Monday, December 25, 2006
L.L. Bartlett Interview
Okay, so I got this out later than I would have liked to today, but it's the holidays and everyone is busy. Even me.
Lorraine Bartlett is a local mystery author with one novel out and several more on the way. She was nice enough to consent to being my first interview on this blog. Pick up her novel MURDER ON THE MIND as soon as you can, if you can find it. All the copies made have been sold from the warehouse. If not, then at least stop by and say Hi to her at the Antique Co-Op on Ridge Road. Here's the interview:
JC: Considering that by the time this is posted, the holiday shopping season will be over and done with, what do you think of my timing for this interview?
LLB: Any time an author can get her/his name out there is cause for celebration.
JC: What got you into writing mysteries after writing romance for so long?
LLB: Actually, I was writing mystery first, but I also belonged to a chapter of Romance Writers of America. We had a bit of a competition going within my local critique group to see who could get published in a confession magazine first. It seems to me I didn’t win that challenge, but I ended up publishing more confession stories than the rest of them. I have never written a romance novel and have no plans to. However, because of my experience with a romance chapter, I’ve learned enough to critique and add a dash of romance to some of my stories.
JC: You are a resident of Rochester, but your book is set primarily in Buffalo, what’s up with that?
LLB: My husband is originally from Buffalo, where I set my first novel, MURDER ON THE MIND. We visit the city a lot because he still has relatives there. Also, I thought Buffalo, being bigger than Rochester, would have more crime. I was wrong.
JC: MURDER ON THE MIND seems to fit several different mystery categories, or none at all. How do you describe it? And do you describe it different ways to different people?
LLB: I think of it as a suspense novel with an “amateur” sleuth. My ex-agent considered it a psychological suspense, and I’ve seen it reviewed as a paranormal thriller. Who knows what it really is!
JC: The main character of your book, Jeff Resnick, discovers that he has some “special abilities” in the wake of a head injury suffered during a mugging. How much research did you do on head injuries, paranormal abilities, and the possible linkage between the two?
I’d been a fan of Barbara Michaels’s paranormal/romantic suspense novels and decided that should I ever decide to write a novel, I’d have a paranormal thread running through it. I did a lot of research into head injuries, but virtually none on psychic phenomena/the paranormal. I didn’t want Jeff to be limited to only certain abilities. If I need him to be clairvoyant--he can be. If I need him to see visions, he can. So far no one has challenged me in either case.
JC: That’s true. You never really do explain Jeff’s abilities. But I assume that he wants an explanation. How does this play into how his character develops?
LLB: Actually, he doesn’t want an explanation. He wants to forget about it. Sadly for him, he can’t. But it leaves things open for his “biographer” (me).
JC: Also, Sophie is a very important character to Jeff, in that she is the one person who has implicit trust in both Jeff and his abilities. Will she be returning in the future?
JC: I really found the character of Jeff’s half-brother Richard interesting. I read him as being affable and likeable, yet still very restrained. You’ve mentioned that his character came to you first. How did this project develop into Jeff’s project?
LLB: I’d written two short stories and two novellas featuring Richard and Brenda as secondary characters (although at that time they weren’t romantically involved. She always called him “boss,” which irritated him no end). I needed a doctor and a nurse, and Richard just “grew.”
Jeff appeared in one of the novellas with one short scene. I used Jeff as a secondary character in another story when I first had an inkling I wanted to write about them as brothers. I wrote five short stories (which are unlikely to ever be published) where their backstory developed. (They’re not mystery/suspense.)
JC: You’ve also mentioned that you’ve got FOUR Jeff and Richard books finished? Is that right? And if so, when can we see more of them?
LLB: I’ve actually written five complete novels, and have notes on two more. MURDER ON THE MIND is the first (the paperback version is to be published in November 2007). The second book in the series, DEAD IN RED, to be published in early 2008, is the second, but it was actually the fifth book written. My ex-agent didn’t like my second book in the series (because it took Jeff and Richard out of Buffalo) but she loved the third book and thought the brothers needed a buffer between the first and third book. So in early 2006 I wrote DEAD IN RED. I hope the other two books see publication, but nothing is ever a sure thing in publishing.
JC: Any hint as to what DEAD IN RED might hold for us?
LLB: Here’s a blurb: Sometimes it seems like murder and mayhem follow Jeff Resnick, challenging his “sixth sense” to solve crimes. Since the vicious mugging that changed his life, he’s tried to keep his unwanted gift in check. But when a bartender at his favorite watering hole is murdered, visions of a sparkling red woman’s high-heeled shoe and a pair of bloody hands linger in his mind. When Jeff’s older brother, Richard, last helped him with an investigation, it nearly cost him his life. Still, Richard is determined to tag along as Jeff is drawn into the seamy world of foot fetishes and drag queens to find the murderer before another life is taken.
JC: I understand that you are currently under contract to write something other than Jeff and Richard. What can you tell us about that?
LLB: I’m writing a cozy mystery series about a used bookseller in New Hampshire who specializes in mysteries. So far I don’t have a title for the first book, but the protagonist is Tricia Miles and, like the Jeff books feature his brother, this series will feature Tricia’s older sister, Angelica Prescot. I like writing about the tension between siblings. I’ll be writing those books under the name Lorna Barrett.
JC: Sibling rivalry is a pretty universal concept…
LLB: I’ve received the most comments from people who could identify with the conflict between Jeff and Richard.
JC: Are there any other themes that you try to hit on in your writing, or does it come through on its own?
LLB: I tend to add at least one elderly person to every story I write. I think I have a lot more empathy toward them as my own parents have aged. Our culture doesn’t seem to value the elderly or appreciate their contributions. I like to show them as still vibrant people who can make a contribution to society at large.
Other than that, the stories themselves pretty much dictate their own underlying themes.
JC: You’ve already established separate personalities under Lorraine Bartlett and L.L. Bartlett, now there is a third nom de plume emerging. How do you feel about writing under different names, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of doing so?
LLB: My ex-agent advised me to write under the name L.L. Bartlett because, sadly, some men will not buy fiction written by women. I’m using that name primarily for the Jeff Resnick stories. I published a short story on Amazon Shorts (“We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert”) that I would have preferred to go under my Lorraine Bartlett “brand,” but Amazon insisted it had to go under the L.L. Bartlett name because I don’t have a book with them listed under my own name. One day perhaps.
My web site lists my separate identities (or soon will), so if readers Google any of my names, they’ll be led to my web site.
One benefit of having a pseudonym is that people expect certain kinds of books from an author. Jeff lives in a much darker world than Tricia, as evidenced by the language and level of violence depicted, which is far different in each series. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into only writing one kind of book. Having more than one name for the different books I write solves the problem.
JC: I admire the structure and pacing in your book. Do you outline or plan out your work?
LLB: Not usually. I’m what they call a “pantster” (someone who writes by the seat of her pants--without the benefit of a synopsis). It’s fun, but often you end up doing a lot of rewriting. This cozy I’m currently working on is being written via a detailed outlined (which my publisher demanded). It is a lot easier to write the book, but I worry that it’ll lack spontaneity. I’ll have to wait and see.
JC: When you’re writing, how do you work? Is it a specific time of day? Do you have a daily goal?
LLB: I like to write in the morning and finish my day’s work by lunchtime. Some days that happens, some days it doesn’t. The holidays really screw up my system, so I’m looking forward to January. Once I finish the first cozy in the series, I have plans to jump right into the second.
JC: You use first-person perspective in MURDER ON THE MIND. Is this how you always write? Do you change it based on the project? Or can you tell us how you came to write first-person?
LLB: My first attempt at MURDER ON THE MIND was in third person. In three years I only wrote sixty pages. One day I decided to try changing all the “he said” to “I said” and in a few days I’d written another twenty pages. This character’s voice was first person. I’ve written two other books in third person and my cozy series with Tricia is also in third person. The characters usually let me know what point of view I should use.
JC: You’ve mentioned Barbara Michaels as someone that you read and liked. Are there other authors that you admire, either for their work or what they do beyond the dust jacket?
LLB: I have tons of favorite authors on my shelves. Right now I’m catching up on all Mary Kay Andrews’s books. But I’ve loved Dick Francis for years (have his new book; it just hasn’t risen to the top of the To Be Read pile yet). I like Jeanne Ray, John Mortimer, Janet Evanovich. I read a lot of Bill Bryson’s stuff (travel and language books). My favorite new author is my friend Sandra Parshall. Her HEAT OF THE MOON is going to be nominated for, if not win prizes in 2007 for best new author of 2006. Her follow-up, DISTURBING THE DEAD, will be published in March 2007. I read an early draft of it and it’s spectacular. I’m also a big fan of local author Charles Benoit and looking forward to his new book, NOBLE LIES.
JC: Do you have any signings or appearances set up at bookstores or conferences where people might meet you and talk to you face-to-face?
LLB: Right now I only have one event lined up in 2007, but that will probably change closer to the date the paperback version of MURDER ON THE MIND comes out. I’ll be at the Wood Library in Canandaigua on Monday, March 19th for their noontime meet the author program.
JC: Thanks for taking the time to let me bug you, Lorraine. Happy Holidays, and good luck on all those irons you have in the fire!