Friday, June 29, 2007

Interview with author Barbara D'Amato

By Lonnie Cruse

I met Barbara D'Amato last February at the Love Is Murder conference in Chicago. I was quite nervous about appearing on a panel with such a well-known author, but Barbara is a lovely lady and quite comfortable to chat with. I appreciate her doing this interview. I think you'll enjoy getting to know her as well.

LC: I just finished reading HARD BARGAIN and I'm amazed at the amount of realism about police procedure you manage to slip into your book without overwhelming the reader or "dumping information." How DO you research your work?

BD'A: I do a lot of my research now on the net. But at the time of HARD BARGAIN that wasn't possible. Also, to get the feel of police work, you have to get out on the street with police officers. My friend, the wonderful writer Hugh Holton, was Commander of Personnel for the Chicago Police Department when I first met him, and later District Commander in the Third District. I rode around with him, and then did ride-alongs with patrol cops and Tac teams. You need to hang out with cops.

LC: Oh yeah! There is nothing like zipping down a major city street in the middle of the night at way over the normal speed limit. Ride-alongs are great fun. What led you to create the character of Cat Marsala?

BD'A: I had been working on the Donna Branion murder, both to try to free her husband, who had been wrongly convicted of her murder, and to write a book about the case, studying the autopsy report and crime scene photos and interviewing police officers and judges and so on. After a while, I realized that what I was doing was very much like the work of an investigative reporter. Cat grew from that.

LC: You wrote a true crime book about the case (which I'm dying to read, by the way) titled, THE DOCTOR, THE MURDER, THE MYSTERY: THE TRUE STORY OF THE DR. JOHN BRANION MURDER CASE. Given all the murder cases in the city of Chicago alone, what drew you to write about this particular case?

BD'A: Dr. John Branion was in prison in Illinois when his second wife, who he had married during the long period of review by the courts, came to see my husband. Tony is a professor at Northwestern Law School. He had just got a man out of a Mexico prison. Shirley Branion had seen a story on that in a newspaper. But that was international law, his field. And in any case, for any sort of Post-conviction or habeas corpus hearing, we needed new evidence. So I started to research the case. Slippery slope. I became more and more interested and more and more outraged that Branion was in prison.

LC: You write stand-alones and two series, how do you keep them all separate? Focus on one at a time, or just let fly?

BD'A: I always focus on one book at a time. I don't know how people can keep two in their heads, but it's wonderful that they can.

LC: I agree! What is your typical writing day like, assuming you ever have one?

BD'A: I used to insist to myself that I produce four pages a day. As I get older, I'm beating up on myself less if I don't make that goal.

LC: Hmmm, perhaps I should stop whacking myself over the head with my mouse? You've won several notable awards for your writing. Does that make it easier for you to write the next book, or raise the bar so high you have to grab a step ladder to reach it?

BD'A: Well, the awards don't, but thanks for mentioning them. What makes it hard is that I always want to do something different, so I'm always struggling with the new project.

LC: Happy to hear I'm not alone in that. Would you tell us a bit about your background? I'm particularly interested in the bit about tiger handling. And is writing mysteries easier or harder?

BD'A: Writing mysteries is WAY harder than tiger handling. I got into handling tigers when my husband and I had a musical comedy playing in Chicago. He was the composer and I wrote the book. It involved magic and was David Copperfield's first starring role. You know the illusion in which the beautiful young lady is changed into a tiger? Well, nobody wanted to handle the tiger except his trainer and it required two people to get him out of his travel cage, into the illusion cage and out of it. So I was drafted. I did this for quite some time, occasionally with a panther. But I have to emphasize that I was just a handler. A trainer is much more important and more skilled.

LC: What writers do you like to read and why?

BD'A: I love to read mysteries, and I read three or four a week. But I don't want to mention authors, because if I mention ten, there would be a hundred more I admire and I would feel guilty about leaving out.

LC: Wow, you ARE a fast reader! Does living in Chicago, amongst so many other authors, affect your writing in any way? Meaning knowing there is so much competition, and so many others writing about the same city?

BD'A: It's wonderful having other writers here to talk with. I remember the days when almost no crime fiction was set in Chicago. The publishing industry thought readers were only interested in New York and L.A. This is excellent.

LC: Anything else you'd like our readers to know about you or your novels?

BD'A: My website is at I also do a Chicago-flavored blog with six other Chicago writers, called: The others are Libby Hellmann, Marcus Sakey, Sara Paretsky, Sean Chercover, Michael Allen Dymmoch, and Kevin Guilfoile.

Quite an interesting group! Thanks for stopping by to chat, Barbara! My bookmark is about to slip into your book AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. Can't wait to read it.

1 comment:

Julia Buckley said...

Hi, Barbara! Fun interview, ladies.