AN INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH ZELVIN – – AUTHOR, PSYCHOTHERAPIST, AND SINGER-SONGWRITER
1) What is your most recent book? Tell us thing about it.
DEATH WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE was published as an e-novella by BooksBNimble Press in December 2012. It’s the eighth entry in my mystery series about recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, world-class codependent Barbara and computer genius Jimmy. Two of the three novels and all the short stories in the series are set in New York City. But in DEATH WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE, Barbara and Jimmy attend a couples workshop at a New Age intentional community known to the locals as Woo-Woo Farm. Bruce goes along to keep them company, and when the obnoxious relationship guru is murdered, he falls for the victim’s widow. So of course, they have to solve the murder.
2) What inspired you to write this book?
What inspired the mystery series as a whole was my desire to write about recovery from alcoholism, codependency, and other addictions and compulsive behaviors. Recovery is an amazing transformational process that sometimes verges on the miraculous. Many people know little or nothing about it, and many others think it must be dark and depressing. I wanted to create engaging characters in recovery to manage to have some fun in the process of turning their lives around.
DEATH WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE, in particular, was inspired by an urge to write about Woo-Woo Farm—a name I created before I learned that mystery lovers, especially those on the e-list DorothyL, often use “woo-woo” as a term for the paranormal element in a mystery story. There’s no paranormal in my novella (well, except for the Tibetan monk who claims he levitates), but the characters and setting are pretty far out. Jimmy calls the place “a dude ranch for space cadets,” and Bruce explains that “anybody who knows about Esalen and Sedona but wouldn’t be caught dead going there called it Woo-Woo Farm.”
3) If it is part of a series, what made you follow these characters? Do you have a favorite character?
As I’ve said, I wanted to follow the process of people in recovery who are trying hard to grow and become better people while having periodic setbacks and stumbling into murders. I love Bruce, Barbara, and Jimmy equally (doesn’t everyone love all their children the same?), though I’m tickled to find that some of my readers has one favorite or another. I love Bruce’s sardonic voice and his not-too-well-concealed heart of gold. Barbara is a lot of fun to write. Like me, she’s a nice Jewish girl from Queens, but because she isn’t me, I get to take her over the top with her compulsive helping and minding everybody’s business. And Jimmy is a great big teddy bear of tremendous sweetness. I could have made him a curmudgeon, but then people might have thought I’d based him on my husband. As it is, my husband claims I’ve stolen all his one-liners.
4) How did you choose the title?
LOL, because DEATH WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is the one work I’ve had published where my publisher made me change the title. The whole series, as an idea, started with the title of the first novel, DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER. In that one, Bruce gets sober. The other novels are DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM, which is about codependency and love addiction or addictive relationships, and DEATH WILL EXTEND YOUR VACATION, in which Bruce, Barbara, and Jimmy take shares in a lethal clean and sober group house in the Hamptons. The short stories are “Death Will Clean Your Closet,” “Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down,” “Death Will Trim Your Tree,” and “Death Will Tank Your Fish.” Three of those appeared in anthologies, the fourth in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Two were nominees for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story, and a third was a nominee for the Derringer Award for Best Short Story.
I love my titles. They’re funny, they match, and they tell you what the story is about. But when it came to this one, my publisher, Edgar-winning author Julie Smith of BooksBNimble, said my original title, Death Will Improve Your Relationship, wouldn’t do. This was e-publishing, and she said the word “relationship” was too long to figure in a good design for a cover the size of a postage stamp. She proposed DEATH WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE instead. We, er, discussed it, and she won. The funny thing is that everyone loves the title, and the cover is terrific.
I’m a lifelong writer. I first said I wanted to be one when I was seven years old. I’d published two books of poetry, a book on gender and addictions, and a lot of professional articles and book chapters before my first novel came out when I was already in my sixties. I’ve also been writing weekly blog posts for the group mystery blog Poe’s Deadly Daughters for six years now, as well as biweekly posts for SleuthSayers, a group of “crime writers and crime fighters,” for the past year or two.
My only ritual is making sure everyone leaves me alone. I can’t fathom writers who work in Starbucks. I write best if I come to it fresh, ie use my morning energy. It helps if I can resist checking my email before I start to write. If I need to write later in the day and push myself through to achieve a certain goal, I may take a nap on the couch so that when I get up, my writing brain thinks it’s morning again.
I’ve just completed a short story for submission to an anthology on a Cold War theme. This is a new angle for me. I often use shorter works to explore voices, characters, settings, and points of view that are very different from my mystery series. “Shifting Is for the Goyim,” published in 2012, is about a nice Jewish girl who’s a rising country music star and a shapeshifter. I’ll have two stories out in 2013, one in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine that’s about art theft at the Metropolitan Museum, and one in the e-zine Mysterical-E about a Cape Cod whale watch, featuring an 11-year-old girl who’s being molested. BooksBNimble will bring out DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER as an e-book this spring and, I hope, the other novels later in the year.
Besides writing, I’m a psychotherapist. For the last dozen years, I’ve been working online on my online therapy website, LZcybershrink.com. It fits well with my writing, and I’m currently working with clients on three different continents. I’m also a singer-songwriter. Last year I achieved the lifelong dream of recording an album of my songs. It’s called OUTRAGEOUS OLDER WOMAN. My most recent performance was at the 92nd Street Y in New York. I combined my therapist and songwriter hats to give a talk and performance to seniors on “Maturity & Chutzpah”—in other words, how to be an outrageous older woman. It’s like getting to Carnegie Hall: you practice and you practice.
6) Where can readers learn more about you, your books, and your music?
My author website is at http://elizabethzelvin.com, my music website at http://lizzelvin.com. You can also find me on Facebook.