WEATHER is the second novel in the Charlotte Justice
series. How has she changed since we first met her in INNER
Paula : She's still working
in the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division, despite some serious
misgivings. She's also beginning to address her old
grief over the death of her husband and child many years
before. She's seeing a new man, Dr. Aubrey Scott,
whom she met during the riots and is trying to make space
for him in her life. But knowing Charlotte, resolving
these issues is not going to be an easy process.
Q : INNER CITY BLUES
takes place during the Rodney King riots, while the time
frame of STORMY WEATHER is during the rebuilding of Los
Angeles. Why choose that period?
Paula : I think of the
Charlotte Justice novels as a chance to write contemporary
LA history. LA is one of those cities most of the world
thinks they know, but which is really much more complex
that the sunshine and palm trees would lead you to believe.
The 1992 riots were the most devastating event to happen
in LA in the 20th century. The rebuilding effort was
supposed to stimulate the renaissance of the city, and a
lot of people's hopes and dreams were hanging on the outcome.
Everyone from Peter Uberroth to local politicians had their
own vision of how that renaissance would take shape, and
who should benefit. But also in the mix were a lot
of people Charlotte calls "poverty pimps," people
who were hustling around the edges of legitimate efforts,
trying to make a buck, regardless of whether they helped
anyone else. After having witnessed some of those
people operating after the Watts riots in 1965, seeing it
again in the early '90s made me want to critique it from
a fictional standpoint.
Q : STORMY WEATHER clearly
pays tribute to black Hollywood history. Why was this important
to you as a writer?
Paula : As a kid I watched
movies from the thirties and forties on TV, keeping an eye
out for the black people. And when Hattie
McDaniel or Herb
Jeffries, or Bill
"Bojangles" Robinson came on the screen, my parents
always let me know these were actors, respected members
of our community, no matter how demeaning or trivial their
roles were in a particular movie. And when a movie starring
Horne, or Dorothy
Dandridge came to the theaters or was on TV, it was
But unlike the old tabloids and fan magazines that featured
the glamorous lives of white stars, there was nothing like
that about black Hollywood stars when I was a kid, no newsreels
of them dancing at a charity event, or enjoying a backyard
cookout with family and friends. Before the blaxploitation
films of the '70s, black life in film was largely invisible,
relegated to those few minutes as a sidekick or the comic
relief in someone else's story. Writing STORMY WEATHER
gave me a chance to give the pioneering black stars a history,
a story of their own.
Q : That must have entailed
a lot of research. Who were your models for people
like director Maynard Duncan and his show business family?
Paula : Certainly Oscar
Micheaux and Spencer
Williams , the directors of several all-black films
from the '20 through the '40s, were on my mind. Micheaux
directed over thirty independent films in his career, but
is little known outside of the black community and a few
film historians. And while Williams's film, The Blood
of Jesus, has been placed in the National Film Registry,
he's probably best known as the buffoonish Andy Brown in
the television series Amos 'n' Andy. But, growing
up, I also knew of black people who owned talent agencies
or were dancers in films, scored movies or designed costumes,
people who never got the recognition they deserved.
STORMY WEATHER was a way of giving them their props.
Q : It's interesting
that there's so much medical intrigue in the novel.
Why take on such topics as cancer, assisted suicide or some
of the other controversial health issues in this book?
Paula : I've found that
a lot of people, especially people of color, are in denial
about important health matters. I had a friend who
died of prostate cancer because he didn't seek aggressive
treatment. Another died of AIDS because he wasn't
able to afford the expensive drugs that could treat the
disease. So it was a challenge to address health issues
in STORMY WEATHER, to make them real and not just a bunch
Q : How did you discover
what it's like to be a black woman in the male-dominated,
predominantly white world of the Los
Angeles Police Department?
Paula : I interviewed
a number of female officers about their work lives and how
they triumph over the crappy assignments, off-color jokes,
or general doubts about their ability to do the job.
But you always wonder if maybe you've taken things too far.
But I've been gratified and relieved to get e-mails from
female and male officers across the country affirming my
take on Charlotte's position as a black female detective,
and adding stories from their own experiences.
Q : And how do readers
respond to Steve Firestone, the supervisor who harassed
Charlotte in INNER CITY BLUES, and who figures prominently
in STORMY WEATHER?
Paula : Steve Firestone
is one of those people you love to hate, but it was important
that his behavior be believable, as well as Charlotte's
response to him. So I spent a lot of time thinking
about how Charlotte would resolve her conflicts with Firestone,
and I think I hit on a solution that satisfied me, and hopefully
will satisfy readers, too.
Q : Charlotte Justice
is very much an original character. Very few mystery writers
have black cops as protagonist, none as multidimensional
and complex as Charlotte. What goes into your thinking
as you write about her?
Paula : Several years
ago, I edited SPOOKS,
SPIES, AND PRIVATE EYES , an anthology of black crime
writing. One thing I discovered was that most writers portray
the detective as outside the law—as a private investigator,
or amateur sleuth. It was almost as if the historical
uneasiness between blacks and law enforcement made it impossible
to conceive of a black cop as a hero. So, for me,
that presented a challenge—to create a cop hero who I'd
want to hang out with, who was about more than her job.
That's why Charlotte has the kind of family drama and relationship
troubles she does. I wanted her to be as functional—or
perhaps dysfunctional—as everyone else.
Q : What type of case
do you see Charlotte tackling next?
Paula : Deciding on
Charlotte's next adventure is always fun. I'm thinking
of several elements that may find their way into the next
book, maybe even delving deeper into some of the police
corruption I touched on in the first two books. I've
also gotten her to a point in her relationship with her
family and boyfriend that hold a lot of possibilities.
But I'm also curious about what happens to Gena Cortez,
Charlotte's partner, after the end of STORMY WEATHER.
I've clearly got a lot to keep me busy.