Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bookseller and Psychic Sleuth: Interview with Lorna Barrett, aka L.L. Bartlett

by Sandra Parshall

Lorna Barrett debuts this month with Murder Is Binding, first in the Booktown cozy series from Berkley Prime Crime, featuring a New Hampshire bookseller. The writer isn’t a newcomer, though. She published her first novel in the Jeff Resnick psychic sleuth series, Murder on the Mind, in 2005 as L.L. Bartlett, and she has a second installment, Dead in Red, coming out in June. Her real name is Lorraine Bartlett, and she lives in Rochester, NY, with her husband and their four cats. Visit her web sites at,, and

Q. Give us your quick pitches for Murder Is Binding and Dead in Red.

A. Murder Is Binding: Two sisters, books, recipes, murder. Who knew the world of used and rare books could be so dangerous?

Dead in Red: Jeff has new digs, a new girlfriend--and a totally new life. That includes coping with the psychic flashes that drive him to seek out a bartender’s
killer, and worse, confronting his guilt for compromising the safety of people he cares about.

Honestly, I haven’t pulled together “real” pitches. I’m terrible at it. I’m terrible at writing a synopsis. (I apologize for the above. )

Q. How would you compare the experience of writing as Lorna Barrett to writing as L.L. Bartlett? Do you shift into a different emotional space or mindset?

A. I tend to think of “Lorna” as this abstract person when I promote--but when I’m writing, it’s just me and the keyboard (and a cat or two).

I shift point of view; the Jeff Resnick books are written in first person, and the Booktown Mysteries are written
in third person point of view. I also shift genders--or rather I have to focus on thinking like a guy for the Jeff books, and thinking like a business woman for the Booktown books. I have a deeper connection with my Jeff Renick series simply because I’ve been with the characters a lot longer. (I’ve completed five books in the series. It’ll be some time before all the books see print.)

Q. Both books will be new at about the same time. Do you plan to promote them together or do completely separate signings, etc.?

A. Both. I’ve had separate bookmarks made up for both books, and I’ve had postcards made up that showcase both books. The postcards will be sent to out-of-town fans/booksellers/libraries. I’ve sent bookmarks to readers, conferences, and reader groups.

Q. You have a fairly rigorous schedule for the Lorna Barrett books, don’t you? How much time do you have to write each book? Has it turned out to be easier or more difficult than you expected?

A. I have nine months between books. It’s been a lot harder than I envisioned. Now that I no longer have a day job, I seem to have a lot more distractions. I devote a lot of time to my elderly parents, which also cuts into my writing time.

Q. Does promotion make a serious dent in your writing time? Have you found a way to overcome that? (If you have, I can name several thousand writers who would pay
for the secret!) Do you think it will at least be easier to manage this time, since you’ve been through it before?

A. Some weeks I devote far more of my time to promotion and networking than I do to writing. I don’t like to travel, so a lot of my time is spent looking for promotional opportunities on the Internet. I send out a lot of material to individual readers, conferences, and book groups. Sometimes I think I’m personally keeping the US Postal Service in business.

Q. Did one of your own cats serve as the inspiration for Miss Marple, the bookstore feline in Murder Is Binding?

A. Yes, my late cat Cori. I was surprised when the artist commissioned to do the cover of Murder Is Binding included a gray cat. It looks nothing like Cori did, but the sentiment was there. Miss Marple tends to steal every scene she appears in. I have a page up on my website devoted to Cori.

Q. Have you picked up any interesting tidbits about bookselling while doing research for your Berkley series? Anything you didn’t know before?

A. I’d been selling used books in my booth at a local antiques arcade for several years before I contracted to do the series. I interviewed the community relations manager at my local Barnes and Noble and she shared a lot of wonderful (and some frightening) anecdotes about working in a bookstore. Rather than get into the nitty gritty of bookselling, I prefer to concentrate on the relationships between the characters. In a cozy, you tend to have a lot of characters, and making sure each has a unique voice is a challenge.

Q. In Murder on the Mind and Dead in Red, you write from a male POV, and the main relationship in the books is between two brothers. What drew you to explore the way brothers interact? Did anyone you’ve known inspire
either character?

A. I’ve always been a fan of “buddy” stories. (The Classic Star Trek “triad,” Starsky & Hutch, Sam and Al in Quantum Leap.) When I decided to write from a male point of view, I wanted the characters to have more at stake than just friendship, so I made them brothers with a lot of baggage. It didn’t hurt that I grew up with two brothers. I got to observe firsthand the ups and downs of that kind of a relationship.

I didn’t base either character on any one person. They both came to me as unique individuals. I wish that would happen more often.

Q. What kind of comments have you had from readers about your portrayal of male characters? Have you had any feedback from your husband or your own brothers?

A. A lot less than I would’ve thought. Being published by a small press probably had a lot to do with that. Most of my readers have been women--which is not surprising, since women buy more books than men. They’re attracted by the relationship between the brothers, and between Richard and his significant other, Brenda.

My husband is long-suffering. He helps me assemble my promotional material (he’s a former graphic designer) and he proofreads my work. He doesn’t like to offer criticism. I don’t believe either of my brothers have even read my first book, despite the fact I dedicated it to one of them. They’re just not fiction readers. I was hurt, but I got over it.

Q. Your Jeff Resnick books are set in Buffalo, the Booktown mysteries in New Hampshire – both places with cold, cold winters and tons of snow. Does the harsh winter play any part in your stories, either the books you’ve already written or those you’re planning?

A. Winter played a part in Murder on the Mind, my first published novel. One Buffalo book group pleaded for me to set the next installment in summertime. Little did they know, I’d already done it. Since I’ve never experienced winter in New Hampshire, I’ve decided to stick to warmer times of the year. The first book takes place in September; the second in April, and the third in the summer. (I’m still working on the timing of that one.)

Q. Tell us about your road to publication. Along with the disappointments, can you remember any incidents or feedback that encouraged you to keep going?

A. My Sisters In Crime chapter, the Guppies, has been a constant source of inspiration and enthusiasm. More than once I wondered if I had it in me to persist. The entertainment industry as a whole, be it acting, singing, writing, etc., is a tough business to crack. You’d better get used to rejection. Something that’s easier said than done.

Q. What aspects of writing craft have you struggled with? What do you consider your strength as a writer?

A. I struggle with writing “long.” My contracts say I will write a book of a specific length. I tend to write short. Jeremiah Healy said I have a “stark, spare style.” He’s right. I took to heart Elmore Leonard’s advice to leave out the parts people skip. That means I often end up rewriting to add in one or two more subplots after I’ve written my first draft of a book. Then I’ll have to go back to pump up the description. I had pacing, Pacing, PACING drilled into my head by an early mentor. It makes for a fast read, if nothing else.

My greatest strength is never giving up. That makes it quite difficult to face the fact that certain of my unpublished novels must remain so--at least for the foreseeable future. I’m not a patient person, and my characters keep calling to me from the closet shelf, telling me not to forget them--reminding me that I once loved them best.

Q. What writers have you learned from? If you could meet any writer you admire, who would it be?

A. Maybe it sounds corny, but I’ve learned more from my critique partners than any class or book that I’ve read, be it fiction or how-to. Discussing what works and what doesn’t work with fellow writers has been a wonderful experience. That said, you can’t remain in one group forever. And, I don’t even belong to a group anymore. These days I share my work--entire manuscripts--with other (mostly) published authors. I no longer like to critique a book/story in a piecemeal fashion.

I’m not a celebrity chaser, so there’s no big name I’m eager to meet. That said, I want to meet two of my fellow bloggers on Writers Plot--Kate Flora and Jeanne Munn Bracken. We’ve never met in person. I’m looking forward to having dinner with them sometime in the near future.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A. Keep writing. Keep sending out queries. Keep striving to improve your work. That’s how you get published.


Joyce said...

Great interview!

Lorraine, it's so nice to know that someone else writes spare and lean. I always have to go back and add things after the first draft. Nice to know I'm not alone!

Your cover for Murder is Binding is beautiful!

Darlene Ryan said...

Congratulations on both books, Lorraine. I'm tickled to be able to say, I knew this would happen.

Anonymous said...

Joyce, thanks for the kudos on my cover. I wish I could take credit. Much as I love it, I hope the next one is a little less "busy."

Darlene, I wish someone had told me Murder Is Binding would create some buzz. I would've had that professional photo taken. (Well, maybe not.)

Kenna said...

Thanks so much for sharing your insights, and journey. My TBR list is getting quite long since I've joined the Guppies, but I'm enjoying every minute, and learning so much. Congratulations, and good luck into the future!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kenna! Hope you enjoy the book(s). (Did I mention I have another one out in June/July? I did. Oh. Sorry.)

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