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James DeVita, the author of A Winsome Murder, talks art, craft and how the sight of a wheat field inspired this spine-tingling adult thriller. DeVita's background in Shakespearean acting also gave him particular insight into why a hard-boiled detective might approach crime-solving by quoting the Bard.

Interview with James DeVita, author of ‘A Winsome Murder’

DeVitaheadshot4What first inspired you to write A Winsome Murder?

It was an image I used in the book. I had been thinking about writing a mystery and, as I was jogging one morning, I passed a field of wheat (I live in the country). There was a small area some distance from the road where no wheat was growing. It looked like a dark impression, like something had been dropped there. For some reason, the image of a body came to my imagination. That’s how I started A Winsome Murder — a body in a field.

Having already written two well-received YA (Young Adult) novels, what did you find you needed to do in order to adapt your writing to a new genre like Adult Thriller?

I wanted to play with traditional structure, so that the book would appear at first to be pretty much what a reader expects, and then would depart from there. I did a ton of collateral research: I read police procedurals, Forensics for Dummies, articles on the sex trade and organized crime, drug use in rural areas, Chicago police procedures, and much more.

When you were working on this book, did you first develop the characters, or the plot?

Both, actually: they developed pretty much at the same time. I quite literally started with a body. I didn’t know who it was, if it was male or female, old or young. The body was in a field of wheat, so that made me place the scene in a small rural town. The first person to find the body, Helga Steimel, was from that small town. And then the local police showed up, and I started to create their characters. As more and more people came onto the scene, I learned more and more about the town. Then, of course, I built lives around them and fleshed them out, but often my first encounter was when they walked into the story. I was as interested as anyone to discover who they were. And because I didn’t know who the murderer was, the plot developed as my detective moved forward with his investigation.

Having been a well-known Shakespearean actor yourself for several years, did you always know that your main character, Detective James Mangan, was going to be immersed in the words of the Immortal Bard?

I had no idea that Mangan was going to be interested in literature — and actually when the idea first came to me, I dismissed it. I thought, Who would believe that a street-tough detective is also a classical literature buff? But the idea kept coming to me as I was writing, and I eventually embraced it and created a world around Mangan where this could have been possible for him.

COVER WINSOMEWho do you see playing the part of Detective Mangan in a feature film of the book?

It would be tricky casting. I think it’s important that he be the right age: “just the other side of fifty.” We need to believe that he could drop someone with one punch in a bar fight (Mangan has some anger issues), and also possess an erudite side, so that we would believe he could sit and read Shakespeare at night. Hm. Bryan Cranston? Alec Baldwin? Denzel?

Have you already started to plot out other stories about Detective Mangan, on the chance that you might have a continuing series on your hands here?

Yes, I have. And yes, he will continue to use literature to solve crimes. I am sure I will keep learning the right balance to have in the stories — how much and when–but Mangan’s love of literature is one of his defining characteristics. It’s eclectic, and not to everyone’s taste, but the readers who are attracted to that theme in the book really love it.

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About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.

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