During university, I’d get up around 11:30 p.m., go to work in Whitby, Ontario, then go to class in Mississauga. That’s about ninety minutes’ drive one way, depending on traffic; three hours, if by snow.
Believe it or not, once I started working, my grades went up. My night job was in security, where I watched monitors and opened and closed doors by remote. I needed to stay alert in case of a medical or security emergency. So what else are you going to do when you’re trapped for eight hours in a bulletproof box? You do your homework very, very thoroughly, if only as a means of keeping sane. Then you’ve only got six more hours to kill. More, if you’re working a double-shift.
So what do you do? You read like a fiend. (And write like a fiend, but that’s for another post). If Goodreads had been around back then, I probably would have clocked about 75-100 books per year. But of all those ooks, there are only six I remember reading: one by Clive Barker, and five by Sparkle Hayter.
Hayter was the first female author I actually admired. She showed me that a female character could be more than sexy; she could be a flawed and funny lead, but remain as the driving force in a story. I’d never read anything like that before. This was a character who could get herself into trouble and out again, under her own power. To me, this was life-altering, because until then, I’d always written female characters to be as un-female as possible (read: butch, cruel, and uncaring); and, in hindsight, I realized, that’s how I was living and acting, too. Then along came Sparkle Hayter, and her brainchild Robin Hudson: female, feminine, funny, amateur crime-solver.
Until then, I had yet to write a decent story with a female protag, because I didn’t think it could be done, nor that it could be published. Heck, I wasn’t even convinced a woman could be well published under her own name, certainly not in crime fiction. I’d read almost exclusively male authors, because they were the only names I could find outside of fantasy, romance, and the hoitiest-of-toitiest literary works.
I can honestly say, if it weren’t for Sparkle, I’d never have stayed interested in Crime Fiction. If it weren’t for Sparkle, I would not have had the courage to keep trying.
And now, here we are some years later, and Sparkle has agreed to let me interview her, because at the moment, it’s the only way I know how to say thank you.
On with the show.
9DW: I knew that you had been a foreign correspondent, and that you were well-travelled, but I was surprised to learn that you were also a stand-up comedienne. What was your shtick, and would you ever go back to the stage?
Sparkle Hayter: I did a lot of topical jokes, whatever was in the newspapers that day, and some absurdist humor. I loved it, and sometimes wonder if I should have pursued it further. I might go back to it someday. Who knows?
9DW: Speaking of comedy, how do you weave humour into crime fiction? Or does it just happen?
SH: Dark humor is common among people who see a lot of crap all day every day, cops, journalists, ER nurses and doctors. I was a news junkie from an early age so that dark humor developed in me early. It just happens.
9DW: What’s the hardest part about writing humour?
9DW: What’s been the appeal for you, writing crime fiction?
SH: It’s a great prism to examine social, political, and personal issues.
9DW: Where did Robin Hudson come from?
SH: It sounds silly, but when I was a little girl, I’d get up every morning and pretend I was a crime fighting cowgirl. I got to be all those things girls were steered away from, adventurous, brave, heroic. I did this from age 2 to 5. I see much of that cowgirl in Robin. Later, in Atlanta, a man tried to rape me and I had a weird out-of-body experience, where I watched myself beating the crap out of my attacker with an umbrella, only I was heavier and had bright red hair. Maybe it was a trauma-induced hallucination (but I really did beat the crap out of him with an umbrella), or maybe it was a side of me roaring to life to protect me. My last year at CNN, I was so stressed out I was Robin Hudson 24/7. The problem with writing these books, under tight deadlines, was that I sometimes felt like it drained me of that part of me, and left me defenseless in the real world.
SH: Annie is the nice Canadian girl I am most of the time. Robin is the tough, more cynical, New York cowgirl side of me.
9DW: As a journalist, you must have developed a real eye for mannerisms, personality, and intent. Did you use those insights to develop your characters? And did anyone ever claim they recognized themselves in the characters you’d created?
SH: A bunch of my girlfriends thought they’d inspired the Susan Brave character. When the series begins, she’s a bumbling pleaser with low self-esteem. I didn’t see that in any of them. I based it on that side of me. I think most of us have that aspect to our personalities, and it can manifest IRL under the right conditions. Generally, if I see any trait, positive or negative, in someone, I can find it in myself too. I might observe it in others but any insight usually comes from seeing it in myself.
9DW: The Robin Hudson series was set in New York City, Naked Brunch was set in a fictional metropolis based on New York City, and Bandit Queen Boogie was set in loads of places around Europe. Based on my light research, you’ve lived in eleventy-nine countries, but you were born and raised in BC, and you’re back in Canada now. Would you ever write something closer to home? Or have you already?
SH: I have a draft of something I wrote, set in a fictionalized and downsized version of my hometown, Edmonton, that I may rewrite. I was born in BC and raised in Edmonton.
SH: I was living poor in Kathmandu, killing time until I could qualify for a new visa for India. I planned to take a job in India setting up and runnigng writing workshops for an indian university n conjunction with a private college. One day, a sick, matted scared puppy rubbed against me in a crowded lane. I took her back to my hostel and tried to find a home for it and long story short, she refused to let me go.We had a crazy time getting out of Nepal to India during a violent general strike. Once we got to India, I realized it would be too difficult for me to keep a dog there. Street dogs would attack her when I walked her. So I decided to return to Canada permanently. She loves it here. Alice lives to dog dream here, a farm to run around on, plenty of dog and human friends, all the food she can eat, and much love. Best thing I ever did.
Catch up on the Robin Hudson series by starting here, on Amazon.com.