Sunday, March 25, 2018

Interview with Rebecca Marks

Author Rebecca Marks joins us today to talk about her book Old Fashioned with a Twist, her protagonist and her writing process. 

Where did you get the idea for OLD FASHIONED WITH A TWIST? How did you know that was the book you wanted to write?

This is book 4 in the Dana Cohen mystery series, and although it's readable as a stand-alone, my idea for the theme of this book came from the character development of the main characters in the three previous books in the series. Dana and her ex-husband Pete have both moved on to other partners when this book opens, and not only is Dana pregnant, but Pete's new girlfriend Caterina (who was introduced in book 3) was also pregnant but has given birth to a baby boy. The first three books involve murders, so I thought it would be a nice change to have Dana solving a different but also horribly upsetting crime, in this case kidnapping. Caterina and Pete's month-old infant has been kidnapped, and Pete reaches out to Dana, who he knows is one of the best detectives, to solve the case, because he doesn't feel the police are fast enough. Dana then calls on her go-to guy, Itzy Itzkowitz, the PI who helped her solve all her other cases, and together they dig deep into what's going on in Caterina's life that might make this happen. In so doing, they uncover some very old, very buried secrets that also involve Caterina and her background. Although I started out with the idea for a kidnapping case, all the surrounding mystery came to me as I wrote, which happens frequently to me. People ask me where I get my ideas, and I tell them, honestly, my characters lead me into their own crazy worlds. I know that sounds a bit psychotic, but it happens time after time to me, and so it did in the case of this book.

Tell us a bit about Dana Cohen. Where did this character come from? Who is she?

I am frequently asked, "Is Dana Cohen you?" And I have to answer, no, not really, although as an author I'm sure I infuse parts of myself in her character. My late husband was a police detective, and for many years he talked about his cases and their twists and turns. I often tell people, Dana Cohen is more my husband than she is me. Although I've written books where the main character is a man, it's just a little easier to write a main character of my own gender. There is a certain understanding "in the DNA." So I can't imagine carrying a gun, but Dana is rarely without hers (as was my husband, even after he retired from the police department). On the other hand, my husband was of Irish Catholic extraction, which is the same as Dana's ex-husband Pete Fitzgerald. I know about that world from having been a part of my husband's family for many years. I am Jewish, and non-practicing, just like Dana. So I think that Dana is actually a composite of many different people, and of course she is her own person as well. The fun part about being a novelist is that I can shape her however I want to, give her the physical characteristics that I find interesting, and let her thrive on her own after I infuse whatever I want.

Your books have fully fleshed out supporting characters, such as Alex and Marilyn. Who were you inspirations for these characters. Are they "easy" to bring to life?

I didn't have actual inspirations for these characters per se, but I wanted them to have certain characteristics. Because Dana's first husband Pete was a philanderer, I wanted Alex to be so in love with Dana that he wouldn't think of cheating on her. Also, Pete was almost movie-star handsome, and I wanted Alex's physical appearance to be less "regular" and more "normal," although Dana thinks he's very sexy! Also, where Pete was a detective, Alex was a nurse, which is generally a profession of women. I wanted Alex to be in touch with his feminine side, to respect Dana's brilliance, which he does, although he worries about her, and to love her in every way for herself. In a sense, Pete was my inspiration for Alex, or the "yang" to Pete's "yin" if that makes any sense. I made Marilyn an African-American woman, because I wanted to show without telling that Dana takes people for what they are, not for their race, creed, or color. Marilyn is a "side-kick," but I wanted her to have a strong persona of her own, and she is, of course, a very talented former singing star. I hope these characters are easy to bring to life. That's up to my readers to determine!

Another supporting character, Dana's father, has Alzheimer's. What made you did to explore this disease? How did you approach the research into making the situation so believable?

This was real-life research. My mother, my grandfather, and my uncle all had Alzheimer's. As an only child, I was the one who was tasked to take care of my mother, and then after that became too hard, to make the decision for her to go to a nursing home. She lived for many years with Alzheimer's disease, and I have seen several TV movies (and Hollywood movies) that dealt with the disease, often in ways I didn't feel were honest. I wanted to show my readers actually what it is like to have an aging parent with this disease, and how it affects the family members who are dealing with it. So I suppose this was a bit of an ulterior motive, but I wanted to show how deeply Dana cared for her father, and how wrenching it is to see a loved one deteriorate the way Alzheimer's makes a person deteriorate.

If Dana was actually a real person, would you be friends with her? Why or why not?

Well before my husband and I had a romantic relationship, we were very good friends. Because Dana reminds me of my husband in many ways, I would be great friends with her! I love her sense of humor, her intelligence, how she listens to people, and her persistence and perseverance in getting to the bottom of things. I can imagine laughing with her, listening to her, and having her listen to me. I'd love to have a friend like her!

Your titles are clever. How did you decide to use the drink/cocktails terminology theme?

The title of book 1, On the Rocks, was a "gimme." Dana was drinking heavily until she became pregnant, and she drank her Scotch "on the rocks" with one ice cube. Then, her house was situated "on the rocks" overlooking the Long Island Sound. When I wrote book 2, I was scrounging around for a title, and talking to friends, someone said, hey, maybe you should do an alcoholic beverage theme, if you are going to write these books as a series. I thought that was a stroke of brilliance! So after that I made the decision to continue that theme of titles. Luckily, I'm good at thinking up catchy titles (perhaps I should have been an ad writer!), so it wasn't too hard. I'm currently writing book 5, but I won't divulge the title right now! Suffice it to say, it continues with the drink terminology theme!

What is the best thing that has happened to you as a result of your novels?

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to write fiction. Raising a family and having to work for many years (I actually worked in technical writing), I had to put off the dream. But I was determined, after my family grew up, to follow that dream. Although it's wonderful to publish novels and get good feedback from my readers, I think the best thing that's happened to me is the self-actualization. Had I never done it, I would have wondered my entire life whether it might have been possible. It's a tough business and requires that one can handle a great deal of rejection before one finally breaks through. Just having the self confidence that I not only followed my dream but was perseverant enough to keep trying until I was published, is a great feeling. It overlaps into all phases of one's life, I believe, and that has been the best thing that happened to me personally as a result of my novels.

You are a musician as well as a novelist. Has how music informed you writing, and has your writing informed your music?

Sometimes I feel that I've led a "bifurcated" life. Music is as important to me as my writing, although I did not pursue a professional music career. I find that my music--I sing with two groups in NYC and have been studying harp for several years, and now llanera South American harp, which I love--reinvigorates me and sharpens my mind. I'm constantly using different parts of my brain to accomplish creative things, and one thing feeds off the other. Sometimes, if I'm struggling with a plot point or with some other phase of a novel I'm writing, when I practice for a while, the ideas pop into my head. I've also performed in several groups that appear (although masqueraded) in my novels. Singing in Christmas Revels, both in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in New York City, provided the basis for the show that Dana's friend Marilyn directed in book 3, Stone Cold Sober. Music allows me to smooth out life's wrinkles in a soothing, calming way, as well as stirring up the creative juices that enable me to write novels.

What was the last mystery novel you read, other than your own, that you LOVED? Why did you love it?

Interestingly enough, I haven't been much of a mystery reader. Years ago, I really enjoyed Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason mysteries. I've read several Sherlock Holmes adventures I liked very much. And I also loved the "Deadly Sin" series by Lawrence Sanders, published in the 1970s and 1980s. All of these books were very well written, which is appealing to me, and I found that I could relate to the characters, despite the fact that they were fictional. Before I decided to write a mystery series, I did read quite a few mysteries from various authors, but I didn't really love any of them.

If you could be any character in a book, who would you be and why?
This is a really tough question! I've read so many books (and written quite a few), and "met" many many fascinating characters. So each time one comes to mind, another one pops up almost instantly. I think I prefer to be an observer of my favorite characters, rather than putting myself in their shoes.

What are you working on now, and when can readers expect it?
I am currently working on the first draft of book 5 of my Dana Cohen series, but I'm only about halfway through. So it's hard to estimate when it might be available. However, I have several more books (unrelated to Dana's story) coming out within the next year, two of which are time travel sagas that take place in present-day Boston and Alexander Hamilton's New York--About Time and About Face. For any students of the American Revolution and Alexander Hamilton's America, these might be interesting. In addition, I have a novel called Paint It Black, which chronicles the exciting and angst-filled life of a police officer in Washington, D.C. after the Vietnam War.

You can find Rebecca on Twitter @rmarksauthor.

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