An interview with author Katy Munger, conducted by... Katy Munger.
Is it true you have a new book coming out?
Why, yes! Thank you so much for asking. Too Old to Die is now out and available in both paperback and ebook formats. This book is the fifth in my very first mystery series, Hubbert & Lil. It is a cozy by anyone's standards. By the way, to whoever left the very first review on this book yesterday: I love you.
Why in the world did you choose to go all the way back to your first series with this new book?
It was an interesting journey that brought me to the decision to write another book in my cozy series. Initially, I intended to finish a Casey Jones book in progress, one that took place in a private women's college in Raleigh (one that had no resemblance whatsoever to Meredith College, of course). But the world has changed a lot recently, and I've changed with it. Even though I was halfway into it, the Casey Jones series is (supposed to be) fundamentally humorous, often with a bite to it, and I found that I had lost the taste to make fun of young women. Good god, they have enough challenges as it is. And you can't really write a funny book about a women's college without making fun of the young ladies who go there. Plus, I felt like some of the characters that came in from the outside to provide conflict to the plot were meaner than they needed to be — probably because some of them were based on real people who are indeed absolutely awful humans (boy, are you guys lucky I walked away from that book). Since the main reward in writing for me is being able to sit down and create an imaginary world populated by characters I have chosen to do my bidding, I could no longer ignore the fact that I wasn't enjoying writing that particular book. So I metaphorically chucked it. In ancient times, I would have tossed it into the fire, but since it was all on computer, I banished it to my back-up drive and decided to start something new. And I did the same thing I did at the very, very beginning of my writing career when it came to choosing a new project: I thought back to what made me happy to read. Then I considered what I thought the world needed right now. And I came to a couple conclusions:
I really love gentle, situational humor like PG Wodehouse, the late Charlotte MacLeod, the Mapp and Lucia books by E.F. Benson, etc. where the everyday absurdities of life are highlighted and bring a smile to your face. These kinds of books help me see real life in a different way and enjoy it more.
The world of books really does not need another thriller or serial killer novel. You can't turn around without a stack of them falling on you.
What the world at large really needs right now is to lighten up — and the people in it need to be a little kinder toward each other. The pandemic only seemed to make this situation worse.
Those conclusions are all close to the same reasons why I started writing the Hubbert & Lil series in the first place, so I decided to go right back to where I came from and write another book featuring TS and Auntie Lil. I think I made the right decision because I truly had a wonderful time writing this book.
Do you see yourself in TS or Auntie Lil?
Definitely not. I am incapable of being as organized and fastidious as TS and I like to think I am a little more sensitive to other people’s feelings than Auntie Lil (who, god bless her, grabs life by the tail but is a little too “damn the torpedoes” for me). Both of these characters are based on real people, by the way, now long gone from this earth. One was an early mentor of mine who I will always think of with love and gratitude. The other was his aunt and she was a real piece of work — equal parts inspiring and terrifying. But both of them were unafraid to be themselves and that is a beautiful thing.
How is Too Old to Die different from prior books in the series?
There are some important differences in this book compared to the four that came before it in that particular series. Setting is one of them. For the first time, I've taken Auntie Lil and TS out of New York City and moved them down South, to a fictional retirement community outside an imaginary town located roughly where you might find Pinehurst or Southern Pines. I did this because I believe firmly in the authenticity of setting, and there's no way I can pull off New York after being gone so long from it. But also because I thought that putting two hardcore New Yorkers in the middle of rural, southern North Carolina would provide a whole lot of humorous situations to write about. Finally, I think with the world really needs right now is a humorous series set in a retirement community. I spent a good 15 years of my life dealing with various nursing home staff, management twits, and hopeless situations on behalf of my parents. This is my chance to work those things out and let them go. Besides, we're all getting older. We better learn to find the humor in that or we’re sunk.
Another difference comes in the characters. This book is all about TS, in many ways. He's always taken a back seat to Auntie Lil before and been her buttoned-down sidekick. But in this book, a lot of the point of view is dedicated to TS and he starts to move out of his shell. I think this is critical because he tempers Auntie Lil's bull-in-a-china-shop personality. For much the same reasons I gave for wanting to write a gentler book, I thought it would do Auntie Lil some good to be reined in a bit. These are all deliberate choices I made to set up future books in the series.
In the end, Auntie Lil learns a lesson in humility in this book, and in her own way learns to regulate herself. I think you start to see more sides to her, such as her awareness that her life is almost over and all she has left are the mementos from her many adventures.
TS definitely changes as well and he starts to connect more with people and makes an active effort to be more casual and laid back than he has been thus far in his life.
What are you working on next?
I am now deep in structuring a new Casey Jones, completely different from the one I tossed. This is my favorite part of the process: creating a timeline, filling out the plot, sketching in the characters, then writing a scene-by-scene outline. Oh, god. How I love this part of writing a book. I call it the architecture of the book. I've got whiteboard timelines and whiteboard post-it notes all over the walls of my office. I am busy moving scenes around and adding or cutting characters and doing all kinds of things so that I can get the pacing of the book just right. Very soon, I'll dive in and start writing it. One advantage to doing all this work upfront is that I can make every word count once I start writing because I know exactly what every scene and every character needs to do before I begin.
Got any other projects in the works?
Yes! I recently started co-editing a new literary journal devoted to neo noir called Dark Yonder. Eryk Pruitt, another mystery writer who lives near me, is co-editor. The debut issue drops January 24 and there's another issue coming out in April. Dark Yonder has been a wonderful addition to my life. I have been, literally, reading hundreds of submitted short stories and am in awe of all the talent out there. And I'm also constantly being reminded of how very beautiful a perfectly constructed short story is. In fact, it's inspired me to start a new project which will eventually be a collection of short stories. I have a title, but I'm keeping it to myself for now. These will not be mystery short stories. They will actually be mainstream fiction.
Why don't you write faster?
Honestly, because I don't have to. As I mentioned before, I love the process of actually writing a book. If that part of the process has to be rushed, it takes all the fun out of it for me. Secondly, I have a life I really love and I want to put time into the care and feeding of it. I have a lot of great friends, a little house out in the middle of nowhere, some goofy animals, and my beloved siblings nearby. I try to remind myself daily that this was the end game, that I am where I want to be, and I need to make sure I enjoy it now that I'm here. So that's what I'm doing. But, don't worry, I am still writing and there will be new books to come.
How do you keep up with the writing world then?
If you want to thank (or blame) anyone for keeping me tethered to the writing world, thank Lise McClendon. She has been my partner in crime for many years. She keeps me up on the latest trends, authors, tools, and publicity options. She has been incredibly generous and supportive over the years. I love me some Lise!
Why aren't you more active on social media?
That is a very complicated question to answer. There are a lot of reasons for it. For one thing, I think social media encourages inauthenticity. And it takes away from my desire to actually be present in the moment, wherever I am. I remember very clearly when I made the decision to pull back from social media: I was attending a wonderful play, but instead of actually watching it and enjoying it, I was crafting the review I was going to post on social media about it in my head. I don't want to be that person. I want to be present in my life. Nor do I want to feel as if I have to present a certain image or level of success to other people. And I damn sure don’t want to debate political or cultural differences. I also cringe at the need of authors to flog their work on social media. In a perfect world, publishers would do this for their authors so that authors could go about the business of writing books. I've seen publishers demand that authors pretty much take on the entire burden of publicizing their books through their personal social media accounts, just to absolve themselves from any responsibility for doing that on behalf of their authors. That rankles me.
Also, to be quite frank, I was raised in an environment that proved to be a perfect Petrie dish for learning how to pick up on other people’s disappointments, fears, sorrow, and other emotions. That can be exhausting. After a while, the overload of dead parents and pets posts started to get to me. I felt too connected to too many people — and when you're connected to people, that brings grief with it sooner or later, along with other reminders that life can be tough at times. I have to protect myself from sensory and emotional overload, just as I protect myself from the news by limiting my intake to a handful of (nonpartisan) sources.
What would you like to have accomplished by the end of 2023?
Four solid issues of Dark Yonder, each one filled with fabulous stories that depict the world as it is today, in all of its guts and glory.
A new mystery anthology of short stories by established authors, to be published by Thalia Press.
A final draft of a new Casey Jones book, tentatively entitled Trouble Ahead.
At least three to four short stories written for the short story collection I am working on.
Whatever interim projects catch my attention along the way. Oh look, squirrel!
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Yes. I want to thank my readers for sticking with me even though I don’t bring out a new book every nine months, or send out newsletters, or live on social media. I know you have to search me out sometimes and I really, truly appreciate that. Making a connection with other people through my writing is incredibly important to me. If I made you smile on a bad day, that makes me happy. If I made you look at someone else differently and seek out the unique human in them, that makes me happy, too. Thanks for having a little faith in me.
If you want to add any questions to this interview, please leave them in the Comments section below and I promise to answer them!