Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Aaron Elkins Lifetime Achievement Award Interview at Malice Domestic

I had the honor of being asked to fill in to conduct an interview with Aaron Elkins, who was being given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th anniversary Malice Domestic. I wrote a little bit about the interview in my Malice Domestic recap blog post earlier this month. 

Since then, several people who weren't in attendance have asked for more details about what we talked about in the interview. Here are some of the fun things I learned about one of my favorite authors:

Learning a Literary Idol is a Real Guy – and a Great One
Aaron Elkins is one of the nicest guys imaginable. Even though we'd never previously met, because he enjoyed my debut novel and he knew how much I loved his books, he thought of me to fill in for Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), who was scheduled to conduct the interview but was sick with pneumonia. We met for the first time for coffee the day before the interview, and after my initial star-struck-fan moment, we hit it off as much as we'd hoped.



Travels with Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters
Because Barbara Mertz couldn't be there, it seemed fitting to kick things off with a couple stories about her. The two of them have been friends for decades. In the '90s, Aaron and his wife Charlotte took a Nile Cruise with Barbara. Barbara's most well-known mystery series is the Amelia Peabody Egyptology mystery series, so the trip location was fitting – and straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Aaron recounted how several of the other passengers seemed to have stepped straight out of a classic detective novel – so much so that he didn't think anyone would believe it if he'd put it in a book!

Writing What You Know
Aaron Elkins' first Gideon Oliver mystery novel, Fellowship of Fear, was the first novel he wrote. It's about a physical anthropologist who gets an assignment teaching at military bases in Europe. Which happened to be just what Aaron was doing at the time. He had some really ingenious plot points that involved deductions Gideon made about skeletal remains. It turns out Aaron never thought those forensic anthropology deductions would be the hook for a continued series. But because he's such a smart guy and made the subject so fascinating, that's what all the readers and reviewers responded to. Thus the Gideon Oliver "skeleton detective" mystery series was born. (And he confirmed he never fudges the forensic details in the books.)


People Confusing Writers With Their Characters
Aaron mentioned how readers often imagine Gideon Oliver to look like him. Well, Aaron is guilty of the same thing – when we first met, the first thing he said to me was "But you're so tall!" He was confusing me with my character Jaya Jones, who's five feet tall. As for me, I'm six feet tall in heels.



The Gideon Oliver TV Show
In the late '80s, ABC made a series of Gideon Oliver mystery movies. I remember watching them at the time, and thinking how funny it was that they were so different from the books. Gideon Oliver was played by Lou Gossett, Jr. as a Columbia University cultural anthropology professor who solves cases with his daughter – not the childless, White, West Coast physical anthropology professor of Aaron Elkins' books. Aaron was paid a consulting fee, but wasn’t asked to consult on the accuracy of the episodes. And with much of the media attention he received after the TV show came out, interviewers assumed the books were just like the show. I've tried to find the series on Netflix to watch it again, but sadly it's not there!

Writing With a Spouse
Aaron has written several novels with his wife Charlotte. How are they still happily married? It turns out they don't actually write "together" in the same room at the same time, but pass things back and forth. That sounds like a much more sensible arrangement.

Fan Gifts
Notice the skeleton tie he's wearing in the photos above? He has several skeleton ties, all of them gifts from fans.

Thank you to event photographer Greg Puhl for the wonderful photographs!

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