Claire Stibbe is a British author of nonfiction, short stories, and novels who writes from her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her award-winning books include a historical fiction series set in Egypt and a crime thriller series set in New Mexico. Past Rites, the third of her Detective Temeke crime novels, was published by Noble Lizard Publishing (2016). You can connect with Claire on her website CMTStibbe.com and blog, and on Facebook and Twitter.
What is your elevator pitch for Past Rites?
What do you get when you mix a psychopathic killer with a few teenagers dabbling in black arts at a boarding school? A recipe for murder! For those who like a walk on the dark side this might be your cup of tea or, more aptly, your poison.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I think the most difficult challenge was trying to answer some complex and seedy questions I had been asking myself for years. What are serial killers? Are their demons real?
How did the book come together?
The idea for this book came from watching serial killers being interviewed and learning how the roots of their catastrophic behavior often reach right back into their childhood. Often, I saw a pattern in the way their parents meted out discipline; it was abusive, unpredictable, unfair and wicked. Maybe there is an argument for serial killers being manmade not born. Huge developmental fractures occur when a child is isolated and in permanent terror. They will soon believe the emotionally barren world that surrounds them is normal. Serial killers are like ticking time bombs, but what makes them tick? Past Rites took about three years to research and about five months to write. I have five BETA readers and two Alphas plus two paid editors. All this can add a further two months before publication.
What was the most rewarding aspect of writing it?
The most rewarding aspect of writing Past Rites is the conversation between the person I call Demon and the serial killer in the book. How the serial killer spars for bodies and how Demon haggles for souls.
All kinds of warfare are devastating, including spiritual warfare, where the assault takes place on the inside, in a person’s head. Past Rites is about one man’s internal war and the devastation it causes.
Tell us a little about your main character. After writing four novels in The Detective Temeke Crime Series (the fourth yet to be published), did your protagonist still surprise you as the story unfolded?
My protagonist is an old dog in the fight—a feisty and somewhat crabby Brit who has wound up in New Mexico much like I did. He sees the world through cynical eyes, believes in cutting corners, and has a passion for justice. Although there are some who would like nothing better than to cut him from the unit, Temeke is the one person who always seems to find a way to finagle the truth out of his crooks. He’s so bloody good at it and gets more proficient with each book. It always surprises me how he does it.
Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for the series?
New Mexico is a unique state. With its Pueblo Indian and Hispanic society, sand that looks like snow, unique rock formations and vast national forests, it makes for the perfect setting. Diverse cultures amp up the characterization and make the book more interesting. Having said that, I don’t tend to write in local accents or expressions since overseas readers lose the gist.
Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for this book?
Yes, I think the most surprising thing was the way the police department operates here in New Mexico. I am told that it’s unlike other states where some procedurals are concerned. Having graduated from the Citizen’s Police and Sheriff’s academies, I replicate the local procedures of investigation, but at the same time I don’t tend to place all the typical people at a crime scene because I don’t want to overwhelm the reader. For instance, Temeke’s assistant district attorney is not named even though she would be present. There are also some inconsistencies in the way Temeke conducts non-custodial interviews. I also describe Northwest Area Command as a two-storey building to incorporate Unit Commander Hackett’s extraordinarily large roost on the top floor. All these add eccentricities to the characters.
You have two other novels in your Detective Temeke series (The 9th Hour and Night Eyes) and a fourth (Dead Cold) on the way. What are the challenges of writing a series?
The most important challenge for me is to complete each case in one episode/book, leaving the core characters and their relationships to develop over the body of the series. The main protagonist, Detective David Temeke, must be both gutsy and shrewd enough for readers to want to return to meet him again. I have been told the series is addictive and that readers love the characters. Malin Santiago, another detective in Temeke’s unit, receives texts and emails from someone who appears to want to help her with each case. We don’t know who this is yet, but it provides a recurring theme throughout the series.
What do you love most outside of writing and reading?
Coffee. Must have a good cappi (cappuccino) in the morning. Peace. I love listening to the wind in the trees.
What first inspired you to become a writer? When did you consider yourself a writer?
My father was the biggest and brightest influence. He was taught by C.S. Lewis during his time in Oxford and frequented many of Professor Tolkien’s seminars. School holidays would not be complete without sitting on a tartan rug down the Lion’s Mouth (a wooded gorge in North Norfolk, UK), eating sandwiches and being bitten by midges, while listening to my father’s memorable voice reading The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of the many things I miss and one of the many things for which I’m so very grateful. My father wrote a book about his time in Wingate’s second expedition into Burma, and my twin brother is a bestselling author. I can’t say when I considered myself a writer because I’m still learning.
Of all the books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most?
Night Eyes. I love the dynamic between parent/guardian and child and the lessons learned. We live in a fatherless society where boys need a good and lasting influence. Adults shape children. Boys need dads.
Tell us about your writing process.
Since the books are character driven, I’m mostly a pantser. But there is a good deal of coffee drinking alone in cafés with a notepad where plotting and people-watching occurs. You catch the greatest dialogue when sitting close to two unsuspecting people. I have a set-in-stone timeline for each book. Some span two weeks, some are only twenty-four hours—it depends on the case.
Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
Paul Gallico for his astonishing powers of description. John Grisham for flawless plots. Dean Koontz for intricate characterization and Thomas Hardy for historical fiction.
What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
The best advice I have ever received was the familiar adage “less is more.” Another has to be “write what you know.” Extensive research and life experience goes without saying.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.