“Throw a dead body in the mix and a plot appears”: Getting to know Valerie Wolzien
If you’re anything like me, then the changing seasons have a large role to play in your reading tastes. During the bleak winter months, my ingestion of Dickens sees a dramatic increase. And I would feel very weird reading Ray Bradbury when apples are budding on the trees and not covered in caramel on the end of a stick.
Authors such as Valerie Wolzien make this instinct easier to follow by writing books that are like seasonal comfort food: celebrations of holidays and happy occasions — with a side of suburban homicidal doings, of course. This 4th of July, I’ll be cracking open a copy of Wolzien’s cozy mystery A Star Spangled Murder — in which Susan Henshaw’s relaxing holiday in Maine goes out with the tide, as she searches for a killer.
In case you’d like to do the same, I thought I’d introduce you to Valerie, and her Susan Henshaw mysteries, by sitting down to chat all things life and literature.
What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?
The Nancy Drew mysteries. I had measles and then mumps in the first grade. The family next door was comprised of 5 girls. They had all the Nancy Drew books, and I had to stay home for weeks with nothing to do. I read every book twice. I still love series novels.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
I just finished Penelope Lively’s Life in the Garden. A fascinating – and fun – examination of gardening and literature. What could be better?
Which author do you admire the most?
Impossible to name just one! I love Elizabeth Buchan, Anne Tyler, Jane Austen of course, Penelope Fitzgerald, Barbara Pym, Marcia Willett, Louise Penny, Joanna Trollope… I could go on and on…
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
“Sit down. Shut up. And write. And then rewrite.”
What is your ideal writing scenario?
Sitting quietly in a well organized, well decorated, book filled room, writing 5 days a week for maybe 5 or 6 hours a day. Starting the manuscript on page one and writing straight through, without interruption, until it’s done. This is complete fantasy of course. Computers break. Ideas that seem wonderful vanish after a few chapters. Life interferes. But books do manage to be written – though sometimes I wonder how it happens.
Which book are you most ashamed not to have read?
The Sherlock Holmes stories.
What’s your worst habit as a writer, and as a reader?
Eating. I eat while I write. I eat while I read. I sometimes think I could eat while I sleep.
What’s your favorite holiday?
Christmas. I love everything about it. Baking cookies. Decorating. Parties. Family. I even like shoveling snow.
What’s your favorite holiday to write about?
I’ve written two Christmas mysteries, one Halloween mystery, and one book set on the Fourth of July on an island in Maine. They were all fun to write. I’m especially fond of A Star Spangled Murder because the place is so special and quirky. Where else in the world is there a gathering atop a mountain to square dance as the sun comes up?
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere. I write about the world of suburban housewives. I know it well having lived that life for many decades. Just throw a dead body in the mix and a plot appears.
What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside of being an author?
I spent a month working for the agricultural college at Rutgers University in New Jersey removing unripe peaches from the trees in their orchard until there was a five inch gap between fruit. It was part of an experiment to see if the size of the fruit changed as a result. I have no idea what – if anything – the study showed.
If you could have one fictional character over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve?
The very best guests have led interesting lives and like to talk about themselves, so I have to say Hercule Poirot. Think of the stories he could tell! And I would serve a cheese soufflé. Poirot’s intense dislike of the irregular shape of eggs would be no problem at that meal at least.