Please welcome Laura DiSilverio, author of the Mall Cop series, the Swift Investigations series and, as Ella Barrick, the Ballroom Dancing series.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
(I’m going to start with the assumption that you mean something feasible, not a total fantasy like jet off to Fiji.) My perfect day starts at dawn with a long walk in the park with my dog. It’s the most relaxing time of day and seeing the sunrise fills me with the same kind of peace I imagine meditating would (if I’d only make time to do it). Then I’d have a breakfast of oatmeal with blueberries, walnuts and cinnamon (as I do most days), and write for 3-4 uninterrupted hours with a constantly replenishing cup of Irish breakfast tea beside me (also a staple of most weekdays). The words and scenes would flow easily and be vivid and full of conflict. (Hm, doesn’t happen too often.) Then, I’d hook up with a friend for lunch and maybe a hike. (A maid service would come during my absence and do a thorough cleaning of the house.) After the hike, I’d like to sit in a steam room or hot tub for a bit (can’t remember the last time I did either of those things) while a personal chef makes dinner for the family. (I’d nominate my hubby or my girls, but then we’d end up eating tuna casserole and that’s not what I want on my perfect day.) The personal chef would clean up while my hubby, girls and I played poker with no TV, iPad or computers on. I’d win. (Doesn’t happen often because my youngest is a card shark.) I’d read with the girls (they’re 13 and 15, but we still read together at bedtime a few nights a week—Calvin Trillin’s essays, lately), and then be tucked up in bed by 9:30. The most wonderful part of this is that major elements of my perfect day are part of my every day routine. Am I blessed, or what?
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My signature accessory, if you want to call it that, is a silver bangle from James Avery with the words “And, lo, I am with you always” engraved on it. (I wear it almost all the time, but it’s not something others would necessarily notice, so I’m not sure how much of a “signature” it is.) My mother gave it to me so when I wear it I feel as if she and God are always with me. Most comforting!
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Robert Flynn, creative writing teacher at Trinity University. Jill Kinmont, champion skier who was paralyzed from the neck down in a skiing crash and went on to become an educator. Her life story (as seen by a tweenage me in the movie The Other Side of the Mountain) made me realize that if you have what it takes to be a champion in one field, you can potentially be successful at almost any aspect of life. Georgette Heyer, author of books I’ve read over and over again since I was a teen to the present day. Sparkling dialog. Strong characters. Meticulous research. She taught me that you don’t have to be a Shakespeare to delight people again and again through writing.
Do you listen to music when you write?
No music. No noise. Quiet!
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
I’m going to depart from my mall cop series here and use my just completed manuscript, The Reckoning Stones, to answer this question. It would be dark chocolate, the kind that is 70% or more pure cocoa, because the story is rich and layered and bittersweet. It’s not frothy, sweet milk chocolate suitable for kids or for gorging on. It’s the kind you eat only one square of at a time, savoring it and appreciating it.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I started out wanting to set a series in a mall. I mean, what’s more fun than a mall for a cozy setting? I went to a nearby mall—sometimes research is so painful—to scope it out. I didn’t want my amateur sleuth stuck behind the cash register at a lingerie shop or selling phones in a kiosk all day, so I looked for employees who had more mobility. Lo and behold, a mall security officer trotted by and my series was born. I thought a mall would offer a good mix of regular characters (who work in the mall) and characters who come and go (or die). It’s a familiar environment for most readers and offers opportunity for both humor and conflict.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
If you’d asked me this three or four books ago, I wouldn’t have had an answer. I’ve become more intentional about themes, lately, though, and I find myself drawn toward the same ones. Mother-daughter relationships. Father-daughter relationships. How to live an authentic life. What is redemption? Body image. The cost of conforming or choosing not to conform to societal norms. Not surprisingly, these are all things I’ve pondered or wrestled with in my life. I expect that as I age, I’ll drift toward themes related to marginalization of the elderly, coming to terms with changing physical and mental capabilities, and the like. I don’t kid myself that there’s anything unique about these themes; however, I think my take on them, my perspective, the way I wrap them into stories, is unique.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Emma-Joy “EJ” Ferris is the main character in my mall cop series (Die Buying, All Sales Fatal, Malled to Death), a cozy series published by Berkley Prime Crime. The main influences in her life were growing up as the privileged daughter of a movie star in Malibu, California, and being injured by an IED as a military cop in Afghanistan. She wrestled with conforming to Hollywood ideals of beauty and success as a teen and now struggles with redefining herself since she was medically retired from the military and is partially disabled. (See comments about body image and conforming, above.) She joined the military over her parents’ objections because she wanted to do something useful (and never saw movie-making, her father’s career, as “useful,” which creates tension between them in the third book). She became a mall cop, hoping to rehab her knee and qualify for a “real” police department again someday, but three books in, she’s no closer to achieving her goal. On a more positive note, she’s close to her parents, brother, and Grandpa Atherton, a retired CIA operative and occasional thorn in her side. She has close friendships and two potential romantic interests in Jay Callahan, who seems to be more than the cookie franchise owner he professes to be, and Anders Helland, the aloof detective who doesn’t like it when she meddles in his cases.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
EJ’s got the determination of Scarlett O’Hara, the yearning for something more of Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz), and the integrity and backbone of Atticus Finch.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Edgar Allan Poe (Wouldn’t his weirdness and dark world view make for interesting dinner table conversation?), Patricia Highsmith (because the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley would certainly have interesting observations to contribute to the conversation), Dick Francis (because I’ve loved his books since I was a teen), P.G. Wodehouse (because a dinner party needs light repartee and humor), Marcia Muller (one of the few authors who continues to make a long-running series character grow and evolve and stay interesting), and P.D. James. Looking at this list, you can probably tell I’m looking for a combustible mix of writers who would produce lively, opinionated and intellectual conversation. I can pretty much get that by inviting my family and friends for dinner.
What’s next for you?
As I mentioned briefly, I’ve recently finished a darker, edgier, stand-alone novel called The Reckoning Stones. It’s the story of a woman, Iris Dashwood, who was abused by her pastor as a teen and ran away when her parents and religious community didn’t believe her. The night she left, someone beat the pastor into a coma and precipitated his wife’s fatal heart attack. The story opens twenty-three years later when Pastor Matt emerges from his coma and Iris comes back to confront him and the Community and find out what really happened the night she left. . . That book’s in my agent’s hands—hopefully, it will find a home with a publisher who loves it as much as I do! In the meantime, I’m working on Crossing the Line, another stand-alone about a stuntwoman who agrees to be her estranged mother’s bodyguard when an assassin tries twice to kill her. Then, there’s summer vacation, a road trip, ferrying children to volleyball and theater activities, etc. Never a dull moment!
The author of twelve mystery novels, Laura DiSilverio is a former Air Force intelligence officer. She writes the Mall Cop series (Berkley Prime Crime) and the Swift Investigations humorous PI series (Minotaur), teaches for MWA’s Mystery University, and serves as vice president for Sisters in Crime. As “Ella Barrick,” she writes the Ballroom Dancing mystery series for Obsidian. She plots murders and parents teens in Colorado, trying to keep the two tasks separate. Find her at www.lauradisilverio.com.