1–Tell us about your latest book.
DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM is not exactly my latest book, but it’s the one most recently published in a new e-edition, so I’m excited about the series appearing at an affordable price and finding a lot of new readers. Chronologically, it’s the second novel about recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, world-class codependent Barbara and computer-genius Jimmy. Unlike a lot of fictional alcoholic detectives who get sober and then relapse, Bruce has left his drinking days behind but is up to his neck in relationship dilemmas and love addiction as well as murder. LEAVE HIM is a very New York book: it includes a murder in East Harlem, a dysfunctional Italian family and a great bakery in Brooklyn, an art gallery in SoHo, a car crash on Canal Street with dueling taxi drivers…in fact, there’s more than one car crash. Hey, it’s New York.
2–Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I’m working on a short story for the series, “Death Will Fire Your Therapist”—another very New York concept—but what’s coming next that readers can get is the e-edition of DEATH WILL EXTEND YOUR VACATION, my Hamptons mystery. Bruce, Barbara, and Jimmy take shares in a clean and sober group house in the Hamptons and find a body on the beach: one of their housemates and a very killable young woman.
3–Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
My very favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold, writes novels that are primarily science fiction—highly superior space opera—but some of them are also mysteries, thrillers (including galactic political and medical thrillers), and even comedy of manners. Talk about character driven! In her Vorkosigan saga, not just the protagonist but all his friends and family are achingly real, lovable, and sometimes hilarious. She’s also a genius with plot, structure, serious universal themes, science that’s plausible and potentially authentic, and as fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey once said, “Boy, can she write!” She appeals to me for all those reasons and because I couldn’t in a million years do what she does myself. I never get tired of those books.
4–Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
Promotion and networking are cumulative, and I’ve spent the past ten years making and maintaining relationships in the mystery world. I have to say that I don’t love selling, but I do love schmoozing, a Yiddish word that a songwriter friend of mine defines as “networking shamelessly.” I’ve been blogging weekly on Poe’s Deadly Daughters for seven years and biweekly on SleuthSayers for around two years. I have an author website at http://elizabethzelvin.com. I go to conferences all over and as many book launches and mystery parties as I can get to in New York, where I’m lucky enough to live. And I’ve given out many, many bookmarks and still have plenty left.
5–How long have you been writing?
I was seven years old when I first said, “I want to be a writer.” That makes it more than sixty years.
6–What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
I think I have to name the top two, one internal and one external. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of that inner tug that is sometimes called inspiration or the muse or being a channel, when the words are pouring through me and I can’t get them through my fingertips and into the computer fast enough. It’s also a dream come true when a reader tells me my story made them laugh and cry. That’s exactly what I want it to do, and it can’t be forced; it just happens.
7–What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?
The theme of my Bruce Kohler series is recovery from alcoholism, codependency, and other addictions and compulsive behaviors, and especially how transformational the recovery process can be. I believe people can and do change. In the course of the series, Bruce does a lot of kicking and screaming, but he turns his life around and becomes a much bigger person. In my stories, I’ve discovered other themes that have come to me as I wrote rather than my setting out to write them, particularly various kinds of abuse and Jewishness, or in general, being an outsider. Readers sometimes surprise me, not by their interpretation of the themes, but in how they categorize my work, whether as hardboiled or cozy. It’s neither, or maybe sort of an amalgam, which is why I call them character-driven traditional mysteries.
8–If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
If I could bring someone back from the dead, it would be my mother, an extraordinary person who lived to 96 and was a lawyer, a nonfiction editor, and a college professor. But if you want a public figure, I guess I’d pick Louisa May Alcott. What an interesting woman, and so durable and modern for her time.
9–Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
I’m a psychotherapist, and for the last dozen or so years I’ve been an online therapist, “seeing” clients all over the world by chat and email on my therapy website. http://LZcybershrink.com.
10–Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
Absolutely. To this day I don’t quite understand a living room that isn’t filled with bookshelves. I also treasure memories of going to the library on the bus with my father. There were a few books I took out over and over: a book of Russian folk tales with wonderful illustrations, a collection of biographies that included Gandhi, the explorer Dr. Livingston, and Marie Curie, and later, Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg novels, which I still remember huge chunks of.
11–Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I have one set of reactions to e-publishing as a reader and another as a writer. Also, it’s hard to look at e-publishing as such a huge game changer in publishing and the general publisher separately from the paradigm shift in the cost of books. I have a Kindle, and I’d say I do about half my reading on it. It’s wonderful to know I’ll never be stuck in the middle of the night with nothing to read. And I’m beginning to gain a wider readership and make a little money, thanks to my wonderful e-publisher, Julie Smith at BooksBNimble. But I’m not happy about the fact that fiction writers have become as underemployed as actors: a few at the top making a lot of money and maybe ninety percent not even making a living.
12. Why do you write?
I hardly ever hear this from other writers, but one big reason I write is that I have something to say: about growth and change, about human relationships, about certain social issues, and always, on some level, about love. The other big reason is to connect with people, ie the same reason I’m a therapist, though in one role I’m telling stories and in the other I’m basically listening. It’s all about empathy and connection for me.
author website: http://elizabethzelvin.com
blogs: Poe’s Deadly Daughters http://poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com and SleuthSayers http://sleuthsayers.org
The first two mysteries on my series about recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler have recently come out in new e-editions: DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER at http://tinyurl.com/death-sober and DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM at http://tinyurl.com/death-leave.