For an author who pretty well stays out of the limelight, Nancy Pickard has earned a loyal readership that continues to grow with each new book and new series she puts forth. A lifelong Midwesterner, she seems to maintain a perfect balance between the publishing world and her private life, a juggling act that’s not easy to do. Pickard’s Jenny Cain series first drew attention to her very readable style and has garnered numerous awards and nominations. Several years ago, she picked up where Virginia Rich left off in the Eugenia Potter series, a move that was risky but earned high marks from fans. More recently, she took another path, debuting her Marie Lightfoot novels, the first of which, THE WHOLE TRUTH, tackled the tricky subject of child murder and earned her an Edgar nomination. The recently released RING OF TRUTH deals with more hot topics: adultery, murder and the death penalty.
Susan McBride: In RING OF TRUTH, the second Marie Lightfoot book, a minister and his lover are accused of murdering his wife. Did the seed for this plot come from a real-life event?
Nancy Pickard: It did, indeed, from a story I read years ago about a deadly British couple.
SM: As your background is in journalism, I’ve got to ask how much of the character of true crime writer, Marie Lightfoot, is based on experiences you may have had? Is she anything like Nancy Pickard?
NP: Marie doesn’t think of herself as a journalist, but as more of a storyteller who happens to deal in fact. In not thinking of herself as a journalist, she is certainly like me, because even though I have a degree in that field it was obvious to me early on that I wasn’t that crazy about facts. I preferred to make things up…so be glad I’m not working for a newspaper.
SM: Does Marie’s job covering true crime allow you to address issues you might not in your other series?
NP: The truth is, probably not “issues” as such, because my other series characters have also, in their own ways, dealt with pretty weighty issues like domestic violence, mental illness, etc. What the Marie series allows me to do is branch out more into suspense as well as mystery.
SM: What kind of response did you get from your readers when THE WHOLE TRUTH came out, as it deals with a subject considered “taboo” by many: the murder of a child?
NP: Some have had no problem picking it up, some still don’t want to read it, and others tell me that, although they hesitated at first, they ended up thinking it was handled with sensitivity and they really liked the book. I think anybody who gets as far as Part II will end up feeling fine about it.
SM: How is writing the TRUTH books different than the Jenny Cain or the Eugenia Potter series? Or is there no difference?
NP: Structurally, they’re more complex, which makes them more interesting for me to write.
SM: What was it like for you to continue the Eugenia Potter novels after Virginia Rich passed away? Was that tough? Was it strange at all to make another author’s creation/characters your own?
NP: It was incredibly tough, until it dawned on me that I should focus on capturing the character of Mrs. Potter and then everything else would take care of itself. Even then, it was still hard! It wasn’t particularly strange, though, just challenging. I liked the feeling of connection with Virginia Rich and I enjoyed getting to know her husband and her daughter a bit.
SM: Does being able to move between several series—and short stories—give you a sense of freedom to flex your literary muscles?
NP: Absolutely, especially being able to sprinkle my life with short stories. It is so satisfying to go from working on a novel—which always feels as if it will never be finished—to writing a short story. Every short story feels like a mini-writing course to me. If I had to write nothing but one series, I would go stark raving mad.
SM: How and when did you decide to write mysteries?
NP: I wrote mysteries because I had always loved them. They were the form of the novel with which I was most familiar.
SM: Did you always love words? Did you imagine as a child that you’d grow up to be an author?
NP: I did always love words, I suppose, but I didn’t think I had enough imagination to grow up to be one of those lucky people who wrote fiction. It didn’t occur to me that all of my daydreaming was a form of storytelling!
SM: What books, if any, have stuck in your head through the years and perhaps even had an influence on your writing?
NP: So many…but if I had to reel off a quick ten of them right now…well, let’s just see what appears…The Bobbsie Twins, Nancy Drew, BLACK BEAUTY, LOST HORIZON, ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE (which I discovered I don’t like now), Somerset Maugham’s short stories, Hemingway’s short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” any novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but especially THE GREAT GATSBY, Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy…is that ten books or authors?
SM: What’s on the burner?
NP: I’m writing three books right now—the third Marie Lightfoot novel that I hope will be the most suspenseful book I’ve ever written; a book about writing called THE 7 STEPS ON THE WRITER’S PATH with a psychologist, Lynn Lott; and a secret project all my own.
SM: Do you have any advice for fledgling writers? What do you think is the biggest mistake an aspiring author can make?
NP: My advice for fledgling writers is—and a hint about what that mistake is in here, too—don’t rush to be published. Only rush to write, write, write. Respect the craft you want to be a part of by devoting yourself to becoming good at it, just as you would if you wanted to become a doctor, a lawyer or anything else that demands a very high level of skill and experience. Know that the long process of learning how to write is an honorable and necessary part of the path.
SM: Well said.
Marie Lightfoot is back again in RING OF TRUTH, the follow-up to Nancy Pickard's Edgar nominated THE WHOLE TRUTH. Lightfoot, a true crime writer, gets a case this time that seems so obvious on the surface. But is it really? The Reverend Bob Wing's wife, Susanna, is murdered, brutally raped and beaten then left to rot in an old mansion in a Florida town. Apparently, he was having an affair with a pretty and very wealthy parishioner named Artemis "Artie" MacGregor. Bob Wing is convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to die by the jury. Artie gets off scot-free.
The more Lightfoot investigates the story to fill in some missing pieces in her book about the sensational case, the more she realizes things are most certainly not as they seem. Pickard actually weaves together several subplots that are equally interesting, another seemingly unrelated murder case and the debate about capital punishment. Fans of THE WHOLE TRUTH will not be disappointed by RING OF TRUTH. It is suspenseful with plenty of twists built-in so that I couldn't figure out the truth myself until two-thirds of the way through, not a great score for someone who prides herself on knowing the answers about 50 pages in.
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