by Theodore Feit
& Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we have a review of mystery author Wendy Hornsby’s latest book The Hanging, an interview with Wendy, and a chance to win a copy of the book-details on entering at the end of this post. You can also purchase this book from Mysterious Galaxy and a portion of the sales will go to support KRL.
The Hanging by Wendy Hornsby
Review by Theodore Feit
The eighth Maggie MacGowen Mystery finds our protagonist in a funk. She’s still depressed after the death of her homicide detective husband, Mike, less than a year ago. Then the investigative filmmaker learns that her TV series is being cancelled by the network. At loose ends, until she finds her next gig, she accepts a one-semester contract at a local community college to teach a few film editing courses.
Her young friend Sly, who Maggie and Mike rescued from the streets as a nine-year-old and who attends the school, has won a contest to supply an art object to be permanently displayed in the entrance of a newly constructed administration building. However, the president informs Sly it will only be on exhibit for a year, when it will be replaced, setting off Sly’s temper in his disappointment. But Maggie gets others on the faculty to meet with the president, who is persuaded to reverse himself. Shortly afterward, the president is found hanging from a chain at the entrance ceiling from which Sly’s art sculpture is to be hung.
From this point, the plot moves smoothly ahead, with Maggie, of course, uncovering background information to help solve the murder as well as other possible crimes. The story develops slowly and surely, with excellent character development and smooth writing and a credible conclusion.
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Interview with Wendy by Lorie Lewis Ham
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Wendy: I don’t remember NOT writing. My first published work was “Why I Love Camp Nawakwa” when I was 9. At about that same time I read Little Women and knew that, like Jo, I would be a writer. It took a while, as a grown up, to garner the courage to get there.
Lorie: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Wendy: No Harm, my first book, was published in 1987. The protagonist, Kate Teague, was like me, a professor of history. The story revolved around the murder of Kate’s mother and the unraveling of family secrets that had been kept from Kate. It was a learner book, but I still have a lot of affection for the characters and the story. In my newest book, The Hanging from Perseverance Press, I wrote Kate and her man friend Roger, and Roger’s family, into it because I had missed them and wanted to know what had happened to them.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Wendy: My ten books are all mysteries, but my short stories are all sorts of things. I teach history, the examination of the great mysteries of the past. My academic publications are altogether different from my fiction. When looking for whodunit in history, we are stuck with the facts that survive from the past and their outcomes. For me the great luxury of writing mystery fiction is that I get to make up the facts as I choose and I get to have any ending that I want to—usually tidier endings than anything that occurs in history. And much more satisfying.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Wendy: I grew up in Southern California, where all but one of the Maggie MacGowen books are set. The area is rich in diversity, any way you define diversity. Each book has explored a different urban neighborhood, beginning with Chinatown. The newest book, The Hanging, takes place in the suburbs of the Conejo Valley, where I lived for awhile.
Lorie: Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Wendy: In The Hanging, Maggie, who is an investigative filmmaker, is at loose ends when her television series is cancelled. So she accepts a one-semester gig teaching film at a community college. I’ve taught for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve set a book on campus. It’s not my campus, but a fictional one, though the fraught atmosphere created by massive cuts to education spending is real enough.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Wendy: Louis B. Mayer is said to have cautioned filmmakers, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” I think that my primary job is to entertain, though every book does have a message.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Wendy: You can’t squeeze writing time into random available moments. If you are serious about writing you must schedule time to write as you would schedule any work time, and it must be time scheduled every day. Don’t listen to those few exceptions who write only on weekends or during coffee breaks, because until you’ve published your third book, that isn’t you. Make a commitment to write, or do something else.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Wendy: Recently I worked with twenty other published writers on a book, Making Story, about plotting. Every writer has his or her own writing methods; very idiosyncratic. I don’t start with a complex outline, but I know the story and the setting, and the main characters who will carry the story, and then I sit down at the computer and aim for the end.
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Wendy: My preferred time to write is whenever I am not scheduled to do something else, i.e. teach or take care of my family. Usually, I come home from school, get a glass of water and retire to my computer until my husband, the family cook, rings the dinner gong, about four hours later. Closer to deadline I will add about three hours in the morning before school.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Wendy: I wish I had a great story of my struggles, but I don’t. I joined a good writing workshop, was introduced to the teacher’s agent who sold my first book quite quickly by placing it well. But that was then. The publishing business and the role of agents has changed enormously since I sold my first book.
Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Wendy: No Harm, my first book, was rejected first by an editor who said it was a hardcover book and she was looking for a paperback original, and rejected next by an editor who said it was a paperback and she was looking for a hardcover. The third publisher bought it as a hardcover and sold paperback rights. Go figure.
Lorie: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Wendy: I signed with a police dog once, and that was fun.
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Wendy: Someday, I will write a stand alone mystery, and finish the historical novel—not a mystery—I have been working on for several years. I enjoy writing the Maggie MacGowen books, and have another in progress, due from Perseverance Press in the spring of 2014.
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
Wendy: First, I find a story I want to spend time with. That story always belongs to a particular place and the people who live there. Then I spend some time walking around the area where the book will be set, meeting the people, trying to learn the rhythms of the place, the concerns of its inhabitants, the patterns of their speech.
Lorie: What do you read?
Wendy: Just about everything. You find the most interesting stuff where you least expect it.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
Wendy: Best movie ever made: Casablanca. Second best: The Best Years of Our Lives. Great stories, memorable characters.
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Wendy: Keep your bottom in the chair long enough to finish the book or the story, or you’ll have nothing.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Wendy: As long as people are reading, right? I like to hold a book, to flip back and forth through pages. But when my backlist was published in electronic formats by www.mysteriouspress.com, I caved in and bought an electronic reader. Since then, several of my short stories and articles have been published exclusively in electronic formats. I still love paper-and-ink books, but when we travel, with the e-readers tucked into carry-ons, we have eliminated the book-filled duffel we always lugged along on trips, and that’s very nice.
Lorie: Do you read e-books yourself?
Wendy: I do. There is a trove of previously out-of-print books now available again. If I buy a remaindered or used copy, the author earns nothing. If I download the digital version the author earns a royalty, and that’s a good thing. Another nice feature of the e-reader is that I can download a sample of a new book. If I want to read more, I go buy it from my local bookstore. The unedited, unreviewed, self-published mass of stuff that is now available I avoid.
Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Wendy: I love to tap dance and I am not one bit afraid of thunder and lightening.
Lorie: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Wendy: Keep writing. Write the best book you can.
To enter to win a copy of The Hanging, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Hanging”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 17, 2012. U.S. residents only.
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