Interview: Marilyn Levinson

Please welcome Marilyn Levinson, author of the Twin Lakes mystery series and the forthcoming Murder a la Christie, as well several YA and children’s books.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day would be a day in June—my birth month—that’s warm and sunny, but not blazing hot. I would write some pages in the morning, go to a museum or for a walk in the park with a friend, receive word in the afternoon that I’ve sold a book, tgettingbackhen go out to dinner with loved ones at a beautiful, sedate restaurant on the water where we would drink good wine, enjoy a delicious meal, and partake in stimulating conversation.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Not really. I love fragrances that are floral but not too sweet, like Dolce & Gabbana’s The One and Davidoff’s Cool Water. I love good food (see above), especially seafood and fish. I enjoy many ethnic cuisines: Thai, Argentinian, Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian, French, Belgian, and of course Chinese and Italian.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
First to come to mind is my dear friend and fellow writer, Roberta Gellis, with whom I took a writing course many, many years ago. Roberta helped me complete my first novel and has been my greatest supporter. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me. I remember her sending me to another class to read a composition. Last but not least, I’d have to say my dearly departed husband, Bernie, because he was always proud of my being a writer.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, I don’t, unless you count the birds chirping outside my open window.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark Belgian chocolate, my favorite, with veins of white chocolate running through it. Murder a la Christie takes place in an upscale community called Old Cadfield, which is a closed community like the small village settings in Agatha Christie’s novels. My sleuth, Professor Lexie Driscoll who facilitates the Golden Age of Mystery book club, finds herself housesitting in Old Cadfield, and living in a home she could never afford. She is an outsider observing the suspects that include her best friend who’s married to one of Lexie’s castoff college boyfriends. Though the residents of Old Cadfield are wealthy, they all have secrets and problems their money can’t resolve. The white veins are the happy elements that appear in Lexie’s life: an unexpected inheritance and two very different men she finds appealing.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’m a former high school teacher, and I’ve taught literature, which is probably why I occasionally write novels in which my characters discuss classic short stories and novels. In Murder a la Christie, the book club members discuss some of Dame Agatha’s novels. I had her books in mind when I created the setting and wrote the dénouement of Murder a la Christie.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Relationships. Human nature fascinates me, and I love writing about diverse three-dimensional characters. People are most interesting when they’re relating to one another. Every character has a secret that may implicate him or her in the murders. Romance always makes an appearance in my mysteries. In fact, Lexie has two admirers in Murder a la Christie. I also explore her relationship with her best friend, Rosie. For the first time since college, they’re living in the same community. Lexie sees a different side of Rosie.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
I love Lexie because of her quirks. She is an intelligent, independent woman, but she hasn’t been wise when it comes to choosing men. Her first husband left her when she was pregnant with their son. Her second husband proved unstable. When Lexie told him the marriage was over, he burned down her house and failed to escape the fire. Lexie is left homeless and with very little savings. She finds herself housesitting in Old Cadfield, where her college roommate now lives with her husband, a boyfriend Lexie once rejected. Lexie muses she could be living the good life if she hadn’t broken up with Hal.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I really can’t think of 3 people Rosie is like. Perhaps Addison in Family Practice would be one of them. Addison is beautiful, intelligent, but with human failings.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Agatha Christie
  • Josephine Tey
  • Sue Grafton
  • Ross Macdonald
  • John Macdonald

What’s next for you?
I need to go over three novels: a YA horror called The Devil’s Pawn, a sequel to Rufus and Magic Run Amok called Rufus and the Witch’s Slave, and a romantic suspense called Come Home to Death. Then I intend to either write a new mystery in my Twin Lakes mysteries series or write a proposal for a new series.

***

I was born in Brooklyn, New York. When I was fourteen, my family moved to Long Island where I’ve lived ever since, except for the four years I spent at Syracuse University studying to become a Spanish teacher. When my two sons were very young, I wrote YA and children’s books. Rufus and Magic Run Amok was an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice.” Now I also write mysteries and romantic suspense. A Murderer Among Us, the first in my Twin Lakes mysteries was awarded a Best Indie of 2011 by Suspense Magazine. I’ve two new books coming out in the next few months: Murder a la Christie, a mystery, with L&L Dreamspell, and a young YA novel, Getting Back to Normal, with Untreed Reads.

I am co-founder and past-president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Please visit my website: www.marilynlevinson.com or my Amazon page: http://amzn.to/K6Md1O  for a list of all my titles. You can also find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.levinson.10?ref=ts&fref=ts  and Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarilynLevinson

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Interview: Elaine Viets

Please welcome Elaine Viets, author of the Dead-End Job series and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Breakfast in bed, long walk on the beach, lunch by the water with friends, a good mystery to read icar-photo1n the afternoon and dinner at a favorite restaurant with my husband, Don Crinklaw.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Does a black ’86 Jaguar with a red leather interior count? Black Beauty is the other love of my life.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Mark Twain, the best humorist America ever produced, and a Missourian. His writing is still graceful and timely.

Sister St. Bernard, a nun at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, who let me writer a column for the school paper called “Under the Influence of Brandy.” Brandy was a school mascot — a St. Bernard. It was a god awful column, but I was bitten by the writing bug.

Agatha Christie. Still the Queen of Mystery.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, just the sounds of the boats and the water. I live on the Intracoastal Waterway.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate, with nuts. I savor the deliciously dark craziness of South Florida.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to boardstiff2write about Florida’s tourist industry. Not the big beach hotels that look like the tombs of the pharaohs, but the small companies that rent the jet skis, the parasails, and the paddleboards. I saw a story in the Sun-Sentinel about how the competition is so cutthroat some of these companies sabotage one another, especially before spring break. It was just a show step from cutthroat to murder in my book.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Adultery, blackmail and betrayal.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Helen Hawthorne made six figures in human resources at a corporation. She was a corporate nun who worked long hours. One day she came home early and her husband, who was supposed to be working on their back deck, nailing their neighbor, Sandy.

Helen trashed his Land Cruiser with a crow bar, then divorced him. The judge awarded him half of her future income. Helen vowed the man who betrayed her would never see another nickel and took off for South Florida, where she worked low-paying jobs for cash under the table.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Janet Evanovich meets “The Fugitive”

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

  • Agatha Christie
  • Conan Doyle
  • Michael Connelly
  • Harlan Coben
  • Harley Jane Kozak
  • Charlaine Harris

What’s next for you?
More of the work I love. I signed a contract with Penguin for two more Dead-End Job mysteries and two more Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries.

I also host a weekly half-hour talk show — the Dead-End Jobs Show — on Radio Ear Network (radioearnetwork.com). REN is Internet radio in 148 countries.

***

Board Stiff, Elaine Viets’ new hardcover mystery, is the ultimate beach book, set in the cutthroat world of catering to tourists. The New York Times Review of Books praises her “quick-witted mysteries.” Elaine’s bestselling Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Her character, Helen Hawthorne, works a different low-paying job each book. Elaine’s second series features mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Elaine won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards.

Website: www.elaineviets.com
Twitter: @evmysterywriter
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ElaineVietsMysteryWriter
Book trailer: BOARD STIFF http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppzz6vX8jvU
Dead-End Jobs Radio Show archives: http://www.mixcloud.com/tag/elaine-viets/

Guest Post: D.A. Lampi

What Better Setting for a Thriller?

Unmarked graves, a network of caves once used to store bodies, and an institution once called the Asylum for Inebriates–these are the things that make up the setting for Shadow Play.

The setting of a piece of fiction infuses it with a physical, almost palpable world. Who doesn’t remember the Yorkshire moors of Wuthering Heights or the workhouse of Oliver Twist? The small southern towns of To Kill a Mockingbird and more recently, The Help by Kathryn Stockett? The setting provides a context, a specific time and place in which the action takes place. It also provides a social environment for the characters, a canvas for their morals, values and cultural attributes.

In my debut novel, Shadow Play, Psychiatrist Grace Rendeau’s life was back on track. A widow with two young children, she had recently moved to work in Rochester, Minnesota to work in the fictional Rochester Forensic Center for the Criminally Insane. In the background of Grace’s story of love, loss, and unimaginable grief, the setting is rife with possibilities for a thriller. Suspects in the nightmarish abduction of Grace’s children are legion and are taken from the prison environment. They include escaped and released inmates, colleagues with whom Grace has had uneasy relationships, and her fiancé, among others.

Setting also influences the mood of the story. I begin the novel in autumn, on a bright sunny day when anything seems possible.

Grace stepped out of her car, lifted her face to the sun and breathed in the smell of wood after a warm rain. Leaves fluttered lazily to the ground as she strode through the parking lot and waved to a handful of men dressed in prison issue khakis. Uniformed officers stood like toy soldiers watching as the inmates hacked at stumps of ivy clinging to the razor wire topped fence circling the prison.

Shortly afterwards, the setting begins to show ominous warnings that all is not what it seems.

No matter what their crimes, in the few weeks she had worked in the unit, Grace had begun to see their humanity. Even felt a kind of sympathy for some of them. The barbaric ice baths, insulin shock, and lobotomies her predecessors once performed on those very grounds still caused her to shudder.

In the late 1800s, patients had worked on the land, growing vegetables that were preserved in a system of neighboring caves. The food from their labor fed the old state hospital population through the long Minnesota winters. The grounds now housed the modern Rochester Forensic Center, where she was the new psychiatrist.

The setting helps reveal the characters. We see that Grace is aware of the history of abuse the early patients suffered and is a compassionate, caring clinician. In the next paragraph, another character is introduced. The setting also heavily influences Bud Anderson’s character traits.

Corrections Officer Bud Anderson fell into step with Grace halfway to the entrance. Bud Anderson was forty-three years old, over six feet tall, and as large and gray-headed as a buzzard with a military buzz cut. He fell into step beside her. “Morning, Doc. What a day, huh?”

Grace had heard through the prison grapevine that he was having marital problems. Word was that he had a core made of iron and a life mortgaged to the hilt. He also had a limb length discrepancy resulting from an injury during his service and wore an orthotic shoe with a lift. Even so, his gait was brisk and measured.

 “So, how ‘ya doin’ Grace?” Anderson asked with a familiarity that set Grace on edge. He smiled. He had a space the size of a small stream through his front teeth.

Lastly, setting influences the mood of the story. This is particularly obvious in mysteries and thrillers. Several scenes in the novel take place either on the grounds of the Quarry Hill Nature Center, which is adjacent to the institution or, in the prison, originally the old state hospital. A key scene takes place in caves, which were once used for purposes of keeping the hospital’s food supplies cold as well as storage for bodies when the inhospitable and frozen Minnesota soil did not permit them to be buried.  Within the context of this setting, it is easy to vary the mood from a happy, hopeful family outing to the nature center, such as my family and I have often enjoyed, to Grace’s rising panic and claustrophobia while touring the cold, damp cave.

Once the scene has been set with this unrest, a mysterious woman follows Grace and her children leading to further questions. The scene ends with a visit to the cemetery where two thousand nineteen of the early souls from the institution are buried in unmarked graves.

The history of the grounds, although not dealt with significantly in the novel, provides a subtle background for the events that transpire in Shadow Play and certainly influenced how I wrote the novel. My hope is that this subtly influences the scenes with a degree of eeriness and dread.

Today, on a beautiful spring day at Quarry Hill, one might still come across a limestone fireplace or a cave, the old quarry or Dead Man’s Bridge, the reported site of a hanging. Just the name–Dead Man’s Bridge–is enough to raise the hairs on the neck of an unsuspecting hiker. Although, it’s the perfect setting for a crime, I like to think that the unfortunate souls who suffered from mental illnesses at a time when science and medicine had no cure, found respite on these hallowed grounds.

***

D.A. Lampi is the author of the forthcoming novel, Shadow Play.  Visit her at dalampiauthor.com.

Interview: Kendel Lynn

Please welcome Kendel Lynn, author of the Elliott Lisbon mystery series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A day at Disneyland. I love walking beneath the arch with the sign: Here you leave today, and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy. Walk down Main Street USA, visit all my favorite spots, ride the rides, eat churros and frozeboardstiffn bananas, lunch in Frontierland and dinner in the Bayou. Watch the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at the end of the day, then dream of going back again.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?

I’m awfully fond of In-N-Out burgers and cupcakes. Together in one meal and I get all weak-kneed.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Stephen King (nobody writes the way he does), Sue Grafton (all-time favorite series, read each one at least 5 times, A is for Alibi probably 10), Janet Evanovich (One for the Money set the bar for the humorous mystery genre).

Do you listen to music when you write?
Nope. I love the quiet. I barely listen to music when in my car!

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Godiva dark chocolate heart: fun, romantic, and mysterious.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’d written a middle-grade mystery and wanted to try my hand at an adult amateur sleuth. Once I dreamt up Elliott, I was off. I loved the idea of a formal boardroom set on a casual island filled with eccentric characters.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Independence and imperfection. I like strong women characters who can get it done on their own, but who make mistakes along the way.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Elliott strives for approval from her surrogate parents, the Ballantynes. She never wants to let them down. From overachieving as the directory of the Ballantyne Foundation, to performing discreet inquiries for board members, Elliott never gives up. Even if she sometimes gets it wrong.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Part Kinsey Millhone, part Achy McNally, part Monk.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Marsha Muller, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Charlaine Harris, J.K. Rowling. (All living; it would be weird to have dead people there.) I’d need lots of wine to hold down the nerves, and a fabulous caterer because I don’t cook.

What’s next for you?
Whack Job, the second Elliott Lisbon mystery (January 2014) is underway. I’m excited to be knee deep into her next adventure!

***

Kendel Lynn is a Southern California native who now parks her flip-flops in Dallas, Texas. She read her first Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators at the age of seven and has loved mysteries ever since. Her debut novel, Board Stiff, won several literary competitions, including the Zola Award for Mystery/Suspense. Along with writing and reading, she spends her time as the managing editor of Henery Press where she acquires, edits, and figures out ways to avoid the gym but still eat cupcakes for dinner.

Web: www.kendellynn.com
Twitter: @Kendel_Lynn
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/kendellynn
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/kendellynnspins

Interview: Kait Carson

Please welcome Kait Carson, author of Zoned for Murder, Murder in the Multiples (coming soon), and the forthcoming Hayden Kent series.

Thank you for having me. The Mysteristas collectively have given me hours of reading pleasure. It is wonderful to be asked to do this interview.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Hmm, hard question since it depends on the season. Right now, my perfect day would be waking up on a sunny morning, packing the dive gear in our airplane (my husband is a pilot and we own a Piper aircraft) and taking off for a great wreck dive fzonedformurderollowed by a meal of fresh fish and a returning to our home hanger before nightfall. In the winter, it would be traveling to Sugarloaf (I’ve yet to conquer the western slopes, they are on my bucket list) and spending the day skiing. Someday I hope to graduate from green to blue. Then catching up with our Maine friends in the evening. Of course, when I’m in the middle of a book, my idea of the perfect day is to wake up full of new ideas for my characters and spend the day bringing them to life! When I’m writing, I often dream about my characters, and they tend to give me bossy directions, which can take my books in entirely new directions.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Is this a Diane-inspired question? The answer is yes to all…my signature accessory is my diver’s watch. It’s a man’s Timex indiglo on a lime green Velcro band. I feel naked without it. My signature color is purple in all its hues. I almost always have something from the purple family on and if I need a confidence boost then it’s either my lilac oxford shirt or my lavender polo shirt. Fragrance is in flux right now. Used to be Ralph Lauren’s Safari, then it became Chantilly after a dear friend made me a gift of a bottle. Now, I’m searching for a new fragrance, I’m thinking it’s time to go back to Safari. Something about its woodsy scent appeals now that we have moved from Maine back to Florida. Phrase, well, No worries! That phrase has gotten me in more trouble than anything else. Like most women, I hate to say no and tend to take on too much. No worries is my response to “can you do this?” The odd thing is, I always get it done and whatever it is, and it always somehow enriches my life.. Signature meal–to eat–cracked conch. To cook, salt free blackened steelhead salmon. Yum and Yum.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Jo March has to lead the list. I knew I wanted to be a writer at the age of 4, but when I first read Little Women, I decided that Jo March and Louisa May Alcott were one and the same. I sat for hours in my room imitating their style in modern stories. Sr. Marie Therese, my high school English teacher my sophomore year. We were assigned a short story writing project and she selected three to read to the class. She read the first line of my story, then stopped. The class demanded she finish reading. Her comment was “That, class is the way it is done. The first line is everything.” She encouraged me to keep on writing, and through her classes and her generosity of time, gave me the tools to write well. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Guppies. Guppies is an Internet Chapter of Sisters in Crime. It was established for unpublished writers to give them the tools to achieve publication. Now it’s a healthy mix of published and unpublished and the best place to go for questions, advice and classes to hone your craft. The published members give unstintingly of their knowledge and have guided a number of Guppies through the thicket to publication. I was proud to serve as their President from 2009-2011.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Nope, I tried when I read that music stimulates the creative lobes in the brain, but I really need total silence to hear my muse.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A dark chocolate Godiva truffle with a white chocolate interior. Murder in the Multiples is the story of things not being as they appear. It is darker than a normal cozy style mystery although it features an amateur sleuth. The story is rich in texture and taste, and when you bite into it, you find a completely different interior that turns your preconceived ideas upside down.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Miami, Florida and its unique style. The rules truly are different there. Catherine Swope had decided not to return to police work, but to go back to selling high end real estate. I worked for a law firm that sold one of Miami’s historic mansions to a Hollywood actor. When my boss took me to see the house, it blew me away, and fired my creativity. I filed the experience away in my journals and trotted it out for this book. I was also curious about what happens when the DEA seizes a house. How do they clear it, how do they offer it for sale, what happens if they miss some merchandise? I married the two stories and came up with Murder in the Multiples.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I am fascinated by the why. Although all of my stories have to do with good v. evil, the overriding theme is that things are not as they appear. For me, the theme comes from the characters. The face they present to the public and their true private face.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality.
What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today? Catherine came from the school of hard knocks. She was an army brat who lived all over the world until the age of ten when her mother died. Her Uncle, a doctor in Aroostook County, Maine, raised her to adulthood while her father continued to pursue his career. She always felt her father blamed her for her mother’s death. It made her strive to be a perfectionist and a type A personality. Her Uncle gave her the skills she needed to survive, but she always yearned for her father’s approval and affection. Two things he never gave unconditionally. After college at the University of Miami, she decided to stay in Miami. She bought a house and became a police officer. She left the force after she was involved in a fatal shooting of a young man. The shooting was ruled justified, but she had difficulty living with herself. She began to drink. Her friends pulled her out of her downward spiral. An incident of back-sliding led to her being the prime suspect in the murder of the Zoning Commissioner in the first book of the series, Zoned for Murder. Solving the crime helped build her self-esteem. She was secure enough to decide that police work was not for her, even though she was good at it. Instead, she went back to real estate, trying to make a success of it after the housing boom went bust. Catherine is intensely loyal to her friends. At the same time, she is unconditionally fair and in a crisis will look at the facts a trait she learned from her Uncle. Life always manages to surprise her and she accepts it with good humor, but she does always feel slightly off balance as she continues to strive for perfection.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan in Charlie’s Angels served as a prototype for Catherine’s appearance and her sleuthing skills. Richard Dean Anderson as MacGyver for Catherine’s resourcefulness and Tom Selleck as Magnum, PI for Catherine’s sense of humor and of the absurd.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
What a great question! Diana Mott Davidson for her culinary advice. Rita Mae Brown for her love of animals and her ability to seamlessly make them speak. Dorothy L. Sayers for her sense of the absurd in writing mystery protagonists. Harlan Coben for his sense of dark thrillers and P.D. James for showing us all how a police procedural should be done.

What’s next for you?
Death by Blue Water. This is the first book in the Hayden Kent Series. It’s based in the Florida Keys and features a scuba diving paralegal protagonist.

***

Kait Carson lives and works with her husband, eight cats and two birds at an airpark in Ft. Denaud, Florida. She began her working life as a secretary for companies as diverse as an Italian gold importer–that led to her running an jewelry import business in the Caribbean–to a law firm that led to a profession as a certified paralegal. Bits and pieces of her day jobs crop up in her writing. When she’s not writing, Kait can be found diving the gorgeous waters around South Florida or skiing the slopes of Sugarloaf.

Website: www.kaitcarson.com
Facebook: /KaitCarson
Email: kait.carson@gmail.com.

Interview and Giveaway: J.J. Murphy

Please welcome J.J. Murphy, author of the Algonquin Round Table mysteries.

[J.J. has graciously offered to give a copy of A Friendly Game of Murder to one lucky reader (paperback or digital format–winner’s choice).  Just leave a comment below today to enter the giveaway!  Winner will be selected at random and notified directly via email.]

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day is a day when the sun is shining, the birds are singing and, in the library, the detectives are finding clues, digginafriendlygameofmurderg up bodies and catching criminals.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I have only a written signature. I use it to sign IOUs, bank loans and bar tabs.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Outside of my dog, my creative inspirations are Dorothy Parker, Arthur Conan Doyle and David Letterman. Inside of my dog, it’s too dark and cramped to be creative.

Do you listen to music when you write?
When I write, the only music I hear is the symphony of my fingers clicking on the keyboard and the gentle screams of my characters as I put them into yet another tight corner.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
If books were chocolate, I would never leave the bookstore. I wouldn’t be able to fit through the door!

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Okay, let’s be serious now… I love historical mysteries. I also love funny, faced-paced stories. I love witty dialogue. And I love Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table. Mix those up in a blender, and you have my particular story.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Dorothy Parker once said (and I repeat this in my books) that she uses humor not as a weapon but as a shield. The first book in the Algonquin Round Table Mysteries, Murder Your Darlings, is really about using humor as a means of self-defense, and to some extent my other books are about that too.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Whoops. I kind of gave it away in the previous answer. Dorothy is witty, as I’ve explained. But what leads her to solving a mystery is finding a dead body beneath the Algonquin Round Table. Hilarity, shenanigans and car chases ensue.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I don’t need to do that at all! Dorothy Parker was a famous character in her own right. But if you don’t know who Mrs. Parker was, she had the sharp wit of Oscar Wilde, the heart of Lord Byron, and the va-va-voom body of Scarlett Johansson.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
1. Dorothy Parker (to make the jokes).
2. Ernest Hemingway (to mix the drinks).
3. Julia Child (to cook the dinner).
4. Dan Brown (to be the victim).
5. Arthur Conan Doyle (to solve the crime).
6. James Patterson (to pay the bill!).

What’s next for you?
Glad you asked! At the moment, I’m working on a brand new historical mystery thriller (no details to announce yet), and looking forward to getting back to Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table as soon as I can.

***

When not writing the Algonquin Round Table Mysteries, J.J. Murphy is an award-winning health care writer and very busy parent of twin daughters in suburban Philadelphia.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/RoundTableMysteries
Twitter: @Rnd_Tbl_Mystry
Email: jjmurphy (at) roundtablemysteries.com

Interview: Laura DiSilverio

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 wmalledtodeathith 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!

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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.