Every now and then, you’ll meet someone and there’s an instant connection. Have you ever had that happen? A few weeks ago, I was hanging out on Facebook and I bumped into Sibella Giorello. Like magic, we hit it off and Sibella very graciously accepted my invitation to be a guest on my blog.
Let me first tell you a little about her.
Sibella grew up in Alaska and once rode a motorcycle across the United States. After working in a variety of odd jobs, she was hired as a features reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. After ten years, she left to stay home with her sons and write some freelance magazine stories. One day she heard the FBI kept a team of geologists on staff, and it sparked the idea for a novel. The Stones Cry Out came out in 1997 and won a Christy award for best first novel. Sibella’s latest, The Rivers Run Dry, continues the forensic adventures of agent Raleigh Harmon. Her next book, The Clouds Roll Away, is scheduled to appear next spring. Sibella lives with her husband and her sons in Washington State. She and her husband Joe homeschool their kids, and appreciate every minute of it.
I loved your first novel, The Stones Cry Out. Where did the story idea come from?
Thanks for your kind words about The Stones Cry Out. The idea sprang from a New Yorker magazine story written by John McPhee in the late 1990s. He wrote about various ways geology can help solve crimes, and he mentioned that the FBI had a forensic mineralogy department. Although I majored in geology in college, this was news to me — and I figured it was to others. My initial idea was to write a short piece on the department for a magazine, but as soon as I interviewed the FBI’s scientists, I realized the material would make a great a mystery.
People often talk about having a muse that inspires creativity. My muse is apparently on permanent vacation, but I digress. Tell us about your muse. What inspires your creatively?
I’m sorry your muse went on vacation! Mine did that, too. I finally hunted her down, dragged her back to my office, and throw chocolate at her petulant mouth.
Seriously, what inspires me is good writing. I’ve heard writers say they want to quit after reading a great book, but I feel the exact opposite inclination. I want to work harder so I can reach that level of communication.
But you can’t rely on feelings — they’re the equivalent of climbing on some crazy bus that takes you to one good location, and then circles to nowhere. The only way to write is to make a schedule and stick to it, as much as humanly possible. It’s often not pretty, but eventually you have something resembling a book that can be edited. And it’s all in the re-writing. Nobody gets it right the first time.
Did you always want to write mysteries or did you struggle with deciding on a genre? Mysteries. Always mysteries. My dad got me hooked on them early. We used to trade Raymond Chandler books back and forth, and when we found a new mystery writer we liked, we devoured all the books, then talked about what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t major in English. I’ve taken one writing class — and that was for journalism. My best teacher was my dad and the long dinner conversations about mysteries.
If you were not a writer and you had to choose another profession, what would you do instead of putting pen to paper?
How many professions can I list? It took me a long time to settle on writing because so many other endeavors looked great, too. Farming, carpentry, design, teaching. I wanted to do it all. But in the end, it had to be writing — for the sake of my family. When I don’t write, I’m miserable company.
Given a choice between writing in a coffee shop or writing in your workspace at home, which would you choose and why?
Home, hands down. I like the energy in coffee houses but when I try to write there, nothing of substance appears. It’s useless caffeinated chatter — the worst kind! So I stay home, sitting in my little office with the window to the forest. And besides, my kids are much more entertaining than those coffee house folks.
I understand your second novel, The River Runs Dry, came out in March of this year. What’s the book about?
Raleigh Harmon, the protagonist in this series, gets transferred to the FBI’s Seattle field office. It’s not a good fit, but office politics are the least of her problems. A rich girl goes missing in the Cascade foothills but her difficult parents complicate Raleigh’s search for her whereabouts. When Raleigh starts to track the girl through the mountains, using her forensic geology skills, she realizes time is running out on the girl’s life, and the kidnapper is hunting Raleigh, too.
Let’s talk research. Can you tell us about your approach to building the background knowledge needed to create believable characters and settings?
My research mostly involves talking to FBI agents and law enforcement types. I want t know how they operate in a given situation. As for characters, I worked as a features reporter for more than a decade so there’s a deep reserve of characters begging to come to the page. For settings, I pick places that I already feel some abiding love for — Richmond, Seattle, Alaska — and places that offer interesting geology. But one day, I want Raleigh to go to Jerusalem, on a counter-terrorism assignment.
Excluding the computer, if you had to chose your favorite tool, technology, book etc. that you prefer to have when you write, what would be your weapon of choice? The Bible. I hit those inevitable bumps in the road and need to recall God’s promises. I need reminding that he’s always faithful, even in the dark wordless valleys. It would be frightening to attempt this journey from page one to the end without his loving presence.
Well, my dear, this is where our train ride comes to an end. Before you go, could you splash a little humor on us and tell us the name of your favorite comic strip.
Here’s something you can laugh at: I don’t like comics. Hey, stop throwing stuff at me! I can’t help it! Seriously, I seem to be missing an essential chromosome for enjoying comics. Even as a kid, I didn’t like them. My brother devoured everything from “Superman” to “Archie,” but there were never enough words for me. Now my sons go every week with my husband to the local comic book store to pick up the latest installment. I will say this, though. My sons are starting to write their own panels, and I really enjoy reading those. So maybe there’s hope for me yet!