Author interview: Elissa Grodin

ElissaGrodin_-10EditI’ve always admired crime and mystery writers. Their ability to mislead the reader, and the way they place clues and red herrings through the manuscript, has always fascinated me. Although I love to read these books, I almost never guess who the murderer is, which is what keeps me reading. Elissa Grodin’s latest novel, A Handful of Worldliness, had me guessing (incorrectly) as one by one, suspects were eliminated. The crime-solver in this novel, Edwina Goodman, is a professor of physics at a small college in New England, and although the main investigator is her policeman boyfriend, he can’t do it without her. I needed to interrogate the author…

GC: I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a female science professor as the main protagonist in a mystery story. What gave you the idea for the character?

elissa gEG: I’ve long been interested in the philosophical idea that objective reality is illusory—the idea that there are myriad ways of seeing any given thing or person or event.  Everything is open to interpretation.  It is human nature to assume that the world really is as we think it does.  But life—and death—are much more complicated than that.  That’s where science comes in.  Theoretical physicists like my character, Edwina, spend their lives looking into the nature of reality, and trying to describe it as accurately as possible.  In my books I use murder as the punch line for the kind of mayhem and confusion murky, superficial thinking brings about.  So, her constant questioning of what we think we know, helps reveal the truth.

GC: The initials of her name, Edwina Goodman, are the same as yours. Does this mean she’s an alter ego?

EG: Yes, Edwina is certainly my alter ego.  If I could wrap my mind around mathematics – which I have a very hard time doing – I would have liked to have become an astronomer.  My siblings gave me a lovely telescope for a recent birthday, and I take it out every so often to stargaze.

GC: I like the way you include physics as a way to help figure out whodunit.  How easy is it to incorporate this relatively esoteric knowledge into your detective’s crime-solving?

EG: Physics is a very useful way to explain much of what goes on around us.  For example, one of my characters is a raging narcissist. Once you know that about him, you can interpret, and possibly even predict his actions, by applying Newton’s 3rd law of motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  A narcissist is likely to react in a specific way, given a particular set of circumstances—like lashing out when slighted or criticised.  Edwina uses informed logic, aided by a ferociously good imagination, to figure things out.  Her ability to connect the dots doesn’t necessarily depend on physics esoterica.  It’s just fun to throw a little bit of that stuff in once in a while.

GC: Your writing career started with books for children. What prompted the switch to adult fiction?

EG: The opportunity to write children’s books happily came my way some years ago, but I always had it in mind to move on to writing adult novels.  I developed a taste for mysteries from my mother, who was a great reader of mysteries, her favorite author being Agatha Christie.  Writing mysteries provides a somewhat larger, and more satisfying canvas on which to record the ideas I’m interested in.

GC: Do you outline your mystery novels before you start writing, or do you simply sit down and type? Why do you do it that way?

EG: I’m not nearly clever enough to hold all the subplots, and red herrings, and things in my head, so yes, I outline before I start writing.  Before I begin on a book, I know who the victim is, who the murderer is, how the murder is committed, and why.  I do a fair bit of filling in as I write, but I have the basic plot line figured out at the outset.  I rewrite incessantly.  You have to.   I also discover things I didn’t realize I wanted to say as the writing progresses.  Writing is self-discovery.

GC: What does the future hold in store for our heroine, Edwina Goodman?

EG: She’s a brilliant physicist, so certainly, she will continue to have career success.  And, I expect she and Will might get married one of these days.  We’ll see.

Keep reading to find out! You can follow Elissa on her website, as well as on Facebook, and Goodreads.

Cozy antiques – Interview with author Jane K Cleland

I’m a sucker for a good mystery. More specifically, along with most mystery lovers, I love a mystery series. And I particularly like a female detective as my chief protagonist. Maybe it’s something about the triumph of a woman who uses logic and deduction to sort out murder and mayhem that feels so good. Whatever the reason, I was delighted to meet Jane Cleland, author of the Josie Prescott “antique” mysteries, at the Westport Library recently. She was there to talk about her most recent book, Dolled Up for Murder, which revolves around the use of antique dolls for smuggling purposes, and she was kind enough to grant me an interview.

GC: You’ve written 7 Josie Prescott novels, but I know that your previous publications were non-fiction. What made you decide to write your first mystery novel?

JKC: I’ve just finished the eighth Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery, Lethal Treasure. The pivotal antique is silent movie posters. It will be out in June 2013. As to how I got started… after the publication of my last business communications book, Business Writing for Results, my literary agent said, “You use so many examples and anecdotes in your writing… have you ever thought of trying your hand at fiction?” It opened up a door for me that I hadn’t realized I wanted to walk through.

GC: You’re following in a great tradition of women sleuths. Do you read many mysteries yourself, and if so, are there any you particularly like, or that have influenced/inspired you?

JKC: Thank you. I love mysteries… it’s why, when I decided to write a novel, I gravitated toward the mystery genre. My favorite author is Rex Stout. He wrote the Nero Wolfe mysteries.. I also love Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. As to female sleuths, I like Sue Grafton’s books. I also enjoy Patricia Cornwell. My favorite female sleuth remains Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.

GC: For readers who don’t know, can you explain the genre “cozies”?

JKC: Cozies (the term comes from tea cozy, the doily cover that keeps a tea pot snug), refer to traditional mysteries that share certain qualities—it’s code to readers. First, I should clarify that a traditional mystery is itself already a sub-genre of crime fiction. Cozies are a sub-sub-genre. Second, here are the characteristics readers expect from a “cozy.” They usually:

  • Revolve around characters who live in (or who are visiting) a small town.
  • Feature an amateur detective, often a woman.
  • Avoid on-stage violence, graphic sex, and cussin’.
  • Provide an organic reason for the detective to do research… she might be the town gossip, work as a reporter, or run the post office, for instance.
  • Include domestic motives—the killer and the victim are known to one another… you won’t find random serial killers in a cozy.
  • Involve solutions that depend on the deductive ability of the sleuth. Forensics are less important in cozies than the detective using her “little grey cells.”

GC: Your heroine, Josie, lives in Rocky Point, a fictional seaside town in New Hampshire. Have you ever been tempted to have Josie travel elsewhere? (Think of the research you could do in Paris…)

JKC: I have considered this, but in cozies, the setting becomes a character. Readers want to spend time in the sweet and decent community I’ve created.  Recurring characters also become important. Readers want to spend time with the people they’ve come to care about. One reader wrote that I’d created the kind of work world where everyone would want to work. Isn’t that lovely? To me, it means that readers want to know what’s up at Prescott’s, want to be there. Also, Josie depends on a cub reporter named Wes for intelligence, and since Wes works for a local paper, no way would they fund his trip to Paris. (Nor would he have the same depth and breadth of contacts in Paris that he has in Rocky Point.)

GC: You have a recurring cast of characters. How do you keep the characters fresh?

JKC: Several plots have developed around the recurring characters, which allows readers to learn more about them. For all of the recurring characters, whether they’re featured or not, I focus on having them do as they normally would. The characteristics are the same; it’s the situations that vary.

GC: Each of your novels highlight different types of antiques. How do you do the research? Specifically, do you work from your notes as you’re writing? Or do you learn as much as you can and then write from memory? I ask this because historical fiction writers sometimes work one way, sometimes another.

JKC: I do a boatload of research and keep copious notes. I remember a lot, but I often refer to my notes as I’m writing.

GC:  Plotting is key in mystery novels. How much do you plot in advance?

JKC: I work from a synopsis. A synopsis is, in a sense, an aerial view of the story. I know how I’ll get through the woods from Maple Street to Elm Street, which is to say, from start to finish, but it isn’t until I’m actually on the path, tripping on unseen roots and stumbling into the brook that the details of the plot develop.

GC: Where do you actually write, and why there?

JKC: I have a tiny office in my Manhattan apartment where I work, but I find I write all the time. I write on planes and trains. I write as I do dishes. I’ve been known to write in my sleep, by which I mean I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night having thought of something and grab a piece of paper or dash to my computer to get it down.

9. Where can readers find you (online links)

JKC: You can find me at my website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads