INTERVIEWER: Thanks for inviting us into your family room
today. Lovely décor, and your Old English sheepdog, Nana, is quite lovely.
SR: My pleasure. Nana and I both enjoy
having company. And I’m sure you’ve noticed that Nana is no longer naughty, as
she once was.
INTERVIEWER: So the children’s book, NAUGHTY NANA, is
Yes, it is. Just picture the wildest, most mischievous puppy you’ve ever
known, and that was Nana. She was in the top one percent of naughty dogs
INTERVIEWER: Speaking of the top one percent, let’s switch
gears to your new murder mystery, MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT. What made you decide
to, er, switch gears from children’s literature to writing about murder?
It wasn’t really a huge leap, since there is a bit of a mystery to solve
in NAUGHTY NANA, and if Nana hadn’t learned to be nice, there might have been a
bit of a murder there, too. In truth, I was always on a road to be a mystery
writer, and I’ve read and enjoyed an estimated ten thousand murder mysteries.
The children’s book was a gratifying side path along the way.
INTERVIEWER: So, (looking around the family room) I’m noticing
that you don’t appear to be in the actual top one percent. Why did you choose
to write about the ultra-wealthy, and how did you know so much about how they
You’re right. By some statistics, to be in the top one percent in New
York City, one would have to have an annual income of $2,006,632. I would have
to sell a lot of books to get there. I’ve always been fascinated by wealth and
how it affects the people who have it, who don’t have it, and who had it and
lost it. It took quite a bit of research to learn about the ways of the rich
and powerful, but in general people were happy to help me write with
authenticity. I even had the pleasure of attending an extravagant dinner party
just like the one in the book.
INTERVIEWER: Your book takes place in New York and in the
horse country of Pennsylvania, yet many reviewers compare it to Agatha
Christie’s British parlor mysteries. Can you explain why?
suppose there are more cultural similarities than differences between
ultra-wealthy men and women in England and in America. I binge-read Agatha
Christie novels many years ago, and I suppose they left an imprint on my
imagination. I also binge-watched Downton
Abbey, and before that, Dallas.
That long fascination with the wealthy I mentioned earlier apparently crossed
the ocean and back.
INTERVIEWER: Some readers have seen similarities between
your characters and wealthy individuals who are in power in America today.
Would you care to comment?
MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to
people living or dead is purely coincidental…
INTERVIEWER: That seems to roll off your tongue, but,
really, are any characters patterned after real people?
Not in my mind. Remember, the book was written awhile ago, and people
rotate in and out of the public eye over time. That said, I believe that once a
book is published, it no longer belongs to the author. It belongs to the
reader. So if a character resonates with a reader in a specific way and reminds
him of a living person, far be it from me to shoot that down.
INTERVIEWER: While we’re on the subject of characters,
which character resonates most with you?
I was afraid you’d ask that question. It’s a little like asking which of
your children is your favorite. Even if there is one, I’d feel guilty to name
him. Truthfully, there is a piece of me in every character, even the most
heinous. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to create him, give him actions, put
words in his mouth. I am partial to all of them, but for different reasons. Preston
Phillips, for example, is deliciously wicked. He says and does the most
outrageous things, and he is so much fun to put on paper. Andrea and I share a
number of characteristics, since she is a relatively down-to-earth crime writer,
but I’m neither an equestrian or a billionaire, so the resemblance stops there.
Detective Oliver Parrott, though African-American and male (neither of which am
I), is probably the character who resonates most with me. He is clever and
ambitious, has a strong moral compass, and approaches his job with a large dose
of humanity. He’s not perfect, but he’s got a good heart and he works hard.
INTERVIEWER: Congratulations on selecting a highly unusual
murder weapon. Would you tell us how you came to use palytoxin?
I’m a person who faints at the sight of blood, so early on, I knew I
wouldn’t have my victim mucked up. I purchased a book about poisons and read it
from cover to cover, looking for one that would match the circumstances of my
characters and plot. (My husband became a little anxious over my bedtime
reading material.) With over a hundred different options, I couldn’t find a
single poison that fit, and I was discouraged to the point of considering
scrapping the whole idea. Then a friend of mine, who is a doctor, read about
this “new” naturally-occurring poison whose symptoms look like a heart attack.
It was perfect for the story.
INTERVIEWER: You must be gratified with the excellent
reviews MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT is receiving. What’s next for you and for
Having a successful debut novel is a little like hitting the lottery on
the first ticket. One might think that would be enough excitement to last for a
lifetime, but actually, it just fuels the fire for the
next book. I’ve completed a standalone mystery, and I’m working on another
Parrott novel. Both Parrott and I are
just getting started.
INTERVIEWER: Coming full circle, I can’t help but ask this
last question. Why did you give Parrott a pet cockatiel, instead of a fluffy
sheepdog like Nana?
Haha! It’s funny how every interview starts and ends with Nana. I
considered having Nana make a guest appearance in MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT,
sort of like Hitchcock’s bits in his movies or Toulouse Lautrec’s images in his
paintings, but it just didn’t seem practical for a detective who lived alone
and worked crazy hours to care for a sheepdog, who requires constant attention
and grooming. Horace, the talking bird, seemed a better fit for Parrott’s
lifestyle. He was a gift from Parrott’s fiancée Tonya, and he serves as a kind
of Greek chorus throughout the book. I checked with Nana before sending off the
manuscript, and she was okay with sharing the spotlight. She likes her role as
narrator of NAUGHTY NANA better anyway.
INTERVIEWER: Well, that concludes our
interview for the “Dancing with Myself” column. Thank you for your time. I’ll
just mosey back into the office now and work on a new chapter.