WRR 4.4 1 AUGUST 2007
Murder, He Wrote
An Interview with Jeff Markowitz
His latest book, published in 2006, is a story seen through the eyes of a tabloid journalist named Cassie O’Malley. In A Minor Case of Murder, a young woman dies at the Sand Skeeter Ball Park during the last game of the season. Was it murder or simply an unfortunate accident? Andy MacTavish, owner of the minor league baseball team and Cassie’s recent romantic interest, asks her for help. The amateur detective finds herself in the midst of yet another mystery.
Murder, he wrote, indeed! A Minor Case of Murder is an exciting and fun return to Doah Township after Markowitz’s first novel, Who is Killing Doah’s Deer?
Jeff Markowitz approaches the mystery genre with a rare and refreshing sense of humor, bringing his readers on a journey through an entertaining world where his characters are intelligent, fun, and wonderfully lovable.
WRR: How did you think of Cassie O’Malley?
My inspiration for the first Cassie O’Malley Mystery was not the character; it was the time and place. The time? The hour before the sun comes up. The place? A back road in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. But I do hear from readers sometimes who are surprised that the central character in my book is female. Writers routinely put themselves inside their character’s head.
As readers, we accept without question, when the writer adopts the perspective of a savage killer, a medieval king, a child studying at a school for witchcraft, the list of examples is endless, but we seem to have trouble believing that a man can write a female character. Are women that much harder to understand than serial killers? (Please put down your weapon before answering).
WRR: I should hope that women are easier to understand than serial killers. Oh, and I don’t have a weapon... Anyway, it’s interesting that you should bring that up. Why do you think it is that the majority of mystery writers seem to be women?
Is that true? That most mystery writers are women? I don’t know whether they are in the majority, but there certainly are a lot of female mystery writers (and, for that matter, a lot of female mystery readers). And there happen to be more than a few very successful female writers in the mystery genre who started out as romance writers. So, to answer your question, I have no idea.
WRR: What drew you to write in this genre? Is it the thrill and the excitement of, shall we say, “finding” dead bodies everywhere?
When I began writing the first Cassie O’Malley Mystery, I really didn’t know that I was writing a murder mystery until Cassie found the dead body. Now that I write murder mysteries, I do see dead bodies most everywhere that I go. And it is great, good fun. But a very wise reader of murder mysteries (who happens to be my wife) once told me that readers of mysteries, especially readers of mystery series, keep returning, not for the dead body, but for the sleuth. The story that I am writing is Cassie’s story. The murder mystery is merely the vehicle to tell her story.
WRR: Have you always written mysteries?
I started writing mysteries just a few years ago and now, in the last three years, I’ve written three books, so I guess I was supposed to be a mystery writer. But I wrote my first book-length manuscript almost thirty years ago. I describe that book as a modern Buddhist parable, influenced heavily by the five-hundred-year-old Chinese folk novel, Monkey, and On the Road, by Jack Kerouac.
WRR: Are there any writers that have greatly influenced your career?
I have had a lifelong love affair with books ever since I discovered Dr. Seuss. I have probably read And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street more times than any other book. And Dr. Seuss is still on my list of favorite authors. (I’m especially fond of The Seven Lady Godivas). Authors who have had a more direct impact on me as a writer (as opposed to as a reader) would include Tom Robbins, Thomas Berger, and Kurt Vonnegut.
WRR: What was it that influenced you to begin to write?
When I was in high school, I worked on the school paper and I liked to read the columnists in the major newspapers. And the best of them all, without question, was Art Buchwald. I can clearly remember a point in high school when I began to think that I wanted to be Art Buchwald when I grew up. But, in truth, I never did anything to prepare myself to become a world-famous newspaper columnist and political satirist, so perhaps it is inaccurate to say that Art Buchwald influenced me to write.
The book that motivated me to write fiction would have to be Another Roadside Attraction, by Tom Robbins. When the book was released, I was amazed... by the characters... by the plot... by the rhythm of the story telling... but mostly by the author’s voice, unlike anyone I had read before.
WRR: Other than your writing, what are your other interests and how have they affected your novels?
I’m a big fan of jazz and blues. Cassie seems to have inherited my love of jazz. But jazz is more than just a part of the central character. There is a rhythm to writing prose. Getting that rhythm right is essential for me. When I’m writing well, I’m thinking jazz.
WRR: So, Cassie inherited your love of jazz. Now that we know how that entered into your novel, could you tell us how you were inspired to center the plot around baseball?
Over the last few years, I have become a fan of minor league baseball. The modest ballparks, intimate in their design, the small-town ambience, local fans who can afford at minor league prices to become regulars, the young men on the roster playing for a chance to realize their dreams, and the ex- big leaguers, trying to hang on. There is something cozy about minor league baseball. And though I didn’t set out specifically to write a cozy story, I do think the book captures something of the feel of a cozy mystery.
WRR: The writing career that you’ve made for yourself is something that other writers often dream about. What do you think is the most difficult aspect about writing and publishing mysteries?
To stop dreaming about it and do it. Which, for me, means getting up at 5:30 every morning. Only a very few authors support themselves by writing. Most have day jobs, myself included. I’m fortunate to have a day job that I am passionate about. But if I am going to write and market and do all of the other things that go into being a published author, I have to do them at 5:30 in the morning. Every morning.
WRR: Lastly, what piece of advice would you give to all of those people out there who aspire to be published authors?
The first time I thought seriously about becoming a published author it was 1988. At the time, I knew nothing about what that entailed, so I bought a copy of the Writer’s Handbook. There was an essay in the handbook by Stephen King entitled, “Everything You Need to Know about Writing Successfully in Ten Minutes.” I don’t remember everything that Stephen King said, but I do remember the first thing. Be talented, he said. And I guess that’s pretty good advice from a pretty successful author. If I could add anything (and maybe he said this too), it would be to get up at 5:30 in the morning.