Friday, November 26, 2010

Elizabeth Gunn on writing tomorrow's headlines

Senate Bill 1070 was still just a gleam in a few Arizona senators’ eyes when I started writing KISSING ARIZONA.  I’d written one Tucson novel about the drug trade—COOL IN TUCSON—and a second one, NEW RIVER BLUES, that featured the meltdown in the housing industry that took Rio Nuevo’s urban renewal plans down with it.  I thought I was ready to tackle some border issues, so I did a lot of research and started building characters.  When a story appeared in the paper about a new immigration law I said, “That senate bill won’t make any difference because the governor’s never going to sign it.”

Shows you what I know. Governor Brewer not only signed that puppy but heartily endorsed it, and changed what had been her ho-hum substitution for Janet Napolitano into a blockbuster political career that swept her into a second term.  Arizona became a focal point for what everybody wanted to say (or yell) about illegal immigration and a whole lot else—taxes, health insurance, the national debt—because once  you’re up and yelling, you might as well get it all out there, really vent for a change.

Authors have to deliver the manuscript when it’s promised, no matter how much noise is around.  So I went ahead and wrote the novel I wanted to write.  I agree with the guy who said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” (Today he’d say “Click on Facebook.”) My task as a novelist, as I see it, is to create believable characters and turn them loose to behave the way people do.  My characters in KISSING ARIZONA cross the Sonoran Desert by means of the same sweaty compromises and artful dodges people have been using for centuries—running when they have to, hiding when they can’t, lying and cheating, making deals and making love.  Those are just the good guys—the bad guys get really mean sometimes.

I write police procedurals, so I spend a lot of time riding along in patrol cars and picking the brains of law enforcement people.  Besides enterprising, strong and brave, police officers learn to be very patient.  This is good, because it enables them to put up with my endless need to know more.  Street cops are mostly good story-tellers, too, since their whole shift report is an endless narrative of unexpected events.  My research is lively, and often walks an edgy line between heart-breaking and hilarious. That it all takes place in the stunningly beautiful Tucson valley is just frosting on the cake.

-Elizabeth Gunn 

Elizabeth will be signing KISSING ARIZONA at The Poisoned Pen this Sunday at 2pm. If you would like to order a copy, click here or email 

A one-time innkeeper with a taste for adventure, Elizabeth has been a private pilot, sky diver, SCUBA diver, and liveaboard sailor. Extensive travel in the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe led to a second career as a free-lance travel writer, during which she began writing a series of police procedural mysteries set in southeast Minnesota, where she grew up. Her books contrast the sometimes gritty routine of police work with the idyllic rural scenes around a mid-size city in the upper midwest. Featured characters are a hard-working police detective named Jake Hines and his girlfriend, Trudy Hanson, a forensic scientist at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul.

Sarah Burke

3. Kissing Arizona (2010)

Jake Hines

2. Par Four (1998)
3. Five Card Stud (2000)
5. Seventh-Inning Stretch (2002)
6. Crazy Eights (2005)

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