Q &A with Carla Neggers
author of HARBOR ISLAND
1. What about HARBOR ISLAND sets it apart from your other books in the Sharpe & Donovan series?
Boston, and FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are engaged but haven’t told anyone. They’re back from a short break in Ireland, at work with their small, Boston-based FBI unit. Emma, an art crimes expert, is on the hot seat. She needs to find out why her boss was sent a replica of an Irish Celtic cross exactly like crosses she and her grandfather have received after unsolved art thefts over the past decade. Colin, a deep-cover agent, was shoe-horned into Emma’s unit, and his role is still unclear…but he finds himself checking up on their boss’s missing wife. Four books into this series, and I’m as excited about Emma and Colin and their families, friends and colleagues as ever!
2. The book takes readers on a ride from Boston to Ireland to the coast of Maine. What drew you to these locations?
I love Boston, Ireland and Maine and know them well, but it didn’t occur to me they would be at the heart of my Sharpe & Donovan series until I “saw” a woman approaching the gate of an isolated Maine convent and knew she was about to find a murdered nun. That led to SAINT’S GATE, the first book in the series. Everything fell into place with that one image. The woman became Emma Sharpe, a former novice at the convent and now an FBI agent who specializes in art crimes with a handpicked Boston-based unit. She is also the granddaughter of Wendell Sharpe, an octogenarian art detective in Ireland. As Emma came into focus, so did Colin Donovan. I “saw” him smashing his lobster boat into the rocky coastline so he can sneak into the convent and keep an eye on Emma. He’s from a rough-and-tumble Maine fishing village, an FBI deep-cover agent coming off a harrowing, months-long mission. Maine, Ireland and Boston and Emma and Colin came together, with endless possibilities.
3. How is Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan’s relationship impacted differently by this particular case compared to ones in the past?
Well, without giving too much away, they’re engaged, and they haven’t told anyone—so there’s still time to back out and pretend they had too much Guinness and need more time before they make such a commitment. They’ve been on the same team for a couple months, but now they’re actually working on the same team. Is that even possible? Can a highly independent, restless guy like Colin fit in? And Emma—her family of high-profile art detectives is causing trouble for her again. Is being a Sharpe too much for her role as an FBI agent, and for Colin?
4. What’s next for the Sharpe & Donovan series?
I’m writing KEEPER’S REACH, the fifth book in the series. It takes place in the middle of the cold New England winter that Irish priest Finian Bracken, serving a small church in Colin’s hometown on the Maine coast, has both dreaded and yearned to experience. I don’t like to talk too much about a book as I’m writing it, but let’s just say that readers who’ve been wanting more of Mike Donovan, the eldest of the four Donovan brothers, get their wish, and Emma and Colin are tested as never before.
5. You have published more than 60 novels, which have been printed in 24 languages. How do you manage to stay creative and come up with such unique plots every time?
I’m not sure I know the answer except that I love to write and I always have ideas. Once a story is percolating, the characters direct what happens, and the writing always goes best when I trust that process. I also believe that creativity needs to be nurtured, and the fastest way to burnout is to get into “always on” mode and stay there. For me, the time away from my desk is as important as the time at my desk, whether it’s to pull weeds for an hour or head to Ireland for a few weeks.
6. Do you know how the story will unfold before you begin writing or does it come to you as it goes?
I know some of the story ahead of time—the kernel, bits and pieces—but for the most part, it unfolds as I go. For me, characters reveal themselves as they walk, talk, breathe, act and react more than if I tried to do dossiers (and I have tried!). New plot points arise that I’d never have thought of if I tried to write a step-by-step outline (and I have tried!). Having no clue at all about what I’m writing doesn’t work for me, either. Writing a short synopsis—two or three pages at most—helps anchor the story for me. I’ve played with different approaches, but I keep coming back to this one. Funnily, it’s not that different from the approach I used as a kid when I climbed a tree with pad and pen and spun tales!
7. In your blog on your website, you talk about being “in the zone” as a writer. What are some tips you can give aspiring writers to help them reach this point?
When I’m in the zone, time falls away, and I’m lost in the story and the writing. One very simple thing I’ve learned to do when I’m writing on the computer is to go into full screen mode without page numbers or word counts. Writing by hand, I don’t stop to number the pages. Another trick is to turn off the internet. Most of us know to do this. We do. C’mon. We know. Turn. It. Off. Finally…I try to stop writing for the day before I’ve run out of steam. It’s easier to dive back into the zone the next day.
8. HARBOR ISLAND is filled with breathtaking suspense. How do you write a scene that puts readers on the edge of their seats?
Thank you! I hope every scene moves the story forward and builds tension, and that the characters come to life. As an avid reader myself, I like to feel as if I’m in the middle of the action and get absorbed by what’s going on. I don’t tell myself that’s what I need to do when I’m writing, though. That would take me out of the story and no doubt intimidate me. Instead, I focus on what’s going on and how best to write that particular scene. Sometimes it doesn’t happen the first go. Okay, a lot of times it doesn’t happen the first go, but when it’s “there,” I can feel it. It’s a great feeling.
9. You’ve often shared your love for cooking with your fans. What’s the go-to dish in your home?
With late-summer vegetables arriving at our local farmstands, I’m making ratatouille. These days, I’m into Mediterranean cooking, but I’ve loved ratatouille since I tackled my first batch right after my husband and I were married and I found a recipe in The Joy of Cooking, a wedding present. I’d never even heard of it growing up. We love having batches in the freezer for the long Vermont winter. It’s like a taste of summer.
10. You love to travel and gain inspiration for your next book. Is there somewhere you haven’t been that you’re dying to visit and use as a setting for a future book?
Newfoundland! No question. We almost got there last summer, but my father-in-law died just as we were about to leave. We are grateful for his long, good, healthy life, but it’s never easy to say goodbye. I still have my Newfoundland folder on my desk, with articles, photos and ideas for where to stay and what to do. I want to hike in Gros Morne National Park. Everyone I know who’s been there (it’s not that many!) says it’s absolutely gorgeous.
About the author:
Carla Neggers is the New York Timesbestselling author of more than 60 novels, with translations in 24 languages. Born and raised on the western edge of the beautiful Quabbin Reservoir in rural Massachusetts, Carla grew up with tales of her father’s life as a Dutch sailor and her mother’s childhood in northwest Florida.
At a young age, Carla began penning her own stories on a branch high up in her favorite sugar maple. Now she enjoys spending time at the family homestead (now a tree farm) with her six brothers and sisters and their families.
When she’s not writing, Carla loves to travel, hike, kayak, garden, and, of course, dive into a good book. She lives with her family in Vermont, near Quechee Gorge.
by Carla Neggers
As she wound down her run on the Boston waterfront, Emma Sharpe could feel the effects of jet lag in every stride. Three days home from Dublin, she was still partly on Irish time and had awakened early on the cool November Saturday. She’d strapped her snub-nosed .38 onto her hip, slipped into her worn-out running shoes and was off. With less than a half mile left in her five-mile route, she was confident she hadn’t been followed. Not that as an art-crimes specialist she was an expert at spotting a tail, but she was an FBI agent and knew the basics.
Matt Yankowski, the special agent in charge of the small Boston-based unit Emma had joined in March, hadn’t minced words when he’d addressed his agents yesterday on a video conference call. “This Sharpe thief knows who we are. He knows where we work. It’s also possible he knows where we live. If he doesn’t, he could be trying to find out. Be extra vigilant.” Yank had looked straight at Emma. “Especially you, Emma.”
Yes. Especially her.
This Sharpe thief.
Well, it was true. She was, after all, the granddaughter of Wendell Sharpe, the octogenarian private art detective who had been on the trail of this particular serial art thief for a decade. Her brother, Lucas, now at the helm of Sharpe Fine Art Recovery, was also deeply involved in the stepped-up search for their thief, a clever, brazen individual—probably a man—who had managed to elude capture since his first heist in a small village on the south Irish coast.
Emma slowed her pace and turned onto the wharf where she had a small, ground-level apartment in a three-story brick building that had once been a produce warehouse. Her front windows looked out on a marina that shared the wharf. A nice view, but people passing by to get to their boats would often stop outside her windows for a chat, a cigarette, a phone call. Although she’d grown up on the water in southern Maine, she hadn’t expected her Boston apartment to be such a fishbowl when she’d snapped it up in March, weeks before the boating season.
Had the thief peeked in her windows one day?
She ducked into her apartment, expecting to find Colin still in bed or on the sofa drinking coffee. Special Agent Colin Donovan. A deep-cover agent, another Mainer and her fiancé as of four days ago. He’d proposed to her in a Dublin pub. “Emma Sharpe, I’m madly in love with you, and I want to be with you forever.”
She smiled at the memory as she checked the cozy living area, bedroom and bathroom. Colin wasn’t anywhere in the 300-square-foot apartment they now more or less shared. Then she found the note he’d scrawled on the back of an envelope and left on the counter next to the coffee press in the galley kitchen. “Back soon.”
Not a man to waste words.
He’d filled the kettle and scooped coffee into the press, and he’d taken her favorite Maine wild-blueberry jam out of the refrigerator.
Still smiling, Emma headed for the shower. She was wide awake after her run, early even by her standards. After three weeks in Ireland, she and Colin had thoroughly adapted to the five-hour time difference. Their stay started with a blissful couple of weeks in an isolated cottage, getting to know each other better. Then they got caught up in the disappearance and murder of an American diver and dolphin-and-whale enthusiast named Lindsey Hargreaves. Now, back home in Boston, Emma was reacquainting herself with Eastern Standard Time.
Making love with Colin last night had helped keep her from falling asleep at eight o’clock—one in the morning in Ireland. He seemed impervious to jet lag. His undercover work with its constant dangers and frequent time-zone changes no doubt had helped, but Emma also suspected he was just like that.
Colin would know if someone tried to follow him. No question.
She pulled on a bathrobe and headed back to the kitchen. She made coffee and toast and took them to her inexpensive downsize couch, which was pushed up against an exposed-brick wall and perpendicular to the windows overlooking the marina. She collected up a stack of photographs she and Colin had pulled out last night, including one of herself as a novice at twenty-one. Colin had put it under the light and commented on her short hair and “sensible” shoes. She wore her hair longer now, and although she would never be one for four-inch heels, her shoes and boots were more fashionable than the ones she’d worn at the convent.
Colin had peered closer at the photo. “Ah, but look at that cute smile and the spark in your green eyes.” He’d grinned at her. “Sister Brigid was just waiting for a rugged lobsterman to wander into her convent.”
Emma had gone by the name Brigid during her short time as a novice with the Sisters of the Joyful Heart, a small order on a quiet peninsula not far from her hometown on the southern Maine coast. In September, a longtime member of the convent and Emma’s former mentor, an expert in art conservation, was murdered. Yank had dispatched Colin to keep an eye on her. He’d tried to pass himself off as a lobsterman—he’d been one before joining the Maine marine patrol and then the FBI—but Emma had quickly realized what he was up to.
“I bet you were wearing red lace undies,” he’d said as he’d set the photo back on the table.
Emma had felt herself flush. “I don’t wear red undies now.”
He’d given her one of his sexy, blue-eyed winks. “Wait until Valentine’s Day.”
They’d abandoned the photos and had ended up in bed, making love until she’d finally collapsed in his arms. He was dark-haired, broad-shouldered and scarred, a man who relied on his natural instincts and experience to size up a situation instantly. He didn’t ruminate, and he wasn’t one to sit at a desk for more than twenty minutes at a time. She was more analytical, more likely to see all the ins and outs and possibilities—and she was a ruminator.
As different as they were, Emma thought, she and Colin also had similarities. The FBI, their Maine upbringings, their strong families, their love of Ireland. Their whirlwind romance wasn’t all an “opposites attract” phenomenon, a case of forbidden love that had come on fast and hard. They hadn’t told anyone yet of their engagement. On Monday night in Dublin, Colin had presented her with a beautiful diamond ring, handmade by a jeweler on the southwest Irish coast. She’d reluctantly slipped the ring off her finger when they’d arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport from Dublin late Tuesday.
Emma was so lost in thought, she jumped when her cell phone vibrated on the table. She scooped it up, expecting to see Co-lin’s name on the screen. Instead, it was a number she didn’t recognize. A wrong number? She clicked to answer, but before she could say anything, a woman spoke. “Is this Emma Sharpe? Agent Sharpe with the FBI?”
“Yes, it is. Who are you?”
“What? Oh. My name’s Rachel Bristol. I need to talk to you. It’s important.”
“All right. Please go ahead.”
“Not on the phone. In person. Meet me on Bristol Island. It’s in Boston Harbor. There’s a bridge. You don’t have to take a boat.”
“Ms. Bristol, what’s this about?”
“It’s about your art thief. Bristol Island, Agent Sharpe. Be at the white cottage in thirty minutes or less. There’s a trail by the marina.” She paused. “Come alone. Please. I will talk only to you.”
Rachel Bristol—or whoever she was—disconnected. Emma sprang to her feet. Thirty minutes didn’t give her much time.
She ran to her bedroom and dressed in dark jeans, a dark blue sweater, a leather jacket and boots. She grabbed her credentials and strapped on her service pistol. She didn’t leave a note for Colin. She would text him on the way.
Meeting confidential informants was a tricky business even with protocols, training and experience. But it didn’t matter. Not this time.
Excerpted from the book HARBOR ISLAND by Carla Neggers. Copyright © 2014 by Carla Neggers. Reprinted with permission of Harlequin Mira. All rights reserved
Harbor Island: Rock Point (Sharpe & Donovan Novels) by Carla Neggers. Harlequin MIRA (August 26, 2014). ISBN: 978-0778316534. 352p.