Cindy Brown, Ivy Meadows Mysteries
Like every actor, Ivy Meadows knows that Macbeth is cursed. But she’s finally scored her big break, cast as an acrobatic witch in a circus-themed production of Macbeth in Phoenix, Arizona. And though it may not be Broadway, nothing can dampen her enthusiasm—not her flying caldron, too-tight leotard, or carrot-wielding dictator of a director. But when one of the cast dies on opening night, Ivy is sure the seeming accident is “murder most foul” and that she’s the perfect person to solve the crime (after all, she does work part-time in her uncle’s detective agency). Undeterred by a poisoned Big Gulp, the threat of being blackballed, and the suddenly too-real curse, Ivy pursues the truth at the risk of her hard-won career—and her life.
Offering Ms. Brown some Irish Cream, we settled into the Interview Room. Sliding a jade plant to the side of the table, I looked over my notes and began.
Who is your favorite playwright and why?
Shakespeare, of course! I love the way he uses language, playing with both the meaning and sounds of words. For example, after Macbeth has decided to kill his best friend Banquo, he has a great monologue that begins:
“Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale! “
When you say the words out loud, you can hear the snakelike “seeling,” the hard, ravenous “Scarf up,” and the explosive consonants in “pitiful day.” And then when you find out that “seeling” means “sewing one’s eyes shut” (they used to train falcons that way), it becomes really creepy.
I made a note to tell Cindy about my “Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble” play. Ms. Brown, how do you use your playwriting background in this new mystery?
As a playwright, I learned how to put exposition in dialogue, how to differentiate characters by their language, and how to use timing to great effect (another lesson from Shakespeare!). And of course, working with actors and directors helped me learn to create natural-sounding dialogue.
In your writing process, do you initially create an outline of structure, or first get the words out on the page then go back and organize?
I’m part “outliner” and part “seat-of-the-pantser.” I do use a basic structure I learned in screenwriting: An inciting incident starts the story off, then there are turning points for each act that eventually lead to an “all-is-lost” moment. At the end, of course, my protagonist triumphs, and the story gets wrapped up. When I begin any project, I figure out these plot points, then come up with the characters and do a very thorough character exploration (being an old actor helps with this). Then I just let go and see what happens!
Which of Aristotle’s six story elements do you feel are the strongest in this book?
Can I choose two? Macdeath is definitely a mystery based on character (that’s one), but I think diction (two!) is as important, because I think Ivy’s voice really carries the book. She gives the story heart and makes it funny.
If we invited your protagonist over for tea or coffee, what would be the first thing we’d notice about her?
Ivy does have great legs, but you might be more likely to notice the way her slightly goofy demeanor contrasts with her strong will and emotional intelligence. Author Bill Cameron called her the “fierce and determined Ivy Meadows, a delightful misfit with a knack for getting herself into—and ultimately out of—trouble.” I think he said it perfectly.
My Playwriting Professor, Jerry Crawford, would love this question. If you could set Ivy Meadows into the story of a Shakespeare play, which would it be and why?
She’d probably make a good Viola in Twelfth Night. They’re both independent and charming, and enjoy a good joke. Their brothers also exert a big influence on them. Side note: I once played Viola in a never-seen production of Twelfth Night. The actor playing Toby Belch left our show in favor of a film role with just a week to go before opening, and we couldn’t replace him in time to open. Sigh.
Who is your favorite secondary character in this story and what is his or her goal in the book?
Bill Boxer (The Face of Channel 10) is an aging newscaster who realizes that high-def broadcasting may signal the end of his career. He’s both pompous and fragile. He sets his sights on theater as his new career path. He’d kill for the role of Duncan.
Well that sounds like a clue for us! So what is Ivy Meadows’ greatest accomplishment?
Ooh, I can’t tell you, because it would be a spoiler! Let’s just say that she’s able to reconcile her past.
Just as Ms. Brown finished her beverage, I checked off the last question on my list. We stood and gathered our cups and I escorted her to the front door. Cindy was such a delight and I hope she comes back to visit so we can talk about that Scottish play.
About Cindy Brown
Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Though Cindy and her husband now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.
Website & Blog: www.cindybrownwriter.com
Twitter handle: @friendlybrown
Love this interview. Great questions and answers!