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Page One Interview With
Martha C. Lawrence, May, 1999
What is the beginning to a book you are reading?
"This was it. Zero hour. I stuck a name tag over my left breast, took a deep breath and shuffled through the door with the rest of the men and women embarking on the Process. No turning back now. The entrance opened into a large auditorium. I knew this was where the Let Go meditation had been held last week, though it hardly looked like the same place. No half-naked revelers rock-'n'-rolling through the darkened room today."
excerpt from AQUARIUS DESCENDING, by Martha C. Lawrence
Martha C. Lawrence
Martha C. Lawrence is the author of the award-nominated astrological mystery series featuring Dr. Elizabeth Chase, a Stanford trained parapsychologist turned private eye who uses her psychic ability in her investigations. The first book in the series, MURDER IN SCORPIO, was short-listed for the Edgar, Agatha and Anthony awards for Best First Mystery in 1996. The second, THE COLD HEART OF CAPRICORN, appeared in 1997 and the third, AQUARIUS DESCENDING, is scheduled for publication in January 1999. An Elizabeth Chase short story, "A Little Light on the Subject," appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of Family Circle's Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine.
"Save a spot on the bestseller's list for author, Martha Lawrence, and her savvy investigator, Elizabeth Chase! This solid new series is a natural. . . and a supernatural, as well."
--Sue Grafton, award-winning, best-selling author
"Tell us a little bit about your experience as a psychic and how has it affected (good/bad) your writing? To your knowledge, are there any other fiction writers with this gift out there?"
"Like most people, I cringe at the word "psychic." The phrase carries a stigma in our culture, conjuring up images of telephone psychics, palm parlor scams, and wacky celebrities. Yet the most profound experiences of my life have been my encounters with the psychic realm. As authors, I think we write about the things that affect us most deeply. For me, those are my so-called psychic experiences.
I hated the way psychics were depicted in fiction and films. Their over-the-top antics didn't look like the real thing to me. I wanted to see a psychic character I could relate to, one whose abilities were fallible. Thus the creation of Elizabeth Chase. I write in the hard-boiled tradition and as far as I know I'm the only one writing about a licensed P.I. who happens to be psychic. A few authors have written about psychics solving crimes--Kate Green comes to mind--but these are not mean streets kind of mysteries.
A few prominent authors have come to me privately and confessed that they, too, have had psychic experiences, but they don't have the courage to admit it publicly. I think that's a sad commentary on the tyranny of public opinion about the subject. Scientists--straight, credentialed scientists--have proven the existence of precognition and many other psi phenomena. We need clear thinking on the subject. Blind faith is silly, but knee-jerk denial is just as ignorant.
People always ask what my psychic experiences look like, so I'll toss out a few of them here:
When I was nine I dreamed in exact detail of a car accident my mother would have years later. I grew up in a house in Rancho Santa Fe, California that was haunted by a beautiful blonde woman; things with her became so intense that I had to leave. Research revealed that the former owners of the property had committed double suicide. (Ironically, the house neighbored the Heaven's Gate mansion, where years later 39 cult members would commit suicide.) I once encountered an enormous being of light who imbued me with so much love that all I could do was weep with joy. My stories go on and on. For years I worried that I was mentally ill. After a psychologist assured me I was sane, I began writing.
"I read where in college you were actually kidnapped by a cult. Was the writing of AQUARIUS DESCENDING difficult because of this experience?"
"Ah, yes, the dear old Moonies. They misrepresented themselves as an "alternative community" and invited me to what I thought would be a weekend visit to a commune. Ten days later I escaped in the middle of the night by crawling under a barbed-wire-topped cyclone fence. They came after me and I had to get a police escort home. The cult in AQUARIUS DESCENDING is not based on the Moonies, although I did draw from that and other experiences with mind-controlling groups. It was actually a blast to write. That's the joy of writing crime novels--you get to skewer the people who've really pissed you off. More importantly, you get to warn readers what to watch out for."
"Have you written any non-fiction books on your psychic experiences and knowledge? What is the lure for you to write a mystery series and who were your influences growing up? Who are your influences now?"
"I haven't written any nonfiction books. However, when I was an editor for Harcourt Brace I published several nonfiction books that indirectly dealt with the power of the mind. My favorite of these was Dr. Susan Jeffers's FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY, a wonderful guide to moving through fear to develop your full potential. That book helped me find the courage to write. It's still in print and I highly recommend it.
My lure into mysteries also came during my days as an editor for Harcourt, where I worked on a mystery anthology called THE NEW BLACK MASK QUARTERLY. The NBMQ introduced me to Elmore Leonard, Sara Paretsky, James Ellroy, Linda Barnes, Robert Parker, and a host of other mystery greats. Working on that project never felt like work--just sheer pleasure.
As a very young kid I loved Harriet the Spy. Sorry to say, the Nancy Drew books disappointed me--the writing never quite lived up to the potential of those alluring covers. My biggest influences as a young reader were Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. In college I discovered Hammett and Chandler and those two authors proved to me that mystery was as viable a form of literature as any other.
Today I'm influenced by different writers for their different strengths: Michael Connelly and Sue Grafton for plot and character; Harlan Coben, Sparkle Hayter and G.M. Ford for humor; Dennis Lehane and Richard Barre for prose style. These are just a few examples--the list could go on for pages."
"Are you still on the Edgar committee and what's that experience been like?"
"For those who may not know, each year the Mystery Writers of America awards the Edgar in several categories--Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, etc. My first novel, MURDER IN SCORPIO, was nominated for an Edgar. It's a tremendous honor and therefore a weighty responsibility to serve on a judging committee. Last year I served on the committee for Best Paperback Original. It involved reading more than 100 novels. Others on the committee were Nevada Barr, Linda Barnes, Alan Pedrazas, and David Housewright. What amazed me was that without ever "talking amongst ourselves," all five of us selected the same top nominees. It showed me that talent really does stand out.
I swore I'd never take on another judging commitment (I'd served on the Shamus committee in 1997), but somehow I got roped into serving on another Edgar committee this year: Best TV Features and Miniseries. Hey, at least it's not reading, right?"
"So far in the titles of the Elizabeth Chase mysteries, you have covered three signs (Scorpio, Capricorn and Aquarius). With only nine more to go -- any idea (looking into the future) how you will cross that bridge when you get there? And what's the next novel?"
"ONLY nine more to go? That sounds like a monumental task to me, but one I'm delighted to tackle. I'm working on an outline for a big, mainstream novel--the masterpiece I'll be writing when I'm not doing the Elizabeth Chase series. I've been so heavily influenced by Tolstoy--primarily WAR AND PEACE and "The Death of Ivan Ilyich." I want to take his themes of social and spiritual transformation and bring them into a contemporary context.
The next novel in the Elizabeth Chase series is PISCES RISING, in which Elizabeth is called to investigate the brutal murder of a casino manager on the Temecu Reservation northeast of San Diego. During this case, Elizabeth hooks up with a Luiseno shaman named Sequoia, who helps her develop her abilities in a way that hasn't been possible before. I just turned in the manuscript this week, so don't hold me to that synopsis. I'm blessed with an editor who's not afraid to tell me where I fall short of my goals and (here's the good part) what I can do to reach them.
Writers are like skaters, I think. Very few of us can sail onto the ice and single-handedly pull off a triple axle. We need coaches to do that. Most of us are willing to fall on our butts on that hard, cold ice and get up and try again. The applause is worth the pain, but more compelling than that is the thrill of accomplishing what looks impossible."
"What can we see, read, acquire, but ourselves.
Take the book, my friend, and read your eyes out;
you will never find there what I find."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
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