A Conversation with Lana Waite, author of Buried In Burrywood
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 want to.
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 friends.
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 reading?
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 head.
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.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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