An Interview with Kim Hays, author of Pesticide
Kim Hays lives in Bern, Switzerland. Her police procedural Pesticide, the first mystery in the Polizei Bern series, will be published on April 19 by Seventh Street Books. Award-winning author Deborah Crombie has called it “a stand-out debut for 2022.
What is your favourite dragon in literature?
My favorite dragon was created by a great science fiction and fantasy writer, Ursula K. LeGuin. He appears in the third volume of her Earthsea Trilogy, The Farthest Shore, as the companion of Ged, the Wizard of Earthsea, and his name is Orm Embar.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
I haven’t abandoned a novel—yet—but I have abandoned a non-fiction book I wanted to write about child-raising with my mother; it was going to be full of anecdotes about both own experiences as mothers. I wrote five chapters, we made a little progress, and then it became clear that my mother was developing dementia. That was eighteen years ago, and I can’t imagine going back to the project today.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
I’d say that I’m not as likely to fall in love with my own words. Now that I’ve done extensive revisions on my manuscripts and seen how much editing improves a book, I’m better at criticizing my work and accepting criticism from others. Part of why I’m less defensive is because I’m more confident in my ability to edit, which means that I can write faster and more assuredly on a first draft, knowing that I’ll be able to identify and work on problems once I’ve gotten the whole story on paper.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
Many well-known and very successful mystery writers—including authors whose books I enjoy very much—are able to produce a book a year (or more!). I am awed by this talent. I can’t imagine producing anything worth publishing in less than two years. It’s not so much a question of letting ideas percolate as taking the time to revise drafts.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
In this respect I’m extremely prosaic. I always write at my desk on a keyboard in front of a computer screen; just about the only thing I ever write by hand is a letter of condolence! I can still remember how hard it was during my senior year of college to switch from writing an essay longhand to composing on a typewriter and how proud I was when wrote my senior essay on my little Olivetti.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
My sister is a lovingly dedicated reader of my manuscripts and is happy to read several drafts of the same book, which is way above and beyond the call of duty. The only problem is that she almost never objects to anything. So she’s terrific for my self-esteem but not necessarily the best person to ask for critical feedback. Luckily, I also have a wonderful writer friend, Clare O’Dea, who is an excellent beta-reader, because she has more distance.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I have a husband who hates clutter, and an apartment with too many books easily becomes very messy. So I buy 90% of my books from Amazon for my Kindle, and they take up no space at all. Now it’s easy to bring a selection of books with me in my purse, onto an airplane, or on vacation, and my bookshelves are still full but not spilling over. Library books are another great solution. My mother was a librarian, so perhaps that’s why I love libraries.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
I think it would be a good thing to be able to say that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older and wiser, but it wouldn’t be true. I gobbled up mysteries, romances, fantasy, science fiction, and just-plain-novels as a teenager, and that’s what I read today. I even read some contemporary young-adult fiction, since it can be as well-written and gripping as any adult novel. The only difference is that since I have much less reading time as an adult, I’ve become pickier: if I’m not absorbed after fifty pages, I move on to something else. So many books, so little time! [Rose’s note: Yes! So many fabulous books out there, and never enough time to read them all.]
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
Because I’ve never used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or any other social media platform in my private life, I’m having trouble integrating even one of them into my professional life as a mystery writer. I’m happy to have a website with a blog to post on regularly, but writing on these other platforms doesn’t seem meaningful to me. Who exactly am I speaking to and what is my purpose? But I’m hoping to change my mind over the next year or two and get more comfortable with the idea of tweeting. At least I’ve stopped calling it “twittering.”
About the Novel
Murder. Forbidden love. Social upheaval. Kim Hays debut novel Pesticide has it all. . .
Bern, Switzerland—known for its narrow cobblestone streets, decorative fountains, and striking towers. Yet dark currents run through this charming medieval city and beyond, to the idyllic farmlands that surround it.
When a rave on a hot summer night erupts into violent riots, a young man is found the next morning bludgeoned to death with a policeman’s club. Seasoned detective Giuliana Linder is assigned to the case. That same day, an elderly organic farmer turns up dead and drenched with pesticide. Enter Giuliana’s younger—and distractingly attractive—colleague Renzo Donatelli to investigate the second murder. Giuliana’s disappointment that they’re on two different cases is tinged with relief—her home life is complicated enough without the risk of a fling.
But when an unexpected discovery ties the two victims into a single case, Giuliana and Renzo are thrown closer together than ever before. Dangerously close. Will Giuliana be able to handle the threats to her marriage and to her assumptions about the police? If she wants to prevent another murder, she’ll have to put her life on the line—and her principles. Combining suspense and romance, this debut mystery in the Polizei Bern series offers a distinctive picture of the Swiss. An inventive tale, packed with surprises, it will keep readers guessing until the end.