Like Meg Langslow, the ornamental blacksmith
heroine of her series from St.
Martin's Press, Donna Andrews was born and raised in Yorktown,
Virginia. These days she spends almost as much time in cyberspace
as Turing Hopper, the artificial intelligence who appears in
her technocozy series from Berkley
Although she read widely as a child, especially
in fantasy and science fiction, her love of mystery developed
during her college years (and particularly at exam time.) Andrews
attended the University of Virginia, majoring in English and
Drama with a concentration on writing. After graduation, she
moved to the Washington, D.C. area and joined the communications
staff of a large financial organization, where for two decades
she honed her writing skills on nonfiction and developed a profound
understanding of the criminal mind through her observation of
In the fall of 1997 she started on the road
to publication by submitting her first completed mystery manuscript
to the Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Press Best First Traditional
Mystery contest. Upon learning that Murder
with Peacocks had won, she acquired a copy of Peterson's
Field Guide to Eastern Birds and settled down to have fun in
her fictional world for as long as she could get away with it.
with Peacocks won the Agatha, Anthony, Barry, and
Romantic Times awards for best first novel and the Lefty award
for the funniest mystery of 1999. Subsequent books have also
received Agatha and Lefty nominations, and Crouching
Buzzard, Leaping Loon won the Toby Bromberg Award
for Excellence (presented by Romantic Times) for the Most Humorous
Mystery of 2003. Owl's
Well That Ends Well (April 2005), the sixth book
in the series, features a murder at a giant yard sale. No
Nest for the Wicket, the seventh book in the series,
will appear in August 2006.
November 2005 saw the release of Delete
All Suspects, the fourth book in the Turing Hopper
series--which was partly inspired by her experience serving as
a translator between the marketing and systems departments at
her day job. Andrews notes that in these books she seeks to use
computers and other technology accurately without making the
action incomprehensible for readers who prefer whodoneits to
computer manuals--and Delete
All Suspects, she achieves a long-time ambition of
killing off a spammer, even if only on paper. The first book
in the series, You've
Got Murder, won the Agatha award for best mystery
of 2002, and was followed by Click
Here for Murder and Access
A member of MWA,
Sisters in Crime,
and the Private Investigators and Security Association, Andrews
spends her free time gardening and conquering the world (but
only in Civiliation IV).
Q: Did you actually choose to work in the Mystery genre and
if so why? (What does it offer that others do not?)
A: I'm not sure whether it's more accurate
to say that I chose mystery or that it chose me. As a child,
I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, though two of my absolute
favorites were the Sherlock Holmes stories and Freddy the Detective,
by Walter Brooks. But I didn't really become a committed mystery
reader until college, when my roommate introduced me not only
to the classics of the genre--Christie, Hammett, Chandler, Sayers,
and such--but also to some of the new voices who were entering
the field in the 1970s.
The first two books I wrote--unpublished to date, and probably
unpublishable without much revision--were a fantasy and a coming
of age story. But as I look back, I realized that each of them
contained a mystery, disguised as a subplot, struggling to break
into the light.
I thought of the idea for my first mystery, Murder
with Peacocks, while brainstorming with a friend who
was writing romance. I came up with the idea that the heroine,
because she was helping organize two or three weddings, was completely
turned off by anything related to marriage and romance. It struck
me as an amusing way to keep hero and heroine apart until the
denouement. And the minute I thought of it, I wanted to write
it. But I didn't read many romances--I read mysteries. So I thought
if I threw a body in, that would make it a mystery with a romantic
subplot. I read a lot of those. And from that casual conversation,
Meg and her whole world were ultimately born.
Q: How much of your protagonist in either series is based
upon yourself and/or important figures in your life?
A: Many of my friends tell me that when they
read the Meg books, they hear my voice. I don't see myself as
nearly as much like Meg as they do. She has my sense of humor,
yes--but unlike me, she always comes up with the perfect comeback
when she needs one, even if she's sometimes too nice to say them
aloud. Of course, she couldn't do that without me--I spend months
working to help her with it. And she's braver than I am. I can't
remember the last time I confronted someone I thought was a murderer.
And one of the biggest ways she's not like me is that in her
twenties, she turned her back on the safety of a steady job to
follow her passion for blacksmithing. At the time I created her,
I'd been working desk jobs in offices for twenty years, and the
last thing I wanted to write about was someone who had to follow
the same nine to five routine I did. So I made her a craftsperson,
with a more uncertain income than mine, but plenty of freedom
to sleuth. One of the happiest--and most scary--days of my life
was in June 2001, when I followed in her footsteps and left my
day job to write full time.
I have also come to realize that in many ways Meg's feckless
brother Rob is also based on me. My responsible, grownup, organized
side, the part of me that diligently finishes her writing quota
every day--that's Meg. The part of me that sometimes plays hooky
with a game of Civilization IV, or forgets to check the voicemail
for three days--that's Rob.
Q:Which of your books comes closest to accomplishing your
intention and why?
A: Generally, whichever book I'm currently
working on falls the farthest from my intention, and by comparison,
anything that's already finished and in print seems like a masterpiece
by comparison. So at the moment, The
Penguin Who Knew Too Much, which is out in August, feels
absolutely brilliant compared with Cockatiels at Seven the work
I'm one of those writers who comes to a point in every
book I'm writing when I think, "Okay. I've lost it. This
is garbage. Why should I even bother finishing it?" And
the answer, of course, is that I've been through the same thing
before and know it will pass if I just keep working. That the
first step in writing a good book is finishing a first draft,
however lousy. Im happy to report that the first draft
of Cockatiels at Seven is, at last, finished, so the worst
Q: Who or what have been your major influences regarding
your writing? (What particular book/writer/film/person/event
made you want to write and why?)
A: I started writing in grade school, so
Im not sure I can point to a particular book or event.
But my second and third grade teacher, Miss Gregory, encouraged
me to write and helped give me the confidence to persevere until
I was published.
And one book that was influential in my decision to write
humorous mysteries was Sharyn
McCrumbs Bimbos of the Death Sun. Its
a comic mystery set in the world of science fiction and fantasy
conventions. When I read it, I realized that the mystery genre,
and specifically the humorous mystery, was the perfect place
Q: What new projects do you have in the pipeline?
A: Projects chugging toward publication include
a short story, "A Rat's Tale," in the September/October
issue of Ellery
Queen's Mystery Magazine--actually that one may already
be on the newsstand by now--and an essay called "Sex, Lies,
and MRIs" in Ben
Bella Books' upcoming anthology, House Unauthorized:
Vasculitis, Clinic Duty, and Bad Bedside Mannerits
an anthology of essays about the TV show House.
Farther off is a short story in the second volume of Powers
of Detection, an Ace anthology edited by Dana Stabenow
that features murder in a science fiction or fantasy setting.
That should be out in 2008, along with the ninth Meg Langslow
book, Cockatiels at Seven.
For more information on Donna, visit: www.donnaandrews.com
Cockatiels at Seven was inspired by a two week
visit with my brother and his wife and my three-year-old twin
nephews, Aidan and Liam. The nephews are smart, adorable, a boatload
of fun to be around, and absolutely exhausting--the minute they
go down for their naps, every grownup in the house collapses
in place. Some days, I found myself wondering how my brother
and sister-in-law can accomplish something as simple as making
a slice of toast with those two energetic, inquisitive, mischievous
souls underfoot, and yet they manage to run a normal house, hold
down jobs, and even pursue their Ph.D.'s. And sometime during
that visit, I realized that I wanted to inflict a three-year-old
on Meg. Not her three-year-old, or a nephew she knows well, but
the son of a friend who shows up, begs Meg to look after her
son "just for a little while" and then disappears for
the rest of the book. After twenty-four hours, Meg starts to
investigate her friend's disappearance--with the toddler in tow.
And chaos, of course, follows, as it usually does in Megs
Agatha, Anthony, Barry, Romantic Times and
the Lefty Award.Winner
of the Wrought Iron Flamingos
Buzzard, Leaping Loon
Toby Bromberg Award for
Here for Murder
Always Have Parrots
Owls Well That Ends Well
Review by Nancy Gratton,
Penquin Who Knew Too Much
St. Martin's Minotaur, 2007, 288 pp.
In Stores August 7th
What a delight! Here's yet another in author Donna Andrews'
series featuring Meg Langslow, blacksmith and sometime sleuth.
For those already familiar with Meg and her extensive, deliciously
daffy, Virginia-based clan, there's nothing more that needs to
be said - they'll have already hot-footed it down to their local
bookseller or snapped up their copy online.
If you are one of those poor readers who have yet to discover
Andrews' virtuoso comic performances, however, this book is as
good a place as any to start. Sure, you'll begin without prior
knowledge of the vastly entertaining foibles of the Langslow
clan, but that's no hindrance to enjoying them in their current
incarnation. You'll have plenty of time to backtrack into the
earlier volumes to get yourself caught up. In fact, you might
as well scoop them up all at once, since it's guaranteed that
you're going to find yourself hooked on Andrews' deft storytelling
and appealing characters. Why waste time?
Penguin, Meg has finally made the personal commitment
to settle down with her actor boyfriend in Caerphilly, Virginia.
This decision has inspired her huge, far-flung family to turn
up on the doorstep, along with a large refugee contingent of
animals from the local zoo. Soon everyone is knee deep in lemurs,
llamas, and, of course, the penguin of the title - along with
a flock of his fellows. To any normal person, this might seem
a bit unsettling, but Meg's not so easily surprised by life's
odder twists and turns. She's been around her family far too
long for that.
Of course, it's the appearance of the zoo denizens that introduces
the mystery: What happened to the zoo-keeper that rendered all
these furry and feathered creatures homeless? Might it have something
to do with the body found buried in Meg's newly acquired basement?
Are the humming llamas hiding something? Will the penguins ever
get their customized wading pool? For those who prefer to take
their mysteries with a generous helping of humor, this book and
Andrews' entire bird-titled series is a great place to turn.
Nest for the Wicket