I met CE Lawrence in August of 2012, taking her Mystery and Thriller Workshop at the Cape Cod Writers Conference. The class was terrific, and once I picked up her books, I was hooked. In fact, her class helped get me on the right track with one of my own upcoming books.
Carol was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions – and I highly recommend her books!
Devon Ellington: What draws you to write in this genre?
CE Lawrence: I’ve always been interested in hidden behavior, in people’s dark side, maybe because in my family no one was supposed to have a dark side. These things were never talked about, so that made me even more curious. Also, I think most writers have a natural interest in psychology, in human behavior, and what is more intriguing than extreme behavior? And it seems to me that serial killers are about as extreme as it gets. Also, I wanted to write books people would actually buy.
DE: The subject matter in these books is different than in your Claire Rawlings books. Did you find the process of writing the books different, other than different types of research? Did you have to structure your time differently, or do anything else differently, or was it, basically, just showing up at the desk at the designated time and place and getting down to it?
CEL: I love that you think I have a designated time to write… or that I write at a desk. Mostly I write lying on my back on the couch, at any hour or time of day. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.
The only difference is that the thrillers are darker; as time goes by I’ve become attracted to darker subjects. And after a few novels under my belt, I no longer outline everything before writing; I’m more comfortable writing by the seat of my pants (or, as I call it, the Harold and the Purple Crayon method, a reference to the wonderful children’s book by that name.) But that’s more a question of experience than genre.
DE: The Lee Campbell books take place primarily in New York City, post-9/11. Your depiction of how 9/11 effects daily life and its continuing spectre over the lives of those who live there is, in my opinion, one of the most forthright and resonant of any fiction that deals with 9/11’s aftermath. How do you manage to keep it from overshadowing the books themselves?
CEL: Well, first of all, thank you very much. I thought I might get a lot of flack for trying to incorporate that into my stories, but it was something I lived through and that we all lived through in New York. It affected the city in such profound ways I didn’t see how I could not write about it.
To answer your question, I just tried to keep it an element in the story, part of the setting, but I tried to keep the pursuit of the killer always in the foreground. I think it’s just a matter of focus, like the subject of a painting versus the background.
DE: Setting is a character in your books, another of the things I love about them. How do you choose the settings? For instance, in SILENT KILLS, they travel up to a Steampunk Ball in Troy, NY. How did you pick Troy? How do you integrate your fictional locations into the actual geography?
CEL: I had an acting job in Troy, doing a hospital training video, and I was just captivated by the place. (I live in Woodstock in the summer, so it’s less than an hour to Troy.) I visited their famous cemetery, where Uncle Sam actually IS buried, and I thought that would be a fabulous place for a final chase scene. They have this great crematorium, and the whole place is so 19th century – which fit right in with the Steampunk theme. When I found that Herman Melville’s house is in Troy, I felt like I’d won the lottery. What a great place for a Steampunk ball! For the actual chase, I used Google Maps! I followed the route the cars were taking via satellite photos. Otherwise, I would have had to drive back to Troy and drive the whole route. Bless the internet – thank you, Al Gore.
DE: You’re a poet and a playwright as well as a novelist. How do you move between genres? Do you find the material chooses the genre, or do you choose the genre first?
CEL: For me, the material choses the genre. It feels like some stories are just begging to be plays, while others really need the pages of a novel in order to be properly explored. And then others strike me as screenplays. For instance, I just finished a screenplay about magicians. The title is The Assistant.
For example, transition in a screenplay is a whole different technique than transition in a novel, or even a play. But I find it stimulating to move between the different forms. In a novel you have so much space – you can gas on about this and that (within reason, of course), whereas a screenplay is like an epic poem – so condensed, so streamlined. It’s story in its most essential form. And you have to think visually, which is great discipline for someone like me.
I think one of the greatest dangers to a writer, who by definition is someone who loves language, is to be “drunk with words.” Look out – danger, Will Robinson! That can lead to undisciplined, flaccid writing. Screenplay forces you out of that really quickly – you’re always looking how to condense, condense, condense.
And when you’re writing a play you have to show everything through dialogue and character interaction – I think it helps you to write better scenes when you’re working in prose fiction. You try to make your dialogue character-specific and pithy, just as you would in writing a play.
As for poems, my experience is that they fall out of the sky – I rarely say “today I’m going to write a poem.” More often, something will happen in my life, something as important as death of my father or as mundane as a great cup of tea, and suddenly the poem is there. It’s the form I turn to when life presents itself to me at its most profound and mysterious.
C.E. Lawrence is the byline of a New York-based suspense writer, performer, composer and prize-winning playwright and poet whose previous books have been praised as “lively. . .” (Publishers Weekly); “constantly absorbing. . .” (starred Kirkus Review); and “superbly crafted prose” (Boston Herald). Silent Screams, Silent Victim, Silent Kills, and recently released Silent Slaughter are the first four books in her Lee Campbell thriller series.
Her other works have been published under the name of Carole Buggé.
Titan Press recently reissued her first Sherlock Holmes novel, The Star of India.
She has also been a featured guest on Canned Laughter and Coffee with Renee Bernard, Comedy Concepts with Nancy Lombardo, ITW Thriller Roundtable Online Forum, WBAI FM 99.5 in NYC “In the Moment” with Ibrahim Gonzalez & Ahmad Adali, and Cafe Ali, WUSB FM 90.1.
Most recently C.E. Lawrence was selected as one of 21 authors featured in the 2012 anthology edited by Lee Child, and published by Mystery Writers of America Presents, called Vengeance.
Her story The Vly has also be chosen for the 2013 anthology titled What Lies Inside published byMystery Writers of America and edited by Brad Meltzer schedule for release in 2013.
C.E. Lawrence also teaches classes at NYU, and holds regular writers workshops, all while writing, lecturing and writing about the craft of writing. She most recently taught a crime writing class at the San Miguel Writers Conference held in the lovely historic town of San Miguel d’Allende, Mexico and she had a cover article titled The Moral of the Story published in the July 2012 Mystery Writers of America’s National Newsletter.
CE Lawrence’s newest release is SILENT SLAUGHTER:
There is a method to his madness.
He chooses his tools with precision. Stalks his victims with cold efficiency. Plans his attack using mathematcial logic. And now he is ready to play . . .
There are rules to his game.
When the killer’s first letter arrives at the station, NYPD profiler Lee Campbell suspects the writer is daring him to match wits with a dangerous – and brillaint—criminal mind. But once this “Alleyway Strangler” starts leaving specially targeted messages with each surgically carved corpse, Campbell realizes it’s not just personal. It’s perfectly calculated – to destroy him. . . .
Released from Pinnacle Books.