Jeanne Matthews introduces Dinah Pelerin

Jeanne thanks so much for taking the time to visit with Manic Readers.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, could you please give us a bit on BONES OF CONTENTION and BET YOUR BONES?

BONES OF CONTENTION is a twist on the classic manor house mystery.  It takes place in a remote lodge in the Northern Territory of Australia and introduces the character of Dinah Pelerin, a wannabe anthropologist with a yen for travel, a passion for mythology, and a large family of conniving South Georgia eccentrics.  The patriarch has summoned the clan Down Under where he intends to rewrite his will and die by assisted suicide.  Dinah hopes that he will finally tell her the truth about the mysterious death of her father when she was a child.  But when she arrives, she’s confronted by a more urgent mystery.  A man has been murdered on a nearby island, impaled on the back of a sea turtle, and the police think her family had something to do with it.  As deception piles on top of deception, Dinah gets a crash course in Aboriginal art and mythology, the nefarious song lines of her ancestors, the Australian lingo called “Strine,” and the unorthodox methods of an Aussie policeman who refers to himself as the “chief walloper” in the Territory.

In BET YOUR BONES Dinah travels to Hawaii for the wedding of her best friend from Georgia.  This is the second time Dinah has played maid of honor for this bride and, after what happened the last time, she can’t help but feel nervous.  The bride has bet her heart that she’s found the right man at last, but Dinah’s not so sure.  Her husband-to-be is nearly twice her age and his first wife dived off a cliff to her death in suspicious circumstances that no one will talk about.  In addition, the groom has infuriated a group of Native Hawaiians who claim that the sacred bones of an ancestral king are buried on a piece of property he plans to sell.  Their leader, an unreconstructed worshipper of the fire goddess Pele, hates him for that and for more personal reasons she refuses to disclose. The groom’s son warns that the marriage would be a big mistake and his daughter reveals that her father was once accused of rape.  Meanwhile, the bride’s ex-husband is sending her threatening letters and Pele is shaking the Big Island with a series of earthquakes.  When somebody shoves a member of the wedding party into a flow of molten lava and both the bride and the groom become suspects, Dinah has to unmask the killer if her friend is ever to find happiness.  The fact that Dinah is, herself, part Native American gives her a sympathetic connection to the Native Hawaiians, as it did to the Aborigines in the previous book, and enables her to find out secrets the police cannot.

What’s a typical working day like for you?  Do you have a routine or just go with it when it strikes?

I write every day, but with no set hours.  I tend to be most productive early in the morning and late at night.  The middle part of the day fills up with chores and distractions.

Is there anything special you need to coax your muse?

When someone asked Tennessee Williams that question, he shot back, “My muse shows up when I tell him to.”  If Tennessee was telling the truth, which he sometimes did, then I envy him.  My muse is a lazy slacker who would fritter away the day playing online Scrabble or corresponding with distant cousins and far-away friends if given the chance.  She has to be stoked on caffeine, reminded sternly of the deadline, and lashed regularly.

There’s online Scrabble?  I have a hard time getting anyone to play Scrabble or Swoggle with me…

Who’s in control, you or the characters?  Has Dinah or anyone else ever taken off on a tangent you didn’t plan and changed the course of the story?

Dinah is an impetuous character.  She hates waiting for people to arrive with explanations or information.  She’s apt to jump to conclusions and strike out in a fever with no clear plan.  When she does go off the reservation and ends up in an unforeseen situation, it complicates the plot – sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a not-so-good way.  My editor advises me to control my “inner Gothic,” by which I think she means my tendency to give Dinah and her Southern cohorts too free a rein.  But I don’t like having the characters or the story nailed down so tightly that they can’t surprise me.

That’s funny. I kinda like it when they get carried away…

There’s a wealth of local lore and flavor in the Dinah books, that’s part of the appeal for me.  What leads you to the locale and is there an average research time involved?

I spent about three weeks in Australia, long enough to fall in love with the place and want to learn more.  The research I did on Australian history and Aboriginal mythology for BONES OF CONTENTION took about two years.  I spent roughly the same amount of time researching Hawaiian history and mythology.  My fascination with Hawaii began in my flaming youth when I lived on Oahu for a few months and, in furtherance of my education, enrolled in a hula class at the University of Hawaii.  It came as something of a shock to realize that the dance was a form of religious worship, sacred to Pele.  Because Hawaii is part of the U.S., we tend to think that we know it.  Many of us vacation in the islands and the people who cater to us as tourists are always friendly and charming.  It’s easy to forget that Hawaii is a conquered country whose native customs and religion were extinguished by an American invasion.  First came the Christian missionaries from New England, followed soon after by American capitalists and land barons.  With the backing of the U.S. military, a group of American businessmen and sugar planters overthrew the Hawaiian queen in 1893 and against the will of the Native Hawaiians, the U.S. Government annexed the islands in 1898.  To this day, Hawaii remains a hotbed of conflicts over the land so cherished by its native people.  As Dinah soon discovers, molten lava isn’t the only fire smoldering under the surface of Paradise.

Do we have another Dinah adventure after BET YOUR BONES I can look forward to?  Are you able to give us any tidbits?

Dinah has enjoyed enough sunshine and warmth.  Her next adventure will take her to the northernmost reaches of Norway, within spitting distance of the North Pole where the temperature doesn’t climb far above zero in January and the sun never shines.  I’m off to Norway to do some research in August.  I don’t have the grit to visit during Polar Night, as Dinah will, and I hope I don’t have the bad luck to encounter a murder, as she will when she visits the so-called Doomsday Seed Vault in Svalbard.

That sounds intriguing.  I haven’t read much using that location.  I’m looking forward!

Do you ever miss Georgia?  I know I do…

Georgia’s always on my mind.  I go back as often as I can.  As I shiver through a cold and drizzly spring here in the Pacific Northwest, my friends and relatives back in Atlanta are telling me about the dogwoods and the wisteria in bloom.

I get the same thing…I love wisteria and china berries…gardenias…

Did you have a favorite book as a child?  Now?

I remember enjoying Rudyard Kipling’s JUNGLE BOOKS, especially the story of Mowgli.  I suppose it doesn’t reflect very well on my experience of childhood that I would identify with a boy raised by wolves.  On the other hand, it may explain a lot.

As for now, I won’t say it’s an all-time favorite, but I very much enjoyed THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X by Keigo Higashino.

Are you currently reading anything?

I’m reading Sarah Vowell’s UNFAMILIAR FISHES, which is a non-fiction history of the Hawaiian Islands.  Sarah and I agree on pretty much everything except she thinks that King Kamehameha the Great participated in the murder of Captain James Cook and the ritual eating of some of his choicer parts.  I say no.  I say the king was out of town at the time.  I’m sure that if he were around today and able to defend himself, he could produce any number of credible witnesses to corroborate his alibi.

Jeanne, I’ve really enjoyed your visit and I’m looking forward to the next Dinah book!  She’s one of my favorites.

For those of you who may not have read them the Dinah books are wonderful reads.  Classic mystery feel with a spunky intelligent heroine loaded with Southern.

Thanks for inviting me, Ivy.  It’s been fun thinking about your questions.

Visit Jeanne…

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