Monday, December 04, 2006

Gail Lukasik on Poisonous Mushrooms, Vulnerable Heroines, and How the Plot Determines the Murder

Hi, Gail! Thanks for chatting with me.

Your book, Destroying Angels, has gotten terrific reviews. It’s your first novel; was there anything in particular that prompted you to write it?
I started writing Destroying Angels at the suggestion of my son, Chris, who said, “Mom, you’re always reading mysteries--why don’t you try writing one?” I’d been reading mysteries for years, but had never thought about writing a mystery. My son’s suggestion intrigued me. So I decided to create a female sleuth who was tough, female and vulnerable. That’s why I made Leigh Girard a breast cancer survivor—I wanted her to be vulnerable.

The destroying angels are actually poisonous mushrooms. What sort of research did you have to do for this book?
I did quite a bit of research. At the time I started writing DESTROYING ANGELS, I was taking a class on mushrooms through the Lake County Forest Preserves. One of the instructors said that sometimes people mistake a poisonous mushroom for a harmless one. So that planted a seed. I also interviewed our county coroner concerning the physical symptoms of mushroom poisonings. For the two scenes involving bow and arrow hunting, I interviewed a bow and arrow hunter.

Interesting! The first victims in this book are an “amateur naturalist” and a local librarian. This in itself is intriguing to me. Were these people marked for death by the plot itself, or did you have other reasons for wanting to kill them off?
The amateur naturalist was marked for death from the beginning. The death of the local librarian came out of the writing. I’m a very organic writer, which means I have an idea about the crime and several suspects in mind when I first start writing, but all the rest, including the murderer, comes out of the writing. What I try to do is make the act of writing an act of discovery for me.

Your writing is very poetic. Did you start out your writing career composing poetry?

Yes, I’ve been a published poet for about 25 years. My poems have appeared in over 60 literary journals, such as The Georgia Review, Carolina Quarterly and The Illinois Review. My book of poems, Landscape Toward a Proper Silence, was published by Eye of the Comet Press. In 2002, the Illinois Arts Council gave me a literary award for my poem, “In Country.”

You danced with the Cleveland Civic Ballet. Do you see parallels between dancing and writing?
What an interesting question. The parallels I see are probably the same parallels with any art—discipline, creativity, and structure. But specifically between dancing and writing, I’d say the sense of movement. In dance you have to know how to fill the space on the stage while moving to the music. And in writing it’s the same process. You’re filling the page with words that have their own rhythm in relationship to the other words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters.

That's a neat distinction. You have a Ph.D—is it in writing or literature? Or both?
My Ph.D. is in English with a specialization in Creative Writing/Poetry.

Do you still teach?
I do. Since 2002, when I left the University of Illinois at Chicago where I’d been teaching, I’ve been doing writing workshop at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest. I also conduct my own writing workshops for adult students. I get a great deal of satisfaction from teaching, because I help other writers develop their skills.

You live in Libertyville, Illinois. What’s notable about this town?
The most notable thing I know about Libertyville is that Marlon Brando lived here at one time.

Stella! Sorry. It had to be done. :)

What sorts of promotion have you done for Destroying Angels?
Everything!! Since April I’ve done about 40 events, including signings, readings, presentations and workshops at libraries, bookstores, schools, and conferences. I’ve also done radio and television. I was fortunate to be interviewed on WBEZ-NPR Chicago in August and to appear on WLUK FOX 11 – Good Day Wisconsin in Green Bay, WI. It’s been a tremendous learning experience for me.

What takes up most of your time these days?
Writing, reading, exercising, family, and my part-time job.

What would be an ideal day for you?
I’m at the computer by 9 a.m. and the words just flow all day.


I hear you. I understand you have just celebrated the birth of a grandchild--a boy. You look a bit too young for this! I assume he is your first?
Actually, the newest grandchild is my second. My first granddaughter is now 2 ½ years old.

Congratulations on the baby boy!

What do you like to read?
I’m pretty eclectic in my reading—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

How can readers find out more about you and your novels?
They can visit my Web site at http://www.gaillukasik.com/. They can read an excerpt from DESTROYING ANGELS and read about the second book in the series, DEATH’S DOOR.

Thanks for the interview, Gail!







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