When I began reading the first V.S. Kemanis book called Thursday’s List, I was not really sure what kind of story it would be. I only knew that it had something to do with law, mystery and crimes.
I figured it would be a court room drama, or maybe a legal thriller. And I was wrong. The more I read, the more I realized that the book didn’t quite fit any of the usual literary stereotypes. It belongs to a genre called legal mystery. And let’s just say, I got hooked on it very soon.
V.S. Kemanis is the author of the Dana Hargrove legal mystery series, which currently includes 3 books with the latest one, Forsaken Oath, just being published as we speak, and with hopefully soon more on the way.
It is my pleasure to have a few moments with V.S Kemanis to talk about her books, her work and her life. I hope you enjoy the interview and maybe even decide to pick up the books at some point. They are truly well worth it.
Welcome to Mystery Sequels. Did you always want to become a writer and when did you begin writing in earnest?
I’m a born daydreamer with an imagination, so I did my first fiction “writing” as a child on that virtual tablet in my mind. In school and college I loved any kind of writing assignment, but I didn’t write fiction until after graduating from law school.
My first endeavors were short stories, and I now have about sixty I can be proud of. My first novel, Thursday’s List, was written in the late nineties but not published until 2012, after I pulled it out of a drawer and did a thorough edit.
You worked as a criminal prosecutor for many years. How much is the Dana Hargrove series influenced by your long time experience working in this field?
Dana evolved from my experiences as a prosecutor of street crime and organized crime in New York. The idea for Thursday’s List started with a case I developed, tracking and forfeiting the cash and property of a Colombian narcotics cartel.
My career has also included civil and appellate litigation, which went into developing the character Evan Goodhue, Dana’s husband, who’s a civil litigator. My knowledge of the law and particular cases provides the inspiration and launching pad for my stories, but the characters and situations always become something entirely new. They are unique and fictional.
Are you still an attorney or is being an author now a full time job for you?
Still trudging off to my nine-to-five (or more like an eight-to-six!) five days a week. I squeeze the fiction writing around that schedule and look forward to a day, not so far in the distant future, when I retire from my legal career and write fiction full time.
What sparked the idea behind creating a character such as Dana Hargrove?
I’ve been fortunate to work in a field that gives rise to the most compelling human drama and perplexing ethical questions of the human condition. Criminal justice. I’ve also faced wrenching internal conflicts, juggling a high-power professional career with the demands and joys of family life, raising children.
I’ve felt this tug-of-war keenly in my career both in and out of the courtroom and wanted to develop a character who feels that internal conflict and faces those moral dilemmas in the context of legal mysteries with intellectually challenging court cases.
What is the one thing that draws you to Dana most?
You’re asking great questions about Dana! I think you can tell that, maybe, she’s my idol. Our idols, to be real, are not perfect, and Dana is far from it, so there isn’t one particular thing that draws me to her. She’s a complex package. A skilled litigator, dauntless, intelligent, and fair-minded, Dana has her share of self-doubt and feels her vulnerabilities most acutely in moments of conflicting loyalties to family and career. She’s a good mother, but struggles with the guilt of not being good enough because she’s so drawn to her professional life.
Will there be a next Dana Hargrove book and if yes, when is a tentative date of publication?
I have three more novels planned—just have to write them! Each novel is a standalone featuring Dana at a different stage of her career, with several years in between. In the three novels so far, we’ve seen Dana in 1988, 1994, and 2001. The next novel will be set in 2008. If all goes well, the next novel will be released in late 2017.
What is your process of writing a book from start to finish? And do you have a special place where you do the creative thinking or the writing?
My novels start with a mental image of the overall scheme, and then I write a short synopsis of each chapter. When I plunge into the real writing, I go from start to finish, taking guidance from the chapter synopsis. Invariably I stray from it as I rewrite and revisit the earlier chapters. Inconsistencies come to light that need fixing. New ideas emerge that further the storyline. Sometimes the characters just take me down a path I hadn’t anticipated.
As for the place I write—this is somewhat of a family joke! I have a home office, but I like to roam. Ask my husband. He might find me with my laptop in that office or any number of other places: the dining room table, sun room couch, or living room—even the kitchen counter.
Do you have any favorite writers where you can’t help but grab their books and read them as soon as they are published?
This is a difficult question because I love so many writers and genres. There’s never enough time. I tend to jump around, but especially enjoy and admire writers who evoke deep psychological suspense in their writing: novelists Ian McEwan, Haruki Murakami, and Ann Patchett, and short story writers Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, and Katherine Mansfield, to name a few.
I also love a good legal thriller with great courtroom drama. Some of my favorite lawyer-writers are Scott Turow and Adam Mitzner.
What do think makes a great writer?
Much more than just a good plot. Relatable characters with emotional depth. Precision and beauty in the prose. A unique twist to the images with interesting metaphor.
Do you have any tips for aspiring mystery authors? Something they should really do or not do when writing their first book?
Read your work out loud to yourself. You will discover so much about your writing this way. Does the dialogue sound real? Does that scene you meant to be driving and exciting sound draggy? Edit and proofread relentlessly because the little mistakes will detract from the whole.
And lastly, what are some of your hobbies and interests apart from law and writing books? I’ve taken a peek at your online bio and saw that you also love dancing, not only doing it but also teaching it?
Dance and more dance! I’m formally trained in classical ballet and a wide variety of contemporary styles and modern jazz. Dance provides so much, not only excellent physical exercise but also creativity and the opportunity to listen to beautiful music and watch other inspiring dancers in the studio with you. I’ve taught and choreographed at various times throughout my life and would like to do more of that after retiring from my legal career.
Thank you, Marika, for the opportunity to have this chat and for such a wonderful website with information and reviews of great mystery sequels!
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to sit down with you for a few minutes and get to learn more about you and your famous Dana Hargrove character!
You can learn more about V.S. Kemanis on her website.