Janice Law is a novelist and short story writer. Her first novel, The Big Payoff, was nominated for an Edgar, and her stories have been frequently reprinted, including pieces in The Best American Mystery Stories, The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, Alfred Hitchcock’s Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense, Riptide, Still Waters, and the New Fabulist anthology, Paraspheres.
Her most recent novels are The Lost Diaries of Iris Weed and Voices. She lives with her husband, a sportswriter, in Hampton, CT.
In your story in Dead Calm, “The Armies of the Night,” a woman makes an incredibly difficult choice for the sake of her children. What was your inspiration for this story?
Years ago I had read, and saved, a news story about a serial killer who buried his victims on the family’s big suburban property. He was finally caught and his wife and children discovered that their yard was a cemetery. I thought at the time that serial killer stories were a bit of a cliché, and I was interested less in the killer than in the consequences for the family.
My first thought was to tell from the children’s point of view and I was actually going to have the killer a beloved grandfather but I decided that was maybe not too plausible. Finally, I focused on the woman and her relationship both to her father and to her boys.
You describe your protagonist as a woman who has a lifetime of training of “keeping stray thoughts at bay.” Yet as the story goes on that becomes impossible for her to do. How did you figure out how to structure this story?
I’ll be honest, I don’t figure out very much when I am writing. That is, the story tends to come to me in pieces and I just have to be patient. The key thing in getting those ideas, I think, was the whole business of the house. I tend to watch the house and garden shows when I am doing my back exercises and the narrator’s house-mad friend came right out of the gushing realtors and renovation freaks that inhabit the shelter programs. I’m rather fond of flashbacks anyway, and the narrator’s relationship with the house led nicely to her relationship with her father and then to the conflicted feelings of her homecoming.
You write both novels and short stories. Do you know right away if an idea is right for one or the other, or is that something you discover along the way?
I pretty much know. Some people start with short stories and then work them into novels. I started writing novels first and only later moved to short stories, mostly, but not exclusively, mysteries. Ideas for novels have to have a certain amplitude, if I can put it that way, while the short stories often rely on a clever solution or a peculiar situation or even an eloquent narrator for their effect. They are just smaller in scale, although I always like to think that there is a lot in a compressed form with the stories.
Some of my short stories could have grown into novels, but there is usually a reason why I didn’t go that route. Sometimes the character is one I liked well enough for a short piece but not well enough to spend nine months to a year with. Sometimes I know enough about the setting and time frame for 14 pages max but not for 250 pages and I don’t feel like committing to the research required for that particular idea.
What are you working on now?
I’m embarrassed to say, not much. I have several novels I want to sell and two forthcoming in e-book form- Homeward Dove for Wildside and Fires of London for Mysteriouspress.com. I have a couple of stories coming out – the MWA’s Vengeance has one of mine as well as the next Sherlock, but really there are very few outlets for short fiction at the moment. Having said that, I am researching Kansas Territory in the run up to the Civil War – we’ll see what that produces.