Complex stories with complex characters grab us and reel us in as readers. Throw in twists of cleverly crafted murders, secrets and sensitive subject matter, and you might find yourself wondering what thrilling ride you’ve just jumped on. In author Aya Walksfar’s first three books, Good Intentions, Dead Men and Cats, and her latest, Sketch of a Murder, there is enough suspense, drama and plenty of unexpected turns to keep readers embroiled in what we’ve always known and loved: good old fashioned cases of whodunit.
Interview: Christy Campbell
Why do you enjoy writing?
In my family, my mother and my grandmother carried oral stories. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t sit at their feet listening. Stories were important whether they were told as stories, or as songs. Add to that culture of oral storytelling the fact that my grandfather, Pap, was completely illiterate, even signed his paychecks with an X, and Grandma was nearly-illiterate, though she could read and write at about a third grade level. Due to their own lack of education, my grandparents were passionate about me obtaining an education. To them, books and education were the ticket out of poverty.
For me, writing is about sharing. Sharing dreams, sharing moments that transport people beyond their current existence. To share a special time with them, a piece of myself, very much like what oral storytellers do. Reading gave me so much that I wanted to give that kind of wonder, that kind of freedom to others.
What inspired you to write Sketch of a Murder?
Sketch of a Murder is just one of the murder mysteries that I’ve written. I got into writing murder mysteries after my grandfather was murdered when I was nine years old. His killer was never brought to justice. I loved Pap with all the passion that a grandchild of a doting grandfather has, which is to say I practically worshipped him. It was really difficult to accept his death, so I began crafting stories about how the killer was caught, and ultimately punished. It helped me to deal with the grief.
Who is your favorite character in Sketch of a Murder?
I have to admit I love strong female characters, so it’s Nita Slowater. Lieutenant Williams is a very close second, though.
What makes a good protagonist?
Complexity that is logical. The character needs to have a three-dimensional life, a reader needs to ‘feel’ a back story in that character’s life. That complexity needs to be logical; every action, word and thought needs to follow in a logical manner. Why does Sergeant Nita Slowater hate reporters? That hate is part of who she is, but it has to have a reason for being. Why is Lieutenant Williams so against having a female as his second-in-command? Why does Officer Mulder act like he hates everyone equally? Now, none of these things have to do with solving the crimes, directly, but they impact how the characters react and interact which makes the story real.
If a protagonist is always tough, smart mouthed, and so forth, yet the reader isn’t given a feel for why they are this way, then the character becomes a cardboard cutout being moved by the writer and used simply as a device. The reader can’t develop a relationship with that character. When I read, I want to be drawn into a protagonist’s life, feel the joys, and the sorrows, and know there is a logical reason behind them.
How did you come up with the title?
The title comes from the fact that the key to the killer’s identity lies within a homeless, black woman’s art.
Are all your books about crime?
No, my award winning literary novel, Good Intentions, is about the impact of family secrets.
An award! Tell us about which one and what that was like.
The Alice B. Reader Award for Excellence was given to me for my first edition of Good Intentions, published by Rising Tide Press in 2002. I loved having the book recognized by professionals, but the best “award” I ever got for Good Intentions was when a young man contacted me and said it helped him deal with some of his family issues.
What was one of the challenges in creating your book?
Stories come fairly naturally to me, but keeping a timeline correct while the story stretches out over several increments of time, whether that is days, weeks, months or years, can be challenging. I draw graphs to help me with this aspect.
You have a Pinterest site. What kind of thing do you like to pin?
I started out just posting my book covers, some pet photographs, that kind of thing. One night I was moaning because I didn’t know what to do with my Pinterest site, so my wife said she would see what she could do with it. Deva is a fantastic photographer; she simply has an eye for it. She started up a discussion not long after she began working with my site: what did I want to accomplish with Pinterest? I had never given it adequate thought, but after we talked for a while, I realized I would love to pin some photos of places I talk about in my novels, like Mount Baker.
I eventually coupled the photos on Pinterest with doing character interviews on my blog. For example, one character interview was with Sergeant Nita Slowater. Nita’s home town is Mount Vernon, Washington. So one weekend afternoon Deva and I hopped on our bikes (motorcycles) and took a spin up there to do a photography session. That evening Deva posted the photos of Nita’s home town. And yes, we followed Nita’s recommendation about the best pizza place and ate at Pacino’s.
You are involved in social media to promote yourself, which is a great way to get your titles recognized. What makes Facebook, Twitter and your blog different from one another?
FB is more interactive with my readers who become friends. We share on Facebook whereas on my blog I am offering my readers something, a story, and an article, whatever. It is much less interactive although I do love reader comments. To be honest, I haven’t quite figured out how to connect with others on it in an efficient and useful manner. For me, FB is an easier media for connecting with others, finding wonderful sites like Cops Kind to Critters or Wild and Wise Women.
What is the most difficult thing about the writing life?
Marketing. How does a person get their work out in front of the public without becoming an obnoxious bore? Connecting with others on social media, I am discovering, is one of the keys. Not only connecting with other authors, who I’ve found to be extremely generous with their time and expertise, but with readers as well. When I say connecting, I don’t mean doing the constant jumping up and down saying ‘read my book.’ You have to find some way to offer a benefit to others, and they in turn will offer benefits to you. The other key is the long-time standard of physical contacts at bookstores, and other community events.
Learning how to do marketing is a long process with a steep learning curve, and I have a long way to go, yet.
At this point, what is the most important thing you have learned in life, writer or not?
Dream. Don’t ever give up your dreams. Don’t be afraid to dream. Whether you achieve your dreams or not, the journey is awesome.
Connect with Aya on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ayawalksfar
Visit Aya and meet some of the Special Crimes Team on her blog: http://www.ayawalksfar.com
Check out photos on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/ayawalksfar
Check out Aya’s books on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/ayawalksfar