School of the Ages


author interview -- crime writer Fiona Quinn has a Toolbox Philosophy

Posted by Matt Posner on May 25, 2014 at 8:35 AM

I met Fiona Quinn on Twitter. Her Twitter feed leds to her website, which has just superb nonfiction articles for crime fiction authors. She has the varied complicated employment history found among some of the most interesting authors -- and I made sure to ask about it. Now I'm pleased to introduce her.

Fiona, you’re originally from Canada but now live in Virginia. How was the transition for you?

I was born in Canada but had a two-border upbringing. My father was a college professor and during the college school year, we were in America, so I schooled here. We called Canada home as in, “We’ll be going home for the summer in three days.” My thought processes are more Canadian than American, I have found.

My two homes makes for very confusing spelling. Even today, my editor trolls my work for words like grey, towards, and honour. It also makes for an odd accent. Mostly, I think I sound southern when I speak. As soon as we hit the bridge going into Canada, my whole family will change into their Canadian accents, almost like changing our shirts. The first time my husband was with my sister and me as we “crossed over,” he was completely bewildered by our new speech patterns. Sadly, he’s from Texas and only has the one accent available. Poor boy.

I spent much of my college years in Europe; I wanted to be a travel writer. It seemed ideal to me that I could go to fabulous places, try incredible foods, meet interesting people do unique things, write about it and get paid. I was young – I thought that gig would be pretty easy to come by. But instead, I married and settled with my husband in Virginia. I’ve been here long enough now that my roots are pretty solid. Though, I am trying to convince Tex that we should retire to Vancouver.

Like many authors, you have a widely ranging education (it all looks cool).  How did that happen? What are some highlights?

How did that happen? I ask myself that all the time. The truth is that I love to learn, and I don’t really want to be cornered into learning one thing. I started out with history, art history, and foreign languages, because I thought they would be the best degrees for my travel gig. Then I was pregnant and knew I needed a closer commute, so I went back for my psych degree. Low and behold, there are zero jobs for psych majors. Back I went for counseling masters. I picked up lots of certifications along the way.

In the end, I stayed home with my four children, unschooling them – this means we woke up and learned about what we wanted to that day instead of following a planned curriculum. I read and read and read and read to them. I was their Girl Scout Leader, and we all worked on our black belts together. The rule in my house is you must be 18 or have a second-degree black belt before you can date. The dating part was incentive. It seemed to work. Hands on/ experientially educating my children was a wonderful way to educate myself as well.

What is the Toolbox Philosophy, and how can it be applied to everyday life? To writing?

My Toolbox philosophy in a nut shell: You never know what life is going to hand you in the way of emergency or opportunity – so always look for ways to add competencies (tools) to your tool box so you are ready. This might mean a new language, or a handy math formula. It might mean a car repair or a defense. It could be just learning to listen with empathy. Learning possibilities fill each day. I look for them and embrace them. I tried to give that as a gift to my children. As we say in our family (and my kids will correct me, “No, only you say that, Mom.”) “We are life-long learners” That means school is never out.

In my writing, I apply many of my tools. Some things I don’t know about, so I will try to experience them or minimally talk to someone who has. Tex goes along on my adventures with me. I have a scene I need to write where my heroine flies over a canyon on a zip line. Tex and I are going to go on a zip line over a zoo sometime this month. It makes life interesting. Tex sometimes wonders if I just form my writing based on what I want to try next. He’s an astute man.

Much of my Toolbox Philosophy is obvious if you stop by my blog ThrillWriting and take a look around.

Talk about your knowledge of archery and how it has shaped you as a person and as a writer.

Archery, to me is a unique defense in that it is very quiet and personal.

When I shoot my guns, I feel a lot of adrenaline and reaction to the noise and bursts of light. When I train with hand weapons - knives, asps, etc. - or even weaponless fighting, it is a chess game trying to out-maneuver one’s opponent. I fight within myself to keep focused on action/reaction and not give in to the adrenaline. This is not the case with archery.

For me, archery is slow, methodical, meditative, grounded, and quiet. When the arrow whispers off my string, I become an observer instead of a participant.

As a person - What an interesting question. For me, it’s important to spend time with both kinds of expressions: the soft and the hard, the loud and the quiet, the connected/interactive and the solitary. It’s a matter of balance. Archery will calm me right down. Like taking medicine. I let my stress release with the arrow and watch it fly away.

As a writer - The gift I get from archery as a writer is sustained focus. Eye on the target. Some days, I get bulls eyes; other days, I get caught in the weeds. A metaphor for the writer’s life, I think.

What was it like being a model in France?

Long and boring. Modeling is not an exciting way to make money. And one has to lose all modesty. Back in the days before computer enhancement, the way they changed a model’s body shape was with tape. Getting taped up was not lovely, but the end of the day and ripping all of that off? Oh, dear.

Meet any bridezillas when you were a florist? Come on, tell the truth:  it was really the future husband’s fault, wasn’t it?

I heard that there was a TV show about Bridezillas. No, it’s not my experience at all. The men were never there. The moms just needed to stay on budget, and the brides were nervous. I never experienced anything beyond that.

Please tell one more interesting story of your choice from your history of many jobs.

I was a governess for two families – one in Switzerland and one in France. Both families had a young daughter and a thirteen-year-old son. The boys thought that it was marvelous that my language skills were not up to par. Here, I thought that they were being very supportive helping me to conquer a new language when in fact, they were teaching me cuss words to take the place of regular every day words. Words that I would use in public.

I went to a sandwich shop in Germany once and thought I was ordering a ham and cheese; and instead, I asked the waiter if the naked baboons had weapons. Luckily, the waiter saw I was with this young, snickering boy and told me what was going on. I tried to escape the embarrassing situation by saying. “I’m so sorry for the confusion. Would you please direct me to the shit hole?” At which point everyone in the place was on the floor laughing.

Not believing that every young teen had the same evil thought process, I moved to Toulouse and boy number two. Sadly, the shop keeper was not as understanding when I told her I wanted to buy three prostitutes and seven easy b**chs.

Okay, now let’s start talking about your writing. What is Virginia for Mysteries all about?

We are fourteen Sisters in Crime authors from the Old Dominion. The anthology has seventeen short stories set in and around the state. Each story features a Virginia landmark, from the shores of Cape Henry Lighthouse to Richmond’s Old Hollywood Cemetery to Jefferson’s Monticello, transporting readers across Virginia’s rich, unique and very deadly landscape. I have two stories that were included, “Caged Bird,” set at St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry gave his speech, “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death,” and “Key to a Crime,” set outside of Henricus Historical Park where John Rolfe and Pocahontas were married.

Who are the Sisters in Crime and how did you all meet?

Sisters in Crime is a national organization which supports women who write crime (though men are welcome, too). I belong to the national group, and I am part of our regional group. Our book came out of a collaborative effort of two Virginia Sisters in Crime chapters. It has been a lovely experience. Some of the authors were traditionally published, some indie published, and for some this was their first publishing experience.

We all learned from each other about the ins and outs. Especially marketing which became much easier as a group effort. We made it to the Amazon top ten and were the number one seller at Crime Wave at Virginia Festival of the Book – a huge four-day book festival that takes places in Charlottesville, Va, annualy.

It must be exhilarating to do appearances with other writers. Any reflection upon that?

I have been to my fair share of author events, and it always seems to me to be a crapshoot. I feel so badly for the authors who sit behind their little table, smiles plastered in place, with no one buying or interested in anything beyond the free candy and directions to the loo. This is the case with us as well. Though we are usually well received, the slow times are still fun because we are together. Also, spreading tasks around for marketing the book means that no one is unduly burdened.
When we do panels and speak about our work, I always learn something that I can take into my writing. Lots of fun all around.

Now on to your novels. You’ll soon be launching the series Weakest Lynx. Tell us about your protagonist, Lexi or Lynx, and the genre and style.

I write romantic suspense. This particular series is about a young woman who grew up unschooled. Lexi Sobado had a unique spectrum of interesting and diverse mentors who filled her toolbox with some pretty unusual skills, and she needs them – all of them. Lexi was born with the good luck of being whip-smart, athletic, and pretty, in a girl-next-door kind of way. But that’s where her luck ends. Lexi is fighting for her life against enormous odds. Every time she thinks she’s safe, she needs to think again.

What would you like to say to readers to close this interview?

Thank you so much for reading – this interview, books, articles… all of it. It is a gift to writers everywhere that you read. You are much appreciated.

Categories: None