By Keith Raffel
Canadian thriller writer Pamela Callow and I have been pals since the 2009 Thrillerfest. Recently, I caught up with her to get the inside scoop on her latest novel, Indefensible.
KR: Pam, RT Book Reviews gives Indefensible its highest rating and says, “The suspense is intense, the action shocking and the plot intriguing.” Give us a sneak preview, please.
PC: In Indefensible, a case of domestic homicide explodes when the accused killer is none other than the managing partner of one of the premier law firms in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Held in prison for the murder of his ex-wife, Randall Barrett is shunned by his partners and friends. His defense lies in the hands of the one person who understands only too well the taint of criminal scandal: Kate Lange. As Kate races to stay a step ahead of the prosecution, a silent predator is waiting for the perfect time to deal the final blow.
KR: Halifax seems like the last place to set a thriller. Isn’t it just chock-full of polite and law-abiding Canadians?
PC: That’s what we want everyone to believe. In fact, Halifax cracked the Top Ten of most violent cities in Canada in 2008– and had the dubious distinction of being the only city in the east to do so. In real numbers, though, our murder rate is not high compared to many cities: Halifax had 11 murders in 2009.
And before Tourism Nova Scotia hunts me down, let me point out that Halifax has tremendous attributes such as four universities, a major medical center, and a thriving downtown scene. Best of all is its physical glory: we are on the edge of the ocean, with fascinating geography and unpredictable weather. That’s why I decided to set my series in my hometown. Halifax offers both crime and glory – and what more could a thriller writer want?
KR: Your first book, Damaged, garnered high praise from reviewers, lots of press coverage, and terrific support from bookstores. What was the highlight of becoming a published author?
PC: The highlight was realizing I’d achieved a dream harbored since childhood. My background is in law, and achievement had always been measured by objective standards. For example, if you achieve a certain mark on your bar exam, you become a member of the bar. As a writer, you can work hard and write a book, but there is a great element of subjectivity in this industry. Knowing that I’d stuck it out and believed in my abilities enough to achieve this has been immensely satisfying.
KR: The main character in both Damaged and Indefensible is Kate Lange, a Halifax lawyer in her thirties. Hmm. Sounds like someone I know. How alike are you and your alter ego?
PC: Kate Lange’s character was inspired by my desire to share my experiences working in blue-chip corporate environments. The personalities and experiences she navigates in her law firm resemble those I’ve encountered during my career. The difference is that Kate Lange chose the path of the high-powered corner-office career woman while I walked away from it. Perhaps Kate’s character is my subconscious exploring the turns my life might have taken.
KR: You’re a lawyer. Why can’t you lawyers stick to casework? What is it about members of the bar that drives them to thriller-writing?
PC: I’m not a practicing lawyer – after I was admitted to the bar, I completed a Master’s degree in Public Administration with a focus on public policy. That led me to my career in Strategic Services at Accenture Consulting. But to answer your question, I think many lawyers see how finely drawn and tenuous the law can be. Thriller writers get to put their characters in extreme situations – and challenge those values that underpin our laws. One of my interests is looking at how we, as a society, assume we are safe. But are we? Damaged was inspired by a US criminal case that illustrates this isn’t always the case, especially in areas where the grinding gears of regulation cannot keep up with rapidly evolving technology.
KR: You had a pretty successful career working for an international consulting firm. Any regrets in turning to writing full time?
PC: I gave up a successful career with a comfortable income. I never intended to depart from it completely; I went on hiatus to have my children, but then realized that if I went back to my previous career, I’d be writing my first novel when I turned sixty-five. It took several years of hard work learning the craft to get to the point of having publishable material. Did I have regrets along the way? Not enough to tempt me back. In fact, my previous careers gave me the confidence that I could succeed in this industry.
KR: Pam, your first book came out last June. Here we are six months later with a second book and you have a third, Tattooed, coming out next January. Have you hired a ghost writer? Does your family ever see you? Come on, tell me how you find time to get all that done?
PC: It’s a challenging time frame, no question. I’m quite disciplined, perhaps a carry-over from my articling days when my billable time was recorded in tenths of an hour. I work while my children are in school, then do the after-school mom thing, then work again at night, and on Saturday and Sunday. Given my deadlines, I had very little vacation time in 2010. This year is shaping up to be another busy one. In addition to completing Tattooed, I’ll be writing a short story with my series’ characters for the Thriller 3 anthology. I am very excited about that! Then onto researching, plotting and writing the fourth book in the Kate Lange series, for publication later in 2012. As well, Thrillerfest 2011 is a must-do conference, and I hope to attend Bouchercon, as well as several other conferences this year.
KR: Damaged and Indefensible. Great one-word titles. Did you come up with them?
PC: Damaged’s working title was No Man’s Land. My publisher asked to change it because they were concerned it would be confused with war fiction. After days and days of creating lists, we decided a one-word title would have more impact. I scoured the dictionary from A-Z for words with impact. I sent my publisher my top five, and we decided on Damaged. The title for my second book, Indefensible, was much easier. It came to me even before I wrote the proposal. And my editor suggested the title for the third: Tattooed. Book #4 is, as of yet, untitled.
KR: Every time I turn around at Thrillerfest and other conferences, I run into another Canadian author like you, Rick Mofina, Robert Rotenberg, Linwood Barclay, and Louise Penny. What’s going up there in the Great North that’s spawning such terrific writers? Is it the long, cold, dark winter nights?
PC: That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Thank you for the great interview questions, Keith. I really enjoyed chatting with you. Looking forward to seeing you in New York this summer!