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Page One Interview With
Martha C. Lawrence, May, 2000
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. Other novels followed which included, The Cold Heart of Capricorn and Aquarius Descending.
Inspired by her own real life psychic experiences, Martha's novels have been published in the US, Britain, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Latvia, and Lithuania. Prior to writing full time, she worked as an assistant editor at Simon & Schuster in New York and for several years served as an acquisitions editor for Harcourt Brace. A member of Mystery Writers of America, The Private Eye Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime, Martha lives in Escondido, California. Martha's latest Elizabeth Chase mystery is PISCES RISING.
Page One: "Tell us about your new book PISCES RISING and what do you think makes Elizabeth Chase different than other mystery characters and why?"
Martha: "Let's get this out of the way first: Elizabeth Chase is a psychic. If you're rolling your eyes, you're not alone--I react to the word, too. It's synonymous with terms like flaky, woo-woo, charlatan, weirdo. Which bothers me, because like Elizabeth, I've been having clairvoyant experiences since I was a kid. My experiences don't look anything like "Poltergeist" or "The Amityville Horror." The preposterous way psi phenomena was depicted in fiction and films annoyed me so much that I set out to create a respectable psychic. Elizabeth Chase has Ph.D.s in psychology and parapsychology, as well as a P.I. license and a nine-millimeter Glock. So her psychic ability is not the only tool at her disposal.
In PISCES RISING Elizabeth is hired to investigate a murder on an Indian reservation, where a Native American casino owner has been bludgeoned and scalped. Still grieving the heavy losses from her last investigation, Elizabeth is reluctant to take the case. But soon she's caught up in life on the reservation, where she meets a Native American shaman named Sequoia. What's intriguing to me about PISCES RISING is that in meeting Sequoia, Elizabeth encounters someone whose so-called supernatural abilities are even more advanced than her own."
Page One: "What do you think is the most common misconception people have about psychic ability?"
Martha: "People tend to think you can turn it on and off like a faucet, which isn't true. Perhaps there are psychics out there who have that level of control, but I'm certainly not one of them. I can't force myself to have a precognitive dream, for example, but that doesn't negate the fact that I've had several of them. I can't always see auras--but at times they appear to me in such vivid color and beauty that I'm hard put to describe them. Sometimes I literally can see people's thoughts--but again, not on command."
Page One: "How did you create Elizabeth Chase?"
Martha: "I remember the exact moment I conceived Elizabeth Chase. I was standing in the mystery section of the library, combing the stacks for a new kind of detective. I'd read just about everybody, it seemed. I was hungering to read the adventures of a detective who used the intuitive, right side of her brain as brilliantly as Sherlock Holmes had used his logical, left brain. As I was searching, I had an epiphany: I was the person who must write those books; I was uniquely qualified to do so. The realization was so powerful that it raised goosebumps on my arms."
Page One: "How have your experiences as an editor affected your own writing?"
Martha: "In many ways my life as an editor inspired me. Every day I dealt in the currency of characters and ideas. My salary was pitiful, but intellectually and spiritually, I was a rich woman. I had the privilege to work on projects by Alice Walker, Edna O'Brien, Eudora Welty, and other modern masters. I caught the mystery bug when I edited an anthology called THE NEW BLACK MASK QUARTERLY, where I first encountered the writing of James Ellroy, Robert Parker, Loren Estleman, Sara Paretsky, Elmore Leonard, George Simenon. Editing those anthologies made me feel guilty, because it seemed like far too much fun to be work.
Some of my experiences as an editor negatively affected my writing. After years of seeing hundreds of manuscripts rejected on a monthly basis, I was terrified to make that shift from the editor's side of the desk to the author's side of the desk. Who did I think I was, anyway? When you've edited the likes of Donald Westlake and Tony Hillerman, that can be a humbling question."
Page One: "Who are some up and coming mystery writers that have caught your eye and why?"
Martha: "Lately I've been reading Steve Hamilton, whose Edgar and Shamus award-winning first novel, A COLD DAY IN PARADISE, chilled me and thrilled me and filled me with envy, as only a damn good book can do. I'm jumping right into his second, WINTER OF THE WOLF MOON, which I have on good authority is even better.