(Our editor Andrew Gulli had a chance to speak to bestselling German author Andrea Maria Schenkel who has gained legions of American fans with her offbeat and dark thrillers)
AMS: It is about a serial killer in Munich in the ’30s. It is no whodunit story—that’s why the focus is not on the investigation; it is on the victims.
TSM: In your novels, you have a very sharp historical perspective; did you speak to people from the past or do lots of research in libraries?
AMS: I use every possibility: I talk with people, I go in archives, read records, newspapers, and books from that time period or try to watch old films. Old newspapers are really good sources. You can learn a lot about the time period, how people spoke, or what they did.
TSM: What was the inspiration for Bunker?
AMS: I wanted to write something in the present, as the two previous books are in the past, and it has no connection to any geographic region. I wanted to make something different.
TSM: With the exception of you, I have not heard about many German crime novelists. Tell us more about that tradition.
AMS: There is a very vivid tradition for crime: one of the biggest names from the past is, no doubt, Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Present-day authors are, for example, Wolf Haas, Ingrid Noll, Doris Gerke, and many, many others.
TSM: When did you first want to become a writer?
AMS: I’ve liked to write as long as I can remember, but, of course, I never allowed myself to think about the opportunity to live on the merits of my writing.
TSM: Who are some of the writers you enjoy reading and which writers inspired you growing up?
AMS: This is a difficult question because the list is so long. Some authors I like only because of one of their works, while others I fell for from the moment I read their first sentence. I am a big Shakespeare fan, for example. I love Richard III. Among contemporary authors, I like James Salter, but I discovered him only recently. Unfortunately, I had to stop reading his book Light Years because I need to finish my next book first, but I will continue with it as soon as I am done.
TSM: Do you have plans on writing a crime novel set outside Germany, such as, perhaps, in the United States?
AMS: In the moment, I don’t want to write crime, maybe some day later, but the US is always a good place for a crime novel.
TSM: What are you working on now?
AMS: I am working on my first non-crime novel. And the story takes me all over the world and will end in the United States.
TSM: What is the most important element you think makes a crime novel successful in terms of character, research, plot; how do you make sure it all comes together?
AMS: It all starts with the idea—sometimes only a flimsy fraction of a thought—and then work starts and you need to research. If the idea is good, everything comes together like clockwork. Regardless of a book’s origins, however, I’m always surprised that it works out as a complete story.
TSM: Your books are not the conventional type of crime novel. When did you know that the gamble paid off to avoid writing a formulaic novel?
AMS: I never thought about it. It is just my way of telling a story. I don’t like formulas; I like breaking the rules.
TSM: What advice would you give beginning authors?
AMS: Like with everything, just be you! Write the stories you like and you want to tell. It makes no sense to write what is “in” today. The reader will see you are not honest and will not take you seriously as a writer.
TSM: Finally, I have to ask: are you a Bayern Munich fan or do you support another soccer team? My team, Greece, was coached to a victory by a great German coach, Otto Rehhagel, so I have a lot of respect for the German style of play and training.
AMS: Otto Rehhagel is a legend. König Otto—King Otto. His coaching style was often controversial—for example, he had a lot of difficulties with Bayern Munich. That’s why he left after one season. But he was very successful.