Northern California residents, many of whom were raised to hate the Dodgers, the Lakers and “everything LA.”

HP: What is you least favorite chore?

Kris Calvin: Opening mail and paying bills.  I’d rather scrub toilets.

HP: What is your favorite personal vice?

Kris Calvin: As I think about this, I’m concerned that I don’t currently have anything that would qualify as a personal vice. I don’t think that’s a life fully lived. I would say sex, but I think that only counts if one is promiscuous. How about  (often) eating a cupcake when there’s no special occasion? I’ll go with that.

 

 

Kris Calvin; photo by Tomás Torices

Kris Calvin; photo by Tomás Torices

 

On June 12th, Calvin discusses and signs One Murder More at Vroman’s Bookstore. Books will be available for purchse.

 

Kris Calvin Discusses & Signs One Murder More
Friday, June 12th, 7 p.m.
Vroman’s, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91101
Free event
For more info, visit VromansBookstore.com

 

One Murder More - cover w. blurbs

 

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Photo, top right, California State Capitol building, by PeteBobb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Photo, Tower Bridge, Sacramento, by Michael Grindstaff, public domain, via Wikimedia.

 

Photo, view on Sacramento River from Windy Cove by David Monniaux, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

 

Photo, Sacramento skyline, by J. Smith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Photo, sepia, Governor’s Mansion, Sacramento; source from Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park Facebook page.




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