Friday, April 10, 2009

Diggin' Up the Dirt on Dirty Business Author Rosemary Harris

Rosemary Harris didn't have lifelong aspirations to be a writer. Instead she had...a snowstorm. Stuck inside because of that nasty weather, Rosemary came across a newspaper article that piqued her interest. She began asking "what if" and Paula Holliday, her gardening sleuth was born.

I have to admit that Rosemary's second book, THE BIG DIRT NAP is one of the few books I've ever picked up because of the title. But this title was just too good to pass up. Add to that the fact that she came highly recommended from Lesa Holstine, and I started reading. Rosemary's combination of plotting and character and humor make for an exceptionally fun read.

When Rosemary agreed to answer some questions for my blog interview, I started doing more research and found a ton of fascinating tidbits about the creator of The Dirty Business Mystery series, and I was especially endeared to her extreme generosity. I sincerely hope that you enjoy learning about Rosemary as much as I did. Here she is, the Master Gardener and writer extraordinaire, Ms. Rosemary Harris!

Q: You’ve had a variety of careers: bookstore manager, video producer and television executive. But you decided to forgo those careers for your passion: gardening. Were you gainfully employed as a gardener or were you honing your craft in your own garden?

Rosemary: Being a professional landscaper is almost as hard as being a farmer! I could never do that, so I invented a character who’s brave enough to try to make a living at it. My garden is my little slice of paradise. I’ve been at it for 15 years but I don’t think I’ll ever be finished, that’s not the way a garden works.

Q: How did your love of gardening come about?

Rosemary: Who knows..maybe my grandmother’s fig trees in Brooklyn NY, maybe the avocado pits in the second grade. I still think seeds are amazing.
Q: Paula Holliday, your heroine, is also a gardener, and you’ve said that each of your characters has a little bit of you in them. Is the role of gardener all that you share with Paula or are there other traits that the two of you share? I would venture to guess that her spunk and sense of adventure stem from you.

Rosemary: Thank you for thinking that! Paula’s younger, thinner and definitely spunkier than I am. We also share an aversion to pedicures…ticklish.

Q: The Dirty Business Mysteries were born because you were basically snowed in and curious about a newspaper story, correct? So did you have any aspirations at all before that to write? As a child, what did you think you wanted to be when you “grew up”?

Rosemary: I really had no notion that I’d ever become a writer. When I was a kid I just wanted to be BIG, that’s all I can remember! I wanted to travel all over the world and happily I’ve been able to that.

Q: You didn’t necessarily set out to write a mystery, you were just following the story that piqued your interest. But did you like to READ mysteries? Do you feel there was anyone who influenced your writing?

Rosemary: I’m sure I’m unconsciously influenced by other writers but danged if I know who they are! I love to read mysteries but sadly my reading time has been curtailed by writing and promotion.

Q: How about some recommendations of books that you enjoy that people who read YOUR books might enjoy. Do you have any?

Rosemary: I really like Carl Hiassen, Lisa Scottoline, Linda Fairstein. I like fast, funny and smart.

Q: Babe is a supporting character in the Dirty Business Mysteries. She’s a bit eccentric, but has a very maternal sense about her. What characteristics does she share with you? And you’ve written a very well-received short story about Babe that is available to read on your website. Any thoughts of a book that would have Babe in the starring role instead of the supporting role?

Rosemary: This may be the answer to another question..I did have a brief fantasy about becoming a backup singer for a rock and roll band like Babe! I love Babe, and a number of my readers do, too. One male fan even asked for her phone number. He was convinced that she really existed. I’d love to do a book with Babe in the starring role, possibly book four in the Dirty Business series – possibly her own series.

Q: I’m a big fan of character in the novels I read. That’s always an area where I place a lot of focus whenever I review a book. You create sketches of your characters before you write to help you get to know them better. Can you share a little about this process with us?

Rosemary: It can start with one or two sentences. Oddly enough it’s almost never a physical description, it’s more likely to be the contents of their refrigerator or their handbags. Characters can’t just walk on, deliver their lines and depart.

Q: Building on the character question, do you find the characters drive the direction of your writing? Or do you write an outline and really stick to it? Has a character ever surprised you?

Rosemary: In Pushing Up Daisies the plot really drove the narrative because I thought I had a compelling story. In The Big Dirt Nap, I made an effort to reveal more about the characters and I had a more fun story. So it can go either way. I don’t outline before I write, I outline as I go along and I’m constantly changing it. Yes! In Daisies the original killer stood up and said “I’m innocent!”

Q: The ideas for the Dirty Business Mysteries have come from actual “ripped from the headlines” stories that you fictionalize with a lot of “what ifs”. And you research the stories with the help of some online friends. One of whom is “The Poison Lady” from Texas. Can you tell us how you came to meet her and what has she helped you out with? Any other fun research friends?

Rosemary: Well, actually I’ve met Lucy but haven’t poisoned anyone yet! I did get some great details from the Director of the Henry Lee Institute for Forensic Sciences.

Q: There are at least two more Dirty Business Mysteries in your future, correct? Any ideas or plans beyond that? Do you plan to continue writing? Do you want to continue the series or move in another direction?

Rosemary: Some of that is up to my publisher! There are four titles planned and we’ll see what happens after that. I think I have at least six good adventures for Paula floating around in my head.

Q: In addition to your involvement with Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, you are a member of the Connecticut Master Gardeners’ Association. What exactly qualifies one as a “Master Gardener”?

Rosemary: It’s a six month course that every state gives. After the course, which focuses on native plants, local conditions, etc. there’s a commitment to volunteer gardening in the community. I’m very proud to have taught a lot of Brownies how to plant annuals!

Q: I don’t even pretend to be a “master” gardener. I’m more of an experimental tinkerer. I have the opposite condition of your beautiful garden; I have almost complete sun over my flower beds. One thing I’ve been trying to master is a small vegetable garden. My garden always seems to start out doing great and then everything just stops growing. My cucumbers stay real small, I might get one or two little peppers to come out and they stay real small…What advice would you offer to a gardener like me?

Rosemary: Start with a soil test to see what you’ve got ph-wise. Improve the soil structure if necessary with compost. And don’t over fertilize..the wrong fertilizer will get you all leaves and no fruit! Peppers like might try working some Epsom salts into the soil.

Q: You have been actively involved with Habitat for Humanity, visiting China, Tanzania, El Salvador, Mexico and New Orleans to work on projects. Can you share a little about these experiences with us?

Rosemary: I took my first Habitat trip in 2001 and now I try to take one every year. You can meet the most wonderful people – both on the HFH team and in the places where you are building (or as was the case in New Orleans, tearing down.) The trips are as physically challenging as you want them to be, but even more importantly you can be exposed to places and cultures that you’ll never see on an American Express trip!

Q: And this is absolutely amazing to me. You and your husband are building a library in Tanzania. It’s actually built, now, correct? People are visiting the library? How did this project come about? You talk about it on your website, but can you share with us some of the experiences you’ve had with this project? Why Tanzania? How often are you able to visit the library? Copies of the Dirty Business Mysteries are included aren’t they?

Rosemary: Thank you for asking! My husband and I first visited Mvumi Tanzania on a Habitat trip and fell in love with the children there. Thanks to the generosity of many friends and publishers we broke ground almost two years ago and dedicated The Chalula Community Library 18 months ago; it’s on the grounds of a primary school and over 1000 students AND their parents use it. We try to go once a year and in between we organize site visits by American students working on their MSL degrees. We were very lucky to have hardworking people in country who shepherded the project when we couldn’t be there (we went twice the year it was built!) There are books in English and Swahili, but no copies of The Big Dirt Nap! I’ll have to remedy that when I return to Tanzania in August.

Q: Wow, how did I get to this many questions already? Reluctantly, I’ll give you my last question. I ask this of all my blog interviewees. There is a book, I’m sure you’ve probably heard of, called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. What would be your six-word memoir?

Rosemary: Can I Have More Time, Please?

I hope you'll take some time and check out Rosemary's website. There's so much available. You can read her short story, starring Babe (under the E-mail list button and the word of the day). You can also check out the Chalula Library and read about its progress. Any teachers interested in pen pals, you can send a request for pen pals to the Chalula Primary School. And if you're interested in donating books or funds for the library, information is available for that as well. And of course you find more information about Rosemary, her two Dirty Business Mysteries: Pushing Up Daisies and The Big Dirt Nap, and get the scoop on her event schedule!

For those folks in my neck of the woods, don't forget that Rosemary will be at the Crocker Park Barnes and Noble on Monday, May 18th at 7:00! Mark your calendars now!!

Special thanks to Rosemary for taking time to share all this "dirt" with us. We're looking forward to book number 3!


Kaye Barley April 10, 2009 at 8:15 AM  

GREAT interview, guys!!!!

Molly April 10, 2009 at 8:55 AM  

Lovely interview --- and I have now added Pushing Up Daisies to the ever-growing TBR list!

I thought the last question you asked was super!! The 6 word memoirs concept is a great way to provide synopsis and insight.

beauvallet April 10, 2009 at 11:57 AM  

Wonderful interview, Jen. She's really an interesting person, beyond her writing. I haven't read her books - YET. I know she's going to be visiting one of our bookstores in May, so I guess I need to remedy that soon.

Lesa April 10, 2009 at 3:37 PM  

Of course, I'll stop by and say hi to both of you. Very nice interview. And, Jen, like Molly, I like your last question. Wanted to steal it, but I decided to stick with my regular closing question. I really like yours, though!


Tim April 11, 2009 at 12:07 AM  

Tremendous interview, Jen -- and I love the onscreen format.

I also have to say that I have NO IDEA how you do all the things you do. The sheer number of books you read and review is daunting, but to do all the rest of this, too. You're a dynamo.

Jen April 11, 2009 at 8:55 AM  

Awww, thanks everyone! This interview was so fun and Rosemary was so generous with her time. I'm always elated when someone agrees to my requests!

Tim, you're too sweet. When you love this stuff as much as I do, it never seems like you're able to do enough! Thanks! You're compliment means the world to me!

Corey Wilde April 13, 2009 at 11:11 AM  

Jen, I see you got a tag by The Rap Sheet yesterday for this interview. Good-oh!

Jen April 13, 2009 at 11:16 AM  

Well hot diggity! Thanks Corey! I didn't know that. I have to go check it out. Very cool!

Rosemary Harris April 13, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

This was a lot of fun..but Jen those pix!! At least my dog, Max looks good! The Mama Nuni bookstore is in Dodoma Tanzania, about 2 hours from the library that my friends and I helped to build with, I might add generous personal support from executives at Random House, Viking, Barnes & Noble. If you'd like to see a picture of the Chalula Community Library please visit my website at
BTW...much of Tanzania is really like the HBO series No.1 First Ladies Detective Agency..which I am loving!

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