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Between the Pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Mystery Author, Deborah Morgan

Deborah Morgan is the very talented author of the Jeff Talbot mystery series. I recently had a chance to chat with her and here's what she had to say.

Dennis Collins: How long have you been writing?

Deborah Morgan: All my life, when I think about it. A writer writes, you know? If we're truly writers, then it's always there, waiting for us to apply the discipline and hard work to put form to the ideas.


Dennis: Tell us about your background in the literary industry.

Deborah: I'm a former managing editor of two national specialty magazines, and a managing editor of a bi-weekly newspaper. I resigned that life to "join typewriters" with Loren Estleman nine years ago.

Dennis: How many novels have you written?

Deborah: Three, all in the Jeff Talbot antique-lover's mystery series. Death is a Cabaret was followed by The Weedless Widow, which was published in October; the third (The Marriage Casket) is scheduled for October 2003 publication. My publisher (Berkley) has made an offer for books four and five in the series, so I'm now developing that fourth one. I'm also laying the groundwork for another novel that's not in the series.


Dennis: How long did it take to have your first book published?

Deborah: I was fortunate, in that I didn't have a book in hand that I was trying to sell. The concept for an antiques crossover mystery series was there, an agent who knew I was into antiques asked if I wanted a shot at it. I said yes. I was asked for a proposal and one chapter, to which I added concepts for books two and three, and was offered a three-book contract on that. At first, I thought, "Great! I only have to write one chapter," immediately followed by, "Great.

Everything hinges on that one chapter." All facets of the series were mine to develop: setting, characters, their backgrounds.

One of the key elements about me that made this work so well is that I'm a deadline person-good when you're an editor.


Dennis: How about other work such as short stories, etc.?

Deborah: I've been published in both the mystery and the western genres. The third story about my Detroit detective, Mary Shelley, will be in Flesh and Blood, Volume III (Spring 2003). The story is titled The Windsor Ballet. My most recent historical western story, Sepia Sun, was published in American West: Twenty New Stories from the Western Writers of America (Forge 2001).


Dennis: Was there an author who inspired you to become a writer?

Deborah: No, actually. When I told my mother about my first book contract, she said that from the time I could talk I said I wanted to write. As I said before, it was always there.

That's not to say I'm not inspired by writers: Steinbeck, because I relate to his thoughts and feelings expressed in Working Days; Chandler, because he actually began his writing career a little later in life, as I have; I could go on. But they didn't inspire me to become a writer.


Dennis: Are you an outliner or do you just start writing?

Deborah: I'm not sure you could call what I do "outlining." With each of the three novels, I've known the ending, and the beginning, then I've just crawled into the passenger seat of Jeff's '48 Chevy Woodie and scrawled notes. Because the series is set in the antiques world, I consciously work to develop a storyline that reveals things about that world, and that has something to do with the antiques. Sure, some are there just to look pretty but there's usually at least one item that is the motivation for the crime.


Dennis: Do you set daily quotas or deadlines for your writing?

Deborah: Quotas, sure. You can eat an elephant one bite at a time. If you think that way, when you're standing on the deadline, you're not as apt to panic. Again, though, I think it's helped that I worked in journalism. When there would be production problems, or breaking news, or any of a thousand other things, you stayed till the paper was put to bed. If that meant one in the morning, you did it. We've had a difficult year-lots of family emergencies and loss, and I pulled some long shifts to finish book three. But it's a combination of adrenaline, deadline, and a bunch of people -- characters -- left in the


Dennis: Your books are set in the world of antique collecting and dealing. Other than your obvious interest in antiques, what influenced you to make this subject the focus of your mysteries?

Deborah: As I mentioned, the opportunity fell into my lap because of my love for antiques. Another plus has been the fact that I collect several different things that appeal to me; nothing high-end, just items I like for one reason or another. So, I use a variety of antiques and collectibles in each book, in order to appeal to a wider cross-section of people.


Dennis: I'll bet that you enjoy doing research.

Deborah: Too much so. It's good that I do, though, because it takes a lot of time to find out about all the different areas of collecting I include in each book, and as much time getting that research into meaty little nuggets that don't read like an encyclopedia. Many collectibles fascinate me, so it's easy to get into the research (and, easy to get lost in the research).

As you know, I use so many sources for the research that I include a segment at the end of each novel called "Jeff Talbot's Recommendations." It's a conversational bibliography that mentions not only antiques reference books I've used but also books about other characters' interests (cookbooks, for instance, since Jeff's wife, Sheila, is a chef), and other things that come up in the telling of the story. Following that is a webliography that Sheila puts together. For those who haven't read the series, Sheila is agoraphobic. The Internet is her best friend, since it has brought the world to her on her own terms.

Also, my website (, which I'll continue to expand, includes recipes from Sheila, and more info about other regulars in the series.


Dennis: Being a Michigan resident, isn't it quite a challenge to have your stories set in Seattle?

Deborah: Yeah, I'm from trailblazer stock. It's made for more research, and more travel, but I can't see these people living anywhere else. Although there are lots of antiques in my area, I think hard-boiled when I think Detroit, probably because that's where Mary Shelley works.


Dennis: You're married to an author. Has that been a help or a hindrance?

Deborah: Both. It helps that we understand what each other does, and that we're both night people. Oh, and that he's a great cook! Whoever is less up against a deadline does the cooking. We don't live within range of pizza delivery, or much else, so it's not like we're going to jump in the car and run pick up dinner. We've each developed some pretty decent, fast dishes.

Probably the main hindrance is the misconception of people who ask if he's writing my books for me. That's ignorance on many levels. They don't know that I was a writing editor before I met him, and they sure don't know that I wouldn't let him anyway.


Dennis: Jeff Talbot and his wife Sheila seem like very real people. Will we be seeing more of them?

Deborah: Jeff actually is a member of the National Woodie Club. So, perhaps, the fact that I look upon them as real makes it easier to portray them. It's working, because I'm constantly hearing from readers that these people are "so real." As far as seeing more of them, I have titles and concepts for many, many more books. The antiques world lends itself so well to titles.


Dennis: Any advice for aspiring writers?

Deborah: Write something every day. Read. Trust your gut.

Death is a Cabaret
By Deborah Morgan
Prime Crime - November 2001
ISBN 0425182029 - Paperback
Buy it at Amazon

Reviewed by Dennis Collins, Myshelf.Com

Ms. Morgan makes use of Nineteenth century china to bring this Twentieth century whodunit into the new millennium. Mystery fans will love helping ex-FBI agent Jeff Talbot sift through the clues as he seeks to identify the murderer. There are plenty of suspects, all with plausible motives and means, keeping the suspense level just right.

The world of high-end antique dealing and trading is a new setting for a murder mystery but it fits beautifully. A one-of-a-kind cabaret set commissioned by Napoleon for Josephine is an object of desire to some very sophisticated collectors as they come together for an auction at the beautiful and historic Grand Hotel on Michigan's Mackinac Island.

Jeff Talbot has journeyed all the way from Seattle to bid for the precious treasure. He finds the usually peaceful island bristling with bidders, some above reproach and some downright unscrupulous, but all determined to possess this celebrated tea set. And then they begin turning up murdered.

Deborah Morgan's love for antiques comes through loud and clear, right down to Jeff Talbot's own pride and joy, his 1948 Chevy Woodie. Morgan tells this story splendidly, capturing the aura of Mackinac Island while intertwining the struggle of Jeff Talbot's wife Sheila as she battles the demons in her own mind.

This is the kind of book that will appeal to a very wide audience. It's suitable for all ages and has the unique charm of capturing the reader who has always dreamed of uncovering some long lost masterpiece at a local garage sale. I highly recommend it and sincerely hope that we haven't heard the last of Jeff Talbot.

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