By James Dungeon
[Editor’s note: What follows are excerpts from a conversation between the reporter and Scott Mies and Al Lodwick, authors of “Murder or Pestle?”]
DUNGEON: How do you pitch your book to potential readers?
LODWICK: It’s mystery with a pharmacist that’s the hero. How often do you see that? I also push that one of the main characters is Vietnamese.
MIES: Prescott, Prescott, Prescott. That’s what I keep hyping. I also tell people it’s a fun read, but it’s not a beach read; it’s a rainy day read.
DUNGEON: Where did the idea for the story come from?
LODWICK: I’ve had the idea for the story for about 10 years and never did anything with it. One night, we were watching a meaningless football game and Scott said, “This is boring. Why don’t you tell me a story.” I told him the idea and he said we ought to write it up. We didn’t really know each other then; our wives were friends and we were hanging out in his man cave. I wanted to write a story but could never put it together into a book. He wanted to put together a book but he needed a story.
MIES: As far as the logistics and trials and tribulations go, we got along and respected each other’s talents. Because Al was a pharmacist, a lot of what he wrote got so detailed medically, but we didn’t need all of it. Our styles were different at first: You could tell who wrote what part. But, as we edited it and kept writing, we hit the right tone.
DUNGEON: Does that mean the main character, Alex, is you, Al?
LODWICK: Pretty much.
MIES: It’s thinly veiled. We beefed up the character, though.
LODWICK: I was never actually a state pharmacy inspector, but I was an expert witness in trials. I’d already written another book about how to be an expert medical witness. We fictionalized a lot of my experiences. The sites got turned around. The details got changed.
MIES: We were careful. We didn’t want to cross confidentiality boundaries; we didn’t want anyone to sue us.
DUNGEON: Why write it as a mystery in the first place? And why self-publish it?
LODWICK: My wife is a real mystery fan. She loves the ones that don’t have gratuitous sex or violence — she calls them “cozies” — which is why the book is the way it is. With this new world of self-publishing, we figured we could write the book the way we wanted to.
MIES: Without having to please a publisher.
LODWICK: If you want to write a book and do a good job at it, it’s really a work of art, and to do that you really need to please yourself, not a publisher.
DUNGEON: And the response?
MIES: We’re still in a state of shock and being amused that we’re getting paid for this. We didn’t go out thinking we were going to beat Robert Patterson or anything. But when we get a check for 50 books, that’s great. We’re actually writing a sequel to it, “Mind Your Murder,” which is more of a psychological thriller.
LODWICK: Alex is going to have some health problems and Huyen (Nguyen) — she’s going to take a bigger role in this one. She’s based on a real person and she knows that we did that. We gave her a signed copy confirming that if she ever wants to prove it.
DUNGEON: So what does the writing process for two people look like?
LODWICK: We’ve enjoyed going out to lunch together every Friday and talking about ideas for the next week. It’s more that I have an idea and Scott writes it up. That’s what we settled on. When we were writing dialogue, I’d put too much vernacular in there — you know, giving a character a really thick Southern accent. He took out a lot of that. Scott left just enough to give you an impression. And I’d write some really detailed medical stuff, and he’d narrow it down.
MIES: I’d cut 15 pages down to a paragraph. I’ve also got to say that Al’s the belle of the ball for the pharmacy profession. A pharmacist as a hero? They’re never the hero. Another thing I’d like to say is that for the sequel we’re going from beginning to middle to end. For “Murder or Pestle?” we knew the beginning, middle, and end, and we wrote from opposite sides and met in the middle. We realized that didn’t work because we were writing in two different voices. We learned from that.
DUNGEON: There’s a lot of back-and-forth present day versus flashback storytelling. Why’d you do that?
MIES: We wanted to hit people up front. There’s this woman — a woman who really ends up being about as main a character as a character can get — who’s retelling the story about having to pull the plug on her son and finding Alex after all these years. If we had to do it over again we might do it a bit differently. We might simplify it a bit. But that hasn’t been one of the critiques of the book that we’ve heard from people. Some people have said it starts off a bit slow, but, by the last 75 pages, they say they can’t put it down. We didn’t want people to get confused, which is why every chapter has the date and place listed there.
DUNGEON: What was your biggest challenge writing the book?
LODWICK: The biggest challenge was disguising what it was based on. We worked really hard to make it unrecognizable, but there was a real case that was similar to it. … We moved the locations several hundred miles away, which helped.
MIES: Al’s wife, Ann, pulled me aside and asked me whether or not we were really going to make these characters real people or shallow detective gumshoes. Making sure they were real, feeling people was the hardest part for me.
DUNGEON: Could you talk more about the book’s Prescott connection?
MIES: We love living in Prescott. Neither one of us was born here, but our families moved out here and we wanted to make Prescott look like a good, honest, clean small town. In one of the other places in the books there’s a corrupt sheriff and crazy mayor and a lot of prejudice about people who are different. That’s not how we wanted to show Prescott. We were really proud to present a copy of the book to the Prescott Public Library. It was amazing to see it up on the shelf there.
LODWICK: Right after we got the books, you were showing me copies at lunch and I saw the mayor eating by himself. I was happy to go over and talk to him and give him a copy of it.
You can buy “Murder or Pestle?” in Prescott at Peregrine Book Company, Hastings, and the Prescott Public Library or online at Amazon.
James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.