Writer’s Passport: Elizabeth Heiter Talks with Sara Blaedel

By Elizabeth Heiter

At the 2016 Bouchercon conference in New Orleans, I was on a panel about pacing with Sara Blaedel.  After hearing her talk about her experience as a female crime writer in Denmark, I knew I had to try her books.  I picked up The Forgotten Girls from her Louise Rick series, and it had such a compelling storyline with so many beautifully drawn details I felt like I was actually in Denmark with Louise, trying to solve the case.  So when The Thrill Begins offered me a chance to interview an international writer, who better than Denmark’s “Queen of Crime?”  Sara was gracious enough to give us some insight into her writing life…

You’ve been referred to as “Denmark’s Queen of Crime” for your Louise Rick series, which currently includes 9 novels! How did you first come up with Louise Rick, and did you know from the start that you wanted to write multiple stories about her?

It is an enormous honor and privilege to be so warmly welcomed by Denmark’s crime book lovers; truly, a dream come true.  I am so grateful and delighted that I am fortunate enough to get to keep doing what I love.  Louise Rick came to me as a bright, tough, able, and savvy, yet flawed everywoman, the type of character who excites and captivates me.  It was super-important for me that she be fully-realized and a protagonist who readers could easily conjure up and connect with.  When I wrote the first, I had no idea that I would continue to build and grow and watch Louise evolve.  Of course, I had hoped, but I couldn’t have imagined how wonderful this journey would be.

As the daughter of a journalist and an actress, it sounds like storytelling and research might be in your blood. Did having parents in those professions impact your writing approach or your desire to be a novelist?

I am sure that having parents in the arts – both of them storytellers (in different ways) – contributed to my passion for writing.  We had books and other reading materials alI over the house, which were devoured and discussed.  I was a voracious reader as a child, and looked forward, eagerly, to each and every visit to the library.  From as early as I can remember, I was drawn to mystery and suspense, and to stories about real people I could recognize something within and even relate to.  I yearned to write; books were and continue to be a vital force in my life.

As someone who’s struggled with dyslexia, how did that impact becoming a writer? Did writing help you?

Dyslexia didn’t necessarily feed into my desire to become an author, though the fact that I’ve struggled with it has made my writing extra rewarding.  There is a sweet sense of accomplishment when you can do battle, successfully, with a hardship.  The struggle is always there, but it doesn’t stop or discourage me.  It’s part of who I am, every bit as much as the reading fanatic.

You’ve called your writing process “intense” and suggested that no one wants to be near you while you’re working! Can you tell us about your process, including that “killing wall” you use when crafting your stories?

Yes, intense is definitely the right word to describe my writing process.  I am obsessive about nearly every aspect- it is so important for me to get everything on paper as it exists in my mind.  I tirelessly plan and conceptualize; I strive to build characters who breathe air and are organic; I research endlessly as for me, authenticity is imperative.  My “killing wall” can be a creepy and scary place.  It contains cards with notes and plot points, and is often the last step between life and death for my characters.  I think most people would tell you that I am easygoing and free-spirited, but I seem to become another person when I am constructing a book, so for the sake of happy and healthy relationships, I’m best off isolated.

Your attention to detail and the importance you place on authenticity is very clear when reading your books. What kind of research do you do for each book?  Does the research get easier as the series goes along or are you constantly finding new things to learn about for the books?

Research is a huge part of the work I do.  It plays an integral and necessary role in every bit of storytelling I do.  I go all in and spend a great deal of time getting to the heart of the matter and to the facts.  I wouldn’t say it gets easier with each book because I don’t do less each time.  If anything, actually, I do more and more.  For me, research isn’t only about searching online and in books, and interviewing those in the know.  I travel to the settings for my stories, and stand in the very places and look out at the very backdrops my characters do.  I go all in.  I am, without question, forever learning new things and bringing new information and insight to my characters and books.

The entire Louise Rick series was just picked up in Canada for a TV series, with The Forgotten Girls as the basis for season 1! How did that happen, and can you tell us more about it?

The Gotham Group in Hollywood is my film agent, and the team has been doing a brilliant job on behalf of me and my books. Though it’s not the first time my books have been optioned for film and TV, I am particularly excited and have a very good feeling this time. Bron Studios is very engaged; they’ve completely embraced the right perspective of Louise Rick and the sensibility in The Forgotten Girls, so I am very, very excited to see where we’ll go from here. And I am delighted and grateful to get the chance to work with them. They are behind the Oscar-winning movie, Fences, and are now filming a TV series with the illustrious and gifted Vera Farmiga and Hugh Jackman. I am in very good hands.

You’ve been chosen as one of the Guests of Honor for the mystery conference Bouchercon 2018. What does being a Guest of Honor entail?  Can you give us a sneak peek of some of the things we might be hearing from you at the conference?

Please let me say first that this is SUCH a big honor. I have been attending Bouchercon almost every year since 2011, back when it took place in St. Louis. I feel like I have a whole Bouchercon family.  It means so much to me that I have been chosen to be one of the international Guests of Honor.

I am looking forward, eagerly, to talking about my new series, The Undertaker’s Daughter, because it represents my first storytelling that is set in the USA.  My protagonist, Ilka, a Danish woman living in Copenhagen, is summoned to Racine, Wisconsin, to take over her late father’s funeral home. It has been positively fascinating for me to explore and play with the Danish and American cultures, with their similarities and contrasts. It is not an easy journey for Ilka.   

Your novels have been international bestsellers and you’ve been voted Denmark’s most popular novelist four times. What advice can you give writers just starting out about ways to fuel creativity through many books?

What a thrill this has been for me!  I’ve been incredibly lucky and appreciate what a fabulous trip this has been for me.  For writers starting out, I’d advise that they do this because it is their passion; because they love writing and need to write.  It’s a tough business, and you must bring you’re a-game.  Nothing less will do.  I’d also strongly suggest embracing research as crime readers are extremely knowledgeable and savvy.  They know the difference between the real thing and content that has been phoned-in.

There’s a great community of Scandinavian writers, and you’re actively involved in the international writing community as well, regularly attending conferences in the United States. What’s your favorite thing about the writing community?  Would you advise new writers get involved?

Yes, absolutely, yes!  But, as I’ve said, writers need to be all-in and committed to creating work that rivets, convinces, and transports.  They need to understand there are no shortcuts in this industry, nor overnight successes.  It takes time for an author’s work to catch on, and for it to simmer to a boil.  It can be absolutely amazing, but the hard labor comes first.

I deeply appreciate all my friends and colleagues in the international crime fiction community; it is so inspiring to hear about how they are starting new books or dealing with deadlines.  And, of course, crime fiction authors can be excellent company.  Their energy is infectious.  I love getting together with them out there in Europe or here, in the States.

Critically acclaimed author ELIZABETH HEITER likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range.

To learn more about Elizabeth Heiter’s latest work, click on the cover below:

Previously in Writers’ Passport:

Gwen Florio talks with Omar Hamid

Jennifer Hillier talks with Andrew Pyper

Jenny Milchman talks with Sophie Hannah

Tom Sweterlitsch talks with Israel Centeno

Rob Brunet talks with John Burdett

E.A. Aymar talks with Leye Adenle

S.J.I. Holliday talks with Alexandra Sokoloff

Mark Pryor talks with Tana French

J.J. Hensley talks with Ian Rankin