Laura Shea, a professor of English at Iona College, has her first cozy mystery with Cozy Cat Press coming out this fall. The story is the second in a series featuring detective Erica Duncan, a smart, honest woman transitioning from a career in academia into the world of theater. I caught up with Laura Shea to learn more about her reading influences, her favorite books, and what we can expect from her new novel.
Q: What inspired you to start writing mystery novels?
A: I grew up reading Nancy Drew, and I loved those kinds of books. And I read some mysteries along the way--I liked Amanda Cross, that kind of mystery. But it wasn’t until I was in graduate school and I was a TA in a course on mystery (it was a course that began with Oedipus Rex and then went on to Dickens’ Bleak House and then hard-boiled detectives and cozies) that I actually got interested in the idea of writing a mystery and one in an academic setting.
Q: How do you feel like your experience in academia have helped you write cozy mysteries? Did you draw on your own experiences when writing?
A: In some ways yes, though not literally. The people you meet who are faculty, the range of personalities, and also the types of issues that they have that maybe aren’t issues to other people, the whole publish-or-perish thing, influenced me, but the first book is definitely not a literal translation of my experience. I started teaching full-time in 1983 and before that I was in graduate school, so it reflects a lot of that [experience].
Q: What is your writing process? Do you have a schedule or a time of day you like to do your writing?
A: I don’t have a schedule. Most of the writing I do gets done in the summer. I think about it for a while and then sit down and write and I revise as I go. I’m not one of those people who writes a full draft. I revise as I go rather than writing the whole draft and going back.
Q: What books and authors inspire you? Have you taken any inspiration from other cozy mystery authors or other kinds of writing?
A: I don’t know that I have. One of the books I read recently is Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor, and I was really impressed by that. I think it was one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and what I liked about it was not just the fact that it’s a mystery, but it really shows the consequences of the death, and then you find out how the death happened at the end. I’m always more interested in why people do what they do. My novels are much more character-driven, although I would say that the way my writing has evolved, I’m more aware of plot, I mean, in mystery there has to be one, but I’m more interested in what people do, why they do it, what brought them to this point in their lives.
Q: How did you get the original idea for your last book? Was the process of writing that book different than your upcoming book?
A: For the first book, I’d definitely been ruminating on it for a while, slowly but surely. It didn’t come all at one time. I didn’t necessarily know where it was going to end up. With Murder at the People’s Theatre I knew the scene I wanted to write at the end. But with A Dying Fall, I knew the death, but I wasn’t sure how it would go and I did it piece by piece, putting it all together.
Q: When does the Murder at the People’s Theater come out?
A: Later his fall, but I’m not exactly sure what the date is.
Q: What else do you want to communicate to your readers?
A: The theatrical setting of the second book is interesting to people because it’s different from the first book, which is the world in which I live currently, but it’s interesting to see the detective in a different setting, one [academia] in which she’s really comfortable in that world, and one [theater] in which she’s not part of this world. Even in the first book she was an outsider looking in, whereas in this, she’s one step removed but still an outsider looking in.
Q: Did you write Erica’s character knowing she would be a strong female?
A: I don’t know that I was conscious of that, but I certainly wanted to make her that. She’s smart and she’s clever and she has a moral compass. She’s the moral compass in a place [academia] where they’re supposed to have and teach values.
Look out for Erica’s newest novel, Murder at the People’s Theater, this Fall.