Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Allan J. Emerson

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Allan J. Emerson

We are delighted to welcome author Allan J. Emerson to Omnimystery News today.

Allan's first in a new series is titled Death of a Bride and Groom (Five Star; May 2015 hardcover and ebook formats), a small-town mystery containing humor, a little sex, a lot of double-crossing, and some surprising relationships. We recently had the opportunity to spend some time with him talking about the book.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about Death of a Bride and Groom.

Allan J. Emerson
Photo provided courtesy of
Allan J. Emerson

Allan J. Emerson: Death of a Bride and Groom takes place in a small resort town called Honeymoon Falls, and there are a number of characters who will appear in future books in the series. A few of the standouts are …

My sleuth, Will Halsey, was a big-city cop in line for a promotion, when his wife left him for a famous actor. Devastated, Halsey abandoned his chance at promotion and returned to his home town in search of a quieter life as chief of a three-person force. I like that he's retained his sense of humor, and the combination of strength and vulnerability he shows when dealing with the tangled personal relationships of the suspects.

John Larsen, 25, and Lydia Bailey, 40, are Halsey's entire staff, and they loathe each other. The warfare between the naïve Larsen and the no-nonsense Bailey is amusing, and it's fun to write about their complicated relationship with each other, and with Halsey.

Hermione Hopkins is one of my favorite characters. She's a ninety-five-year-old English actress we meet as she's pondering whether to do a nude scene in an avant-garde film by a French director. I enjoy writing for her because she no longer cares what anybody thinks, so I can be as outrageous as I like. Hermione will be back for at least one more book.

A character who won't be back is the murder victim, Iris Morland. She was fun to create too. Iris enjoyed betrayal, and although she's dead when the book begins, she's still a major character throughout the story. Sometimes she took me by surprise with the sheer inventiveness of her malice.

OMN: How do you expect these characters to develop over the course of a series?

AJE: I do expect to develop the characters over time, although the changes will be subtle. The circumstances in their lives will evolve as time goes by. Even in Death of a Bride and Groom there are significant life changes for some of the characters. I think it's necessary to keep some sense of progression in a series, otherwise the characters stagnate.

OMN: Into which mystery sub-genre would you place this book?

AJE: I describe mine as humorous small-town mysteries. That's not a mystery category the publishing industry uses, but it describes my books best, I think. There is some overlap with the cozy mystery: small-town setting, quirky characters, no gore, but some departures as well — the sleuth is male, there's a little sex, and the humor is dry.

I think there are disadvantages to labeling mystery sub-genres (cozy, police procedural, etc). Each sub-genre has its conventions, and readers may be surprised or disappointed if the all conventions are not observed. As a writer, I want to write the story as I conceive it, not force it to fit a mould. I personally don't find mystery sub-genre labels helpful — I already know it's a mystery, and I can tell from the story description if it's likely to interest me.

OMN: Give us a summary of the book in a tweet.

AJE: In Death of a Bride and Groom, Iris Morland is found dead atop a wedding cake parade float. Nobody cares, since half the town hated her.

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

AJE: I suppose all characters that writers create are made of up of bits and pieces of people the writer has encountered, but only two of the characters in Death of a Bride and Groom are wholly taken from real life. They are my wife's cats, Mr. Peepers and Suzie. Only Mr. Peepers puts in an appearance (he causes the driver of the wedding-cake float to have a traffic accident). Suzie is spoken of, but not seen.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

AJE: I would love to be able to outline my plots, but I never seem to have more than a general idea where the story is going until I start writing it. I guess I'm what writers call a "pantser," someone who flies by the seat of his pants. I do create detailed biographies of my characters. Although very little of that winds up in the book, it does help me to visualize the characters and realize when one of them is doing something out of character. Sometimes I delete or combine characters as the story takes shape.

OMN: And where do you most often find yourself writing?

AJE: I write in a small, messy home office which has always resisted any attempt at de-cluttering. I've never been a neat-desk person, so there's always a pile of books, bills, games, and assorted junk piled around me. Every once in a while, the pile topples onto the floor, where it remains until I shovel it into a box and dump it on a shelf in the basement.

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

AJE: I didn't have to do much fact-checking for Death of a Bride and Groom, but I'm having to do quite a bit for the one I'm writing now. There's a weapon with which I'm not familiar, some DNA details, and a foreign language I don't speak. Fortunately, I've found people willing to share their expertise.

OMN: Is Honeymoon Falls based on a real place?

AJE: No, it is a fictional town that I imagine to be somewhere in the Pacific Northwest near forest and mountains.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a story, where would it be?

AJE: Don't even have to think about this one — Italy, especially within the walled city of Rome, or Venice. I've been to Italy once and would love to go back. I'd introduce some Italian tourists into Honeymoon Falls, have one or both bump off a local for some reason and then have Halsey investigating with the aid of the Italian police. Of course, he'd have to travel there to gather evidence, and that would require checking out the coliseum, the pantheon, navigating the canals in Venice, etc.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

AJE: My interests include delving into my family history, learning French, theater, and working out. I get a kick out of learning new stuff. If you teach anything from basket weaving to beekeeping, I'm likely to show up at your door. So far, none of my characters has shared any of my interests. Perversely, in my current book I have a character who speaks a foreign language, but is it French with which I have at least a nodding acquaintance? Nooo, it's Portuguese, of which I know nothing.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

AJE: Best advice? Don't sweat the first draft. It'll be a mess, but that's okay — beginnings are never perfect, they're just the clay you'll be molding into your finished product. The harshest criticism I got early on was about my over-reliance on dialogue tags (he said, shamefacedly) which, although bad-tasting medicine, did pretty much cure the disease. (Although I don't agree with Elmore Leonard's rule about never using them. Of course, I don't think writers should consider any "rules" as more than suggestions.)

I think aspiring authors can learn a lot about technique from brilliant writers like P.D. James and Robert B. Parker by reading them analytically. If you're laughing or on the edge of your seat while when you're reading, go back when you're finished and try to figure out how the writer made you feel that way.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a mystery author and thus I am also …".

AJE: I am a mystery author and thus I am also interested in unusual ways to kill someone. Put a cobra in their bed? Tamper with their vehicle so the airbag explodes in their face on the freeway? Tie them to the tracks as a freight train approaches? (Hey, it could work … in a historical mystery about the silent film industry where the male star decides to bump off his leading lady...).

OMN: How involved were you with the cover design?

AJE: I suggested using cake top figures of a bride and groom with "tasteful" bullet wounds to convey the idea that the story wasn't going to be entirely serious. The cover artist took my idea and created an eye-catching scene showing the couple stretched out after toppling off the cake. There's a lovely little bullet hole in the bride's upper chest with a dainty stream of blood trickling from it, and bits of cake scattered around the couple. Have a look at the cover photo and you'll see how charming the scene is, in a slightly twisted way …

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

AJE: A few friends have asked "am I in it?" They seem surprised or disappointed when I say no. Some tell me I'm going to be rich and famous. A surprising number say they're writing a book too.

OMN: Suppose this series were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the key roles?

AJE: Hmm … Robert Downey Jr. would be right for the protagonist, Will Halsey. He can project the sensitivity and strength that would be needed to make the character believable. Daniel Radcliffe and Frances McDormand would be good as John Larsen and Lydia Bailey. And nobody else but Maggie Smith could play Hermione Hopkins.

OMN: What kinds of books appeal to you as a reader?

AJE: I read a variety of things, lots of mysteries, of course, but also literary novels like Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus and Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. In series mysteries, I like Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series. Rebus seems real, he's aged over time, lost and won battles with life and his job, and accepted his losses and victories with equanimity. Just for fun, I like Joan Hess's Maggody series. I also keep an eye out for anything from Mary Daheim, Kate Kingsbury, and Alice Duncan.

OMN: And what kinds of films do you enjoy watching?

AJE: I like just about any of the Coen brothers' films, although none of them have inspired my work. What I particularly enjoy about their films is that they're never linear — they start out odd, and then veer in a completely unexpected direction. Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, are great examples of how the viewer ends up somewhere unexpected and completely unsure of what's going to happen next. The Coens also incorporate a dark humour in their films that I enjoy.

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

AJE: Top Five Places to Visit:

1) Honeymoon Falls (yes, it's the fictional town in my book, so theoretically I should know all about it, but I wish I could actually go there and experience it for real);

2) Rome (Villa Borghese, murals by Caravaggio in neighborhood churches, opera, pasta, gelato …);

3) The pyramids in Egypt;

4) Moscow; and

5) Tisdale, Saskatchewan (the town I was born in).

OMN: What's next for you?

AJE: Currently I'm working on the next book in the Honeymoon Falls series, to be called Death of an Action Hero. And maybe there'll be a visit to the pyramids next year.

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Allan J. Emerson is a Canadian writer who was born in Saskatchewan and brought up in small towns there and in British Columbia. He lived in Australia and New Zealand before settling on the west coast of Canada. As his mother could tell you, he's been making up stories since he was a little kid.

Although the town of Honeymoon Falls and all its inhabitants are purely fictional, the idea of marriage and murder in close proximity came to him when he was visiting Niagara Falls, and wondered about the lives of the permanent residents.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at, or find him on Facebook.

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Death of a Bride and Groom by Allan J. Emerson

Death of a Bride and Groom by Allan J. Emerson

A Honeymoon Falls Mystery

Publisher: Five Star Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)

When the bodies of writer Iris Morland and a former lover are discovered in full wedding regalia atop a giant wedding cake parade float, the little resort town of Honeymoon Falls is left reeling. Not only is its reputation as the Romance Capital of the World at risk, its very survival is threatened. Murder, it seems, has a chilling effect on those considering venues for potential nuptials. Finding the killer is going to be difficult; it seems Iris enjoyed betrayal. Her potential killers include her husband, Kenneth, whose faltering grip on a mechanical mouse plunged him into a hideously embarrassing scene with Iris and her latest lover, television host Arnold Reifel. Arnold was finding the affair burdensome, and his wife, Marjorie, was seething because Iris, not content with appropriating her husband, had turned Marjorie's interior decoration schemes into a very public humiliation.

Then there's haughty French film auteur Pierre Blondin, in town filming his adaptation of Iris's novel. Did Iris trigger his murderous wrath by opposing a nude scene featuring ninety-five-year-old actress Hermione Hopkins? Captain Will Halsey, head of Honeymoon Falls' three-person police force, struggles to find the killer while coping with small-town politics, feuding among his subordinates, and the ferocious attentions of the media.

Death of a Bride and Groom by Allan J. Emerson


  1. Thanks for letting us into your stories and process, Allan. Honeymoon Falls sounds ripe for a visit.

    1. I hope you'll drop in often, Cathy. (I'll supply the corpses :) )

  2. Allan,
    I enjoyed reading "Death of a Bride and Groom" and I'm looking forward to your next book in the series.

    1. Thanks, Patricia! It's good to know someone's interested in the next one, since I'm working on the first draft right now.

  3. I just got a copy - can't wait to get started reading. Especially like hearing who you would use if the book was made into a movie. Some of my favorites!

    1. Grandma, obviously both of us have good taste in actors. Hope you enjoy "Death of a Bride and Groom!"

  4. Good interview! I enjoyed reading Death of a Bride and Groom and recommend it to mystery readers.

    1. Thanks, Jacqueline--that's high praise coming from you!


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