Author Interview with Lynne Handy
I'm pleased to share an interview with author Lynne Handy whose newest book, Old Sins, will release later this month. This is book three in her Maria Pell Mystery Series, but it can easily be read as a standalone. I love Lynne's writing (as you'll see by my review of Old Sins) and appreciated this chance to learn more about her. Enjoy!
Old Sins, featuring poet and amateur sleuth Maria Pell, grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go. Exceptionally well plotted, the book’s mysteries and crimes—both old and new—weave together in intricate and unexpected ways. The author builds a creative cast of characters that will have you guessing as to the real culprits as murder, kidnapping, sex-trafficking and more have the small Irish coastal town on high alert. This setting along with the influence of Celtic myth, archaeology, ancient religions, and Maria’s haunting memories provide a rich backdrop for her sleuthing activities and the danger she faces. A satisfying, well-written mystery you won’t be able to put down!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Battered by her archeologist lover’s betrayal, poet Maria Pell flees to an Irish village to study prehistoric people and write her next volume of poetry, but her sanctuary is invaded first by her moody cousin and then by her Togolese lover who unexpectedly show up on her doorstep. When the discovery of a girl’s body on a rocky shore reawakens Maria’s devastating childhood memory of finding a dead baby floating in a stream, her days become haunted by this child’s death. As teenage girls disappear, villagers are terrified that sex-traffickers are targeting their community. With crimes to be solved, both past and present, Maria risks her life to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Lynne Handy grew up as the eldest child in a farm family in western Indiana where the tall corn drove her inward to create fantasy worlds. Books were her salvation. She was drawn to poetry in the beginning. Wordsworth and other poets taught her that metaphor, sound, and cadence made a good poem. From authors like Dickens, she learned that rhythmic sentences advanced plot. Hemingway taught her about verbs. Upon graduating from library school, she worked as a librarian in Illinois, Texas, and Michigan. In retirement, Handy co-founded Open Sky Poets, a collaboration of poets in the western suburbs of Chicago, and published poems and short stories in literary journals. She self-published four novels—three are mysteries in the Maria Pell Mystery Series. Current projects involve a new mystery series with main character author Jake Westin, who, like Christie’s Miss Marple, somehow lands in the middle of murder investigations. Handy now lives in the western suburbs of Chicago in blue, yellow and brown house with a yucca plant out front and two rescue dogs who keep her company.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing adventures so far? (How long have you been writing? When did you write your first book?)
A. I grew up in a rural setting where girls weren’t valued as highly as boys, and people tended to overlook what girls had to say. In first grade, I wrote a poem for my mother and was asked to recite it for a Mother’s Day tea. I learned something important that day: my writing gave me a voice. In seventh grade, I wrote a play which featured two characters, Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Stalin, discussing their respective political beliefs. The school principal asked me to read it to the high school assembly. I wrote my first book when I was twelve. It was a romance between a boy and girl who lived on a farm.
Q. Would you be willing to share with readers the different types of jobs you’ve had? I always like to ask authors this, mainly because authors always seem to have had interesting job histories.
A. I have a master of science degree in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign and have primarily worked in state library systems (Illinois, Texas, and Michigan). I once worked as head librarian in a prison, but only for a year. In Where the River Runs Deep, Maria Pell teaches a poetry class in a prison, so there’s some verisimilitude with her experiences. When my daughters were young, I was a volunteer (troop leader, then neighborhood chairman) in the Girl Scouts organization.
Like Christie’s Hercule Poirot, poet Maria Pell happens upon crimes, which she feels compelled to solve due to a strong sense of moral duty. She is psychic, but as a Kirkus reviewer noted, “…spirits guide her, but Maria works her way toward a solution primarily with gumption and intuition.”
Q. I love your main character, Maria Pell . . . she’s a poet and a sleuth and she has some other special talents, which I find very intriguing. Can you let us in on how you developed her as a character?
A. I don’t know where Maria came from. She was just there one day on my computer screen, researching the life of a writer of horror novels (The Untold Story of Edwina). Since grade school, I’ve been writing poems, loving the flow and rhythm of language. Maria, I think, was an outgrowth of my poet’s heart and my desire to be Wonder Woman.
Q. In Old Sins we learn of a traumatic experience Maria had as a child. In fact, an event in the book brings this memory rushing back to her and it haunts her throughout the remainder of the book. This was done very well and I’m curious about the creation of those scenes and if you did any special research into trauma and the way it can have life-long effects?
A. I didn’t need to research the trauma of a childhood experience—I had one of my own. When I was two years old, my mother gave birth to a son, Carl, who lived only three days. My father thrilled me with news of his birth and I could not wait until he came home from the hospital. When I saw him, he was in his little casket in my grandparents’ parlor. And then he was gone—I had no idea where. Visits to the graveyard told me nothing. As I grew up, I experienced sadness whenever I saw babies. As an adult, I saw a psychiatrist who hypnotized me into reliving Carl’s death. Weirdly, I spoke as a two-year-old, so it was 32 -year-old-me listening to my toddler voice. I explained to the psychiatrist that I’d gone searching for Carl, looking under beds, in dresser drawers, cabinets, fearing that I’d misplaced him as I sometimes did my dolls. I finally understood that I was not to blame for his disappearance.
Q. Each book in the Maria Pell Mystery series is set in a different location. In fact, the setting is so important to each of these books that it becomes almost as important as a character. How have you chosen these locations . . . and maybe the better question is why have you chosen different settings for each book?
A. I set Maria Pell stories in different locations because it excites me to write about someplace new. I generally write about places I’ve been or lived, but even then I do extensive research to get things right, like the topography, flora and fauna, weather, etc. Setting helps create mood. Mood invades characterization.
Q. You are also a poet like your character Maria Pell. In fact, the first books you published were poetry collections. How is novel writing similar to creating an entire book of poetry and how is it different?
A. Adrienne Rich wrote, “Poetry is…a concentration of the power of language.” In writing a poem, one searches for the “essence” word to convey truths. Each individual word in a poem is weighed to see if it belongs (meaning, sound, cadence) and to see if it adds to the point of the poem. In novel-writing, each word is important, but not scrutinized to the extent a word in a poem is. Novels require plotlines, characters, organization. Novels, I think, come from the head. Poems come from the heart.
Q. Specifically, what is it about crafting a mystery that appeals to you?
A. A mystery novel is a morality play. The godliest person on earth may be propelled toward an evil act, and whether on the brink, they pull back from it or not, is a matter of conscience or circumstance. I also like puzzles. Putting together a mystery story is like putting together a puzzle. Clues must interlock with the solution.
Q. Do you still write poetry or are you mainly writing novels now?
A. I still write poetry, but only when a poem is bursting inside me, and I have to stop what I’m doing and tend to it. These days, I’m focusing on novels, short stories, and essays.
Q. If there’s anything that you wish you could go back and tell your “unpublished” self, what would that be?
A. I would make life choices that allowed me to write. I would try to avoid anything that tended to sidetrack me.
Q. Can we look forward to more books from you in the coming months?
A. Yes, in addition to another Maria Pell book, I have a written a mystery series with author Jake Westin, who hails from Texas, is haunted by his ex-wife, and works with sheriff’s departments to solve crimes.
Q. Before we move on to the Super Six list, is there anything else you want to tell readers about yourself or your book(s)?
A. My undergraduate degree is in history. All my mysteries include a historical backdrop. Edwina: Spanish convent; River: slave history in the American South. Old Sins: Irish prehistory and the Celts.
Super Six List:
Favorite Book Genre: Mysteries, preferably by Elizabeth George or British writers
Coffee, Tea, or Both: Tea
Fav Activity as a Child: Reading
Most Interesting Place You’ve Lived: Houston, TX
Best Place You’ve Vacationed: Mazatlán, Mexico
Readers can discover more about Lynne and her work here:
Facebook: LynneHand Author/Poet
When you subscribe to Lynne's mailing list, she'll send you the free short story, Wild Justice (excerpt below.) She sends one email a month with her latest blog post. You can unsubscribe at any time. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE
FROM WILD JUSTICE:
A wintry morning in 1980. In the barnyard, a pile of coal has been dumped between two maple trees. A light spatter of snow covers everything. Inside the farmhouse, the scents of cinnamon and apples sweeten the air as Donna Graham takes a Dutch apple pie from the oven. A black pickup truck pulls into the lane and parks by the backyard gate. Farmer John Henry Graham, who publishes a liberal newsletter on the side, goes out to see who’s there. Loud voices. John yells for his heavily pregnant wife and she runs to look out the window, then tells her three-year-old daughter, Emerson, to stay where she is. Clutching her favorite book, "The Cat in the Hat," Emerson stops mid-stride, gluing her little shoe soles to the kitchen linoleum.
Donna cries, “What do you want me to do, John?” and runs outside without a coat. More loud voices.
Emerson hears her mother scream, then gun shots. She’s not supposed to move, but she has to see. Dropping her book, she runs to the enclosed back porch and looks out the window. Her mother and father are lying on the ground. Two men stand beside the truck. One walks toward the house. Emerson runs to the kitchen sink, throws open the door, and scrambles in between the plastic bottle of dish detergent and the giant box of SOS pads. The door panel doesn’t latch, and she can see through the narrow aperture.