1. You've been successful in the e-book world. How hard was it to get published in the paper world?
I’ll carbon date myself by disclosing my first efforts to find a publisher involved snail-mailing hefty, phone book-sized manuscripts to the one publishing house in the country that produced lesbian fiction. We’re talking late 80s. Those early efforts came to naught, but I was given enough encouragement by friends to stick with it. I scored my first contract by winning a short story contest sponsored by a local publisher. When that house went out of business, I trudged through the slough of despond until I was rescued by Bold Strokes Books. Windigo Thrall is my eighth novel with Bold Strokes.
2. Have you ever thrown away a book that just wasn't working?
Never. But then I’m incapable of throwing away a book I’m reading, too. I’ve waded through some of the worst literary dreck ever published because I refuse to give up on a novel, any novel. If I discover I’m writing a bad story, I shake it hard and scream “Live, damn your eyes, live!” until it works.
3. Is it still exciting to publish a new book after all this time?
Not really. Mostly I use the author’s copies of my new novels as doorstops. I might read one in the shower occasionally, or use it to clean up after my dog in the yard. Of course it’s exciting to publish a new book after all this time! The elaborate altar containing copies of all my books has pride of place in my house. It’s illuminated only by lava lamp, it’s that sacred.
4. Do you write down ideas for books or do you just make it up as you go?
I’ve been consistent in structuring each of my books. I always start out knowing how I want to begin the story, and how I want it to end. And I never have a high holy hell’s notion how to get from one to the other. Luckily I’ve had the same excellent beta readers and editors at Bold Strokes for years, and they manage to keep me focused and inspired.
5. Will you be writing more in the Grady and Elena series? Which ties into 6. Will we get to see more of the PNW ladies?
I loved working with these characters in my earlier stories, and it was a kick to bring them all together in Windigo Thrall. I feel a sense of completion with these women now that wasn’t there before the last book. Grady and Elena, and Becca and Jo have been well launched, and I’m reasonably sure their love will be binding and their lives happy. I’ve learned never to say never when it comes to sequels, but for now I’m ready to channel some new voices.
7. If you could have written any single work -- novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography -- that you most admire, what would it be?
The Bible. Leviticus wouldn’t make the cut. Sorry, didn’t mean to type that out loud. Oddly enough, my head keeps coming back to Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. It reminds me of a great time in my life, the years I spent in children’s theater. Silverstein was irreverent, but he portrayed kids and their world with an astute and humane eye. I’d love to be responsible for bringing a gift like that to young readers.
8. Have you considered writing suspense work without the supernatural element?
Do I have to? I’m afraid I might secretly suck at suspense without a supernatural element. Or romance, sans ghosts. Or speculative fiction. Etc. I love ghost stories and myths, and I would probably insert other-worldly plotlines in every genre or sub-genre I attempted. I think I’ve settled on paranormal romance as my comfortable home turf. All the stories I write are romances too, so I’m calling my personal imprint Aww/Boo.
9. Have you considered writing under a pseudonym?
Having one or more pseudonyms sounds like so much fun, I regret that I barely write fast enough to use one nym. I admire authors so prolific they use a different name for every genre they write in, but I type at the speed of sludge. And I’ve always been lucky enough not to need a pseudonym for protection—to reside in a city that doesn’t force queer writers to disguise their identities.
10. Is there one thing you've wanted to have been asked about your writing, but no one has?
I’d love to drop the microphone and just have a conversation with you about how we can make lesbian fiction more accessible and welcoming to women of color. While there are wonderful authors out there representing different races and ethnicities, we haven’t made enough inroads in terms of diversity to ensure all our readers see their lives reflected honestly in our books. Our main characters (mine included) skew toward white, young, able-bodied, cis-gendered women, and our community holds a great deal more variety and nuance. How can we let more diverse voices speak out, those of both writers and readers? Discuss.
Published: First published in a serialized version in the Daily Express in 1953 in the UK. In the US by Putnam in 1954.
I Read: A Pocket Full Of Rye. New York, Harper, 2011.
Series: Miss Marple
Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, The birds began to sing; Wasn't that a dainty dish, To set before the king?
The king was in his counting house, Counting out his money; The queen was in the parlour, Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden, Hanging out the clothes, When down came a blackbird And pecked off her nose.
They sent for the king's doctor, who sewed it on again; He sewed it on so neatly, the seam was never seen.
This rhyme is being followed by a mad man is picking off the residents of Yewtree Lodge……but Miss Marple isn’t fooled, she knows there is a rational mind behind these murders, and she is determined to catch the killer.
Review: Sing a Song Of Sixpence, the poem above, plays a significant role in this mystery, and the prominent placement of the poem actually caused me some problems. Christie, I believe, makes the assumption her audience will be familiar with this rhyme. While the phrase “a pocket full of rye“ did tickle something deep within my brain, I had no clue this is what the author was hinting at before she spelled it out (in my defense I have not read Mother Goose in at least thirty years!). I knew I was missing something as there were many hints, and as a reader I had a pretty good idea they were significant, but didn’t have a clue why. So Christie’s premise, the killer was mad due to the fact he was following an eighteenth century nursery rhyme, did not resonate with me. The red herring felt more strained here than in any of the other Miss Marple’s I have read so far. Perhaps this is a generational issue, nursery rhymes were a larger focus of childhood fifty or more years ago? Not really sure.
The mystery itself I enjoyed reading. Christie did a great job of evolving the characters throughout the story, such as Jennifer Fortescue (the wife of Percival Fortescue), who starts out as boring and slightly stupid, but by the end is a sympathetic character in an odd situation. Or Rex Fortescue (our first victim) who starts off with a dubious reputation; however by the end of the book I thoroughly disliked him! Plus this book offers some significant insights into Miss Marple and her methods of investigation (I will discuss this in a later post). So while there is a whole plot line which I thought was rather contrived, overall it wasn’t a bad mystery to read.
“He doesn’t seem to have been one of those food faddists who’ll eat any mortal thing so long as it isn’t cooked….Raw carrots, raw peas, raw turnips…” (Chapt. 8, pg. 54), this quote exemplifies the old saw, everything old is new again.
Raw foodism or rawism (whichever term you prefer) is the simple idea eating food which is uncooked (or cooked at a very low temp) is better for you. The premise which I have heard most often recently applies to raw veganism, however it can work with meats as well. Even in A Pocket Full Of Rye and today’s sources, they all seem to agree that eating a raw grain is inadvisable.
Recently, the internet and TV have been touting rawism as a shiny new way of living, (I also remember the huge juicing crazy of the early ‘80‘s which is a precursor to today’s movement). And I found it curious to run across this same idea in a book first published in 1954. So I did a bit of research and discovered even in Christie’s day the raw food diet was the recycling of an older concept which (seems to) first date back to 1897 and Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner. Which makes me shudder at the thought of all the fads of my childhood which could come back and haunt me….. Do you remember the neon colors of the eighties (saw yarn at the fabric store in those colors the other day….)? Mohawks? Shoulder pads? Swatches? Leg warmers and Flash Dance t-shirts? Parachute pants? The list is unending….
To whatever God will hear & heed me, please do not let polyester leisure suits come back into fashion! Let the old Three’s Company with Don Knotts reruns stay in the vault and far away from the prying eyes of fashion designers…..
Besides learning the full version of a nursery rhyme (I had apparently forgotten) and about rawism, A Pocket Full of Rye was an interesting read!
“…old sins have long shadows…” (Chapt. 9, pg. 62)
Adaptations: This book was first adapted in 1983 for a Russian film, Ita Ever played Miss Marple in this version.
Cheating: I was tempted for a second, but managed to resist.....
John Curran, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks. New York, Harper, 2009.
Dawn B. Sova, Ph.D. Agatha Christie A To Z. New York, Facts On File, 1996.
Orenstein, Peggy, “ Totally Uncooked”. New York Times, New York, NY. (09/01/02) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/01/magazine/01RAWFOOD.html?src=pm&pagewanted=1
Agatha Christie: Official Home Of The Best-Selling Author Of All Time, January 22, 2014. http://www.agathachristie.com/christies-work/stories/a-pocket-full-of-rye/121
Wikipedia, January 22, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sing_a_song_of_sixpence
Wikipedia, January 22, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raw_food
--> How many rejection slips did you get before your first novel was published?
I lost count. If you include screenplays, short stories, and novels, it's in the hundreds. If you include just novels, it's only a dozen or so.
--> Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
I threw away my very first draft of The Baker Street Letters, because I'd written it in the wrong voice, and with the wrong plot line, and--well, just about everything. I never showed that draft to any publisher, and I didn't keep anything from it. I started from scratch, wrote a new first draft that had some elements worth keeping, and then another revision after that, and then another.
--> Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
It's always a thrill. A nervous thrill, because while I always get into a writing mode where I think the current book is the best one of all, I always then start worrying that maybe nobody will get it at all.
--> Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
I almost never write an idea down for later use. The few times I have, I've always lost the cocktail napkin or the back of whatever used envelope I wrote the note on. I keep ideas in my head, and I let them develop and connect with other things.
--> Do you have entire the story arc mapped out when you began this series?
Partly. I knew at the start that the relationship between Reggie Heath and Laura Rankin would evolve in major ways over the course of the first four novels, and that has happened, very naturally. I constructed the plot lines of each individual book to fit that evolution.
--> Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
This is my first series, and no, I don't know how I'm going to end it. I have a couple of ideas in mind for a major transition that might take place at book six or seven, but I haven't decided yet. As to individual books--yes, I always know, or at least think I know. I don't begin writing until I know the beginning, at least one major plot point, and the ending. Or at least one possible ending. I'm not above changing my mind, and I have done.
--> Would you consider writing a screenplay for your books if asked?
The series began as a screenplay, which I shopped about in Hollywood in the early 1980s (yes, that long ago). When I published The Baker Street Letters in 2009, a production company finally got interested and bought an option--and then renewed it--and then renewed it again, while they hired someone else to write the screenplay. I didn't object, because that first novel was a little more introspective than the others, and I thought it would be a challenge to bring it to the screen (and it was). But the three novels since are much more cinematic, and it would be great fun to adapt them into a feature and sequel.
--> Have you considered writing something that is non-Sherlockian?
Yes. I may find time to do that between books five and six.
--> Is there any surprise you've got planned in upcoming books that you're willing to leak?
Yes, there's a surprise. Or two. No, I won't leak them, because I reserve the right to change my mind.
--> If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
I suppose I would have spent less time pushing scripts in Los Angeles in the 80s. Hollywood is a hard nut to crack, and you can come tantalizingly close without actually making a living at it. My advice to any writer is to write the novel (or the stage play) first, and turn to the screen only when the opportunity presents itself.
--> If you could have written any single work – novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography – that you most admire and adore, what would it be?
I know I should name something Sherlockian. Or at least a mystery. Or something that I studied in my college lit courses. But I really wish I had written The Princess Bride (both the book and the movie). Of mystery novels, my favorite of all time is The Thin Man.
--> Is there anything you’ve always wanted to be asked about your writing but no one ever has?
I keep expecting someone to ask who the characters are based on, especially the Laura Rankin character, who, in my mind anyway, is really the center of attention in the first four novels. Even in the first novel, which I wrote entirely from Reggie's point of view, when Laura was not on screen, Reggie was thinking about her. I give Laura all the best lines. But since no one ever asks who she is based on, I guess that spares me the risk of naming any names.
First Published:Murder With Mirrors. New York, Dodd Mead, 1952. They Do It With Mirrors. London, Collins Crime Club, 1952.
I Read: They Do It With Mirrors. New York, Harper, 2011.
Series: Miss Marple
Summary: An old friend of Miss Marple’s suspects something is amiss in her sister’s home, she asks Jane to look into to ascertain weather Carrie Louise (her sister) is in any danger. Unable to resist her old friend or her curiosity Miss Marple readily agrees to the proposition placed before her. Upon arriving at Stonygates, Miss Marple begins investigating, in her own unique way. However when one man is shot at and another murdered, even the most dull witted person knows something is wrong at Stonygates…. and Miss Marple is as sharp as they come!
Review: So here’s the thing, of all the Miss Marples I have read, this was my least favorite. While the book gave some insight into Miss Marple as a younger gal (Italian finishing school, ideals and friends), and her methods of investigation (subterfuge used to overhear a conversation), the mystery itself I found difficult to believe, the rehabilitation center for delinquent boys, a love triangle and mental illness -- all seemed a bit forced. The ending, I felt was abrupt and unsatisfying (without giving any spoilers), it seemed Christie just wanted to finish the book. I did enjoy the locked room aspect of the murder, the clever method the murderers used to trick a house full of people, brilliant. Otherwise, I was unsatisfied with this particular installment of the Miss Marple series.
Do you have a friend from school, whom you hardly ever see anymore, but if they rang you up for a favor you would do it (burying a body in a shallow grave might be included here…) with little to no hesitation? “…there is no need to arrange meetings with old friends. One assumes that, sooner or later, one will see them without contrivance. Only, if you move in different spheres, that does not happen.” (pg. 4), I thought this idea was impossible when I first read it. Thinking about it I realized, I have a friend like this, who I saw all most daily for at least for six years…..Now? Not so much. Marriage, husbands, kids, dogs, jobs, and all kinds of things demand time and attention. So a couple of weeks turn into months, turn into years without a word or a visit, but I still consider her to be one of my best friends. Which is the same for Miss Marple and an old friend named Carrie Louise, from her school days, whom she goes to help without hesitation.
“…In Spite of all my aches and pains…Inside I go on feeling just a chit….perhaps everyone does. The glass shows them how old they are and they just don’t believe it.” (pg. 24). This early quote reminded me of an old Aerosmith song, Dream On, “Every time I look in the mirror, All These lines on my face getting clearer…”. No one can really believe they are hurtling through time, growing old. Even when we get there, so I am told (and learning), you don’t really feel the way you look. The crazy ideas and dreams are there, just tempered with experience or arthritis or your family saying you can’t do it because that’s not how adults act. Which again reflects in this story; Carrie Louise is constantly being told how she should be behave, what she should be doing. In Miss Marple’s case, she needs only to blend in with the other old cats, quietly keeping her mind finely honed. A bit of a rebel she is, not conforming to what ladies of a certain age should occupy their time with. Added bonus, she’s not particularly concerned with what the mirror shows her.
While this wasn’t my favorite mystery in the series, it still hold important clues to Miss Marple and her character. While prompting some musings of my own on the nature of friendship and aging.
“Pigs may fly but they’re very unlikely birds.” (pg. 166)
Cheating: Nope, no cheating here! I was tempted for a second, but managed to squash the urge like a bug!
-John Curran, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks. New York, Harper, 2009.
-Dawn B. Sova, Ph.D. Agatha Christie A To Z. New York, Facts On File, 1996.
-Agatha Christie: Official Home Of The Best-Selling Author Of All Time, February 5, 2014. http://www.agathachristie.com/christies-work/stories/they-do-it-with-mirrors/61
-Wikipedia, February 5, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They_Do_It_With_Mirrors
-Youtube, February 5, 2014. Dream On originally recorded by Aerosmith was released on their self-titled album in 1973 and written by Steven Tyler. You should take a listen to the song, if you have not, because it is fantastic!