Tess Collins moved to San Francisco in August of 1979. Eightteen years later, she's managing the Curran Theatre, wherePhantom of the Opera has been a long-running hit, her first play, Tossing Monte, is being performed in a small performance space across the street, and her first mystery, The Law of Revenge, has just hit the bookstores.
Collins and her protagonist, Alma Bashears, both come from the same
Appalachian hill country and moved to the Bay Area, but the
similarities end there. Alma's an attorney on the brink of proving
herself ready for the biggest of the big leagues when her family
summons her back home after her brother is arrested for murder.
When she returns, however, she has to face more than her family, as
she discovers that one of the town boys who raped her as a teenager
has become the prosecuting attorney. Her efforts to clear her
brother's name bring her head-to-head with the local political
machine and with emotions she's suppressed for years -- and which
cloud her personal and professional judgment the deeper she gets
into the case. "I've just started working on the sequel," Collins says as
we sit across the street from her office at a neary coffeehouse.
"Alma's still in Appalachia. The way the first novel ended, it felt as if
she had to stay a little longer." But with the chance that Alma
Bashears might become popular enough of a character to warrant
even more stories, Collins is prepared to move her anywhere. "She's
the kind of character who, after what she's been through in this
story, could eventually to any city and still maintain her Appalachian
RH: How long have you wanted to be a writer?
TC: I started writing when I was fifteen or sixteen and going
through the normal teenage turmoils, and it ended up being
something that seemed to be destined. I began to work at seriously
writing with the aim of writing professionally about eight years ago.
RH: Did you want to do a mystery from the beginning?
TC: It had more to do with my wanting to write a book about
the area of the country I grew up in, in Appalachia. I wrote two
novels before this one which have not been published, and I realized
that they were very regionally oriented. I noticed that those kinds of
books weren't selling as well; what seemed to be getting purchased
was the John Grisham type book. So I decided to write a book like
that set in the location that I wanted to write about, dealing with the
issues that I wanted to write about, and that's what I did.
RH: That part of the country has stayed with you, despite having
spent two decades here in San Francisco.
TC: The Appalachians do get inside you. You don't escape them
no matter how far you move. People I knew who grew up there and
have left as I did often find themselves drawn back. It's more than a
simple going home...you're always an Appalachian no matter where
RH: How have you juggled your writing with your theatrical
TC: It is juggling. In addition to working full time at the
Curran, I'm also in graduate school. At this point, I'm very much up
from six in the morning to two the next morning. I've had to learn to
make smart use of every spare minute I have.
RH: How long did it take you to write this book?
TC: From concept to final draft, about two years. But I wrote it
within a writer's group, taking parts in and having them critiqued. If
I were writing straight through, I could probably do it in less time. Of
course, that's not counting all the time spent at work, too.
RH: Where do you see yourself at the end of five or ten
TC: I would definitely like to be writing fulltime. I'd like to
have produced a few more plays, although my producing aspirations
are pretty much limited to my own plays at this point. I think I'd
like to do at least one small-budget film in the time I have in this life