Thursday, March 24, 2016

Interview with Mary Lawrence, Author of Death of an Alchemist

Mary Lawrence lives in Maine and worked in the medical field for over twenty-five years before publishing her debut mystery, The Alchemist’s Daughter (Kensington, 2015). Her articles have appeared in The Daily Beast, The Boston Book Review and Portland Monthly Magazine. Book 2 of the Bianca Goddard Mystery series, Death of an Alchemist, released in February, 2016. 

Visit her at
twitter: @mel59lawrence

When did you begin writing?

I began writing in my thirties when I was a single parent working as a cytotechnologist. My job involved sitting at a microscope for hours on end, looking at cells for precancerous changes. The only connection I had with my patients was the name on the requisition. I amused myself by making up stories about these people. It grew from there.

What is this book about?

 Death of an Alchemist is book 2 in the Bianca Goddard Mysteries, a new series set in the final years of King Henry VIII’s reign. The series features the estranged daughter of an infamous alchemist who makes medicines for the sick. Her medicines are a combination of herbal knowledge (learned from her mother) and alchemy (learned from her father). Death and murder are quite common in Tudor London. Bianca has a curious mind and seeks to understand disease as well as what motivates people to murder.

In Death of an Alchemist, the sweating sickness is spreading. Bianca is working on a cure and seeks help from an elderly alchemist. Ferris Stannum has just discovered the elixir of immortality. He seeks to confirm his recipe with a colleague in Cairo, but the next day, Bianca finds him dead and his journal is missing.

Bianca believes he died under suspicious circumstances and returns home to find her husband has taken ill. When the journal mysteriously turns up in her room of Medicinals and Physickes, she dares to hope it could contain the secret to his recovery. But possessing the journal comes with great peril. An attempt is made on her life as she works to save John’s, and soon Bianca is caught in a race against time to save her husband as well as herself.

What inspired you to write it?

I began writing Death of an Alchemist about the time when the U.S. was nervous about an Eboli outbreak. Hemorrhagic diseases have been around for centuries—think Dengue Fever and the Yellow Fever. But because we were not familiar with E boli, a lot of misinformation circulated and a kind of hysteria developed.

In centuries past, people relied on superstition and misinformation because there wasn’t any science to distinguish diseases or explain them. In Tudor England, the “Sweat” was a well-known and much feared disease that could take victims quickly--“Merry at dinner, dead before dawn.” I asked myself what it would have been like back then trying to understand a mix of different diseases?

Every story or series about alchemy worth its weight needs to address the “elixir of immortality”. Since Bianca stands to lose the most important person in her life and has the chance to cure him of death permanently, I had her wrestle with plenty of philosophical questions.

I was also struggling with my own grief at the time. I had lost my favorite cat and a close friend who had supported my writing for years before I ever got published. The book helped me work through my loss and thoughts about mortality.

Who is your favorite character from the book?

My favorite character is Meddybemps. He is a street vendor who sells trinkets, and amulets to ward off evil spirits, but he also sells Bianca’s medicinal salves, and balms. He’s a surrogate father for Bianca since she is estranged from her own. Meddy is randy, loves to think up off color patters to sell his wares and suffers from latent syphilis. His morals are always slightly skewed, but he adores Bianca. He is a lot of fun to write.

Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?

Quite bumpy! I wrote for over 20 years before I was offered a book contract. I was good enough to get an agent after five years, but never sold anything. I was drawn to historical fiction, but finally after wrestling with an original manuscript for The Alchemist’s Daughter, I decided to take my favorite characters and drop them into a mystery. I had never tried writing one before. At that point I didn’t know if I would ever get published, but it had become so much a part of my life that I couldn’t give up.

If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

I would have gone to conferences and participated in pitch sessions years sooner. It takes a lot of guts to do them, but I’m convinced it is a quicker path to publication, though I still got my current agent the old fashioned way—through a query. I also think it is important to enter contests and get anonymous reader feedback. Some critics are brutal and may have their own agenda, but you have to be able to sift through and find the truth to make your work better.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

 My book is available in trade and ebook versions at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, BAM, Kobo, Target (online), and independent bookstores.

What is up next for you?

In book 3, Death at St. Vedast, Bianca hobnobs with the well-to-do merchant class. A pall is cast over their friend’s nuptials when the body of a pregnant woman is found beneath the bell tower where Boisvert and his wealthy bride are to be wed. But when the bride suddenly drops dead at her reception, Boisvert is accused of killing her.

To prove their friend’s innocence, Bianca travels to a country village to learn about a series of deaths of similar nature. If Bianca can determine what killed the bride, she may find the person(s) responsible, before more victims succumb to an unpleasant death.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I take a different angle writing historical fiction. My interest is on the commoner in this series, not court intrigues and silk gowns. The Bianca Goddard Mysteries doesn’t take itself too seriously. My first desire is to craft an engaging mystery with interesting characters, then set the stories in a time period that has rarely been looked at through the eyes of the common man. The books are a quick, engaging read with a little creep.


Mary Lawrence said...

Thank you Cheryl for hosting me on The Book Connection!

Cheryl said...

Great to have you here today, Mary.