Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed award-winning author V.S. Kemanis about her writing and her recently released novel, Power Blind, the sixth installment in Dana Hargrove series. (Read the review here.) In her legal career, she’s been a criminal prosecutor of street crime and organized crime for county and state agencies, argued criminal appeals for the prosecution and defense, conducted complex civil litigation, and worked for judges and appellate courts, most recently as the supervising editor of appellate decisions.
Kemanis is also an accomplished dancer of classical ballet, modern jazz, and contemporary styles and has performed, taught, and choreographed in California, Colorado, and New York. Short fiction by Kemanis has been published in anthologies and literary magazines.
V.S. Kemanis is a native of the East Bay Area of California, raised in a family with six amazing siblings and parents passionate about politics, social issues, theater, and music. Mealtimes were often raucous, stimulating, intellectual, and fun gatherings in a household full of family and interesting guests, musicians, actors, artists, professors, and university students.
Kemanis holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. from the University of Colorado Law School, Boulder. In her legal career, she’s been a criminal prosecutor of street crime and organized crime for county and state agencies, argued criminal appeals for the prosecution and defense, conducted complex civil litigation, and worked for judges and appellate courts, most recently as the supervising editor of appellate decisions. She’s also an accomplished dancer of classical ballet, modern jazz, and contemporary styles and has performed, taught, and choreographed in California, Colorado, and New York.
Short fiction by Kemanis has been published in anthologies and magazines including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Crooked Road Volume 3, and Autumn Noir, among others. She has published five volumes of short fiction, including Your Pick: Selected Stories, winner of the Eric Hoffer Award for best story collection. Her novels of legal suspense, Thursday’s List, Homicide Chart, Forsaken Oath, Deep Zero, Seven Shadows, and Power Blind draw on her personal experience in criminal law, juggling a high-powered professional career with family obligations. Kemanis is a member of the New York chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.
Author website: https://www.vskemanis.com
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/V.S.-Kemanis/e/B00ALIX7NI/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/V.S.Kemanis.Author/
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/VSKemanis
How did you start your journey to publication?
At the outset of my legal career in the 80s, I needed an artistic outlet to wind down from the workday. I took a creative writing course and started writing short stories in my spare time. Early attempts ended up in the waste basket, but by the 90s, a few stories were published in literary journals. What started as a part-time hobby turned into a passion for the short form, the challenge of assembling vivid, concise language creating character and scene. By now, I’ve written about 100 stories, the best of which are published in five story collections.
You’ve also published six novels in the Dana Hargrove legal suspense series. How and when did you transition from short stories to novel writing?
In the mid-90s, I introduced the character Dana Hargrove in the short story, “A Simple Case.” (You can get that story, free, from Wattpad and online booksellers.) By then, I had a decade of lawyering under my belt, working for the Manhattan District Attorney and the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. That immersion in criminal cases spurred my imagination! The idea for my first novel, Thursday’s List, grew out of my work at the Task Force, where I was on a team investigating Colombian narcotics cartel money laundering.
How long did it take you to write your first novel?
Forever! No, really, at least 15 years, off and on. I would set the latest draft aside for months or years, only to pick it up again and discover how badly it needed revision! Of course, I was busy all those years pursuing my career while raising a family. Fiction writing was pushed to a back burner. Finally, in 2012-2013, my independent imprint Opus Nine Books published Thursday’s List and three collections of stories I’d written in the 90s and early 00s.
Is there any significance to the name Opus Nine Books?
The meaning is captured in these words, which can be found at the end of each book: “All works published by Opus Nine Books are dedicated to the nine members of the family headed by John and Kate Swackhamer at 3 South Trail, Orinda, California—a large world under one small roof.” This is the family that raised me, and I owe my creative streak to them.
Has your writing process changed since you wrote Thursday’s List?
Thankfully, yes. As with everything, quality and speed improve the more you write. Each subsequent novel took about a year and a half. The first several months are a mental process, developing the story idea and writing a broad outline consisting of a few paragraphs for each chapter. My first draft usually takes about eight months, then I edit and rewrite another four months. The fun part about writing a novel is that the characters will lead you to new ideas along the way and reveal inconsistencies in the plot. The final novel always diverges somewhat from the original outline.
Do you need to do research before starting your novels?
Not much. The statutes, legal principles, and courtroom procedure are already in my head from years of experience. But I double-check the law for accuracy in the time period of the novel’s setting. The characters, crimes, and court cases in each novel are pure flights of imagination, but the law and courtroom procedures I weave into the story are solidly based on New York law and procedure.
Tell us more about the scope and concept of the Dana Hargrove series and your latest installment, Power Blind, released on January 25, 2022.
In these novels, I love to throw difficult cases and ethical dilemmas at Dana, sending her into crises of conscience. You’ll get to know her family and friends, who often get mixed into the plot. A thematic thread in the series picks up the internal conflict familiar to any career woman with a family: the incessant tug between the professional and the personal. Each novel is a standalone, featuring Dana at a distinct stage of her personal life and career during these years: Thursday’s List (1988), Homicide Chart (1994), Forsaken Oath (2001), Deep Zero (2009), Seven Shadows (2015), and Power Blind (2022). I started the series at Dana’s age of 26, when she was a talented but naïve rookie prosecutor. In Power Blind, I bring Dana into the present day. She’s 60, at the pinnacle of her career as an appellate judge.
Can we expect another Dana Hargrove legal mystery in the future?
I’m leaving her for now, while not excluding the possibility I might get the urge one day to write another, a prequel or sequel or an in-between-quel. I’m anxious to get to projects that have been circulating in my mind: a few short stories and a very different kind of novel, set in the 60s and 70s!
Categories: BookView Review Interview