Introducing: Zoë Sharp
Zoë Sharp is the author of nine books in the acclaimed Charlie Fox crime thriller series. She was
brought up living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England and had an unconventional
education, writing her first novel at fifteen. She became a freelance photojournalist in 1988 and
began writing about Charlie Fox after receiving death-threat letters in the course of her work.
I met Ms. Sharp online on one of my "I'm quitting writing" days and she was wonderful enough to give me a pep talk, event though we had never spoken once before. Her latest novel, "Fifth Victim" was released on January 12th, by Pegasus Books.
Weekly Adventure: What is your genre of choice, and why?
Zoë Sharp: I’ve always enjoyed reading in the crime thriller genre, so when I started writing, those were the kind of books I wanted to write. You spend so long wrapped up in writing a book that it has to be something you’re passionate about right from the start, otherwise it would be very hard to maintain enthusiasm and motivation to the end.
WA: How many books have you published? (self or otherwise)
ZS: I’m just in the midst of writing the tenth book in my Charlie Fox series, which is provisionally titled DIE EASY. Last year I also published a Charlie Fox e-thology of short stories, FOX FIVE, and I’ve written quite a few other short stories for anthologies and magazines. Before I was a fiction writer, though, I wrote non-fiction, so I’ve been seeing my work in print for more years than I want to think about!
WA: Tell me about Fifth Victim.
ZS: FIFTH VICTIM sees Charlie trying to prevent her principal from becoming the next victim of a gang of vicious kidnappers preying on the offspring of the rich on New York’s Long Island. In this book I wanted to explore the theme of having everything and losing it – or throwing it away.
Charlie’s loyalties are torn in all kinds of directions by the events of the book, both on a personal and professional level. I felt I needed to take her to the next stage of development, to keep pushing her to breaking point and beyond.
On Long Island, the playground of New York’s wealthy and privileged, Charlie Fox is tasked
with protecting Dina, the wayward daughter of rich businesswoman, Caroline Willner. An alarming number of the girl’s circle of friends have been through kidnap ordeals and Charlie quickly discovers that Dina seems fascinated by the clique formed by these former victims. Charlie worries that Dina’s thrill-seeking tendencies will put both of them in real danger. But just as her worst fears are realised, Charlie receives the devastating personal news. The man who put her lover, Sean, into a coma is on the loose.
With her loyalties divided between her client and avenging Sean, Charlie finds that the two goals
are inextricably linked. The decisions she makes now, and the path she chooses to follow, will have far-reaching consequences.
WA: Where can I buy copies of your book?
ZS: The later books are available in print or e-format from all good bookstores. (I’d always recommend supporting a local indie bookstore if you have one nearby.) The early books in the series went out of print and were becoming very expensive to find, so last year I made the decision to bring them out in e-format and they are now all available for Kindle from Amazon. As the Kindle Reader software can be downloaded for free onto most electronic devices, this seemed like a good place to start.
It was an exciting opportunity to give the whole series a unified ‘look’ and also to add extra content and material. Each book now has an excerpt from the next in the series, additional information about the character, plus a guest excerpt from other authors like Brett Battles, Blake Crouch, Lee Goldberg, Tim Hallinan, and Libby Fischer Hellmann. I was also able to put back a couple of scenes that I cut out of the first book, KILLER INSTINCT, as well as adding a wonderful Foreword to the series by Lee Child.
WA: What are you reading right now?
ZS: I’ve just finished reading MORE FORENSICS AND FICTION by DP Lyle MD. Doug Lyle is a California cardiologist and mystery writer who has also published award-winning non-fiction work connected to forensics and medical matters. This is the third of his books devoted to the strange questions he’s been asked by crime writers, and the answers he’s given. It’s another fascinating book, answering such diverse questions as “How is a castration performed?” and “What substance available in 1579 could be employed for chronic poisoning?” A must for every crime writer’s bookshelf!
WA: What keeps you going on those days when writing gets hard? (a favorite quote or a personal motto)
ZS: The screen-saver on my computer monitor has four words that tumble around it: “Get On With It” which about sums up my motto. Writing is partly inspiration, yes, but it’s probably a large part perspiration. You just have to sit down and get the words put together, even on the days when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Deadlines tend to concentrate the mind a little, too.
Somebody once said that there are a lot more persistent writers published than there are talented writers published, and I think that’s true. Think of all the fabulous novels and stories that have never been seen by anyone because the author didn’t have the motivation or the faith to finish them.
WA: What advice do you have for other writers out there?
ZS: Stephen King’s very simple advice is excellent: “Read, read, read. Write, write, write.” Read everything you can get your hands on and analyse it as much as possible. Why did it keep you up late into the night reading? Or why did you find it so easy to put the book down? What grabbed you about the characters, the plot, the setting? Bad writing can be as educational to read as good writing, if only because it motivates you to finish your own book on the grounds that you’re sure you can do better!
WA: What cautions do you have?
ZS: This is a very tough business. Writers probably take more criticism in a year than most people face in a lifetime. For all but a very few it’s going to be a painful process and sometimes it may seem like the rewards are constantly just out of reach. I think at the outset you have to ask yourself why you want to be a writer and give yourself an honest answer. If it’s for fame and glory, there are a lot of easier ways to achieve that. (Of course, none spring immediately to mind …)
WA: Do you work on more than one project at a time?
ZS: In theory I work on one project at once, but so often other things interrupt. I wrote a new Charlie Fox short story (Across The Broken Line) in the middle of the current work-in-progress, and I’ve been making notes about the next book, too. But I won’t actually start writing that until this one is done.
Otherwise I’d get hopelessly distracted. Other ideas are always swirling around, but there’s a limit to how much multi-tasking I can do, sadly.
WA: Do you have a process? (outlining, character creation, location, etc)
ZS: The first thing I always write is the jacket copy outline – the brief half-page you would find on the back of the paperback or inside flap of the hardcover. This is just the essence of the story, and it helps keep me on track with the most important themes and direction of the story. I try to work on an outline quite a bit before I start writing, as I find it very hard to go back and unpick story elements once I’ve actually got the thing under way. I’ve ended up doing that with the current book and it’s made it more difficult for me, I know. Because I write a series I already have the main characters, and bringing in the other players in the drama is always interesting. I work out why they’re doing what they’re doing, what they want, what they’re afraid of, and what’s driving them. Then it’s a lot easier for me to write them responding in a natural and believable way as the story unfolds. (I hope.)
The location is often central to the story itself, but some stories are more wedded to the location than others. It always makes the story seem stronger, for me, if it could only take place in one setting – that the location matters.
WA: Where do you get your ideas from? What/who inspires you?
ZS: Ideas are everywhere – you just have to open your eyes to the possibilities of what’s in front of you. There are constantly stories in the news, articles in the newspapers, snippets you overhear or just little oddities of every day life that have the potential to be woven into a book. I think of it as the “what if” scenario. Take something relatively normal and extrapolate it to the next stage, and the one after that. I combine that with wanting to always put my main protagonist under some kind of pressure, to test and conflict her. That combination keeps the stories fresh for me. I’m inspired to always try to write a better book than the last one, to keep improving my craft and moving forwards.
WA: If you could do it all over, is there anything you would change about finding an agent and finally
ZS: If I was starting again today I’d be a lot more logical and organised about finding my first agent, I think. There is such a huge opportunity to connect with agents now – on their blogs and Twitter and Facebook pages – that simply wasn’t an option when I began. You now have a much better chance to interact with somebody and really get a good feel for how well you’re going to gel with them on a personal as well as a professional level. And carefully going through books by my favourite writers to see who gives a mention to their agent in the acknowledgements would be a sensible plan. After all, that’s a good sign of the relationship between a writer and their agent. If they’re not name-checked, why not? Social media has meant there is so much more a writer can do to publicise and promote their work before it ever gets near publication that in theory any new author can hit the ground running in a way that wasn’t possible previously.
WA: What has been your toughest criticism? What has been your greatest compliment?
ZS: All criticism is tough. No two ways about it. I try not to read reviews for that reason – my Other Half reads them first and only shows them to me if he thinks I need to see them. The trouble is that I always believe any criticisms totally and disbelieve any praise. I’ve been lucky and had some very good reviews, but to me the greatest compliments come from readers. People who have no reason to contact me but do so to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed the books and asking when the next one’s going to be ready. That always gives me a real buzz.
WA: Who is your greatest influence(s)
ZS: Probably too many to mention! My first introduction to crime was the series of books about The Saint by Leslie Charteris, as well as the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I confess to being more of a fan of Dorothy L Sayers than Agatha Christie. Then when I started reading thrillers I picked up those by Alex Hailey, Alistair McLean, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth. Now I love the distinctive writing styles of authors like Lee Child, Robert B Parker, Ken Bruen, Don Winslow, John Connolly, Jeffery Deaver and Harlan Coben.
WA: Who are your favorite people to follow on Twitter and why? (authors, non-authors)
ZS: Another difficult question to answer. I enjoy following people who have something interesting to say, including authors, musicians, racing drivers, motorcyclists. You get introduced to a huge number of fascinating people who all have a story to tell. And I love the humour, of course – Death Star PR has to be one of my favourites.
WA: Do you have any other passions besides writing?
ZS: Writing has become a bit all-consuming in the past few years, but I have realised that I do need to get out from behind my computer keyboard a bit more and that’s one of my ambitions for 2012. We love to travel, but all our recent travelling has been work-related, so there are loads of places we’d love to see just for the sake of it. And I used to really enjoy sailing but haven’t done any for a while. I’ve always been a petrol-head, so cars and motorcycles and anything that goes quickly is a bit of a passion, too. And construction. We self-built our own house and would like to do it all over again. Apart from that, just loafing around reading or watching movies, I think!
WA: When did you know you wanted to write?
ZS: I was always writing the beginnings of books when I was younger, but I wrote my first proper novel when I was fifteen, so I suppose it was pretty definite by then. I wrote the whole book out by hand and my father typed it up for me so it could be sent out to publishers. I received what’s known in the trade as “rave rejections” otherwise who knows when my writing career proper might have started? As it was, I was obviously a little disheartened by my failure to find a publisher with my first attempt, so I put my writing efforts aside for a few years. But they refused to go away completely, and by the time I was twenty-one I’d launched out as a freelance photojournalist working in the motoring field. That satisfied my writing urges for a while – until the need to tell a story took over again and I wrote the first of the Charlie Fox novels.
WA: After becoming established, did you ever go back and have that 1st book published?
WA: Do you have a day job?
ZS: For a long time after starting to write fiction I carried on with the photography side of my photojournalism work. My husband, Andy, writes non-fiction so I still do any pictures to go with his words. But over the six months or so I’ve really been able to concentrate more on just writing, which has been great. Having said that, it can be very useful to have something else to do besides sitting in front of your computer – if only for the figure!
WA: Final question, why do you write?
ZS: Because I must.
More about Zoë Sharp
Zoë’s writing has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger. She blogs regularly on her own website, www.ZoeSharp.com, and on www.Murderati.com. You can also find her on Twitter (@authorzoesharp) and Facebook.