Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Author Interview: Dorothy McIntosh

Hey mystery fans!  Here's a heads-up on an author to watch.  Dorothy McIntosh has signed a three book deal with Penguin for her Mesopotamian trilogy!  Dorothy is represented by the Bukowski Agency , and Dorothy is also actively involved in Crime Writers of Canada.   

Here's the interview!

1. You have a BA in English from the University of Toronto. What areas of literature did you most enjoy studying?

Amid rather intensive partying, student politics and other diversions, recalling all the literature I studied is a bit of a challenge! I loved the great English novelists and attended memorable lectures from Adrienne Clarkson on them. Thomas Hardy – a huge favourite, George Eliot and Dickens. Closer to the contemporary, D.H. Lawrence and F. Scott Fitzgerald were notable. I recently re-read The Great Gatsby and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and found them spellbinding all over again.

2. Next question – and surely you saw this coming – which areas of literature did you least enjoy studying?

I do remember having trouble with the antiquated language and syntax of earlier English authors. Edmund Spenser and John Milton would be two examples. I regret this now especially because I missed out on the great body of classic knowledge they opened doors to and now find that it’s very relevant to my writing.

3. You’ve obviously been a bookworm for many years, but what about the leap from reading to writing? Has writing been a life-long passion or dream?

From grade school on I loved writing poetry and essays but I had a real talent for drawing and painting and always assumed I would become a professional artist. Those plans faded when I had my daughter and started a planning career with City Hall. From time to time throughout that period I’d try my hand at writing but it was much more fantasy than practical reality. Being a single parent with a full time job simply did not leave me enough space to “write.” Only when I left my job could I fully concentrate on a new career and by then I knew with certainty that I wanted to become a “painter” of words on the printed page rather than on canvas.

4. You have had some early success with short stories (Hounds of Winter 2007, and A View To Die For). What was the most challenging thing about writing a full length novel?

There are so many challenging aspects to writing a novel it’s hard to pick just one out. For Hounds I do remember  the literally dozens of revisions I made to the original story and thinking at the time, well, I could never do this for a full length novel! Well guess what, I’ve lost count of the number of revisions The Witch of Babylon has gone through at this point. That requires stamina and perseverance. And you end up only seeing trees and completely lose sight of the forest. A debut author must carry through all that without any certainty the words will find a home with a publisher.  I’d also mention that cranking out a first draft, for me, is one of the single most difficult tasks. Apparently Jack London’s drafts were virtually ready for publication – the man was a genius!

5. Did you have a clear vision from the start that this would be a trilogy?

The Witch of Babylon focuses on Mesopotamian mythology so there is a certain logic to three books, each devoted to one of the great Mesopotamian cultures: Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian. That said, the more concrete idea for a trilogy tended to arise organically as I was writing Book One.

6. Now what about history meets mystery? Have you always been a history buff? 

Short answer? No. In fact it’s a case of “mystery meets history.” I’ve developed a strong interest in history due in part to all the historical mysteries I’ve read which do a brilliant job of making “history” come alive. A central premise of The Witch of Babylon is that myths originate with real events but their meaning changes over time depending on which culture communicates the myth. The original Sumerian story of Cain and Abel for example, differs significantly from the Judaic one. It was, in fact, an interest in mythology that first spurred my interest – adding the historical detail came much later.

7. Which authors do you think had the greatest influence on you as a writer?

For the most exceptional writing that I could never hope to emulate but am inspired by: Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses), Anne Michaels (Fugitive Pieces), Rawi Hage (De Niro`s Game), Jean Rys (The Wide Sargasso Sea) and Lawrence Durell (The Alexandra Quartet). I love poetic writing. Equally and closer to our genre - James M. Cain (Double Indemnity), Cornell Woolrich (The Night Has A Thousand Eyes), Richard Neely (Shattered), J.G. Ballard (The Drowned World).

8. In one sentence, how would you describe The Witch of Babylon?

What is the link between the ancient science of Alchemy, an Old Testament prophetic book and the great Assyrian empire – New York art dealer John Madison must uncover the secret or forfeit his life.

9. How do you research your novels?

Three words: Google, Google, Google. An absolute gold mine for any researcher; would be lost without it.

10. What is your writing routine?

I get up every day at 6 a.m., and armed with a strong cup of coffee, sit at my desk and churn out 3000 words then quit six hours later.   Ha! That is the ideal of course – in my case an absolute fabrication. If I told you my real writing routine you’d faint.

11. With whom do you share early drafts of your manuscripts? What kinds of feedback did you receive?

With my agent, close friends and my writing group. All provided excellent guidance on credibility gaps, writing style, characterization, plot points and more generally whether they felt compelled to turn those pages.

12. Every novelist has a half-written, unfinished manuscript tucked away in a drawer somewhere. Do you have any early works that you’ve orphaned, and if so why? The second part to this question is whether or not you’ll ever try to rescue an older, abandoned project?

I have one long abandoned manuscript and whenever I feel the need for a really good laugh, I take it out of the drawer. On the second question, I have several incubating short stories I’d like to get back to some time. I find the gaps of time allow me to see what’s good about them and where they need improvement more clearly. I do intend to finalize them in the future.

12. This last question may seem banal, but, really, I want to know, how has the whole Mesopotamian experience felt?  How has it changed your life (and don’t say it hasn’t because a three book deal is a doozy – every writer’s dream)?  Surely the roller coaster – from winning the Unhanged Arthur Award – to signing with Penguin – has been head spinning. Tell me about it.

I think 'head-spinning' is a very accurate description. I attended lots of ‘how to get published’seminars on the long trajectory to complete  this novel and by the time I had a respectable manuscript, the prospect of getting published seemed harder than sprinting up Mount Everest.  The first glimmer of the snow-white summit occurred when I was short listed by the estimable Crime Writers Association UK for the Debut Dagger.  Eureka moment! Things changed radically after that. I began working with a literary agent and won the Unhanged. Penguin’s endorsement arrived followed by sales to major publishers in Germany, Italy, Russia, Lithuania, Serbia and Bulgaria.

I can only say it’s been truly euphoric at times. Great luck to work with a consummate literary agent and a really skilful editor. Gratitude for all those who’ve helped me. I’ve gained a lot of confidence but I must point out, the jury awaits. The only test that really matters is whether the reading audience gives The Witch of Babylon gains their stamp of approval. That is ahead.

And there we have it folks!  Thank you Dorothy!


  1. Very nice, Dorothy. I too was much struck by 'Fugitive Pieces' - wish I could write like THAT. And now I want even more to read 'The Witch of Babylon'.

  2. Congrats on the deal! The trilogy sounds really exciting...

  3. Great to hear about the process in a formal way. As a friend of Dorothy's I have heard the challenges of the ups and downs of hope, persistence and success.
    Dorothy you deserve this success. You go girl!!!!