P.A. De Voe is an anthropologist, an Asian specialist, and an incorrigible magpie for collecting seemingly irrelevant information. I first met her in the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Her short stories and YA adventure/mystery trilogy are set in ancient China.
What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?
Nowadays, I write in a quiet environment. Even music distracts me. I trained myself a long time ago to work with noise all around me. However, today I have the luxury of quiet, and I find it to be my preferred “background noise.”
What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?
For non-fiction, I am currently reading Society and the Supernatural in Song China by Edward L. Davis, University of Hawai’i Press. This is definitely an excellent book that I’m very happy to have found. It deals with a time period (960 to 1269) earlier than my own fictional pieces, but certainly helps to lay the foundation for some of my characters and some of the societal tensions which are still apparent in the Ming Dynasty.
For fiction, I recently finished The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison, St. Martin’s Minotaur. This is a mystery set in contemporary Tibet. Pattison writes with a strong sense of place and complex characters embroiled in complicated and difficult situations. The novel’s characters are ethnically diverse (Tibetan, Han Chinese, and American) and I can safely say that the setting can also be counted as a character—although its ethnicity may be in doubt.J I count Pattison as one of my new favorite mystery authors.
Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?
I am definitely a structured writer. I tried to write a short story using the pantser approach, because I do believe a more organic approach can add a refreshing sense of serendipity to a story. However, it took me forever to write the short story and I was definitely not a happy camper. We have to go with who we are. I like to lay out my story line in some detail. That allows me to begin each day knowing where I’m going. I never feel like structure is a cement jacket on my creative process. On the contrary, once I know where I’m going, I feel more at ease with playing around with the story’s elements and characters.
When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?
I used to at least try to finish every novel I started reading. I no longer do that because I know there’s only so much time for each of us and—as much as possible—I’m only going to spend time on books I enjoy reading. Probably, the first thing that will make me put a book down is boredom. The second thing would have to be that I don’t like the characters: they don’t ring true for one reason or another. Plot never stops me because I don’t know if I have a serious problem with it until I’ve read the entire book.
When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?
I usually add words. After writing a detailed outline of a novel, I write the first draft with an eye to plot, putting in [note: xxx] where I want to go back in future drafts to elaborate on a scene or character or to check on a fact or other historic detail. That said, I don’t really like long books. I’d rather read several short or medium sized novels, even if by the same author and in the same series. Therefore, that’s what I write, as well.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
Whether for a novel or a short story, I usually begin with a theme, which I would most like to marry with a mystery. For example, with my crime short stories with Judge Lu, I specifically want to highlight the multifaceted and intricate job of a magistrate in ancient China as well as various points of traditional law. With this orientation, it is easy to come up with new story lines.
For my new series, however, it’s the characters that inspired me: an itinerant scholar and a young woman doctor in the early Ming Dynasty. The genesis for this series was a desire for my protagonists—and I wanted both a male and a female—to have more freedom of movement in order to solve mysteries, while still being true to their culture and history.
What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?
Using me as subject, as in: “Me and Tom went to the hospital.” I’ve started hearing it so often, however, and by so many different people, that I’ve begun to keep track of it. I’m starting to think that this may be one of those language shifts that sneaks up on us and becomes an acceptable form of speech before we know it.
Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.
My current three fiction authors would be:
Charles Dickens for his ability to tap into his readers’ emotions through character development.
Agatha Christie for her apparently simple, but deliciously devious plots and her willingness as an author to be unsentimental about even her most sympathetic characters.
Anne Perry for her use of tension in her stories as she weaves together characters and plot in historically and culturally diverse settings.
What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?
I would like to suggest three things:
First, do the best you can in your writing, be as honest and as accurate as possible.
Second, don’t be lazy and use stereotypes, your audience will know. Besides, it’s boring. They’ve all read the stereotypes before. When you create real people, your mystery becomes less predictable and more exciting.
Third, we all make mistakes, don’t let that stop you. Just correct what you can and move forward. It’s the best any of us can do.
To get a free From Judge Lu’s Ming Dynasty Case Files short story and to find out more about P.A. De Voe’s YA trilogy (Hidden, Warned, and Trapped), as well as other ancient China crime stories, go to padevoe.com.
Here’s a short blurb for Trapped, A Mei-hua Adventure by P.A. De Voe
Trapped, the last novel in P.A. De Voe’s YA trilogy, is set in 1380 China. In Trapped ancient China comes to life as Mei-hua, a young woman who must hide from her father’s enemies, struggles to unravel a ball of secrets and deceit.
The Dragon Boat Festival marks a time of festivities and merrymaking. In the midst of these celebrations, however, lurks a menace more serious than any Mei-hua has encountered thus far.
In her determination to discover the person behind the attempts to destroy her father, a district judge, Mei-hua searches through the streets and shops of Hangzhou City at the height of the Dragon Boat Festival. However, once in the streets crowded with revelers, she also becomes more vulnerable and easy prey. In matching wits with her enemies, Mei-hua finds her creativity and strength are tested as never before.