I’m delighted to have author Lynne Murphy with me today. Lynne’s short fiction has been published by Sisters in Crime Toronto, the Mesdames of Mayhem and Carrick Publishing. Potluck and Other Stories is her solo debut.
Welcome to Moving Target, Lynne. What’s behind the Potluck in your title?
Lynne: One of my favourite stories in this collection is titled “Potluck.” It revolves around the residents of my fictional Golden Elders Condo building who experiment with marijuana cookies. They want to help one of their friends who is suffering from chronic shoulder pain (just one of the drawbacks of getting older). I “borrowed” the shoulder pain from a friend in my own condo building. When she was asked if she was in my story, she said, “Well, my shoulder is.”
But “taking potluck” can mean accepting whatever comes one’s way, and I thought that was a good title for an anthology.
Moving Target: You trained as a journalist. Has this background influenced the topics you write about? Has it shaped your writing style?
Lynne: My husband worked in radio news, and you could say that we were news junkies. I still am, so there are always items in the news that make me think, “I could write a story about that.” “Let the Sunshine In” is an example of a tragic story that has haunted me. As for writing style, in radio news you are ordered to “write tight,” and I still have an aversion to excessive description in my stories. (And to reading it in other people’s writing.)
One advantage to writing fiction, however, is you make things up, which you can’t do in journalism. I needed a hospital in Regina for my novella, one that was near the highway and treated cancer patients. So I created one.
Moving Target: Comedy can be a real-life survival mechanism. Have you used it as such in your own life?
Lynne: Oh, yes. Our family has had its tragedies, like every other family, and there have been some that it was impossible to laugh about. But laughter does help. It is always close to tears: “We laughed till we cried.”
Moving Target: Crime can be heavy-going, and adding humour certainly lightens up a crime story. Do you set out to write funny stories, or do they emerge organically?
Lynne: I have a hard time writing stories that don’t have humour in them. It just creeps in. My novella, “A Damaged Heart,”is pretty dark, but even Kirsty, its unlovable protagonist, has a sardonic sense of humour that surfaces now and then. For example, when she is talking about recluses dying and being eaten by their cats, she says, “I made a mental note not to get a cat.”
However, my story, “The Lady Killer,” which will appear in the upcoming Crime Writers of Canada anthology, Cold Canadian Crime, has absolutely no humour in it. It is very dark.
Moving Target: Are there time-specific incidents or backgrounds in your stories, or do you avoid them?
Lynne: I believe that if a story needs to be set at a certain point in history, set it then. As I grow older, I seem to be setting my stories farther back in my own past. The story I’ve just completed is set on a farm during the Second World War, when most of the men were away fighting.
Moving Target: You avoid excessive violence in your stories, and there are few deaths. Why?
Lynne: I guess that’s because I am a small woman and I am afraid of violence. And deaths don’t go well with humour. Kirsty is responsible for a number of deaths, but as I said, the novella is a darker work.
Moving Target: Written humour requires polish. How do you punch up your comedy? Do you read passages aloud? To an audience?
Lynne: My comedy seems to arise from situations in which characters find themselves. As for reading aloud, no, but it is delightful when you are doing a public reading and something amuses your audience and they laugh out loud. I went to a memorial service for Canadian author Margaret Laurence, and I remember someone read a funny passage from her novel, The Stone Angel, and the audience laughed. I thought how wonderful it was that her writing could have that effect on people who were mourning her death.
Moving Target: Your short stories largely deliver light humour. What’s behind your departure from light-hearted humour in “A Damaged Heart”?
Lynne: I started out to write a novel about a man who was a traitor during the Second World War and how that affected his daughter when she found out about it. But the Kirsty character took over, and the novella turned into something completely different. I am what they call a “pantser,” not a plotter, so I let Kirsty lead the way.
Moving Target: Your most memorable characters are older women, some of them quite elderly. Why do you focus on this group?
Lynne: Well, they say write what you know and, as a woman in her 80s, I know many older women. They are actually just like their younger selves, only more so. So if you were unpleasant as a young person, you get nastier. You stop caring what people think of you.
But I hope readers don’t think my stories are just for older women. Even though almost all my protagonists are female (except for a cat), I have been told by male readers that they find the stories very funny.
Moving Target: Your published fiction has been short stories, and now you’ve put out a collection that includes a novella. Why do you like writing short?
Lynne: I have written several novels and would love to have one of them published, but so far no one has wanted to publish one of them. And at my age, I don’t feel I have the time to write another novel.
Moving Target: Thank you, Lynne.
About the author: Lynne Murphy was born and raised in Saskatchewan, and this province figures in much of her writing. She studied at the University of Saskatchewan and Carleton University, and worked as a journalist in print and radio. She now lives in Toronto.