Author Interview with Allie Boniface of Allie's Musings

www.Allie's Musings: Author Interview

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Allie: Good morning! Can you tell us a little about your background?

Larry: I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and until my four-year enlistment in the U.S. Navy, I led a pretty typical life. Although I have a bachelor's degree in Information Systems Management from American University in D.C., I've spent most of my career years designing specialized electronic equipment for Government contractors. I began that career riding Navy ships as a field engineer for RCA and retired from Honeywell/Alliant Techsystems. I've been fortunate enough to have wed two terrific ladies. I lost Hannah to leukemia in 1986 and married Rosemary shortly afterward. We live seven months of the year in Severna Park, Maryland, and winter in Honolulu, Hawaii, where we have children and grandchildren. We also have children, grandchildren, and grandhorses in South Carolina.

Rosemary: Let's see . . . I was born in the Brazilian jungles among the toucans? Guess not. Change that to the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay. I graduated from Smith College and became a career editor, starting as an assistant editor at Harper's Magazine; following my ex-husband to Maryland; and ending as an engineering writer at Westinghouse.

Allie: When did you first begin writing? Was there an event or moment in your life that triggered your desire to write?

Larry: I'd been writing nonfiction (technical proposals and manuals) for my entire career, but I've always felt something was missing. It was like I was trying to "break out and write free" in the world of fiction. At last I got my chance when we retired, but we found fiction was a whole 'nother thing. Anyway, a few creative writing courses at Johns Hopkins University and mystery writing courses at Anne Arundel Community College planted us into the mystery genre. Rather than a moment or an event, we like to think it's a bud that's blossomed ever since.

Rosemary: The minute I met Larry on a blind date, I knew that wherever he was going, I was going, too. Fortunately, it wasn't skiing off Mont Blanc.

Allie: Tell us about your latest writing project or published title.

Larry: There are several things that come to mind. First, there is the finished novel, Cry 'Ohana, A Young Hawaiian's Search for His Family. It's been around for awhile, mainly because of its epic length (470 pages). 'Ohana means family in the Hawaiian language, and although its theme explores the wonderful multicultural nature of Oahu, it's full of suspense, adventure, murder, despair, and romance. It's the novel Rosemary and I cut our teeth on. Second, there's the novel Death Goes Postal, A Dan and Rivka Sherman Murder Mystery. Its theme traces printing artifacts from the time of Gutenberg to the present in a series of vignettes, while murder, kidnapping, and suspense accompany the search for the artifact cache. Third, we have a repertoire of short stories (dozens even.) Many have been published in e-zines online. Our soft-boiled detective series (eight Slim O. Wittz stories) — four were published in four online issues of Mysterical-E, beginning in Fall 2009.

Rosemary: Death Goes Postal is Larry's personal baby, in about its second trimester.

Allie: How do you go about developing your characters?

Larry: Rosemary agrees that I'm the more devious of the two of us, so I'm mostly involved with plots. The characters I create are mere skeletons fashioned out of essential story requirements. Rosemary takes my skinny runts and flushes real people out of them--appearances, personalities, attributes, emotions, reactions, and expectations.

Rosemary: Without Larry's talent for inventing plots and characters, I couldn't write fiction.

Allie: What advice would you give to new writers just starting out?

Larry: Our advice comes straight out of our "Writing Mystery and Thriller Fiction" class we teach at Anne Arundel Community College (Arnold, MD):

1. Above all, get something, anything, down on paper. Your story is the primary concern. Save the rules for writing it until you have a complete draft.
2. Don't be intimidated, first drafts are never perfect anyway.
3. Fear of the blank page is something to be skirted. Don't give up, go on to the next scene, and come back later.
4. Write regularly, at least an hour per sitting, if possible. Schedule a time and place to write, a spot where you won't be distracted or disturbed.
5. Write about what you are comfortable with.
6. Think about writing even when you're not at the keyboard.
7. Establish the strongest sense of the plot in your head: How many ways and reasons are there to kill a victim? What kind of story moves, turns, and twists can you create?
8. Try visualizing the scenes in your head.
9. Develop clear mental images of your central characters.
10. Become more aware of people and places: Carry a notebook or recorder with you and accumulate notes. Tune into both the unusual and the commonplace.
* * * *

Allie: What kinds of books do you like to read?

Larry: It's a mixture of mysteries and thrillers. The mysteries present me with conundrums I love to solve (try anyway). The thrillers take me to new places and situations. Many have messages that give pause. My favorite authors vary with my mood. My all-time favorites are Ken Follett and Leon Uris. Also, I always enjoy a good Pat Conroy. When I'm plum lazy, I'll go with the lightweight mysteries (I won't name any of these for obvious reasons.) For the well-constructed mystery, I'll take Agatha Christie. I do like Elizabeth George, P. D. James, and Elizabeth Peters any day. For pure escapist adventure and suspense, there are Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum (the original), David Baldacci, and Brad Meltzer. I enjoy going to exotic places with Wilbur Smith and Robert Ruark (Africa) and James Clavell (Asia).

Rosemary: Oy! I could go on for a week. When I was fourteen, it was Forever Amber, which made me feel deliciously wicked because I hid it from my mother. Anna Karenina is my favorite novel of all time. Others: Prince of Tides & Beach Music( Pat Conroy); Snow Falling on Cedars (David Guterson); the novels of Tom Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities, I Am Charlotte Simmons, A Man in Full); Anne Tyler (A Patchwork Planet); Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections); John Knowles (A Separate Peace); John Steinbeck (The Pearl); Yann Martel (Life of Pi); Annie Proulx (the short story "Brokeback Mountain" in Close Range) ; P.D. James; (Original Sin); Carol Shields (The Stone Diaries); and J. Englert (A Dog About Town).

Allie: Who is your favorite author?

Larry: My all-time favorite is Ken Follett. His Pillars of the Earth and World Without End (12th and 14th century England) are magnificent examples of the historical novel--plot, characters, suspense, excitement, and an education. Leon Uris (Hajj, Trinity, & QB VII) is a close second for his brilliant analyses of cultural clashes.

Rosemary: I'm crazy about many authors, but not necessarily about every book they've written; quality often varies or the subject doesn't turn me on. At the top of my list is Tolstoy for Anna Karenina (but not War and Peace). I, too, love Ken Follett's historical novels--and Hornet Flight, about the Danish Resistance in World War II.

Allie: What do you find most difficult about writing?

Larry: Re-writing the first chapter and its "hook"- I never know when I've done enough or too much.

Rosemary: Fresh descriptions of characters. I find it hard to be original describing hair, faces, gestures, etc. I'm still working on that, and trying a little poetry too.

Allie: What do you find most exciting or rewarding?

Larry: Going through the first draft, never knowing exactly where the added details are going to take me. I make and follow a plan, but you know how it is. Then, there's finding out what readers like, and sometimes love, in what we've published.

Rosemary: Ditto.

Allie: How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Larry: I write four to five hours a day, six days a week when we are at home. This leaves plenty of time for all our other activities. Ain't retirement wonderful? It's the queries, submissions, marketing, publicity, and other necessary evils that steal precious time from our lives.

Rosemary: Larry has a waaaaay longer attention span than I do. He has a high concentration ability no matter what he does, whether it's writing, fixing our fence, or doing carpentry. He's a jack-of-all-trades, master of just about everything. Me? I go to Jazzercise, which satisfies my suppressed desire to be a Rockette. I'm also an obsessive birdwatcher and commune with our resident birds throughout the day. What a happy distraction, and any time I spot a new visitor, it makes my day.

Allie: Do you ever suffer from writer's block?

Larry: Mostly I walk around with what I plan to write before I sit down at the keyboard. So writer's block is a rare ailment for me, but it does occur.

Rosemary: No writer's block, but I also write nonfiction and am dealing with a tough subject: a second edition of Miriam's Gift: A Mother's Blessings--Then and Now, my memoir of our daughter killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Allie: If so, what do you do about it?

Larry: I take one of two pills and return the next morning. The first pill is to jump ahead to the next chapter, and the second pill is to jump to another project--no shortage there.

Allie: Describe your writing space.

Larry: In diagonal corners of one 9 by 15 foot converted bedroom, we have two ell-shaped desks, three filing cabinets, two book shelves, two windows, and a doorless closet stuffed with office supplies. See photos in About the Authors.

Rosemary: As you can tell from the photos, Larry's the neat, organized one. Take a look at my wastebasket. I only empty it once a month in case I have to dig through it to find something I shouldn't have thrown out.

Allie: What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Larry: My ailing back has curbed our love of tennis. We take long walks on the Baltimore/Annapolis trail a mile from our home. Swimming's great, and so are crossword puzzles and reading. We also enjoy world travel--Japan, China, New Zealand, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Canada, Israel, Egypt, the British Isles, and most of Western Europe. Visiting the kids and grandkids in Hawaii and South Carolina is most cherished.

Rosemary: We watch my favorite show, Jeopardy! My comic essay about taking the test to get on the show appeared in Slow Trains, winter 2009 issue.

Allie: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

Larry: Writing fiction is not like writing nonfiction, where you are following some implied sequential road map all the way through it. Fiction is a continuous creative process pulling on your brain all the time. That I could do it--and that readers actually enjoyed our books.

Allie: When you write, do you use the computer or compose by hand, oral dictation, or some other method?

Larry: Rosemary likes to say that that we write back-to-back with "dueling" computers in the same room. It seems to me that when two computers and their laptop offspring are united in a wireless matrimony, they're hardly dueling. We both have access to the inner sanctums of the other's memory. Whew, no secrets there, only a mish-mosh of files.

Rosemary: No secrets? Hee hee hee. I love it.

Allie: What is your favorite movie?

Larry: I can't say that there's any one in particular. When I go to see a movie, I expect to be entertained, held by suspense, and excited by emotion and daring feats. Sometimes I'm disappointed, but there certainly are times I feel fulfilled, educated, or just plain satisfied.

Rosemary: I have many, but memory escapes me--blame my senior decade: Defiance (recently), When Harry Met Sally, The Asphalt Jungle, & All About Eve.

Allie: Did it inspire your writing in any way?

Larry: "Inspire" is the wrong word for me. Books and films are very different media. In films we take so much for granted--rarely are words expended on describing a scene or emotion seen in a subtle facial expression. I believe I write better when I'm more observant and conscious of that difference.

Rosemary: The movie The Brothers Karamazov inspired me to read Dostoevsky's book.

Allie: Anything else you'd like to mention?

Larry: I enjoy rubbing elbows with mystery fans and other mystery writers. There's an important feedback connection to be made, so we attend as many genre conferences and conventions as are practical. Since October 2008 we attended Bouchercon in Baltimore, MD; Maryland Writers' Association in Linthicum, MD; and sat on panels for Left Coast Crime on the Big Island, Hawaii, and Malice Domestic in Arlington, VA. We also favor our luncheon and dinner meetings with Sisters in Crime (both the Chesapeake and Honolulu chapters) and Mystery Writers of America.

Rosemary: I get a kick out of the pearls of wisdom from mystery authors like Harlan Coban (Tell No One): "Isn't every good writer full of fear and insecurity?" "If someone tells me he never rewrites, I don't want to party with him." "If an author is super-confident, he's either over the hill or someone else is writing his books."

Allie: Thank you!