Authors Rosemary and Larry Mild, A fifty-minute Presentation to the National Association of American Women

Writing Together Is Murder

Larry: Hi, Friends, and thank you for having us. Welcome to Magic Island Literary Works. All our magic takes place in our fifteenth-floor condo overlooking Magic Island and Ala Moana Beach Park. At least that's the way it was. Today there's a big ugly high-rise that's cut off half our view. Perhaps you know why mystery writers are so docile: they get rid of their anger and frustration by murdering these baddies in their books.

Rosemary: Larry and I sit in diagonal corners of our second bedroom with dueling computers and a bevy of muses floating above us. Together we've written ten mystery novels and three books of short stories.

Larry: Individually, Rosemary has written three memoirs. MIRIAM'S GIFT and MIRIAM'S WORLD-AND MINE are about the loss of our daughter, Miriam Luby Wolfe, who perished via a terrorist bomb aboard Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December, 1988. Rosemary's third memoir is LOVE! LAUGH! PANIC! LIFE WITH MY MOTHER.

Rosemary: For years I begged Larry to write his memoir, or at least bits here and there. But my husband never does anything halfway. He started from the day of his birth and wrote his autobiography: NO PLACE TO BE BUT HERE, 450 pages. It's about growing up in the Great Depression, the WWII years, his education, his two marriages, his unique Navy career, and our world travels.

Larry: The question most asked by our fans is: How do you write together? Do you write alternating chapters? No. We contribute in different ways. Rosemary believes that I inherited a creative gene from my grandfather. The real reason is that I have the more devious mind, so naturally, I'm responsible for plotting-counter-plotting, twists, turns, and the black art of the red herring. I also write the first drafts.

Rosemary: Mystery and suspense novels require tremendous concentration. Larry has a much longer attention span than I do. I bounce up and down, doing other things. He can write for four straight hours-the only part of his body that's moving is his fingers on the keyboard (which is one reason he's in physical therapy). We're the hare and the tortoise. Unfortunately, I'm the slow one. I take his manuscript and tackle it as if carving a marble sculpture, molding flesh-and-blood characters, sharpening dialogue, adding scenes. But what's tough on Larry is my other creative life: I write personal essays; some have won awards. When Larry finishes his first draft, he hands it over to me. It's hard for him to sit back and wait until I finish my current nonfiction project, especially my new collection, IN MY NEXT LIFE I'LL GET IT RIGHT. As some of you know, these essays are quirky observations on everyday life, from the hilarious to the serious.

Larry: But what's tough on Rosemary is (if you'll excuse my Latin) there's this co-writus interruptus thing. It's too easy to stop her and ask: "Does adrenaline have an e? rather than look it up myself. I love tackling my first draft of a novel or story. After writing a sketchy synopsis, the words tumble out in a cascade. The tough part is making every facet of a plot "fit." We always keep our promise to the reader. We never throw in a killer from left field just to create a surprise ending.

Rosemary: Larry gives me his first draft and I flesh out the characters and streamline passages to pick up the pace. I call it "judicious pruning," an expression I learned as an assistant editor at Harper's Magazine.

Larry: "Judicious pruning," my ass. I worked hours on those two paragraphs!

Rosemary: Well, Stephen King says to write is human, to edit is divine." Then, with sleeves rolled up, we negotiate. In our early days, I would not have received a doctorate in diplomacy. Today things go a lot smoother.

Larry: Our manuscripts are always better after Rosemary works her part of the magic. She has this wonderful feel for people and human nature. She breathes life into my minimalist characters: physical appearance, sharpening the dialogue. Sometimes she adds a scene for more conflict. She'll take an anecdote I've told second-hand and turn it into real-time drama, like the following one in DEATH TAKES A MISTRESS. "A snapping sound. A hand came out of nowhere and pushed hard on Ivy's back, thrusting her raggedly through the six-foot-high hedge that stretched along the property on her left. The pyracantha's long thorns and clusters of orange berries ripped across her face and gouged her bare arms as she was forced to the ground." This was better than my original "Someone pushed Ivy through the hedges."

Rosemary: Larry's my soul mate. I'm convinced we knew each other in a previous life. Writing together gives us daily structure and the joy of seeing our books in print. Larry also formats all our work for printing and e-book publication and we even have a talking book. DEATH GOES POSTAL, our first Dan & Rivka Mystery, is available as an Amazon Audible Audiobook.

Larry: The best part of writing with your spouse is that we're never working in a vacuum. We always have each other to bounce our ideas off. When Rosemary read my first draft of DEATH RULES THE NIGHT, she said the plot seemed a little thin. I was able to immediately come up with a juicy, seductive counterplot, and we talked out the details. I look forward to that instant when all the story parts come together. After we finish our final draft, we read the book aloud to each other. It slows down the word rate to a point where the typos and errors literally jump out at us. It's so necessary to hear what we wrote-what it sounds like. We might discover Rivka walking into the room in a sequined gown and leaving in cut-off jeans. It's during this reading process that our individual writing styles blend into a single seamless product. And, it's no slight pleasure when the bound book arrives from the printer.

Rosemary: So how did we start writing together? Larry and I met on a blind date in October, 1986, at my house in Severna Park, Maryland. We came from different worlds. He had lost his wife to cancer. I'd been divorced for eight years, happily accustomed to having my own space, thank you. In the car, on our way home from dinner, he said,

Larry: "When I retire, I'm going to write a novel and I want you to help me."

Rosemary: Now neither of us had ever written fiction. I was an editor; he was an electrical engineer, and I'd only known this man for four hours. So, I chirped, "Okay!" Instinct told me he was Mr. Right-and I'd better not let him get away. True to his word, when we retired, he sat down and wrote the first draft of CRY OHANA, ADVENTURE AND SUSPENSE IN HAWAII. The truth was that Larry retired, but I wasn't so lucky. I was working for Westinghouse as an engineering writer. I went to our human resources director and asked him "What is it called when you retire after six and a half years? And he said "It's called quitting!"

Larry: Anyway, we decided it was time to get smarter about this writing business, so we enrolled in creative writing courses at Johns Hopkins U. in their Odyssey program. And in mystery courses at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland.

Rosemary: We did so well there that the retiring teacher recommended us to continue teaching the course, which we did for two more semesters, but we had to give it up because of Larry's health.

Larry: Fans often want to know where our plots and ideas come from? We get them straight out of life! From newspaper articles and books, from eavesdropping, and from our own personal experience. We wrote CRY OHANA when we were winter "snowbirds" in Honolulu, weaving in all the local places we knew, which gave the book authenticity and color. For instance, we have a chase scene in Chinatown during Chinese New Year, which we frequently attended, wading ankle-deep in firecracker paper. But we also leap into other times and places with our sci-fi novella UNTO THE THIRD GENERATION. Twelve major world trips to Japan, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Egypt, Belgium, Netherlands, France, and Great Britain made great settings for our stories. My experiences with the U.S. Navy as both a sailor and a civilian engineer didn't hurt either.

Rosemary: We use our personal experience as a touchstone for a great deal of our fiction. In HOT GRUDGE SUNDAY, Paco and Molly are on their honeymoon at the national parks out West. Larry and I took this tour, so we gave our itinerary to Paco and Molly-with dire consequences. They'd rather smooch than sleuth, but their bliss is disrupted by thieves and conspirators on the bus. And we injected a hair-raising scene at every site like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

Larry: One of our more recent books is COPPER & GOLDIE, 13 TAILS OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENCE IN HAWAII. In it Sam Nahoe is a disabled ex-cop-turned-cabbie. I gave him my own disability; Sam has to walk with two canes. His Auntie Momi asks him: "You still walkin' with Dem Giant Chopsticks?" Goldie, his golden retriever (with a touch of Doberman), chases down all the villains. Together they take on Honolulu bank robbers, kidnappers, killers, and even vengeful wives.

Rosemary: One of Sam's cases in this book is "The Snake Lady," about a fortune teller who owns a pet snake. Snakes are illegal in Hawaii; we had to research how the state deals with them. A cousin of ours who's a jeweler had designed a snake ring. We used it to bail us out of a plotting dilemma: how to nail the killer.

Larry: Our basic rule: Keeping our characters in trouble keeps the two of us out of trouble. We draw many of our characters from real life. Most are composites of people we've known.

Rosemary: When Larry and I started writing together, we hadn't even considered writing mysteries-until we visited my psychoanalyst father, Dr. Saul K. Pollack, in Milwaukee. That visit set us on a happy new course. My father, a widower in his seventies, had a housekeeper/gourmet cook named Dorothy. She was sixty-three, with a beach-ball figure, waddle walk, honey curls, and good-natured, nosy-body personality. Dorothy had a unique way of expressing herself. "I have to take my calcium so I don't get osteoferocious." During our visit, my father pulled out a piece of paper from his desk drawer and handed it to us: his secret list of Dorothy's 177 sayings. He thought we could submit it to Reader's Digest. Back home in Severna Park, we decided Dorothy was too good a character to ignore. Forget Reader's Digest. She belonged to us. We named her Molly, and her frequent witty sayings Mollyprops. Dr. Avi Kepple the loveable psychoanalyst, was patterned after my father.

Larry: But we also needed a policeman, so I invented a semi-retired Baltimore detective and named him Inspector Paco LeSoto. I actually met the model for the real-life Paco when I was an electronics field engineer riding U.S. Navy ships for RCA. I recalled a Chief Inspector Garcia Garcia Garcia from Barcelona, Spain, who I had encountered forty years earlier aboard ship when he was a guest. We chatted for hours. So, LOCKS AND CREAM CHEESE, our first mystery, was born. Two more Paco and Molly Mysteries followed: HOT GRUDGE SUNDAY and BOSTON SCREAM PIE.

Rosemary: Then we introduced the Dan and Rivka Sherman Mysteries. We made Dan and Rivka a lot like ourselves, but much younger: a Jewish couple in their early fifties. They abandoned thriving careers to buy the fictional Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis, Maryland. Physically, Dan is his own man. Tall and gangly, he sprawls when he sits. He has bushy black hair and eyebrows. The only thing that's thin about Larry is his gray hair. However, Dan's personality is very much like Larry's: analytical and practical, a born problem-solver. Rivka is a lot like me. Affectionate, addicted to chocolate, and feisty-I came out of the womb arguing. In Death Rules the Night a tell-all book about a prominent Annapolis family has disappeared. Dan secures a crucial manuscript copy of it. One night a burglar breaks into the bookstore. Dan thinks the manuscript is what the intruder was trying to steal. Rivka despairs. "Oh, Dan, do you think the intruder is violent? Forget trying to discover the Atkins family secrets. You are being so pigheaded!"

Larry: We do have one character who likes to introduce himself. He's the zany detective in THE MISADVENTURES OF SLIM O' WITTZ, SOFT BOILED DETECTIVE, 8 Short Stories. Slim always says: "If you're searching for hardboiled private eyes? Go see Sam Shade, Flip Marlowe, or Mike Slammer. Should you desire a completely anal policeman, there's always Adrian Schmonk. But if you're in need of a truly soft-boiled Private Investigator, you turn to me, Slim O. Wittz. I'm rarely in charge, frequently behind the eight ball, and seldom paid. In spite of all that, my case record is remarkably shaky. I'm one of them old-fashioned private eyes. Yeah, I'm a dinosaur, a shamusaurus, a toss-back to the noire gumshoes of the nineteen thirties and forties. Dames? I prefer mine over easy-both my eggs and my women. Mostly, I investigate, embezzlers, gamblers, runaways, unfaithful spouses, and yes, the meshuga kind, too.

Rosemary: Slim has a bossy secretary named Voluptuous. Vo is a leggy blonde with turquoise eyes and firehouse lipstick. Slim says, "That babe's got real smarts, too. She goes to night school to be a paralegal. That's like having a get-out-of-jail-free card. She also manages the office finances. I'm lucky she even gives me an allowance."

Larry: How about a little short story, entitled "José and Garminita" from our book MURDER, FANTASY, AND WEIRD TALES. José heard the driver's door slam shut. Suddenly it seemed too quiet inside, like after a slipped curse word in church. The Pompous 400 sport utility vehicle had just sailed off the assembly line, washed and ready for its new owner. The SUV's interior smelled of new Moroccan leather-right off the goat, if you please. He looked the dashboard over and practiced naming each knob, switch, and control aloud. Don't forget the driver's back massager or the hot and cold water dispenser, he reminded himself.

Rosemary: This was José Robot's function, his grand raison d'etre: to point out all the new buttons, dials, bells, whistles, and features on the confusing new Pompous 400 dashboard. José Robot was an ethereal-android designed for this purpose. He existed as a lifelike three-dimensional holographic creature dressed as a displaced leprechaun with short green pants and flowered suspenders. His 3-D image emanated from two widely separated overhead projector lamps in the back seat and a trio of individual projector lamps up front above the windshield. A gleaming red software CD worked this magic by generating José's image. But the CD was not standard equipment. Oh, no. The compact disk housing this charming little man was on courtesy loan from the dealer and had to be returned after one week or the new-car owner would be charged a weekly rental fee.

Larry: José, with his square metallic features and bolted limbs, stood only nine inches tall. He could leap and bound from place to place and had an infinite hovering capability. He even contained a sensitivity factor-engineered for drivers who were inattentive listeners, mechanically challenged, or those who wanted to experiment on their own. Under all these stressful conditions, he remained poised, patient, and even-tempered. His voice had an authoritative yet soothing quality that reassured car owners. José continued practicing, control by control, modulating his pitch with extreme care. He didn't want to sound like just any how-to recording. He enjoyed the timbre of his own voice, but, unexpectedly, another sound emerged.

Rosemary: "Hey, keep it down out there! I've got a lot of research to do," an abrupt female voice commanded.

Larry: Astonished and unnerved, José spun about. He assumed he was alone in this brand-new vehicle. He flitted about the car, seeking the source of the bossy intruder. It emanated from the general direction of the Global Positioning System. He frowned. The system looked perfectly normal, with its four-inch screen illuminating a local street map. "Who's there?" he blurted out. His ungentlemanly retort startled him. He didn't know he had it in him.

Rosemary: "It's me, Garminita, your personal GPS driving companion," murmured the voice, now sweet as strawberry jam and dripping with sexual overtones. "I wasn't expecting you until this afternoon, Hon. How may I assist you?"

Larry: "Hey! I'm not the new owner, and I'm not your Hon." José hovered in front of the small screen. "I'm the manufacturer's virtual host. I was just practicing my lines."

Rosemary: "Who do you think you are, Squirt? How do you expect me to do my research and be prepared to quickly respond to my owner's how-to-get-there requests?"

Larry: "Why don't you go to MapQuest or Google like everyone else?"

Rosemary: "Where do you get off telling me what to do, Half-Pint?"

Larry: "Hey, cut out that Half-Pint stuff. Come on out from that itty-bitty screen you're hiding behind. The only thing big about you is your talk."

Rosemary: "I'll come out when I'm good and ready, Short-Stuff."

Larry: "Say, maybe the dealer should send you to anger management class. You're all Audio, lady. Are you ashamed to show your video? Or don't you like men?"

Rosemary: "I like 'em fine. I'll come out when there's somebody man enough to come out for. You're not even out of short pants yet."

Larry: "So I'm not man enough for you?"

Rosemary: "I like my men to be a little more substantial. I bet you can't tip the scales off zero."

Larry: "Like you're gonna weigh more?" José plunked himself down in the passenger seat, scratching his head and feeling highly insignificant.

Rosemary: "I'll come out and show it all for the right owner. All of it," Garminita murmured, lapsing once more into her most alluring voice. But she was unhappy. This bickering is getting us nowhere, she thought. "Truce?"

Larry: "Peace, then!"

Rosemary: Garminita suddenly turned cautious. "Why? Why should I?"

Larry: "Well, for one thing, we're here to benefit the new owner. Two, we both have important jobs to do. And three, it will be a lot more pleasant for us. We're required to coexist for all of next week. Besides, arguing isn't one of my functions. This hostile improvising is giving me a virtual headache."

Rosemary: "Well….okay. A truce it is. But don't go getting any big ideas. I know you short-termers-hit and run, hit and run. Bam, bam, thank you, ma'am!"

Larry: [Sigh!] "Great confidence-building, Garminita. Look, I'm really a nice guy. I guarantee your honor will be left intact."

Rosemary: "Now that I think about it, you are kinda good-looking, but that cutsie outfit has got to go." She chuckled.

Larry: "I had a business suit and silk tie in mind, but some adman-ninny brought up the leprechaun idea and then I no longer had any say in the matter."

Rosemary: "Oh, you poor dear," she cooed. "You can't even dress the way you want. I know what that's like."

Larry: "How can you know that? You never ever show yourself."

Rosemary: "Oh, but I do for my car owners. Whenever a man hears my sexy voice, he imagines what I'm wearing. I've got to keep changing teddies and bikinis with his whim. At least, I let him think that's what I'm doing. Sometimes, a guy wants me in my altogether, and then I have to create an image that I'm sitting that way in this cold, drafty control box."

Larry: "Can't you heat up your suggestive speech patterns and sexual overtones a bit?

Rosemary: "Oh, no, I couldn't do that. It's my exclusive shtick. The manufacturer would reject me, and I'd never see the inside of a car again."

Larry: "I get it. We do have a lot in common, Sweetie."

Rosemary: "Oh, José dear, it's so good to have someone to confide in."

Larry: "I know. I feel the same way about you, Garminita."

Rosemary: "I wish we could be together always." [Sobs and tears hid among her words.]

Larry: José's voice wavered. "But I'll have to go away in just seven days. A week is so short." He hovered in front of the screen, then buzzed around the GPS box and base, trying to find a door in.

Rosemary: "I didn't want a quickie romance, Jose, darlin', but you tempted me, and I fell for you anyway."

Larry: "Let's live and love for the time we have left." A surge of hope welled up inside his two-inch chest. He hugged Garminita around her narrow GPS base.

Rosemary: The following Thursday, the new owner took possession of his Pompous 400, and José performed beautifully. Only, Mr. Wendell Little proved to be so forgetful that José gave encore performances six of the seven days that week. When it came time to turn the leprechaun back to the dealer, Wendell decided to purchase the software CD outright. Garminita and José remained together through three owners-right up to the day, fifteen years later, when the Pompous 400 was declared a total loss.

Larry: Miraculously, the loss did not extend to the tiny lovers. The last owner, out of gratitude, shipped them off to the Small Appliance Nursing Home. The red CD, gleaming and beaming, sat on a shelf cuddling next to the chrome GPS box, thereby proving to the world that Garminita and José, despite their advanced ages, still knew how and where.

Larry: I'd like to give you a sample of our mystery novel prose. It's from DEATH STEAL A HOLY BOOK, our third Dan and Rivka Mystery. The book opens with: A wooden sign over the door read "Fine Old Books Restored." The tiny shop at 59 Beuller Street reeked of fermenting leather, neatsfoot oil, and musk-exuding from rare tomes and the noble attempt to resurrect them. Could such an unusual stench follow the dreadful journey of a rare book?

Rosemary: The shop's small front room served to greet customers. Beyond it lay the inner sanctum, the artisan's hallowed workroom. Israel Finestein in his yarmulke, a black knit skullcap, sat hunched over his large work table, deep into the project before him: a rare ancient book he had just restored. No longer any sign of mildew-the pages more pliable-their stains now barely perceptible-the cover and binding newly supple. With a tweezer-like tool, this fifty-two-year-old artisan carefully tugged at a frayed re-weave of the original stitching. His cotton-gloved hands and sinewy forearms moved with a deftness and assurance that only an experienced and loving craftsman might display. No ordinary shopkeeper or tradesman here. Nothing was bought or sold here. He simply provided a valuable, singular service.

Larry: A broad blue mask with thick binocular lenses hid the upper half of his angular face, while its strap disappeared behind his head into ridges of bristled, gray-black hair. The skullcap personified his belief in the ever-presence of God above him. Beneath a generous coffee-stained mustache, his thin lips exposed a hint of protruding pink tongue, a boyish gesture suggesting the deep intensity required by the task at hand. There, almost finished, he thought.

Rosemary: The tiny bell above the street door jingled, startling him. He'd flipped the OPEN sign to CLOSED several hours earlier at 5:30. He wasn't expecting any customers this late. Ah, it's probably my lovely Peggy schlepping my supper. He had left the shop's door unlocked for her. She's such a good woman, a friend like I've never had before. A little meshugge with all that Goth makeup and jewelry, but I'm in love with her anyway-God forgive me.

Larry: He heard footsteps in the front room, and wondered why she wasn't calling to him. Pushing his chair back, he stood up, eager to receive her. But, actually seeing who had entered was impossible with the magnifying aid in place. As he slipped the mask up his forehead, a gold-monogrammed briefcase caught his attention. It dropped to the floor near the table. Without warning, the business end of a Saturday Night Special loomed into his view from out of the darkness. Before he knew who or why, Israel Finestein heard a shot and looked down to see blood pouring out of his own chest. He never heard the second shot, nor the abandoned .38 caliber revolver falling with a thud on the vinyl floor. Israel slumped first into an awkward heap. Then gravity slowly leveled him out flat.

Rosemary: The killer picked up the tan leather briefcase, set it upright on a corner of the table, and undid the buckles on the two straps. Black-gloved hands removed a chamois cloth and spread it out on the table. The dark-clad figure gently closed the rare old text and laid it in the middle of the cloth, wrapping it securely before tucking it into the briefcase. After buckling the straps, the killer turned off the lone lamp and exited quickly to the faint sound of the doorbell jingle.

Larry: I'd like to read you the real-life story behind DEATH STEALS A HOLY BOOK. It's called "My Sacred White Elephant." Many of us possess something out of the past for which we have never found a practical or decorative place. Maybe it's a gilt-framed picture of a great-great uncle, a bewildering trinket, or a haphazard stamp collection. My own white elephant is a rare holy book passed down from my maternal grandfather to my mother and then to me. Sefer Menorat ha-maor arrived at our house in a flimsy department store gift box nestled in tissue paper. This edition is written in Yiddish, the language that predominated among European Jews at the end of the 18th century when it was printed. Sefer means book in Hebrew. The English translation of Menorat ha-maor is The Candlestick of Light. It was originally written in Hebrew in the 14th century as a moral and religious household guide for Jews in the Middle Ages. One of the most important books of its time, it is filled with biblical topics and rabbinical interpretations on righteous living; a compilation of sermons, anecdotes, and tales drawn from both written and oral Jewish law and ethical teachings.

Rosemary: Neither of us can read Yiddish. The Sefer Menorat ha-maor sat in our house year after year deteriorating. In 2008 we opened the gift box, gently lifted the book out, and placed it on the table. Small brown flecks of the heavy leather cover fell off. Opening the cover, we found neat script on the flyleaf: dates ranging from 1803 through 1836, perhaps birth dates. The edges of the yellowed pages were too brittle to continue in our care. The projected cost of restoration was beyond anything we could manage. Sadly, in its condition, we could not display this fragile holy book in the place of honor it deserved. We sought professional help. After consulting with a cantor and three rabbis, our Sefer Menorat ha-maor was carefully packaged and sent on its way to Cincinnati, Ohio, for curator evaluation at the venerated Klau Library of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Dr. Dan Rettberg, of blessed memory, attested to the book's authenticity. Its permanent home is in the Klau Library's Rare Books Collection. It was Larry's honor to donate it.

Larry: Sefer Menorat ha-maor inspired me to create the basic plot for DEATH STEALS A HOLY BOOK.

Rosemary: We would like to conclude with this little exchange that is so typical of us. Last week at 11 p.m. I had just turned off the TV, Larry was dozing off and I got my second wind wide awake, discussing a New Yorker article.

Larry: I listened politely for a minute, then I said, "I have to go to bed."

Rosemary: "Okay, I'll stop talking."

Larry: "No you won't. You were vaccinated with conversation."

Together: That's us.

Rosemary: Any Questions?