Monday, August 26, 2013

@ The Poisoned Pen with Author Carol O'Connell

On the way to The Poisoned Pen last Thursday to see Carol O'Connell, I tried to describe her well-known character Kathy Mallory to Denis. The best I could come up with on the spur of the moment was, "Mallory's a cross between Dexter and Bones." I don't know why my mind latched onto two mystery series turned television series, but it did-- and I do know that the two I chose don't come close to describing Mallory, but at least Denis had some sort of clue before O'Connell arrived. You just have to love a man who doesn't mind attending events when he's never heard of the authors. Besides, when we get home, he gets busy looking up their books so he can read them!

Denis sat at the back with an acquaintance of ours while I did my usual browse-and-buy. (Most people's B&Bs are bed and breakfasts; mine is actually B&BB-- browse and buy books.) Once I had that completed, I found my favorite chair and got comfortable. I watched a woman with a print-out in hand carefully browse the shelf of Laurie R. King books. I had to smile, not only because I tend to do most of my browsing with list in hand but because I'd just perused that section a few minutes before.

Owner Barbara Peters came in a few minutes early and talked to us about the event for Frederick Forsyth at the Arizona Biltmore the evening before. According to Peters, approximately 260 people showed up to see him, and she then proceeded to share a few tidbits.

"Forsyth writes in a shed at the bottom of his garden," she told us. "He still uses a typewriter because-- as he told us-- 'The last time I heard, no one could hack into a typewriter.'" The author then asked Barbara a question: "Why did you name your bookstore The Poisoned Pen?" "Because I've always liked the idea of poison pen letters," she replied. "'Poison Pen' was taken, so the store became The Poisoned Pen."

"Charles is the only character who's bullet proof."

Barbara Peters and Carol O'Connell
After a few minutes dealing with uncooperative microphones, author Carol O'Connell and host Barbara Peters settled in to talk about Mallory's world.

There are quite a number of fans who wait patiently for a kinder, gentler Mallory to appear-- and in particular for a relationship between her and Charles Butler, the gentle giant who's been hopelessly in love with her for years. O'Connell just shakes her head. "Mallory relates to Charles the way she relates to everyone else." (In other words, don't expect a sociopath-- Mallory-- to have normal relationships.) However, we do know one thing by reading the books: in one of them, Charles, in his nineties, is looking back on life. "Charles is the only character who's bullet proof," admitted O'Connell. Peters quickly added, "But we don't know how things turn out for Mallory."

Talk then moved to O'Connell's newest book, It Happens in the Dark, about dead bodies that keep turning up at performances of a Broadway play. "I've always wanted to do Broadway," the soft-voiced O'Connell told us. "The lighting director is essential to any play and does have an important role in the book." In doing her research, O'Connell learned that people are not allowed backstage unless they are working on the production, due to insurance reasons, so O'Connell did more checking and was finally allowed backstage in an old burlesque theater.

In the book, reviewers begin calling it "A Play to Die For." O'Connell smiled and said, "It's a reverse lottery-- make your will out before attending the play. Believe me, if it's that scary, they will come."  The play, indeed, is a critical part of the book. When asked if she had to write an entire play in order to complete the book, O'Connell said, "No. I had to know how the play began and how it ended. The actual fun of writing a book is pulling it all together at the end."

Peters asked, "Is the theater critic based on anyone?" to which O'Connell replied, "I don't think I can answer that without getting sued." Other little tidbits she shared with us included a character in the play who had to wear a fat suit and all the logistics involved with that, and probably one of her best responses: "I try to leave as many bodies on the floor as Hamlet does in his closing scene."

"New York City is a character in the books."

Carol O'Connell
Barbara Peters loves the depiction of New York City in O'Connell's books, and it was easy for us all to see that the author really couldn't envision herself living anywhere else. She told us of neighborhoods that could change completely in a short period of time. O'Connell had been told that an area called The Ramble in Central Park was a mugger's paradise, so she was extremely nervous the first time she went there. It's where she found an ancient birdwatcher completely at ease. The birdwatcher asked her if she wanted to know why The Ramble was no longer dangerous, and of course O'Connell did. "The developers came and started buying up the Upper West Side. By the time they were finished, they'd outsourced crime, and crime had to move on." O'Connell loves and respects New York, and has an insatiable curiosity about it. All these combine to turn her New York commentary into poetry.

She also told us about a book signing in New York City in which a male photographer was annoying the bookseller and the crowd-- and making them all nervous. The photographer was behind O'Connell when he came up close to whisper to her, "Don't worry. I'm from the CIA." The situation wasn't helped any when a female in the audience announced to them all that she was Kathy Mallory and then pulled her jacket aside to show them her gun in a shoulder holster. At this point, O'Connell was hoping that the photographer behind her was a cop... or that he really was from the CIA!

"I'm the only prospective juror who gets laughs."

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Lawyers seem fascinated about her occupation when O'Connell is called for jury duty. They ask her all sorts of questions, and the devil in her likes to play with them a bit. Her answers tend to get a lot of laughs from everyone.

The evening began to wind down with O'Connell talking about her writing. There is a cat called Nose in the second book in the Mallory series, The Man Who Cast Two Shadows. When the third book was published, she received a ton of letters from fans wanting to know why Mallory hadn't adopted Nose. The answer was simple: that would be completely contradictory to the type of person Mallory is.

"I trick you into believing Mallory is changing by introducing pieces of information about her past."

Most of O'Connell's reading consists of research, and when she's not reading for that purpose, she tries to find the most boring things to read that she can. Why? Because she's a chronic insomniac, and the more boring the book, the more likely it will be to put her to sleep. 

When asked about the requests for her books to be made into films or television series, O'Connell told us that her publisher, Putnam, gives all those requests to an agent in Los Angeles who "makes them all go away. No one bugs me." It's obvious that O'Connell will be quite content if none of her work shows up on large screen or small.

What book is she working on now? O'Connell refused to tell us. She doesn't give out hints on works in progress, citing a man in New York City she knows as The Poet. He's been talking about his poetry for thirty years, and in that time, he's written ten pages... and published nothing. "I don't believe in talking my work to death."

"When Mallory stops being interesting to me, there will be no more books about Mallory," O'Connell stated. She was serious, but the twinkle in her eye told me that she still finds Mallory to be very interesting indeed.


  1. Cathy - I always love your 'on the scene' reports from the PP. How lucky you are to be able to go there.

    1. Denis and I are heading over there again Wednesday night. Yes, we are *very* fortunate to be able to go there!

  2. I always wondered about the name of the store. Thanks. If we ever get to Phoenix again, I'll be sure to ask when the next author event is at The Poisoned Pen.

    1. You happen to know just the person to ask, too! :-)


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