Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Interview with Mystery Author Patricia Harrington

MysteryAuthors.com is proud to have Patricia Harrington with us for an interview today. Thank you for joining us.

M.A.: Tell us a little about your featured coming mystery, MURDER VISITS ANTIGUA.

P.H.: The year is 1934 and Amelia Winthrope—Aunt Amelia—is visiting her nephew Winston on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Winston’s London law firm has sent him to find out whether the overseer of the Dunhill Sugar Plantation is “cooking the books”. When the plantation’s foreman is poisoned and dies, Amelia becomes embroiled in finding his murderer. She also uncovers the murderous secrets of some fellow tourists—and oh yes—she helps locate a rare and hidden stash of rum left by Lord Admiral Nelson when he was stationed on the island.

Really, it’s a very busy time for Aunt Amelia who expected to play the lazy tourist while on the lush tropical island. But no matter, she loves the riddle of a good mystery.

M.A.: Can you share with us (without giving anything away, of course!) a personal favorite moment or line in your book?

P.H.: As an author it probably was when a ghost—the spirit—of a young woman showed up. I was typing away, when suddenly up pops one Redonda Dunhill, 19-year-old daughter of an earlier plantation owner. I found out that the poor thing had jumped to her death off Devils Bridge on the island, after learning that she was being sent to England to enter into a pre-arranged marriage—and post-haste. It seems she had disgraced her family by falling in love with a mixed-race young man. Now her ghost wanders about the plantation, grieving. Fortunately, Aunt Amelia is not upset when she first encounters the wan Redonda, who ends up helping Amelia—as best as a ghost can do—as love and murder play out their themes in the novel.

M.A.: Why mysteries? What makes them so compelling for you to write?

P.H.: I love mysteries of the traditional—or old-fashioned kind. Ones in which justice is served in the end and where the reader has the opportunity and the challenge of figuring out “whodunit”. I also think that mysteries sit on a three-legged stool. The legs are plot, character and setting. For me setting is very important. I believe that “land” or our physical and natural environment shapes people and creates a culture. This is certainly true in the Caribbean with its turbulent history. Mysteries in that setting enable the reader to be both entertained and enlightened about a place they might not typically know about or have the chance to visit—but would like to one day.

M.A.: What about other work? Do you write in any genres other than mystery?

P.H.: I have non-fiction work that has appeared in Teacher Miracles and Teacher Laughs. I have articles about writing that have appeared in various publications. One of the works is From Hollywood Experts and Published Authors: Words of Wisdom for Starving Artists. The book received a Silver Award: 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award. Most of my non-fiction work has been grantwriting, and over the years I have written over fifty million in funded grants. I think grant writing and writing mysteries are parallel universes, and teach a workshop using that model.

M.A.: What was your funniest writing-related moment?

P.H.: I have two—humorous—maybe not fall-down funny. I have four cats, and didn’t intend to have any in recent years. They were strays, persisted in hanging out in my yard and all had sad stories. They found a sucker in me and also a good home. The cats quickly provided fodder for stories—the nice heart-warming kind. But then, I realized after a few incidents that cats could serve as good villains in stories. In fact, one such fictional creature helped me to win a Derringer award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

A different funny writing-related moment happened as I was typing a scene with my amateur sleuth, Bridget O’Hern in it. Bridget, 48, recovering from the divorce, remarriage and sudden death of her ex-husband is not looking for love. In the scene, Bridget’s friend has taken a deadly fall and the small town’s chief of police is there, investigating. He is walking toward Bridget, intending to question her. As I typed, he had a potbelly, jowly face and bloodshot eyes from after-hours boozing. To my surprise, as he moved toward Bridget, my fingers tapped out his features: aquiline nose, broad shoulders, good looking . . . definitely, no potbelly. I sat back in my chair and mumbled, “Darn, Bridget’s hormones must be perking up!” I hadn’t planned to write about love while solving a murder.

Hate it when my characters run out and do something I didn’t expect!

M.A.: So, what's your current writing project? Is it a mystery, too?

P.H.: Yes, I’m finishing a short story with a homeless, ex-cop, who’s an alkie, but with a keen sense of justice. He busts up bad guys and solves crimes in the homeless camp where he’s been made unofficial mayor. The camp, set in rainy Tacoma is called Mudflat Manor. And I’m plotting out Death Tours in Ireland with my sleuth Bridget O’Hern. That must mean another trip for research—oh woe! How difficult the life of an author.

M.A.: Other than MysteryAuthors.com, do you have any websites where readers can find out more about you and your work?

P.H.: Please zip over to www.patriciaharrington.com And I hope you’ll sign up for my newsletter. You won’t be inundated with e-mail, I assure you. Just the occasional update on writing and upcoming books.

Thanks again for agreeing to take a Minute for Mystery by joining us here today.

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