(1) Were you always a mystery writer? If not, when did you start writing?
Later, like most girls of my generation, I devoured Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames, Judy Bolton and yes, even The Bobbsey Twins, series novels that came out of the Stratemeyer Syndicate beginning around 1929. In my teens, I graduated to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Marjorie Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, Josephine Tey, Daphne DuMaurier and other queens of the golden age of mystery, i.e. the period between the two World Wars. And I haven't looked back. I took up writing seriously in the mid-1980s. In the early 1990s, I was accepted at the Sewanee Writers' Conference (founded by the estate of Tennessee Williams at the University of the South) and at Bread Loaf where I work-shopped what later became Sing It To Her Bones. My mentor at Sewanee was National Book Award-winner, John Casey. During our one-on-one session, he told me, "When I read your first chapter, I knew I was in the hands of a born story-teller. But the rest of the novel is crap." After a stunned silence (of about six months!) I took his advice. Threw away everything but the first chapter and began again. That novel won the Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, which quickly gained me an agent and a 3-book deal with Bantam, Dell. Whoa! Still pinching myself.
(2) Why mysteries? Do you enjoy killing people for a living?
Why mysteries? Because there were a lot of people in my life who needed to die. Seriously, my mother was an avid mystery fan, and a charter subscriber to Ellery Queen's Mystery magazine, so mysteries were always around the house. I was also a great fan of that old television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and am grateful that although it aired late on a Sunday night (a school night, gasp!) I was allowed to stay up to watch it.
In addition to 11 novels, I've written more than a dozen short stories, and I think my fondness for quirky endings can be traced directly to Mr. Hitchcock. A recent story, "Can You Hear Me Now" appeared in TWO OF THE DEADLIEST: NEW TALES OF LUST GREED AND MURDER BY OUTSTANDING WOMEN OF MYSTERY, edited by Elizabeth George. The story was inspired by a train trip to NY where the guy sitting next to me was up to some funny business on his cell phone. By the time we reached NY City, I knew that he had to die, and exactly how to do it! Who doesn't like to see a rude cell phone user get his comeuppance?
But primarily, I'm interested in relationships, particularly family relationships. I introduce a cast of characters, throw in a monkey wrench, watch to see what happens, and then work the puzzle out. By the end of the book, all the loose ends are tied up, but the characters have changed, often becoming stronger for what they've gone through.
(3) What is it about mysteries that seem to remain timeless? Why do readers embrace them?
Life isn't always fair; good doesn't always triumph over evil; the bad guys sometimes get away with it. Within the confines of a mystery novel, it's MY world and I can set things right. I think that's why "revenge" stories are particularly popular. For me, writing mysteries is cheaper than a therapist. I've bumped off a former boss, an ex-brother-in-law, the bitch who married my father after my mother died, and my husband (three times), a fact of which he's surprisingly proud.
(4) Tell us about your character, Hannah Ives.
When we first meet Hannah, she's recently finished chemotherapy for breast cancer and is recuperating on her sister-in-law's farm in southern Maryland while waiting for her hair to grow out. She's been downsized from her job in Washington, DC and is feeling unlovely and unloved. While on a walk with the family dog, her hat tumbles into a well. Hannah goes fishing for it and discovers the body of a young girl who had disappeared about five years previously. Suddenly Hannah has something to distract her from her own personal problems -- finding a murderer. Hannah's happily married to Paul, a math professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and lives with him near the Academy on Prince George Street in Annapolis. She has a grown daughter from whom she's estranged, but by the end of the sixth book in the series, Emily and her husband, Dante, are running a successful health spa and have three young children. Hannah has two sisters, Ruth (a New Age shop owner and feng shui practitioner) and Georgina who has four kids and lives in Baltimore with a rather boring CPA husband.
Since I am a cancer survivor, too, people often ask me, "Are you Hannah?" Hannah is the woman I would like to be, I guess. Younger, prettier, thinner, funnier and much braver than I would ever be. People tell me that they really identify with Hannah. She has a legion of fans who are cancer survivors. They love her upbeat attitude and wry sense of humor. "Believe it or not," Hannah says at one point, "there are advantages to having had cancer. I get my mammograms at half price."
(5) In addition to your novels, you're an accomplished short story writer. One of your short story characters is very different from Hannah. Tell us about Marjorie Ann.
Oh, I just LOVE Marjorie Ann. Poor girl has SUCH bad luck with men. [grin] Strangely, Marjorie Ann came to me out of the blue on a train trip. Earlier that morning I'd had a fight with my husband about how much butter he was slathering on his pancakes and as the train pulled out of Penn Station in New York, I guess I was still stewing about our spat. Marjorie Ann simply materialized in my head and began talking to me. I started writing so furiously that I missed my stop at BWI and ended up at Union Station in Washington, DC. By then, however, "With Love, Marjorie Ann" was finished. It was my first published short story, and won an Agatha nomination. Two more Marjorie Ann stories followed, "Driven to Distraction" and "Can You Hear Me Now?"
(6) Any chance we'll see her in a novel?
I don't think so. Marjorie Ann prefers the small stage. But I'm working on Marjorie Ann's 4th short story right now. It's called "A Fine New York Whine."
(7) You've won several awards. Tell us about them.
I was so honored to win my first Agatha Award for a short story, "Too Many Cooks," in a dead tie with Margaret Maron – one of my idols! -- who graciously allowed me to keep the teapot while she waited to receive hers by mail.
That story also won the Anthony Award and is included in a couple of "best of" mystery collections. It's a retelling of the story of Macbeth, but from the viewpoint of the three witches. I also received an Agatha for "Driven to Distraction," which was short-listed for an Anthony. My second novel, Occasion of Revenge, won the Romantic Times Best Contemporary Mystery award the year it came out. I travelled to Orlando to pick up that award, and it was my first experience with a Romantic Times conference and its "best cover model" competition. A surreal experience.
(8) You're the only Femme who's a goddess. How did that happen?
Ah, yes. I keep telling my husband I'm a goddess, but somehow I still have to do the dishes! I served on the Board of Sisters in Crime for five years, the last year as the organization's national President. All past-presidents of Sisters in Crime – going back to Sara Paretsky twenty-five years ago -- are called goddesses, and I have a bracelet from Tiffany to prove it!
(9) What do you do when you're not writing mysteries?
I enjoy reading, knitting and sailing. My husband and I keep an antique sailboat in the Abacos (Bahamas) and we visit it for several months out of every year. I love the life of the cruising sailor. If you read my novel Without a Grave, it will give you some idea of what I find so attractive about the back-to-basics life-style, where everything I own can be fit into a pillowcase, and daily decisions are made on such basic elements as the wind and the tides.
(10) Are you married? Any children?
I've been married for [mumble mumble] years to my college sweetheart, John Barry Talley, who I met while working on the dish crew in a college dining room at Oberlin College. For 36 years Barry was Director of Musical Activities at the U.S. Naval Academy. We have two daughters. Laura is a patent/trademark attorney for a large law firm in Washington, D.C. and is married to David, a lead historian at the U.S. Department of State. Sarah is a master gardener and lives in Chesapeake, Virginia. She’s married to Jon, a U.S. Navy physician. Each of my daughters has two sons and a daughter, so I have six grandchildren to spoil. Every summer, I welcome them to my house in Annapolis for "Camp Grandma." Swimming at the neighborhood pool, eating junk food, playing computer games, staying up too late ... what's not to like?
(11) Tell us something that few people know about you.
My father was a career officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, so we moved around a lot, never living more than two or three years in a single place. In third grade, I attended three different elementary schools. My dad’s parents were missionaries in China for almost fifty years so he spoke, read and wrote Chinese like a native. Naturally, we were always getting shipped overseas. I lived in Tsingtao for several years (where they make the beer of the same name) and I went to high school in Taipei, Taiwan. Travelling is still in my blood. I spend the coldest months of the year in the Bahamas, and every August I go to Oxford, England for the St Hilda's Crime and Mystery Weekend, followed by a retreat to a B&B in Somerset, near Bath.
(12) What can we expect next from Marcia Talley?
My publisher has said they'd like to see a couple of more Hannah Ives mysteries, so I'm working on the 12th one now. It's called Dark Passage, and is set on a luxury cruise liner. Research can be hell, ya know?