Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Conversation with Mystery Author Ellen Larson

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Ellen Larson
with Ellen Larson

We are delighted to welcome back mystery author Ellen Larson to Omnimystery News, who visited with us yesterday with a guest post titled "Beware the Simple Solution".

Ellen's new novel, In Retrospect (Five Star; December 2013 hardcover and ebook formats), is a good old-fashioned whodunit set in a compelling post-apocalyptic future.

We recently had a chance to chat with the author about her book.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about In Retrospect. Do you see it as being the first of a series?

Ellen Larson
Photo provided courtesy of
Ellen Larson

Ellen Larson: I never planned for my dystopian mystery, In Retrospect, to be the first in a series. It is a high concept book (Merit Rafi, time-traveling detective, is forced to investigate a murder she would gladly have committed herself), most notable for its complex structure. But as I was revising the book (a process that took several years), I realized that the complex world I had built was begging for a sequel. I adore puzzle mysteries, and when you throw in time travel, the possibilities for deceit and surprise revelation are endless. On another note, I felt I owed it to my protagonist, Merit, who spends most of In Retrospect in a state of extreme mental torment. She is not at her best, to put it mildly. But by the end of the book, Merit is revealed as a woman with great strength of character, who takes her duty as a servant of her state very seriously. So I wanted to give her a chance to show off her strengths — as well as her investigative skills. Thus Upon Reflexion was conceived.

OMN: We struggled to come up with a tagline for your book, and decided on "A Sci-Fi Mystery Thriller". How do you categorize it?

EL: This is a tough question for me. My habit is to write a book and to allow other people to categorize it later. My intent with In Retrospect was to write a psychological mystery (my protag spends the book trying to decide whether or not to betray everything she believes in by time-traveling for her enemies — a Hobson's choice, as she is being blackmailed into cooperating). There is a murder, my sleuth is a professional investigator, there are four suspects, each with a plausible reason to commit the crime, and I plant the solution in plain sight for anyone who is able to see it. But when the book was finished, I realized that to the casual reader, the book must surely appear to be science fiction. I thus pitched it as science fiction to publishers, without success. Only when I turned to mystery publishers did I find success. Five Star is in fact a mystery publisher with no interest in publishing science fiction. They have marketed the book as a dystopian mystery. So far, the science fiction elements have not seemed to bother the mystery readers. But no, I don't see the cross-genre element an advantage. At least not this particular combination of genres.

OMN: Tell us something about the book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.

EL: Five Star asked me to change some of the place and character names, because they thought they were too weird. Like I said — not a science fiction publisher!

OMN: Though set well into the future, did you include any of your own personal or professional experience in In Retrospect?

EL: There is next to nothing of me or my experiences in In Retrospect. That is because as a writer I grew tired of my friends saying about my protagonists, "She is so much like you." The closest I came to using a situation or character from my life is Celia, a young woman whose face has been terribly scarred in the recent war. She always tried to keep the half of her face that was scarred hidden, which resulted in a sort of sideways way of moving. I based this peculiar movement, and the description of the scar, on a guide that I met in Agra, India, whilst visiting the Taj Mahal. As for Merit, I went out of my way to create a protagonist who is nothing like me. Since I am generally cheerful and have had a nice life, I created Merit as depressed and traumatized. But I said "next to nothing," right? That is because as I wrote the book I discovered I could not kill Merit's core sense of hope. We have that in common.

OMN: Where does the action in In Retrospect take place?

EL: In Retrospect is set in Turkey in the distant future. I picked the region because of its long history. It is a place steeped in mysticism and is the site of many biblical tales. I wanted a place that was exotic but which people knew was a real place. Also, I wanted a place that could be invaded by crossing a narrow strait. Turkey is not an Arab country, but I included a few Arabic words and some architectural elements from my years in Egypt. The society depicted in In Retrospect is meant to be an amalgam of European (the Rasakans) and Asian/African (the Oku).

OMN: Describe your writing environment for us.

Ellen Larson
Photo provided courtesy of
Ellen Larson

EL: Ah, this is the question I wish everyone would ask, because it allows me to talk about my beloved cabin, my preferred writing environment. My cabin is off grid, powered by a solar system I put in, with a rain water collection system. It is built near the route taken by the local fauna when they head into the mountains, so I am regularly visited by turkeys, deer, skunks, porcupines, and occasionally bears. A family of barred owls moved in last year — the single most amazing animal encounter of my life. When I lived in Egypt, I used to write looking out a window into the (palm) tree tops, listening to ambient New England woodlands recordings. Seriously.

OMN: How did you come up with the book's title? And were you involved with the design of the cover?

EL: The title of In Retrospect refers to two things: First, I call my time travelers "Retrospectors" and the act of time travel "Retrospection," and second, the book contains a series of flashbacks to earlier time periods (the literary equivalent of time travel) to tell the tale. These flashbacks are in effect, Merit recalling earlier events that pertain to the decision she must make.

The cover is an image of a key character, the Prioress, wearing a full face shield. It was created by Michael D. Sissons for the book trailer. Mike is an old friend, and an incredibly skilled artist. The trailer includes live actors, cgi, and original artwork. Please check out the trailer for a real treat.

OMN: What kinds of books do you read for pleasure?

EL: I go through phases. Right now I like to read government documents and reports. I also like to read trial transcripts. It's a desire to get to the source documents (I watch C-SPAN for the same reason).

OMN: What are some of your outside interests?

EL: I play and follow tennis. I play bridge (and once beat Omar Sherif in a tournament). I am a big sports fan. For example, I followed biathlon religiously during the years I lived in Egypt (I got EuroSport on TV).

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

EL: Top Five Places you should visit:

1) Pyramids of Egypt;
2) Paris;
3) Katmandu;
4) Westminster Abbey;
5) Blue Ridge Parkway (preferably when the rhododendrons are in bloom).

It's a big world. The more of it you see, the more you understand about yourself.

OMN: What's next for you?

EL: I'm working on a mystery series called Wildcraft, about a sheriff in the Adirondacks who befriends a peculiar young mountain woman whose knowledge of the wilderness helps solve local mysteries. A short story introducing these characters will be published in Big Pulp Magazine in May, 2014.

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In 1989, Ellen Larson left her 100 acre horse farm in upstate New York and headed overseas in search of adventure. In 1991 she landed in Cairo, Egypt, where she worked as a language editor and publications consultant, working in the field of economic development for NGOs such as USAID, CGIAR, and the World Bank.

Larson returned home in 2005 — home being an antique trailer situated deep in the woods of her beloved farm. Her writing, whether mainstream, mystery, or science fiction, borrows heavily from the themes of classical mythology and features heroic protagonists who experience fast-paced adventures and testing situations that are never ever black and white. Larson holds a BA in English from Windham College and an MA in Humanities from California State University.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website at EllenLarson.com. You can also find more information about the book at InRetrospect.com.

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In Retrospect by Ellen Larson

In Retrospect
Ellen Larson
A Sci-Fi Mystery Thriller

Former elite operative Merit Rafi suffered during her imprisonment at the end of a devastating war, but the ultimate torment is being forced to investigate a murder she would gladly have committed herself.

In the year 3324 the Rasakans have attacked the technologically superior Oku. The war is a stalemate until the Oku commander, General Zane, abruptly surrenders. Merit, a staunch member of the Oku resistance, fights on, but she and her comrades are soon captured. An uneasy peace ensues, but the Rasakans conspire to gain control of the prized Oku time-travel technology.

When Zane is murdered, the Rasakans exert control over Merit, the last person on Earth capable of Forensic Retrospection.

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)  BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)


  1. Interesting interview, Ellen! The book sounds fascinating - I love the idea of a time travel mystery.

  2. Thanks, Karen! I had a lot of fun playing with some of the famous time-travel twists.

  3. Great interview and I'm so glad you included a pic of your cabin. Such a nice place and so quiet - I'll be you can really immerse yourself in your writing world there. Also, I'm thrilled to hear that you're starting another series. More great stuff!


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