HALLIE EPHRON: I fell in love with G. M. (Gin) Malliet's writing when I read "Wicked Autumn", her first Max Tudor novel. A traditional mystery with a satiric edge, it was set a world away from London and a breath away from Agatha Christie's St. Mary Meade in a quaint village with copious bucolic charm not a smidge of ethnic diversity. Where once there were blacksmiths and wheelwrights, now shopkeepers peddle New Age crystals and organic jellies and jams.
Gin's fifth Max Tudor novel, "Haunted Season," is just out in paperback. and I'm delighted to host her on Jungle Red.
Gin, seems like you got shot out of a cannon in 2008 with your first novel, "Death of a Cozy Writer," winning the Agatha Award for best first novel. Did you have any idea where you’d be now, nine books later?
G. M. Malliet: At the moment, I’m just starting to write a tenth series book, and I’m revising a standalone that will be published in 2017. So soon it will be eleven books, which surprises even me.
You make it all sound much more thrilling than it is. It’s not so much like being shot out of a cannon as riding an ageing donkey uphill while blindfolded. I have had many of the breaks in this business and I’m so very grateful, but when you are in the thick of finding agents and so on it feels like a very slow process.
Right now I’m either doing revisions or plotting the next book while I wait for edits for the previous book to land back on my desk. It still catches me by surprise every time it happens. It’s like, oh! You want me to read through all this again? I just sent back to my publisher the copyedited version of the sixth Max Tudor ("Devil's Breath") which won’t appear in print until April 2017. I could paint the Sistine Chapel in that amount of time but I am told it has something to do with the lead time reviewers require nowadays.
Anyway, just when you think you can’t look at the typewritten pages again, back come the page proofs—the typeset version of the book, hopefully now free of typos or, worse, dead people who have inexplicably come back to life in the final pages. Or characters who have changed their names in midstream, or stopped somewhere along the way to dye their hair black.
HALLIE: No kidding!
Gin, I know you write cozies but they are truly wicked. They have an Austen-ish (Barbara Pym-ish) edge to them. Is humor something that comes with the first draft or do you layer it in (or out) in revisions?
GM: First, thank you for that. (I am such a fan of Barbara Pym’s work.)
Well, you know the advice about writing. You simply sit down at your desk and open a vein. But humor is the bonus you sometimes get for all that blood-letting. Your reward for having behaved well the rest of the time, and stayed put during the long slog of trying to come up with another word to describe Max Tudor than “dashing” or “dishy.”
Humor seems to come out of nowhere, but it does seem to crop up during the first or second drafts. If I write something that makes me laugh I am SO happy. And I trust someone else will laugh, too. Otherwise, I feel they would be better served reading something educational like the instruction manual for their new colander. (I always love it when people give their colanders five-star reviews on Amazon, don’t you?)
HALLIE: LOL! I will peruse Amazon with a whole new pespective from here on.
You seem to know so much about English village Anglican church goings-on. Is that a product of great research or a great imagination?
GM: I don’t know about the “great” but it’s a bit of both. I just love all things British and am drawn time and again to visit and keep my eyes open while I’m there. Every Anglican church seems to be repairing its roof at any given time and that means some rather desperate attempts at fund-raising are always in progress.
Officially I am an Episcopalian (the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion) but I’m not one of their best—not destined for sainthood, me. I love church architecture and the liturgy and the hymns (which are so blessedly predictable you can be tone deaf and sing very loudly and no one will notice). And there is such poetry in the language of the King James Bible.
[Stepping onto my soapbox]: I do think children not raised in any religious tradition are missing out, just for these reasons of beauty, language, and history [stepping down off my soapbox]. I volunteer here and there at the local shelter but other people do so much more. They turn up every time. That said: People often get up to things in the name of sweet charity that can backfire in hilarious ways. Bring-and-Buy events can positively pulse with unspoken jealousies and animosities long buried.
HALLIE: And the names! Nether Monkslip. Totleigh Hall. Lady Baaden-Boomethistle. They’re downright Dickensian. How do you come up with them?
GM: You don’t have to go far in the UK before tripping over some wonderful name. Mine tend to be an amalgam of one or two existing names. For example, J.K. Rowling lived for a time in Chipping Sodbury, which the villagers naturally renamed Sodding Chipbury.
Lady Baaden-Boomethistle was one of those things that came from nowhere but made me laugh as I typed it, so I knew I had to keep the name. My English editor thought it was too Germanic for her UK audience but there are moments where you stand or fall on important principles like this. “But I think it’s funny,” I told her.
This is when you learn what you’re really made of as a writer.
HALLIE: I so agree. You have to draw the line somewhere.
Your new Max Tudor mystery, "Devil’s Breath," comes out in the spring and is now available for pre-order. What can readers expect? Because "The Haunted Season" (the paperback edition was just published) ends with the suggestion that Max might not be bouncing back from the catastrophic loss he nearly experienced.
GM: Max realizes he can’t run away from the world—the world keeps finding him, anyway. "Devil's Breath" returns him temporarily to working a case for MI5, but he’ll not quit the priesthood. The two worlds just start to blend for him. My Fall/2017 standalone is also set in an English village—I can’t seem to help myself. But it’s a much darker book than I’ve done before.
HALLIE: Thanks, Gin! Gin will be at the Brattleboro Literary Festival (Oct 13-16) as will Hank, Susan, and me. Hope some of you will come out.
Today's question: What are some of your favorite place names and character names, made up or real?