as our guest today, Solange Ritchie author of The Burning Man.
Solange was born in Jamaica of a Jamaican father and a French mother.
At the age of eleven Solange immigrated to the USA. Solange practices
law with her husband Steve Young and recently she was awarded the
State Bar of California's Solo and Small Firm Section's highest
award, the Myer J. Sankary Attorney for the Year for 2014.
Solange serves on numerous charities and legal boards, including the California Women Lawyers Association, The Orange County Bar Association, The Community Court's Foundation and El Viento.
Norm: Good day Solange and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Solange: I am a trial
lawyer by day and a thriller writer at night. So words and writing
are my living and passion. I started writing creatively many years
ago to deal with the stress as a result of the declining health of my
first husband, John Ritchie, at the age of 36. He passed away when I
was 37. I am now 51, so the creative writing streak has been going
for a while. It gives me great pleasure to see The Burning Man
published, receiving such great reviews and fan response.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Solange: Growing up in Jamaica in the West Indies, I was exposed to many different cultures, religions, ethnicities which gave me a greater perspective and insight into different people. Jamaica, of course, is also a beautiful island, known as the “Pearl of the Caribbean”, so when I write, I write in a very vivid style reminiscent of all the beauty of the island and its people, foods and music.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for The Burning Man and how did you go about creating the character of Dr. Catherine (Cat) Powers?
Solange: The story of The Burning Man is very loosely based on a real life crime case out of Florida many years ago. The story was of a doctor so in love with his wife that he used chemicals to suspend her body even after she had died. I have always been fascinated by psychology, medicine and what makes a mind “tick.” Dr. Cat Powers came about from wanting to create a strong female presence in a man’s world – a woman who is tough, smart and driven. She is a woman of character.
Norm: How much of the book is realistic?
Solange: The locations are real. Many Orange County California fans have expressed how much they enjoy reading about our local areas and how they can relate to them. Supporting characters are fictionalized, as is Dr. Powers herself. I did a lot of research on medicine, crime, forensics, including speaking with local law enforcement officials and doing a tour of the OC morgue.
Norm: Did you know the end of your book at the beginning?
Solange: Yes. I always have the beginning scene and the ending scene in my head when I write. It is in the middle areas of the book(s) that I allow the story line to develop and allow the characters to speak to me. It is here where they gain life and “voice.” In my third novel, just completed, working title called Sex Slayer, I had to kill off one of the lead criminals which was tough. But it was the only way the story was going to work. I struggle with those decisions but in the end they make for a better story.
Norm: Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone particularly the graphic and gory scenes and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
Solange: Not really. As a story teller by trade, I have always have to deal with reality--the reality of an employee getting fired by a corporate giant; the reality of a difficult partnership break up; the reality of the stalking and rape of a young woman. These are things in life that are not “pretty” but they are part of life that we cannot shield our eyes from. As a matter of fact, I had to tone down some of the scenes for my publisher.
Norm: What is your secret in keeping the intensity of the plot throughout the narrative?
Solange: With a thriller, it is all about pacing. Chapters need to be tight and to the point. When I write, I close my eyes and think, what would this character be seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling? What is the air temperature? What is in their gut? In the Doheny Beach scene in The Burning Man, where I have Cat wading out to a body that has been discovered floating in the Pacific Ocean, you can feel the sun at her back, the sand shifting under her feet, the sound of the seagulls over head. In her mind, she is thinking, this is someone’s daughter. How bad is it going to be? How many more like this? By building this kind of emotion and sense of dread, the intensity builds for the reader as if they were in the scene themselves.
Norm: Do you believe there exists a macabre fascination with serial killers, and if so, why?
Solange: Yes, most definitely, especially in America. I researched quite a bit on the issue, ending up with a binder about 3 inches thick and numerous books on the subject. Serial killers are fascinating because most of the population can never understand them. They terrify and enthrall us all at the same time.
Solange: I’m pleased to say, most gratifying. My first two books are still sitting in a closet at home unpublished, but I look at them as “practice” for The Burning Man. From writing the first two novels, I learned to trust my writing and learned pacing. My writing got better and “tighter.” The fan response to The Burning Man has been wonderful. I even had one reader in New Zealand that I sent an advanced copy to, who owns her own bar and hotel, tell me she was so into The Burning Man, she could not put it down and was literally pouring drinks at the bar between stealing a look at a page or two. I think she finished reading the novel in 2 days!
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and The Burning Man?
Solange: Much of my personal story, book excerpts, a chance to win a free copy and the like are posted at MY WEBSITE. Amazon has also featured it with a “come inside feature” which allows the reader to read a few chapters and get hooked, as well as view the actual layout which I think looks great. If you sign up on my web site, I will keep readers updated on upcoming Dr. Catherine Powers novels. I have already penned a second and third book in her series and working on a draft of the fourth. The working titles are Back Burn, in which Cat confronts a serial arsonist, Sex Slayer, in which she deals with a dirty international law firm involved in sex trafficking based in South Florida and Time Bomb, where she must act as the eyes and ears of the president as America is under a series of bombing attacks. My publisher, Morgan James, has already expressed interest in the second novel. Right now, the roll out on The Burning Man is most important. There are also many wonderful reviews on Goodreads.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Solange: I guess the question would be – why a strong female lead character? The answer is simple. The thriller and crime genres have been dominated by stereotypical, male, ex-military, testosterone-driven types or the “gum shoe detective” and his “sidekick.” The biggest decision for these guys was how many beers were they going to have before returning to a studio apartment to ponder the crime. I figured it was time for a non-stereotypical female lead character that woman can relate to as a career woman and as a mother. Someone with a bit more substance and soul. Hence, Dr. Powers was born.
Norm: Thanks again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.