A Conversation with Lana Waite, author of Buried In
The town of Burrywood seems very real, as if it is based on an
actual place. Is there a Burrywood?
Burrywood was created entirely in my head but I hope there are
many towns just like it in this world, places where multi-generations stick
together, make their homes, and raise families. When I grew up in Seattle there
were about forty cousins close by. Family picnics were grand affairs. Vacation
trips included lots of playmates. Now the family is scattered. It takes an
important event to get everyone together. For instance, we planned a one
hundredth birthday party for my dad. For something that important people were
coming from Hawaii, California, and Arizona. Unhappily the date we had set was
ten days after 9/11. The celebration never happened. If wed all lived
together in a town like Burrywood the observance would have gone on as planned.
Why did you write about such a small town? And what do you like
most about Burrywood?
Small towns are cozy. Everyone knows everyone else very well
and, if they are lucky, everybody agrees to disagree. That means thateven
though opinions conflictdifferences are allowed, little things are
overlooked, and there are no warring factions. Burrywood is like that. It
sounds like Utopia, I know, but heyits my town. I can make it the way I
And the physical setting is special. The town is on the
waterfront facing Puget Sound. There is a landscaped railroad car diner on the
shore. There are fishing boats at the docks. Across the water are the
snow-covered and misty Olympic Mountains. The park is in the center of town, a
half-circle facing the water. Its surrounded by the newspaper office, the
drugstore, the police station, and the mansion, all of which are important to
the story. Its a wonderful place. Truly, I just love that town.
Where did you get your plot?
That is almost the first question people ask and I always have
to answer, "I dont know." When I first began writing in earnest I
joined writing groups. One of my first teachers insisted that we could not
write a story if we didnt know where it was going. In other words, she
thought we needed an outline. Well, I tried to write outlines but I couldnt
even outline a short story. I didnt know what was going to happen!
My savior was Tony Hillerman. Ive heard him talk several
times (and hes the most wonderful speaker on the craft of writing that I
have met) and on the first occasion he said he couldnt outline. He said he
even changed the murderer in one of his books several times. His words gave me
permission to write any way I could.
In my writing groups people wouldnt let me begin a book by
"setting the scene." Get right into the story, they insisted. O.K.,
fine! The next session I read the opening line of my first chapter"I
didnt get to kill him. He was already dead." And at that point, that
was absolutely all I knew about the book. I didnt know what
Burrywood looked like until I had Diana walk around there. I didnt have any
characters in my head until she met them in the town. I didnt even know
other people were going to get murdered. What an adventure!
Did you base the characters on people you know?
Thats another thing lots of people ask and the answer is
no. People who know me think Im Diana however.
Character names are important and often set the tone for a book.
How did you choose yours?
That was fun. The characters are all pretty definite types and
I picked names I thought went with their personalities. Winona was the oldest
and bossiest and she had an old-fashioned name. Ginger was the young, peppy
policewoman and her name just fit. Annie seemed like a good name for a small,
feisty, homeless woman. Amos sounded right for the Reverend. And Tolliver was
academic enough for an ex-principal. As I said, it was fun.
The reader gets involved with these characters. Are you going to
write more about them?
At the moment Im writing a book about other people in an
entirely different setting. This is partly because Im afraid another book
about Burrywood, from Dianas viewpoint, might be too much like the first. I
dont want to bore people.
But I can envision a Burrywood book with Annie as the
viewpoint character. I think it could be quite interestingshes sassy but
insightful and empatheticand shes pretty smart. Ginger, who sees town
life from the police point of view, might be a good protagonist too. Or
Winona, the mayor. Using various viewpoint characters in the same town for
successive books could be a unique idea.
There are quite a few murders in the book but its basically
cheerful. There are touches of humor in the story. Isnt that hard to achieve?
I think the tone of an authors book is often set by how she
views life. Im basically cheerful and optimistic. I like people who are
funny, who speak with wry humor. I like people who see the funny side of
things, who can forgive and forget, who dont carry around a load of anger.
I like to know, to read about, and to write about people with whom I could be
How long have you been writing?
Forever! Way back in grade school, if there was a class skit
to be given, I wrote it. No one asked me to, it was just automatic. But I got
pretty busy after I was married to a Navy man and it wasnt until our three
kids went to college that I began seriously trying to write books. My first
ones were awful!
Why did you choose mystery as your field? What do you most enjoy
Mysteries often tell the most straightforward story. In the
ones I most enjoy there isnt a whole lot of personal angst and
introspection. Theres not a great deal of description either. In Sue
Graftons books, for instance, she doesnt need to tell me what Kinsey
looks like. After a few paragraphs of listening to Kinsey talk, I know
what she looks liketo me.
The books I enjoy reading are about people I enjoy. Kinsey is
one. Dorothy Gilmans Mrs. Pollifax, Anne Georges two sisters books,
Robert Campbells Jimmy Flannery mysteries are all favorites of mine. They
are about nice, empathetic, smart people.
Why do you write in first person?
I think its the easiest way to get into a characters
What will we see from you next?
Its a book set in the mountains of California, The Madd
Mountain Murders. All new characters. I hope youll like them.