From the Booking Desk:
Way back in my undergraduate days, I was an English major with a primary focus on minority literature. This meant that I was reading many African American, Latin American, and Native American authors; but it also meant that I was reading (and celebrating) women writers. With that in mind, it is my great honor and privilege to welcome Frankie Y. Bailey to BOLOBooks today. Read on folks…this is a special one!
BOLOBooks: You first came to my attention with the publication of your non-fiction work on African American mystery writers. Can you tell us a little about that book and how you came to write it?
Frankie Y. Bailey: This book was a sequel to my first non-fiction book, Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction. That earlier book came out the year after Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress (1990). In fact, with a deadline looming, I had barely enough time to insert a mention of Mr. Mosley’s historical mystery featuring an African American protagonist before sending my manuscript off to my publisher. In Out of the Woodpile, I wanted to focus on the evolution of black characters, from invisible servants, walk-on characters, and occasional thugs to the late 20th century when more African American characters had appeared as sidekicks and even as protagonist. Years later, when I wrote African American Mystery Writers (which began as a paper presented at an academic conference), I was interested in how black mystery writers dealt with crime and justice in their works. By then a number of crime writers (such as – to name only a few — Eleanor Taylor Bland, Gary Phillips, Gar Anthony Haywood, Robert Greer, and Barbara Neely) had created black characters that offered new perspectives. And, of course, Walter Mosley had established himself as a master of the genre. But, as you know, in my book I started at the beginning – with the era of slavery – to provide historical context for modern African American crime writers.
BOLOBooks: Your first mystery novels were amateur sleuth stories, while the new book, The Red Queen Dies, is a police procedural. Do you prefer to write one style over the other? Any major limitations in either style that trouble you?
Frankie Y. Bailey: I haven’t had time yet to identify all of the possible limitations of writing a police procedural series. But I think – and this isn’t really a limitation – what is different is that Hannah McCabe, my protagonist in my new series, is a cop. She came up through the ranks. She’s a detective. As a criminal justice professor who has been involved in the past in a research project on stress in policing and who has had numerous opportunities to talk to cops, I know that the fact that one is a police officer means that one has a different view of the world than civilians. That means that McCabe, the child of two liberal parents and a compassionate and caring person in her own right, views the world through the eyes of someone who sees her job as “protecting and serving”. Like all police officers, she has been socialized into her profession. She does sometimes divide the world into “us” (cops, who aren’t respected even when we’re trying to do our job right) and “them” (civilians, who give us grief, and media, who distort what we do). This is complicated in McCabe’s case by the fact that she is biracial and female. In the new series, much of the story is told from McCabe’s point of view. But it is in the third person and that means I have the luxury of going where I need to go and telling portions of the story through the eyes of other characters. That is something I rarely do in my Lizzie Stuart series. Except for an opening chapter here and there – set in the past – the books are written in first-person. The great part about this is that Lizzie – who is smart and quirky – can offer her own unique take on the world. The reader is in her mind, watching as she goes about her work as a crime historian. Of course, maybe because of my experience with a first-person narrator, I do much the same thing with McCabe, when I’m in her head. But I have written a couple of short stories (available on my website) because there were aspects of John Quinn’s (Lizzie’s cop boyfriend’s) life that I wanted to explore from his point of view. In the books, he is only seen through Lizzie’s eye. Long answer, but I like both subgenres and both first and third person. Neither is perfect, but who said writing should be easy.
BOLOBooks: As I stated, The Red Queen Dies is a fairly standard police procedural with one exception: the time-period. Why did you choose (or need) to set the story in the near future of 2019?
Frankie Y. Bailey: I wanted to be far enough in the future so that the issues that we are dealing with now – such as climate change and surveillance and hate politics – would be front and center. For example, right now we can still on lovely autumn days pretend that global warming isn’t affecting our lives. In 2019, it’s right there in the everyday lives of my characters. They are being forced to adapt. To be perfectly honest, I wanted an opportunity to explore the future without writing science fiction. Moving into the near future also allowed me to use Albany as my setting. As an academic, I have studied and written about Albany history. I wanted to draw on the city’s rich historical treasure trove, but at the same time I wanted the freedom of writing about a fictional Albany without being concerned with what is happening in the real city. So I moved forward into the near future, and I – although readers may not notice this as much as if I were writing science fiction – but I have created a parallel universe/alternate reality. In 2012, in my alternate reality, a UFO appeared and then disappeared in a blinding flash of light. The people in my fictional Albany live in a world in which this UFO, apparently an alien space craft could reappear. Since I’m not writing science fiction, this is not the core of the story. It does, however, allow me to explore a concept that I find fascinating. What are the ways in which people respond to chronic low-grade anxiety and fear? What is this world like seven years later?
BOLOBooks: Tell us a bit about Hannah McCabe, the biracial detective at the heart of The Red Queen Dies.
Frankie Y. Bailey: McCabe is the daughter of a white (Scot-Irish) retired reporter/editor. Her mother, a famous poet, is dead. She has a brother, who is a brilliant scientist, who has recently moved back to Albany. When McCabe was nine years old, her life changed forever because of a crime. That event is the reason she’s a cop. She is tough, competent, ethical, someone you’d want on your side in a fight.
BOLOBooks: The novel is set in and around Albany, your current home city. By doing this, it allows you to reveal some interesting history of the city to readers who are unfamiliar with the area. Since Bouchercon is taking place in Albany this year, what is one thing that you think all visitors to the city should experience?
Frankie Y. Bailey: I think the one thing that all visitors should know is that – as my fictional mayor in The Red Queen Dies says in her fictional “It Happened Here” tourism initiative – Albany is New York’s “vibrant, historic capital”. Bouchercon attendees will have an opportunity to experience the Empire State Plaza, and they should try to find the time to explore a bit more of Albany’s architecture. I’m working on a writer’s photo essay on my Facebook page.
BOLOBooks: Both the title and a significant portion of the novel involve aspects of the Alice in Wonderland series by Lewis Carroll. What attached you about Alice and made it the right story for inclusion in the novel?
Frankie Y. Bailey: I came to Alice in Wonderland as I was thinking about the third victim in my book. She’s a Broadway actress who is in Albany because she is working on a play about a real-life event involving John Wilkes Booth and Henrietta Irving. In 1861, when they were performing in Albany, Booth and Irving had a lovers’ quarrel. She stabbed him, causing minor damage. I wanted my actress to be someone who would be intrigued by this story. I knew the series would be in the near future – which in my series is a kind of Lewis Carroll world. So as I was putting the story together, it seemed appropriate for my Broadway actress to have played Alice as a child and the Red Queen as an adult. Actually, Through the Looking Glass is the Alice book that is most prominent in the plot. But my actress was obsessed with all things Alice. The use of Alice in this first book – and the wonderfully wicked book jacket that the design team came up with – has inspired the rest of the series. The next book is – working title – Cock Robin’s Funeral.
BOLOBooks: I love that the title evokes another childhood favorite. I am very excited for this theme to carry through the entire series.
I have to think that it was fun to contemplate the future world of 2019. I particularly love the idea that a kitchen can compare a recipe to the pantry supply to see if one has all the correct ingredients before starting to cook. Do you have a favorite among the future advancements?
Frankie Y. Bailey: I spent some time on the Internet and reading books about near-future inventions and innovations. I looked back at what was predicted in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair. And I joined the World Future Society to learn about future scenarios. But I have to admit that in the end the thing that I thought was coolest was the vertical garden. I got that idea from a non-fiction book that Marcia Markland, my editor at St. Martin’s, gave me. It was a scholarly book written by one of her authors about the future of food sustainability in cities.
BOLOBooks: Ah yes, the vertical garden…Such a great idea. And seems completely practical and realistic.
In the book, Hannah makes a statement about the world as it existed in 2010. She says “…nine years ago, white was the default setting for race.” Your vision of the future presents a more level playing ground for diversity, not just racially, but also in terms of gender and sexual orientation. Do you see this as an ideal or are we really on our way to that type of society?
Frankie Y. Bailey: Well, yes, there is more diversity and a more level playing field. But there’s also Howard Miller, the hate-mongering third party candidate for president. Of course, in my 2019, there is a woman president of the United States, but she hasn’t had an easy time of it. A Hispanic woman is the leading contender for the Republican nomination for president. Some things have gotten better. But some changes simply reflect the changing demographics. I think that differences will continue to challenge us in the near future and beyond. On the other hand, I grew up with Star Trek – hope springs eternal even when faced with irrationality.
BOLOBooks: Since The Red Queen Dies is the first in a series, what is next for McCabe and the citizens of Albany circa 2020?
Frankie Y. Bailey: The second book in the series is due to my editor in December. In that book, the series arc involving McCabe’s partner, Mike Baxter, continues to play out. Pettigrew, one of the other detectives, plays an important role in this story. And I have a lot of fun with some other fascinating bits of Albany history. McCabe, of course, is back and dealing with both professional and personal complications. Actually, I’m really excited about the murder in this book, which involves a funeral director killed with his own crossbow.
BOLOBooks: If forced to choose only one format for all your future reading, which would you choose: Hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, or e-book? And why?
Frankie Y. Bailey: I have a Kindle, but I haven’t quite gotten into e-books yet. I like to hold a book in my hand. I suppose I would choose hardback because the books would stand up to being dropped as I fall asleep and to multiple re-readings if they are favorites.
This makes me want to develop a sudden headache and leave work so I can go home and read everything she’s written. Many of your excellent interviews have provided deep insight into writing process. This one is different–it is perhaps the most tantalizing interview yet (hence my first sentence). I want to be in McCabe’s world. Right. Now.
I knew that this was going to speak to you as well Cy. Unfortunately, The Red Queen Dies is not out until September 10th, so perhaps you are developing a low-grade fever that is going to develop into a full-blown illness next Tuesday. 😉
Thanks so much for inviting me for this interview! By the way, I really like the look of your website.
And thank you, Ms. Governs! I hope you enjoy the book.
Thanks Frankie. Happy to hear that you like the “look” of BOLOBooks. It’s all about the branding.