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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 Prime Crime.

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 interdepartmental politics.

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. Murder 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 Denied.

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).

DONNA ANDREWS

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 in progress.

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. I’m happy to report that the first draft of Cockatiels at Seven is, at last, finished, so the worst is over.

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 I’m 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 McCrumb’s Bimbos of the Death Sun. It’s 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 for me.

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 Manner—it’s 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.

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 Meg’s world.

For more information on Donna, visit: www.donnaandrews.com

 
Murder with Peacocks
Agatha, Anthony, Barry, Romantic Times and the Lefty Award.Winner


Murder with Puffins


Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos


You've Got Murder
Agatha Award.Winner


Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon
Toby Bromberg Award for Excellence.


Click Here for Murder


We'll Always Have Parrots


Access Denied



Owls Well That Ends Well
 

 book/s in review

 


penquinReview by Nancy Gratton, Heirloom Bookstore:
The 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?

In The 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.



Delete All Suspects


No Nest for the Wicket

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Brian Wiprud
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