Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes the bewitching Leslie Meier.
The acclaimed author of the Lucy Stone mysteries, Meier started writing in the late 1980s. It was when attending a graduate class (Writing and the Teaching of Writing) at Bridgewater State College that she was inspired to mail a submission to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s Department of First Stories after her professor praised it as being worthy of publication. Meier received $100 for the story and has been writing fiction ever since. She has also spent time as a reporter for various weekly newspapers on Cape Cod. The mother of three grown children, Meier and her husband make their home in Harwich, Massachusetts.
The seventeenth Lucy Stone story, Wicked Witch Murder (Kensington, $7.99), is now available in paperback. This seasonal offering has become a favorite among fans and critics alike. Library Journal noted, “The warm, small-town ambiance and the persevering Lucy Stone make this a winner for cozy fans,” while RT Book Reviews praised, “Meier continues this cozy series with appealing subject matter and the skilled writing that keeps fans coming back for more.”
From the publisher:
With planning the town’s annual Halloween Party, the drought wreaking havoc on her garden, and her brood of four children, Lucy Stone’s got her hands full this fall…
As the air turns crisp and the trees blaze red and gold in the tiny town of Tinker’s Cove, Maine, a newcomer arrives who seems to suit the Halloween season. Diana Ravenscroft has just opened Solstice, a charming little shop featuring candles, crystals, jewelry, and psychic readings. But after an unnervingly accurate reading by Diana, Lucy starts to get more than a little spooked…
Then there’s the dead body Lucy finds, way up on one of the old logging roads behind her house. The deceased is identified as Malcolm Malebranche, a seemingly harmless magician who worked at children’s birthday parties.
When it turns out that Diana knew the murder victim, Ike Stoughton, a prominent local businessman, starts a campaign against Diana, blaming “the witch” for everything from the unseasonal dry spell to his wife’s illness and his pumpkins’ lack of plumpness. But Lucy’s not so sure that Ike himself is innocent. Still, as the town Halloween party approaches, Lucy’s more concerned about the costume competition, pin-the-nose-on-the-pumpkin, and baking three dozen orange cupcakes and Beastly Bug cookies. But as the October moon rises, a killer plans a lethal celebration of his own—and Lucy’s the guest of honor…
Now, Leslie Meier puts us under her spell…
1) Can you tell us what inspired WICKED WITCH MURDER? What is it about the idea of Halloween lends itself so strongly to storytelling?
I was at a meeting planning a fundraiser and one of the other women mentioned that her sister-in-law was a witch-in-training and I thought that was a terrific starting point for a mystery. I asked if I could interview the WIT and got a very firm rebuff so I went online and found a whole lot of fascinating stuff about witchcraft, I got some books and pretty soon I had the beginnings of a plot. I didn’t focus on Halloween, really, I planned the book around the Wiccan calendar and set the end of the book at Halloween which is the Wiccan new year.
2) The book grapples with the subject of witchcraft. Can you tell us a bit about the research you did for the project? Did this process either enhance or alter your own opinion on the matter?
As mentioned, I did do a fair amount of research, both in books and on the web, even movies when I stumbled on the 1973 version of “The Wicker Man” on TV. It was all interesting, but I’m certainly not a convert. I found Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” very helpful about the “old religion.” In “Wicked Witch Murder” I explore what I see as two different approaches: Diana is a newfangled, commercial sort of witch who operates out of a shop and Rebecca comes from a long line of witches and is more connected to the natural world, she is a highly successful farmer.
3) You share several commonalities with your protagonist, Lucy Stone, including marriage, motherhood and a background in journalism. Was this a conscious decision on your part—and have you found that Lucy ever influences you? Also, is it ever difficult to separate these identities, either for yourself, your family or your readers?
When I first started writing I didn’t know much about the craft but I had heard that you should write what you know, and since I was a wife and mother I made Lucy a wife and mother. Later on I became a small-town reporter, so Lucy did, too. I’m pretty much the boss of Lucy but when I wrote “English Tea Murder,” which I began as a reworking of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” Lucy soon let me know that she wasn’t happy with Christie’s ending and I had to come up with a new twist. I have to admit that Lucy was right, this ending is a lot more satisfactory.
Writing the books is a lot like playing with dolls — it’s amusing and entertaining and sometimes enables me to explore various issues — but it’s not real life.
4) Your books are considered “cozy” mysteries, though others have referred to them as “comedies of manners.” How would you classify them? Also, what non-whodunit elements do you find integral to the story and why?
Nowadays we prefer the classification “traditional mysteries,” but, like that old saw goes, “You can call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner!” I guess at bottom the Lucy books are about connections — friends, family, neighbors and the ties that hold us all together. When those ties snap in my fictional town of Tinker’s Cove, we end up with a murder.
5) What can readers expect next from Lucy Stone?
Lucy and her three friends go to England in “English Tea Murder”, the book following “Wicked Witch Murder,” which came out in spring, 2011. Back in Tinker’s Cove, things get very sticky in “Chocolate Covered Murder,” due out in January, 2012. One of my favorite characters in “Wicked Witch Murder,” little Nemo, makes a second appearance with his mother in the novella “Gingerbread Cookies and Gunshots” in “Gingerbread Cookie Murder” which also has stories by Laura Levine and Joanne Fluke.
Right now I’m trying my hand at romance, working on a holiday story that will be included in a Fern Michaels anthology. The story features Lucy’s daughter Elizabeth, who gets involved with Mr. Wrong who may actually turn out to be Mr. Right. It’s a lot of fun.
6) Do you have any tricks or treats you’d like to share with us this Halloween?
Halloween is my favorite holiday — all you need is a pumpkin and a bag of candy! You can also get a costume and try out a different identity and that’s intriguing. I’ve been invited to a costume party and I haven’t decided yet who I will be — but I’m enjoying thinking about the possibilities.
With special thanks to Leslie Meier for generously sharing time and thought.
Be sure to rejoin HBE in the days to come for more exclusive interviews with authors who help to put the “Boo” in books…