Deborah Crombie interviews G. S. Norwood
Bestselling mystery writer Deborah Crombie loves to get to the root of an intriguing puzzle. A long-time friend and critique partner of G. S. Norwood, she watched Norwood’s new novelette, Deep Ellum Blues, take shape over many weeks. Now she has some questions.
G.’s Writing Roots
Debs: Have you always wanted to write? Your late husband (Warren C. Norwood) was a wonderful writer. Were you drawn to him because you wanted to write, or did he inspire you to write? Or both?
Gigi: I tried to write my first story when I was about 4, although I didn’t get very far. I sent Random House my first request for guidelines when I was ten. When I was a freshman in college one of my professors told me that I wrote well enough to consider a career as a professional writer, and that’s when the serious dreaming began. All that was a good decade before I met Warren.
To be honest, the day after I met Warren, I bought his first book and read a few chapters before I met up with him again. I had to make sure he was a good enough writer that I could respect him in the morning. Turned out, of course, he was, and I learned a lot about the craft and the business from him.
Debs: Your background is in the theater and performance. How does that influence your writing?
Gigi: Although I’ve spent most of my theatre years backstage, my real interest is in directing and writing. The great thing about directing is that it teaches you how to deconstruct the play, figuring out the structure of each scene, the pacing of the overall story arc, and the motivations of each character. Knowing how to analyze the way those parts go together has given me a tremendous cheat sheet when I want to create my own characters, plot, setting, mood, and action scenes.
Debs: You write urban fantasy, women’s fiction, and mystery. What ties all these genres together in your work?
Gigi: I tell stories. Each of the genres you mention has a different set of tools I can use to tell the story I want to tell. Should it be a straight-up mystery? Do I blend suspense with romance? Can I let stuff blow up in magical ways? I use whichever set of tools seems to fit the story best, and I am certainly not above using all of them at once if I need to. But if you get to the root, it’s just the way I think about the world. I’m a very practical woman who believes there are magical energies at work in our lives every day. When I put magic into a story, I’m just writing what I know.
Debs: Ms. Eddy, the protagonist in Deep Ellum Pawn and now Deep Ellum Blues, is such a fabulous and unique character. What was your inspiration for her?
Gigi: When I was a kid, I read a series of children’s fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander called The Chronicles of Prydain. The inspiration for Alexander’s fantasy world was The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh mythology and folklore that dates at least as far back as the 12th century. My fascination with those stories led me to read more deeply about folklore from many different lands and introduced me to a wide range of magical characters.
When I got the idea for Deep Ellum Pawn, I didn’t really know who or what Ms. Eddy was. I had her name, and I knew about the pawn shop, but the rest revealed itself to me, slowly, as I began to write the story. Once I had an idea of what she could do, I had to do more research to figure out what kind of magical being she might be. Once I found it, I realized, “Well of course that’s who she is!” I really enjoy introducing ancient, magical ways to understand the world into modern, urban settings.
Now We Get to the Root: The music
Debs: Guitars, and guitarists, are central to Deep Ellum Blues. What connected you to guitars? Who are some of your favorite guitarists?
Gigi: Guitars are the dominant instrument of popular music. Some of the most iconic American guitar players of the early 20th century performed in Deep Ellum, or recorded just down the street at 508 Park, the Warner Brothers film and recording distribution center for the Dallas area. So Mudcat Randall, one of the main characters in Deep Ellum Blues had to be a guitar player.
I’ve met a lot of guitar players over the years, particularly when I hung out regularly at Craig’s Music in Weatherford, Texas. I have a lot of respect for the working guitarists who used to fill the bars and dance halls with music, before the pandemic. People like Warren’s adopted brother, Gerald Ray, or Fort Worth blues guy, Dave Millsap, keep music alive on the local level, and teach it to the next generation of players.
Outstanding singers, songwriters, and guitar players like Guy Forsyth, down in Austin, or Kevin Welch, formerly of Nashville, feed the music industry from just below the radar. And then there are the more recognizable names among my guitar heroes, like Keb’ Mo and the always amazing Sonny Landreth. I have enough Sonny Landreth stories for a blog post all his own. If you play guitar—particularly slide guitar—and you don’t know who he is, just trust me. Go look him up and prepare to be amazed.
Debs: Can you give us a playlist to listen to as we read?
Gigi: I actually put together a set list for Mudcat’s two nights at Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum, while I was writing the story. It will be published as part of the e-book, and we’ll probably post it on the Weird Sisters Publishing website. In the meantime, check out music by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keb’ Mo, and Sonny Landreth. That will get you started.
Rooted in the Crossroads
Debs: Deep Ellum is a character in itself. Tell us why this area and its history are so special?
Gigi: Crossroads and margins have always been magical places. The geographical location that is now Deep Ellum was once the shallow edge of the Western Interior Seaway. Later, before European settlers came to the area, several trails used by Native American people met and crossed there. As Dallas grew into a city, Deep Ellum was the neighborhood where people on the outskirts of White society—Black people, but also Hispanics, Germans, and Jews—built lives for themselves.
It was where people from the upper reaches of society went when they wanted to “slum it.” The streets were lined with pawn shops, private clubs, and theaters, as well as the barber shops and dry goods stores that served the people of the neighborhood. That’s prime territory for musicians and entertainers of all types.
Deep Ellum was then, and continues to be today, a place to go when you want to have a slightly edgy good time. The people who have built their businesses there always say there’s a special spirit about the place that gives Deep Ellum its unique vibe. Now we know who that is.
About our Guest Interviewer, Deborah Crombie
Internationally acclaimed author Deborah Crombie has seen her British police procedurals, featuring detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, climb into the top ten of the New York Times bestseller list. Her latest release, A Bitter Feast, is the eighteenth novel in the series.