Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle and currently live in the Netherlands. I came to Amsterdam in 2004 to study art history and never left!
I am an avid traveler and love to infuse my writing with experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met while backpacking around the world. I have three books out, two mysteries and a travelogue. Both mysteries are part of the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery is about an American volunteer in Nepal who gets entangled with Thai diamond smugglers. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery is an amateur sleuth ‘whodunit’ set in present day and wartime Amsterdam.
In March 2018 the third novel in the series, Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery, will be released. This time Zelda’s trying to solve the mystery of a missing anthropologist and find his ethnic art collection. It’s set in present day Amsterdam and Papua New Guinea in the 1960s.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
I have two new releases I’d like to mention. Notes of a Naive Traveler is a travelogue about my experiences as a volunteer and backpacker in Nepal and Thailand. It’s as much a cultural tour and adventure travel guide as a travel memoir. My six month long adventure through Asia inspired my first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu. Only later, after readers expressed in interest in wanting to know more about volunteering and traveling through those countries, did I decide to publish excerpts from my travel diary.
I am also thrilled to announce the release of The Lover’s Portrait audiobook! My amateur sleuth mystery uses the context of an art exhibition to examine issues surrounding the restitution of looted art and the intrinsic worth of artwork, as well as core values such as integrity, perseverance and sacrifice. The plot line and several characters were inspired by art history lectures I attended while studying at the University of Amsterdam.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I prefer to write new text or do major rewrites while sitting in my favorite café in Amsterdam, one with views of the Prinsengracht and mellow dance music playing in the background. There I can tune out other people and focus on my story the best.
When I sit behind the computer to type in my longhand notes, the room has to be completely silent. I tend to read sentences aloud as I work, and depending on the scene, it can be embarrassing when my husband or child is in the other room and hears me talking to myself.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
My love of travel fiction starts with The Beach. I picked it up at a second-hand bookstore in Kathmandu, Nepal a few days before flying to Bangkok. Alex Garland’s descriptions of Thailand, combined with his fantastic story, made me realize I could use my experiences traveling as the basis for a novel. Several years later, Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery was born. I’m also a big fan of Bernie Gunther (star of Philip Kerr’s novels set in World War Two), Comissario Brunetti (Donna Leon’s novels set in Venice) and Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich’s hilarious detective series).
What are you working on now?
I am close to finalizing my third novel, Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery, and am getting quite excited to share it with the world! Art, religion and anthropology collide in this exciting third installment of the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. It is an artifact mystery about Asmat bis poles, missionaries and anthropologists. I hope readers will join Zelda on her journey to discover the truth about a missing anthropologist and uncover a smuggling ring dealing in ancient artifacts.
The story line was conceived during my time as a collection researcher for a fascinating exhibition of Asmat bis poles at the Tropenmuseum. While searching through photographs and film fragments of Asmat tribes, missionaries and anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea during the 1930s through 1960s, I discovered a well-known Dutch missionary was one of the last people to see Michael Rockefeller alive. During their meeting, they’d made an appointment to meet again after Rockefeller returned from an acquisition trip upriver. The young American disappeared days later, resulting in one of the most famous unsolved mysteries of our time. That little detail about his un-kept appointment stuck with me and eventually inspired this novel.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
That is a great question; I wish I knew the answer! I promote my books in a wide-range of Facebook groups, on Twitter, Google+, and Instagram. I’ve also recently starting using book promotion websites and newsletters with success. Great book reviews posted by book bloggers with a large following also result in sales. It’s hard to know which one site or post garnered the most attention or resulted in the most sales. I see it as a cumulative effort. They are all ways to familiarize readers with my work and hopefully interest them enough to buy my books.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Take the plunge and give it a shot, but be realistic about what is expected of you and what to expect from your sales. However you choose to get your book out there, realize that being published is only the beginning.
In today’s world, marketing is essential. Being an indie author means spending an absurd amount of time reaching out to, and connecting with, new readers. You must be prepared to learn about social media and spend time creating connections between your work and potential readers. Most weeks, I spend as much time promoting my books on social media or writing articles for other blogs, as I do working on my current manuscript.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
What are you reading now?
I am reading a variety of travelogues and memoirs written by Western explorers and anthropologists who worked in Papua New Guinea. Though my manuscript is finished, I want to remain ‘in’ PNG until the editing phase is complete.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I plan on continuing the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series and have no shortage of choices for where to take her next. In my desk I keep a ‘future story ideas’ folder that is rather full! I already have plans for Zelda to travel to Egypt, Costa Rica and Australia in future mysteries. Now it’s a matter of deciding which story line to pursue next. I may have to add more stamps to my passport while on research trips. Writing about an avid traveler does have its benefits!
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
On The Road by Jack Kerouac. This is a book I have read many times and will continue to re-read because it reminds me to think outside the box and challenge social norms as well as peoples’ expectations. Besides, it’s beautifully written and contains several of my favorite book quotes, such as this line by Sal Paradise: “For life is holy and every moment is precious.”
I recently read the Fourth Edition of How to Survive on Land and Sea, as research for my upcoming novel. It is a survival manual first published by the US Navy during World War Two, yet is now used by hunters, yachtsmen, adventurers and even the Boy Scouts of America, when exploring the world. The extraordinarily explicit information is fascinating and simply reading their advice on such things as how to slash together a raft or carve a fish hook, makes me want to test it out.
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt is an absorbing, magnificent novel set in Venice – one of my favorite places. The fabled city and many of her more eccentric residents form the soul of this book; art, opera and architecture are the main ingredients. If I was stranded on desert island, this book would allow me to once again walk along the canals of one of the prettiest and most mysterious places on the planet.