Monday, August 07, 2006

Lonnie Cruse: The Superwoman of Metropolis Mysteries on Her Town, Her Craft, and Global Warming

  Posted by PicasaHi, Lonnie. You and I have never met, but recently we agreed that if the heat continues to worsen every summer, we will leap off a cliff like Thelma and Louise (although you changed the cliff to sleeping pills, in your jammies). Do you think global warming is a reality, or just the myth that we’ve been told it is? How’s that for a first question?
Shriek! You’re blaming ME for global warming? I swear to you, I had nothing whatever to do with it. What? Oh, you just want my opinion on it? I’m not real happy with global warming at the moment. Our air conditioner is out. However, I said in February I wouldn’t complain about the heat in July, so I’m not complaining. Really. Wait! It’s August, you say? Murmur, mumble, gripe, complain, grit teeth. Yes, I think it IS a reality that our grandchildren will have to deal with. Hope they have a good air conditioner repairman.

You live in Metropolis, Illinois, home of Superman. Does this get annoying?
No, actually I love living here. We’ve been here about nine years. Metropolis is a small town, about seven thousand residents, everyone knows everyone else, not many secrets. I don’t have any secrets, so I listen to the secrets of others. Maybe I can adopt some? Paducah, Kentucky is only minutes away, across the Ohio River (we’re at the bottom of the state, right on the river’s edge) and we can get anything we need from a larger city over there. Then come back here to the peace and quiet. We do get a lot of tourists who stop to gawk at the statue. It used to drive us nuts because the 15 foot tall statue of Superman is located at the courthouse and points down our business street. People would stand in the middle of the street to take pictures and block traffic. Now there is a railing to stand inside, keeping us all separate. Cuts way down on the vehicular homicide count. We also have a huge, very ugly piece of kryptonite, and a Super Museum. Notice it isn’t Superman Museum. The owner isn’t allowed to use the Superman name. But when you look at it, you KNOW! It only drives me nuts if I’m trying to tell someone on the other side of the country where I live (usually an insurance company) and they mispronounce Metropolis. I mean, how many ways are there to say it?

I would have thought only one. :) You were born and raised in Las Vegas. Is it everything the movies make it out to be?
Mmmmm, yeah, it is. Both the movies now and in the forties and fifties. In the old black and whites, the downtown area is just like it was then. However, no cameras were allowed inside the casinos then, so they used sets. Modern movies show downtown and the Strip like they are now, BUSY! And no cars are allowed downtown now, only pedestrians. I think that’s sad, but it’s progress. Growing up there in the fifties, my friends and I often saw movie stars here and there. And tourists fainting from the heat (Hellloooo, it’s 120 degrees in the shade there, and there ain’t no shade!) We used to hop on a bus and ride the entire Strip highway for fifty cents, just for fun, and to people-watch. Probably can’t do that now. Vegas is growing by about a million people a year. Whew. Glad I’m not there. I still have friends there, but rarely get to visit. I’m more a small town person.

Who's the coolest movie star you and your friends saw?
Most were seen and admired from afar. I'd have to say Hoagie Charmichael was my favorite. He was appearing at a lounge in a Las Vegas hotel, and he sang Happy Birthday to me. I was around six or seven. And if anyone doesn't know who he is, check out TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT with Bogart and Bacall. He's the piano player.

Let’s talk about your mysteries. You have several series, the first of which is your Metropolis series, featuring Sheriff Joe Dalton. How did you come up with the idea for these mysteries?
I got the idea for the Metropolis series when our grandson was two. He kept begging us to take him to see the Superman statue. I’d watch him play on it and think how Mom/home/apple pie downtown Metropolis is. And what a great place to dump a dead body. No one else seemed to think of it, so I had to do it myself. The series took off, particularly with anyone who’s ever lived here or visited. The first was titled MURDER IN METROPOLIS, the second is MURDER BEYOND METROPOLIS, and set in the next small town from us, Brookport. The third, which I launched last Saturday, is MARRIED IN METROPOLIS, and features a murder at a wedding reception. I threw a reception at the Metropolis Public Library (lovely place, lovely staff) complete with cake and punch (boy, I hope Beverly can get the punch out of the tablecloth!) The turnout was great and I sold a bunch of books. The fourth, MALICE IN METROPOLIS is completed and due out next spring. I have started a second series, also set in Metropolis, but with new characters, Kitty and Jack Bloodworth, owners of a hot ’57 Chevy, who find a dead body in the trunk when they take the car to a contest. That is a fun series, to be published by the Five Star mystery line next year, and I’m mid-way through the second.

On your website there are several shots of you shooting a gun. You look pretty good. Was this research, or were you just mad at your husband?Actually my hubby taught me to shoot first, so I was able to shoot with world famous firearms expert Massad Ayoob and not embarrass myself. I really enjoyed that day because he and his group had a ton of firearms to practice with. I confess, I did wimp out at the largest gun, (scared of the kick-back) but my friend, author Chris Freeburn, was in the Army, and she tackled it without a whimper. Then I took the Citizen’s Police Academy class in Paducah, and they had firearms practice as well. I love shooting. I think the reason many people, women in particular, hate firearms is because they’ve never shot one. If you are familiar with them, they aren’t nearly as scary.

What was the Citizens’ Police Academy? Was this good research for your book?
Well, that’s the story I officially tell, but as a Cops fan, I was dying to visit a police department, take the classes, and do the ride along. Meaning I’d have begged to join even if I didn’t write procedural mysteries. But anything like that becomes research for a book. Since I knew nothing about law enforcement when I began writing, I did a lot of research so Dalton would be believable. It helps that I have three cops (two Paducah, one Metropolis) willing to answer questions, not to mention the coroner and the sheriff.

You write more than one series. It’s been asked on DorothyL whether or not it was difficult not to mix details from one series with those of another. Do you find this problematic?
Very problematic. Not details so much as phrases that the characters use. I don’t want Kitty Bloodworth to sound like a six foot tall, well over two hundred pound sheriff, and I don’t want Dalton to be too in touch with his feminine side. So I have to watch that carefully. And setting both series in the same town can lull me into that. I admire author Jean Hagar because her B&B series is so different from her series featuring Native American characters that you wouldn’t know the same author wrote them if she used a pseudonym.

Tell us about your new series book, Fifty-Seven Heaven.
Kitty and Jack Bloodworth are baby boomers who own a fully restored Fifty-Seven Chevy and Jack wins trophies every time he enters “Sadie” in a contest. But when he takes her to nearby Paducah one early Saturday morning for a car show/contest and opens the trunk, he and Kitty discover the body of her extremely irritating cousin stuffed in there. They figure someone they know (and love?) killed her, so they start investigating. They have to deal with Jack’s cancer and an attack on Kitty by the killer. My books are on the cozy, funny side, but I do deal with tough issues in them. I’d like my readers to think, but to laugh as well.

On your website you give writing advice, and you sum up by saying, “I have stories to tell, and I want to tell them.” What other stories do you have percolating?I’m currently writing about Jack and Kitty in Pigeon Forge, TN, at a car show, and dealing with a new murder that Jack might be accused of. I love visiting Pigeon Forge, so writing the book is fun. I’ve finished the next in the Metropolis Mystery Series, so I need to either write the fifth (have an idea, not sure if it’s what I’ll go with) and I have an idea for a third in the Kitty Bloodworth, ’57 series. Body in a barn. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

You also mention that in your research you “spent some time with the coroner.” Was this as unpleasant as it sounds?Well, he’s young, tall, blonde, and a hunk. He also loves discussing blood spatter patterns in detail. My advice? Don’t eat right before your appointment with him. He’s been a huge help, and his lovely wife, Sandy, is a sweetheart. She’d bought all of my books because they feature a coroner as a minor character. Not based on our coroner, but his technical advice is priceless.

You’ve pointed out that selling a book is “the real work” after the writing is done. What tips do you have for selling books?Be nice. Authors are selling themselves as much or more than their books. People won’t buy books from snooty authors. Get to know people both online in reader’s/writer’s groups, and in your home area. Give back. I got a ton of help/suggestions when working on my first book. Now I try to give a leg up to authors lower on the ladder to success than I am (and I’m still only a rung or two up, but climbing, climbing, climbing.) Contribute to discussions about books other than your own, don’t just talk about yourself. Things like that. When the book comes out, set up signings everywhere you can. Not just book stores (which don’t do all that well anyhow) but reader’s groups, senior citizens groups, Krogers, Wal-Mart, libraries, etc. And remember, the librarian is your best friend.

Aside from the Super Museum, what are the other highlights of Metropolis, for those of us who might like to vacation there?Well, there is a large river to boat on, fish in, etc. Shawnee Forest is nearby, great places to hike, picnic, camp, etc. Beyond Paducah is the Land Between the Lakes area, more hiking, fishing, camping. Antique stores in Paducah. Mall, movie houses, shopping, etc. in Paducah. And then there’s always me here in Metropolis. I’ll meet you for pie and coffee at a local restaurant and sell you a book. What day is good for you?

Let’s wait till that heat fades. :)

What are you reading right now?
JUST finished THE MURDER ROOM by P. D. James, first of hers I’ve read. Now into SNOBBERY WITH VIOLENCE by Marion Chesney. Great book. I adore anything by Bill Crider, Tony Hillerman, Anne Perry, Ann George, and so on. I read a lot of different books. Also do a daily Bible reading and I try to read a bit of a book on writing every day, but I’ve fallen behind on the writing one. Haven’t had a chance to read yours and I want a signed copy. What ARE you going to do about that?

Okay, I can take a hint. What does your family think of your mystery writing career?
My hubby, Don is very supportive and proud of me. That is such a help, I can’t even express it. He goes on most signings with me. My sons are proud, if a bit surprised because I didn’t write my first mystery until they’d all left home. My grandsons know I write books and they come to the signings, so they know other people READ grandma’s books, but I think they are too young to realize what published means. It means the world to me.

Thanks for chatting, Lonnie!

Thank you, this was great fun.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Something else we have in common Lonnie! My husband taught me to shoot a gun as well, although I doubt I'm anywhere near as good as you. I hit the target a few times...

Julia Buckley said...

Okay . . . I might have to cancel the lunch I was planning with you two gun-totin' gals. :)

Lonnie Cruse said...

I promise to leave my gun at home. Sigh.

I asked for a Glock last Christmas but Santa was not amused.

Thanks for interviewing me!

Julia Buckley said...

I wonder how many Glock requests Santa gets nowadays. :)

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