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Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Many of the characters in Murder in the Dog Park are eccentric and even downright weird. Did you use any real people as your inspiration?

Baltimore itself is an eccentric character! All you need to find inspiration is to hang around the Royal Farms store in the Hampden neighborhood or wait your turn at the Motor Vehicle Administration in Glen Burner and you’ll get a warts and all sample of homo Baltimoreanus.

It speaks volumes that people from Baltimore regard the moniker "Baltimorean" as a term of endearment; it’s up there in the pantheon next to the ubiquitous “hon.” To be a true Baltimorean is to proudly wear your eccentricity on your sleeve. And thanks to John Waters and all of the characters in HBO’s “The Wire”, even non-Baltimoreans understand that Baltimore is city of misfits who can only thrive in Baltimore’s crazy ecosystem.

Speaking of characters, Jane Ronson seems an awful lot like Lisbeth Salander of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Was that intentional?

I was completely taken with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and the original Swedish movie version. Lisbeth is an incredibly compelling, flawed and annoying character. She’s got almost super human street fighting, math and computer skills, but can’t manage to make a friend or say thank you to the people who saved her life. After finishing the books I couldn’t help thinking about what was going to happen to Lisbeth. You can’t stay a pissed off punk rocker forever—especially if you’ve stolen a ton of money. I envisioned Jane a distant cousin of Lisbeth, albeit a bit older and with marginally better social skills. Unlike Lisbeth, Jane has her cousin Lenny and her dog Archie to anchor her, even if she complains about the responsibility of interpersonal relationships. Like Lisbeth, Jane also has no idea how to act around men. One of my favorite scenes to write was Jane and Officer Don’s date at the diner. Jane alternates between tough chick and tearful teenager. She is completely clueless.

You’ve been told that you “don’t write like a girl.” What do you think that means?

That comment came up while I was reading early draft of the book to the men in my local writing group where at the time, I was the only woman. I guess it means I’m not afraid for my characters to act in non-stereotypical ways for their genders. There are many female authors who don't "write like a girl." Suzanne Collins who wrote The Hunger Games trilogy created a tough cookie character in Katniss Everdeen, a non-girlie heroine who eschews make-up and has a bad attitude. She's my anti-Christ version of Bella Swan! I think women readers will identify with Jane Ronson. Jane is incredibly loyal to Lenny and mothers him in her own way. Jane has relationship issues and doesn't trust men. That alone should hit a chord for most women. Finally, what male writer would think to include details like Jane getting her period while trying to seduce a man? Only a women could come up with that one!

There’s a strong current of anger in the book about race and class. Where did that come from?

Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods. All you have to do is cross the street and you can be a whole other reality. The last 20 years have not been kind to Baltimore. The city has lost more than 100,000 residents since 1990, the Sparrow’s Point steel mill is a shadow of its former self and the city is closing recreation centers while promoting new developments aimed at the one percent of the population who can still afford to spend without impunity. When the Baltimore Sun touts the city’s 2011 murder total of 196 homocides as a “triumph,” you know there are deep problems. Baltimore is also still a very segregated city. There is a lot of mistrust and innuendo about race from all sides. Sadly, I see these divisions as hardening rather than dissipating. I am not originally from Baltimore (I arrived in 1991—practically a greenhorn in the eyes of long-time Baltimoreans), but I have great affection for this place. It saddens me to see the city in decline.

What’s next for Jane Ronson?

Jane is going to go through some life changes. She’s turned 30 and is starting to become more self-aware. She's still prickly enough to drop the "F" bomb without much provocation, but she's starting to wake up to certain realities, namely, her mortality. In the next book you’ll see Jane struggle with her relationship with Don. Remember, love is an alien concept to Jane. Her mother will reveal a dark family secret that sets in motion the structure of the next book. Lenny will play a more less co-dependent role in Jane's life as he gains back the confidence he lost. I'd tell you more, but I'm still figuring it out!

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