Rosemary and Larry Mild have published award-winning novels, short stories, and essays. They coauthored the popular Paco and Molly Mystery Series and Cry Ohana, a thriller set in Hawaii, as well as stories in anthologies. Members of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Hawaii Fiction Writers, they now call Honolulu home. They’re here today to talk about their team work and their latest mystery, Death Steals a Holy Book. Visit them at magicile.com.
What is the best thing about a husband and wife writing team?
Larry: You’re never writing in a vacuum. There’s always someone close by to listen to your story’s direction and your choice of words. The helping hand when you can’t find that ever-so-right word or story twist is a godsend.
Rosemary: Being able to read aloud to each other allows us to hear how the story really sounds. And we always leave room for playtime!
What is the worst thing?
Larry: If you’ll excuse my Latin, there’s this co-writus interruptus thing. Working back-to-back in the same room, it’s too easy to stop her and ask: “Does adrenaline have an e? rather than look it up myself.
Rosemary: Sometimes I interrupt in a more dramatic way. I was fishing a hammer out of Larry’s tool drawer (he’s a retired engineer) and the conversation went like this:
Larry: “Where are you going with that hammer?”
Rosemary: “I’m going to discipline the vacuum cleaner. It’s stuck on high.”
Larry: “Bring it here.”
So I do, he turns the vac upside down, and in five minutes has it fixed. I asked: “If I had given it a few whacks would I have broken it?”
There are times when Larry’s pridefully, elegantly written passages don’t work for me; they can stop the action. So I’ll do what I call “judicious pruning,” but Larry calls it “slash and burn.” Then, with sleeves rolled up, we negotiate. I’m a little more diplomatic than I used to be. But not much. Larry’s greatest strength as a writer is his imagination, his inventiveness. He conjures up all our plots and writes the first draft. He’s at the computer for five to six hours of writing on most days. He has a much longer attention span than I have.
Larry: She could work a little faster. We’re getting a little behind by the day.
Her strength as a writer? She has this wonderful feel for people and human nature. So she breathes life into my minimalist characters: physical appearance, sharpening the dialogue, and often adding a defining trait. And Sometimes she adds a scene for more conflict.
Rosemary: What can get in the way of our working together is my own nonfiction writing life: personal essays and my memoirs. Love! Laugh! Panic! Life with My Mother is the newest. Miriam’s World—and Mine is my second memoir of our daughter Miriam Wolfe, whom we lost in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. She was 20 and my only child. Larry and I had only been married a year when we lost her.
What part of the process do you look forward to most?
Larry: That instant when all the story parts come together. The first draft is an exciting journey, especially when new, unplanned pieces join the trek and fit just so. And it’s no slight pleasure when the finished and bound book arrives from the printer.
In terms of writing, what are you most likely to disagree on?
Rosemary: When Larry churns out extended poetic passages that slow the action.
Larry: When Rosemary comes up with her mixed metaphors. And when she edits my stuff ruthlessly! She even tweaks my short business letters.
Rosemary: You know how it is. Stephen King said, “To write is human. To edit is divine.”
Larry: Somehow we’ve managed to write seven novels and dozens of short stories and haven’t killed each other yet!
How are you most like your protagonists Dan and Rivka Sherman?
Larry: We made them like us (I won’t say how long ago): a Jewish couple in their early fifties. Dan and Rivka leave thriving careers as an editor and electronics engineer (which we were) to buy our fictional Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis, Maryland.
Rosemary: Physically, Dan is his own man. Tall and gangly, he sprawls when he sits. He has bushy, black hair and eyebrows. The only thing thing he shares with Larry is his gray hair. However, Dan is very much like Larry in personality: analytical and practical, yet imaginative. He’s a born problem-solver. He’s also kind and sensitive and an incorrigible punster.
Larry: Rivka is a lot like Rosemary: feisty, super-smart, affectionate, and addicted to chocolate. She has coffee brown hair and glasses with a slightly pear-shaped figure.
Rosemary: Larry is too kind to say that I’m also bossy (so is Rivka) and I can get really hyper. I’m a high-energy person. I rush around, bumping into furniture in our little apartment, sometimes bruising my hips, and even stupidly falling. Larry says, “Relax!” He’s right, of course, but I get mad because he’s right. I hate being wrong!
Why do you think bookstore owners make good sleuths?
Larry: They must be intellectuals and probably also extroverts. Dan and Rivka create an inviting climate so they have a constant flow of interesting characters coming through their front door.
Rosemary: Books and the world around them possess the potential for many engaging plots.
What is the real-life story behind the plot of Death Steals A Holy Book?
Rosemary: Here’s Larry’s preface explaining it all.
My Sacred White Elephant
Many of us possess something out of the past for which we have never found a practical or decorative place. Maybe it’s a gilt-framed picture of a great-great uncle, a bewildering trinket, an ugly vase, or a haphazard stamp collection. Or it may be a trunk stuffed with such items…kept in the family, even though no family member recalls exactly why.
My own white elephant is a rare holy book passed down from my maternal grandfather to my mother and then to me. Sefer Menorat ha-maor arrived at our house in a flimsy, white department store gift box nestled in tissue paper. This edition is written in Yiddish, the language that predominated among European Jews at the end of the eighteenth century when it was printed. Sefer means book. The English translation of Menorat ha-maor is The Candlestick of Light. It was originally written in Hebrew in the fourteenth century as a moral and religious household guide for Jews in the Middle Ages. One of the most important books of its time, it is filled with biblical topics and rabbinical interpretations on righteous living; a compilation of sermons, anecdotes, and tales drawn from both written and oral Jewish law and ethical teachings.
I cannot read Yiddish. The Sefer Menorat ha-maor sat in my house year after year deteriorating. In 2008 I opened the gift box, gently lifted the book out, and placed it on the table. Small brownish flecks of the heavy leather cover fell off. Carefully opening the cover, I found neat script on the flyleaf: dates ranging from 1803 through 1836, along with names I did not recognize—births, I presumed. The edges of the yellowed pages had turned brown as well. They were brittle, too brittle to continue in my care. The projected extent and cost of restoration were beyond anything I could manage. Sadly, in its condition, I could not display this fragile holy book in the place of honor it deserved. I sought professional help.
After consulting with a cantor and three rabbis, my Sefer Menorat ha-maorwas carefully packaged and sent on its way to Cincinnati, Ohio, for curator evaluation at the venerated Klau Library of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Dr. Dan Rettberg, of blessed memory, attested to the book’s authenticity. Its permanent home is in the Klau Library’s Rare Books Collection. It was my honor to donate it.
Sefer Menorat ha-maor inspired me to create the basic plot for Death Steals A Holy Book. Forgive me for taking a few literary liberties with its condition, content, and monetary worth for the sake of the story.
Do the two of you read the same books, or the same types of books?
Larry: Not often. I prefer action/adventures, thrillers, and spy stories: David Baldacci, Clive Cussler, Frederick Forsythe, Robert Ludlum, Robert Ruark, James Clavell, Nelson DeMille, James Michener, Leon Uris, and Wilbur Smith. Add great historical novels to that, like Ken Follett’s two trilogies.
Rosemary: Larry is much tougher than I am. He’s a Navy veteran (Korean War) with a strong stomach. I cannot stand graphic violence—and descriptions of torture. I think they’re disgusting. I really appreciate Michael Connelly, John Grisham, Louise Penny, P.D. James, etc. We’re both crazy about Ken Follett‘s two historical trilogies. I also like really good nonfiction like The Boys in the Boat and Kathryn Graham’s autobiography. I’m a huge fan of Nora Ephron, Heartburn, etc. I totally tune in to her.
What’s next for Dan and Rivka Sherman?
Larry: The Shermans are busy selling books until we come up with a new plot for them. Currently under rejection are the following: A Missing Body at a Nudist Colony, A Vegan Commune in Bhutan, Verbal Complaints from a Murdered Woman, and If I Could Do It Over, I’d Still Die.
What’s next for Rosemary and Larry?
Larry: I just finished the first draft of a big novel tentatively titled Between the Mountains and the Great Sea. It’s a continuing saga of the families in our Hawaiian adventure/thriller Cry Ohana.
Rosemary: Larry has also finished the first draft of a text, Exploring the Mystery, 18 Valuable Lessons. Both books are waiting for me to work on.
Larry: We’re publishing our second series of short stories in Mysterical-E, an online mystery magazine. The “Copper and Goldie” stories are lots of fun, about a disabled ex-cop, now a cabbie, and his golden retriever. They drive around Honolulu, Hawaii, together solving crimes.
Also very exciting: we’re panel co-chairs for “Honolulu Havoc”—the Left Coast Crime mystery fans’ convention coming in March 2017. Join us for a fabulous four days at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Register now for a discount at Left Coast Crime.
Photo published with permission from the authors.