Friday, January 25, 2013

Interview 12: D. M. Pirrone

Greetings humans, half-breeds, and everything in between. A while back, I had the pleasure to interview my new friend, D. M. Pirrone. She is visiting the ECS as a guest and sharing loads of interesting insights into her work. Be sure to look around and see what she has to offer. Here are the results of our interview. A good time was truly had by all, and here’s how it went down.

Hi there Diane! It’s so awesome to have you here at the ECS Universe. Don’t worry about the darkness, your eyes will adjust.

So tell me, who is D. M. Pirrone?

I’m a writer, editor and actor. Right now I’m writing mysteries, but I’m also a history buff and a huge SF fan. I have ideas for novels in every genre I read; sooner or later, I’ll get to them all.

I’m also a big Shakespeare nerd. The last role I played was Peter Quince (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Quince is a frustrated playwright, with a leading actor who keeps demanding rewrites and a cast that can barely memorize the simplest lines. Yet Quince keeps going. He doesn’t let anything get him down. I can relate to that.

What a Renaissance  Woman you are,  with a great sense of humor too. This should be a fun interview.

So whacha got for me today?

My debut mystery is NO LESS IN BLOOD, about an adoptee who goes looking for her family and ends up a target for murder by one of them because of a century-old legacy she never knew existed. The story unfolds in the present and in 1893 (when a wealthy young heiress vanishes, hence the creation of the legacy). Readers get to see both story lines play out at the same time.

I love the premise of this story. It sounds like a truly gripping mystery. I like that it’s a modern story, but takes you back to another time as well. My story Eternal Curse: Giovanni’s Angel is like that, but I think it’s pretty cool that you have two stories from different times happening at once.

 So who’s starring is this 2 dimensional script read of No Less In Blood?

I have two main characters: Rachel Connolly in the present, Mary Anne Schlegel (the vanishing heiress) in the past. Rachel is smart, funny, and a lot braver than she gives herself credit for. At the start of the book, she’s feeling especially vulnerable because her Very Serious Boyfriend has just dumped her, and not too many months ago she lost her adoptive mother to a hit-and-run drunk driver. Her sense of security, of family, even of identity is knocked sideways, and so she decides to look for her birth mother in hopes of reclaiming some of that. She’s completely not expecting how this all plays out.

Mary Anne is seventeen, bright and headstrong and completely unwilling to live the conventional life of a small-town rich girl in 1893. She wants to go to college, become a writer, earn a living by her pen. And she ends up having to run away from home to do it. She heads off to Chicago and disappears there; her family has no idea what happened to her, or if she’s alive or dead. (The reader finds out, though.)

Again, I love this. I won’t keep rambling on about the similarities in our two stories, but I feel connected to yours already. This is a read I definitely don’t want to put off. The struggles of identity and family are big issues for me and in my writing, and who can get enough of a strong female character going above and beyond expectations. No matter the genre, this is what I write and what I like. Thank you for sharing.

 Past, present, future, is there a rhyme or reason to your writing?

I have a favorite theme: Events from the past that blow up in the present, forcing my characters to deal with the fallout. This happens in NO LESS IN BLOOD, it’s in both of the historical mysteries I’ve written (still looking for a publisher on those), and it’s central to the contemporary novel I’m working on now.  I’m 80 pages or so into it, tentatively titled THIS DARK AND TROUBLED TIME. It’s the first manuscript I’ve written that isn’t a crime novel, though a crime does lie at the heart of it. A newborn baby girl is stolen, and the book is about the effects of that act on the mother who loses her child, the woman who steals and raises the child, and the child herself as a young adult when she finds out she’s not who she thought she was. Tough to write, but rewarding so far. And frustrating, because I don’t have the automatic plot structure of a police investigation to lean on.

I can’t listen to background music or anything when I write. I need quiet so I can hear the words in my head. Other people have a mind’s eye; I have a mind’s ear. Sometimes it honestly feels like I have a small elf perched in my auditory canal, reading out loud to me. I just write the stuff down. Then I read it out loud, playing all the parts and getting as deep into it emotionally as I can. That lets me hear mistakes in the flow and figure out which beats are missing in a scene or a character’s thought process.

 I write on my laptop, at my dining-room table, with plenty of light from the east-facing bay window and a cup of strong coffee at my elbow. Gotta have the coffee, with milk and sugar. It’s brain fuel.

You are just too much ;) I love that you can classify your writing into one central theme; I wish I could say the same. In all, I’d say I write about characters; I tell their stories. I too write at a table. I write in my kitchen where there is plenty of overhead and natural light.

What author(s) has most influenced your writing? Why or how?

Ruth Rendell is a favorite; she writes some of the darkest suspense novels I’ve ever read, and has a knack for making us connect with some really scary people. I love the way she handles villains; they’re not just bad or crazy and we don’t care why. They’re three-dimensional, and we understand them even though we can’t condone what they do. Right now I’m reading a lot of Jodi Picoult, whose work is definitely inspiring THIS DARK AND TROUBLED TIME. She gets at the same events through multiple points of view, which gives her stories a lot of depth. Elizabeth George pays incredible attention to detail and makes her characters’ emotional lives so clear and compelling that you get carried along by that just as much as by the unfolding of the police investigation. I try to do all those things, as much as I can.

I say it every time, it so good to read what you write. Reading from those you admire in your preferred genre is the best way to master the ability to write it well. These ladies are all great authors and I can see why you like them.

 Whose brain are you just itching to scratch?

Elizabeth Tudor (Queen Elizabeth I). She managed to reign as an absolute monarch despite being a woman, in a time when people assumed only men could rule. She survived a stunning amount of palace intrigue and then spent almost the next 50 years putting her people and her country first. She was so smart, she could think rings around her advisors. I would love to talk to her about how she grew up in a time period like that, with all the abuses of power that were rampant in the ruling class, yet she managed to grasp that her job was to care about—and take care of—the people who depended on her to be a wise and thoughtful ruler. That’s one hell of a responsibility.

I must admit that everything I know of Queen Elizabeth I comes from movies, television biographies, and the BBC. My generation of U.S. youth only learns a little about Queen Elizabeth II, but since I enjoy history I try to learn what I can. It’s hard for any woman to rule in anytime, but each story of such a woman deserves to be told.

Who is so you and why?

Back in the early 1990s, I got addicted to the SF series BABYLON 5. All the characters are terrific, but my runaway favorite is Delenn. She’s non-human, an ambassador from Minbar; a diplomat and a peacemaker, and that rare thing—a politician with integrity. She has courage and compassion, and a playful, curious streak that’s somewhat at odds with the way her people generally are: reserved, sober, spiritual, in love with rituals and symbols. I wish I was half that brave and funny, and I can totally relate to her boundless curiosity about cultures that are different from her own.  Also relate to her knack for seeing the similarities beneath the differences. So often in the real world, what we see as divisions that can’t be surmounted, where one side has to be “right” and the other “wrong,” are actually just different road maps to the same destination.

That’s cool. I wasn’t into that show much, but I enjoyed it whenever I happened upon it. It had and still has a huge following. It’s nice that you relate to such a wonderful and powerful female character on that show. Again, I love your thinking. I do my best to embrace diversity. Differences don’t always have to be bad.

What’s your ideal reading spot for your next highly anticipated read?

My agent suggested some titles that are similar to the kind of fiction I’m writing right now—there’s a crime at the heart of it, but the real story is the effect of the crime on the lives of the people involved. I just picked up STILL MISSING, by Chevy Stevens (in hardback, from my library, but if I like it I’ll probably buy it in paperback to re-read). The cover copy sounds great, and I think I’ll learn a lot about how to structure this kind of story. So when I take a “writing break” in the late afternoon, after I’ve gotten my son a snack and set him up with homework, I’ll brew a cup of Irish Breakfast tea (milk, a hint of sugar) and curl up with it and my book in the corner of my very fat and comfy sofa. A sip of tea, an afghan pulled over my lap for extra coziness, and I’m good to go.

Reading for fun and education is a win win and the way you do it sounds so lovely. Irish Breakfast tea (with milk and sugar) sounds delicious…I do like my teas.

What was your favorite book or story, pre-teen years?

I loved A LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’ve been an Anglophile since reading BLACK BEAUTY when I was about 9, and Burnett was especially good at romantic stories about Victorian-era English children who experience an abrupt reversal of circumstances and then have to reinvent their sense of who they are. In A LITTLE PRINCESS, rich Sara Crewe suddenly becomes a pauper when her father loses his fortune, and she’s badly treated from the moment the money is gone. But she’s clever and kind-hearted and has a wonderful imagination, plus some friends who stick with her through thick and thin, and all these things help her eventually triumph over her hardships.

A Little Princess has always been one of my favorites. The story of Sara Crewe just always seemed more real and appealing than that of Cinderella or any other princess…Now this is where the questions get a little kooky; are you ready?

Yes I am.

Alright then, here we go.

If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Casablanca. I could watch the “dueling anthems” scene in Rick’s CafĂ©—the one where the Nazi officers get drowned out by all the impassioned locals singing La Marseillaise—over and over again. So much is expressed through music in that scene; it’s brilliant.  And then there’s the whole love story, and the morphing of amiable hypocrite Louis Reynaud into a hero at the end (“Major Strasser has been shot! Round up the usual suspects!”)… what’s not to enjoy?

I get so excited when I ask this question and I’m always so pleased when the answer turns out to be a classic. I love classic movies and this is one of the best. I bothers me a little that there are people “out there” calling themselves movie buffs, yet they’ve never seen this film :\

What makes you geek out?

I’m a foodie. I admit it. Next to fiction and history, my favorite thing to read is a cookbook. I love how different flavors work together to make something scrumptious. I made gingerbread cookies for Christmas that had fat bittersweet chocolate chips in them, 70 percent cacao. The dark chocolate balanced perfectly with the tangy-sweet molasses in the gingerbread dough—unexpected and delightful. I throw chocolate chips into pumpkin muffins, too. Both my sons adore those.

This is just too much. You’re a foodie too!...I can still remember the first time, at the age of 25, making a traditional English bread pudding from a recipe book my husband found at a thrift store. It’s the best breading pudding ever. Now I have to try gingerbread cookies with dark chocolate chips.

 So what’s testing your patience right now?

I’m building an audiobook recording studio in my house, a second line of work for my at-home editing business, Word Nerd, Inc. With 20-plus years of acting experience and a huge number of accents, it seemed like a logical step. My friend and colleague, Libby Fischer Hellman, started me thinking I could do this professionally when she hired me for the audiobook version of SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, her excellent thriller partly set in the late 1960s. I also did her latest book, A BITTER VEIL, which takes place in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution. I’ve just about worked the bugs out of my at-home setup and am learning my way around the recording software; I’ll be ready to launch before long, and I can’t wait.

This has to be the coolest answer I’ve had for this question by far. You just keep on keeping on Renaissance Woman!

When the soundtrack of your life is playing in your head, what songs express your glee and what songs bring out your rage?

For glee, I have to go with the classic Chicago anthem, “Lake Shore Drive <=listen. I can’t hear that one without singing along. I also love jazz songs and show tunes and Celtic folk music.  The songs that enrage me, I turn off before they become ear worms and dig their way into my head. Bad 70s stuff I remember from my childhood: “Seasons in the Sun”, “Having My Baby”, etc. The kind of thing they play and laugh at on the Annoying Music Show.

You’re wonderful. I think it’s so great that cheesy songs make you mad. They make me mad too and that’s saying a lot because I’m a music lover. I find something to like and appreciate in just about any genre.

What’s the most fun experience you’ve ever had, to date?

Several years ago, my husband and I and some friends of ours went to Mount Horeb, Wisconsin and visited the National Mustard Museum on National Mustard Day. We went in costume—my friend Laura Fogelson and I have alter egos, the Blatz Sisters, that we use in our comedy tarot card-reading act. The Blatz Sisters love festive colors and tacky clothing (think leopard print and fuschia), and talk in outrageously overdone accents, and in general the more oddball something is, the more “Blatz” it is. So we dressed up as our alter egos, and spent National Mustard Day “in character,” because a mustard museum is just the kind of place the Sisters like best. It was very silly, we got to be goofy with each other all day, we sampled mustard custard (awful!) and drew pictures in mustard (using squeeze bottles of classic French’s Yellow). We also bought some of the best-tasting, most unusual mustards I’d ever heard of. Maui Onion Mustard with Ale and Cranberry Orange mustard, just to name a couple.

You are a nut and I think you are wonderful. That’s sounds like it was a blast.

 Remind me again how I was lucky enough to meet you?

We haven’t met in person, but I found your blog after you put out the word through a LinkedIn group—Book Marketing Group, I think it was—that you were looking for authors to profile. So I checked it out, and liked what I read. This is a great blog.

Thanks for the compliment on my blog. I’ve met so many great authors. Posting that message has helped me in so many ways and I’m glad to do my small part to spread the word about the great talent and people supplying content to the literary world.

Not that you can see into the future, but in your opinion, what does the future hold?

In five years my historical mystery series—two books so far, set in Chicago just after the Great Fire of 1871—will be published, hopefully by a house that can afford a larger advance. (I love my current publisher, but they’re a small press, and I have two kids to get through college, so…) THIS DARK AND TROUBLED TIME, ditto—and I hope my hard-working agent makes a packet as well. Word Nerd Audio will be a thriving business, starting with the audio version of NO LESS IN BLOOD. My high-school freshman son will be in college (urk!), and my little guy will be in his last year of middle school, both with solid grades and good prospects. My husband will still be getting up early to make me coffee, and my friends who’ve been struggling during these tough past few years will have decent jobs again. Oh, and Hillary Clinton will be President, with Elizabeth Warren as VP.

Ok humans, half-breeds, and everything in between, that’s all for today. Be sure to follow this blog to see who will be visiting next time. For more from D. M. Pirrone check out these great links: