Julia interviews Aimee & David Thurlo

Co-authors of the Ella Clah, Sister Agatha, and Lee Nez mystery series, set in New Mexico. Visit the Thurlo's web site.

For those new to your terrific traditional mysteries, what are the Sister Agatha mysteries all about?

Sister Agatha is really a composite of the nuns that were so promiment in Aimée’s life when she was growing up at Ursuline Academy in Arcadia. Having been influenced by old movies like Trouble With Angels, she wanted Sister Agatha to be fun. So our nun rides a motorcycle with the monastery's dog, Pax, in the sidecar. She also run errands in the monastery's ancient car which she has dubbed The Antichrysler. (No, we haven't heard from Chrysler Corp.)

What is THE PRODIGAL NUN all about?

In her latest adventure, Sister Agatha sets out to solve the murder of a woman that was killed on the front steps of the monastery’s chapel. The key to the crime is a secret the woman intended to divulge to the extern nun that very morning after Mass - a secret that Sister Agatha must uncover before a family is torn apart and an innocent man is convicted for murder.

You write as part of a husband/wife team. How do you balance your creative and artistic differences professionally?

We’ve been married for thirty-eight years - and we’re polar opposites on just about everything. But what makes things work is that we really do love each other. Over the years we’ve grown so close that everything about us is woven together into one big whole. Mind you, that doesn’t mean we don’t argue. We do, and sometimes we agree that we disagree. When this concerns a book, we do our best to compromise. Think of the line in My Fair Lady -- “Rather than do either, we end up doing what neither wants to do at all.” LOL!

You write several very different, yet successful, series. Which came first, and how did they each evolve?

We wrote romance novels for years before we decided to cross over into mysteries. We started that progression by writing romantic suspense first, and placing those stories on the Navajo Rez where David grew up. Then, one day, on our way back from his class reunion in Shiprock, we got the idea for Ella Clah. We’ve been with Forge/St Martins ever since.

Sister Agatha was something Aimée had wanted to write for years, since boarding school, actually. It wasn’t originally intended to be a series. We were figuring on a stand-alone, but when we were offered the opportunity to turn her into a series, we were absolutely thrilled.

The Lee Nez books are David’s pet project, a blend of his interest in the supernatural, his Navajo Nation background, and his training in life science. The result was a cross-genre mix with a one of a kind hero that we’ve both enjoyed. Like the Sister Agatha books, our story of a Navajo half-vampire cop grew from one book to the four books currently in print.

What’s your writing process? Outline or organic?

David hands Aimée a character driven plot outline, and together they generate a loose per-chapter story. She does first and second draft. Then David does third - and puts in all the action scenes, since Aimée’s shoot ‘em ups are, well, a disaster. After that, we do two more drafts each, adding, deleting, and editing the other’s words, then the book goes in.

This works for us. We’ve received numerous starred reviews From PW and Booklist, a Willa Cather award, and have been Career Achievement finalists three times.CBS also optioned Ella Clah.

What projects are occupying the Thurlos (jointly or severally) at the moment?

We’re finishing Earthway, the 14th Ella Clah mystery. After that we’ll begin plotting the sixth Sister Agatha novel.

What pithy words of advice would you offer for newbie crime fiction writers just starting out?

If writing is your dream, don’t give up. This country has been made great by those who dream. And in the USA, if you work hard enough and don’t take no for answer, you can make it. The key is never take no for an answer.

Who are some new voices you enjoy in crime fiction?

We love your books, Julia. Do you consider yourself new? Maybe that’s our age talking! LOL

Who were your literary influences growing up?

AA Fair. Aimée loved his Bertha Cool character. Also Corin Tellado and Cervantes. To date, her all time favorite book is the Arabian Nights.

David checked out every Conan Doyle story the reservation bookmobile offered - and grew up with Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys on his shelves.

Your plotlines are so tremendously off-beat and humorous. Where do you get your ideas?

As odd as it sounds, trying to ‘get’ an idea almost insures we won’t. Most of our ideas have come when we’re out horseback riding -- you know, without pen or pencil in sight. (We’ve now learned to go out with pad and pen.) If we’re stuck for an idea on how to resolve a specific scene, we load up the four dogs into the car, and go for a drive. We don’t return until it’s all worked out. (Yes, we’ve had some very long car rides.)

Sister Agatha is such a marvelous character. How did you first conceive of her?

She’s always been in the back of Aimée’s mind. The trick was convincing David that we needed to write her books! As luck would have it, at about the same time Aimée was thinking this, David got the idea to write Lee Nez, the vampire state policeman. So we compromised. We did both.

I became a writer after 15 years of marriage. When and how did you each discover your inner muses?

Aimée is Cuban by birth, and after helping put David through college, she tried various office jobs. But her mind was NEVER on the work there. Her last job was working for an Optometrist. She flushed so many contact lenses down the drain, the poor man had to fire her -- he couldn’t afford her. After that, she tried to figure out what to do with her life. Fidel Castro used to call anyone who didn’t work for a living a ‘parasite of the state’ and his words kept running through her mind, pushing her to find something she could do right!

Finally, she decided to write a book. David, who began writing short stories in high school, got caught up in the spirit of things, and we began working together. Our first book was published back when saber-toothed tigers ruled. We’ve been in the industry ever since.

Aimee Thurlo

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“As odd as it sounds, trying to ‘get’ an idea almost insures we won’t. Most of our ideas have come when we’re out horseback riding -- you know, without pen or pencil in sight. (We’ve now learned to go out with pad and pen.) If we’re stuck for an idea on how to resolve a specific scene, we load up the four dogs into the car, and go for a drive. We don’t return until it’s all worked out. (Yes, we’ve had some very long car rides.)”