SCOTT BUTKI INTERVIEWS MEGAN MIRANDA

I jumped at the chance to interview Megan Miranda, as I’ve heard lots of positive buzz about her best-selling novel All The Missing Girls, which The New York Times Book Review described as “Hitchockian,” and The Perfect Stranger.
The Last House Guest Cover ImageI predict her new book, The Last House Guest, will also land on the best-seller list and have positive buzz.

Her new book is set in Littleport, Maine, which is a town where some, including strong protagonist Avery Greer, live all year round while other wealthy folks, including Sadie Loman and her family, visit only on the summer. Sadie and Avery have a fierce, long friendship.

As the book begins Sadie has been found dead and the police are ruling it a suicide, but Avery can’t shake the feeling people in the community, including Sadie’s family, blame her for the death.

Scott Butki: How did this story come together?

Megan Miranda: I had the characters and the premise from pretty early on, but their story, and how it could best be told, developed over the course of several drafts. When I started The Last House Guest, I knew I wanted to set it in a town where there would be this contrast of insiders (the characters who live in the town year-round) and outsiders (those who visit each summer). Avery and Sadie grew from this idea. But as I worked through earlier drafts, I realized that Avery embodied both sides of that equation—she is someone who grew up as an insider, but now feels like an outsider to her own town.

The friendship between Avery and Sadie—and all that happened because of it—became the heart of the story. Which then gave rise to the structure: At the start of the story, Avery can’t seem to accept or move past Sadie’s death a year earlier. And she keeps circling back to that pivotal night with each new discovery, looking for the things she might’ve missed the first time around.

Scott:  Which comes first for you, the characters or the plot?

Megan: The characters always come first, though they tend to develop alongside the plot. They work in tandem, with plot roadblocks forming character, and character choices informing the story direction. But the characters are always the element I’m most interested in following—both as a reader and a writer. I think this is why I’m not much of an outliner before I start—I need to get to know the characters first, and write my way in to their story.

Scott Butki: Should readers new to you start with this book or one of your earlier ones?

Megan: They can definitely start with this one! Each of the books stands alone, with a new set of characters, and a new setting. They can be read in any order.

Scott: How are you reacting to the popularity of your books?

Writing a book can feel very solitary—but these characters live inside your head for so long, and finishing their story, getting it to where you hope it will be, always means so much. To see it then resonate with others has been such a wonderful experience. I’ve been so grateful that people who have enjoyed these stories have helped spread the word about them.

Scott: Can you talk about the relationship between Sadie Loman, from a wealthy family that visits a vacation town every summer, and Avery Greer, a townie dealing with the grief after her parents die.

Megan: When Avery and Sadie meet as teens, they each find something in the other that fills a void in their lives. Avery had spent the time before meeting Sadie feeling adrift and alone, unable to escape the way others in town see her. And Sadie has a complicated relationship with her own family, never quite living up to expectations. Both of them are able to become someone else through the other’s perspective. But just as with the town itself, their friendship looks different when viewed from the outside versus the inside.

Scott: Why did you decide to begin the book with Sadie’s death?

Megan: There were two reasons I wanted to start the book here. The first went to story: Starting with the end-of-season party from the year earlier introduced each character with their alibi—when and how they were accounted for on the night of Sadie’s death—which is key to unraveling the mystery that follows.

The second reason went to character: For Avery, this is the pivotal event that shatters her world. And this is the night she keeps coming back to in more detail throughout the book as she gains understanding.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Megan: One theme I keep coming back to—in All the Missing Girls, The Perfect Stranger, and The Last House Guest—is this focus on identity, tied tightly to experiences in the past. How people are viewed, and how they view themselves. The one common thing I find at the heart of each main character, despite everything that happens throughout their story, is a sense of resiliency.

Scott: What have you figured out for this, your tenth book, you wish you knew when writing your first?

I wish there was something universal I’ve taken away from the writing process, but the thing I’ve learned the most is that every single book is different. Sometimes the structure and story come together right away. Sometimes they don’t. I guess the one change in my process is that I panic less when a draft doesn’t work at first. I’ve come to accept and appreciate that trial and error is part of my process, and to trust that I’ll get there in the end.

Scott: How did you go about researching this book?

Miranda: When I was writing the first draft, I asked my family if anyone wanted to take a trip up to Maine with me. Which is how I ended up spending a summer vacation in a minivan with my parents, my husband, and my 2 kids. We drove up and down the coast, stopping at so many beautiful towns along the way. We also spent several days in Bar Harbor, which is where we used to spend a week each summer when I was growing up. It made me think a lot about perspective, and how that can shift over time. I had last been there as a teenager, and was now visiting with my own children, hiking the same trails, visiting the same places. I wanted Littleport to feel like a character in and of itself, and a place that can have two different perspectives, both as an insider and an outsider.                     

Scott: The last question is my bonus question: What is a question you wish you would get asked in interviews but never are. Here’s your chance to ask and answer it.

Miranda:  Why are you drawn to small town settings?

I love the dynamic that a small town provides, where characters know everything about one another—or think they do. For me, a small town feels like a living, breathing character. Something that might shift and twist, just as the story does.

PODCAST WITH DAVID C TAYLOR AND JOAN MORAN

A few weeks ago David C. Taylor author of the Michael Cassidy series and Joan Moran, who made a crime fiction debut with The Accidental Cuban, came to BookPeople and talked with crime fiction coordinator Scott Montgomery about their books and use of settings. Taylor’s latest, Night Watch, takes place in fifties New York like his other two, and Joan’s starts in Obama ere Cuba. For those who missed it, here is the discussion—

INTERVIEW WITH KARI BOVEE

Kari Bovee’s Annie Oakley series weaves whoddunit plots through different episodes of her life. Aided by suffragette reporter Emma Wilson, the legendary sharp shooter cracks the case and questions her place as a woman in her time. The latest, Peccadillo at the Palace, deals with her performance for The Queen with The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and a murder of one of her emissaries. Kari was kind enough to talk to MysteryPeople about the series and her real life heroine.

  1. What drew you to Annie Oakley?

Peccadillo at the Palace: An Annie Oakley Mystery Cover ImageI saw a PBS American experience special on her and was impressed with her grit and determination. She had a difficult childhood, particularly after her father died when she was young. To help her mother, Annie taught herself to shoot game to provide food for the family. When she was a preteen, she was then sent to the Darke County Infirmary to learn how to keep house to be “farmed out” to another family to make money for hers. The couple she eventually worked for were abusive and she actually escaped from them after a year. That took some guts. Because of her shooting talent, she grew up to be incredibly famous, but she never forgot who she was and where she came from. She was the epitome of an empowered woman in her time, and I was very impressed with that.

  1. What about her made you think she’d make a great sleuth?

She was smart.

She knew how to defend herself.

She cared about the welfare of others.

When a slanderous story was printed about her in the Hearst papers and distributed throughout the country, she spent eight years fighting to get the stories retracted, and was successful. She was interested in fighting to expose the truth and seek justice.

  1. Emma Wilson, the suffragette reporter, serves as a wonderful companion in Annie’s investigations.  What does she provide to the series and the period you are exploring other than just a fellow sleuth?

I wanted to create a “side-kick” for Annie who was a bit more worldly and more sophisticated than she is. Someone who came from quite a different background and upbringing. Emma was raised an American blue-blood, and while she likes the finer things in life, she rails against the stuffiness and snobbiness of her parents. While Annie is concerned about always doing the right thing, Emma takes more risks. She’s a rebel with her suffragette causes and uses her position as a journalist to get to the truth. Because she is an investigative journalist, she has connections that help Annie to solve the crime. Also, she provides a bit of comic relief. She’s quirky and fun. I just love her!

  1. In Peccadillo At The Palace, you deal with their performance of the queen, which starts with a murder on their ocean voyage, and leads to a plot involving Irish rebels. How much of your plot comes out of the research in your heroine’s life?

Annie and the Wild West Show did actually go to England to perform for the Queen’s Jubilee, and Annie did have the honor of meeting Queen Victoria. They set up their encampment at the Earl’s Court in London.

In 1887, there was much unrest with the Irish that Victoria and her cabinet was constantly dealing with. India also had a love/hate relationship with the British and the Queen. I took that information, and then created the story.

  1. Was there any challenge in putting your characters in England?

For me, it was exciting. I am an Anglophile, and have dabbled in the study of British history since college. I’ve been to England three times, so I am a little familiar with the palaces and places I’ve put in the novel. I also read a lot of historical and contemporary novels set in England, and watch BBC movies and television shows voraciously. I hope I have portrayed the flavor of what London might have been like in 1887.

  1. Do you have another chapter of Annie Oakley’s life you’re ready to use for a mystery?

Right now I am working on the third full-length novel in the series called Folly at the Fair. It takes place in 1893 when the Wild West Show went to the Colombian Exhibition or World’s Fair in Chicago. I’m having a blast with it!

THE HARD WORD BOOK CLUB MEETS THE ALLIGATOR

Bandit Love Cover ImageWith June being International Mystery Month, The Murder In The Afternoon book club decided to go to Italy with one of its most acclaimed writers. Massimo Carlotto lived the life of a crime novel—on the run for a murder he was eventually cleared of. We will be reading his novel Bandit Love featuring his series character Marco “The Alligator” Burrati.

Burrati is an ex-blues singer, ex-criminal, ex-con, part owner of a blues club and part time private detective. A shadowy drug ring kidnaps his best friend’s lover. For her return, The Alligator and his cohorts have to look into the heist of a research pharmacy. If they want the crooks, the drugs, or the mastermind behind it, they are not told. What ensues is many dark reveals, skulking Rome’s back alleys, and Burrati using his criminal skills as much as his investigative ones.

Bandit love provides a lot to discuss from it’s setting, politics, morality, and view of both women and love. We will be meeting at 1PM Monday June 17th at BookPeople’s coffee bar. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.

3 Picks for June

Peccadillo at the Palace: An Annie Oakley Mystery Cover ImagePeccadillo at the Palace

By Kari Bovee:

The second book in The Annie Oakley series focuses on The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show performing in England for The Queen. When one of her majesty’s emissaries is murdered on the voyage over, Annie finds herself dealing with Irish rebels and an assassination plot. Bovee continues to meld historical detail, human behavior and suspense into an entertaining read.

 

Girl in the Rearview Mirror: A Novel Cover ImageGirl in the Rearview Mirror

By Kelsey Rae Dimberg:

When Finn Hunt, a young woman with a past, finds work as a nanny for a politically connected family in Arizona, she believes she has found solid footing. It all becomes overturned when a mysterious woman approaches Finn to get a message to the father, unraveling everyone’s secrets that lead to deadly consequences. Dimberg uses minute human behavior and the harsh desert light to build mood and suspense that leads to a killer ending.

 

This Storm: A novel Cover ImageThis Storm

By James Ellroy:

The second book in the Demon Dog Of Crime Fiction’s World War Two Quartet has fascist cop Dudley Smith and his corrupt gang violently careening through L.A. and Mexico in search of killers, fifth columnists, and stolen gold as they smuggle heroin and illegal labor. A stylish, sinful, sexy as hell read that will have you questioning whoever’s side you take.

PICK OF THE MONTH-CONVICTION BY DENISE MINA

Denise Mina is mainly associated with dense, dark crime novels that delve into society’s ills. Her last novel, The Long Drop, was a chilling portrayal of a true crime and trial in fifties Glasgow. In her latest, The Conviction, she follows the Monty Python saying, “And now for something completely different.”

Conviction Cover ImageShe introduces us to Anna McDonald, though that is not her real name. Living as a trophy wife with children, she turns to true crime podcasts for her daily escape. Soon her life will become one.

Her husband reveals he has been having an affair with her friend Estelle, and the two of them are leaving with the kids. Her latest podcast, Death On The Dana, interrupts her suicidal despair. It tells of how millionaire Leon Parker and his children died on their yacht. The ships cook was convicted, but the podcast host believes Parker did it. Anna disagrees, since she knew Parker in her former life and doesn’t believe he would have been capable. By the time she decides to look into the crime to get her mind off of her crumbling life, Finn Cohan, Estelle’s anorexic former pop star husband is at her door. With as little to live for as Anna, he joins her in her quest for the truth, doing a complimentary podcast to reignite his fame. Their search leads to revelations that are also connected to Anna’s secret past and brings out a group of killers hired by  someone who wants everything to stay covered up.

Mina delivers many of the trappings of a modern thriller. Our odd investigators travel across Europe, hounded by hitmen, dealing with secrets. She taps into a woman finding her courage and conviction under the threat of her life. She even has a quirky sidekick.

She takes all of that and goes deep. As the plot grows grander in scope, it becomes more intimate with our heroine. A chapter with a Russian killer after them becomes a short story inside the book, with humor and pathos. When Anna’s true identity is revealed, it is devastating information that has us rooting even more for her. Mina is able to hit many of her known themes of class and media, seen from a different angle as she celebrates the power of damaged people.

Her humor is used to standout effect. While we know of her ability to use it, particularly in her Patty Meehan series, she’d never had a subject that allowed her to fully draw it from her literary palette. She uses it in her love-hate relationship with Anna and Flynn and as a crutch to deal with their personal pain.

Conviction is not only proof of Denise Mina’s talent, but of her range. It’s her David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, a possibly more accessible piece that will hopefully draw a larger audience that doesn’t compromise her artistry and themes. She provides the quintessential summer read with a forward momentum driven by it’s broken and bickering leads. I hope she can come up with another case for these two to crack.