California author M. M. Gornell, a mystery writer inspired by locations, will be joining the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society M. M. Gornell, a mystery writer inspired by locations, will be joining the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society “Writing For the Thrill of It” or “It’s Murder They Wrote” panel on April 23 at Palms-Rancho Library, Los Angeles. I’m happy to say I’m the moderator for that panel.
Gornell says locations call to her, begging to be featured in her compelling stories. Like me, many authors are character-driven. This is not the case for her. The localities in her books leap off the page, feeling as real as if you were there.
Since last September’s Spotlight, your new novel, Reticence of the Ravens, has been released to great reviews. How many novels do you have in print now?
I have three published mystery novels—PSWA awarding winning “Uncle Si’s Secret,” “Death of a Perfect Man,” and now my latest release, “Reticence of Ravens.”I’m thrilled because it is my first Route 66 mystery and is a finalist for the Eric Hoffer 2011 Fiction Prize, the da Vinci Eye (cover art), and the Montaigne Medal (most thought provoking book). I couldn’t ask for more.
So, with your love of Route 66, are you planning to write more novels that take place along that historic road?
Yes. Route 66 continues to inspire me. I’m currently completing “Lies of Convenience,” a tale that fictionally connects murder, truths untold, and Chicago’s Lake Michigan with California’s high desert on the opposite end of the Mother Road.
Wow! That’s quite a combination of locales, but then Route 66 had it all. Did you always want to be an author?
Some of my earliest memories are of reading, then dreaming of being a fiction author myself. That desire remained throughout my life. I had a couple of short stories published “way back then” but didn’t actually write full-time until a few years ago. I love writing fiction and consider myself extremely lucky to have the time now to pursue my dream non-stop.
We all have writers we admire. Which ones are high on your own list?
Well, I’ve loved mysteries all of my life. As an admitted anglophile, my favorite novelist is P. D. James.
Being being an author driven by my characters and stories, I’m fascinated that you are location-driven. I’m sure my readers would like a little insight about how that works, and so would I.
Until now my novels have been stand-alone mysteries, each one inspired by a place that grabbed my imagination—and wouldn’t let go! For a long time I lived in North Bend WA, which is a fairly rural area east of Seattle. I loved walking my dogs on the local trails. One particular spot always caught my fancy. The idea for my first full length novel was born on a spur of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. Happily it became a manuscript and I found an agent and publisher who liked it. That may sound simple, but it was very hard and involved many queries, rejections, edits and rewrites. That’s the typical path for so many authors.
And, that novel won an award, didn’t it?
Yes it did. The Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) awarded “Uncle Si’s Secret” a 2009 Published Novel Award.
A location was the inspiration for your second mystery, “Death of a Perfect Man.” Is that also a stand-alone story?
My husband I and our two dogs (we now have five) were preparing to leave Puget Sound to look for a new home. During that time we lived in the Ridgecrest CA area for a time. As we were house hunting, we passed a particular spot on Interstate 14 often—a collection of rag-tag dwellings that just seemed to speak to me. That special place was the inspiration.
I’m familiar with Ridgecrest, having done some interior design projects for the military base there. The lonely stretches of road on the way to Ridgecrest are fixed in my memory. Did you have other considerations in choosing a location for your new home?
I’m also a potter and finding a home where I could have a studio was very much on my mind. Not surprisingly, my heroine and her first murder victim in this novel are potters.
After writing stand-alone novels, “Reticence of the Ravens” is actually the first novel in a trilogy. What was different—what motivated you to change from your norm?
Well, as I said, it was again born in the Mojave High-Desert, but this time on Route 66. Somewhere a little north of route 66 on the way to Arizona, is a half defunct mini-mart/gas station. In fact, The Mother Road has recently captured my imagination in so many ways that it is the driving force and inspiration for the current books in progress. This trilogy connects my home town, Chicago, with NewTown, a fictional Mojave location. A recently released mental hospital patient, who’s also a psychic, has found just the perfect place – at the end of a dirt road off Route 66.
Let’s talk about your pottery for a moment. As locations inspire your writing, what draws you to pottery?
I love the primeval feel of throwing a pot. It is a wonderful tactile experience. There are many ways to go in pottery—there’s something for everyone. I’ve leaned toward what’s called high-fire reduction firing (for the glazing part). I have a propane kiln for that and I never know what the fire gods are going to deliver. I still lose a few pots, but sometimes I get a piece that touches me in the same way a perfect phrase of prose does. It’s a wonderful experience, akin to holding that first copy of your latest book.
Last word. Where can people find your novels and more information about you?
My novels, published by Aberdeen Bay Publishing, can be purchased on their website, signed copies can be purchased directly from me on my website and at events, as well as at selected book and gift stores and online from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Booksamillion.com
As moderator of the panel discussion on April 23 at 3:00 p.m., I will be joined by M. M.Gornell and authors Michael Mallory, Christa Faust, and Robert Fate. We will discuss how we develop our mysteries, what we like, how we became mystery writers and more. This is presented by Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, at the Palms-Rancho Library in the Ray Bradbury Room and is open to the public. Full information on the website
MORGAN ST. JAMES writes the “Spotlight” feature every Wednesday in the Los Angeles edition of hornface.com, and Writers Tricks of the Trade, a “how to” column for published and aspiring writers every Friday. Other news as it happens.
To learn more about Morgan and her books, visit www.morganstjames-author.com.