Hamish Downie’s Five Questions With Tina deBellegarde
Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…
Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?
Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.
Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.
TGG: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
TdB: Thank you, Hamish. I’d love to. I am a novelist and short fiction writer living in the Catskill Mountains of New York with my husband
and cat. My son Alessandro lives in Kyoto and I have been lucky enough to visit him several times, and I am a member of Writers in Kyoto.
I only began writing seriously when I turned fifty. I realized then that I had ignored my desire to write for too long. I had never considered it a practical pursuit and I have been a very practical person most of my life, especially as a single mother early on. Writing was a dream, but one I never thought I would be able to realize. I finally decided that it was now or never, the clock was ticking. Perhaps age gave me some confidence.
I enjoy a slow burning, character study so I decided to write a mystery novel with a focus on my characters. The murder mystery is the device I use to understand my characters. Once I moved to the mountains and realized I had the perfect setting, Winter Witness was born. I am happy to say that it has been well received and was just nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Novel. Final results will be decided in July. My short stories are also doing well. It was a great honor to have my story “Tokyo Stranger” chosen to appear in the Mystery Writers of America anthology When a Stranger Comes to Town alongside stories from some of the most celebrated American mystery writers.
TGG: Could you tell us about your novel Winter Witness?
TdB: Winter Witness is the first book in my Batavia-on-Hudson series. It opens with the discovery of the dead body of a beloved nun on the shore of the frozen lake. This is a murder mystery, but like so much about the book, there is more beneath the surface. Winter Witness also tells the story of a woman making her way in her new home in a tightknit Catskill Mountain village and trying to fit in. A former teacher and historian, Bianca St. Denis moves to the quiet community with her husband so she can finally write her first novel. They create a hobby farm and make a quiet cozy life for themselves. But Bianca is unexpectedly widowed and has to look outward to her new community for help and companionship. She needs to find a niche for herself. She befriends the local village historian and learns village secrets that give her insight into the murder. Armed with this information, she insinuates herself in the investigation. This is the most uncomfortable of nvestigations, since the murderer is most likely a friend and neighbor.
Winter Witness is about the evolution of a woman and a village. How we create our public personas, the distorted reflections we get from others, and how we choose to witness those around us.
Book 2, Dead Man’s Leap, is in the revision stages now and is due out April 2022.
I am outlining Book 3 now and it will be set in Kyoto.
TGG: Sounds exciting, I’m looking forward to it! You’ve had a varied career path. What was your journey to becoming an author?
TdB: I did not write as a profession. I was a paralegal, teacher, exporter, and resort manager, but never a writer. So I had some homework to do. I started attending mystery writing conferences. I had no one to ask my questions until I attended these conferences and made some friends and contacts. I also pitched my nearly finished manuscript at their pitch sessions and had a couple of promising interactions. Then I had an unusual opportunity. My short stories started to get noticed and one was picked up for an anthology that was launching at the next conference I was planning to attend. The publisher had been putting out anthologies for many years. What I hadn’t known was that a few years earlier, they had started publishing novels and were open to direct submissions. When I discovered this, I submitted my manuscript. I was hoping that my name recognition from the short story in their anthology would spark them to pay attention to the novel. Within a few weeks, I heard back and we had an appointment to discuss my book at the conference.
They loved my book the way I wrote it. This was a great relief to me. So many of the workshops I had attended at these conferences would be a font ofcontradictory information. It got to the point where I had no idea anymore what was good and what was not good in my work.
So, I skipped finding an agent and went directly to the publisher, they offered me a three book contract for my series. It’s been a good fit for me. Level Best Books is an up and coming publisher that has just added two new imprints to their catalogue. Level Best is growing, yet remains intimate. The moral of my story is that short stories are a wonderful way to get writing credentials and recognition.
TGG: You write flash fiction, short stories and now you’ve written the first novel in a series. Which one is the most difficult to write?
TdB: I think the length, the number of characters, and the complexity of sub-arcs in long fiction has its challenges. Short fiction, on the
other hand, has the necessity of weighing every word. This is especially true of flash fiction. In my novel, I weigh my words too, but it is different. As my editor says, you can luxuriate in the writing of a scene in a novel. In short fiction, there is no luxuriating. Every word packs a punch.
I would have to say that flash fiction is the hardest. I have to accomplish so much in so few words, sometimes only one hundred words. The reader has to come away with some sense of satisfaction, there has to be some evolution. It is daunting. But when I accomplish it, I am particularly proud of myself. I am very pleased to say that my story “Sound Travels” just won the USA prize in the Writers in Kyoto Competition. I’m not sure I would call the structure flash fiction, but it was a brief 300 words.
Short stories are the easiest for me. They come to me most naturally. Almost all my pieces are mysteriously about the same length, as if I have some sort of internal rhythm for that structure.
TGG: I hear that you have a hobby farm, which was one of my Father’s dreams. What’s it like to have a hobby farm (and how did it influence your novel?)
TdB: It was a dream for us, too. We enjoy interacting with nature every day. We have an extensive garden, various fruit trees, several beehives, a small henhouse and three hundred logs of shiitake mushrooms.
We have found that it helps us appreciate our surroundings more. Weather matters so much that you cannot take anything for granted. Our daily routines revolve around it. Every morning, we have to tend to the animals and garden before anything else. It requires attention, rain, shine or frost (especially frost). The chickens have become pets since they are strictly for eggs. They follow us around as we tend to the property. And we are never with nothing to do.
We have fresh eggs for breakfast. We have our own vegetables all year, fresh in summer and preserved in winter.
My series was influenced by the farm because Bianca is unexpectedly widowed and as a result she has to tend to the property on her own. This challenge exacerbates her grieving and creates obstacles for her. She needs to test her independence. She is attached to the farm, but may not be able to keep it since it is too difficult for one woman to handle and too expensive to hire proper help. It also makes it hard for her to isolate. It requires her to get out and ask for help if necessary and become a part of the larger community.
TGG: Finally, how can we best support you? (Where can we read your stories, buy the book, follow you on social media etc)
TdB: Thank you for the opportunity to connect with your readers. Winter Witness can be purchased through my local independent
bookstore, Oblong Books in Rhinebeck NY, here. Amazon.com here. Amazon.co.jp here. Apple Books here.
My website https://www.tinadebellegarde.com/ has additional purchase links for Winter Witness as well as the anthologies where my stories appear. It also has links for some of my published flash fiction
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