Lana Waite Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

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Lana Waite

An interview with Lana Waite

Lana Waite talks with BookBrowse about the fun she had creating the town of Burrywood - the fictional but idyllic setting for her first murder mystery book - and the people that inhabit it.

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 we’d 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 that—even though opinions conflict—differences are allowed, little things are overlooked, and there are no warring factions. Burrywood is like that. It sounds like Utopia, I know, but hey—it’s 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. It’s surrounded by the newspaper office, the drugstore, the police station, and the mansion, all of which are important to the story. It’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t know where it was going. In other words, she thought we needed an outline. Well, I tried to write outlines but I couldn’t even outline a short story. I didn’t know what was going to happen!

My savior was Tony Hillerman. I’ve heard him talk several times (and he’s the most wonderful speaker on the craft of writing that I have met) and on the first occasion he said he couldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 didn’t get to kill him. He was already dead." And at that point, that was absolutely all I knew about the book. I didn’t know what Burrywood looked like until I had Diana walk around there. I didn’t have any characters in my head until she met them in the town. I didn’t even know other people were going to get murdered. What an adventure!

Did you base the characters on people you know?
That’s another thing lots of people ask and the answer is no. People who know me think I’m 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 I’m writing a book about other people in an entirely different setting. This is partly because I’m afraid another book about Burrywood, from Diana’s viewpoint, might be too much like the first. I don’t want to bore people.

But I can envision a Burrywood book with Annie as the viewpoint character. I think it could be quite interesting—she’s sassy but insightful and empathetic—and she’s 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 it’s basically cheerful. There are touches of humor in the story. Isn’t that hard to achieve?
I think the tone of an author’s book is often set by how she views life. I’m 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 don’t 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 wasn’t 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 isn’t a whole lot of personal angst and introspection. There’s not a great deal of description either. In Sue Grafton’s books, for instance, she doesn’t need to tell me what Kinsey looks like. After a few paragraphs of listening to Kinsey talk, I know what she looks like—to me.

The books I enjoy reading are about people I enjoy. Kinsey is one. Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax, Anne George’s two sisters books, Robert Campbell’s Jimmy Flannery mysteries are all favorites of mine. They are about nice, empathetic, smart people.

Why do you write in first person?
I think it’s the easiest way to get into a character’s head.

What will we see from you next?
It’s a book set in the mountains of California, The Madd Mountain Murders. All new characters. I hope you’ll 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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