By Jeff Baker | For the Oregonian / OregonLive
Amy Stewart has made some big changes in recent years. The first came in 2015, when she switched to detective fiction after writing six popular books on botany and the natural world. The second came last year, when she and her husband Scott Brown moved to Portland from Eureka, California.
Both movements are bearing fruit. Stewart’s vegetal audience remains strong, and her four novels starring police detective Constance Kopp and her sisters, Norma and Fleurette, are a delightful combination of historical research and storytelling. The last, “Miss Kopp just won’t give up“(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $ 26, 320 pages), finds New Jersey’s first female deputy sheriff in a dilemma during the crucial election year of 1916. The series is in development at Amazon Studios.
The transition to Portland was just as smooth. Stewart and Brown bought a house in Portland after Stewart taught at Portland State University and did a writer-in-residence session at Tin House. They walked all over the place and Stewart enjoyed a quick stroll through Northwest Portland to Barista in the Pearl District, where she answered a few questions. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Why move to Portland?
A: Eureka is great – we lived there for 17 years and we still own a bookstore (Eureka Books) there. I was so ready to relive in a big city and have a good airport. All the pleasures of a big city. I think before I got my Oregon driver’s license I already had a Portland Art Museum membership, library card, and Japanese Garden membership.
Q: What was the best thing about it?
A: Number 1 for me is the ability to walk. I don’t think I’ve driven our car once. Our car could have been stolen weeks ago and I wouldn’t know. When we were looking for a place to live, every place I found my husband would say, “How far is that from Powell?” “
Q: How has your writing routine changed?
A: Not that much. Writing is a lonely activity and I’m right there in my office doing my job. I was a little worried about leaving Eureka’s attic where I had written all the books except the first. I was wondering if there was any mojo in those rafters that I would leave behind, but I have a great little office at home and so far it’s been going well.
Q: All of your books, from the plant books and now the Kopp series, are research oriented. Need to return to New York and New Jersey for research trips?
A: Yes. Interestingly enough, when I was writing the first Kopp Sisters book I was teaching in the State of Portland and doing a lot of research online at the PSU library, but yeah, now I’m going back because so many old journals are out there. on microfilm in library basements. There were half a dozen newspapers covering the Kopp sisters, and I write about 15 years in their life.
Q: Are you having fun with this series?
A: Oh yeah. The good thing about these books is that they are different from each other. This isn’t some cookie-cutter mystery series where it’s, “Oh, here we go again. Another body has to show up for this to work.” I changed my point of view; some of these books were in the third person so I can be in the minds of these other characters. They are stylistically different, the events are different, the pace is different.
Q: Are you a fan of detective novels?
A: Yes, I love PD James, I read all of Agatha Christie’s books when I was old enough. I love classic detective novels, but I didn’t want the point of these books to be “Who Did This?” Or “Where’s the missing girl?” I love Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novels, and what I love about them is that they tell the story of a black man from South Central LA, starting in the late 1940s, trying to understand how to live in this world. … That he finds the missing girl is never the reason I read these books. I thought about Easy Rawlins a lot when I was writing these novels because it’s that idea. Here are three women who are trying to get out of this at a time when they are not citizens. … Life for them is very precarious.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday September 19
Or: Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St.