Sabrina Flynn – Explorer – Swimmer – Author
Sabrina Flynn is the author of Ravenwood Mysteries, set in Victorian San Francisco.
When she’s not exploring the seedy alleyways of the Barbary Coast, she dabbles in fantasy and steampunk. She has a habit of throwing herself into wild oceans and gator-infested lakes.
Her new historical mystery, Beyond the Pale, is the eighth book in the Ravenwood Mystery series. An innocent accused. An infamous hotel. And a murder everyone wants to hide.
While recovering from a brutal beating, Atticus Riot is arrested for the murder of his ex-agent—the same agent who left Riot for dead. His wife and partner, Isobel Amsel, watches helplessly as he’s taken to San Francisco’s notorious ‘sweat box’ for interrogation by an inspector with a grudge.
Desperate to save her husband, Isobel seeks out the one ally they have—only he’s in the infamous Hotel Nymphia, neck-deep in a murder investigation with a ghastly corpse and over three hundred suspects. In exchange for the inspector’s aid, Isobel agrees to work as a consulting detective on his case.
Now Isobel needs to prove Riot’s innocence while tracking down a killer no one wants to be caught. The diverging trails lead to an old friend, a tangled web of secret lives, and one all-consuming question: where’s the line between justice and murder?
Do you write in more than one genre? I feel comfortable writing in all genres. I’m currently published in historical mystery, epic fantasy, Gaslamp fantasy, and have a WW1 thriller I’m editing along with a planned contemporary mystery series. It’s always hard for me to pin a genre on the novels I write. Ravenwood Mysteries is a mix of mystery, history, romance, action and adventure, wild west, Victorian, and noir.
Tell us about your writing process: I just tell myself a story. I’ll start at a point or with a vague idea, and that’s pretty much it. My writing process is a lot like hiking to a distant mountain. I know the starting point; I know where I want to end up, but I have no clue what lies between those two points. And sometimes, the twists and turns and obstacles along the way take me to an entirely different mountain. But that’s all right. It’s the journey that’s exciting.
*Note from George: I love Sabrina’s example of hiking from a point to a distant mountain and all the obstacles one faces.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I’m an organic writer. So my characters definitely run the show. I don’t know what they’re going to say until I type it, then end up laughing at whatever joke they cracked. There have been numerous times when I want them to do one thing, and they just won’t do it. For example, in the first book, Atticus Riot showed up with a gentleman’s walking stick. I didn’t know why he had a walking stick. I tried to make him limp, but he wouldn’t limp. So I tried to take it away from him, and that didn’t work either. I said, ‘Fine, keep the stick!’ And it wasn’t until halfway through the book that I was like… ‘Oooh, that’s why you have the stick.’ Then in book three, I discovered the stick had sentimental value, so I’ve learned to just go along with the unexpected.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I grew up with four brothers, so I actually find writing feminine women difficult. It’s hard for me to connect and understand women (or men) who are stylishly dressed, are worried about breaking a nail, or getting sweaty because it will mess up their hair. I’m not big on talking about feelings in my prose either. I’d rather show it than tell it. So I think that’s something my readers notice pretty quickly with my writing. Several readers have compared Ravenwood Mysteries to some classic noir authors like Raymond Chandler.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Death is the end of a story. It’s a common everyday occurrence where life goes on for the living. So it’s not something that’s thrilling to me or even shocking in a book. It’s just… death. It’s much more interesting to me as a reader (and writer) to read about people who survive against all odds. Writing characters who live and thrive despite difficult circumstances is the hard part. Death is easy to write.
In my epic fantasy series, I came to a place where the hero could have died this epic death that would’ve been perfect for him, but I found keeping him alive left more of an impact.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Oooh, do I ever. I come from an epic fantasy background, so I naturally write overarching storylines into my mystery series. I plant seeds throughout my books for future books in the series. For example, the first sentence in the first chapter of the first book (From the Ashes) isn’t explained until book four of Ravenwood Mysteries. I did the same with another subplot that’s been woven throughout the series, and that will finally be addressed in book nine. I usually have multiple storylines and mysteries going at once, which keeps things interesting.
What kind of research do you do? Lots of reading. And not just from one source. Newspaper archives are great, but they can be slanted one way or the other, so I look for other sources as close to 1900 as I can find. It’s a great way to pick up the actual language of the time and not fictionalized vocabulary and slang.
I’m also very hands on whenever possible. When I lived across from San Francisco, I tried to visit whatever place I was writing about. But so much of San Francisco was destroyed in the 1906 fire that most places have changed locations or were destroyed. Isobel, one of my protagonists, is big on sailing, so I took a sailing class in the bay to get a better feel of it. And when my protagonist was learning lock-picking, I bought a set of lock picks to practice with.
But I think my most drastic bit of research was when I tossed a protagonist overboard into San Francisco Bay, and a beta-reader claimed she would’ve drowned, been eaten by a shark, or died of hypothermia. So I jumped off a ferry at Alcatraz and swam to Aquatic Park in San Francisco sans wetsuit. She didn’t argue with me anymore.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Hopefully, lots of ocean swimming, trail running, and writing!
Where can we find you and your latest work, Beyond The Pale: http://www.sabrinaflynn.com
My books are on all the major online retailers. Here are some links.
Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/sabrina-flynn
Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/author/sabrina-flynn/id747418916
If only that Beta reader knew that Bay swimming is one of your favorite things! Great interview.
That’s actually how I got into ocean swimming, Glenda! Before I did the Alcatraz swim, I’d only swum in lakes and jumped in the waves at beaches. I wasn’t even that used to cold water at the time, except for once-a-year camping trips.
I got double calf cramps from the cold on the swim too…
OMG you jumped off a ferry at Alcatraz? That’s going above and beyond to prove you’re right. I love your spunk and spirit.
Thank you, Darlene! Considering the things I did as a teenager and young adult, it’s amazing I made it to adulthood.
Tell us more about that WWI thriller –
An American spy goes missing in occupied France, but his 18-year-old daughter, Emily Locke, refuses to admit he’s dead. Keeping one step ahead of the British Intelligence agent sent to bring her back, Emily finds herself behind enemy lines with a hunter on her heels and fearful whispers of a White Lady.
It’s currently untitled, Lani. 🙂
Sounds cool! I look forward to reading it.
Great “meeting” you, Sabrina! Fascinating life, and fascinating books that I’m now looking forward to reading.
Thank you, Madeline. Hope you enjoy the series!
I was often in the Bay area while in the Navy and found Sabrina’s details to be accurate.
She includes threads between her books that help expand a character’s personality.
I quickly learned to get comfortable and devote time to her books because once I started
I would not stop. There is no fluff in her books. Every detail is important.
I loved this post! You must be very brave to jump into the bay and swam to shore. When I was younger I was a strong swimmer, and loved to swim in the ocean–but don’t think I’d have tried that one. And I agree, that the characters tend to do their own thing even when you had other ideas for them.
So glad you enjoyed it, Marilyn! SF has a huge open water swimming community, so there are a ton of events and races. It’s a lot of fun. 🙂
swim to shore.
I really relate to Sabrina’s writing process and to the way her characters sometimes take over. It’s happened to me more than once. Glad to learn that I’m not in need of mental health intervention (at least, it’s not the reason I need it :;).
Thanks for this insightful interview. I’m fascinated by Sabrina’s process and her genre-bending fiction.
You must be a pretty strong swimming to having made that trek from Alcatraz. I took the ferry on a tour and thought about how difficult it might be. So after having done that, what’s your thoughts on the three convicts who made the escape? Did they drown or not? Good luck with your writing.
Thanks, Michael. 🙂 And I definitely think the convicts made it as long as they were fairly good swimmers before they were incarcerated. The air temperature is often cooler than the water in SF, so they would have time to acclimatize to the cold.
Today there are open water swim race events with hundreds of swimmers all the time in the Bay. Alcatraz is only 1.5 miles. I’ve since swum the Golden Gate three times, and swam from the Golden Gate to Bay Bridge. Love being in the water!