Monday, March 25, 2013

Author Interview: Joyce Yarrow

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Today, I'm pleased to welcome author Joyce Yarrow to the blog for an interview. Here is the blurb for Joyce's latest book, Code of Thieves:

Full-time private investigator/part-time poet Jo Epstein travels to New York and eventually to Russia to help clear her emigre stepfather—who is framing him for murder and who is sending him threatening messages in Russian nesting dolls (matryoshkas)? Her investigation takes her on a journey into her stepfather’s past and into the honor-bound code of the “vory,” a Russian criminal syndicate.

Here's Joyce with more.

1. You said on your website that “settings are characters.” What do you mean by that?

Well, it is often said that a place ‘has character’ – and since our environment has such power to shape us, I would take it one step further. Cities and towns, suburbs and wilderness all share the qualities of a living organism, both symbolically and in reality. This is why streets are called arteries, mountains taunt us with their grandeur, and Billy Joel sings about being in a ‘New York’ state of mind.’

As I see it, my job as a writer is to bring to life the physical universe in which a story takes place, so that the border between character and setting blurs and the two merge in the reader’s mind to create an alternate reality. Raymond Chandler was a master at this, to the point where a mini-industry has sprung up in Los Angeles, taking mystery fans on tours of the settings portrayed in his books. Here’s a classic example: “The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street tunnel, but I didn't move. Not being bullet proof is an idea I had had to get used to.” From The Big Sleep.

When I traveled to Russia in search of settings for Code of Thieves, each place I visited—Vladimir Central Prison, the Moscow Metro, the Matryoshka Factory, et al—became a character in its own right, revealing its unique personality and inviting traumatic events to transpire there.

2. Do you revisit certain themes in your writing and, if so, what are they?

This is a dangerous question to ask a writer who feels that self-consciousness is a hazard of the trade. In my estimation, themes are for readers to find on their own when stimulated by a good story. On the other hand, each book I write has a strong intent. The intent of Ask the Dead was to show how a detective seeks on many levels. The intent of Code of Thieves was to prove that revenge always acts like a boomerang—coming back to destroy the perpetrator—no matter how many years it takes to complete its trajectory.

3. What is one thing you must have when you write?


4. If your book was going to be made into a movie, what would the soundtrack be like and who would write it?

I did create a video book trailer for The Last Matryoshka (the hard back edition of Code of Thieves). For the soundtrack, I mixed the voices of the Russian Army Chorus with urban American bass & drum beats, reflecting the two continents where the story is set. Istoria’s book trailer for Code of Thieves also includes a wonderful Russian folk song.

Howard Shore did a fantastic job on the music for Eastern Promises and if Code of Thieves were to be made into a feature film, I’d love to see him score it collaboratively with Herbie Hancock.

5. If you could meet any three people (living or dead) who would they be and what would you talk about?

I would love to meet author Ruth Rendell and ask her how she developed the capacity to see so clearly into dark hearts.

If I could meet Albert Einstein I’d ask him how to split the atom of peace.

It would be an honor to meet Salman Rushdie and talk about how he managed to explore so many complex facets of India through one character’s eyes in Midnight’s Children.

6. What’s up next for you?

I am co-writing a novel with Indian writer Arindam Roy that covers two generations of crime, romance, and adventure. The book is set in India and N. America and explores multiple strands of society in both settings. I will embark on my 3rd trip to India next month – this time to go to my first Indian wedding and then to a writing residency at Hesse Centre in Bhimtal.


Joyce Yarrow was born in the SE Bronx, escaped to Manhattan as a teenager and now lives in Seattle with her husband and son. Along the way to becoming a full-time author, Joyce has worked as a screenwriter, singer-songwriter, multimedia performance artist and most recently, a member of the world music vocal ensemble, Abráce.

Joyce is a Pushcart nominee, whose stories and poems have been widely published. Her first book, Ask the Dead (Martin Brown 2005), was selected by The Poisoned Pen as a Recommended First Novel and hailed as “Bronx noir”. Her latest book, Code of Thieves, takes place in Brooklyn and Moscow. It was published in hardcover (as The Last Matryoshka) by Five Star/Cengage and is now available for Kindle and other ereaders through Istoria Books. ( A new edition featuring an essay by Joyce and an interview with her will be released April 2013.

Joyce considers the setting of her books to be characters in their own right and teaches workshops on "The Place of Place in Mystery Writing."

What people are saying about Code of Thieves:

"Intricately layered like the Russian nested doll of the title..." Library Journal
"You'll want to discover the secrets buried in The Last Matryoshka..." Lesa Holstine, Lesa's Book Critiques
"Joyce Yarrow....may very well prove herself to be the Mickey Spillane of the 21st century...." Seattle Post Intelligencer

Code of Thieves is available for Kindle  and Nook now. Versions for Nook and other e-readers will be available within 3 months.

Look at other Istoria Books offerings here:


  1. Mary - Thanks so much for the stimulating interview questions and your interest in my work. Look forward to interacting with your readers.

    1. A pleasure having you. Best of luck with Code of Thieves!

  2. Yes, settings are characters in itself and each setting should be such that the reader can imagine the alternate reality easily. Looking forward to your book Joyce.

    1. Thanks Ramaa - talking with you has been a great help in grounding the settings for my new WIP :)

  3. Such an insightful interview. The manner in which places and people merge always intrigues me, and it's great to glean from the wisdom of an author who definitely knows (and excels in) her craft.

    1. Thank you Bhaswati. I have read your "Immigrant Postcards" and enjoyed these glimpse into how newcomers adjust to new situations and environments.

  4. Interesting interview. Thank you, Mary, for giving me a chance to meet Joyce.

    1. Hi LD - nice to meet you too.

    2. You are quite welcome. Hope to have a book review soon.