Interview

An interview with author Carol L. Wright

Carol L. Wright
is a former book editor, domestic relations attorney, and academic. She is the author of several articles and one book on law-related subjects. Now focused on fiction, she has short stories in several literary journals and award-winning anthologies, including all of the anthologies published by the Bethlehem Writers Group. Death in Glenville Falls  is her first novel.

She is a founding member of Bethlehem Writers Group, a life member of both Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of SinC Guppies, the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and Pennwriters.

Raised in Massachusetts, she is married to her college sweetheart. They now live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats.

You can follow her on Facebook (at https://www.facebook.com/Carol-L-Wright-Author-190854476717/)  or learn more on her website (http://carollwright.com).

Interview by BWG member Diane Sismour

A mutual friend, Marianne Donley, introduced me to Carol and the Bethlehem Writer’s Group a lifetime ago. The premise of striving to improve the craft through critiquing and storytelling outside their comfort zones drew me in like a moth to a flame. Since then we’ve all become friends and business partners, a priceless combination. I’d like to introduce Carol L. Wright to the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable readers.

 

Bethlehem Writers Group: Hi Carol, First, huge congratulations on publishing your debut novel, Death in Glenville Falls: A Gracie McIntyre Mystery. It’s no wonder why the book is selling well. The plot pulls the reader in from the first page!

Carol L. Wright: Thanks, Diane. It means a lot to hear that. Of course, I have our colleagues in the Bethlehem Writers Group to thank for their many cumulative hours of critiques as the novel developed. Although I had previously published several short stories, this is my first novel. I learned a lot as I went through several drafts, and couldn’t have done it without a lot of help along the way.

 

BWG: What distinguishes a cozy mystery from other types of mysteries?

CLW: The term “cozy” applies to a fairly wide variety of mysteries, but they nearly all share certain things in common.

1.      They are character-driven “whodunits” with challenging puzzles, instead of relying primarily on fast-paced action.

2.     They involve an amateur sleuth—someone whose job is something other than solving mysteries. Thus, one challenge for cozy writers is to find a plausible way for their sleuth to get involved in each investigation.

3.     They often occur in a closed environment (such as a small town, an office or small business, a college dorm, a snowed-in ski lodge . . .) with a finite group of potential suspects, who often know each other. We’re not looking for faceless terrorists or international spies in cozies.  

4.     Even though they nearly always have at least one murder, the violence is not described in lurid detail, there are no steamy sex scenes, and there is little or no off-color language. No “trigger warnings” are required before reading a cozy.

5.     In the resolution, the bad guy gets caught, and they have happy endings—except, of course, for the corpse. 

Some cozies are light and humorous, while others focus on crafts. Many include pets. Still others are more like the Agatha Christie tales for which the term “cozy” was originally coined. Mine falls more on that end of the scale.

 

BWG: Without revealing the conclusion, please give a blurb about your novel to our readers.

CLW: Gladly. Eighteen years after the murder of a client, recovering lawyer and stay-at-home mom Gracie McIntyre opens a new-and-used bookshop in her sleepy, New England college town. Days after her grand opening, she and the store receive threats. As violence escalates, she suspects a police officer is involved. She soon realizes she's on her own to save her store—and possibly her life.

 

BWG: Which authors most inspired you, and why?

CLW: Agatha Christie, of course, among many other mystery writers from her time and since.

As for other writers, I love Jane Austen (and am a Life Member of the Jane Austen Society of North America), and enjoy other classics as well. For more contemporary fiction writers, though, I find Connie Willis, Jasper Fforde, Michael Crichton, Hilary Mantel, and many others intriguing reads. They challenge us to look past pre-conceptions and open us up to a different slant on the world.


BWG: Gracie’s character has a distinguishable voice. Are your characters drawn from people you know or imagined, and how does creating them in this way inspire you to write about them? 

CLW: All of the characters are imaginary. I develop a lot of backstory for every character of importance. It’s the only way I know to write three-dimensional people.

I’m a firm believer that each character is the hero of his or her own story, so I try to get inside the head of even the less likable characters to see how they rationalize their behavior to themselves. Once you do that, you see your imaginary people as real, complex individuals instead of two-dimensional stereotypes. Such characters can surprise you by what they say or do—or refuse to say or do. They can even tell a joke you never saw coming! That’s when you know you’re creating a believable world for your readers.

 

BWG: The setting plays a large part in the story. What made you pick that setting for your mystery?

CLW: My story is set in a fictional college town in western Massachusetts, and it shares traits with several places I have lived or spent substantial periods of time. I grew up in a small town about a half hour west of Boston. In the years since I left it, it has become more developed and the population has increased to about five times what it was when I was small. I placed my story to western Massachusetts, near where I spent my college years. There are still a lot of small towns in that region that are too far from cities to become suburbs. I was also influenced by the small college town where my dad grew up and where I often visited my grandparents. These were places I felt at home, and that shared elements I knew I wanted in my novel.  

 

BWG: In an alternative world, which fictional sleuth would you most like to meet and why?

CLW: That’s a tough one. There are so many terrific characters among fictional sleuths, but many of those who make a good read are not necessarily those who would make a good friend or even a good dinner companion. Can you imagine dining with Sherlock Holmes?

But I don’t think it would be too surprising for me to select one of the cozy sleuths, including Miss Marple, and maybe even Jessica Fletcher about whom Donald Bain writes so well, as someone I’d enjoy meeting.

 

BWG: When will Gracie make another appearance?

CLW: Gracie has many more stories to tell. If all goes as planned, the next one should come out in 2018. I hope to share a bit more about it in the coming months.

 

BWG: What other projects are you working on currently?

CLW: Besides the additional Gracie McIntyre Mysteries, I am, as usual, working on a couple of stories for an upcoming Bethlehem Writers Group anthology. The theme for the next one is “Tales of the Paranormal,” and should come out next fall. Since I don't usually write paranormal stories, I'm finding them a pleasant challenge. In addition, I have several other works under submission, and a stand-alone novel that keeps nagging me to write it. I have plenty to keep me busy.

 

Editor’s Note: One great thing for our readers to note is that they can get a story into the upcoming BWG anthology, too. BWG is holding a SHORT STORY AWARD competition starting on January 1 and ending on March 31, 2018. The winning story will be considered for publication. You can find out more at the 2018 SHORT STORY AWARD tab above.

 

BWG: Do you have any advice for emerging writers?

CLW: All writers should be readers. I have heard some new writers say they don't have time to read, but there is no better master class in writing than reading the work of excellent writers. You can even learn a lot from writers with lesser skill (although those lessons are sometimes better described as cautionary tales). Either way, you should read widely and a lot. 

One thing I took to heart in deciding what to write is Toni Morrison’s advice that “if there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Aspiring writers are often worried about hitting the hot trend so that they can get a publisher and become rich and famous. They end up  writing things that are designed to please someone else rather than themselves. I believe that that not only takes some of the joy out of writing, but it probably means the writer isn’t living up to their potential. As Jane Austen said, “Nothing ever fatigues me, but doing what I do not like.” Don’t write for money. Write because you have something to say, and a way to say it that pleases you.

But if you aspire to publish, don’t just write to please yourself. Take classes and read books on writing. Go to conferences and take workshops. Find a writers group that will challenge you to defend your words. Listen to their critiques, and be prepared to work very hard to improve your craft. Learn from all of these sources how to make your story into one that will please others, too. 


BWG: Thanks for taking some time with us today. Best of luck with your upcoming stories.

CLW: Thank you. It has been a pleasure.