A Q&A with Rita Mae Brown in Traverse City

The National Writers Series will feature an event with classic novelist, mystery writer, and New York Times bestselling author Rita Mae Brown on Thursday, November 6 at 7 pm in Traverse City. Brown will appear on stage with guest host Rich Fahle. Fahle is the founder and CEO of Bibliostar.TV and the executive producer of the Miami Book Fair International.

Brown’s new book, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, hit bookstores earlier this week on November 4, 2014 – just two days prior to her National Writers Series event. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie is a gripping new mystery, featuring the irrepressible “Sister” Jane Arnold and the wily antics of her four-legged friends.

National Writers Series executive director Jill Tewsley had a chance to ask Brown a few questions prior to her visit to Traverse City.

For more information or to purchase tickets to An Evening in Conversation with Rita Mae Brown visit the City Opera House website.


What first drew your interest in fox hunting and then compelled you to have it take center stage in a series of mystery novels?

I hunted in my mother’s womb in 1944 not that I remember but I often wonder if the rhythm of horse gaits, so natural, to me, is an echo of that.

Green Spring Valley Hounds founded in 1892 outside of Baltimore, MD. was mother’s hunt. She also hunted with Radnor, seventeen miles west of Philadelphia. This hunt was founded in 1883. She hunted with old Rose Tree founded in 1859 in York County, Pennsylvania and Elkridge—Harford founded in 1934 in Maryland. She’d also go down to Virginia to Piedmont, Middleburg and Orange County.

Training horses was a family trade since the Seventeenth Century. My one grandfather trained foxhounds as did his brother, both of them World War I vets.

I knew a little about hunting before I knew how to speak. Once I learned to read and write I guess it was inevitable that I’d write about this dangerous, thrilling, fascinating way of life.

Most all foxhunters are passionate environmentalists so having a foxhunting series allows me to show some of these concerns for all of us. Country people see it first, that’s all.

I hasten to add here that we do not kill the fox. We just chase the little devil.

On an ironic note or perhaps a full circle one, last year’s opening hunt for Oak Ridge Foxhunt Club of which I am the Master and Huntsman was the day on which my birth mother died at almost ninety. I knew her but slightly, yet when I heard the news it seemed fitting.


Your love of animals is evident in your writing. Did you have pets growing up and what types of animals might we find on your farm in Virginia?

Growing up there was everything. I was always saving squirrels, possums, skunks even lizards. Horses, hounds, dogs, cats, chickens, pig, cattle, I was surrounded by other sentient creatures and learned to value their intelligence.

Today on the farm you’ll find much of what is above except for pigs. My last beloved ancient cow passed away last year so I am without any bovines at present. Cattle are actually very interesting if you take the time to study them.


You have lived a fascinating life. Is there one moment/experience that stands out the most for you?

Whatever moment I am in. While I am keenly aware of the past (most every Virginian is) and I have hope for the future. I am much like my four footed friends: I live now.


When you are on book tour or traveling are their certain southern hospitalities that you miss?

I miss the courtliness of the gentlemen and the flintiness of the ladies. Of course, the men can flirt, too. There’s nothing like a good flirt to raise one’s spirits.


Which authors do you most admire and why?

Aristophanes, the great Greek comic playwright from Fifth Century Athens is my guide. Of course, any American writer must turn to Twain as he was the first among us to write in the American idiom. I read constantly and were I to list who I admire it would go on for pages. I do love Turgenev. For non-fiction: Gibbons and Churchill. Among the living, I am enjoying watching Karin Slaughter grow and deepen as a writer.


Do you have any bits of writing wisdom that you can share with aspiring writers?

Learn Latin. Nothing is more important to your ability to handle language than this. Latin is the foundation of all Western culture and about 60% of the English language. Without it we wouldn’t know how to speak or write a subordinate clause, etc.

The truth is if you don’t know Latin, you don’t know English. And if you’re too lazy to learn, you really don’t want to be a writer, you just want to pretend you are.

Thanks to Latin I can feel a word on my fingertips, taste it on my tongue. If I say, “verandah,” I can feel it isn’t Anglo-Saxon and it isn’t Latin. You can be a good journalist without deep training but if you want to write, really write, then you have to look to the opera singer who studies constantly and controls a column of air for something like four hours. A rock star, three and a half minutes, through a couple of songs and most are burned out before ten years.

In short, you either love language or you don’t. You can be the best plotter ever but you must still use English. With Latin, you have style. Without, you simply have a story.


More Northern Michigan Books

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National Writers Series 2014 Fall Lineup

Q&A with Nancy Horan