Robrt Pela: All these people are being murdered in Phoenix, and all of a sudden you have a book about a murderer on the loose in the Valley.
Deb Baker: People are being murdered in Phoenix?
Pela: You haven't heard about this?
Baker: No. And I promise you, I have nothing to do with it. I set my story in Phoenix because I used to live there and I really love it. Even though the day we moved to Phoenix it was 117 degrees, and the air conditioner was broken.
Pela: Where were you on the night of June 15?
Baker: Seriously, I know nothing about a serial killer in Phoenix. My book is set there, and the murdered woman is discovered on Camelback Mountain, but that's only because I used to go hiking there. My story is set primarily in the doll-collecting world, and it revolves around a very rare French fashion doll. So, yes, it's a murder story set in Phoenix, but that's not a commentary on Phoenix. Just peculiar timing.
Pela: Even more peculiar is this: You're a member of the International Sled Dog Racing Association.
Baker: I am. And for six years I raced the sled dog circuit in Wisconsin and Michigan. Listen, it's an exciting sport. Those dogs come out of the chute at 30 miles per hour. But the first year I lost my team every single time I went out.
Pela: Wait. You're actually driving the team?
Baker: Yes. It's not the dogs that are racing, it's me, on a tiny little dog sled driven by six dogs. I'm standing up in the little sled, and they're in control.
Baker: I know. I took a couple of nasty falls into crusty snow banks and came up dripping blood. Still, it was wonderful. And sometimes scary.
Pela: What I find scary scarier even than serial killers is adult doll collectors.
Baker: Don't be frightened. There are a lot of grown men who collect dolls. I wanted to write about Barbie, but Mattel is very difficult to work with. Use the Barbie name and you'll face legal action. Then my editor got a tip that Berkley, my publisher, was looking for someone to write a doll-collector mystery series. I didn't know that I didn't know enough about dolls to write the series until I started attending doll conventions. I met a doll restoration artist, and that's who Gretchen, the sleuth in my book, is based on.
Pela: I thought it was weird that you write doll-collector mysteries, but then I did some sleuthing of my own and discovered the Betsy Devonshire Needlecraft Mystery series. What's with all this crafting-meets-Sherlock Holmes stuff? What happened to sleuths who don't stop to crochet an afghan while they're tracking a killer?
Baker: Publishing books with hooks is a big thing these days. To have an audience you can draw from other than mystery readers is considered an asset. That's why there are knitting mysteries and bed-and-breakfast mysteries and wine-tasting mysteries . . .
Baker: I'm serious. You should find a niche audience and write mysteries for them. I understand the dog-show community doesn't have a mystery series yet.
Pela: I could write a cranky-fag-journalist-on-a-deadline series. But back to you: One of your characters, Nina, is a purse dog trainer. Is that someone who teaches your poodle to schlep your handbag?
Baker: No. They train your dog to travel inside a purse. You have to teach the dog to duck down and hide inside the purse, so you can take them into places they're not welcome. I don't really know if people have purse dogs in Phoenix.
Pela: Are you kidding? They'd suffocate! Are you sure you're not a serial killer?
Baker: I'm sorry. Maybe you need to interview someone else for your column.