Zoё Sharp, author of First Drop and Second Shot, the Charlie Fox thrillers that are set in the U.S., appeared today at the Velma Teague Library in Glendale, AZ. She and her husband, Andy, arrived early enough that Zoё was able to judge the final pictures in our library photo contest.
If you get the chance to hear Zoё speak, grab it. She started out discussing her background, and then talked about her books. She said she photographs things, usually race cars. She hangs out of fast-moving cars. So, when they visited Daytona Beach, they went to car shows, and a car stereo show. At the time, she thought it would be a wonderful place for someone on the run with a teenager, because the place is filled with teens.
Sharp's character, Charlie Fox, came out of the military under a cloud. She trained as a bodyguard, and her first job was in the U.S. Naturally, as the newest one on the team, she got the nasty job of looking after a fifteen-year-old. This is the background for First Drop, just released in paperback. After she and the boy finish riding a roller coaster at an amusement park, someone shoots at them.
Zoё said since she and Andy have made about 35 trips to the U.S., part of the problem is trying to keep Charlie's Britishness. She said she likes to visit unusual places, so she can add elements to her books. She said a cab driver in Oklahoma City couldn't figure out why anyone would come there.
She believes setting is as much a part of the book as another character. Road Kill, the book in between First Drop and Second Shot, is set in Ireland, and she used the location as part of character. Second Shot is set in North Conway, New Hampshire, and she wanted the small town feel.
Sharp said she does a great deal of research. The internet can put you in touch with people who really know details. You can discover resources through the internet, but you can't get snippets such as smells if you don't go the location. She said she does research, and then less than 90% of research gets in the book. She may keep only 10%, just what is needed. She said she talked to someone who was shot to get the feel that comes through in Second Shot. Zoё said she's a lazy reader who is a lazy writer. She skips over much of the narration.
Zoё told us that you can't shoot anymore in Britain, so she takes the opportunity to get out and shoot guns when she comes to the U.S. She likes to have shot the guns she uses in the books. They had just been in Houston, where they shot. Last year, at Bouchercon, she put a prize up for bid, breakfast and a chance to go to the gun range with the author. The woman who won had been blind since birth, and always wanted to shoot. They bought radios at Radio Shack, and hung them over the targets. She did so well, that they brought out a submachine gun.
One of the audience members asked her about her method of writing. She said she makes time. She has a full-time day job, photography. She and Andy have travelled 30,000 miles a year in England alone for the job. So, writing has to work around her day job. She works on the laptop in the car. She sets herself a monthly target, so many words a month.
Zoё plots her books because the editor wants to know the plot. However, she doesn't plot out her characters behavior, and they can change. In discussing one of her characters who had the name of a librarian, she mentioned that libraries in the U.K. have been supportive. There are not as many independent bookstores as in the U.S., so libraries and book clubs there have been important.
Charlie Fox's military career has not yet been written about in an entire book. Sharp tries to reveal a little of the backstory in each book, without spoiling previous books for those who haven't read them. Charlie Fox was ill-prepared for civilian life. Special Forces backgrounds are good for close protection. Women, especially, don't stand out. Charlie's job is to blend in, because if someone is a target, the first intent is to kill the bodyguard. If you can't identify the bodyguard, it makes it harder. Backstory indicates that Charlie has had some successful jobs. In Sharp's latest thriller, Second Shot, Charlie doesn't have the physical self-assurance because she's been injured. Zoё said she read a number of the authors whose female characters seemed passive, in need of rescuing. She wanted to create a woman who did her own rescuing.
In discussing photography, she reminds people she is a photographer, not paparazzi. Her long lens is for motorsports, not looking in people's windows.
The question was asked, are you Charlie Fox. The answer was, they do have a lot of the same interests. Zoё did competitive rifle shooting. She rides motorbikes. They are no longer allowed to shoot in the U.K., following a school shooting about ten years ago, when guns were banned. Unlike Charlie, Zoё only shoots on ranges.
Sharp was asked about the beginning of her books. Her response was that first lines are so difficult. They usually aren't the start of the story, just a jumping off point. It takes her a while to get the beginning. She finds it important to find the voice for a book. She has to find the rhythm of words. She writes a fairly straight forward style.
When she was asked about Charlie's background, she said there is a bias against women in the military in the U.K. They don't believe women can do the job. Charlie is still searching for respect, particularly from her parents.
Zoё Sharp always knew she wanted to write. She wrote her first book at fifteen, one that is unpublished. But, she did submit it at the time, and received rave rejections. She did all kinds of odd jobs. When she bought her first car, it was an old Triumph Spitfire. She rebuilt it, which led to writing about car restorers, then all kinds of stuff about cars. Eventually, they asked her to take pictures to go with the words. Now, she really only does the photography, and her husband, Andy, writes. On this trip, though, Andy has been pressed into service as the photographer.
Zoё was writing a classic car column for a magazine when she started getting death threats. Was it because she was a woman? When she started writing in 1988, few women were writing about cars. She's still the only woman photographer in the U.K. doing car shoots. And, now that she's writing thrillers, she recognizes that some people feel that women can't write thrillers.
She's currently writing a standalone. The next book in the Charlie Fox series, Third Strike, has already been submitted to the publisher. That one starts in New York, goes to Boston, and then to Houston. She's done a number of short stories, including ones that feature Charlie. For the U.S. paperback release of First Drop, she wrote a story that's included in that book.
Following Zoё's book signing, we took some pictures.
I took one of my husband, Jim, with her. And, before we finished up, Jim took a nice picture of me with Zoё.
After pictures, we invited everyone over to a local coffee shop, A Shot of Java . The owner, Lisa Dowd, was nice enough to open up just for us. Nine of us went over, and had the chance to talk to Zoё and Andy. It was the perfect ending for our day. Their day? They were heading off to a gun club.
If you get a chance to meet Zoё Sharp, you'll enjoy it. It will make you appreciate the Charlie Fox books even more. The books set in the U.S. are First Drop, and now, Second Shot.
And, check out Zoё's website, www.zoesharp.com where she has a blog of her U.S. trip.