Monday, June 11, 2012

Get Outta Town!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I brought a friend for coffee! Or tea.. Or, wine, depending on when you're reading this. Rosemary Harris--one of my very first friends in writing world--is gorgeous, talented, hilarious, successful,  has a darling husband (with whom she founded a library in Tanzania ),a darling golden retriever, and knows all the words to every Broadway muscial.. Her fourth book, the sophisticated and clever SLUGFEST is out right now in paperback,and it's not about boxing. 

Rosemary is also a master gardener. And a world traveler. And she says: 

Sometimes a girl's just gotta get away!

It's true. And if the girl is my heroine Paula Holliday - unattached, small businesswoman without a lot of disposable income - she'll take that trip anyway she can get it.

The majority of traditional mysteries featuring an amateur sleuth are set in quaint and quirky small towns where the quaint and quirky residents occasionally stumble over a dead body. (At a recent writing workshop I joked that the victim was  frequently someone it was easy to dislike - like a white, male real estate developer. Apparently it was okay to kill them off. I thought it was a pretty good line until I noticed one man's face darken. Yup. White, male real estate developer. Will not use that line again.)

Even in a hotbed of criminal activity like the fictional town of Springfield, Connecticut where most of my books are set, things do slow down. And Paula was itching for a road trip. Conventional wisdom said - stay home, kill the real estate guy, or an evil local politician. Publishers think readers will be confused.

But who want to be conventional? Paula was adamant. She wanted to wear something other than painter's pants and grubby jeans. The hussy was even thinking about blowdrying her hair for a change. So I decided to send her to the big city.

Slugfest, the fourth book in my Dirty business mystery series was originally set in Philadelphia where the legendary flower Show served as the inspiration for the one in my book. I'd been a volunteer there for close to ten years, had lectured there and had prowled the floor in the early morning hours when the building's only other occupants were neurotic exhibitors taking cuticle scissors to their displays to  eliminate any brown or curled leaf. I'd also decided that some of the action would take place in one of my favorite hotels which - covering all bases - has a terrific restaurant, a spa and a chocolate factory on the premises. (It's the Rittenhouse. Tell them I sent you.)

Then it hit me. If I killed off characters who bore even a passing resemblance to flower show habitu├ęs, they'd never invite me back. And what kind of welcome would I get at the Rittenhouse if I had someone drown in the hot tub - or die from poisoned chocolates? Much as I loved my research, it had to go. But Paula still insisted on a vacation. And I wanted her to rub shoulders with a better class of bad guy. That's how Paula Holliday wound up in New York at the fictional Big Apple Flower Show where more than just the plants are dying. and not only does she blow dry her hair, she borrows a red dress that gets everybody talking.

Who knows, she may never go back to the 'burbs...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: If you write a series, do you change the setting? If a standalone--how and when do you decide where it takes place?

Rosemary Harris is a native Brooklynite like some of the characters in her upcoming book, The B-tches of Brooklyn and is the author of the Dirty Business mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Paula Holliday. Rosemary's debut novel, the Agatha and Anthony-nominated, Pushing Up Daisies (Minotaur), was followed by The Big Dirt Nap, Dead Head and Slugfest newly released in paperback ( .) She is past president of Mystery Writers of America's NY Chapter and Sisters in Crime's New England Chapter and  blogs with seven other mystery writers at  Visit Rosemary at  and Like her on facebook at


  1. I love the titles of your books, Rosemary! Thanks for stopping by and thanks to Hank for introducing us to her.

  2. I'm always in awe of gardeners...I separate mine by green things and things that grow flowers.

    In the process of writing book one of my first series. I'm not so much concerned about the setting as I am not losing the characters!

  3. Here, but late. I had major computer issues yesterday - modem died. Back in business today so belated hellos! My publisheer has only mad me change one of my titles (The Big Dirt Nap was moriginally supposed to be called Corpse Flower) but I don't think I'd let them do that again..I'm getting pretty good at titles!
    Christa...losing the characters?? When I wrote my first book I decided to outline as I went along. That was a help because I could always know which characters were in which chapters and I wouldn't go too long without having them reappear or at least be mentioned (so the reader wouldn't forget who I was writing about!) Unless of course that wasn't what you meant and you have actually lost a character. Look under the desk? ;-)

  4. I rather thought that any conversation between you and Hank would be wonderful. I love the real estate agent scenario, just sorry you had on in your audience. I'm looking forward to reading Slugfest...I really enjoyed the others.

  5. Hi Mare,
    Hank and I often joke about being separated at birth - we think we are each quite perfect!! Seriously, just read that glowing intro- WOW...many thanks!