Friday, June 16, 2023

Q&A with Brenda Peterson




Brenda Peterson is the author of the new novel Stiletto. Her many other books include the novel Duck and Cover


Q: What inspired you to write Stiletto, and how did you create your characters Detective Anna Crane and biochemist Eleanor Kiernan?


A: During the pandemic, when the whole world was caught up in a medical mystery, I found refuge and distraction in whodunits: Anne Cleeves’ moody Vera and Shetland series, Tana French’s psychological In the Woods, and the terrific BBC romp, Killing Eve.


Like in the Broadway musical, A Chorus Line, I thought, “I can do that!” So, after publishing six novels—one of which, Animal Heart, was a mystery about a wildlife detective, I wrote my first murder mystery with a human victim.


“Who should I kill?” I wondered. Why not a Big Pharma drug dealer, Leo Cushman, whose overprescribed opiates made billions and overdosed America. With over 100,000 deaths from opiates in America, who among us hasn’t witnessed a friend, a family member, or a co-worker dealing with addiction?


Stiletto is a mystery told in two voices, a tense duet between the intuitive Detective Anna Crane and her prime suspect, biochemist Eleanor Kiernan. Both women are haunted by the loss of a sibling; but Kiernan’s brother died of an overdose of the opiate she helped to create.


Everyone has a motive, often an alibi, and a well-kept secret. It is up to the detectives to unravel the intricate web of lies and deception. A mystery of crime and complicity, Stiletto is cinematic, timely, a psychological thriller. I can hardly wait to finish the sequel.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: The first draft of Stiletto, I did not know the murderer. Like Detectives Crane and Bartelli, I had my suspicions, my favorite suspects; but the plot shifted with each character I created. In a way, I was not only a novelist, but also a detective, interrogating and trying to figure out who did it.

Not knowing the real culprit for several drafts was exciting. I discovered the flaws and depths in each character that motivated them to kill or to hide or to finally reveal themselves—first to me, and finally, to the reader.


Q: The author Diane Johnson said of the book, “Big Pharma and Big Tech in the glamorous and rainy landscape of Seattle make a fertile backdrop for crime...” What do you think of that description, and how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: For me, a nature writer and novelist, landscape equals character. We are all shaped by where we live. Seattle is so waterlogged and moody, it’s a perfect setting for a mystery: Skyscrapers shrouded in storm clouds like a drowned city.


Much of Stiletto takes place on sailboats navigating the serpentine Salish Sea, and on those mysterious hump-backed islands bordering British Columbia, where suspects can escape.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Titles are often the most difficult of all. But I had this title from the very beginning. With two strong major women characters, stiletto as a rather menacing high heel feminine shoe and a murder weapon, seemed perfect.


I didn’t have to research the shoe; but I did the knife—a sleek, almost elegant fighting blade that the Leo Cushman gave Eleanor Kiernan as a gift because of death threats against their Big Pharma company.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Of course, the sequel to Stiletto! But I also just finished a big book on animals, due out spring, 2024, a new kids’ book on dolphins, and a YA historical novel set in the iconic 1960s; I’m recording the audiobook of my Drowning World series.


I like working on several books at once. If I hit a snag on one story, I just shape-shift into another book—another world to imagine. By the time I come back to the snag, it has often resolved itself. The subconscious and patience are a vital muse in all storytelling.


By the way, if I ever write a romance novel, the last chapter will be a very non-romantic, un-Bronte-like conclusion: “Reader, I murdered him.”


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Because my other novels are all character-driven, I wanted Stiletto to offer not just a fast-paced plot, but also an emotional and psychological complexity that is often missing in hard-boiled detective narrators. There is also much more sexual tension, sibling issues, and tender alliances formed as the story unfolds.


Relationships are not just plot points, but character evolutions that satisfy the psychological interest of readers who enjoy all kinds of novels. Dear Readers, I hope you find Stiletto a fulfilling story of intimacy, betrayal, and healing. 


Stiletto launched at Seattle’s beloved Elliot Bay Books on June 7, 2023. For the first pages of Stiletto, and more clues to the book, readers can visit:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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