PW: What draws you to deal with long-unsolved criminal cases, as your detectives do in Cold Case Squad?
Edna Buchanan: In 1984, I wrote an article for the Miami Herald about the city's Cold Case Squad, and their work just blew me away. I love the idea that by using cutting-edge techniques we can solve old mysteries and that no case is too old to be solved. There's so little true justice in the world, and we all yearn for justice. It's a thrill when the ghost of some murdered person can finally rest because someone is out there following up on forgotten cases to bring the truth to light. It's almost like time travel. We're able to go into the past with Star Wars technology and solve cases.
PW: Why did you choose to write a handful of chapters from the first-person perspective of one of the detectives?
EB: I know some people say it's breaking the rules, but fiction is all about breaking rules: being innovative, creative and entertaining. I intended this book to be in the third person, but things always change when you start writing. As long as the reader can follow the story, I think the writer should follow their instincts. I like writing in the first person a lot, but it's confining because the reader can only see what your character sees.
PW: Miami is always a vivid character in your mysteries.
EB: I envy people born in Miami. When I first saw Miami, it brought tears to my eyes, like I'd finally found my way home. My life went from a black and white newsreel to full-color CinemaScope. It's a very evocative place. The attraction for a lot of people is, it's down at the end of the map. When people on-the-run run long enough, they all end up in Florida, and they all bring their demons. Life, death, sex and violence: Miami has it all.
PW: In 1986 you won a Pulitzer Prize for your police beat reporting. What did you enjoy about that job?
EB: Sometimes you could really make a difference. I realize now more than ever how lucky I was to be a journalist. Sometimes a reporter is all the victim has got. News stories do find missing children and grandmothers; people who fall through the cracks can be found by reporters. A good story can slash through red tape like a razor. I loved chronicling the adventures of real-life heroes.
PW: What's most satisfying about writing fiction?
EB: The truth can be pretty grim. That's why I love writing novels, because I'm in the driver's seat. I can solve all the perplexing questions. I get to let the good guys win and the bad guys get what they deserve, which is so unlike life as a journalist. I hate unsolved mysteries—even when my car keys are missing and I'm the only one in the room. I can provide resolution for readers. I can expose injustices and let my characters vent the outrage that I had to suppress as a reporter.
PW: I hear you no longer write your books at the typewriter?
EB: After years of pounding away at my typewriter, I've developed nerve damage in my elbow. I can only type about an hour a day. This is the second book where I've used voice-activated software called Dragon Naturally Speaking. It's been a really hard transition. When you're typing furiously, the scene is running through your head, playing out like a movie. Just sitting there and talking is more difficult. You have to be careful not to get tired and slur your words, because the machine will type out what it thinks you said. If you're typing and mis-key, you can usually figure out what you meant, but sometimes the machine puts in words that make you wonder, "What was I trying to say there?" Sometimes I feel like the Dragon is supernatural. One night I was trying to figure out what to do with a character, and I sighed. The machine picked up the sigh as words and printed out: "Kill her." I later did, but it was spooky.