Women Asking Women: Raye Anderson and Darlene Madott
In this edition of Women asking Women, mystery writer Raye Anderson (most recently of Down Came the Rain, the third instalment of her Roxanne Calloway series) and novelist/short story writer Darlene Madott (most recently of her ninth book, Winners and Losers) discuss how stories find them and how their existing professions - Raye's in theatre, Darlene's in law - inspire their writing.See more details below
In honour of Women's History Month, we asked women writers from across the country to pair up and interview each other on all kinds of things: their processes, their inspirations, their thoughts on WWW (writing while women). We can't wait to share these conversations with you.
Interview: Raye Anderson ( Down Came the Rain, Signature Editions) and Darlene Madott ( Winners and Losers, Guernica Editions)
Darlene Madott: How much has your acting background contributed to your writing?
Raye Anderson: It’s probably why I write crime fiction, which tends to have a dramatic plot line. I know about building and resolving conflict and I know how to inhabit a character in my head and use dialogue and action to drive the story forward. When I find the right voice for a character in my head I know exactly who he or she is.
DM: What, outside literature, inspires and informs your work? What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
RA: I’m interested in all the arts and have dabbled in all of them.
Weather! It has to have an element of danger, so a cold Manitoba winter works well. In Down Came the Rain it’s spring flood season and in the new book, Sing a Song of Summer, it’s a hot summer where there is drought and a threat of forest fire.
Raye Anderson: What came first? Did legal work provide you with stories that you then wanted to write down or did you always want to write and choose a profession that would give you access to interesting stories?
Darlene Madott: I went into law because of a writer’s block. My mother, who had watched me flounder too long on the threshold of adult life, admonished me with exasperation: “Why don’t you make something of your life, like your friend Irene?” My friend Irene happened to be a lawyer. So I wrote the LSAT as a walk-in, on a kind of dare, without any preparation. If I could not do what I thought I really wanted to do, in my heart of hearts, then at least I could achieve at a mediocre level, or so I thought at the time – do something that would burn up the hours like a match to human hair, make writing impossible, make me let go of my failed dream. But in all honesty, looking back, my mother was right. I had to find a practical way of being in the world. I had to, quite simply, make a living. Everything I did to try to support myself as a writer had felt like a summer job. No sooner did I get into law school then the writer’s block dissipated and the short-story collection Bottled Roses was published contemporaneous with my graduation from law school.
My choice of profession had nothing to do with access to interesting stories. But really interesting stories did happen, and then I faced another dilemma – solicitor/client privilege. “The Question,” published three times before arriving in Winners and Losers is a riff on a real legal case I had as a junior lawyer. It delves into the mystery of an old woman being sued by the descendants of her lascivious brother-in-law. It’s narrated mostly in the form of courtroom cross examinations, and the story becomes progressively more disturbing in its implications of perverse relations. While the story was based on a real case, it spun out into something completely imaginary. Were the real Edna Hamilton (not her real name) still alive today and actually read the story, she’d never recognize herself. But so worried was I about the potentiality of this, I wrote a paper during law school on “Libel Law, Fiction, and the Charter,” recognizing that there are no traditional defences against allegations of libel for writers of fictions. If you write fiction, you can’t defend on the basis of “truth,” unless the law evolves to recognize “higher truths.” I’ve always counted on characters who might think they recognize themselves and not liking the portrait I’ve created, skulking back and not coming forward in a lawsuit to identify themselves. “Look what you did! You made me look like a shit!” Who’s going to want to bring that attention to themselves? Besides, I will never become famous enough to be the target of such a lawsuit. So, I continue to write what I have to write, and imagine and create, and embellish to make a good story, and consequences be damned.
Darlene Madott: What role does the propensity toward human gossip play in your mysteries? (e.g. propelling forward the narrative, etc.) Are any of the gossipy sections of Down Came The Rain based on your real-life experiences of gossip – directly or indirectly?
Raye Anderson: I don’t think of it as gossip. I think of it as the collective voice of the people who live in the community in which the books are set. There is a book club in my first book, And We Shall Have Snow, and I did base how they talked on one that I belonged to at the time. Juggling five voices at the same time is tricky – I needed a model to figure out how to do that, how to make each voice clear and true to each character. I like telling a story through dialogue.
DM: And can you give us an example of one of these?
RA: It helps when I need to tell a lot about a dead character, for instance, Stella Magnusson, in that same book. The women tell stories about her which may or may not be entirely true but are worth following up on and it helps give a sense of why people might have wanted her dead.
Raye Anderson: You write about the conflict that exists between clients and also conflict that exists in the profession between lawyers. When you create a story, does one take precedence as the primary narrative or can they balance out, with equal emphasis?
Darlene Madott: I’ve authored nine books. Dying Times (my eighth book) took place against a legal backdrop, and now Winners and Losers draws more directly upon my experience of toiling in the vineyards of matrimonial misery. Yes, a large part of that misery was created by the conflict among warring spouses – as in “Newton’s Third Law” about a sparring spouses, where every action of their separation process spawns an increasingly toxic and hilarious reaction. “Toilet Bowl Blues” is about abusive partnerships of tumultuous lovers, waring sisters and a senior partner/junior associate dynamic. This sadly funny story quite literally shoots the shit – the human excrement that feeds and fuels a working lifetime.
The reality is that I didn’t write out of my legal background until I effectively retired. I lawyered by day and I wrote by night and on weekends and in the margins of my life. The last thing I wanted to do when I came home at night was write about what I did all day, the same way I could never watch legal dramas on television or Netflix. Last thing I wanted to do. Writing was my secret lover who wooed me away from the practice of law, and therein lay the real pleasure of writing for me. I kept my double life in separate compartments. It’s only lately that the boudoir farce has become more openly promiscuous.
Darlene Madott: How did you perform the research on the RCMP and its processes that plays such a large role in the investigation of the murders in Down Came The Rain?
Raye Anderson: It’s difficult. I knew nothing about it going in- I started writing a mystery set in the Interlake and then realised I needed to bring in the RCMP. Luckily, a friend had a cottager neighbour who has had senior roles in The Force and he has been happy to advise me. He is great on procedures and keeps me right. I also have been helped by a retired City of Winnipeg police inspector who tells me the stories I really want to hear! There is a problem in that policing is rapidly evolving with technology, especially when it comes to forensics, and retired policemen often don’t know about that.
Raye Anderson: How has the competitive nature of legal work influenced the form of your writing?
Darlene Madott: One of my opposing counsel used to call me “The Mad Dot.” As a litigator, I was a dog-with-a-bone and very competitive. Now, having thrown over my proverbial safe and legal “husband” for my “lover,” I’m invested in wanting to make this risky relationship succeed. I’m invested in my choice. Interesting word – “choice,” because I wanted to be a writer and was in fact writing little stories from the time I could read and write. The writing puts me in fierce and daily competition with myself. I’m not a formula writer. I’ve been called an “intuitive” writer. Every story I write is a struggle to find the form, to find the core meaning, and something that might actually touch another human being. And I write my guts out until it takes shape and settles into something whole and maybe even beautiful. Every day I face the blank page and feel my lymph glands swell and my throat constrict. That never happened to me as a lawyer. I was a very confident and articulate counsel. As a writer, every day I eat and gag on humble pie. I must be a masochist to keep doing this. It makes no sense on any basis – economic or otherwise. So, yes again. Whatever the chemistry of competition – those same compounds must be essential to my own nature and must be what keeps me putting one word in front of another…
Darlene Madott: Why do you write mysteries? How do you create the mystery at the core of your novel to be solved by your protagonist?
Raye Anderson: I have a very good time figuring them out – it’s great fun and getting the story right is a challenge that I enjoy. I start with a dead body and a place in which it is found and take it from there.
DM: Do you find, now that you are a professional author, that you can read other mysteries for pleasure, or do you read everything now with an analytic eye?
RA: Interesting question. If it is a good one I can still enjoy the read but yes, I do notice how a story is structured and I do notice what I like and don’t like.
DM: Why do you suppose we two authors were paired up for this exercise?
RA: Don’t know. Do you? Glad we were, anyway. This has been fun.
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Raye Anderson is a Scots Canadian who spent many years running Theatre Schools and presenting creative arts programmes for arts organizations, notably at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg. She now called Manitoba's Interlake home, where she is part of a thriving arts community. She has published three books: And We Shall Have Snow (shortlisted for the 2021 CWC Best Crime First Novel and the 2021 WILLA Literary Award for Original Softcover Fiction), And Then Is Heard No More, and Down Came the Rain. Her work has taken her across Canada, from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast, and as far north as Churchill and Yellowknife, as well as to the West Indies and her native Scotland.
Darlene Madott has authored nine books and has twice won the Bressani Literary Award. She has been shortlisted for the Gloria Vanderbilt sponsored Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Award three times, as well as being a frequent finalist for Accenti Magazine competitions, among others. Her short fiction has been widely anthologized. A lawyer who practised for over three decades, her eighth book, Dying Times, (Exile Editions, 2021), grew out of aspects of her legal background and was a fictional exploration of the last journey. Winners and Losers (Guernica Editions, 2023), circles back to track the life and legal journeys from near their beginnings. She lives in Toronto.
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Thanks to Raye and Darlene for puzzling out avenues of justice and law in their books and, in this interview, with each other!
Catch up on the Women Asking Women series so far:
- Judy LeBlanc and Sarah Ens
- Tracey Lindeman and Margaret Nowaczyk
- Carol Harvey Steski and Manahil Bandukwala
- Raye Anderson and Darlene Madott
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