It's my pleasure to introduce today's guest, Marilyn M. Fisher. Marilyn is a literature professor and the author of two mysteries featuring equine insurance investigator Connie Holt. In the first, The Case of the Three Dead Horses, Connie investigates the mysterious deaths of three expensive stallions with great breeding potential. In He Trots the Air, she unearths a plot to drug Darkling Lord, a promising young Thoroughbred. Meanwhile, in an intriguing subplot, her friend Earline has discovered what might be an original Henry Stull equine oil painting in the attic of her pre- Civil War home. Marilyn has a passion for horses that shows through on every page. Please welcome her to Murderous Musings.
Marilyn: Thanks so much, Jaden, for inviting me to be interviewed for “Murderous Musings.”
Jaden: It's a pleasure to have you, Marilyn. Why don't we start with how you got started as a fiction writer?
Marilyn: I was working in administration at a college in Virginia, an excellent job at a nice school with nice colleagues, but the work I had to do was bureaucratic, mentally exhausting, didn’t offer the opportunities for creativity I’d had as a professor of English. So I thought, “Now’s the time to try writing fiction.” As for the subject matter, I was riding a lot in Virginia, and one day, I read an anonymous article by a vet who had just finished operating on a horse that had been killed. The vet was angry over the fact that someone did it for the insurance money and there wasn’t a thing he or she could do about it. It seemed like a good idea to write a mystery with horse abuse as the theme behind the story. In both my novels, readers learn that horses are abused in real life more often than many people realize. In the first book, horses are killed; the second book deals with another abuse, illegal doping of racehorses. I try to bring about reader awareness through a good, gripping story with which they become engrossed (I hope). To get the facts in the story right, I research a lot; if I think the horse stuff is unclear, I go to great pains to rewrite the material so that non-horse readers will understand it. I’m happy to do the research and learn new things myself. As a graduate student for years, I had to learn to research efficiently to get at the truth about a poem or novel or story; It’s the same now, except that I have the huge resources of the Internet to play with.
Jaden: Both books are set in central Virginia. What made you choose that as a setting?
Marilyn: Lynchburg, Virginia, where I lived, is endlessly fascinating to me. First of all, it’s a horse place, green fields full of grazing horses, only 65 miles from Charlottesville with its university community full of horse people and the two Gold Cup steeplechases in The Plains further north. While I lived there, I took riding lessons, bought and owned two horses (bred one), enjoyed riding every weekend in the country. The people I met there were friendly and warm and helpful. And of course, central Virginia is full of American history with beautifully preserved houses and sites to visit. There was always something to do and learn. I lived for a long time in Buffalo, a gritty northern city; living in Virginia came as a complete and lovely surprise. And it proved to be a wonderful place to set a murder mystery about horses.
Marilyn: The leading characters are as fully-fleshed out as I can make them; both my novels are character-driven. I like mysteries in which people have problems getting along in life, to say nothing of having to deal with a crime. A northerner, Connie Holt was dumped by her husband in Virginia and had to find a job to support herself. She loves the place but is very lonely; it seems to her that everyone else is married. Her boss, Cary McCutcheon, employs her as an equine insurance investigator even though many men were grumpy at first about having to work with a woman. Tony Stephens is another person who is newly transplanted to the south; his business fails, and he has to leave the state. He watches himself very carefully, full of self-analytical rages about his awkwardness around people and his lack of breeding. A very bad veterinarian is in both books, dishonest, venal, unfaithful to his wife, eaten up with the need to get money. I hope the reader will get caught up with the characters, really care about them even though some are flawed and may even be villainous.
Jaden: Sounds like you have some very complex characters. You also address some intense and sometimes controversial issues in your books. Do you aim for a particular reading audience in your novels?
Marilyn: There is a wide range of ages in the books. For instance, in He Trots the Air, one of the bravest characters is a young girl of barely eighteen, but Cary himself is in his seventies, still tough, smart, and wise. He is married to a woman in her forties. When I sell the books and people ask me about the age of the reader, I stress that they are for young adults all the way up to older adults, but definitely not for children.
Jaden: If someone asked you why readers would enjoy your books, what would you say?
Marilyn: They resonate with readers (or at least they tell me so) because there is a puzzle to solve, realistic characters and settings, local color, which came out of my experience living in the same setting as my characters, and a tight, suspenseful plot with exciting events. Oh, and I mustn’t forget romance and sometimes lust.
Jaden: A little spice is a beautiful thing! So, what’s next? Do you have another novel planned?
Marilyn: A third Connie Holt novel, I think. At present, I’m thinking it over, which is my usual way of writing a novel: think, think, think, and then start writing. There is nothing worse than starting a novel, getting two hundred pages into it and realizing you’ve made a huge mistake. Slow and careful, that’s me!
Jaden: Thank you for sharing with us, Marilyn. I look forward to the next installment.