Interview with Lynda Fitzgerald
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Lynda Fitzgerald about her new novel, “LIVE Ammo.”
Lynda Fitzgerald is a mystery author, teacher and speaker. Her debut novel, “If Truth Be Told,” was released in June, 2007. “Of Words & Music,” her second, came out in March 2009, and her mystery series, LIVE, was launched in spring 2010 with the release of “LIVE Ringer.” “LIVE Ammo” followed in 2012, with “LIVE in Person” due out in early spring 2013.
Tyler: Welcome, Lynda. I’m excited to interview you about “LIVE Ammo.” Will you tell us a little about your main character for the LIVE series before we delve into this particular novel?
Lynda: Thanks, Tyler. My main series character is Allie Grainger, a former journalist who returns to Cape Canaveral after a disastrous six-year marriage. Allie has lost most of her self-confidence and is shell-shocked at the death of her favorite aunt. She and Sheriff Cord Arbutten, who is suspected of murder in the second book, barely know one another at the beginning of the series. Their only link is through Allie’s deceased aunt, who worked for the sheriff for over twenty years as a civilian dispatcher. In the first book in the series, “LIVE Ringer,” they forge an uneasy truce. No, I’m not going to tell you why it’s uneasy. That would spoil the fun. I can tell you that Allie would never think about getting involved in the murder/suicide if her best friend Sheryl, a sheriff’s deputy, didn’t plead with her to look into it. I can tell you she gets a lot more than she bargains for.
Tyler: The crime and the investigation in “LIVE Ammo” all center on the Arbutten family. Will you tell us a little about them—father, mother, and son?
Lynda: I have to confess, Cord Arbutten is modeled after my grandfather, who was a beat cop in Tampa, Florida when I was a girl. I remember him being gruff but gentle, at least with his grandkids, but I hear he was a tough cop. I never saw that side of him. He was a strong, fiercely independent man, even after he was blinded in the line of duty. Cord is a lot like him: strong, determined, and not to be fooled with. Mrs. Sheriff, Jean, came from a poor background. Her mother never married, and Jean never knew for sure who fathered her. Now that she’s the wife of a well-respected sheriff, she’s a bit of a social climber. Rand, the son, was never close to his father. He’s grown and an attorney, now, but childhood has a way of holding us in its grip even when we grow up. Of course, Allie knows none of this when the book begins.
Tyler: When Rand’s mother is found dead, what reasons does he have to think his mother was murdered by his father, rather than that she committed suicide?
Lynda: Rand has excellent reasons. According to his mother, Cord has been seeing another woman for years and is now demanding a divorce so he can “go live with his floozy.” She also told Rand that the sheriff threatened to kill her if she refuses to divorce him.
Tyler: Will you tell us a little of the backstory? Why does Rand hate his father?
Lynda: As in a lot of families, the relationships are colored by misunderstanding and miscommunication. The young Rand was spoiled by his mother and was headed for trouble, so the sheriff dumped his fanny in a military school. Rand hated him for that and, as Cord tells Allie, after that, they never connected. So grown-up Rand knows little more than what his mother has told him.
Tyler: Although murder is never pleasant, I love that this is a family story of a father and son both involved in the mother’s murder investigation. Where did you come up with such a great idea?
Lynda: You know, when I plot a novel, I have a general idea of the beginning and usually know―or think I know―the resolution. My challenge is to get from cover to cover smoothly. I knew the characters of this story and what they were capable of, and I knew what I wanted the outcome of the story to be. This plot evolved out of that. And let’s face it, when a person is murdered, police always look first at the spouse, even if he’s a high-ranking cop.
Tyler: A couple of women are also involved in the investigation—Allie and Sheryl. I know Allie is the main character in the series, but what can you tell us about her friendship with Sheryl and how she gets involved in investigating the murder?
Lynda: Two of my favorite women. Allie and Sheryl are life-long best friends. Allie’s Aunt Lou lived in Cape Canaveral all her life, and Allie spent every summer with her. Back in those days, Sheryl was a neighbor and Allie’s playmate. When Lou died, she left Allie her beach house and a bunch of money, a wonderful point of contention with Allie’s family. Her friend Sheryl is a Sheriff’s deputy, and because she worked with Lou for years, she made it her personal mission to look after Lou’s house until Allie came back to claim her inheritance. How they reunited is hilarious, and no, I won’t tell you.
Tyler: I understand the Sheriff also has a deputy who takes his side, named Sidney Finch. How does he fit into the story and maybe complicate matters?
Lynda: Oh, dear Sidney. He was Sheryl and Allie’s childhood nemesis, also a neighbor back in the early years. Sidney is, according to them, a sneaky worm and a bully. Sidney worships the sheriff. Why he feels that way is entirely another story. Geesh, I’m holding a lot close to the vest, aren’t I?
Tyler: That’s all right, Lynda. We don’t want to give anything away, but I’m very intrigued that Sidney, Allie, and Sheryl all go way back into childhood. What made you decide to have all this back story history for the characters?
Lynda: I write character-driven fiction, so the characters are vital to the story. Like real people, they have families and lives separate from the main plot of a novel. By delving into their backgrounds, I give the readers clues as to what motivates them in their relationships today. I spend a lot of time developing my characters, although they change and grow in sometimes unpredictable ways as the stories progress. That’s half the fun of writing fiction. I never know what will happen next.
Tyler: Lynda, will you tell us a little about the first book in the series, “LIVE Ringer,” and whether it should be read first?
Lynda: I think “LIVE Ammo” can stand on its own, but I think it’s richer if you read “LIVE Ringer” first. “LIVE Ringer” covers the first six months when Allie returns to Cape Canaveral after her marriage breaks up, and it gives you a deeper sense of the characters. I hope anyone who reads “LIVE Ammo” first will go back and read the first one. Otherwise, you’ll never get to know Joe and Rupert and a few others.
Tyler: What do you think makes “LIVE Ammo” stand out from other mystery or crime novels?
Lynda: “LIVE Ammo”―actually the whole LIVE series―is quick and funny. It’s driven by interesting characters. It’s not full of gratuitous violence or sex, so if you’re looking for that, I’m not the author for you. I think strong characterization sets one book apart from others. I’ve read a lot of books with great plots and not so great characters, and I always come away from them feeling…incomplete, like I missed something in the encounter. It’s not that my plots are weak. It’s just that they serve the characters instead of the other way around. When you close the back cover on any of my books, I want you to feel you truly know the people you just read about. From what readers tell me, I’ve managed to do that.
Tyler: Will you tell us about the third book in the series that I know you have planned, and will that be it, or will more books follow?
Lynda: The third in the series, “LIVE in Person,” is already written. I had a lot of fun with that one. The things I do to Allie and Sheryl! I know there will be at least three more in the series after that because I’ve already plotted them. After that, who knows?
Tyler: One comment our Reader Views reviewer Olivera made about “LIVE Ammo” was that she loves the way you describe Florida in your novels. How important would you say Florida as the setting is for you?
Lynda: I may live in Georgia, but I was born in Florida, and I’m down in Brevard County several times a year. In the LIVE series particularly, the location is another character in the book. I love Florida, especially the beach along the east central coast. I’m never more alive than when I’m down there. I know that comes across in my books. I’ve gotten emails and letters from all over the world from people who say my words bring their own Florida experiences back to them. I love being able to do that.
Tyler: Are you working on anything else right now, or are you focusing on the LIVE series?
Lynda: Actually, I’ve just finished a stand-alone mystery called “Winter Kill,” which is set in Minnesota, real change from central Florida. I based “Winter Kill” on a one-inch newspaper article I read twenty-five years ago about the unclaimed body of a young boy who was found in the snow. The article haunted me, and finally I had to write it.
Tyler: What do you mean by ‘haunted’? And do you ever feel overwhelmed, disturbed, or frightened by your own creation of murders? Does the writing ever become too grisly for you?
Lynda: I don’t write grisly scenes. I don’t enjoy reading them, so I don’t subject my readers to them. You can get a lot across to the reader without being overly graphic about the blood and gore.
What I meant about being haunted by the newspaper article is that I tried to figure out how someone could do that to a child―kill him and throw him out in the snow. Where were his parents? Were they the killers? Was he kidnapped? Why didn’t anyone step forward to claim his body? Who, in this scenario, would be his champion? That kind of thing. I wrote a short-story about it when I was in college, and it won me a creative writing scholarship. That was fine, but in the story, I pretty much presented the scenario and did a quick resolution. I didn’t get into the how or why such a thing could happen, and the story wouldn’t let me go. Once I finished writing “Winter Kill,” I felt a welcome sense of closure.
Tyler: You mentioned that “Winter Kill” is set in Minnesota. Did you visit there or do a lot of research so that the place became important for that book as well? Whether or not you did, do you think it’s important for a writer to visit the place, or can you get away with researching the area on the Internet?
Lynda: I lived in Minneapolis for a few years when I was young. Although I have few memories of the area, it was the perfect place to set “Winter Kill.” The snow, the cold, the harshness and remoteness of rural Minnesota are all crucial to the story. I did a huge amount of research for the book, some of it on the Internet, but a great deal of it was done by interviewing people who lived much of their lives in Minnesota. I had to learn about speech patterns and snowmobiles and thermal clothing and snowmelt and a million other things a Florida girl would know nothing about. The research was fun. The challenge is to include only what you need in your fiction. Too much, no matter how interesting it may be to the author, tends to slow the story down.
I think it’s a good idea to visit your setting if you can. That’s why I spend so much time in Florida. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) But a trip to Minnesota wasn’t possible, so I had to rely on research and the stories of my “northern” friends. And a hearty thanks to them all.
Tyler: What do you find most difficult about writing a mystery novel?
Lynda: That’s a tough one, but I think I’d have to say it’s the pacing. You have to move your plot forward quickly, but you have to give your readers time to catch their breath between crises.
The hardest thing about writing a series is totally different. I’ve talked to a lot of mystery writers, and all of us agree the biggest challenge in writing a series is knowing how much of the previous book to give away in the next one. If you give away too little, your readers are confused about the characters; but if you give too much backstory, readers who read the previous book first get impatient with you. It’s a precarious balancing act, and I think we all struggle with it.
Tyler: What is it about writing a mystery novel that appeals to you so much, and do you think it’s the same reason why it appeals to readers?
Lynda: Yes, absolutely. I’m a huge mystery reader. I love how mysteries unfold. I look forward to the clues and even the red herrings, those false clues that lead us in the wrong direction. It’s the same when I’m writing a mystery. Even though the story is loosely outlined, I’m always surprised by turns of events that had nothing to do with the original story line. Pursuing them is a bit like reading a mystery. You never know where they’ll take you, and I love the journey.
Tyler: Thank you, again, Lynda, for the opportunity to interview you today. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about “LIVE Ammo”?
Lynda: Sure. You can get to the site either by typing www.lyndafitzgerald.com or www.fitzgeraldwrites.com. There’s lots of information there about all my recent books, as well as story lines and sample chapters from each book. I hate buying a book without an idea of the author’s writing style, and I don’t want readers to buy one of mine not knowing if they like the way I write. I’d also like to mention that all my books are now in e-book form as well as hardback or paperback.
Oh, and I forgot to say that there are lots of pictures of Brevard County, the setting for the LIVE series, on the website, and pictures of my wonderful fur family.
It was fun talking with you, Tyler. Thanks for your time.
Tyler: Thank you, Lynda. I wish you much luck with all the many “LIVE” novels to come.