If Iambik were to offer a Residency in Literary Badassedness, well, it’d be a coveted position, and we’d have a lot of authors in the running. And Lise McClendon would be among them. She’s written seven novels, another under her pseudonym, is a member of the Thalia Press Author’s Coop, blogs, and as a rule, she writes like she means it. It doesn’t hurt that her books are good, with a sharp edge and a cunning, lingering use of language. Here, she chats with audiobook narrators Denice Stradling and Mark Douglas Nelson.
Denice Stradling, narrator of Blackbird Fly: First, Lise, I truly felt honored to narrate this book. When I was prepping it for narrating, I would find myself forgetting that I needed to be reading for characters, pacing, etc. … I found myself getting lost in the story, and having to remind myself to get back to the business at hand!
Something that really resonated with me about Blackbird Fly was the subtext of forgiveness. This is so NOT part of the basic premise of the book or one of its major plot points – murder, mystery, romance — but factors a little into the self-knowledge/’adult’ coming-of-age that Merle experiences. I’m specifically thinking about the ending, vis-à-vis, the Thanksgiving dinner – and that’s all I’ll say, because I don’t want it give it away! But I loved that. It’s so not what seems to be the norm in our society these days, and I found it so refreshing and lovely. How did you choose for Merle to go this route? Why was it important for you to have this in the book? I mean, it didn’t have to be there, but it meant so much.
Lise McClendon: First of all, I love it, Denice, how deeply you’ve thought about Blackbird Fly. That is one of the joys of this whole audiobook process. So thank you. Interesting that you bring up forgiveness. In families, whether your nuclear family or one you make for yourself as an adult, there are often issues that you get stuck on, things you can’t get past. For Merle Bennett, she not only has to forgive her dead husband — difficult because he’s gone — but also she has to forgive herself. That’s the ending of the book, really, that she is a bigger person because of her journey. She can say to herself, yes, you screwed up, he screwed up, but life goes on and let’s make the best of it. Also her story is mostly about the past, the things she should have done but didn’t. So the ending of the story is about the future, a brighter, more hopeful and loving one.
DS: Something else I really liked was Merle’s relationship with her sisters, how she shared caring and loving, but very different relationships, with each one of them. And how distinct their personalities were. I see a very modern-day Little Women here, albeit, not so little! Is this something that grew out of your own sibling relationships? And because they were so distinct, especially Annie, I could so see them having stories of their own. Any chance that this might happen?
LM: I based Merle somewhat on me because I am also the middle sister in a family of daughters. But mostly the five Bennett sisters are based on Pride and Prejudice’s five Bennett girls, the dynamics, the respect and support they have for each other despite their (vast) differences. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite novels. I tried to make each sister an individual the way Jane Austen did. I hope to write a book about each sister, a series of linked stand-alones — sometime, some day. That was the original plan. Hasn’t happened yet but I never say never.
DS: This novel is so visual: the beauty of France, especially the Dordogne, the house, the village, the wonderful and colorful characters of Malcouziac. Your excellent writing makes it all so easy to visualize. And because of that, I can so see this as a film as well. Would you have any aspirations for that? Have you ever thought of writing for that medium?
LM: I have written a few screenplays, and have a background in film and television, so thanks for the encouragement! I made a short film called The Hoodoo Artist, based on one of my short stories. So much fun. I can definitely see Merle’s story as a movie. Now to whisper in a Hollywood ear or two…
DS: And then there’s Pascal … so easy to fall in love with!! The ending of the book couldn’t be more perfect, but still… any chance that his and Merle’s story/ies might continue at some later date?
LM: Oh, definitely! Pascal is one of my favorite characters. He served his purpose in this story, which is to help Merle get past her problems, to feel lovable again, to get back to her life. But he deserves a little story of his own, don’t you think? I can still see him running around France, drinking wine in his black t-shirt. Lots of ideas, thanks, Denice.
Mark Douglas Nelson, narrator of One O’Clock Jump and Sweet & Lowdown: The books go beyond simple detective stories, including issues around race relations, abortion, and class privilege. Is this something you set out to do? And does setting the books in early World War II make it easier to do this?
LM: To write a story set in the Depression, with characters who are as real as you can make them, you have no choice but to write about the horrific problems of that era. Some problems we still have, like those you mention, Mark. To make the story relatable to a modern audience I felt I needed to make Dorie a full character. She’s been to reform school, she doesn’t have the money to continue her education, she’s lost her family: these are problems that happened all over this country, to regular people. It’s easier to look back at an era and see what the social problems were at the time, but those issues really haven’t been erased. One thing I love about mystery fiction is that you can learn about something, a time in history, a culture, whatever, while following the fun narrative of whodunit.
MDN: Your characters go far beyond just having a couple of quirks. Amos Haddam, Dorie’s boss, has an elaborate backstory of his own. On one hand he’s a fairly progressive guy for 1940, but he’s hampered by his physical problems, family worries, the War, often leaving Dorie to fend for herself. A disabled British WWI veteran in Missouri isn’t exactly a stereotype. How did this character evolve?
LM: I love the way you portrayed Amos in the audio version, Mark, with that semi-posh accent. It gives him so much life. He is a displaced person, much like Dorie. They have both lost their families though in Amos’s case it’s because he moved to America. He is sort of a father figure to Dorie — who definitely needs one — but they have to take care of each other. The Depression was an era of great upheaval. The two main characters, Dorie and Amos, reflect different aspects of that. With Amos, because he’s British, we get a connection with World War II as it breaks out in Europe, before America is involved. I wanted to try to get a picture of how America dealt with the war on the home front, before we plunged into the thick of it.
MDN: Dorie Lennox is a person no one cares about from a town no one cares about trying to solve crimes no one seems to care about, but her. She clearly has a soft spot for fellow under-dogs. Personally, I found her a more interesting person than, say, Kinsey Milhone. Is someone your model for the Dorie Lennox character?
LM: Dorie has a lot of baggage, doesn’t she? I love rich characters; they give the writer so much to deal with. She has hopes and aspirations despite her past where nothing seemed to go right. She has her own strong view of her future, she stands up for herself with or without her switchblade, she never forgets the people she’s loved and lost. She’s everything I would hope to be, in her shoes. I love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone myself. Dorie has more on her plate than Kinsey, for sure. The Thirties were a time of the individual, when the family unit, the family farm, was often upended and people were cut loose without any support. Dorie is a free spirit, an individual, who like every good heroine sees a bigger picture than the rest of the characters and tries to help people in her life to the best of her ability.
Miette Elm: Did you have any reservations or concerns about having your books made into audio? What was the experience like for you? (You can be honest; you won’t hurt our feelings, even though the experience for us has been nothing short of delightful).
LM: The major worry in having your novel made into an audiobook is will you like the narrator’s voice. I once did a straight-to-audio short story in a western collection and have never forgotten the somewhat shocking first listen of that. With Iambik Audio the writer gets to choose from the narrator from the auditions and that makes all the difference. I hadn’t really thought of having a male narrator for One O’clock Jump and Sweet and Lowdown, but once I heard Mark’s audition I knew it was right. I love this model of all of us working together to get the best quality audiobook possible. It does mean more work for the writer; listening and proofing the audiobook takes time. But it’s all to the good.
ME: You also write under the pseudonym Rory Tate. Do you have other pseudonyms or top-secret pen names?
LM: So far Rory Tate is my only super-secret pen name! Rory’s new novel Jump Cut is out now. It’s a sexy, modern thriller set in Seattle. It would be a fun audiobook!
ME: What are you working on next? Anything that might translate well into audio?
LM: I’m working on a mainstream novel and another thriller. I’m also the co-editor of a new crime short story anthology, Dead of Winter, that would make a fun audiobook because there is such a mix of stories.
ME: Who else writing biting-edge crime fiction today is creating works that you think would work in audio? Any favourite contemporaries come to mind?
LM: I love the Casey Jones stories by Katy Munger. We need to get her into audio! A few more are Gary Phillips, Kate Flora, and Sarah Shaber. All published by small presses and in need of audio. I love audio!
Lise McClendon’s Iambik titles can be had for $6.99 each. BUT! It’s the season for giving, so from now until December 31, 2011, get all three books for $15.73 (that’s 25% off, for the maths-challenged). Just add all three books to your cart, and enter the code mclendon-audio when prompted for a discount code at checkout.
Publishers Weekly says of Sweet & Lowdown: This is a book to be savored read it too fast and you might miss something.