The Beatrice Interview

Sparkle Hayter

interviewed by Ron Hogan

Sparkle Hayter is the author of several mystery novels starring Robin Hudson, a wise-cracking "special reports" journalist for the All News Network in her late thirties. She's the kind of author who doesn't let a juicy murder story get in the way of a good joke...or a good joke in the way of a juicy murder story. We spoke in San Francisco between the publication of Nice Girls Finish Last and Revenge of the Cootie Girls.

RH: Let's talk about your background, and how you got started writing mysteries.

SH: I'm Canadian. I came to the U.S. in 1980, started out my TV news career in a special reports unit at WABC, and ended my career at CNN in a special reports unit. In 1986 when my working papers expired and I left CNN, I travelled to India and took a lot of Simon Brett with me. I ran out eventually, but I'd fallen in love with the idea of a hard-luck character who's always stumbling over dead bodies and never gets a break in his career. It's where I felt I was at that point in my life. After five years at CNN, even though I loved the place, I was burned out and bitter. So I wrote my own book, set at the All News Network. It was very much a roman à clef; I killed off people I knew. It was a way for me to digest the experience.

Then I threw the book in the drawer. I didn't think I was going to write mysteries for a living. I thought it was just an opportunity know, better than therapy. Then later, after working at Global TV in Toronto, and covering the Afghan War from Peshawar, Pakistan, as a freelance reporter, I took the manuscript out of the drawer, and I realized I was better at writing than anything I'd ever done before. I revised it, got it published, and now this is what I do for a living.

RH: How did you find the motivation for the second book?

SH: I knew I loved writing and that I wanted to keep doing this. I got a new agent who found me a new publisher for the second book, and once they paid me the money I had to do it.

RH: Is there a lot of your personality in Robin Hudson?

SH: I think I was a lot like her when I started writing the series, but I'm less like her now in real life. I'm channeling it all into my work now. But she's definitely been a big part of my personality, and has been since I was two years old. But then I also feel that every other character has something of me in them.

RH: How did you decide to name her?

SH: I don't know how Robin came about, exactly. The name "Hudson" has a long history in my family; my father grew up in Hudson Bay, and I had a younger brother named Hudson who died when I was little. I used to think of him as my ghost brother and take him along with me on my adventures when I was growing up.

RH: How do you do the research for your stories?

SH: I usually hook one of my friends into doing it with me, like my friend Andrea went to the S&M clubs with me for Nice Girls Finish Last. For What's A Girl Gotta Do? a friend and I went to a sperm bank together. I don't do police procedurals, so I don't have to do that kind of intricate research, and in fact I avoid that as much as possible. People who read those books know every single little detail, and I could never compete on that level.

RH: Your books seem much more character-driven, anyway.

SH: They're definitely more character-driven than plot-driven, yes.

RH: Do you get asked the "is that your real name?" question often?

SH: It is my real name, the one my parents gave me back in 1958. So they weren't hippies, and they weren't on drugs. They were just nuts, I guess. (smiles) And I hated it when I was a kid. Now I've grown into it. I've learned to use it ironically.

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Joseph Kanon | Margot Livesey

All materials copyright © 1997 Ron Hogan