By Karen Harper
When Emma Sharpe is summoned to a convent on the Maine coast, it’s partly for her art crimes work with the FBI, partly because of her past with the religious order. At issue is a mysterious painting depicting scenes of Irish lore and Viking legends, and her family’s connection to the work. But when the nun who contacted her is murdered, it seems legend is becoming deadly reality.
Colin Donovan is one of the FBI’s most valuable assets—a deep-cover agent who prefers to go it alone. He’s back home in Maine after wrapping up his latest mission, but his friend, Father Bracken, presents him with an intrigue of murder, international art heists and a convent’s long-held secrets that is too tempting to resist. So is Emma Sharpe. As the danger spirals ever closer, Colin’s certain of only one thing—Emma is at the center of it all.
A ruthless killer has Emma and Colin in the crosshairs, plunging them into a race against time and drawing them deeper into a twisted legacy of betrayal and deceit.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Carla Neggers for the September edition of TheBigThrill.
Carla, I’ve read your books for years—they helped to get me through a bout with pneumonia once! Do you think your romantic suspense novels have evolved in style or content over the years—besides getting better and better, of course!
Thanks, Karen, although no fun having pneumonia. Any genre is dynamic, and romantic suspense is no exception. When I started out, I was so green I’d never even heard the term “romantic suspense.” I just wrote a story that intrigued me. That’s what I still do! That early romantic suspense novel is told in first-person, an obvious difference in style to my more recent novels. In Saint’s Gate, for the most part we’re “in the heads” of FBI arts crime expert Emma Sharpe and undercover agent Colin Donovan, but several scenes are also told from the point-of-view of Finian Bracken, a mysterious Irish priest and whiskey expert. Each story seems to have its own Goldilocks, “just right” number of point-of-view characters.
Please tell us a bit about your new novel, Saint’s Gate.
Saint’s Gate is the first book in my new Sharpe & Donovan series. FBI agent Emma Sharpe, an expert in art crimes, arrives at an isolated convent on the Maine coast to check out a painting with an unusual history, but the nun who called her is murdered and the painting disappears. A few miles up the coast, Colin Donovan, home for a break after wrapping up a difficult mission, gets lured into the case. Saint’s Gate is my first series with continuing characters. Such fun!
Your bio on your website mentions that you are “always on deadline.” What particular mindset, discipline and hints for survival can you share on that kind of pressure? In other words, how do the demands of the publishing world mesh with your creativity?
I’m fortunate to have a supportive family, and I strive for balance in my life. I find I’m happiest as well as most productive when I take time for family, friends, exercise, good meals and plain old fun, but I also recognize the rhythms of my creative life. Sometimes I have to clear the decks, lock the doors, get rid of all distractions and focus on the manuscript, whether it’s for a few hours or a few weeks. I’m not one for working all the time. I don’t think it’s good for the book, never mind for me!
Reviewers have praised your complex plotting. Are you a plan-ahead writer or does your storyline grow as it goes?
A little of each. I tend to start with a premise and a very short synopsis that serve as a jumping off point. Once I start writing, things inevitably change as I get to know the characters and they run us into plot walls and dead ends. I go with the flow until I finally have to step back and see what’s what. I revise, plan, then dive in again. Whether I’m adding pages, cutting pages or revising, I always try to focus on what I need to do, where I need to be, to move the story forward. I’m disciplined, but I’m not regimented.
You actually wrote your Irish scenes for this novel on site. Research never sounded better! Can you tell us a bit about your three week retreat to a cottage in Kenmare, Ireland? How did you balance the necessary seat-in- chair write time with just wanted to be out in that real world?
What a great experience that was! I spent a few nights at my favorite hotel—I did research, got over jet lag and eased into the book. Then I moved into a tiny cottage within walking distance of the village. It had a peat-and-coal burning stove and a lovely patio overlooking the bay. Who couldn’t write in such a setting? I’d also take long walks and let the story simmer, and I’d sit in different pubs with my pad and pen. One evening, an elderly gentleman was on his second pint of Guinness, looked at me alone at my table and said in his thick Irish accent, “Don’t you have any friends?” I laughed so hard! We had a nice chat. I’ve made friends in Kenmare, but it was also good to get home.
One thing I find challenging when I write rom/sus is balancing in-depth character development with action, action, action. Can you give us any veteran hints on how to best pull this off?
Every story presents its own challenges. In Saint’s Gate, Emma and Colin don’t meet in Chapter One. He’s drawn into the investigation of the nun’s murder—and of Emma—by a different route, namely his friend Father Bracken. The development of Emma and Colin’s relationship is also a bit different because it continues in Heron’s Cove, which I’m writing now. One thing I never do is think of the romance and the suspense as percentages—for example, fifty percent romance, fifty percent suspense. To me, they’re integrated, inseparable. The story is the story.
Your writing has had a successful reissue life, and your anthology with Heather Graham and Sharon Sala is available again. Can you tell us a bit about your novella in On The Edge? And what are the challenges for a novelist writing shorter fiction? Is that like a lovely, little break or does the shorter form have problems of its own?
I’m thrilled to have “Shelter Island” reissued, and I love the new cover. It’s so atmospheric. “Shelter Island” is actually a part of my Winter family/U.S. Marshals series, sort of a prequel to Cold Ridge. It’s helicopter pilot and U.S. Senator Hank Callahan and E.R. doctor Antonia Winter’s story. The #1 question I’ve had from readers since this series launched is whether Hank and Antonia have their own story. They do! I enjoyed writing “Shelter Island,” but, um, I wouldn’t call novella-writing a break.
Can you share with us what are you working on now?
I’m deep into writing Heron’s Cove, the next Sharpe & Donovan novel. I’m having a great time so far…but I can feel the need for a writing retreat coming on. Don’t you think a few weeks at a cute Irish cottage would make all the difference? 😉
New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers brings a sense of romance and adventure to every novel she writes. Born and raised on the edge of the Quabbin Reservoir in rural Massachusetts, Carla grew up with tales of her father’s life as a Dutch sailor and her mother’s childhood in northwest Florida. Now the author of more than sixty novels, she enjoys spending time at the family homestead with her six brothers and sisters and their children. When not writing, Carla loves to travel, hike, kayak, garden, and dive into a good book. She lives in Vermont, near the picturesque Quechee Gorge.
To learn more about Carla, please visit her website.