Author Interview with Gail Baugniet, Sisters in Crime, Hawaii
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Gail: Rosemary and Larry, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview today. In the synopsis for one of your novels, retired detective Paco LeSoto and his wife Molly are described as “an endearing pair of sleuths.” As co-authors of these mysteries, do you each write a certain number of chapters, collaborate on the entire manuscript, or balance the writing, editing, and publishing through another method?

Rosemary: First, thank you, Gail, for this blog invitation. Larry says he's more devious than I am, so he conjures up our plots and writes the first draft. I come behind him, chapter by chapter, cutting, tossing, and dressing the narrative salad. I polish the prose, flesh out the characters, sharpen the dialogue. If a romance seems too sappy, I'll make the girl more feisty to give her scenes more conflict. Of course, that tactic has consequences; it can actually affect the plotline. Then . . . with sleeves rolled up, we negotiate. Here's our typical scenario.

Larry: You cut that whole paragraph! It's cruel—operating without anesthesia.

Rosemary: Just a little judicious pruning, dear. (That's an expression I learned as an assistant editor at Harper's.)

Larry: But it took me hours to create those metaphors.

Rosemary:It's too much already. Less is more.

Larry: Talk about overdoing. Your description of the grocery clerk goes on for a whole page.

Rosemary: But his backstory really gives him depth.

Larry: He's a pass-through, not a major character.

Rosemary: You're squashing my creativity.

Larry: You're trimming my subordinate clauses.

Rosemary: You're acting like a spoiled brat.

Larry: I can't stand to hear a woman cry.

Rosemary: Our jousting is usually short-lived. I sigh and submit. Larry licks his wounds, and we resign ourselves to the compromises required. Maalox helps, too. Larry groans when I even edit a one-paragraph business letter he's written. Well, you know how it is. Stephen King said, “To write is human. To edit is divine.” Harlan Coben said it in a more earthy way. “If somebody tells me he doesn't rewrite, I don't want to party with him.”

Larry: The great advantage to co-authoring is that you're never working in a vacuum. Reading aloud to each other slows down the word rate to a point where the minutiae, typos, and errors literally jump out at us. It's so necessary to hear what we wrote—what it sounds like. We might discover Clara walking into the room in a sequined gown and leaving in cut-off jeans. It's during the reading process that our individual writing styles blend into a single seamless product.

Gail:While Paco does the heavy lifting involved in sleuthing, Molly often delivers comic relief through a delightful amalgam of misused words. Can you give an example of the malapropisms that Molly sprinkles throughout the novels? What inspired you to develop this characteristic?

Rosemary: Molly says: “I have to take my calcium so I don't get osteoferocious.” Or she accuses a villain of “defecation of character.” She's based on a real person: my psychoanalyst father's fabulous housekeeper/gourmet cook. She never went past the tenth grade, but she was smart. He was so fascinated by the way she skewed the English language that he made a secret list of what we call “Mollyprops.” After my father passed away, we found his list in his desk drawer and decided Molly would be a great character for a mystery. She was also nosy and observant, which made her a perfect sidekick for Paco.

Gail:Each of the titles for your Paco and Molly Murder Mysteries offers an interesting play on words, something Molly might say. Do you choose the titles of your novels as a team? Which comes first, the manuscript's plot line or the title?

Rosemary: Larry creates the plots, then makes up the titles. They contain food because Molly is a gourmet cook. But they're also puns because Larry is an incurable punster! The night we met, on a blind date, he slipped a pun or two into our dinner conversation. I retorted: “Do you pun in your sleep?” “Sure,” he said. “I was born in the Year of the Pun. That's the thirteenth sign of the Zaniac.” I still laugh. I'm pretty sure our marriage depends on it.

Gail:Your stand-alone novel, Cry Ohana: Adventure and Suspense in Hawaii, is the story of a local family, a Hawaiian ohana, torn apart by the reckless act of one of its members. The danger described in this novel is darker and highly personal. Was your research for this story more extensive than for the Paco and Molly novels? Did you conduct your research on each of the Islands mentioned?

Rosemary: We've spent our winters in Hawaii for eighteen years, so we've been soaking up the “research” all that time. Also, I have pounds of newspaper clippings and other documentation from every island and locale, so the book is rich with authentic local color and cultures. Last year we attended Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a convention for mystery writers and fans. We were on a panel discussion and I talked about our killer in Cry Ohana. He uses his skills as a lover to get women to help him in his illegal business deals. A man in the audience asked Larry: “Who does the research for your sex scenes?” And Larry said: “I do not farm that out!” The author sitting next to Larry, Penny Warner, leaned over to him and said in a sultry voice, “What's your room number?” She brought down the house!

Gail:“They” say that all good writers are voracious readers. What keeps you entertained or active when you are taking a break from reading and writing?

Larry: We walk at Magic Island several days a week. We attend the Hawaii Opera Theatre season with friends, plus the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts at Dole movie theater. We're involved in our synagogues both here and at home in Maryland. We're Washington Redskins fans (always hoping for a better season), and watch most NFL games, which begin at 8 a.m. on Sundays here. In Boston Scream Pie, Paco's two macaws squawk “Touchdown” and “Ten-yard penalty.” But what is most precious to us in Honolulu is our family here: our daughter, Chinese-American son-in-law; and two granddaughters. They're the reason we chose Honolulu as our second home.

Rosemary: I also write nonfiction. I just published my second memoir, Miriam's World—and Mine, about our daughter Miriam Wolfe, whom we lost on Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. It deals with love, loss, and political betrayal, and I think of it as moving from grief to grace: one mother's guide to getting there.