This may sound like a cliché, but it comes from the characters. Something subliminal---almost magical---happens when you gather a gaggle of imaginary people and let them act out. In truth, I’m not sure exactly how that collections theme emerged, but it showed up in the very first scene, when Erin and Christine are hanging the handmade sign rechristening the village Playhouse as “the Bijou” for the First Annual Jewel Bay Food Lovers’ Film Festival. I pictured movie posters, and then thought of a collection put together by a lovely couple we know, featuring movies with “Montana” in the title. They’d started the collection long before moving to Montana, as a nod to the western movies they loved as children in New Jersey. My mother-in-law passed away when I was writing CRIME RIB---she’s the inspiration for Iggy, who debuts in CRIME RIB and is fondly remembered in BUTTER OFF DEAD---and I was thinking a lot about her art collection, some now in our home, and her role in founding the Charles M. Russell Museum in Great Falls. I’ve never thought of myself as a collector, but I’ve long been intrigued by “the collector gene.” So then, asking the classic writer’s question “what if?,” I started wondering what would a person driven by a passion do to get an object no one else had.
Turns out that while I don’t think I’ve ever stopped at a garage sale voluntarily, I’ve got lots of collections. Take a peek at my glass (mostly) candlesticks, old bottles (many unearthed while gardening), and the repurposed door knobs.
If your protagonist were actually a real person, would you be friends with them? Why or why not?
I think I would be friends with both Erin Murphy, star of my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, and Pepper Reece, the main character in my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries. Certainly I’d be one their best customers! They are younger than I am---Erin’s only 32 and Pepper 42, but it’s great to have friends of all ages. They’re both warm, smart, and curious---the range of their interests still surprises me. And they’re good cooks. It’s very important to have friends who cook well.
What was the last mystery novel you read, other than your own, that you LOVED? Why did you love it?
After I’m Gone, by Laura Lippman. The premise is simply fascinating: What happens to the women---a wife, a mistress, and three daughters---left behind when a crooked gambler disappears? What happens to their lives, left without financial support, but more importantly, what happens to them emotionally? What are they, and others around them, driven to do? Each of the women is far stronger and more interesting than the man---I’ll resist the snide comments---who links them. The story winds through time, from the early 1960s to the present day. Laura and I are about the same age, so I remember many of the same things she does. She knows how to choose the right details to make a setting pop. And she gets inside her characters. They aren’t always likeable. Some of them are trainwrecks. But she makes you want to watch what happens.
What did you do to research the book?
Ate. And cooked. Hey, a girl needs some vices---and some perks. Read about wolves. (We hear them often and saw one race through our backyard one December morning a few years ago, but despite the presence of several packs in the nearby mountains, sightings in the residential areas, even heavily wooded spots like ours, are fairly rare.) The stage manager of the local playhouse gave me a backstage tour---you wouldn’t believe what can go wrong when you invite 400 of your closest friends over 250 nights a year. And ate---did I mention that?
What is the best thing that has happened to you as a result of your novels?
One of my mottos is a quote from Joseph Campbell: “Never underestimate the value to the Universe of the fully realized life.” We all have a creative impulse, although the world sometimes beats it out of us. Writing is mine. But story doesn’t exist simply on the page. Reading is a creative act, a communication between writer and reader that, if all goes well, turns those black marks on the page---or screen---into images in the reader’s mind, into emotions she feels in her heart and her body. Forming that kind of relationship with readers---and getting to talk to them about it, in person and online---gives me the feeling that am, as Campbell said, living a “fully realized life.” [bad picture of the framed quote in my office]