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An Interview with Walter Satterthwait


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Walter Satterthwait kaliber .38: Walter Satterthwait, your writing career started with two books which have never been translated into German. Would you tell us a little about these books and about how you began your writing career?

Walter Satterthwait: I've been writing since I was about twelve years old, but didn't get published until I was in my early 30's. The first books I wrote were action adventure novels -- advanced comic books, as I thought of them at the time -- called COCAINE BLUES and THE AEGEAN AFFAIR. Neither of them was particularly good, and, not surprisingly, I couldn't sell anything else for a while. I wanted to write about Africa, which is where I'd lived when I wrote THE AEGEAN AFFAIR, but my agent at the time told me not to do so, because no one was interested in Africa. Then Wilbur Smith started selling his books about Africa, and I fired that agent. My new agent told me not to write about Africa, because Wilbur Smith had Africa covered. Finally, having given up on selling another book, I wrote a short story about Africa, and immediately sold it, myself, to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Over the next few years I wrote several African stories, all of them featuring a young African constable named Andrew Mobutu. They were, I think, the first good writing I'd ever done, and I'm very pleased that they've been collected into a book called THE GOLD OF MAYANI, which is coming out in Germany this September.
After I'd learned that I could in fact write what I wanted to, and actually sell it, even if for not very much money, I found myself writing novels again. There's a fairly lengthy account to this in the afterword I wrote for THE GOLD OF MAYANI.

Das Gold des Mayani kaliber .38: Would you tell us a little more about these stories?

Walter Satterthwait: As I said above, they're the "adventures" of a young African constable -- short stories, some long enough be be considered novellas, in which he solves various mysteries.

kaliber .38: What inspires a white Anglo-American to write about a black policeman in Kenya?

Walter Satterthwait: I'd lived for a while in Kenya and I'd loved it. And I liked the idea of using young Andrew. Very often he comes up against European and Americans, tourists and expatriates, and we have the clash of cultures, which can be difficult for the people involved, but which can also be, for the onlooker (or the reader) amusing, and perhaps even revealing.

kaliber .38: We couldn't find an English edition of these stories in the big Internet catalogues. Haven't these stories ever been published in English?

Walter Satterthwait: Yes, originally in Alfred Hitchcock's, and then later in a limited edition collection.

Der Gehängte kaliber .38: THE HANGED MAN is now available in Germany. The story is about a murder in an esoteric group. The motive seems to be a very precious 15th-century tarot card. Every chapter is named after tarot card: the Fool, the High Priestess, the Magician and so on. What gave you the idea?

Walter Satterthwait: I've always been fascinated by the Tarot cards, and I wanted to write a book that used them. The original idea was to write a book in which each chapter represented one of the cards, and in which the chapters followed the same sequence that the cards themselves did. As it turned out, I had to rearrange the cards slightly; but, after the first three or four chapters, I was able to keep pretty much to the cards' actual order. It was fun.

kaliber .38: Crime fiction is full of romantic relationships. The relationship between Joshua Croft and Rita Mondragon is very special. Rita is bound to a wheel chair as a result of a shooting in which her husband dies. She slowly recovers, but the reader doesn't know exactly what has happened. Why didn't you start the Mondragon-Croft series with this story?

Walter Satterthwait: I wanted to start the series sort of in the middle, without revealing too much about the history of Joshua and Rita. Later on, with ACCUSTOMED TO THE DARK, I did give the background of the characters -- some of it, anyway -- and explain how they originally got together, and how Rita was injured.

kaliber .38: Your Croft and Mondragon books are set in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Germany, we know very little about Santa Fe. What's so fascinating about this town? Could you imagine your stories taking place anywhere else in the United States?

Walter Satterthwait: Santa Fe is wonderful background for a mystery novel. It's physically beautiful, and set among physically beautiful surroundings. Sociologically it's fascinating, filled as it is with Hispanics, American Indians, and what are called here "Anglos", which basically means anyone who's not Hispanic or American Indian. There's a lot of history here, a lot of money, and a lot of art -- Santa Fe is the third largest art market in the United States.
I suppose it's possible that stories similar to mine could be written somewhere else, but I suspect that the writing of them would be fairly difficult. Santa Fe is unique, and, to some measure, that uniqueness contributes something to all the novels I've set there. Or so I feel, anyway.

Maskeraden kaliber .38: You are writing another series about a couple, Jane Turner and Phil Beaumont (ESCAPADE, MASQUERADE). You hit on this wonderful idea of telling the stories in two forms: although the Pinkerton-Detective Phil Beaumont is the narrator, Jane Turner describes what is happening in the lovely, pithy letters she writes to her friend Evangeline. What was your goal?

Walter Satterthwait: I wanted to have at least two different views of the same series of events. I liked the idea of contrasting a male and a female viewpoint, and I also liked the idea of contrasting a voice that seemed to me to be American and hard-boiled with a voice that was British and "cozy". I've always enjoyed both the classic American Private Detective Novel and the classic British Crime Novel, and using those two characters let me, in effect, write both sorts of novel, and play with the conventions of each, within the covers of one book.

kaliber .38: You often write about real people in fictional settings: for example, Oscar Wilde in THE WILDE WEST, Lizzie Borden in MISS LIZZIE, Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini in ESCAPADE, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and many others in MASQUERADE. What fascinates you so much about these constellations? How do you get the information to make these characters so vivid and real?

Walter Satterthwait: In most cases, the "real" people were people who, for one reason or another, interested me. And in most cases, I was able to confront the real people with people of a very different sort. I like writing about cultural shock and cultural confusion - as in my stories in THE GOLD OF MAYANI -, and I get a big kick out of putting people, real or otherwise, into situations with which they're unfamiliar. That may make me a bit of a sadist, I suppose. But, having lived in a number of different cultures myself, I've always found cultural differences, and the mistakes they engender, fascinating. (I confess, however, that I found them more fascinating in retrospect than I did at the moment I was living amidst them.)
I got the information I needed by reading as many books as I could about each character.

Eskapaden kaliber .38: ESCAPADE is set in England in 1921, MASQUERADE in France in 1923. As far as we know, the third novel with Phil Beaumont and Jane Turner is going to be set in Munich. What do you find so fascinating about Europe, especially the Europe of the twenties?

Walter Satterthwait: It was an interesting time, wasn't it? The Great War had just ended, and cracks were forming in the old established traditions. A lot of people were deeply disillusioned by the war, and yet, out of this disillusionment and despair came some of the most impressive contemporary literature -- Joyce, Hemingway, Stein, etc.

kaliber .38: More Walter Satterthwait titles are available in Germany and in France than in the USA. Do foreign settings make a mystery novel a hard sell in the United States, or what is the reason for this?

Walter Satterthwait: For a long time, publishers in the States didn't want to buy mysteries set in foreign countries. Foreign countries were just too foreign, they felt, for the American reader. But I think that, with the "democratization" of air travel, and the increasing numbers of Americans who've traveled abroad, this is changing.

kaliber .38: You did a motor-caravan tour of the United States, the "Terrible Trash Trailer Tour", to promote your last book, MASQUERADE. Do you find personal contact with readers important?

Walter Satterthwait: I did the "Terrible Trailer Trash Tour" mostly as a joke. I thought it might be fun to travel around the country in a motor home, signing books and meeting people. And it was, in fact, fun.
I'm not sure that "personal contact" with each and every reader is either necessary or useful. But it can be, as I said, fun.

kaliber .38: You have a very nice and funny "webbed page", which can be visited at Would you say the Internet also has an impact on the way novels are written and sold?

Miss Lizzie Walter Satterthwait: The Internet may not have had an impact on the way a novel is written, but it's certainly had an impact on the way a novel might be researched. It's definitely Saved me a lot of time. And I'm sure that it will have an impact on the way books are sold. One of my earlier novels, MISS LIZZIE, which in the States has been out of print for some time, will soon be available as a "print on demand" book. If someone wants a copy, he or she just orders it, and the thing is immediately printed out and shipped.

kaliber .38: Your last book was published two years ago, and a follow-up title has not yet been announced. When can we expect a new Walter Satterthwait novel?

Walter Satterthwait: Next year. It's a serial killer novel called PERFECTION that will be published by Goldman in Germany. After that, I'll be doing the sequel to MASQUERADE. That book will be set mostly in Munich, just before the Beer Hall Putsch.

kaliber .38: Thank you very much for answering our questions. We wish you all the best for your great novels and your latest anthology of stories...

Walter Satterthwait: Thanks very much.


Walter Satterthwait: The Bibliography


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