Please tell us a bit about you.
* P.M. Carlson taught psychology and statistics at Cornell University before deciding that mystery writing was more fun. She has published twelve mystery novels and over a dozen short stories. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Macavity Award, and twice for Anthony Awards. Two short stories were finalists for Agatha Awards. She edited the Mystery Writers Annual for Mystery Writers of America for several years, and served as president of Sisters in Crime.
Have you ever had an imaginary friend?
* Of course. Today most of my conversations with imaginary friends are with my characters in my books. When I was about four or five I had an imaginary friend who was a shape-shifter most often in the form of a talking horse named Roger. My first book was written at about that time and was also about a horse, a non-shape-shifter named Gray Girl. So you won’t be surprised to hear that one of the writers who got me hooked on mysteries was Dick Francis.
Do you have any phobias?
* I’m cautious about speeding or climbing icy trails or eating lunch in bear country, but phobias? Almost the opposite. I like to know how people climb rock walls or wriggle through caves or go into space. Also, I’m intrigued by beasties that are scary or yucky. I think one reason my next book may be about a biologist/detective is to find out more about bugs and spiders and the nasty little one-celled critters that sometimes make us sick. They’re fascinating!
* But I have to admit, snakes still make me jump.
Ever broken any bones?
* Boring story! I broke my wrist when I slipped on a trail that I’ve walked a thousand times. I had to wait in the emergency room for a couple of hours. Eventually I started shivering and a nice young woman who had brought in her sister in a wheelchair got me a blanket. I asked the sister what had happened to her. She worked with troubled teens, she explained, and wrenched her leg while breaking up a brawl. I told her she was awesome-- totally true.
* But the writer in me was thinking, damn, I wish my story was as good as hers!
Which mythological creature are you most like?
* In Greek mythology I identify most with Athena, who loves civilization and community, and is known for creativity too. She was willing to fight for her city, Athens, but wept for the fallen, strong but sad. I like the stories involving Greek gods because, despite their immortality and power, they have failings, and have to deal with each other as well as with human conflicts.
* Also, the stories are myths, which come to us already told in many versions. So if a god or goddess does something questionable, maybe the next retelling will explain it better. For example, I was always uncomfortable with the end of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, where Athena ends things neatly by judging in favor of Orestes and against the Furies who are torturing him because he killed his mother. In the Aeschylus play, Athena gets the Furies to surrender happily by promising them honor as Euminedes (gracious ones).
* Okay, it’s good for civilization to get this settled, to end the multigenerational chain of avenging murders. But the Furies were right too–– the guy had killed his mother! So I was pleased to see Mnouchkine’s production of the play. Her retelling showed that civilization hadn’t totally won, that the Furies retreated because Athena was stronger, but instead of becoming “gracious ones” they still snarled in the shadows, ready to emerge again next time there was a horrible murder. And there would definitely be another, and Athena, strong but sad, knew it too.
Why are there so many rats in MURDER IS PATHOLOGICAL?
* My first paying job at Cornell University was training rats for a psychology experiment. Besides teaching the rats to distinguish horizontal from vertical bars, I absorbed a lot about the rigor of science, the importance of double-blind studies, and the complexity of the living creatures scientists are trying to understand. My admiration for science, and for the ways scientists try to make sure they aren’t reading too much into their data, remains today. I’m still in awe of rats, humans, and other complicated living creatures. The more we learn, the more incredible we know we are.
* On a more personal level, that job taught me that rats can bite. Those incisors aren’t just for cheese.
*** About the book ***
* MURDER IS PATHOLOGICAL (Maggie Ryan 1969)
* The exploding wastebasket is a prank, but slaughtered lab rats have graduate student Maggie Ryan, Monica Bauer and the rest of the lab on edge. When the custodian is murdered, actor Nick O'Connor goes undercover to investigate, help that Maggie does not appreciate-- or does she? While Nick and Maggie search for the killer, Monica struggles to connect with a veteran who was shot in the head in Vietnam.
* About MURDER IS PATHOLOGICAL (Maggie Ryan 1969)
* "[Carlson's] work offers a unique combination of empathy for her characters, her sense of history, and her ability to weave the social and political currents of the '60s and early '70s into the stories." –– The Drood Review of Mystery
* "The vandal is elusive. When at last the mystery is solved, the conclusion is stunning."––The Armchair Detective
Actor Nick O’Connor goes undercover as neurology lab janitor, 1969...
* Nick tried to relax, but his mind kept gnawing at problems. The troubling fate of the man whose bed he now occupied. The welcome Maggie had given him, and the abrupt rejection. He had to find out why.
* Was he really any better off now than he had been this morning, as her friend? Their feelings were in the open now; that was a step forward. And, forced to choose between banishing him by exposing his disguise, or allowing him to help search for the truth about Norman’s death from this peculiarly useful position, she had chosen to let him help. Things could–– maybe–– come to a happier resolution than the one this afternoon.
* They’d better, he thought, to make up for these weeks of cleaning up rat shit.
* Like all buildings at night, the lab made its own secret noises. A steady hum, probably the air supply. Overlaid on that, little creaks and rustlings. Made sense, the building was filled with mice and rats, hundreds of tiny intelligences. Nocturnal animals, at least wild ones were. Maybe these tame ones were also at their peak now. Unlike Nick, who was thoroughly groggy. Through a crack in the curtains, he could see scattered stars against the velvety country sky. The weather had cleared, except for little, smudgy clouds blowing across part of the sky. The stars came and went behind them. Odd. He flicked the curtains a little further apart, and realized what was happening. The smoke from this building was drifting on the light wind. The incinerator.
* God, thought Nick, I’m sleeping in a crematorium.
* But he did sleep.
***Buy the book here***
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***Find P.M. Carlson here***
Website | MURDER IS PATHOLOGICAL 2-minute video chat ~ Personal comments on the background of MURDER IS PATHOLOCAL
Thank you for joining us here today, P.M. Carlson! It was a pleasure getting to know you and your work.
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