Saturday, November 26, 2011

Literary Mystery Novelists--Rebecca Cantrell

Rebecca Cantrell's A Game of Lies is the third book in her series about German reporter/sometime spy Hannah Vogel in the days of Nazi power leading up to World War II. In it, Hannah must return to Berlin from her exile in Switzerland to cover the 1936 Olympics and smuggle out dangerous information her former mentor has discovered about the Nazis. Cantrell brings the paranoid streets of Berlin to life during the Olympics, temporarily whitewashed of their antisemitic graffiti to fool the international press but still immensely dangerous for anyone who was not a solid Nazi. In Hannah, Cantrell has a protagonist who is not a professional spy but instead has to fumble her way through frightening circumstances where even old friends can turn against her with only her innate courage and her contacts in Berlin's underworld to help her.

Cantrell's fourth book in the series, A City of Broken Glass (set during Kristallnacht), will be published in July 2012 and is highly anticipated by all who have read her first three books. Here is the link for A Game of Lies, and here is the link to pre-order A City of Broken Glass.

Rebecca Cantrell Bio

A few years ago Rebecca Cantrell quit her job, sold her house, and moved to Hawaii to write a novel because, at seven, she decided that she would be a writer. Now she writes the Hannah Vogel mystery series set in Berlin in the 1930s, including “A Trace of Smoke and “A Night of Long Knives.” “A Trace of Smoke” was considered by major cable networks as a television series.

A faded pink triangle pasted on the wall of Dachau Concentration Camp and time in Berlin, Germany in the 1980s inspired “A Trace of Smoke.” Fluent in German, she received her high school diploma from the John F. Kennedy Schule in Berlin and studied at the Freie Universität in Berlin and the Georg August Universität in Göttingen before graduating from Carnegie Mellon University.

When she visited Berlin in the summer of 2006, she was astounded to discover that many locations in her novel have been rebuilt and reopened in the last few years, including the gay bar El Dorado and the Mosse House publishing house.

Her short story “Coffee” appear in the “Missing” anthology, and her short story “On the Train” will be in the “First Thrills” anthology in June 2010.

Her screenplay “The Humanitarian” was a finalist at Shriekfest 2008: The Los Angeles Horror/Sci-fi Film Festival. Her screenplay “A Taste For Blood” was a finalist at the Shriekfest 2007: The Los Angeles Horror/Sci-fi Film Festival.

As of this writing, she lives in Hawaii with her Ironman husband and son.

For those new to your series, can you describe the Hannah Vogel mysteries? What was your inspiration for this series? How would you describe A Game of Lies to someone who has not read any of your previous novels?
The Hannah Vogel mysteries explore the world of 1930s Berlin through the eyes of a crime reporter trying to bring out the stories of those trapped there.

My inspiration was Berlin. I lived in Berlin in the 1980s and one thing the 80s in Berlin had in common with the 30s was that everything was going to change. The Wall was going to come down. The two halves of Germany were going to be reunited for the first time in forty years. But, like Hannah in the 1930s, I didn’t know it. History and history in the making were right there. History was in the brand new buildings plunked in the heart of an old European city because the last buildings there got leveled by Allied air strikes in World War II.  History was in the Wall that separated my West German side with free elections and democracy and McDonalds and Radio Free Europe and discos playing American music  from the East German side with Communism and aluminum money and Russian TV shows.  The future was in the Wall coming down and what came after.

Everything was there. Who wouldn’t want to be become a novelist after that?

What’s “A Game of Lies” about? Berlin in 1936, of course! For the duration of the Olympic Games, the Nazis are pretending that Berlin is not the cruel and oppressive city they have made it. They have taken down anti-Semitic posters, re-opened gay bars, and stopped beating up their citizens in public. But it’s a thin veneer of tolerance.

Hannah travels to this newly festive Berlin to write a story on the games and to smuggle out secret documents. At the stadium, soon after she is reunited with the famous reporter Peter Weill, her mentor and ersatz father, he dies in her arms. The next day his beloved sister is found dead too. When the Nazis cover up both murders, Hannah determines to reveal the story they died for.

What's your writing process? What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you keep to a set schedule? What are your writing habits?
I have a complicated writing process I don’t really recommend to anyone. I wrote about it on Timothy Hallinan’s blog ( The short answer is that I write 50 pages, outline, write 50 more pages, rewrite the outline (back to the beginning and forward to the end), write 50 pages…repeat.

On a typical day, I drop my son off at school and get to my local coffee shop by 8. I order tea and sit down and write until I’ve hit my page count. If I’m lucky, that’s by lunch. If I’m not, I don’t get to eat until after I get my son at 2.  Most days, I get lucky.

What projects, literary or otherwise, are occupying you at the moment?
I just finished “A City of Broken Glass,” the fourth Hannah Vogel novel. It’s set in Berlin in 1938, where Hannah has been transported against her will shortly before the pogrom that would come to be known as Kristallnacht.  I have some ideas for #5, which I’m tentatively calling “A Time of Night and Fog” and hope to set in Palestine in 1940 or so. Plus I’m working on something I’m not allowed to talk about (tease!).

Who were your literary influences growing up? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?
I read all the time and I read everything. I think the sheer volume of what I read precludes me from listing any one particular author. I loved different writers at different times. For the Hannah books, I’ve read a lot of Philip Kerr, Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Roth, William Shirer, and Victor Klemperer. I just finished “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larsen and loved it.

What inspired you to write your first novel?
I think my first novel was about a set of identical twins living in Arizona who hated each other. It was 60 pages long hand and I wrote it when I was 12. I was living in Alaska at the time and think I wanted to spend some time someplace warm and Arizona was a good as anywhere.

My first published novel, “A Trace of Smoke,” was inspired by a fading pink triangle I saw on the wall of the Dachau Concentration Camp. My German host brother was gay, and seeing that triangle there brought home the reality of those who were imprisoned and died for being who they were. Fifty years earlier, he would have been in that camp. Scary stuff for a teenager to think about, and it never really let go of me. “A Trace of Smoke” was a way of showing that.

Do you belong to a critique group of other authors. Do you find it helpful? In what ways?
I belong to a critique group called Kona Ink. The members are Kathryn Wadsworth and David Deardorff (know for their award-winning garden book “What’s Wrong with my Plant?”), Judith Heath (soon to be known for her terrific YA fantasy novel “Scarstone”) and Karen Hollinger (who just gave birth to twins so is known right now as “Mommy”). It’s a terrific group of intelligent, dedicated writers who don’t let me settle for anything but the absolute best in my work and theirs. Their insights and critiques have been an invaluable part of my work and life as a writer.

What is your advice to aspiring writers? How important is it for a young writer to be a reader? What would you recommend they read?
Read. Read. Read. Reading is where you learn about story, and where you learn to love story. Turns out it’s not daydreaming. It’s research.

Write. Write. Write. Put words down on the page as often as you can. Written words are better than spoken words. Don’t talk about the piece. Write it down.

Have fun. That whole tortured writer myth? Way overworked. I know a lot of happy and well adjusted writers. You don’t need to drink, do drugs, engage in complicated sexual dramas or perform other high risk acts to become a writer. You can simply enjoy doing it. You don’t have to act like every edit is a cut that wounds your soul. You can view them as ways to help your work read better, clearer, and more true. I love to write. I love to edit. I love to cut and add and re-vision. It’s not always easy, but I have a really great time. And so should you. Otherwise, why bother?

What has been the hardest part about being a writer? What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your writing career?
Promotion is the hardest part. It takes me out of the room where I’m all alone with my characters and my words. This leads right into the biggest lesson, the one that keeps coming back to me again and again. What matters most is you and the page. You alone in your head with your characters. You dreaming the world into existence.

Monday in the series, Books of Interest by Writers of Color, I'll take a look at the iconic Chicano writer, Rudolfo Anaya. and while you're here, check out the website I've added on and let me know what you think of it.

Don't forget to shop at an independent bookstore in person or online today on Small-Business Saturday. They are the lifeblood of literature today. Let's keep them around! Have a terrific end to November!

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