Interview: Terry Ambrose

Please welcome Terry Ambrose, author of the McKenna Mysteries and License to Lie series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day begins with a walk on a warm, sandy beach. With the trade winds blowing gently and the day becoming warmer and more humid, it would seem that nothing could go wrong. Grabbing a couple of hours to write in the shade of some kauaitemptationstall trees would be a fabulous addition. Then, I’d finish it off with a dip in the ocean to feel refreshed and energized for the evening.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
This question seems to come down to style. Mine tends to be island style. Aloha shirts, shorts, and barbecued chicken or fish.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Ed Stackler is the first one on this list. He was my first editor and the one who got me moving in the right direction when it came to writing mysteries and suspense in a way that kept readers intrigued rather than bored. While I never met him, Jack M. Bickham’s book “Scene and Structure” has also had a major influence on my writing. At a time when I found myself wondering what the next step was, I read that book and knew instantly what direction I wanted to take my writing. Number 3 on my list is Ray Bradbury. In addition to devouring his books when I was younger, I was fortunate enough to see him speak at a writers conference.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I’ll listen to music to help set the mood. It’s especially helpful to me to listen to Hawaiian music when writing the McKenna Mysteries.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
If Kauai Temptations were chocolate, it would probably be something like the “Chocolate Dome” at PF Chang’s. It’s a deep dark chocolate on the outside and even richer on the inside, then drizzled with a raspberry sauce. Best of all, it’s gluten-free!

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’m a victim of identity theft myself and the feelings that McKenna experiences as he learns about what’s happened are those I went through. While McKenna actually puts his plan to bring the thieves to justice in place, I was never that brave. Maybe this book is me doing what I would have liked to have done at the time—without the whole murder caper, of course.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
My stories usually involve a con artist or scammer of some sort. In the McKenna Mystery series, I’m currently focusing on the issue of redemption. In the License to Lie series, which features a female con artist as a protagonist, I explore the issue of trust—what we must do to gain it and how far we must sometimes go to keep it.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
In the McKenna Mystery series, my protagonist is Wilson McKenna, a guy who is struggling to put his life back together after having fled to Hawaii years before. His “go to” reaction when he’s not in a difficult situation is typically one of fragility and avoidance. However, as the stakes rise, his inner strength comes out and the more trouble he gets in, the stronger his resolve and personality become.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
One part Jessica Fletcher for his sleuthing
One part Thomas Magnum for his somewhat fractured personality and his ability to play a hunch
One part Richard Castle for his sharp tongue, theories, and flighty behavior in mildly difficult situations.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
What mystery author dinner party would be complete without Sue Grafton? I’d also love to see Hank Phillippi Ryan attend—I’m sure she’d keep everyone talking with her questions. I met Andrew Gross at a lunch one time and would have really liked to talk with him more, so let’s invite him. I’d also invite a couple of relative “newcomers”: Kim Fay and Susan Elia MacNeal. Both were 2013 Edgar Finalists for Best First Novel, but have been writing for years. And just to keep us all laughing, I’d round things out with Carl Hiaasen.

What’s next for you?
My next project is the sequel to License to Lie, which is called Con Game. In this installment, Roxy Tanner (a con artist) and Skip Cosgrove (a criminologist) have taken their relationship to the next level and are still sorting out whether they can trust each other enough to continue. The book opens with Skip being shot by a man he helped put in jail and Roxy conning an L.A. stockbroker out of a $1 million. In order to save themselves, the two will have to fight off a killer, recover a stolen fortune, and help a homeless 12-year-old to survive.

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Terry Ambrose is a former bill collector and skip tracer who now uses that background to write mysteries and thrillers. His debut mystery Photo Finish was a 2013 San Diego Book Awards Finalist.

Website: terryambrose.com
Facebook: https://facebook.com/suspense.writer 
Twitter: http://twitter.com/suspense_writer

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Interview: Kathleen Kaska

Please welcome Kathleen Kaska, author of Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Wake up early to a beautiful day; go for a long run along the water; have lunch with my husband; spend the afternoon getting some greats words down, and finally ending a productive day with a big Bombay martini on my patio.

murderatthegalvezDo you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Bracelets; I love ‘em. I make sure I purchase at least one from every country or unusual place I visit. I have a silver cuff from Kathmandu and a gold chain ID cartouche bracelet I bought in Egypt. While in Kenya, I traded my watch for a beaded bracelet. My favorite one is a silver rope bracelet, supposedly an antique, which I brought in Tangier, Morocco. But no matter which one I’m wearing, I always wear a black wristband with the words from the movie Throw Mamma from the Train, “A Writer Writes—Always.”

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Here I’m all over the map and it’s difficult to pick just three. Ornithologist Robert Porter Allen inspired me to write The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story. Janet Evanovich, Raymond Chandler, and Rex Stout inspired me to write my Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series, which I like to call humorous noir.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, if I can’t hear the neighborhood birds or the ocean waves, I prefer silence. Sometimes, when the weed wackers, chain saws, leaf blowers are spiffing up the condo, I use earplugs to block out the noise.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark, rich and full of nuts. I like to describe my Sydney Lockhart mysteries as noir, steeped in history, and full of zany characters.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Murder at the Galvez has a special meaning for me. It is set in Galveston, Texas where my father used to take our family for vacations in the summer. Galveston is also where my husband is from and we’ve spent many wonderful weekends at the Galvez Hotel. I love the Texas coast and Galveston is still one of my favorite places.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The empowerment of women. My stories are set in the early 1950s when women were just beginning to realize their potential and claim their power. Sydney is an independent gal, but she’s not always as strong as she thinks she is or wants to be. I put her in situations where she has to take risks and prove herself. Most of the time she succeeds, but not always. Whatever happens, she learns more about who she really is.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality.
Sydney is twenty-nine. She’s tall and slender and has long, wiry red hair. Her height and built allows her to easily go undercover disguised as a man. The only problem is that her fedora doesn’t always stay in place to hide the hair, which she refuses to cut. As you may have guessed, she’s too opinioned and sassy for her own good.

What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Sydney’s strives to be more like her father: levelheaded, patient, practical, and easygoing, but she fears she has the potential to act like her mother: flighty, demanding, and just plain crazy. But the person who was her greatest influence was her grandfather who taught her to appreciate nature and the simple things in life.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I asked a good friend and reader of all my books this question. Our answers were very close. However, his reasoning was much better than mine, so I’m quoting him.

“Jessica Rabbit: Sydney projects the same flippant allure and knows how to use it to her benefit.”

“Lauren Bacall: Sydney has all that class and ability to take care of herself.”

We both agreed on Lucille Ball, but at the last minutes, I substituted her for wisecracking, tough guy Phillip Marlowe.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’ll pick three of each. Three who have gone before me are: Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Dick Francis. Three who are still living: Martha Grimes, Laurie R. King, and Elizabeth Peters.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on mystery number four, Murder at the Driskill, set at the historic Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. This is where Sydney lives and where I lived for twenty-five years. Austin has changed so much since the seventies when I moved there to go to college. I love doing the research and discovering what the city was like in 1953.

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Kathleen Kaska writes the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series published by LL-Publications. Her Sherlock Holmes and Alfred Hitchcock trivia books were finalists for the 2013 EPIC Award in nonfiction. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, has been nominated for the George Perkins Marsh Award for environmental history.

Website: www.kathleenkaska.com
Twitter: @KKaskaAuthor
Facebook: www.facebook.com/kathleenkaska

Every Story is a Mystery

Last July, I attended a talk by Hank Phillippi Ryan in Cleveland. She told the audience she was once asked, “Could you write a romance without a mystery?” Interesting question, huh?

Hank’s response: “I suppose, but what would they do?”

It got me to thinking. Doesn’t all of the best fiction have a little mystery?

If you look up the dictionary definition of “mystery,” there are several – but they all have one thing in common: the element of the unknown. In that vast genre of crime fiction (encompassing traditional mystery, thriller, and suspense), the unknown is a Mystery. It’s a problem to be solved, a “whodunit.” Mystery readers are very familiar with that concept. Who stole/killed/committed some crime and will the hero find the answer? Who is behind the impending world-wide disaster, and can the heroine stop it in time? These are Mysteries (big M).

But consider these:

  • Will Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy overcome their mutual prejudices to find love?
  • Will Frodo complete his quest to destroy the One Ring?
  • Will Harry defeat Voldemort once and for all?

Aren’t these mysteries too? These are all unknowns. The reader doesn’t know how it’s going to turn out. Isn’t that what keeps us turning the pages, finding out whether love will triumph in the end, whether the quest will be fulfilled, and whether our favorite characters find their own Happily Ever After?

I argue that it does. I mean, one of the most common complains about fiction is “I saw that coming,” or “I knew that was going to happen.” Why read to the end of a 90,000 word novel if you know the ending at the end of Chapter One?

By that definition, every story ever written is a mystery at some level. What a wonderful idea, right?

This holds true of my middle-grade fantasy series, Hero’s Sword. In each book, there is a mini-mystery, some puzzle that must be solved. In Power Play, the first installment, the question is “Who is behind banditry plaguing travelers on the High Road?” In Storm Clouds, I turn to a different type of crime – who stole a valuable gem and why is he (or she) framing Lady Starla of Mallory?

In this way, I just can’t escape from my crime fiction roots. The world of Hero’s Sword is fantastical (being transported into a video game is a big fantasy for a lot of people), but the problems are something that would not seem out of place to Holmes or Poirot.

But there’s another level of mystery, too. When the mini-mysteries of each book are connected, the question becomes, “Who is trying to overthrow the Empire, and can Lyla stop him/her in time?” Once again, the world (the Empire of the Hero’s Sword game), is fantastic – but the race to stop the villain could come out of any adult thriller.

And then there is what I’ve come to think of as the “meta-mystery,” the thread that runs through the series in the so-called “real world.” Will Jaycee find the skills, confidence, and strength she needs to carve out her place in the middle-school world, without betraying the things she believes in? And that’s a mystery anybody can relate to, especially kids. Who am I? Where do I fit in? What do I believe in? These are all personal mysteries we have to solve for ourselves.

We don’t know the answers to these questions. But that’s what keeps me writing – and reading. That little bit of mystery. The finding out is what makes it fun.

What about you? Do you find a little bit of mystery in your favorite stories? I’ll give an e-copy of Storm Clouds (Amazon or Nook) to three lucky commentors!

***

Mary Sutton has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other pstormcloudseople’s stories, for as long as she can remember. After ten years, she decided that making things up was far more satisfying than writing software manuals, and took the jump into fiction.

She writes the Hero’s Sword middle-grade fantasy series as M.E. Sutton, and finds a lot of inspiration in the lives of her own kids. A lifelong mystery fan, she also writes crime fiction, including The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, under the pen name Liz Milliron.

Guest Post: B.K. Stevens

Modern Mysteries–Classic Roots

Not long ago, I read Euripides’s Hecuba for the first time. About halfway through, some familiar elements began showing up.  “What do you know?” I thought. “It’s a detective story.”

True, this ancient Greek tragedy doesn’t exactly cut it as a whodunit: The play opens with a visit from the victim’s ghost, who helpfully tells the audience just when, why, and by whom he was murdered. But when his body is found and his mother, Hecuba, wants to confirm her suspicions, she uses tactics all mystery readers will recognize. Greeting the suspected murderer as her “dear friend,” Hecuba asks him a series of pointed questions. Polymestor thinks he’s cleverly hiding the truth, but when he declares he recently saw her son alive and well, Hecuba knows she’s found the killer. After she takes her revenge, we get another kind of scene found in many mysteries—the courtroom drama. Both Hecuba and the blinded Polymestor plead their cases in front of Agamemnon, who, acting as judge, declares Hecuba’s actions justified and imposes further punishment on the murderer.

Stumbling across these mystery elements in Hecuba got me thinking. How far back do our genre’s roots go? How many characteristics of modern mysteries can be traced to classic literary works?

Well, there’s Oedipus the King. This play does qualify as a whodunit—not a terribly mysterious one, true, since everybody in Sophocles’s audience knew the ancient story of Oedipus long before heading to the theater. Nevertheless, Sophocles builds tension by portraying Oedipus as a determined detective, interrogating suspects and examining evidence as he attempts to find out who killed King Laius. In a final plot twist even Agatha Christie would envy, Oedipus faces the horrible truth: In the words of the blind prophet, Teiresias, “You yourself are the killer you seek.” Other Greek plays also center on murder, and on bringing murderers to justice. In the various plays about the Orestes legend, for example, Agamemnon returns from Troy only to be murdered by his wife and the lover she’s acquired in his absence. It is then up to Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, and his sister Electra to avenge their father’s death by conspiring to kill their mother and stepfather. Talk about malice domestic!

When we turn from ancient Greece to ancient Israel, we don’t have to wait long to find crime stories, ones that feature a highly distinguished detective. After eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge, Adam and Eve do what many criminals in modern mysteries do: They hide and deny their guilt. With God as the detective, this approach does not work well. When Adam claims he’s hiding because he’s embarrassed about being naked, God promptly spots the holes in his story: “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?” More typical criminal behavior follows: Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. Unfortunately for them, they’re appearing before a Judge who doesn’t have much tolerance for excuses.

So the story of the first two human beings is a story of crime, detection, and judgment—the same elements central to mysteries written today. Of course, many mystery fans feel that, with the possible exception of Gaudy Night, the most satisfying mysteries focus specifically on the crime of murder. For murder, we have to wait until the next chapter of Genesis, when the third person to exist on the planet, Cain, murders the fourth person to exist on the planet, Abel. Once again, God is the detective—asking Cain where his brother is, not falling for Cain’s glib assertion that he doesn’t know, stepping into the role of judge to impose a punishment that fits the crime.

It’s not, however, a role God relishes. Still in the early pages of Genesis, he delegates it to humans. After the flood, God gives Noah and his family a rudimentary moral code—just a few rules, in contrast to the many commandments that come in later books of the Bible, but one of these rules demands that human beings punish murderers. There must be a “reckoning” for every human life taken, God declares: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” So the job of bringing murderers to justice passes from God to humans.  The protagonists of modern mysteries accept that job willingly—and can cite the highest authority for doing so.

But the job is tougher for humans than it was for God. We can’t instantly tell when someone is lying, and we can’t rely on the sorts of evidence God uses to convict Cain—“Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” So, in most cases, one human can’t do the job alone. We need police, lawyers, judges—and, sometimes, clever private detectives, resourceful amateur sleuths, and other sorts of justice-seeking characters found in modern mysteries.

The rabbis of the Talmud used God’s words to Noah as the primary basis of what is known as the Noahide Code, the seven laws non-Jews must follow to earn a share in the world to come. One of those laws, naturally, prohibits murder; another mandates setting up a system of justice. I find it interesting that two of the seven laws the rabbis saw as central to ethical human life are also central to the modern mystery. (A third Noahide law prohibits stealing, which also plays a role in many mysteries, and a fourth law regards sexual immorality, which often contributes to motive.) So when snooty sorts shrug off mysteries as trivial entertainment, we can confidently assert that, on the contrary, mysteries focus on some of our most important responsibilities as human beings.

Shakespeare certainly didn’t consider the subject matter of mysteries trivial. Hamlet comes to mind most readily. After resolving to uncover the truth about his father’s death, Hamlet hides his intentions by pretending to be insane, thereby setting an example for later detectives, right down to Lieutenant Columbo, who throw suspects off by playing dumb.  Hamlet also stages a play-within-a-play that comes so close to recreating his father’s murder that Claudius runs from the room. How many modern fictional detectives have used similar psychological ploys to lure killers into revealing their guilt?

Othello also tries to play detective, but his investigation goes tragically wrong. “I’ll have some proof” before believing Desdemona is unfaithful, Othello says. Unfortunately, he makes the mistake of saying it to Iago. Now we have another character type found in many modern mysteries, the false ally who undermines the detective while pretending to help. Iago provides proof, all right—a seemingly incriminating handkerchief, an overheard conversation—but manipulates the evidence to lead Othello to the wrong conclusion.

Other Shakespearian tragedies—Macbeth, for example—also have murders and the attempt to establish the truth about murders at their centers. In Shakespeare’s history plays, we find more elements of modern mysteries and thrillers: conspiracies, betrayals, political assassinations, doubts about who can be trusted. Richard III provides an especially chilling portrait of a murderer—ruthless, shrewd, driven not only by political ambition but also by pains and resentments stretching back to childhood. He’d be right at home in a modern psychological thriller, and he provides solid proof that Shakespeare, like many modern mystery writers, finds the connections between abnormal psychology and crime fascinating. (It seems wrong to mention Richard III without also mentioning Josephine Tey’s wonderful The Daughter of Time, which re-investigates the case of the murdered princes and finds Richard innocent.)

Even some of Shakespeare’s comedies could be considered crime fiction. In many ways, Much Ado about Nothing feels like the comic flip side of Othello. Once again, a military leader with a strong sense of honor (in this case, Claudio) falls in love with an innocent young woman (in this case, Hero) but rejects her as unfaithful because he’s misled by false evidence planted by a cunning, remorseless villain (in this case, Don John). The only thing that keeps the story from turning tragic is the arrival of Dogberry and his crew of inept but well-intentioned police officers, who stumble across evidence of Don John’s scheme and reveal it just in time to let the play end with weddings, not funerals. Today’s mystery readers know good detective work can make the difference between tragedy and comedy; evidently, Shakespeare agrees. And Dogberry and his helpers set the pattern for the cops and constables we meet in countless mysteries, from Sherlock Holmes sagas to private eye narratives to current cozies. Even when they’re too dim to understand what’s really going on, these clueless officers often play a crucial role.

It’s tempting to look ahead a century or so, to the various contenders for the distinction of being the first real novel written in English. We’d find plenty of crime, plenty of mystery—from Defoe’s Moll Flanders, which tells the story of an accomplished thief and borderline prostitute; to Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa, which center on rape or attempted rape; to Fielding’s Jonathan Wild, a fictionalized account of a real-life thief, or his Tom Jones, which features a number of crimes and the central mystery of the truth about Tom’s birth. P.D. James has argued persuasively that Austen’s Emma is essentially detective fiction; at least one literary critic thinks Brontë’s Jane Eyre is the first real mystery novel; and crime is a central element in several Dickens novels, not only The Mystery of Edwin Drood but also Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and others. On the other side of the Atlantic, Hawthorne explores crime, secret sins, and guilt in works such as The House of the Seven Gables, Melville paints a sympathetic portrait of an accidental killer in Billy Budd, and Poe gives the mystery a distinctive form.

But perhaps such works are too recent to be considered “classic” in the full sense. Perhaps it’s best to stop with Shakespeare. It seems clear, at any rate, that mysteries are not a fad, that their popularity does not stem from the corrupt, morbid taste of contemporary readers. Literary works that have survived for centuries—in some cases, for millennia—tell us people have always been fascinated by mysteries, wanted to understand more about the criminal mind, and recognized the importance of detecting crime and bringing the guilty to justice. So the roots of the modern mystery go very deep indeed—to some of our earliest literary works, and to the essence of the human mind and heart.

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B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens has published over forty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. A 2012 story, “Thea’s First Husband,” was nominated for an Agatha and has now been nominated for a Macavity as well; it also made the list of “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2012” in Best American Mystery Stories 2013.  One Shot, a satirical e-novella from Untreed Reads, takes on issues ranging from gun control to reality shows. Awards include a 2010 Derringer from the Short Mystery Fiction Society and first place in a suspense-writing contest judged by Mary Higgins Clark. A long-time English professor, B.K. has also published three non-fiction books, along with articles in The Writer and The Third Degree. She and her husband, Dennis, live in Virginia.

Website: http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com.

Interview: D.A. Lampi

Please welcome D.A. Lampi, author of the Grace Rendeau mystery series–the first of which is Shadow Play, to be followed by An Unfortunate Death.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I love days I can be outside, preferably in autumn, hiking or walking for a couple of hours, and then coming home to read or write, hshadowplayaving a nice dinner with family or friends.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My signature accessory is my sheltie. Scout Finch follows me everywhere!

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Writers, Stephen King because he has overcome tremendous adversity to become a successful writer, Philip Roth because he looked at topics that were taboo when they wrote about them (with great insight), and Joyce Carol Oates for her talent and how prolific and driven she is.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes. Lately it’s been Leonard Cohen and Gillian Welch although there are times when I need absolute quiet.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
It would be a chocolate wine! Maybe Truffle Merlot because An Unfortunate Death has a dark plot with a bit of everything– love, obsession, murder–a bit decadent and delicious for a mystery lover, like chocolate wine.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wrote Shadow Play for many reasons. I wanted a strong female protagonist. Grace Rendeau, M.D., psychiatrist came about because of my interest and background in mental health. The setting is one that intrigued me. She works in what I have called “The Rochester Forensic Center for the Criminally Insane,” which is loosely based on a prison hospital for inmates. I wanted to bring awareness to the patients and to the staff who care for them with such humanity and dignity.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Usually unrequited or impossible love! Loss, mystery.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Grace Rendeau is a single working mother of two. She is bright, well-educated, and loves her children. She has suffered–she was widowed some years ago, her children were abducted in Shadow Play and she becomes unwillingly involved in murder in An Unfortunate Death.

I think these experiences have made her somewhat anxious but stronger as well. Working with mental health clients has given her a great deal of empathy and compassion.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Sherlock Holmes, Mia Farrow and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Gillian Flynn, Erin Hart, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Tana French and Louise Erdrich (although she has written a few mysteries, she is not technically a mystery writer)

What’s next for you?
I have finished An Unfortunate Death–the second in the Grace Rendeau mystery series. Next will be seeing it to publication which generally means REVISION!

Thanks so much Mysteristas for having me and for the thoughtful questions. I particularly loved the question about “if your character were a mash of three famous people…”

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D.A. Lampi was born in Fishkill, New York and grew up in a community of Finnish immigrants with whom she danced the polka, attended a bi-weekly community sauna, and enjoyed skinny dipping afterwards in the cold waters of the Fishkill Creek.

She attended New York University and The New School for Social Research where she earned her Master of Arts in psychology. Her favorite class in college? American Literature.

Ms. Lampi has worked as a psychiatric emergency room nurse, a mental health therapist, a second grade teacher, a yoga instructor, and writer. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime.

After living in Puerto Rico for fifteen years and experiencing her share of hurricanes, Ms. Lampi now happily resides in Minnesota where she writes and takes long walks, weather permitting. Ms. Lampi can be found on Facebook and at her website http://dalampiauthor.com/.

Shadow Play, Ms. Lampi’s debut novel, is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at Ms. Lampi’s website.

Interview: Erin Hart

Please welcome mystery writer Erin Hart, whose latest book is The Book of Killowen.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Let’s see…  It would have to be a morning of productive writing (ideally, where I solve some knotty plot problem), then an afternoon spkillowenent reading a ripping good mystery, followed by dinner with my husband Paddy or my whole extended family, and then a baseball game or a movie.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Truth to tell, I am really quite fashion-impaired, so accessory, color, and fragrance are probably automatically out! (Unless black counts as a color…) But because I’ve always been rather slow and deliberative about every undertaking, long ago I created a personal coat of arms with the image of a snail couchant (how else?) and featuring the motto, “L’escargot, c’est moi!”

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
I’ve always been inspired by the wonderful writing of P.D. James, and not just for her skilled use of language, but also for the deep compassion she has for all of the characters in her novels, heroes and villains alike. I studied her books, really picking them apart to understand how a really fine crime novel is built. My husband  and all of my artist and writer and musician friends inspire me, through their commitment to their own work and vision.  I think I’ve also been deeply inspired by the work of playwrights Brian Friel and August Wilson, and theater directors Garland Wright and Bain Boehlke, for all of the layers of meaning and humanity and culture they’re able to reveal in their work. Okay, I realize that’s a lot more than three people…

Do you listen to music when you write?
Not usually. I can’t listen to singing in English, which I find too distracting when I’m trying to concentrate on words. But instrumental music, or songs in a language other than English are okay. My husband is an Irish musician, so he’s often downstairs playing the accordion as I write. I love that, and hearing him play does inspire me—it helps me get into the story, especially when I’m writing scenes that include traditional music. There have been particular songs or tunes that I’ve listened to while writing because they’re somehow connected to the story I’m working on, and they help put me in the mood. When working on Haunted Ground, whenever I needed inspiration, I would put on a recording of our good friend James Kelly playing “The Dear Irish Boy,” on the fiddle. It’s a gorgeous, absolutely heart-rending air, perfect for writing about a beautiful young woman whose severed head was buried in a bog for 350 years… While writing False Mermaid, I often listened to “An Mhaighdean Mhara (The Mermaid),” a lovely sad song in Irish about a mermaid who has left her husband and children and returned to the sea.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
The Book of Killowen would be a lovely bar of dark chocolate studded with dried currants and berries and hazelnuts, because it begins with a scribe from the 9th century, and those were the sorts of foods that medieval monks would find in the woods that surrounded their little huts and monasteries.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
All of my novels are inspired by real artifacts (and occasionally people) that have turned up in the bogs of Ireland. The Book of Killowen began when I heard about a 9th-century book of psalms that was discovered at Faddan More bog in County Tipperary. I began to wonder how such a wonderful illuminated manuscript had ended up in a bog, of all places. Evidently the Irish countryside was teeming with monasteries back in the 9th century, places where the monks spent a lot of time copying old manuscripts and creating beautiful books. Then I remembered being in the National Museum of Ireland lab at Collins Barracks, the place where ancient artifacts are brought for conservation, way back in 1999. On the day I was there, someone had brought in a leather satchel from the 9th century that had just turned up in a bog. It was perfectly preserved. And as it turned out, that satchel had also come from Faddan More, the same bog where the book turned up seven years later. Leather satchels were used by medieval monks to carry and store their books. So the juxtaposition of the two finds from the same place really began to fire my imagination. Archaeologists had recovered a book, and a satchel from the same bog, so where was the man who’d been carrying them? Perhaps he would be found in the bog as well…  So that’s where The Book of Killowen starts, with that what if?. And the story about ancient manuscripts allowed me to wax philosophical about written language as code, about the transmission of knowledge, the danger of ideas, and also to pose questions we’re still asking today: what is a book, is it an artifact, or a collection of words and ideas that may be transmitted in many different forms?

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The main idea (some would say obsession) that runs through my stories, is that the past is not dead, and it’s not even really past, and that’s it’s always with us, always underfoot. I can’t get over the idea that we are all connected in very fundamental ways to those who have come before us. Things from the past, whether they are ideas, rituals, or artifacts, survive in the present. I’m fascinated by the ways in which knowledge and culture are passed down through generations, whether it’s the way that ancient poets or traditional musicians like my husband can keep so many notes and stories in their heads, or whether it’s through the amazing legacy of the scribes who copied out thousands of books so that the knowledge contained in them could be preserved and shared. I mean, just imagine living in a time when every single book in the world had been written out by hand! Artifacts and people from the past let me explore ideas of interconnectedness, and the ripples and repercussions of things that happened hundreds of years ago that are still being felt today.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
I really have two main characters in my series. Pathologist Nora Gavin, is the daughter of two doctors, born in Ireland, but raised in Minnesota. She’s straightforward, curious, empathetic, slightly impulsive, and perhaps a bit gun-shy when it comes to relationships. Nora remains deeply affected by the murder of her only sister, which turned her whole world upside down. Cormac Maguire, Nora’s archaeologist beau, is thoughtful and a bit shy, but doesn’t think twice about putting himself in danger to help someone else. His life was shaped by his father’s abandonment when he was a child, so he’s also a bit leery of marriage; in that way, he and Nora are made for each other. Without realizing it, Cormac also carries his father’s deep commitment to human rights: Joseph Maguire left his family because he became deeply involved in the plight of the The Disappeared in Chile, and Cormac has made use of his skills as an archaeologist to recover remains and help identify victims of war and genocide in the Balkans.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Nora Gavin would probably be an amalgam of various qualities from fictional characters, maybe Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs for bravery in spite of her fear. She also shares a certain academic level-headedness with Dorothy Sayers’ sleuth Harriet Vane, and the dogged tenacity of Paula LaPlante’s police detective Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect.  And I confess that I’ve always seen Cormac Maguire as a mashup of a modern-day Mr. Darcy, Horatio Hornblower, and Indiana Jones.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Sounds like great fun! My guest list would include P.D. James, of course. Maybe A.S. Byatt (I maintain that her novel Possession is a mystery—although no one is murdered, there is plenty of skulduggery and literary mystery). I’d have to invite Charles Dickens (his novels Bleak House and Edwin Drood are both mysteries), and Arthur Conan Doyle (I’ve always been a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan), plus some of my current faves, maybe Martin Cruz Smith, and Minette Walters.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new novel set in the Burren region of northwest County Clare in Ireland. It’s about a man who has gone missing, and how a whole village can keep the secret of a disappearance (or even a murder) for years. The working title of this novel is “A Strange Field,” a place that actually shows up on maps of the Burren. It’s a fascinating region, a moonscape of karst limestone, where archaeologists have discovered all sorts of Neolithic portal tombs and gold artifacts from the Bronze Age, and under the mountains are large networks of caves and underground rivers. A place like that is like catnip to a mystery writer.  And I’m continuing to promote my previous books with my husband. Paddy’s memoir, The Road from Castlebarnagh: Growing Up in Irish Music, came out here in the U.S. about the same time as The Book of Killowen, so we’re doing a lot of events together, combining traditional music and songs with readings and images from our stories. We’re a whole multimedia extravaganza!

***

Erin Hart writes archaeological crime novels set in the mysterious boglands of Ireland. Before a wayward detour into crime fiction, she worked as an arts administrator, editor, copywriter, journalist and theater critic. Her debut novel, Haunted Ground (Scribner, 2003) won the Friends of American Writers award and Romantic Times’ Best First Mystery, was shortlisted for Anthony and Agatha awards, and was named by Book-Of-The-Month Club and Booklist as one of the best crime novels of 2003. Lake of Sorrows (Scribner, 2004) was shortlisted for a Minnesota Book Award, and False Mermaid (Scribner, 2010) was named by Booklist as one of the Top Ten Crime Novels of 2010. Her latest, The Book of Killowen, was published by Scribner in March 2013.  Erin lives in Saint Paul with her husband, Irish button accordion player Paddy O’Brien, with whom she frequently travels to Ireland, to carry out essential research in bogs and cow pastures and castles and pubs. Visit her website at www.erinhart.com.

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Interview: Steven P. Marini

Please welcome Steven P. Marini, author of the Jack Contino series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
No health issues, no family crisis, no money problems and I go three-for-three in my softball game. I’ll start with that.

aberration Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I wear casual clothes all the time and that usually means nylon jogging pants with a stripe down the legs. My granddaughter thinks that all I ever wear. She’s almost right.

 Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Although they have nothing to do with my writing, I’ve always enjoyed a sense of parody like Mel Brooks. Certainly, Robert B. Parker’s writing comes to mind and Mickey Spillane. I recall he once said that if he has a typewriter and paper, he’s in business anywhere in the world. I always liked that idea. Say, do you know what a typewriter is?

 Do you listen to music when you write?
No, I like to be able to concentrate. I turn off all sounds and close the door. I need a man cave.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark. My stories are not cozies. I’m not terribly graphic, but some of my characters are really bad or deranged people. They’re capable of some nasty stuff. They are not at all admirable, in stark contrast to my detective, Jack Contino. He’s a cop from the old school. He’s strong and smart and tough and he doesn’t need a shrink.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I had grown up near Boston and put a couple of ideas together when I first thought about writing. I heard about a college student who got involved with the wrong people and wound up in the Charles River with a bullet hole in his head. Also, when I was in college, I heard a rumor about a coed who was supposed to be hooking on the side. It was nonsense, but it gave me fuel. So, I began writing about a female character who ends up dead in the Charles and who had a gangland connection. I had also read about a real Boston cop who I really liked and decided he’d be my detective, one who people looked up to and even earned respect, if not love, from the Mob. The female character evolved as I wrote and I came up with a different ending with she and the cop and a bad guy in a confrontation.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Life is a constant challenge, with ups and downs. A cop’s life is the constant battle of good versus evil. Also, I show that people need a support structure to get through. They need a close family and at least one real good friend. If you’ve got that, you’re rich.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
As I mentioned before, Jack Contino is a cop from the old school. He believes that life is a morality play, good versus evil, and good has to win out. He knows it’s not automatic, though. The fight is constant and that’s why he’s a cop. To some extent, his feelings came out of his military experience. He was in WWII and saw the futility of war. He’s a natural protector.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
This may sound strange, but in a way, there’s a lot of Don Corleone of The Godfather in Jack. Don Corleone became the protector of the people in his community. He was driven to it by the evil tyrant who dominated their town. Only, Jack went into Law Enforcement to be a protector and Don Corleone went into crime.

Jack has an element of Odysseus in him, too. That element is his ever faithful and strong partner, Natalie. Like Penelope, she is strong and smart and loves Jack without question.

Finally, Jack is drawn from a real life Boston cop, Joe McCain. He was very large, smart and tough. I read about Joe in a book entitled The Legends of Winter Hill. I knew he was the model for Jack.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Robert B. Parker, Mickey Spillane, George Higgins, James Patterson, Spencer Quinn, and J.E. Seymour.

What’s next for you?
My second novel in the Jack Contino series, Aberration, has just come out this summer and I’m on the first draft of the third in that series. I’m also outlining a fourth book that is not a Jack Contino story. I’ve even got an idea for a non-fiction work, but not sure if I’ll try it. So, it’s just an idea right now. Other than that, I’m just going to continue enjoying my retirement years and continue to write.

***

Steven P. Marini is a “card carrying New Englander,” who spent twenty-six years in Maryland as a Civil Servant. Now he’s retired and living in New England again. He plays in the Cape Cod Senior Softball League, is in a senior men’s cooking group, serves on the Board of Directors of the Cape Cod Writers Center and he likes to write crime
novels.

Web site: www.stevenmarini.com.
Twitter @StevenPMarini
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