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The Sirens of Suspense




Former trial lawyer and Stanford grad Twist Phelan is the author of the critically-acclaimed (Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Library Journal, Book Sense Notable Pick) Pinnacle Peak mystery series (Poisoned Pen Press). Her short stories have appeared in MWA, Year’s Best, and other anthologies and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have won or been nominated for the Thriller, Ellis, and Derringer awards.

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item1 Twist Phelan: A Life Less item1

You include parts of your personal and professional life in each of your books. Your protagonists are usually lawyers with some extreme hobbies, which you share. What inspires your stories more, your legal past, or your personal adventures?

I think it’s a natural tendency to write about what you know when you begin writing; in my case, it was lawyers and extreme sports. Since the Pinnacle Peak mysteries, I’ve written a dozen short stories about worlds with which I’m not as familiar. Some of them feature characters who, while they interest me, I wouldn’t want to spend a whole book with.


Your first book, FAMILY CLAIMS, features Hannah Dain, a lawyer and cyclist. You bicycled across the US in less than four weeks - an amazing feat. What is the strangest thing that has happened to you on one of your adventures?

I was nearly arrested when I was buildering (climbing up the outside of a building as research for SPURRED AMBITION, the Pinnacle Peak mystery featuring rock climbing). I didn’t realize it was a bank.


What inspired you to change from law to crime writing? Did any lessons learned as a lawyer translate when you changed professions?

I had a ten-year break in between law and writing, during which I traveled, did sports, and read books. I became a writer rather by accident. I was at a ski-training camp in Finland (near the Arctic Circle) for four weeks of intensive coaching. We were housed in a small lodge in a remote area – far from stores, movie theaters, restaurants. No one there besides me and my friend spoke English very well. (I didn't know Finnish, Swedish, or Norwegian, and my Russian was pretty rusty.)

So you can imagine how mad I was when someone made off with the duffle bag of books I had brought to sustain me during nights that were twenty hours long. The only English-language reading material I could find was a stack of vintage Playboy magazines. I read them all in one sitting, surprised to discover the articles really were good, especially the short stories.

With no books to read, I decided my only option was to write one – either that, or start learning Finnish. By the end of training camp I had completed a draft of HEIR APPARENT, the first book in the Pinnacle Peak series.

In terms of lessons that carry over from one profession to another, in a trial lawyer’s world, deadlines have to be met and there’s no such thing as lawyer’s block. It’s the same for writing.


What's coming next for you? Can we look forward to seeing Hannah and Joe again soon, or do you feel their stories are told? Any new adventures for you on the horizon?

I am finishing a novel set in Santa Fe featuring a corporate spy and have several short stories coming out next year. I do have another Pinnacle Peak book in mind, but haven’t yet scheduled the time to write it!


What's the best advice you can give a new writer or what do you wish you had known when you started? Do you have any tips or tricks for marketing books? How do you feel about using social media to promote your work?

Best advice to new writers? Write every day. Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page. You can’t revise words that aren’t there.

I wish I had known about writers conventions before I started.

Social media is useful, as long as you don’t think it counts as writing time.



QUESTION FOR TWIST? COMMENT ON THE INTERVIEW? Ask her here, or tell us your thoughts further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page and be entered to win a signed copy of the book of your choice from Twist!



Writing ambience: Silence (think tomb). Despite having a terrific view out the window, my desk faces the wall. Colorful abstract art on walls.

Reading now: I always have about a half dozen books on the go (MP3 versions in the car and on the iPod I wear during sports; non-fiction book; fiction and collection of essays on Kindle; book of poetry by the bed).

Book or eReader? Both, plus iPod.

Who should play Hannah onscreen:

Claire Danes.

Favorite protagonist (other than hers): Too tough to call.

Favorite big or small screen detective: Jack Nicholson as J.J. Gittes in Chinatown. Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive.

Next travel destinations: As I spend a decade living on a boat and in rented houses around the world, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the places that interested me. In terms of places I’d like to return to, the list would include Australia (sailing), Austria and Norway (skiing), and France (cycling).

Cats or dogs: Horses.

Favorite online resource: Crimescenewriter,where extraordinarily generous folks answer crime scene questions for writers. Join via forum or e-mail.

Favorite independent bookstore:

The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ.

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