Thursday, January 29, 2015

Interview with Maggie King

Murder at the Book Group by Maggie King
Published: December 30, 2014
Publisher: Pocket Books
Pages: 400
Received: from publisher for honest review via NetGalley
Find It: Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters

Hazel Rose never dreamed that the murder mystery book group she and her friend Carlene started would stage a "real "murder. 

Nevertheless, on the night when the normally composed Carlene seems unusually angry and rattled, during group discussion she dies after drinking cyanide-spiked tea. Despite a suicide note, Hazel is skeptical; Carlene never seemed suicidal--why else would she make all those plans for her future? Incidentally, Carlene was married to Hazel's ex-husband, and Hazel has always suspected there might be something more to her past than she let on.

How much does anyone really know about Carlene Arness? And did she die by her own hand or someone else's? Hazel begins a search for the truth that produces no shortage of motives, as she unearths a past that Carlene took great pains to hide. And most of those motives belong to the members of her very own book group...

Featuring memorable characters and a wicked sense of humor, "Murder at the Book Group" shows the darker side of a book club where reading isn't about pleasure--it's about payback.
Where did you get the idea for Murder at the Book Group?
Murder at the Book Group was a coalescing of many ideas. I’ll present the three main ones:
  1. I like to write and read about people at a crossroads in their lives. In Murder at the Book Group both the sleuth and the victim are standing at a crossroads—Hazel Rose is at loose ends in her life, stuck in a rut. She isn’t unhappy but she isn’t fulfilled either. As for Carlene Arness, the victim, she’s recently published her first mystery but her marriage to Hazel’s first husband is falling apart. Carlene probably wasn’t cut out for monogamy and her eye has started to wander.
    Unfortunately, Carlene doesn’t get to cross the road—but solving her murder gives Hazel the opportunity to grow and get out of her rut.
  1. I’m intrigued by choices and consequences and how so many of us don’t consider the full range of consequences of our decisions and actions.
  1. I love book groups; they have a special dynamic and the members can be fascinating to observe. I’ve known people outside of a book group who have shown a very different aspect of themselves when talking about books—sometimes that aspect is good and sometimes it’s a bit, well … unsettling.
Are any of the characters inspired by real life people?
This is always an interesting question. The answer is yes. And the answer is no! As my characters are a hodge-podge of the many “real” people I’ve known over the years, snippets of their experiences wind up on my pages. And I’ve known women like Carlene Arness who live turbulent lives.
I think people expect similarities between myself and Hazel Rose. Like Hazel, I was born on the east coast, moved to Los Angeles in my twenties, and started my career as a computer programmer. Like Hazel, I had a calico cat named Shammy who accompanied me when I moved back east in 1996 and settled in Richmond, Virginia. Hazel and I share a commitment to the environment, we’re both frugal and unimpressed with the high life.

But divorce and widowhood have not touched my life—I just celebrated 25 years with my one and only husband. I may get stuck in ruts, but not for long. And, alas, I don’t have Hazel’s “money green” eyes.
But the biggest difference between me and Hazel is this: if I needed to re-purpose my life a murder investigation would not be the method I’d choose. No question about it.

But “real” people did find their way into Murder at the Book Group. A case in point is a woman I used to see at a gym in Richmond. I never knew her name or even talked to her except for a hi and a wave. She was partial to leopard prints and chartreuse. The last time I saw her she sashayed into the gym sporting chartreuse stiletto boots and a leopard cowgirl hat, platinum blonde curls cascading down her back. She became Kat Berenger in Murder at the Book Group. As a perk, I gave her a personal trainer job at the same gym.

Jeanette Thacker “reminds” me of a former co-worker. Jeanette doesn’t feel the need to censor her speech. However, her language was much saltier in earlier versions. My editor advised me to ditch the swear words. If the real Jeanette reads my tome and recognizes herself I think she’ll be pleased but will probably wonder why she’s using words like “frigging.”

Another character is based on a woman with whom I once had an adversarial work relationship. I made her nasty as all get out. But I had a runaway word count and some ruthless editing was in order. Ms. Nasty got whittled down and, lo and behold, she became quite nice! I’m still scratching my head about that. Do other writers unwittingly transform their characters via literary nip n tuck? Is writing a vehicle for forgiveness? Someone with savvy in the spiritual realm can weigh in on this question.

What was your favourite part of writing Murder at the Book Group?
Creating the characters and making them unique, giving them voices, quirks. Characters are almost living beings, as they’re born in our imagination. I especially enjoy when they “tell” me what they’re going to say and do.

I also enjoyed creating dialog, a great way to not only develop the characters, but to move the plot along and bury clues.

Who inspired you to become a writer?
As a devotee of Nancy Drew, I wrote mysteries in grade school. In high school I poured my considerable adolescent angst into bad poetry. After that, the only writing I did for many years was journaling. During the last year I lived in Los Angeles, three of my co-workers took creative writing and screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension. I read their work and was impressed by their talent. I also thought “I should be doing this.” I was a member of a mystery book group (it was the model for the Murder on Tour group in Murder at the Book Group) and felt confident that I could turn out a mystery. When I moved to Virginia in 1996 I took a writing course at the University of Virginia and enjoyed it. I took more classes and started writing on a regular basis.

In summary, I credit Nancy Drew, my co-workers, and the two women who taught the UVA writing class—I wish I remembered their names.

As I’m writing this another person I worked with in Los Angeles comes to mind. Patricia was the first writer I ever knew personally. I was awed by her because at the time (circa 1983) I believed that writers spent their days holed up in garrets. But this woman spent her days writing code and her evenings writing fiction. I don’t know if she ever published and she doesn’t show up in my google search. But she just might have inspired my writing at some level, even if it took many years to bear fruit.
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?Write every day and make it a priority.
What does your writing space look like right now? 

About the Author:
Maggie King is the author of Murder at the Book Group, published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster. She contributed the short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology. Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor.
Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive.

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