Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meet P.M. Carlson, author of 'Audition for Murder'

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.

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.
Do you want to add anything about AUDITION FOR MURDER ?
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
P.M. Carlson


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
Buy links


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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  1. Hi P.M.! I too am a lover of Victorian homes in need of rescue, lol. We purchased ours in 1990 in a designated historical district and while the house was big on charm, it was huge in ongoing repairs: everything down to the wiring and plumbing was original! We got the house for a steal because it was 'haunted': the previous owner's wife had hung herself in the basement! But for me it was love at first sight.
    It was a craftsman's house, so it had features such as front and back staircases to the second floor, maple flooring set in a picture frame pattern, 3 inch crown moulding and the original rope sashing windows. The house even had laundry chutes and built in mahogany cupboards in the hallways. I truly loved that house and held many family gatherings there over the years. Sadly, after selling the house and moving south, it was destroyed in a fire. My interest in Victorian homes has never waned, however, and I love seeing them featured in books and movies.
    Thanks for sharing today.

    ilookfamous at yahoo dot com

    1. I'm totally with you! It's fun to be in a house with some history and some "personality"-- that's Victorian-home-owner code for banging pipes and creaky floors LOL. But it helps keep things in perspective-- like this SNOWY April day, I know it's seen a lot more late springs than I have.
      We didn't have anything as dramatic as a hanging in the basement! But the doctor who had it before us left a human skull behind. We donated it to the university as a teaching aid.

  2. Thanks for the spotlight on PM's books - I've never read anything by her and this sounds like an interesting series. I think the thing I like best about mystery books is trying to solve the crime before the author solves it - I like reading the clues and seeing if I'm smarter than the characters about it ...lol....Thanks for the giveaway

    maria63303 at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks Maria! I love the puzzles too, but think they have to be novels first with real human dreams and emotions. That said, many of the Maggie Ryan books have extra twists at the end, and one is a classic locked-room-- except it's not.

  3. It's great to be on Andi's Book Reviews today! Thanks for hosting.

  4. Wow your dream house sounds beautiful! And a bit like my dream house :P Lol~

    1. Thanks Andra! It's even better once you update the weatherstripping and the plumbing-- which doesn't have to be completely boring. We had to replace the bathroom so we went with a 19th century bordello look.

  5. I'm very curious about this one!


    1. The Maggie Ryan series is a set of mysteries-- each stands alone but there's a background story about Maggie, her friend and later husband Nick, and other friends and relatives. AUDITION FOR MURDER is a good introduction to Nick's world as a working actor and to Maggie's intelligence, enthusiasm, and vulnerability.

  6. This sounds like a great series. I enjoyed your comments. Why did you fix those houses and then move? Sounds like they were really great.

  7. I love that your fictional house has elements from your various real homes. What's your very favorite feature of Nick and Maggie's place?

    I like a cozy mystery--something not too graphic or violent.

    1. My favorite feature? Besides location and style (love the oriel window!), it's size-- they can let Julia stay in her beloved apartment on the ground-floor! I like sharing a big house if the walls aren't too thin. There were other apartments in all my real-life Victorian homes-- they were built with room for live-in servants. Live-in servants are a feature Nick and Maggie can't afford, and neither can I!

  8. Like most real-estate questions, the answer is location, location, location! House #1: upstate New York, great town. House #2: Indiana, where the new job was. House #3: a few blocks from #2, farther away from fraternity parties. #4: Brooklyn, easy subway commute to the newest new job in New York City. But we never really left #1, came back every summer.

  9. Thanks for hosting today! The questions and comments were great. I look forward to next week!

  10. waiting to find out what happened

  11. I love Victorian houses, they have so much character.


    1. Yes, Rita, they are quirky but great fun. The Victorian house in the fourth Maggie Ryan book, MURDER UNRENOVATED, pretty much turned into a character!


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