Sara Blaedel is the author of the #1 international bestselling series featuring Detective Louise Rick. Recently, Ms. Blaedel took a bit of time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for Killer Nashville about The Undertaker’s Daughter, the first novel in her new triology. Thanks to Bree Goodchild for conducting this interview.
An Interview with Sara Blaedel
by Bree Goodchild
KN: The reader is taken through the process of being a funeral director as Ilka experiences it; from picking up the body to embalming, reconstruction and makeup to the funeral itself. What kind of research methods did you utilize to create this sense of realism for your character?
SB: Research is an essential part of my writing process. It always has been, and that only intensifies as the years and titles go by. I place absolute importance on achieving authenticity. Readers are clever and savvy; they know their stuff and aren’t going to buy into anything (in this genre) that doesn’t ring true or feel possible.
As has been the case with all of my books, my research for The Undertaker’s Daughter entailed everything from reading to traveling to becoming an apprentice. When I decided to use the US as the setting for the first time, I studied the various regions until I zeroed in on Racine, Wisconsin, a city which has the nation’s largest number of Danish-Americans and Danish immigrants. I dug into the funeral home industry in the States, comparing and contrasting its laws and regulations and traditions to those in Denmark. I was really struck by how differently this extremely sensitive and reverent work is handled from one country to another. I was fascinated to learn that there are varying laws even from one state to another within the US.
I spent weeks in Racine, living amongst and getting to know the lovely people there and how they navigate. What a wonderful experience- I can’t wait to visit again. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to intern at a funeral home, which proved enlightening, compelling, and so informative.
KN: Ilka seems to miss bits of information and the subtleties of interaction between other characters. What was your thinking behind this dramatic decision?
SB: I’m so glad you caught this. Ilka is a newcomer to the US; this is her first time visiting the country. A Danish citizen, she’s an outsider when she arrives in Racine, and she’s alone and dealing with a death in the family. Being out of her element in so many ways, she struggles, at first, as anyone would, to keep up and to understand the nuances of another language and culture.
KN: Ilka seems more of an observer than a detective in this book – compared to Louise Rick. What was the creative process behind developing Ilka’s character?
That’s an interesting question. Ilka is absolutely more of an observer; at least at first. She’s not a detective. When we meet her, she’s leading a quiet and modest life as a school photographer. She is summoned to the States after the death of her long-estranged father, an undertaker, who lived and worked in Racine. Ilka, while trying to tend to her father’s estate, business, and tax issues, takes some time to try to connect with the man she barely remembers. It is while she is living in Racine and laboring in her father’s funeral home that Ilka finds herself needing to search for information and dig for clues. She’s, at most, an amateur sleuth, with no expertise or experience in detective work.
KN: Reading this book, I was surprised when at the end I did not experience the sense of closure between Ilka and her father as expected. Can you talk about what you hoped readers would get out of The Undertaker’s Daughter?
That’s another fascinating question. The Undertaker’s Daughter is the first in a trilogy, and so, while I had intended to bring to completion many of the storylines in this book, full closure wasn’t part of the plan. Yet.
For me, this series is about familial relationship and the bond between fathers and daughters. It’s about second chances and the many ways in which we can start again. It’s about the ways secrets and lies can devastate, and how love and acceptance, and the truth can be so redeeming.
KN: Do you see this as the beginning of a new thriller series, like Louise Rick, or a stand-alone?
The Undertaker’s Daughter is the first in a trilogy. All three volumes will be set in the States, which is a super exciting first for me.
Many thanks to Sara Blaedel for so graciously taking time to answer our questions and to Caitlin Mulrooney-Lyski from Grand Central Publishing for facilitating this interview.