AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBIN HATHAWAY
In April 2003 St. Martin’s Press released SCARECROW, the first mystery in a new series by award-winning mystery author, Robin Hathaway.
represents an exciting departure for Hathaway. In style, tone, and point
of view it is a different type of novel from the books in her popular “Dr.
Fenimore” series. Here she talks about SCARECROW and the differences
that make it distinctive.
Q: You already write a successful mystery series featuring Dr. Andrew Fenimore: what made you decide to start another series?
RH: I wanted to look at the world through different eyes--younger, female
eyes—and to find a fresh viewpoint, try a new technique (1st person
narrative) and interest a new audience. I found that writing a female protagonist
using a first person point of view was really fun. Although Jo Banks is not
at all like me, by using the first person I discovered I could get inside
her skin, know her thoughts and feelings more easily than Fenimore’s.
Q: Did the fact that you and Jo share the same gender make it easier to write her?
RH: This has always been an interesting question. People asked me why I wrote from a man’s point of view, and I just feel that there isn’t that big a difference between men and women. I know this sounds weird, but when it comes down to men and women’s deepest feelings and thoughts, I think it has to do more with character than sex. There are courageous women and courageous men and cowardly women and cowardly men and these basic characteristics have very little to do with gender. I think if you’re going to be a writer you’ve got to be able to get inside anybody’s head—that includes people of different backgrounds, education, gender, whatever.
Q: How is this series different from the Fenimore series?
RH: Jo Banks is a younger, freer spirit than Fenimore. She speaks her mind and takes more risks. Sometimes those risks aren’t very sensible and lead her into trouble. As a result, the emphasis in her novels will be more on adventure and romance than on science and detection. Also, the Fenimore series seems to appeal to people over forty and to teenagers, who like the teenage character, Horatio, who appears in all the Fenimore novels. I hope that Jo Banks, who is about 29, will attract a wider audience--the twenty/thirty crowd.
Q: Were there any new challenges in writing a different type of series?
RH: Oh, yes. It was hard to think young again. I’m 69. I had to remember what it was like to be 29. I hope I succeeded. I have two daughters, twenty-six and thirty-five. Consulting them has helped me a lot. And I tried to adopt a faster pace and keep suspense higher because I think younger readers have a shorter attention span (my daughters will kill me for this!)
Q: Aside from a few short scenes in Jo Bank’s hometown of Manhattan, most of Scarecrow takes place in an area called Bayfield, a remote part of southern New Jersey. Why did you choose this setting? Is Bayfield based on a real place?
RH: Oh, yes. I have lived in south Jersey, and know it well—it cried out to be written about. It is a rural, little-known corner of New Jersey that has remained almost untouched by time. It has a serenity, tranquility, and natural beauty hard to find on the congested East Coast. In the Fenimore series, I had planned to keep Dr. Fenimore in Philadelphia, but he kept escaping and running down to South Jersey. With my new series I just decided to plant Jo there right off the bat.
Q: Jo’s liberal, sometimes brash New York attitude is quite a contrast to the more old-fashioned outlook of the people she meets in South Jersey. What affect do you think this contrast will have on readers’ views of both places?
RH: I thought the contrast of placing a fast-paced modern woman in a slower, old-fashioned setting would provide interest and generate conflict. Both Jo and the inhabitants of South Jersey have much to offer and they will learn from each other. Bayfield loses out on some things by being slow and conservative. Jo makes mistakes by being too quick and impulsive. The beautiful, bucolic neighborhood is sometimes a mask for dark and sinister activities. The natives soon discover that Jo’s brash, New York attitude hides honesty and a good heart. Readers will make these discoveries along with the characters.
Q: Besides Jo, there are many other well-drawn characters that play important roles in SCARECROW. Which is your favorite, and why?
RH: I always admired writers like Dickens and Dorothy Sayers who gave equal time to all their characters, not just the major ones. For example, in Murder Must Advertise, Sayers pays as much attention to the charwoman, Mrs. Crump, as she does to Peter Wimsey. None of her characters are allowed to be cardboard stereotypes—each has a distinct personality and life of their own. In SCARECROW I want Jack-the night-clerk to be as vivid as Tom Canby, Jo’s lover.
My favorite minor characters are Maggie and Paul Nelson—the
proprietors of the motel where Jo lives. They start out with minor roles,
but their personalities
expand as the story unfolds. They have potential to change and grow and ultimately
they develop minds of their own. That’s what is so much fun about writing.
You begin by playing God, creating human beings like a Dr. Frankenstein,
but soon your creations take over and tell you what to do.
©2003 Robin Hathaway