Murder Books is pleased to present the following interview with Trudy Nan Boyce, retired Atlanta homicide detective and author of the Sarah Alt Detective Novels Out of the Blues and Old Bones. Both of these are must reads for fans of crime fiction that feels like true crime. Sarah Alt, the main character, has achieved that elusive balance between heart and spirit and intellect that tells you when you are in the presence of someone truly special. Both books are set in present-day Atlanta, and both books show you the city and its people in a way that will amaze and mystify you, break your heart and lift you up, and leave you convinced you were actually there.
MB: Trudy, before you became a police officer, you earned a Ph.D. in community counseling. What sparked the transition from getting a Ph.D. to your career in law enforcement?
Trudy: I was working as a clinician in the in-house psychological services unit of the Atlanta Police Department, counseling officers with addiction, marital, PSTD, etc., issues. The more I learned about policing the more I realized the work gave opportunities to intervene in peoples’ lives in ways I’d never be able to do as a clinician. And I came to understand that good policing depends more on brains and heart rather than force; I thought I could do the job. Plus I was giving in to my adventure seeking gene.
MB: What sparked the transition from a career in law enforcement to a writing career?
Trudy: I had a crisis year in 2001: a best friend died, I was working as a supervisor in Crimes Against Children and my marriage came apart. So as a way to find an outlet and a release I took a creative writing class and found encouragement.
MB: As I read Old Bones, it struck me that your style of writing seems to rely as much on exposing the reader to a long sequence of detailed images as it does on the straightforward chronicling of events. Is this something you consciously decided to use, or is this just your natural style of story-telling?
Trudy: You’re a good reader. I don’t plot my novels. I do use images for inspiration! Images often determine the situations in which I place my characters.
MB: We’ve all heard the advice to write what you know, so there’s a certain logic to police officers writing police procedurals, but your voice, your style is more poetic, more literary in certain respects than may be typical in the police procedural genre. You could have written any type of fiction you wanted. So, I’m curious about what motivated you to pursue a writing career that so closely parallels your career as a police officer.
Trudy: Someone said that we write to try to understand. That’s certainly part of what motivates me. Crime in our culture and the police response to crime are complicated issues that involve history, anthropology and psychology. There’s a lot that we don’t see or understand.
MB: Themes of race, and gender, and social justice are prominent in Old Bones. Will these be enduring themes in your work?
Trudy: I suspect so. One can hardly write about Atlanta and not include those themes.
MB: Your main character, Sarah Alt, is a woman with a troubled past and someone whose emotions are always close to the surface, although she works hard to keep her emotions confined beneath a veneer of confidence and self-control . Is she going to ‘get better’, or will this be a continuing challenge for her?
Trudy: I think she’ll get better at understanding her turmoil but, as with us all, she’ll continue to have to struggle, as do we all, with the past.
MB: What can you tell us about the circumstances under which we might next encounter Detective Sarah Alt?
Trudy: There’s a prequel in the pipeline that will catch the reader up with how Salt has come to be, well, Salt. I’m hoping the reader will experience quite a few satisfying ah-ha moments.
MB: What kinds of books do you like to read for pleasure? Do you have any favorite writers?
Trudy: I read Marilynn Robinson for enlightenment and amazement. In my opinion she is our finest, living American writer. Although not strictly a crime fiction writer, Kate Atkinson is a role model. I love Richard Price’s dialogue. He nails it. I read classics as often as possible: Richard Wright, Dostoyevsky, Zora Neale Hurston, Dickens, James Baldwin, etc.
Please visit the author at her website, Trudy Nan Boyce, to learn more about Trudy and her excellent books.
Old Bones, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in February 2017, is the latest Sarah Alt novel. It is available wherever books are sold.
Trudy was interviewed by Roger Johns.