It’s my huge pleasure to have Pittsburgh writer Kathleen Goerge on the site today! She is a professor of theatre and writing at the University of Pittsburgh and is the author of the acclaimed novels TAKEN, FALLEN, AFTERIMAGE, THE ODDS (nominated for an Edgar award for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America), HIDEOUT, and SIMPLE. All six novels are part of her procedural series set in Pittsburgh. She is also the editor of PITTSBURGH NOIR, a collection of short fiction, the author of her own short story collection THE MAN IN THE BUICK, and of scholarly theatrical books and articles.
Suffice to say, this woman is amazing. It was a blast interviewing her. Enjoy!
1. I’ve been a big fan of yours for many years. You’ve written over 10 books (both fiction and non-fiction) and a lot of them deal with Pgh Commander Richard Christie. So let’s start there. What was the genesis of this fascinating, very complex character?
Summers of reading old British mysteries with gentlemanly detectives. I just really like a nice guy. He just kind of took shape, a little of me, a little of my husband, a little of detectives I interviewed.
2. Well he’s really great. I like that character a lot. 🙂 Do the stories come from him, that you wanted to write something to showcase such a character, or did he come from an idea? Or was it a combination?
I think a combination. Mostly I think of another character I want to write and I put that character in relationship to Christie.
3. There’s certainly no question that your fiction books are pretty dark. You aren’t afraid to push boundaries! You’ve talked about kidnapping and murder and identity and in your newest novel, Simple, you don’t shy away from hard topics either. Booklist gave you a fabulous review. Is there an issue that you don’t think you’ll tackle? Or is that the point, that you really enjoy going after those difficult topics?
I don’t try to go after difficult topics. I let the characters and their concerns be my guide to what happens. But yes, I do scare myself with some of these topics. Some of these . . .hurt to write.
4. Let’s switch gears a minute and talk about Pittsburgh! Obviously the city inspires you a great deal, as you’ve set your books here. What is it about the city that is so meaningful to you?
I love my city. When I was a child, anything about the big city 65 miles away from Johnstownseemed like the big world to me. I came to visit with my class at age ten: nationality rooms, Phipps, Zoo, Heinz plant. I fell in love.
5. In an interview with workingstiffs.blogspot.com you say: 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 mainly friendly and unpretentious. It’s friendly except when a ‘burgher is in a car. All bets are off for sweetness. The driver simply wants to get home.
You must be ecstatic with all the great press the city got with Dark Knight Rises! How do you think the arts has affected this city and will continue to affect it?
Is it my imagination that we are more in the center of people’s thoughts lately? The films help of course. The sports events help. More people are watching the Pirates. We keep winning great city awards. I do think there is more awareness of us. I met a guy at Thrillerfest who said his novel is set here. And he’s never been here. So there is something about our grit and centrality that is appealing to folks.
6. How do you think the writing/publishing scene here is in the city? What do you like best about it? Where do you think it’s going?
Local publishing is coming along. There is a new press in the works (Braddock Avenue Books). But the main thing is all the wonderful writers here. And MFA programs at Pitt, Chatham, and Carlow. Tons of good writers in the city.
7. You’re represented by Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency, Inc.; it represents some real super stars (such as Dennis Lehane). How did you come to be represented by them?
I had the title “Pirate’s Child” which eventually became my first book TAKEN. But then I saw a Lehane book in the store, “Gone, Baby, Gone” and that sounded like baseball to me and then I read that it had a kidnapping in it. So I hurried to see if it was like mine and it wasn’t (whew!) but he thanked his agent. So I had her name and I wrote to her.
8. There’s not a ton of info on ARLA, so for anyone who’s querying and maybe wants to query ARLA, what are some pointers you could give about the agency?
I believe she hates email queries. Used to, anyway. She tends to give pointers on her website. That way people can see who she represents and what she likes.
9. So Kathleen, what’s next for you?
Another Pittsburgh mystery called BLOOD. Yep, it’s dark. But I really love it. I got that love-feeling when writing it.
10. Finally, what advice do you have for anyone who wants to pursue writing as a career?
Write every day. Even when it feels awful. Read every day. That’s all I know. Published writers are almost always obsessive readers and writers.