Interview with Lorrie Holmgren by Melissa Brooks
Lorrie Holmgren fell in love with traveling when she was only eight years old, and her family lived in Milan, Italy for a year. Her travels and her love of writing eventually led to her writing the Emily Swift Travel Mysteries. I interviewed her to find out more about her writing, her inspiration, and what she is working on now.
1. Have you always been interested in writing?
Yes. When I was little, I read and made up stories. Then I took a writing class in college that I loved. We had to write a short story every week and then critique each other’s work. It was challenging but really fun.
In my professional life, writing was always part of my job —articles, op/eds, speeches, ads, talking points, news releases. It was very interesting work but not imaginative. I returned to my first love – fiction --after I took a week-long novel writing workshop taught by Will Weaver, the author of Gravestone Made of Wheat, and joined a writer’s group that continues to give me excellent advice.
2. What inspired you to start writing mysteries?
I love all sorts of fiction, but I especially enjoy reading mysteries. They’re very satisfying. I like a plot, a clear solution to a problem, a sense of justice being done. The kind of mysteries I like best are light and amusing ones that include interesting facts and insights – so that’s what I started to write.
3. What is your writing process like? How does writing a story start for you?
An overall story idea just occurs to me. Then I mull it over it for a while, tucking ideas, scraps of dialogue, and relevant news articles into a file. When I’m ready to write, I review my file and usually find that the dialogue I’ve jotted down sets me on my way. I make a list of my characters, what they look like, what they want, why they would have committed the crime, and why they wouldn’t. When I begin, I don’t know who is guilty. About half way through the first draft, I identify the killer and make a list of upcoming chapters. While I’m writing toward the conclusion, I keep making notes and jotting down bits of dialogue, especially for the ending.
4. Do you get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
I really don’t. I think it’s because my college professor Mildred Walker insisted there was no such thing, that we absolutely had to hand in our story on time every week. She also taught us to separate writing from revising and editing. It didn’t matter if the story wasn’t good; it simply had to exist. Then we had something to work with. I still find her advice very valid. Some days I feel that my writing isn’t going well, it’s hardly worth doing, but I force myself to keep going. To my surprise, I usually find that while the scene needs work, it is better than I thought and gives me something to revise the next day.
5. How do your travels contribute to your writing of the Emily Swift Travel Mysteries?
In the first two books, ideas for the novels came out of my travels. I always take photos and keep a journal when I go on vacation, and this was very helpful to me later.
In the novel I’m writing now, “Killing in the Cotswolds,” I went to England in order to do research. I had an idea for the book, and I wanted to develop it and gather information to make the setting vivid. Since my main character, Emily Swift, is a travel writer, I want to describe the places she visits as well as I can.
6. Why did you choose Madeline Island and Hawaii as the locations in the first two books?
I chose Madeline Island for the first book in the series, “Murder on Madeline Island,” because I often went there with my writing group to write, critique our work and just have fun. Like Emily, we went to Tom’s Burnt Down Café, sailing on Lake Superior, and hiking in Big Bay State Park. I love the island and am very familiar with it. So it seemed a natural choice.
The idea for “Homicide in Hawaii” came from the terrifying adventure of a colleague who told me about his experience on the lava field of the volcano on the Big Island. He didn’t expect to come out of it alive. I thought his experience would be the perfect climax for a mystery, so I put Emily Swift in my friend’s place and added a killer. Since I had been to Hawaii a couple of times, I was familiar with the island and had kept detailed notes.
7. How did the character of Emily Swift develop as you wrote her? What was your inspiration for her character?
Making Emily Swift a travel writer opened up lots of possibilities. I wanted her to love going to new places and sharing her enthusiasm with her readers. She is fascinated by the history, myths and culture of the places she visits. Her curious nature inevitably draws her into a mystery. I wanted her to have a strong sense of justice --to want to make sure the guilty person is caught, and the innocent cleared. For me, this is one of the satisfactions of reading a mystery, so Emily had to be driven to seek justice. I started out with this idea of her character. I also want her to grow in confidence in her own abilities as the series continues and to trust her intuition – especially about the men in her life.
8.. Are you working on anything right now?
Yes. I’m half way through writing “Killing in the Cotswolds” and really enjoying it. I’m reliving the trip my husband and I took to England last year. Emily’s assignment is to write articles about easy day trips from London, which so far includes Chipping Campden, Bourton on the Water, Bibury, and Stratford upon Avon. Her childhood friend has enlisted her help in solving a murder. I hope my readers will enjoy it as much as I do.