Note: Lia Farrell is the pen name of mother/daughter writing team. Lyn Farquhar, (mom, on right) and Lisa Fitzsimmons, (daughter on right), co-write The Mae December Mysteries. Name a few fictional characters that had an impact on you early in life.
Lyn’s response: I learned to read at the age of 4 and cannot ever remember not reading. One of the first characters I felt an affinity for with was Piglet from the Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne. Piglet is the victim of constant fearfulness. He is invariably the underdog and needs rescuing by Pooh who is stalwart and sweet.
Lisa’s response: My favorite literary character during my childhood was Harriet the Spy from the book by Louise Fitzhugh.
Who is your favorite fictional detective? Lisa: My favorite fictional detective is Armand Gamache from the overwhelmingly popular books by Louise Penny.
Lyn: My favorite fictional detective is a half-Aboriginal Australian named Napoleon Bonaparte in mysteries by Arthur Upfield. Boney, as he prefers to be called, is renowned for always getting his man, but is influenced by the motive for the crime and wants young love to succeed. In one book, he allows the murderer to escape unpunished because the murder was done in self-defense and was righteous.
One important issue in murder mysteries is justice. In your own words, what is justice?
Justice is required in murder mysteries. Although it is the province of the courts and not of law enforcement, it is the police who investigate the crimes, so they have a profound impact on who comes to court. We believe justice should be equal parts righteousness and compassion. The innocence project and the movement for restorative justice are critical alternatives to incarceration, as is the importance of social justice. Social justice for women who killed their husbands after decades of abuse is one of the themes in our book “Three Dog Day”.
Do you write this element into your books? We do. It would be difficult to find a book that didn’t have an element of justice within its pages whether it’s a murder mystery or a romance. Readers as well as characters demand it.
Describe your decision to join a writers’ group. Lyn’s response: When Lyn finally made the decision to start writing after retirement from the University, she began with a four-book YA fantasy series called “Tales of the Skygrass Kingdom” which grew out of bedtime stories she made up and told her little granddaughter. When unable to acquire a traditional publisher for the series, she self-published.
Afterwards, Lyn joined the MSU Creative Writers group, which she now chairs in the hope that it would help achieve the goal of becoming traditionally published. And whether it was coincidence or not, Lyn and Lisa were successful in obtaining a literary agent and a traditional publisher for the Mae December mysteries. What did you study in college? Lyn’s response: I earned my B.A. in English, and afterwards was admitted directly to the Ph.D. program. I completed a year in the program before life and love intervened. At the time, I was divorced with two very young children. I fell in love with a man who had six children. Knowing I would need to support a large family, I completed a Master’s degree and took a position at the University with the medical school. It was only after my retirement that I was able to return to my original goal of writing.
Lisa’s response: I attended MSU and chose a tri-emphasis program with concentration in Fine Art, Art History and Interior Design. I have worked for a number of years as a muralist and designer in Tennessee. For a time, I was the design half of a “new build” business. In that job I chose all the interior colors and surfaces for the houses. I also have done interior and exterior design for other businesses. I have always enjoyed creative expression, and writing is a natural extension of that for me.
What do you appreciate about research? Although we write fiction, which isn’t bound by a rigid set of facts, it must still be true to life. And murder mysteries in particular require adherence to police procedure and investigative techniques. Research has been invaluable in getting our stories right. Most writers rely too heavily on the internet, forgetting that much of what is put on the net is junk. We use the net every day and appreciate its worth, but are very careful about our sources. We also rely on professionals in their respective fields. In our series this has involved lawyers, social justice advocates, psychologists and police officers who have been very generous with advice.
What does it mean to plot from the POV of the antagonist and write from theperspective of the protagonist? We find this piece of advice hugely important and wish we had known it when we first started writing. We consider the Mae December mysteries to be a “why done it” rather than a “who done it.” The big 3 components to a murder are the perpetrator having means, motive and opportunity. In our books, the motive is the most important. If we don’t know the reasons our perpetrators commit their crimes, we won’t know how to guide our detectives and help them solve the mystery. The antagonist drives the story—especially at the beginning. It’s up to the protagonist to solve the mystery, but if the author doesn’t know how or why the antagonist did what he did, the story won’t be believable and the reader won’t be satisfied. Neither will the authors.