By Teresa Budasi, Books Editor
Chicago Sun-Times

Mystery novelist Henry Kisor doesn’t have a day job anymore, and he’s just fine with that.

“Stress is nonexistent. Money arrives effortlessly into the bank account twice a month. No bosses to second-guess me,” he says. “And now that my wife, Debby, is retired, too, we can just kick back and do whatever we want any old time we feel like it.”

For years, Kisor spent his work week poring over dozens of books a day, making assignments, editingbook reviews, fielding public relations queries and critiquing other authors’ books. Kind of sounds like my job—wait, that is my job. You see, Kisor was the editor of this very Books section for 33 years before retiring two years ago and devoting more time to writing what has turned into a mystery series.

The first title, Season’s Revenge, came out in 2003; A Venture Into Murder followed in 2005, and his latest, Cache of Corpses, came out this week. All three feature Steve Martinez, an American Indian-born sheriff’s deputy in Porcupine City, a sleepy little town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This time around, Martinez is dealing with headless dead bodies, Internet “geocaching” and small-town politics.

Kisor, who lives in Evanston, took some time out this week to answer a few questions about the new book, writing and retirement.

Q. Having written three mysteries now, you’re a bona fide novelist. Before that you wrote several nonfiction books. Do you have a preference?

A. I do prefer writing mysteries. It allows me to use a different part of my brain—the bump of imagination and invention—that journalists don’t (or shouldn’t) use. Creating fictional characters is like having imaginary friends. I find myself talking to them, having whole conversations, as if they were in the room with me. Since writing is a solitary occupation, having a few imaginary buddies around chases the ghosts of loneliness.

Q. Your mysteries take place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. What’s the big draw?

A. The U.P. is a beautiful semi-wilderness full of violent secrets that have barely been mined by novelists. It has many other attractions, including the people who struggle to survive there. They manage in a place where livings are hard to make because they love the woods, Lake Superior and its wild creatures, if not always each other.

Q. Tell me a little bit about geocaching and how you got interested in it.

A. As a pilot I’ve long used a GPS to navigate in the air. Often when tootling along at 4,500 feet, I’d contemplate what else could be done with such a keen device besides pinpointing one’s exact location on Earth. When I heard about geocaching—using a GPS to find treasures hidden by other geocachers—I thought it was a wonderful reason to take a long walk in the woods. I played the game myself a few times, and when after hours of sweaty searching, plagued by mosquitoes and blackflies, I found a Tupperware bowl full of trinkets cleverly hidden under a log, I had a “Eureka!” thought: What if this were a human corpse?

Q. Do you see yourself continuing the Steve Martinez series indefinitely or would you like to move on to different characters and different locations?

A. If enough readers are interested, I’ll continue it. I’d like to find out what happens to those people, too. But I’m also thinking about writing a historical novel whose hero travels on the early railroads, the Erie Canal and aboard a lake schooner from Boston to the western reaches of Lake Superior during the 1840s, when Upper Michigan was the Northern Frontier of the United States and copper was king. The research is daunting—but fun.

Q. Many authors admit to throwing in some autobiographical elements when writing fiction. What are the similarities between you and Deputy Martinez?

A. Both of us feel caught between two stools. Steve was born Native American but was adopted as an infant and grew up as a white preacher’s kid in upper New York state. He looks Indian, but inside he’s a mahogany-skinned white man. People don’t know what to make of that. He doesn’t think or behave the way they think he should. I’m a deaf person who grew up entirely in the hearing world, without learning sign language, and I don’t fit people’s preconceptions, either.

Q. How do you think Steve has grown throughout the series and what are your hopes for him?

A. His police skills have sharpened, and so have his relationships with his surroundings and the people he cherishes. Readers ask me if he and Ginny, his lady love, will ever marry. I have no idea. I wonder about that myself. I hope Steve’s not too smug in their relationship to risk losing Ginny to inertia and indecision. She’s a keeper, but I am not sure if he knows that deeply enough. I do think Steve will advance up the ladder of law enforcement. Slowly he seems to grow more ambitious even as he mellows about his place on Earth. He’s not going to remain a lowly deputy forever.

Q. Since you’ve been retired from reviewing books, what are you reading for fun these days?

A. Mostly mysteries and thrillers, since that’s what I write. It’s instructive to read individual novelists’ entire output and see how they sharpen their skills and characters from book to book. Often they give me ideas for my own writing. Last summer I read all of Lee Child’s novels in one enormous binge. His noir hero, Jack Reacher, is macho-preposterous, but Child is so skilled that he lulls his reader into a happy suspension of disbelief.

I also dip into history and biography now and then.

Q. Do you miss working for a living?

A. Are you kidding? But I do miss a lot of my old Sun-Times colleagues.

Copyright 2007 Chicago Sun-Times

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