An Interview with Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
Author of Love Her Madly
Q: You are the author of four critically acclaimed literary novels, among them THE BOOK OF PHOEBE, and MASTERS OF ILLUSION. As a more commercial novel and a book of suspense, LOVE HER MADLY is something of a departure for you. What led you to the mystery genre?
MARY-ANN: Love Her Madly is a departure for me in terms of genre and yet I continue to deal with issues that have been important to me as a writer from the beginning. In all of my books, I have explored the theme of injustice, whether it be Arab nations using Palestinians as pawns or innocent men being wrongly accused. I find writing suspense to be especially stimulating in some ways in that some kind of injustice is at the heart of every mystery. My last novel, An American Killing, marked my first real foray into this genre and the experience was extremely rewarding. I found I did not have to compromise my literary integrity to write a novel of substance that was also a real page-turner. My intent as a writer has always been to write a good book about real issues. It's very possible to do this in any genre.
My next project is to write a mystery series. Love Her Madly marks the debut of this series, starring a brassy FBI agent named Poppy Rice, and I am excited and daunted by the challenge ahead. Mystery readers really get to know their characters and so convincing them of any change in habit, personality, lifestyle, address, lipstick color, political party affiliation, becomes of the utmost importance.
Q: You point out that injustice is a theme in many of your books. How does the way you deal with injustice in LOVE HER MADLY differ from your past books?
MARY-ANN: I joined the Peace Corps years ago because there is no justice in abject poverty. I try to do with my pen what I did as a Peace Corps volunteer - become part of an attempt to set things right. I have played this out in different ways in my fiction.
In my earlier novels, rectifying injustice including prejudice, poverty, women denied choices, is often part of the sub plot. In LOVE HER MADLY, injustice slaps you in the face. Poppy as an FBI agent is the first of my characters who has the official capacity to treat injustice and the means to do so at her fingertips and she takes to the task with a vengeance. As Poppy might put it: "If I'm not outraged at least once a day, bury me. I'm dead."
Q: Poppy Rice, your investigating FBI agent, was a minor character in your last novel, An American Killing. Why resurrect this character?
MARY-ANN: She never needed to be resurrected. Since I finished An American Killing, Poppy Rice has been dogging me, waking me up in the middle of the night insisting, "You haven't finished with me yet." Poppy Rice is persistent and merciless. I had no choice but to give in to her demand. I love this character. I admire her work and her ethics and it so happens that each case she takes on is more intriguing than the last. Sexy, smart, brassy, she makes for a perfect series character.
Q: The capital punishment case at the heart of LOVE HER MADLY is based on that of real-life convicted killer Karla Faye Tucker, the second woman to ever be executed in the state of Texas. What inspired you to use this case as the basis for the novel?
MARY-ANN: The pleas for clemency by the executed killer, Karla Fay Tucker, were based on her having found Jesus. That inspired me, as did the reasons then-governor of Texas, George Bush, gave for denying clemency. I found both so outrageous--to say nothing of the arcane and bizarre Texas laws that deprive a prisoner from having his case re-opened once thirty days have passed since the conviction--that I needed to play it out on the page. How can a killer think that a religious conversion should change her sentence and how can a governor who has a duty to consider whether a trial was fair refuse to exercise that duty?
Q: Among the most compelling fixtures in your fiction are your women. Tell us a little about the two female characters in LOVE HER MADLY.
MARY-ANN: The women in my books have lives that simply aren't ordinary. They don't take crap from anyone. This makes them interesting. The women I write are never domestic figures balancing the roles society places upon them. My female characters are feminists in that they do what they determine is best for them, based on their intelligence, ingenuity, and wit, rather than letting a man (father, husband, or lover) or a male-run institution (all institutions) tell them what is appropriate without regard to their opinion.
On the surface, my investigating agent Poppy Rice and the condemned killer, Rona Leigh Glueck, have zero in common except that they are nearly the same age. Rona Leigh at the time of the murder, was a drug addict, an alcoholic, a prostitute (had been a child prostitute), suffered from malnutrition and now has served 17 years in prison. But when Poppy meets her, she is complacent and starry-eyed, beholden to the will of Jesus and, seemingly, an angel. Then Poppy comes to find a determined spirit mirroring her own determination. Rona Leigh knows what she wants and will get it or die trying. Exactly Poppy's attitude when it comes to serving justice.
Q: What's next for Poppy Rice?
MARY-ANN: When we leave Poppy she is headed on a well-deserved vacation to Block Island with her on again/off again boyfriend, Joe Barnow. She has vowed to not go looking for trouble. But that does not mean trouble won't find her.
This interview is reprinted with permission from FSB Associates.
Read the review of Love Her Madly at MostlyFiction.com