WELCOME KATHLEEN GEORGE
Known for her gritty, crime-ridden mysteries, novelist Kathleen George returns to bookstores with two new novels in 2014, “A Measure of Blood” and “The Johnstown Girls.”
George grew up in Johnstown, Penn., a small city that found its way into the history books with the Great Flood of 1889. In addition to a bachelor’s degree and a master of fine arts in creative writing, she holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in theater from the University of Pittsburgh. She now teaches theater arts and writing at her alma mater.
George published her first short story collection, “The Man in the Buick,” in 1999. The book was a finalist for the Helicon Nine prize in fiction. She is the author of the acclaimed Richard Christie mysteries, which started in 2001 with “Taken.” The book has been translated into six languages and was recommended by critic David Kipen on “The Today Show.” She continued the series with “Fallen,” “Afterimage,” “The Odds,” “Hideout,” “Simple” and her latest “A Measure of Blood.” “The Odds” was nominated for an Edgar award for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America.
Stepping just outside of the mystery genre, George introduces “The Johnstown Girls” in April 2014
(University of Pittsburgh Press).
George is the editor of “Pittsburgh Noir,” a collection of stories featuring Stewart O’Nan, Hilary
Masters, Reginald McKnight, K.C. Constantine, Lila Shaara, Nancy Martin, Kathleen George, and
many others. She has also written three books on theater.
She has appeared as a guest on mystery and literary blogs including Criminal Minds, Jungle Red
Writers, The Stiletto Gang, Writers Read, The Page 69 Test and Janice Gable Bashman, among others.
George lives in Pittsburgh where she enjoys cooking Lebanese food for her husband and fellow writer,
Connect with Kathleen at these sites:
Q&A with Kathleen George
For those new to your series, can you describe the Pittsburgh Richard Christie mysteries?
My series has been called suspense, mystery, thriller, and procedural. I think all of those labels
apply in different mixes in different books. The series is very character oriented. Both the victims and
the criminals have personal lives in each book and sometimes those lives mirror those of the police.
The police have an ongoing story of their personal relationships over the course of the novels. They fall in love and out. I feel I know them. One reader told me my books reminded her of the Inspector Morse series. I love that compliment because I like to make my police, and especially Christie, human, flawed, contradictory, thoughtful. Lots of people have told me they’ve fallen in love with Christie. I have too. As I write him, I love him. There are other important police characters—and one of them is Colleen Greer who is a rookie in book three but well on her way in the profession by book six. She and Christie pretty much share the stage.
What makes Pittsburgh the perfect setting for a crime series?
Pittsburgh has a lot of “parts.” There are gorgeous views, more bridges than in Venice, many
trees and parks and also very poor areas, boarded up buildings, dark, rough streets. Needless to say
there are dramas of class and race in the very makeup of the city. And in between the extremes there
are ethnic neighborhoods that started out as immigrant strongholds and somehow held onto that identity even when mostly taken over by students looking for affordable housing. The people are extremely colorful. The braying Steelers fans that Tom Hanks made sport of on David Letterman. World famous doctors. The grandchildren of immigrants who have come up in the world and who are almost invariably friendly and unpretentious. Pittsburgh is friendly except when a ‘burgher is in a car. All bets are off for sweetness. The driver simply wants to get home.
How do you know so much about police work?
I called the police a lot. Then I realized just how much I had absorbed and how much was
common sense. I started to get freer about calling my own shots and when I checked with the police on
what I had done, I got the nod of approval. I’ve been extremely lucky. The police have been supportive and open with me. Actually the FBI, too, in the early days when I needed to consult were also helpful. My husband loves to tell people that when I tried certain plots on the FBI consultant, he said I had a fine criminal mind.
“The Johnstown Girls” is based on a real event that happened in your hometown. What inspired you to write about this piece of history?
The Great Flood of 1889 is an amazing story of greed and survival in America, a story everyone
should know. And I come from Johnstown. And there were subsequent floods. My mother was in two
of them. None was as big or devastating as the Great Flood though the lesser floods were plenty
serious with numerous deaths and significant loss of property. I wanted to include all three floods to
some extent in my novel because I experienced the fear in 1977 that I would lose my mother and I
realized that disaster stories are really about those moments of longing for those you love, fear of losing them. When I couldn’t get news, when the town was cordoned off, the drama that I knew first hand was that classic one of fear followed by joy at reunion.
How long have you worked on these books?
“A Measure of Blood” took about four years with some off and on time. Actually I began
working on “The Johnstown Girls” twenty-five years ago. It haunted me. I worked intensely but
sporadically over the years.
What was it like to grow up in Johnstown, Penn.?
Sweet! Little ethnic neighborhood. Smells of pierogies and kielbassa, small grocery stores
where the owners knew your family and what brands you wanted. And in the old days kids could play
dodgeball in the street if it was flat and well-paved or sled-ride down a steep street. We felt connected
to Pittsburgh. It was the big bit brother down the road. We were Pirates fans for sure. The whole town
listened to the 1960 world series.
How do you juggle your career as a theater arts professor at the University of Pittsburgh with your life as a mystery writer?
Eeeek. Sometimes juggle is the operative word. It’s tough to do it all, but I love all of it. I tend
to get up very early. In those morning hours when lots of people are sleeping and some are rocking
babies or walking dogs, I put words on a page.
How does your background in theatre help with writing?
Well it helps immensely. Theatre teaches you early on what a scene is, how a scene is an
interaction with tensions. Theatre teaches about motivation and what is going on underneath what is
said. Almost all plays are about lying. To oneself. To others. And that makes for the center of a lot of
When I was directing, I would coach actors for hours on four lines of dialogue. We would
totally explore inner life. What is thought, felt, seen, attempted. That is definitely good training for
Your husband, Hilary Masters, is a well-known writer who has been honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. What’s it like to have two writers in one household? Do you critique each other’s work?
Only very carefully. We know how tender the other is. So generally we wait for a whole draft
before showing anything. That’s the best way not to interrupt or get in the way of the initial impulses.
But then, after that, we read and tell the truth. Even if it hurts.
Would you ever collaborate with your husband for a book?
I suppose if we ever were interested in the same subject. Our work is pretty different and so is
our prose. But it is not out of the question. He has so much soul. And I am so dogged. I wonder how
that would work?
Has there been film interest in your work?
Yes, particular for Taken, my first novel. Even a screenwriter in France wanted to pitch it as a
French story (which I would totally love!). Someday, I have been assured, somebody is going to want
the whole series because of the ways the relationships change over time among the repeating characters while time passes and challenging new cases come along.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A murder sends a child into foster care and drags a detective into a feverish hunt for justice
Nadal watches for weeks before he first approaches the boy. No matter what Maggie Brown says, he’s sure Matt is his son, and a boy should know his father. After their first confrontation, Maggie should have run. She should have hidden her child. But she underestimated the man who was once her lover. With self-righteous determination, Nadal goes to her apartment. He demands to spend time with the boy. When she refuses, he reaches for a knife.
By the time homicide detective Richard Christie arrives on the scene, the killer has vanished, and Matt
is too scared to remember much more than his mother’s fear. As Christie looks for the killer and
Maggie’s friends fight to keep Matt out of the hands of Child Services, Nadal watches the news and
waits. A boy should be with his father. He’s going to get his son.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication Date: January 14, 2014
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