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Cynthia Riggs Profiles
Interview on the Jungle Red Blog
Author Cynthia Riggs
Author Cynthia Riggs at the Vineyard

Interview on the Jungle Red Blog
By Jan Brogan
June 9, 2009

Visit the Jungle Red web site for the original interview, and Cynthia's ongoing discussion with blog visitors.

Cynthia Riggs is a 13th generation Vineyarder -- that's Martha's Vineyard - the setting for her terrific mysteries. Cynthia also runs a charming B&B on the island, in West Tisbury, which I got to visit once when I was lucky enough to be invited to one of her summer writers group sessions. If you've never visited the Island in real life, here's your chance to visit in your imagination. Cynthia's 8th in the series, Death and Honesty, is just out from St. Martin's.

JAN: Victoria Trumbull, your 92-year old protagonist is described as "indomitable."
And I've read that she is modeled after your mother. Tell us the joys and challenges of having a "senior sleuth" dig up the dirt on Martha's Vineyard.

CYNTHIA: One of my aims in writing about a 92-year-old sleuth is to attack rampant ageism. It's as bad as sexism, maybe worse. After a certain age one is considered half-witted and is consistently called "dear." Even Malice Domestic, which should know better, lumps its senior sleuth writers on cutesy panels. Victoria Trumbull, modeled after my mother, who lived to be almost 99 (for credibility, I had to make Victoria much younger), has some physical frailties, but mentally she's all there. She's had years of experience to draw on. She's no longer afraid to say what she thinks.

JAN: How does Victoria get involved in solving so many murders?

CYNTHIA: The police chief has come to depend on her because Victoria is related to most of the people on the Island, knows who's not speaking to whom, knows where they live, which is useful on an Island that prides itself on few or no street signs, and knows where the bodies are buried.

JAN: I love the plot line of your new book, Death and Honesty - a corrupt assessors office skimming off the top of wealthy landowners taxes. (Especially since I used to pay real estate taxes in West Tisbury.) Tell us how you came up with the idea and how you developed or researched it.

CYNTHIA: A friend of mine, a wealthy landowner, ran afoul of the town's assessors, who treated him shabbily. I promised him I'd get even. I changed him into a former hooker to hide his identity, and changed the three male assessors into three elderly and venal Harpies -- they're named for the three Harpies of Greek mythology. Whenever the Harpies appeared in mythology, there was a dreadful stench, so one of my assessors wears too much perfume.

JAN: The critics rave about your evocative descriptions of Martha's Vineyard. What are the advantages and limitations (if any) of the island setting.

CYNTHIA: I was born on the Vineyard and have deep roots here. So it was natural to use the Island for my setting. Because I'm writing fiction, I take some liberties with places, but for the most part a reader visiting the Vineyard can follow Victoria's trail. I use real places, like Bert's Barber Shop, where Victoria gets her hair cut. The real Bert's displays the Victoria Trumbull books in a prominant place on top of an ancient console radio. I'm careful to avoid insulting real people and places. Knowing a setting intimately makes it easy to write about it. I'm not apt to get roads and topography mixed up.

By the way, we capitalize the word "Island" when referring to Martha's Vineyard (see both Island newspapers). We do not capitalize the word when referring to Nantucket or Manhattan.

JAN: Living on the Island, are you ever worried about stepping on anyone's toes with your fiction - say the local assessor's office, or is everyone a good sport about it?

CYNTHIA: I've reached the stage where I'm not afraid of stepping on toes. I think the assessors, as a matter of principle, don't read my books. After a book comes out, three or four people will come up to me and ask shyly if it's possible I patterned so-and-so (a sympathetic character) after them. No one claims credit for my villains. However, a lot of readers claim to recognize most of my characters, even ones entirely made up.

JAN: You also run a B&B in your family home, The Cleaveland House. Tell us about your writing schedule and how you can get any writing done in the summer months.

CYNTHIA: My writing and the Cleaveland House B&B work together just beautifully. I cater to poets and writers, who understand when I tell them I'm going upstairs to write. (And they buy my books.) I have only three guest rooms, so it's easy for me to deal with bedmaking and laundry, and I serve a simple continental breakfast. I start writing at 10 am and continue until about 5 pm, taking time out to pick up the mail, make beds, weed the garden, and think of what comes next in the story. Some guests read my manuscripts for me and make suggestions. Some end up in the books. All my guests are interesting.

- Cynthia Riggs by Jan Brogan, reprinted from The Jungle Red Blog.

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