Can you describe your dream home?
I love late nineteenth-century Victorians like the four I’ve lived in and enjoyed restoring. The first was a beautiful Venetian-villa style with a bad roof and a hoarder’s collection of furniture and papers piled high in every room. It’s looking good today (though some days my piles of papers rival hers). The second was a pre-WWI bungalow with stained glass that needed a new roof. And a new bath. And a new kitchen. The third was a lovely Queen Anne that had been cut into seven student apartments but was okay once we tossed those seldom-cleaned stoves and fridges and convinced the roaches to move out. For the fourth, I followed in the footsteps of my series detectives, Nick O’Connor and Maggie Ryan. I’d written about their 1972 move to Park Slope in Brooklyn in MURDER UNRENOVATED. By the time we got there in real life, it was the 1980’s and we could only afford one apartment in a four-family brownstone co-op, not a whole Victorian house like the one Nick and Maggie bought and continued to live in for the rest of the series. Our apartment had etched glass in the pocket doors, a fireplace, and the original woodwork. Nick and Maggie’s fictional house, by the way, has features from all four of mine.What are 5 things within touching distance?
I’m on the bus, still three hours away from New York City. I can touch my pencil, my books, my earphones (Mozart), my thermos of green tea, my chocolate chip cookie. No computer this trip-- I always write first drafts in pen or pencil anyway, and I don’t want to spill green tea on my laptop.What part of the writing process do you dread?
I love writing but dread starting to write. In fact, I dread starting anything–– inertia should be my middle name. I can trick myself into writing two ways. The negative trick is to keep reminding myself that something I hate to do needs doing (for example, cleaning the back porch). Eventually I start to write just to avoid starting something I dread even more. The positive trick is to tell myself I have to write a sentence or two before I get even one bite of that chocolate bar. Once I get myself started, I enjoy writing. Of course when I get really stuck, cleaning the back porch starts looking good––Where do you get your best ideas?
When I’m starting a novel from scratch, my best ideas emerge from what seems like a random constellation of ideas. From my experiences or my friends’, I’ll find myself interested in a setting that includes people who are really passionate about their work, and people that can be hurt if something goes wrong. Maybe I’ll read about someone struggling with a personal situation; it’s even more interesting if our society misunderstands the problem. Somewhere else, news reports perhaps, I’ll hear about a murder that can be tweaked into shape for that particular setting. But trying to force ideas together seldom works for me, so I don’t push it..Often a bunch of ideas continues to sit there lifelessly, and I continue to ignore them. But when the combo is right, it starts generating its own details, the characters start telling me their stories, and it’s time to begin writing.Do you want to add anything about AUDITION FOR MURDER ?
Once I’m writing, my best ideas bubble up from the combinations of things already in the stories. Nick O’Connor is an actor, and Maggie Ryan enjoys pranks. One reason they enjoy each other’s company is the games they improvise, sometimes to get information, sometimes to further a solution better than the legal system would have to impose. When I’m writing these scenes, the details often come from imagining myself in the scene mystelf, very concretely, with all their advantages (strength, knowledge, gymnastics training) and disadvantages (no weapons, chained to a wall, recovering from a knock on the head). Again, getting into the characters’ heads inspires the best improvisations.
After writing the character of Nick O’Connor, I found myself interested in actors who manage to make a solid career without ever getting the “big break” that turns them into superstars. These actors add immeasurably to the quality of plays and films, but their names are seldom on the front of fan magazines. If I ever join a real-life fan club, it won’t be for someone like Leonardo DiCaprio or Angelina Jolie, but for someone like Charles Durning.
Audition for Murder
AUDITION FOR MURDER (Maggie Ryan 1967) Actors Nick and Lisette O’Connor need a change. They leave New York City for a semester as artists-in-residence at a college upstate, where they take on the roles of Claudius and Ophelia, two of the professional leads in a campus production of Hamlet. Threats and accidents begin to follow Lisette, and Nick worries it might be more than just petty jealousy. Maggie Ryan, a student running lights for the show, helps investigate a mystery steeped in the turmoil of 1967 America.
Read an excerpt:
New York City, late 1960’s. Nick O’Connor put down the telephone, his broad, muscular body sagging a little. So she hadn’t been merely tired. Hell. He changed to worn jeans and his old leather jacket, and made a mean face at the mirror. Nick the hustler tonight. Man of a thousand faces, said his agent, and every one of them homely. A regular one-man Dickens novel. Nick headed out for the West Forties.
The snow was not sticking much. It made the sidewalks shine darkly, splashed with gold and rose and white reflections from bars and street lamps, and pasted down scraps of paper that otherwise would be scuttling across the streets in the bitter wind. His way led past whores, pushers, tired old men huddled over warm grates. Without a hurt, the heart is hollow. No hollow hearts on this street.
Franklin’s place was halfway down the block. A worn brass door handle, chipped paint. Nick wiped a few snowflakes from his thinning hair and pushed through the crowd to the end of the bar. In a moment the bartender, black, with a trim mustache, had worked his way down to him.
“Hey, man, where ya been?”
“Is she here, Franklin?”
“Been here for hours.”
“Yeah, I was working tonight. I just heard.”
“She said she got fired.”
“Hey, we can’t all be self-employed minority success stories.”
Franklin chuckled. “You watch your honky mouth.” He went off to break up a loud argument about whether or not the Vietcong were winning, served a whisky, and returned to Nick. “Room 6B,” he said.
About AUDITION FOR MURDER (Maggie Ryan 1967)
"It's a triple pleasure, a sophisticated theatre story, a knowing campus tale and a topnotch suspenseful mystery, with excellent characterizations and honest plotting." - Judith Crist
"An extremely well-written tale, with a plotline that offers a jolt per page." -- CF, Booklist "Very literate, sprinkled with surprises and offering that rarity of rarities -- fully fleshed out characters." -- Bob Ellison, Los Angeles Daily News
P.M. Carlson taught psychology and statistics at Cornell University before deciding that mystery writing was more fun. She has published twelve mystery novels and over a dozen short stories. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Macavity Award, and twice for Anthony Awards. Two short stories were finalists for Agatha Awards. She edited the Mystery Writers Annual for Mystery Writers of America for several years, and served as president of Sisters in Crime.
Author Website http://www.pmcarlson.net
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