Your main character, Rose McNichols, is a reporter in the Massachusetts coastal town of Granite Cove. Were you a reporter before you started writing fiction?
Yes, and I still do a humor column for The Salem News, one in a chain of newspapers that cover Boston’s North Shore. I also draw a cartoon accompanying my column. Unfortunately, I haven’t done one in months. I’ve been busy polishing my non-mystery ms whose working title is Phantom Baby. I regret having neglected the column, because I really like humor. Matter of fact, in April I’m attending the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Workshop in Dayton, OH, a very popular event that sold out in three days. Last year Dave Barry was the main speaker.
How long have you written fiction?
As a kid, I always made up and illustrated stories, which I forced my sisters to read. Fast forward to '92 when I heard about the proposed Harriet Austin Writer’s Conference at the Univ. of GA. The organizers created publicity by holding a national short story contest, which I entered. My first fiction story, “The Life of Fern D. Butterworth” won second prize, which included conference tuition. Honestly, I felt like the Rose Bowl Queen there. Not only that, I was the rare New Englander. (Athens, Georgia in July is not a summer playground.) As a prize winning guest, I was wined, dined and introduced to agents and editors. Yet when they inquired about my work, all I had was one story. I’m still kicking myself, 20 years later. (Readers: The Harriette Austin Conference is excellent, offering a variety of agents, editors, workshops and more. You’ll be bowled over by the friendliness, especially if you’re from New England(!)
I’d categorize A Nose for Hanky Panky as a cozy. Why did you choose this sub-genre?
I gravitated to it naturally. I’d read all of Christie’s Miss Marple books and stories, seen every movie version. If I had to analyze, I’d say it’s the setting, the characters, and the civility of the latter. The residents of St. Mary Mead treat each other respectfully, even those they plan to murder. I feel a nostalgia for that type of (idealized) village life, its pace and as I mentioned, its civility. On the other hand, I’d probably balk at actually living there, given its insularity and the nosiness of its neighbors.
Another reason I like cozies--when I began A Nose for Hanky Panky years ago there were no categories, thus I wasn’t aware I was writing in a sub-genre--is that I’m more interested in character than suspense. This was pointed out to me when I first sent NOSE out. “Not enough suspense,” was a frequent response. I could write suspense, but when you have characters named Edith and Florence, the housekeepers in my story “A Marriage Made in Heaven” (Over My Dead Body, 2011), decapitation is uncharacteristic.
And lastly, I don’t like in-your-face anything: splatter movies, thrillers, HD TV. I loved scary movies when I was a kid, watching from behind spread fingers. Psycho was my limit. That stuff stays with me. When I’m alone in the house, I’ll recall every scary detail. My kids call me a sissy in that regard, but I tell them I’m just more highly evolved.
A final reason I like reading cozies: no icky sex scenes. If you can’t write them like D. H. Lawrence, I say don’t bother.
With our burgeoning population, Granite Cove seems like many small towns, which have become satellite communities of cities. Granite Cove has its own history, but the city and its population encroach on it. Have you lived in such a town? If so, what issues face these communities?
Granite Cove is based on the towns where I grew up: Gloucester, Mass. and its neighbor, Rockport. Physically, Granite Cove resembles Gloucester, although the “sleepy fishing village” is Rockport. No way can Gloucester be called “ "sleepy." Today, I have a writing/art studio at Gloucester’s historic Blackburn Building. I drive there every day to escape my cats, who won’t let me work at home. I rent a monk’s cell, about 10’ x 10’ with a high ceiling, no phone, no Internet. I go in, lock the door and work.
Rose’s BFF, Betty Ann (B.A.) has an interesting family life that varies greatly from Rose’s personal life. I saw no indication that they had any problem relating to each other. Do you think that it’s hard for a married with children and single women to be friends?
It’s funny you asked that. I never gave it much thought. My childhood friend of 40 years, who I still see (when I leave my hermit studio) is gay. Another good friend is a guy I’ve known since high school. I’m married with two adult, grown children, yet even when my kids were small, I balked at the “suburban mom” role. When I went to Bennington in midlife, where I got an MFA in writing/literature, I made a lot of friends. Unfortunately, after graduation we strayed.
Because I have ADD (you’d probably never guess), I tend to avoid social occasions where I have to make dreaded “small talk.” I have a tendency to blurt things out--embarrassing things . . .
Rose looks after her father, who lives in a care facility. Many people have to work while attending to aging parents, multi-tasking through their day. How did you create your multifaceted protagonist?
I lived it. My father passed away at 100. He and my mother, both widowed, got married in midlife and had 5 kids. (Readers: do not do this!) He was in his 50s when I was born.
I was also an occupational therapist, working at a state mental hospital and when that closed, a nursing home. Thus I’ve spent a lot of time among old people-- older than me, por favor. In Phantom Baby, which I’m through polishing, there’s an old dad as well. I guess I’m writing what I know. Seriously, the only “real” character in NOSE FOR HANKY PANKY is Chester, the 11 year-old, 100 lb. black Lab. Chester, RIP, is buried in our back yard.
Are you writing a sequel to A Nose for Hanky Panky?
Yes, as soon as I send Phantom Baby to the agent who requested the entire ms: hard copy. I’m eager to return to Granite Cove and, not to be immodest, readers have asked as well.
What’s Rose’s next adventure?
I was thinking of having Rose moonlight by doing stand-up at nursing homes. It’s something I’ve done before and it’s not for the easily discouraged, like me. You’re telling jokes--loud--and you have to ignore people sleeping in the first row. On the other hand, I really liked writing about Florence and Edith, from the Hearth & Home Housekeeping agency (Over My Dead Body). Perhaps I can combine both.
Are you working on other projects?
As I mentioned above, I’m finished with the final polishing of Phantom Baby, which, if I can get a plug in, won the Judges’ Top Ten at the SinC Fla. chapter’s Write Now contest last summer. Entrants supplied the opening scene of their current ms.
Rose’s boyfriend is a musician. What is your favorite flavor? Classical, rock, country, oldies?
I grew up in the ‘60s, so I’m loyal to that era: the Stones, The Who, etc. Meat Loaf.