Julia interviews Sarah Stewart-Taylor

Let’s start with how independent booksellers have influenced your career.

My first job was at an independent bookstore in Huntington, N.Y., where I grew up. It was called Oscar’s and it was a magical place – the whole basement was full of used books and I got to spend hours down there reshelving. I used to find lots of “projects” to do in the mystery section (actually, I’d sit and read!). We had wonderful customers who came in regularly for recommendations. Working at Oscar’s all through high school gave me a deep, deep appreciation for all that independent booksellers do.

Hmm. Down in the basement, ‘entombed’ with relics of the past…is this the origin of the theme of funerary art that runs through your four Sweeney St. George mysteries? Fascinating, historical, informative--and yet oh, so creepy…

I’ve always been fascinated by old cemeteries and after seeing an exhibit of funerary art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I thought, “Now there’s a good occupation for a detective in a murder mystery.” One thing I love about your books is the way you incorporate faith into your characters’ lives. How did you come up with the idea of a detective who’s also a female Episcopal Priest? And as I’ve been hearing so much about the first woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, I’ve been wondering, are you psychic?

I wish. No, I just pay attention to the world around me, like all good writers. Women getting ordained, leading parishes and moving into positions of authority has been the story of the Episcopal church over the past 25 years. I wanted a heroine who had lived her life as a leader in male-dominated world. Which it is. There’s a reason the first woman Presiding Bishop made headlines. Plus, of course, it sure complicates the hell out of her love life. Now Sweeney is a very modern young woman, which means a whole other set of complications.

Sweeney is typical of her generation in that she has a lot of choices, both in her career and in her love life. But choice can be hard, especially if you’re dealing with Sweeney’s pretty dark family history. I love getting to know her and trying to figure out what she’s going to do next. In her fourth outing, Still as Death, out in September, she’s curating an exhibit of funerary art when there’s a murder at the museum. In this book she finally makes some choices about her personal life, choices that are going to have some long-reaching implications for her future. What about you? I’m, so excited about your new October book, All Mortal Flesh. Any hints about what happens to Russ and Clarem? Please, please, please?

I’d tell you. But then I’d have to kill you, leaving your adorable one-year-old, Judson, motherless. Leading us to: how has becoming a mother affected your writing? (As the mother of three, I’m restraining the urge to laugh uproariously.)

Hee hee. You know all about this, Julia. I’m amazed at how you do it with three kids. I always love it when I see you at bookstores and you have one of your extremely polite kids with you (seriously, folks, Julia has really, really nice kids!) I ‘ve found that I write completely differently now. I used to write early in the morning. Now I write whenever I can. Naptime. While he’s busy for ten minutes dumping the dog’s water out all over the kitchen floor and trying to swim in it. Do you find yourself agonizing over all the time you wasted before you had kids? I think about that all the time. Now I would kill for an extra hour or two every day.

I always tell people the truth—it would be impossible without my very committed and supportive husband. I know your husband, Matt Dunne, is the same way—except he’s also running for Lt. Governor of Vermont. How has that affected your writing life? And how are the polls looking?

Things are looking good. Matt (www.MattDunne.com) is such a hard worker – he’s really my role model in that way. He just puts his head down and does what he needs to do. It’s fun being on the campaign trail and I feel lucky that we live in Vermont. Here, campaigning takes place at country fairs and dairy festivals. Unfortunately, I’ve become kind of a fried dough connoisseur . . .

Which brings us to writing (or trying to) a book a year. Outline? Freestyle?

I’m an outliner, though the more books I write, the more I’m letting myself stray from them. What about you? Your new book is so tightly plotted and suspenseful. How did you plan that out?

I sort of patchwork the plot together. I sketch out characters, and situations, and scenes I want to appear. Then I tackle the writing. What actually emerges is often quite different than what I had planned. Sometimes I wish I could be a more stringent outliner. I know you were a journalist. Does that help?

I think my background as a journalist taught me to write to a deadline. I never have writer’s block. I always know I can turn out something if I need to. It may not be perfect . .. but that’s what second drafts are for.

I know what you mean. I like the adage, “I can fix anything except a blank page.” So who do you enjoy reading in crime fiction?

Julia Spencer-Fleming of course! I love Deborah Crombie’s books. I’m a huge fan of Ruth Rendell. (I’m loving the new Wexford) and P.D. James. I’ve been a big Donna Leon kick lately. Peter Robinson. Can you tell I like those Brits? And I just read Theresa Schwegel’s debut, Officer Down, and really liked it.

Mmm, I agree with you on Deborah Crombie. And another great Brit you left out—Denise Mina. Thanks for joining me Sarah! See you on the bookstore trail.

Sarah Stewart-Taylor


“I love Deborah Crombie’s books. I’m a huge fan of Ruth Rendell. (I’m loving the new Wexford) and P.D. James. I’ve been a big Donna Leon kick lately. Peter Robinson. Can you tell I like those Brits? And I just read Theresa Schwegel’s debut, Officer Down, and really liked it.”