If Morgan Hunt has not made it onto your mystery reader’s radar, you owe it to yourself to find out about her San Diego –based series and the true life events that spawned it. No, she didn’t hit the lottery and decide to fulfill a writer’s dream. Quite the contrary. At 50-something, the comfortably employed training writer was struck by breast cancer. The experience reshaped her life in more ways than one. With an acute sense of her own mortality, Hunt was determined to become the creative writer she’d always wanted to be.
LG: How did your mystery series emerge from your experience as a breast cancer survivor, as opposed to, say, a memoir?
MH: While recuperating from a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery I read many mysteries. I had always loved the puzzles presented by skillful mystery writers and the idea for my own series with a breast cancer survivor in the starring role came to me as part of my recovery. Although I’m interested in spiritual issues and intend to one day put my contemplative thoughts on paper, I gravitated to fiction first because I needed to get out of myself by creating a protagonist with off-beat humor and plenty of puzzles to keep her busy.
LG: Is humor a big part of your narrative style?
MH: Absolutely. I’ve always admired Kinky Friedman, Kurt Vonnegut and Anne LaMotte. Readers who want to get a feel for my writing style can check out my web site, www.morganhuntbooks.com. The site offers excerpts from all three of my mysteries.
LG: How much of Morgan Hunt is in your sleuth Tess Camilla?
MH: Oh, I’d say 67.3%, give or take an iota. I certainly draw from my life for the character of Tess, yet she’s quite different in some ways. She speeds like crazy; I’m actually a gas-conserving slow and careful driver. She has never wanted children; I have a son I’m very proud of. She cans bed-hop with relative ease and I, well… What’s the next question?
LG: The first book in your series is called Sticky Fingers. How did you come up with that title?
MH: The title refers to the famous album by the Rolling Stones. The album cover with its famous picture of a man in tight jeans is irrevocably linked in my mind to the phrase ‘trouser snake’, which in turn relates to the debut novel’s murder scenario in which the victim was done in by a poisonous snake.
LG: Eel! Where did that inspiration come from?
MH: While I was investigating breast cancer treatments, I found out that snake venom is used in breast cancer research. I worked that angle into a true account of a crime I’d read about several years before in which a woman was found dead on the floor of a Volkswagen. The body was strewn with strange articles such that it looked like a ritualistic murder and there was a psychic involved who knew a great deal about details of the case known only to police. Unfortunately, in the true crime police never found sufficient evidence to bring a case against any suspect–but of course they didn’t have Tess Camilla on the job.
LG: It looks like all of your titles have a musical tie-in. Why is that?
MH: I guess it’s because there’s always a song playing somewhere in the back 40 of my brain. Even though I’m a writer who loves using words, sometimes music communicates emotion better. My second mystery, Fool on the Hill, is named after a Beatles song. The story concerns a rock star who is crucified on the Torrey Pines cliffs. You might recognize my third book’s title, Blinded by the Light, as a Bruce Springsteen song. That story is about a murder at a New Mexican earthworks art site — a field of metal rods engineered to attract lightning, a real if little known tourist attraction.
LG: Will plucky sleuth Tess Camilla follow her author to Ashland?
MH: I think Tess would love Ashland, as I do. Ashland is a place that’s accepting of the full spectrum of humanity. People from every walk of life, every age group, sexual persuasion and spiritual bent seem to thrive on each other’s energy and, well, otherness. I think the arrival of OSF’s new artistic director has injected this already eclectic atmosphere with even more vitality. So what’s not to like?
LG: What’s the biggest surprise about the reality of being published when compared to the preconceived notions of an aspiring author?
That a new ambition replaces your original one faster than you can blink. At first, you think, ‘If I can just get my book published…’ But when you do, it’s ‘If I can just get people to buy and read the book.’ True communication involves sending and receiving a message. Getting published successfully ‘sends’ the message “the story or book” but the message isn’t ‘received’ until someone reads it. So an author’s focus goes from getting published to getting readers pretty quickly.
LG: Are your books available locally?
Yes. Usually Bloomsbury’s and Book wagon in Ashland carry copies, as well as Barnes & Noble in Medford.
LG: Any words of advice for aspiring writers?
Write what touches your heart; what you have a true passion for. You’re going to spend a lot of time at the keyboard; you might as well enjoy the process.
LG: What’s the next project on your literary agenda?
I’m working on a collection of spiritually oriented essays, a political satire TV movie, and a fourth Tess Camillo mystery, set locally. I haven’t figured out which one I’ll finish first; they’re just arising simultaneously at the moment.