Ransom Notes Interview with Elaine Viets
Paul Goat Allen: Elaine, first off, congratulations on a great novel! I literally could not put Murder Unleashed down -- and I couldn't get enough of Helen's priceless insights into the human condition. I love your sense of humor. How much fun is it to write these books? And do you think like Helen Hawthorne in everyday life, say, like when you're in the grocery store or driving on the highway?
Thanks, Paul. I appreciate the kind words. The books are fun to write, but they're not always fun to live.
When I worked at the bookstore [a Barnes & Noble in Hollywood, Florida] for Murder Between the Covers,
one man called me an idiot when I didn't check him out fast enough. I needed the manager's approval for an exchange and the guy didn't want to wait. He screamed at me. I saw the other people in line getting restless. One woman said, "I hate it when people don't take their medication." In Dying to Call You,
I worked as a telemarketer. "Idiot" was the nicest thing anyone called me. In Just Murdered,
I did my research in a bridal salon. I saw scenes of surreal beauty -- including the gospel singer who burst into song when she saw her daughter in her wedding dress. That brought tears to my eyes. I also saw a husband yell at his wife because she didn't spend enough money on her dress. "You make me look bad in that cheap dress," he said. "Don't come out in anything less than three thousand dollars." I wished I had a fight like that with my husband.
Do I think like Helen? Well, sort of. Helen and I have the same attitude toward work. Her world, however, has justice. Mine doesn't. Of course, I get to kill a lot more bosses -- but only in my books.
As you've already mentioned, you've researched every Dead-End Job mystery by actually working that specific job. Can you talk a little about your real-world experience for Murder Unleashed
? What was the weirdest thing you saw?
All the rules in the world won't stop people from having pets. I worked at the Bone Appetit dog boutique in Fort Lauderdale. Our customers included women who lived in no-pet condos. They would buy special purses to sneak their pets into the buildings. The purses had mesh inserts, so the smuggled dogs could breathe. I asked one woman what happened if her little dog barked in the elevator when she had him stashed in a purse. "I have a terrible cough," she said. "And I tip the doorman well."
At the store, I met a shoplifting dog. This dog loved squeaky toys. He knew how to get them off the rack and hide them in his thick neck fur. His owner was mortified by her pilfering pet. There was also something I called the "Rapunzel phenomenon" -- tiny women with giant dogs, like great Danes and Saint Bernards. The women were beautiful, but before any man could date them, he had to get past the huge, scary dog. I thought that was a greater challenge than climbing a tower for Rapunzel.
The weirdest thing I saw? The woman who bought a leather dog collar for her boy toy. She had the guy right there with her.
How much has your previous experience writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
helped with your mystery writing? It seems like you have an amazingly acute insight into all strata of humanity.
As a reporter and columnist, I interviewed everyone from bikers to businesspeople. I talked to cops and criminals, homemakers and high-powered celebrities. The so-called ordinary people were more interesting than the movie stars. The celebrities whined about their hard lives when they were traveling with a limo, a driver, and a personal assistant. The men and women who go to work, care for their kids, and pay their bills are the real heroes -- in life as well as in my Dead-End Job series.
What are you reading right now?
Nancy Martin's new Blackbird Sisters book, Have Your Cake and Kill Him Too
. It's hilarious.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary mystery writers?
I think we're in another golden age of mystery writing. There are so many fine authors now -- Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Lisa Scottoline. Florida has a huge crop of writers who run the gamut from hard-boiled to humorous, including P. J. Parrish, Barbara Parker, Carl Hiaasen, James O. Born, Jonathon King, and Tim Dorsey. Then there are the dark masters of mystery like Thomas Harris, Lawrence Block, and Nelson DeMille. And writers you should take time to discover, including Marcia Talley, M. J. Rose, David Rosenfelt, Peter Lovesey, John Westerman, and Peter Robinson. I could fill the rest of the page with names. Did I say how much I love modern mysteries?
What's next on the release list? I hear your sixth Dead-End Job novel, Murder with Reservations,
is already finished.
EV: Murder with Reservations
will be out next year . In that book, Helen works as a hotel maid. I think that was the hardest physical labor I ever did. It's not like cleaning house. It's like cleaning five houses in one day. I had no idea humans were such slobs. We had a guy who ate peanuts and threw the shells on the carpet. Another spit sunflower hulls into the bedside drawer. And you won't believe what a soccer team can do with Silly String.
Please tip your maid. You tip the guy who carries your bag across the lobby, but your hotel maid is hauling heavy spreads, blankets, and vacuum cleaners. She's scrubbing the tub, cleaning the mirrors, and dusting inside the dresser drawers. I did all that and more. My biggest tip was $2.35 plus a can of peach nectar. That's total. For 17 rooms and 34 beds.
One maid told me, "A dollar a day per room would make a big difference in my life. I want to stay off welfare so my children will be proud of me." You can make a major impact with just one dollar. I can't think of a better way to spend that money.
NOTE: For every copy of Murder Unleashed
sold at Barnes & Noble.com, Elaine Viets will donate $1 to PAWS, a charity that rescues animals and educates the public about their care and safety.