Saturday, May 18, 2024

Q&A with James H. Lewis




James H. Lewis is the author of the new novel The Dead of Winter. His other books include the Chief Novak series. A former journalist, he lives in Pittsburgh.


Q: Why did you decide to write a novel featuring your character Lydia Barnwell?


A: Several of my friends have read all the Novak books. From the start of that series, a few told me what a fascinating character Lydia is. (She’s introduced on the first page of the initial Novak book.) As I neared the end of the Novak trilogy, two asked what would happen to her. I was working on a standalone mystery at the time and instead made it Lydia’s first story.


Q: Did you feel you discovered anything new about Lydia in making her the main character of this story?


A: In the last Novak book, Lydia’s estranged boyfriend, David Kimrey, dies while trying to quell a domestic disturbance. Lydia is guilt-stricken over this, because on the preceding evening he’d stopped by her apartment seeking a reconciliation. When she insisted things were over between them, he asked for “one last hug,” and she refused.


At the end of this book, she and the deputy chief, Calvin Mayfield, have what she thinks is a one-night stand. In The Dead of Winter, they continue the affair, and she invites him to move in. Since Calvin is Black, this gives me the chance to explore different aspects of racism, something that’s an undercurrent in all my stories.


Through this story, Lydia is also learning to think for herself and not allow her male colleagues to direct the course of her investigations. She’s standing up for herself and becoming more independent. (Can you tell I’m a man with two daughters?)

Q: Did you conduct much research to write this book, and if so, what did you learn?


A: Mandy Tinkey, who directs the crime lab in the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office, spent an afternoon taking me through their facility and explaining their procedures. This office includes not only the coroner, but crime scene examiners and technicians. She improved the accuracy with which I portray crime scenes, and I’m grateful to her.


I also researched the mechanics of death by hanging, learning a bit more than I care to know. I’m always trying to learn new things. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: First, I hope they enjoy a good story and will come back for more. As a relative newcomer to Pittsburgh, I also hope they’ll come to share my affection for this great city. It has a fascinating history, the people are warm and welcoming, and they’ve overcome a lot since the collapse of the steel industry. Except for The Quadrant Conspiracy, a World War II novel, all my recent books represent a love story to “the Burgh.”


Q: What are you working on now? Will there be more novels about Lydia?


A: I’m working on the second Lydia novel now and hope to have it finished by fall. I designed the Novak series as a trilogy, but Lydia’s is open-ended. I’m also researching life in postwar Europe that may become a different sort of novel in the future.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I store ideas as a squirrel hides nuts for winter. A cross-platform app allows me to collect and organize clippings and other ideas, whether I’m at my desk or at dinner with friends. I have more potential projects than I’ll ever have time to turn into novels, but some have become short stories. In a sense, I’m never not writing.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with James H. Lewis.

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