Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Conversation with Historical Mystery Author S.K. Rizzolo

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with S.K. Rizzolo
with S.K. Rizzolo

We are delighted to welcome author S.K. Rizzolo to Omnimystery News today.

S.K.'s third mystery in her Regency series is
Die I Will Not (Poisoned Pen Press; November 2014 hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time talking with her about it.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to your Regency series of mysteries.

S.K. Rizzolo
Photo provided courtesy of
S.K. Rizzolo

S.K. Rizzolo: Set in Regency England, my mystery series follows the exploits of a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. My characters do not belong to the Polite World. They do not ordinarily attend balls or visit London for the Season, and they face financial struggles as well as professional and romantic challenges. I've had a lot of fun exploring the relationships between my three protagonists. Edward Buckler, my lawyer hero, continues to battle his hopeless love for Penelope Wolfe, but she can't reciprocate his affections because she is married to a spendthrift artist who is always leaving her in the lurch.

My other sleuth is a Bow Street Runner — a forerunner to the Scotland Yard detective. John Chase is a man over forty, graying, with an untidy queue and an independent spirit that doesn't sit well with his superiors. He's a bit gruff but has a much kinder heart than he himself realizes. I suspect his growth will be about learning to connect with his fellow human beings.

OMN: Tell us something about Die I Will Not that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

SKR: Horatio Rex, one of the suspects, is a Jewish moneylender — a cent-per-cent, as they were called. When John Chase criticizes him for taking advantage of silly young men of fashion, Rex says, "You judge me by the world's prejudice. My father was a street hawker. What professions do you imagine were open to me?" And then he makes the point that the aristocrats cheat him at every turn, which is why he has to charge such exorbitant interest. Sadly, one is all too familiar with the stereotype of the villainous Jewish loan shark, but I hadn't realized that aristocrats took advantage of the usurers too.

OMN: Are any of the situations in which your characters find themselves based on real events?

SKR: Die I Will Not is peopled with characters based on actual historical figures, whom I have fictionalized to suit the needs of my story. For example, the Jewish moneylender is a fictional re-creation of a fascinating and enigmatic figure named Jonathan King. His daughter Charlotte Dacre — Mary Rex Leach in my story — was a Gothic novelist who married a reactionary Tory journalist. This journalist is stabbed in the first chapter of the novel.

At the center of the investigation is a nasty royal scandal that erupted in the spring of 1813 when the Prince Regent and his despised wife Caroline were skirmishing in the press. It would take too long to describe the machinations and cruel games this couple engaged in over many years, but to give you an idea, the Prince once instituted an investigation into Caroline's conduct, which somehow came to be known as the "Delicate Investigation." Well, it's hard to imagine anything less "delicate" because the agents were busy interviewing her reputed lovers and accusing Caroline of having borne an illegitimate child. The investigators even grilled the poor woman's laundry maid and other servants to find out what she'd been up to. This was in 1806 — and in 1813, George and Caroline were still at it. To tell you the truth, I was rather taken aback by the sexual frankness of it all. Talk about throwing royal dignity out the window!

OMN: Describe your writing process.

SKR: It's easy to sum up my writing process: painful, agonizing rough draft. Still painful, agonizing second draft. Repeat multiple times with glimmers of hope emerging. And in the end — I say "not bad." In other words, I'm very hard on myself. But when the writing is finally coming, I can be positively surly when my husband wants to talk to me about the cat hair on the sofa or the laundry that needs to be done.

I do outline the story, but the outline is a very slippery thing. If only events would unfold as expected in the story, but that almost never happens. I've made my peace with the constant rethinking and frantic plugging up of unforeseen plot holes.

OMN: As a historical series, you must spend a lot of time researching the plot points of your stories.

SKR: I could spend days, months, years researching just one of the topics in a novel. Sometimes, I wish all those 19th-century men and women would be a little less chatty! We talk a lot today on Facebook, blogs, and discussion boards — but in terms of sheer volume these people can more than hold their own. They probably would have been right at home with Twitter too.

One of the more interesting personalities I encountered in the research for Die I Will Not was Mary "Perdita" Robinson, the actress, poet, and celebrity courtesan. I knew that she had once been the Prince of Wales' mistress. When the Prince tired of her charms, Perdita blackmailed George III, who paid this demand to stop her from publishing certain compromising letters the Prince had written to her. But I didn't know that Perdita was hoist with her own petard when some of her scandalous and passionate letters to the moneylender Jonathan King were published.

Also, I learned about the use of pseudonyms to write political letters to the press, which was common in both England and Revolutionary America. There were even a few women who adopted these aliases. One who plays a role in my story writes poems espousing the conservative viewpoint that were published in the newspaper. This was a good way to confuse people and protect one's privacy — in some ways not unlike the online identities we assume today.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

SKR: To produce the work to the best of my ability is my primary goal. Anything else is extra. Sometimes I have to separate myself from the cultural din that surrounds us, the clamoring for our attention that everyone experiences today. Writing has always been a solitary pursuit, and I think that solitude and mental focus are absolutely necessary to the process.

My best advice to an aspiring author is simply to read many, many books. Writers are readers, first and foremost. And from this immersion in other people's hopes and fears, writers develop a sense of empathy without which the development of character would be impossible.

OMN: Tell us how Die I Will Not came to be titled.

SKR: My title comes from Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece (or Lucretia), a poem about the rape of a Roman noblewoman by the king's son in 509 BC. Afterwards, the virtuous Lucretia plunged a dagger into her own breast in order to cleanse her shame. To avenge her death, her husband and his allies overthrew the monarchy and established the Roman republic. So essentially "die I will not" is Lucretia's vow that she will not fade into oblivion until her reputation is restored.

In my novel the Lucretia figure is a doomed courtesan, whose tragic story is the basis for a book about royal scandal, 19th-century journalism, and dirty politics. As I researched these topics, I became fascinated by the idea of people struggling to retain their privacy under the relentless, ubiquitous gaze of the modern world — under the gaze of scandals that simply refuse to die.

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

SKR: Top 5 favorite 19th century British novels that are also outstanding period films:

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (BBC, 1995)
2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (BBC, 2004)
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (BBC, 2006)
4. Persuasion by Jane Austen (BBC, 1995)
5. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (BBC, 2008)

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S.K. Rizzolo is the daughter of an Italian-American avid reader and an Arkansas farm boy turned oilman. Raised in the Middle East, she had many adventures, including a brush with a cholera epidemic and an evacuation from Libya when Colonel Gaddafi seized power. In college she majored in English with no clue as to how she meant to support herself, eventually earning an M.A. and becoming an English teacher. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, their empty nest recently filled by the adoption of two feral cats.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at SKRizzolo.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook.

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Die I Will Not by S.K. Rizzolo

Die I Will Not
S.K. Rizzolo
A Regency Mystery

Unhappy wife and young mother Penelope Wolfe fears scandal for her family and worse. A Tory newspaper editor has been stabbed while writing a reply to the latest round of letters penned by the firebrand Collatinus. Twenty years before, her father, the radical Eustace Sandford, also wrote as Collatinus before he fled London just ahead of accusations of treason and murder — a mysterious beauty closely connected to Sandford and known only as N.D. had been brutally slain. Now the seditious new Collatinus letters that attack the Prince Regent in the press seek to avenge N.D.'s death and unmask her murderer. What did the editor know that provoked his death?

Her artist husband Jeremy being no reliable ally, Penelope turns anew to lawyer Edward Buckler and Bow Street Runner John Chase. As she battles public notoriety, Buckler and Chase put their careers at risk to stand behind her and find N.D.'s killer. They pursue various lines of inquiry including a missing memoir, Royal scandal, and the dead editor's secretive, reclusive wife. As they navigate the dark underbelly of 1813 London among a cast driven by dirty politics and dark passions, as well as by decency and a desire for justice, past secrets and present criminals are exposed, upending Penelope's life and the lives of others.

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