Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ON LINDA BARNES (And Carlotta Carlyle)

"Carlotta and I grew up in the feminist movement of the 60s. She is my mirror held up to nature, my reflection of a changing society. As a teen, I read mystery novels about stalwart men who lived by a code a justice. As a young adult, I looked at my female friends and saw, not only housewives and moms, but lawyers, doctors, and cops, women who not only desired justice, but demanded it. And that's Carlotta's mission, really, to demand, determine, and occasionally, mete out justice on her own. "
*** Linda Barnes

from "Carlotta and Me"

Look gang. Linda Barnes is here. Back in my mystery writing youth (four years ago) I was at some event, and this woman walked into the room. Somehow shy, but commanding the floor at the same time. Every head turned, and the party buzz buzzed right over to her. “Who’s that?” I whispered to a straggler who hadn’t yet joined the admiring throng.

She did a double take. I was an idiot. That’s Linda Barnes, she hissed. Linda. Barnes.

Linda Barnes. Who doesn’t love Carlotta Carlyle? And who doesn’t think the fabulous she and the fabulous Linda are, somehow, channeling each other? Although Linda is quick to say she’s never been—and never wanted to be—a cab driver. Linda’s twelfth Carlotta, Lie Down with the Devil, is just out, and to much acclaim.

(In all so far, Linda;s written sixteen mystery novels, twelve featuring her 6'1" redheaded Boston private eye Carlotta Carlyle, and four featuring actor/detective Michael Spraggue, an amateur sleuth.

She was born and raised in Detroit, but graduated cum laude from Boston University's School of Fine and Applied Arts, then went on to become a drama teacher and director at Chelmsford and Lexington, Massachusetts schools.

Her bookshelves are not only full of books, but full of her honors. Barnes won the Anthony Award and nominations for both the Shamus Award and the American Mystery Award for Best Short Story for "Lucky Penny" in 1985. In 1987 she received the American Mystery Award for Best Private Eye Novel and nominations for the Edgar, Anthony, and Shamus awards for A Trouble of Fools. The Snake Tattoo was named one of the outstanding books of 1990 by The London Times.

HANK: Thanks for being here! I read in your bio that you were a drama teacher (if that can ever be completely past tense) and then I read your starred review in Publishers Weekly (nice). It says, in part "The story moves unhesitatingly from point to point, and each character encountered holds his or her space on the page with confidence and distinctiveness." That reminded me of what a director (or actor) would think about on stage.... How does your drama brain connect with your author brain?

LINDA: Good question! I was also an actress, a director, and a playwright, and still feel that I’m working as all three because there are so many connections between theater and mystery. Both are immediate; both have certain conventions that must be honored. When I begin to write, I start with voice. Once I hear the character, I visualize the character. Then I physicalize the character: how does he walk; what does she eat for breakfast; when does she smile and why. These are the same things I needed to know as an actress. My director self guides pacing. I still think in terms of exits, entrances, and beats. As a playwright, I got to assign the task of dressing the actors and describing the set to others. I miss them, and often long for a costumer and a set designer.

HANK: PW--can't resist quoting a bit--calls Lie Down with the Devil "utterly compelling." It's your twelfth Carlotta. Is it more difficult to be "compelling" on the 12th go-round? Or was it the toughest on number 1 when you created her in the first place? Or does a person who's "real" in your head--not ever get old?

LINDA: It’s always tough, Hank. It was tough at the beginning, and it’s tough now, but I try not to write about any of the less-than-compelling cases Carlotta accepts. And I guess the fact that I think that Carlotta has a life I don’t write about is a measure of how “real” she is in my head.

HANK: Yes-and on your website you even have an essay written by Carlotta. You had her talk about what she's most proud of? Can we ask you the same thing?

LINDA: I’m proud of Carlotta, my son, and my two nieces, who are like daughters to me. I’m proud that, through hectic days and frantic years, I’ve kept on writing. Too stubborn to quit.

HANK: I just met your son—he was wearing a college t-shirt because he knew everyone at the party would be asking him: Where are you going to college? So—he’s in Missouri now. And you’re in Massachusetts. What’s that like?

Wonderful and devastating. How terrific is it to know he’s ready to fly? I will miss everything about him, from his muddy footprints to the smell of his hair.

HANK: Do you remember your first day at college? Have your dreams changed?

LINDA: I wanted to be a great Shakespearean actress. I wanted to win an Oscar. Oh my God, I still do; I just haven’t finished the screenplay. . .

HANK: Oh, I wanted to be a Shakespearean actress, too. Viola. And Portia. But last question: what do you wish you had known when you started this mystery writing career? Lots of new and emerging authors are reading this...what can you tell us that you wish someone had told you?

LINDA: Someone did tell me. The late great Bill DeAndrea said, “You think your career will be like a staircase, every step going up. Listen: it’s really like a mountain range, highs and lows, highs and lows.” I pass his wisdom on to you.

Thanks, Linda. And we hope you sell piles of Lie Down with the Devil! And if you all missed it somehow, Heart of the World is now out in paperback!

And as always: please take the Jungle Red preference test!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Miss Marple.

Sex or violence?
Sex. A little violence.

Pizza or chocolate?

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)
Daniel Craig.

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

First person or Third Person?
Both. Either.

Prologue or no prologue?
No prologue.

Making dinner or making reservations?

And Finally: The Jungle Red Quiz:
Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess which one is fiction!

LINDA: I’m terrified of heights.
I tell my husband everything.
I’m more convincing when I lie than when I tell the truth.
I’m allergic to lobster.

HANK: "I’m more convincing when I lie than when I tell the truth?" Is this one of those riddles about foxes and people on an island? So that means, if this is the one that’s not true, then it is the one that is true?

PS! Come chat with Linda in person—she’s in the Hall of Famers panel (of course) at the always fantastic New England Crime Bake


  1. Gotta be "I tell my husband everything" -- because Linda's one of THE great mystery writers, and a major piece of the job description is being able to keep secrets. Welcome to Jungle Red!

  2. Linda, I love how your theater self guides your writing--what a wonderful synthesis of your gifts and experiences. And Bill DeAndrea's advice--so true, yet difficult to hear. Thanks for sharing it. I think I'm going to have it tattooed on my left arm so I won't forget it!

    Great interview!

  3. Hi Linda,
    Welcome to Jungle Red. I really, really hope you aren't allergic to lobster -- it would just be too sad.
    Congrats on the great review. I can't wait to read another Carlotta adventure.

  4. Should I be embarassed to admit I don't know this author either? Another book series discovered via a blog post - and authors still wonder if they should have a blog. Thanks for the info... must go put a book on hold at the library to get started on these. ;)


  5. Dani --
    You'll LOVE Carlotta! Glad you have now discovered her!

  6. I just finished LIE DOWN WITH THE DEVIL. In two days, which, since I'm no longer on vacation and my daughter starts school tomorrow, is a testament to the whole "can't put it down" aspect of the book. I've read all the Carlotta books, and I have to say this one truly stands out.