Where are you from?
I grew up in Danville, Virginia, “the Last Capital of the Confederacy,” also once known as “the bright leaf tobacco market of the world” and the former home of Dan River Cotton Mills. As you might imagine, Southern history and tradition played important roles in my upbringing.
Although I’ve lived in upstate New York much of my adult life, I still think of myself as a Virginian and a Southerner.
When did you start to write?
When I was a teenager, I persuaded my parents to sign me up for the Famous Writers School correspondence course on short stories. Later, at Virginia Tech, I switched my major from Biology (pre-vet) to a double major in Psychology and English. I think it was then that I begin to think of myself as a writer. After college, I served three years as an Army food inspector. I was stationed in Seattle, and I spent most evenings at my dining room table in front of my typewriter. My first two books were romantic suspense novels. I still have them tucked away in a desk drawer.
My first published book was a scholarly non-fiction book, Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction. When I was doing the research for that book, I started to attend mystery workshops and conferences. Then I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. When I moved to Albany to accept a teaching position, I joined a local writers group and began to make a serious effort to write a mystery.
Are you a lawyer?
No, I have a PhD in criminal justice. My areas of research are crime history, and crime and mass media/popular culture. During the past six or seven years, I’ve also become interested in dress/fashion studies, food studies, and material culture.
I’m a professor in the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany (SUNY). My undergraduate courses include Crime and Mass Media, Violence in American Literature, and Crime and Material Culture. At the graduate level, I teach Gender and Crime, Race and Crime, Crime and Cities, and Historical Research Methods.
What do you like best about writing?
I love moving back and forth between fiction and nonfiction as I write for diverse audiences. I love doing research, and I do lots of it for both scholarly books and my mysteries. I hope that no matter what I’m writing, I’m providing context and encouraging conversations about crime and justice.
If you asked what I like least about writing, I’d have to say first drafts. First drafts are hard – pulling out hair hard. But then comes the fun part. Once I have something down on paper, I can start revising. This is when I get to play with words and think through ideas.
(Photo Credit: Alice P. Green)