Friday, February 08, 2008

Rosemary Harris at The Poisoned Pen

Rosemary Harris' debut mystery, Pushing Up Daisies, was released on Tuesday, so I went to hear her speak last night at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale. She started out by telling the group that she thought that ticker tape parade in New York City on Tuesday was to celebrate the release of her book. She said Lee Child asked for her autograph. She said the same thing that Cornelia Read and Alafair Burke said, that Lee Child is so generous and good to newcomers. She said there are tons of pictures of him on her website, and she better stop, or her husband won't like it. She also received a congratulatory telegram from Sara Paretsky. And, Rosemary said she was so honored to be at the bookstore because every first timer wants to come to the legendary Poisoned Pen.

Rosemary told the story of how she started writing. She said she was an accidental author. She saw a short two inch article in the New York Times Metro section, saying "Mummified Baby Identified," and she was hooked. She spoke to the doctor who did the autopsy, and he said the body had not been 100% identified. She thought that would make a good story. He gave her two clues that she used in Pushing Up Daisies.

Pushing Up Daisies is about a thirty-something transpanted city girl who moved to the suburbs, and found it was not what she expected. The suburbs have every crime and everything the city has, but on a smaller scale.

Rosemary said there would be no amateur sleuths if cops followed up on everything. Paula Holliday has a nosy disposition, and she won't let go. She also has time on her hands to get involved in an investigation. Plus, she's a gardener, so she digs. Paula's third place is a diner owned by Babe, a former singer in a rock-and-roll band. There are snippets of Rosemary in every character, but perhaps the most in Babe.

When talking about her writing, she said she didn't want to let go of the manuscript. She kept rewriting. She's lucky enough to have a multi-book contract, so she's working on the second book. She started to set it in a different location, but she missed the characters, such as Babe, in the small town, so she put the book back in Connecticut. Corpse Flower will probably be out in March 2009.

When asked about the Cabot Cove syndrome in which the author seems to kill off every character in Jessica Fletcher's hometown, Rosemary said that's the good thing about Paula's job. As a gardener, she can work for businesses, casinos, and private individuals. There are a number of opportunities. It helps that Paula is an outsider. She can get to the bottom of things. Rosemary said she splits her time between New York and a small Connecticut town, and sometimes feels like a spectator in Connecticut. The second book is set in a Connecticut casino, and includes a cast of quirky characters. It has gamblers, Russian mafia, and Native Americans.

An audience member asked Rosemary what she knows now that she wished she knew earlier. She answered she wished she had thought to outline. She does it now to keep track of clues and characters. She wants to play fair with the readers.

She said she liked Babe so much that she used her backstory in a short story in a New England crime anthology. That story tells about Babe's life twenty years eariler.

She said the town she created for Pushing Up Daisies contains an interesting mix of characters, from Mexican workers to women in headbands.

Rosemary had appeared on a Phoenix morning show earlier in the day, and she talked about five plants that can kill you. She mentioned that apple seeds contain cyanide, so maybe Johnny Appleseed was actually doing more than spreading seeds across the country. Maybe he was a serial killer. She talked about Angel's Trumpet, a flower that is 100% poisonous. It's also known as Jimsonweed. In the 1940's the CIA and Nazis investigated using it as an interrogation tool. It's good information for a mystery writer to know that daffodil bulbs, pennyroyal, and mistletoe berries are poisonous.

A traditional mystery writer doesn't include threats of nuclear warfare or governments that are going to crash and burn. In some ways, traditional mysteries are scarier because the events could happen to you. Traditional mysteries include terrifying events, such as a character being followed on a dark road at night. The readers know it could actually happen to them.

In response to a question, Rosemary repeated that her next book, Corpse Flower, is scheduled for March 2009, but it could be slightly delayed. She took a little longer with it because she and her husband built a library in Tanzania in 2007. They broke ground in June, and opened it in November. They took a couple trips to Tanzania because of the library.

It took a year and a half for Rosemary to write Pushing Up Daisies, and a year to get an agent. Once it was bought, it took two years for it to be published. The last six months went fast. An author has as long as they need to write book one, but then they usually have one year to write book two. She had three rejections from agents, and then she sent ten query letters, marketing the book, and three responded. She picked the agent that was the most enthusiastic about the book. She does some of the marketing herself, using her Master Gardener status. She's doing a presentation called, "Mischief and Mayhem in Gardens" for the Philadelphia Flower Show, from the apple to Pushing Up Daisies. The Park Seed Catalog company has the first chapter of her book online. She had contacted them about getting seed packets, and they're doing cross-promotion. They're selling Pushing Up Daisies on their site.

Rosemary said she had some earlier titles for her book, ones that didn't fly with the publisher. They were The pH-Factor, and Baby's Breath.

Rosemary said she was challenged by writing the book in first person. She hadn't started out that way, but it went better when she changed the viewpoint to first person. She outlined, and gave herself homework every night. She'd write two or three lines of the next chapter at night, so she had a starting point the next day. She writes in long hand, in pencil, and then puts it on the computer.

When asked who she's reading, she replied, Louise Penny, with Alafair Burke's Cold Case waiting. She's hoping to read her first book by Barry Eisler, who writes about a half-American, half Japanese character named Rain, who only kills bad guys. When she was at the Love Is Murder Convention, he and William Kent Krueger were on a panel together. Krueger writes about a half-Irish, half-Chippewa character.

From Phoenix she goes to Birmingham to the Murder in the Magic City convention. She said new authors go to a lot of conventions, to be on panels and meet people.

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore was one of Rosemary Harris' first signings for Pushing Up Daisies. She was kind enough to sign two Advanced Reading Copies, so there will be a Pushing Up Daisies contest in the near future on this blog.

Rosemary Harris' website is

Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2008. ISBN 978-0312369675 (hardcover), 304p.


Kay said...

This looks good. I'll have to look for it.

Lesa said...

Kay - You'll especially enjoy it if you enjoy gardening. If not, it doesn't matter because the characters are so good. But, that would add a special pleasure.