SR: What’s your new book/work in progress about?
JP: My book-in-progress (tentatively titled “Dead Is Beautiful“) is the fourth in my mystery series featuring a dead man and a dead dog who return to the living world to fight for the exploited and the oppressed. In each book, my ghostly human protagonist Charles Stone has confronted an aspect of his own life and learned something about himself and about his canine companion, a dead dog he names Rose.
Book four takes Charles and Rose uncomfortably close to his unlovable brother, and demands that Charles solve two murders, among some other stuff involving a tree, an owl and a doula.
At least that’s the way it’s working right now.
SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?
JP: I’ve watched my home town, Los Angeles, gentrify until many neighborhoods are unrecognizable and emptied of the people who lived there, sometimes for generations. Five-star hotels have replaced bungalows and apartment buildings. Renters have been evicted to make room for million-dollar condo-dwellers. Many of these unhoused people now live in their cars, in tents along the freeways, on sidewalks, in improvised camps along the L.A. River. These changes have informed the story. But there’s a lot more going on, too. Family conflicts, an ancient tree, an owl and a doula.
SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?
JP: My murdered protagonist, Charles, is a skeptic for whom people are often more “alien” than the creatures who might arrive from outer space. Now that he’s dead not much can hurt him, so he might enjoy observing the arrival spectacle for a little while.
SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?
JP: A ghost no longer fears death. Failure to protect Rose is Charles’s greatest fear. And proving unworthy of her love.
SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?
JP: The books are not didactic. But if a reader came away thinking that cruelty is a form of cowardice, not strength, and that cruelty to the weak is the greatest cowardice, I’d be okay with that.
SR: If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For your protagonist?
JP: Hell would be watching “Rent” over and over again.
Hell would be listening to anything by Neil Diamond more than halfway through.
SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?
JP: Tough question. As a young person I read much that inspired me: contemporary poetry, Dickens, Shakespeare, etc.
But TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA by Richard Brautigan was a huge joy and revelation. Fiction can be funny and tender. And, there are no rules.
SR: What’s the best thing about writing?
JP: It’s fun and engaging when the writing is moving along. I laugh out loud at some of the stuff the characters say and do. I’m surprised. I’m immersed. Not much is better than being totally in the zone.
SR: What’s the worst thing about writing?
JP: But often writing is also a frightening slog. A nightmare. I feel inadequate, lost. Doomed.
SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?
JP: I rewrite and rewrite and then rewrite some more. I examine all of the above, especially dialogue.
SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?
JP: Wary. Not by design but because I’m not at home with the popular. I never was the popular kid, but I grew to like the privacy and subversive freedoms that come with not hanging with the in-crowd.
SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?
JP: Holmes, of course. Moriarty is a plot device. He only appeared in two of the stories and provided a means to do away with Holmes. Post Conan Doyle, Moriarty became a brilliant but limited adversary, an evil twin figure demonstrating what Holmes could have been.
Holmes’s expansive, restless, unpredictable, sensitive, intuitive hungry mind is open to everything, everyone. I think Moriarty’s consciousness, while clever and inventive is less supple. Moriarty out for Holmes. He’s an amoral egotist. Holmes is demonstration of reach of human consciousness and intelligence.
I don’t relate to either in that I would never claim to share either’s brilliance or to understand its source. But I deeply admire Holmes.
SR: What’s your personal life motto?
JP: I don’t have a motto, but I often recall this quotation (and I may be misquoting. I have never been able to find the source after finding it years ago):
“Experience is what you do not want to experience.” ––Delmore Schwartz
SR: Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.
JP: Having a dog find me completely changed my life and changed me. The intelligence, sweetness, goodness, patience, good nature, playfulness, loyalty, courage, deep friendship, stoicism, dignity and capacity for love that this dog demonstrates daily, hourly, is miraculous.
SR: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If you could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?
JP: My husband is thriller/mystery writer Thomas Perry. I love the many characters he’s created in his 25 novels, but his Native-American guide, Jane Whitefield, the protagonist of an 8-novel series, is one I’d like to be for a day.
Jane takes people away from danger, builds new identities for them, then relocates in new lives. While she’s a totally contemporary woman, she’s also a Seneca and her heritage informs her experience in powerful ways and lets her live simultaneously in the past and the present.
It would be scary and illuminating to be Jane Whitefield for a day. I’d learn what it feels like to strong, courageous, wise, to be able to withstand fear and to rebuff evil.
SR: What movie or TV world do you wish you could live in? Why?
JP: It may sound sappy but the in the world of “Love Actually” love wins most of the time. I could live with that.
SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?
JP: I would support organizations fighting homelessness, fighting hate, working to protect animals and the environment, and that provide healthcare to those who need it.
SR: What factors influence you when you’re choosing a book to read?
JP: I will dip in a book and if I like what I’m reading, I’ll keep going. I’m all over the place, a very promiscuous reader. I love nonfiction. I read a number of books at once. Right now I’m reading Robert Macfarlane’s “Landmarks,” Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Natural Causes,” Peter Cooper’s mystery, “Desert Remains,” and a list of others.
I read a lot about death, but I’m also interested in language, essays. memoirs, biographies. Sometimes a review will catch my interest and I’ll seek out a book, or a friend’s recommendation. I read a lot of crime fiction, too It’s always fun to read a book by an author I’ve recently met. I also happily working my way through the Fahrenheit Press (my publisher) varied and very fine list.
SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?
JP: On Sunday, June 10, 2018 at 7 P.M. I’ll be part of NOIR AT THE BAR L.A., reading with Nikki Dolson, Rex Weiner and other talented authors at the Mandrake Bar, 2692 La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
And in September I’ll be attending Bouchercon in Florida.
Jo Perry earned a Ph.D. in English, taught college literature and writing, produced and wrote episodic television, and has published articles, book reviews, and poetry.She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist Thomas Perry. They have two adult children. Their two cats and two dogs are rescues.
Who wags their tail when Jo’s in the office? Find out here.