Welcome to another exciting interview here on Always Trust In Books. Today I have Rachel Howzell Hall answering a few questions about her latest addition to the brilliant Lou Norton crime series. First I will share a few details about Rachel and City of Saviors, then on to the questions!
Book Synopsis for City of Saviors
After a long Labor Day weekend, seventy-three-year-old Eugene Washington is found dead in his Leimert Park home. At first blush, his death seems unremarkable—heatwave combined with food poisoning from a holiday barbecue. But something in the way Washington died doesn’t make sense. LAPD Homicide Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton is called to investigate the death and learns that the only family Washington had was the 6,000-member congregation of Blessed Mission Ministries, led by Bishop Solomon Tate.
But something wicked is lurking among the congregants of this church.
About Rachel Howzell Hall (Photo Credit: Andre Ellis)
In 2002, her debut novel, A QUIET STORM, was published by Scribner to great notice, including reviews from O Magazine and Publishers Weekly, with a starred review from Library Journal and also chosen as a “Rory’s Book Club” selection, the must-read book list for fictional television character Rory Gilmore of The Gilmore Girls. She also published two e-novels: THE VIEW FROM HERE and NO ONE KNOWS YOU’RE HERE. In 2014, the first novel in the Detective Elouise Norton series was published, the critically acclaimed LAND OF SHADOWS, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and included on LA Times’ ‘143 Books to Read This Summer’ and the UK Telegraph’s ‘Top Ten Crime Books for Summer.’ In 2015, she followed up with the second in the series, SKIES OF ASH. New York Times called Lou Norton “someone you want on your side.” Rachel was also a featured writer on NPR Crime in the City. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Mystery Writers of America, and has participated as a mentor in the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Writer-to-Writer program. (Picture from Twitter)
This is a portion of Rachel’s personal bio from her own website: www.rachelhowzell.com
The Q&A Section
Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Rachel Howzell Hall, and I’m a Los Angeles native. I love tacos and Thai food, and when I’m not writing, or doing laundry, or helping my daughter with homework, or carting her to soccer-volleyball- basketball practice, or writing my next novel, I’m on the couch, playing videogames. I’m a Taurus, I’m always the first person in my family to be bit by mosquitos, and I can’t stand the taste of beer.
Congratulations on publishing another great addition to the Elouise Norton series. Can you give us your personal overview of the novel?
Thank you! City of Saviors is the fourth novel in the Elouise Norton series. Detective Norton, suffering privately with the aftermath of events in the third novel (Trail of Echoes) is now investigating a case involving an old man found dead in his hoarded house. His death seems unremarkable but something in the way he died doesn’t make sense. Lou thinks that he may have been murdered by someone at the old man’s church―and that minister there may be protecting the wolf in the flock. So there’s post-traumatic stress disorder, hoarding, religion, addiction, Los Angeles, love, parents, divorce and of course, police work.
Where did the inspiration for the series originate from?
Los Angeles has a great tradition of mystery and crime novels – but not many (well, with the exception of Paula L. Woods’ Charlotte Justice, I could say none) lead characters were African-American women. I wanted to see my friends and me in a series—as a cop, as her support, as a native Angeleno who grew up in my part of Los Angeles. I wanted to mash-up the stories that helped shape me as a writer come together—Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan meets anything by Michael Connelly.
Can you give us some insights into your writing style/process?
Because I still work a full-time job, I require order. I write at my lunch-break, in my car, then at my daughter’s practices (volleyball, soccer, basketball), I work more in my car. On Sundays, I get up at 5:30 a.m., (like right now), and I write until 9:00 a.m. That’s it. And because of not having time, I tend to outline my stories—not much time for wandering off the path. Even if I do wander, I have that outline to guide me back.
I write my stories initially in long-hand and print out hard copies for edits—I love pen against pad, yes, but also, I can take paper everywhere I go without fear of batteries dying. Also, using pen and pencil offers me another excuse to visit office supplies stores. I love office supplies!
What influenced you to write crime fiction?
I’ve always been fascinated by the evil people do to one another—and the resilience of the human spirit. I grew up in a dicey part of Los Angeles, and while I was scared some of the time with the shootings and drug-dealing, the yellow police tape and buzzing LAPD helicopter, I tried to make sense of it. I needed to make sense of it. Crime fiction lets me try to do that but in an entertaining way.
Your novel contains religious themes. Did you face any problems incorporating religion into City Of Saviors?
I did not, especially since the church plays a large role in the black community. Sometimes, religion and their leaders know that many parishioners don’t question much, and so they take advantage of their flock. I would say religion is a part of every book in the Lou Norton series. The only difference with City of Saviors is that religion takes top billing.
What is, in your opinion, the biggest challenge in writing a crime series?
Readership, definitely. If readers didn’t read the first or the third in the series, some are reluctant to start reading. I try to combat that by making each book almost a standalone. Yes, issues carry over from one to the next, but I try to write the books so that anyone can pick one randomly and be quickly caught up with the characters and the past.
What did you do to celebrate finishing City Of Saviors?
Hmm… So when my editor had no more changes, that’s when I celebrated. I took my family to fancy dinner that Saturday night. Yeah, a fancy dinner in Beverly Hills that serves delicious garlic crab noodles.
Are there any particular authors that you look up to or that influenced your work?
Oh, yeah! Of course, there’s Raymond Chandler and Stephen King. But also Michael Connelly, Terry McMillan, Dennis Lehane and Karin Slaughter. Agatha Christie and Tim O’Brien. I’m a mutt of a writer—I look to so many writers.
Do you have a hobby/activity you do to switch off from all the writing?
Video-games are definitely my treat—in particular, role playing games where I can wander the open world, fight battles, pick berries and find gold coins. Reading non-fiction if I’m writing, and then, great fiction when I’m not actively writing. Right now, I’m reading Don Winslow’s The Force and The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn.
Is there a book/article that you have read recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this Q&A?
Yes – I actually just wrote a blog article about the importance of silence as a writer. Please check it out at www.torforgeblog.com/2017/07/17/the-sound-of-silence/
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions Rachel. Thank you to everyone who has come by to check out the interview. I am excited to get stuck into the Lou Norton series very soon. Please show your support for Rachel in the comments below and until next time, happy reading!