Deadly Adagio is a murder mystery set in West Africa. The protagonist is the wife of a Foreign Service Officer who’s been yanked out of the life she knew and enjoyed in the U.S. and has no intention of being the good little Embassy Wife. She plays in an amateur orchestra, one of whose members is the murder victim. When she digs into the murder investigation, she finds herself involved in some dangerous advocacy to end a local custom she considers brutal.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
I knew I wanted to write a mystery. (That’s because no one told me how really hard it is!) And I knew I wanted it to be set in Africa because many readers told me how much they enjoyed the scenes in my first book that took place there. And I knew I wanted it to involve an amateur orchestra. After that, I had to figure it out. First I decided who the victim would be, then who the murderer would be, and then I had to keep finding and re-finding inspiration. But I did!
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
This is one of those yes/no/maybe answers. None of the characters IS me. But all of them, the men and the women, have aspects of me. And aspects of other people I know, too. (So far, the only one to recognize himself in either of my books is my husband.) Plus there’s some flat-out invention, too, of course. I can’t imagine writing about something or someone whose life experiences I’ve never experienced or observed, though of course I have to bend them around to suit my purposes.
Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?
Yes, I did. I wanted the information about the inner workings of an American Embassy in a small West African country – who does what to whom – to be accurate. For that, I found the perfect book: Inside a U.S. Embassy, by Shawn Dorman. I also wanted some concrete information about the tribal practice I alluded to in the answer to question #1: who, how prevalent, why, why not. This information I found on line. (How did anyone do research before the internet?)
What are you working on right now?
My first novel was a character-driven contemporary novel, and my new one is a mystery. Just to make my life difficult, my work in progress is a different genre entirely: it’s a travel memoir about five volunteer experiences, each about two months long, in different and fascinating places in the developing world. There are scenes about tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda, about sex workers educating their colleagues about HIV/AIDS, about gender issues in Thailand, about the magic of zip-lock bags, and a whole lot more.
What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?
Finding the right voice. People tell me I’m pretty funny in person, spunky and irreverent. Sometimes, when I write, though, I get so serious. Solemn, even. Yeck. So one of my main goals in revision is to nail the tone, usually by lightening it up.
What do you like to read? What is your favorite genre?
I mostly read fiction, largely contemporary fiction. My favorite kind of book is one in which – in addition to memorable characters and a gripping plot – has interesting information about something I knew nothing about, like glove-making in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral or book restoration in Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book. That’s why I set Deadly Adagio in West Africa, where I’ve lived. I know from experience that things I found “normal” while living there are fascinating and even exotic to folks who haven’t been. I also wanted to include the politics and behind-the-scenes maneuvering of an amateur orchestra because I think most people don’t know anything about it. They think it’s just pretty music.
What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?
Even though I just said my favorite genre is fiction, the book I wish I’d written is something else entirely. It’s Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck. She was a divining rod for the intersection of funny, serious, profound, perceptive…. and irreverent. She just nails it every time.
Have you written any other books?
Yes, my first novel was About Face. It was a character-driven book about a woman of a certain age struggling with aging and all its ramifications – you know, a typical 50-something year old struggling with the disparity between her past (former idealistic Peace Corps volunteer) and her present (corporate marketing executive) while battling hot flashes at business meetings with the new young boss.
If your book was made into a TV series or movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?
I love this question! For some reason, I’d steer away from the very-famous and very-glamorous actresses (I know Angelina Jolie is going to be devastated by this news) and go with Amy Adams. (Pretty famous and not too shabby in the looks department.) For her husband, I’d go with James Franco. Or maybe Toby Maguire. They’ll just have to duke it out.
Where can we find out more about you and Deadly Adagio?
My author page at Second Wind Publishing: