Friday, June 16, 2017

A Conversation with Suspense Novelist Darden North

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Darden North

We are delighted to welcome back author Darden North to Omnimystery News today.

Yesterday we featured an excerpt from his new novel of suspense The 5 Manners of Death (WordCrafts Press; June 2017 trade paperback and ebook formats) and today we have a chance to spend some time with him talking about his books.

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Omnimystery News: Into which genre would you place your books?

Darden North
Photo provided courtesy of
Darden North

Darden North: My first novel, House Call, opened as a murder mystery from page one with the bathroom murder scene and a bloody bathtub pictured on the jacket cover. My second novel, Points of Origin, was drama/suspense and received an IPPY in Southern Fiction. However, the thriller genre took over with Fresh Frozen, Wiggle Room, and now The 5 Manners of Death. I believe that most thrillers and mysteries (or murder mysteries) have elements of each, at least mine do. What I enjoy about plotting and writing thrillers is teasing readers with the secrets and the future dangers, while keeping my characters clueless. What’s more fun than a creep (or a tumultuous, twisted event) waiting just around the corner to trip up the unsuspecting protagonist or even the antagonist.

OMN: How would you tweet a summary of your new book?

DN: In The 5 Manners of Death there are 5 ways 2 die. Diana believes murder is the only one left, but she’s wrong. Murder is her family secret.

OMN: When starting a new project, which comes first: the storyline or the cast of characters?

DN: For me, it’s been both ways. In my first novel, House Call, I had these medical characters running through my head years before I wrote the first sentence of that murder mystery. Finally, when a unique plot idea came along—one centered around reverse sexual discrimination—I had the perfect place to put them. Since then, plot has been at center. I wanted to do a follow-up story to my fourth thriller Wiggle Room, and it was possible to build The 5 Manners of Death around four of its main characters.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

DN: The standard answer for any non-historical fiction writer should be: “No, none of the story is based on one certain person or persons or event! Of course, not!” But let’s face it. Novelists are inspired by an event or events, whether past or present. No one is that imaginative or creative, not time after time. It’s how a writer can twist something real or factual into larger than life fiction that makes that author a winner. Speaking for myself, my characters are a combination of souls. Many times a protagonist or antagonist may be modeled initially after an actual person, perhaps someone I have simply seen in public but never met. Then I take it from there, tweaking that persona and physical description until he or she is just right and in no way resembles an actual person.

OMN: Describe your writing environment for us.

DN: I did a series of short, interview-style promotional videos for The 5 Manners of Death, filmed in my outside office where I do a lot of my writing. There is a pool just off the porch with four small fountains at the corners. (Actually, the fountains are cherub faces mounted on short brick pillars with water spouting from their mouths, and my kids have always thought them corny and never liked them.) I find the sound of water soothing and, weather permitting, keep the French doors open to hear. My writing desk is a hand-me-up from my son, who used it in college over 10 years ago, and natural light fills the room from large windows at the far wall. I thought an interview segment discussing where I write would be interesting to readers and potential readers. Considering the subject of this question, maybe my idea was a good one! At first I didn’t think so. I felt awkward and strained when first in front of the camera, trying to recite in a conversational manner the lines I had written explaining the five ways to die. In fact, I choked in the first few takes. Bill Roberts, the videographer and producer, tried to put me at ease by tossing the interview questions to me off camera. A couple of hours later, after lots of laughs and outtakes, it was a successful wrap. Then we shot more video at the state medical examiner’s office, touring the morgue and the area outside the room where skeletons and bone fragments are stored.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

DN: I try to utilize a cross section of advance readers, both male and female, not necessarily for fact-checking but for opinion on whether or not a scene or series of events seems plausible. I like to double-check the appropriateness of certain colloquialisms and the actions of characters of the opposite sex. Even fiction authors should research, and I would never have had the time to write five novels without the Internet. I’m too much of a perfectionist to let facts slide. I enjoy consulting with medical experts outside of my obstetrics and gynecology field and have learned fascinating things from pathologists and medical examiners. Interviews about police procedure and talking with a fire marshal about what makes a successful arsonist have been fascinating topics. In my current novel, The 5 Manners of Death, I had to learn beekeeping and become a card shark at poker.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

DN: I gave an ARC of The 5 Manners of Death to a neighbor and businesswoman, asking for her feedback. She returned the book a couple of weeks later with a four page, hand-written critique, praising me for “the best one yet,” but she thought the action did not include enough sex. I texted her back that all my creative ideas were used up in a previous novel.

OMN: What kinds of films or television shows do you enjoy watching for entertainment?

DN: Who these days could do without On Demand or a DVR? I have binged on one television series after the other, time-traveled through centuries and run the gamut of politics to blood-and-guts. (Maybe that’s all the same.) I recently completed watching the series finale of The Killing and keep current with Homeland, Bloodline, The Divorce, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Ray Donovan, and Outlander. I still miss Dexter and Breaking Bad. Better Call Saul cannot quite fill that void. This last two weeks, my wife and I found something we could watch together, Anne with an E, based on the novel Anne of Green Gables. A lot of people would agree that many of the unique, progressive series are found outside of the traditional TV programming, but as far as major network television, I have enjoyed Designated Survivor and (OK, I’ll admit it) Scandal.

OMN: Suppose The 5 Manners of Death were to be adapted for the screen. Who do you see playing the lead roles?

DN: The film’s budget would have to be generous, but Robert Redford and Jane Fonda would be naturals for Winston Ivy and Phoebe, although Redford may not be tall enough. I envision a non-political, non-tattooed and non-pierced Katy Perry playing Diana Bratton, and Chris Hemsworth (trading his Aussie accent for gentle Southern) starring as Brad Cummins. Ben Affleck (made-up to look slightly younger) could nail the charming, but deviant, persona of Alex Bratton.

But one of my other novels produced as a movie? Maybe not so far-fetched. A team in Los Angeles including Amy Taylor has written the screenplay for my third novel, Fresh Frozen, but no production date has been set. It seems a lot goes into getting a movie rolling, and it’s all green. After my first read through of the film’s script, the director and producer explained that the number of characters and pages of an author’s precious novel must shrink to accommodate budgetary concerns as well as the short attention span of a movie goer. It seems that the actions and goals of more than character must sometimes be condensed into the role of one player to advance the plot efficiently and economically, eliminating some folks and rewriting the subplots of others. A book that might take a week’s vacation to read in print or on a tablet must be condensed into 90 to 120 minutes on the silver screen.

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Few authors write murder mysteries and thrillers and also deliver babies. A native of the Mississippi Delta and a board-certified physician in ob/gyn, Darden North is the nationally awarded author of five novels in the mystery/thriller genre, including Points of Origin, which was awarded an IPPY. North practices medicine at Jackson Healthcare for Women, where he is a certified daVinci robotic surgeon. North also serves as Chairman of the Board of the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Foundation and on the Editorial Advisory Board of his state medical journal.

A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Mississippi, he begin his writing and publishing career as Editor-in-Chief of the 1978 Ole Miss yearbook and continued for the 1982 Medic while in medical school. North has presented at the Southern Expressions Conference on the construction of mysteries and thrillers and participated as an author panelist at “Murder in the Magic City,” “Killer Nashville,” and “Murder on the Menu.” Darden North lives with his wife Sally in Jackson, Mississippi. In his spare time, he gardens, enjoys family, walks for exercise, and travels. Sally and Darden have two young adult children who work in the medical field.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at DardenNorth.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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The 5 Manners of Death by Darden North

The 5 Manners of Death by Darden North

A Novel of Suspense

Publisher: WordCrafts Press

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

After a construction worker unearths a human skull on the campus of the University of Mississippi dating to the 1960s, an older woman’s desperate attempt to erase history counts down the five manners of death.

Dr. Diana Bratton is a surgeon surrounded by bodies after the discovery of her Aunt Phoebe’s 50-year-old note detailing the manners of death. Suicide, accident, natural cause, and one death classified undetermined are soon crossed off this list—leaving Diana to believe that only murder remains. When Diana spots photographs in a 1966 university yearbook, Phoebe is linked not only to that death, but to the recent deaths of two local men. Diana is torn between pursuing Phoebe’s innocence and accepting police theory that her aunt is involved in the murder of several men she knew in college.

Diana steals precious time from her young daughter, her surgical practice, and her hopes for renewed romance to clear Aunt Phoebe’s name of multiple murder and uncover the significance of the list. Even as Diana searches Phoebe’s home basement for evidence, she works to trump the police and outrun the conspiracy between her ex-husband and Phoebe’s long-time lover—her quest to expose the truth overshadowed by a need to rebury the past. Even though she realizes there is a chance to save her shrinking family, Diana understands that of the five ways to die, murder is her family secret.

The 5 Manners of Death by Darden North

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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