Author Interview With B.V. Lawson of "In Reference to Murder"

In Reference to Murder, Author Interviews

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B.V.: In a recent blog posting, Larry mentioned he enjoys adventure novels that give him a taste of foreign lands and cultures, and Rosemary chose a novel set in India (The Life of Pi) as a favorite book. Since you are both well-traveled and also divide your time between Maryland and Hawaii, what made you decide to set your Paco/Molly series in Maryland (although the second book was set out West)?

Larry: There were three reasons for choosing Maryland. First, I believed that a coastal setting was integral to the Marche House manor. Second, the Chesapeake Bay is home base, and we could expect more publicity for a Severna Park homie. Third, we know the region really well--well enough to sprinkle sufficient real locations to give validity to the made-up Black Rain Corners. However, this does not mean we have neglected our world travels. They have found their way into many of our short stories, including Hawaii and Asia.

Rosemary: The Maryland climate works especially well for Boston Scream Pie.

B.V.: Where did the idea for Molly's language-twisting "Molly-props" (a play on the word malapropism) come from? Anyone we know? (I really loved "defecation of character.")

Rosemary: The original Molly (not her real name) was my psychoanalyst father's housekeeper/gourmet cook. My father kept a list of all her clever sayings. She was a born snoop, who knew the secrets of every family member and friend. Her snooping skills have translated well to our novels and prove to be of great help to Paco. In Locks and Cream Cheese, she overwaters all the plants (leaving white rings) and overfeeds Dr. Avi Kepple's golden retriever, who lunches on filet mignon and scalloped potatoes. All of this is true to the real-life Molly. Both she and my father have passed away, but we're delighted to have immortalized them.

B.V.: I read that Larry claims to be more devious than Rosemary, so he conjures up the plots for the books and Rosemary conjures up characters and scenes. Is this true and just how does that process work?

Larry: Close, but no cigar. I do conjure up the plots, but only after we've hashed over the details for some time during long walks on a nearby trail, while swimming, etc. I also write the first draft, setting skeletal requirements for scenes and characters in doing so. Then Rosemary brushes color and a sense of place into the scenes and breathes life into the characters, giving them appearance, personality, reactions, needs, and cravings. It is a serial process of handing the developing manuscript back and forth.

Rosemary: Then we roll up our sleeves and "negotiate!" Right now we're tussling over a short story set in Cambodia, where I'm in love with my lavish detail and Larry isn't.

B.V.: Speaking of characters, twins play an important role in this book, not to give anything away of course, but we know early in the book that the young teenager Caitlin is an orphaned twin. Are their twins in your family who inspired you to make them part of the plot?

Larry: I've looked under the family tree and could not dig up any twins among the roots. The credits for wrapping twins around the plot are twofold. A childhood favorite, Alexander Dumas, wrote of one twin feeling the sword point pain of the second twin's wound in The Corsican Brothers. Also, I'm nuts about Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, where the theme of misplaced twins comes up more than chance would have it.

Rosemary: During one of our winters in Honolulu, I met a delightful woman in my Jazzercise class, who turned out to be both a nurse and a twin. She agreed to read our Boston Scream Pie manuscript, and gave us valuable advice.

B.V.: You recently appeared at the 2009 Malice Domestic conference on a panel titled "Cozy and Loving It: A Send-up to a Beloved Genre." But Boston Scream Pie doesn't neatly fall into the category of what many mystery fans think of as a "cozy." How did you feel about appearing on a panel with that title and are you concerned about the "cozy" label for your novels? (I actually prefer "detective fiction" since it fits almost all crime fiction with a few exceptions.)

Larry: Agatha Christie leads the parade in the traditional mystery genre, where a lone sleuth singles out a villain from a closed and isolated number of highly probable suspects, using clue and alibi reduction and logical deduction. The genre now includes whodunit, howdunit, and whydunit. It is my belief that the term "cozy" applies to traditional mysteries that abstain from gratuitous blood and gore as well as explicit sex. Boston Scream Pie is a whodunit devoid of these so-called evils. In addition, we've kept the "traditional" pledge to satisfy and revolve all questions raised in the story. There, innocent after all!

Rosemary: We felt fine appearing on the "Cozies" panel. Today there are what I call "crossovers" in many mysteries. Boston Scream Pie includes a dark side, which gives it muscle and depth and is absolutely essential for certain characters.

B.V.: The early reviews for Boston Scream Pie are good and Suspense Magazine even added you to their recommended reading list. Hopefully this bodes well for another installment in the series. Are there any plans for that in the works? Or perhaps a new series set in Hawaii?

Larry: We feel that Paco and Molly have aged well, but a fourth book might be a burden to their retiring years. However, with the plethora of accumulated Mollyprops, we might fashion a short story or two. We do have other projects. First, there is the finished-still unpublished novel, Cry 'Ohana, A Young Hawaiian's Search for His Family. It's been around for a while, mainly because of its epic length (470 pages). 'Ohana means family in the Hawaiian language. While its theme explores the wonderful multicultural nature of Oahu, the story is full of suspense, adventure, murder, despair, and romance. It's the novel Rosemary and I cut our teeth on. Second, there's Death Goes Postal, A Dan and Rivka Sherman Murder Mystery. It traces printing artifacts from the time of Gutenberg to the present in a series of vignettes. Murder, kidnapping, and suspense accompany the search for the artifact cache. Third, we have a repertoire of short stories (dozens even), some already published. Our soft-boiled detective series (four Slim O. Wittz stories) will appear in the e-zine Mysterical-E, beginning in Fall 2009.

Rosemary: I also write nonfiction. Right now I'm working on my 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. Eventually, I'll publish a collection of my personal essays. One of my favorites is "Arigato" in Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover's Soul, about our visit to an unusual Starbucks in Kanazawa, Japan.

B.V.: Since my hubster is an audio/radio engineer, I have to ask Larry if he's considered a thriller using any of his technical expertise as fodder, or if any of his experiences as an electrical/radio engineer have played a helpful role in your novels to date?

Larry: Sure, I've considered thrillers, but none are in the works as yet. However, technology has worked its way into several of our short stories. "Assault and Battery" focuses on an all-electric car. "Art by the Numbers" depends upon an encrypted elevator. "Artificial Affection" is all about a loving computer with erotic needs. "Dream Channels" involves His and Hers remotes. There are others, too.

B.V.: So, Rosemary--any plans on trying out for "Jeopardy" again?

Rosemary: Sigh . . . Probably not. We watch the show every night. I can do beautifully and horribly in a single half-hour. I suppose I could try the on-line test again. On-line the humiliation is so much less public.