In today’s “Dancing with Myself,” Saralyn Richard, author of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT (US) and NAUGHTY NANA, interviews herself.
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 fact-based, then?
SR: 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 worldwide.
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?
SR: 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 live?
SR: 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?
SR: I 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?
SR: 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?
SR: 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?
SR: 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?
SR: 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 Detective Parrott?
SR: 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?
SR: 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.