Interview with author R.J. Lee

R.J. Lee’s Bridge to Death Mystery series is one of my personal favorites. I’ve always admired his creative writing style — the authentic southern setting and superior plots give us plenty of twists and turns. I’ve read the entire 4 book series and thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them. Wonder Women Sixty is pleased to present this exclusive interview with author R.J. Lee:

Your father, R. Keene Lee was also an author who wrote fighter pilot and detective stories in the late 40’s and 50’s. What made you decide to follow in his footsteps?

I discovered my father had written pulp fiction fighter pilot and detective stories in New York after WWII when I was about 7 or 8. There were copies of WINGS MAGAZINE in his office.

Once I was old enough to read and understand them, I thought writing was the coolest thing in the world. I started writing my own stories and illustrating them, always got A’s in English and then majored in English in college at Sewanee (U. of the South) where I also studied Creative Writing under Andrew Lytle, editor of the Sewanee Review. Maybe I had the writing gene, so I ran with it.

Mississippi is the setting in your Bridge to Death Mystery Series. It’s so authentic and well-researched that I have to ask: What inspired you to write a mystery series featuring the “deep south”?

I wrote a Deep South cozy mystery series because that is what I know best. I grew up in Natchez, Mississippi, the oldest city on the Mississippi River, and my mother’s family has been there since the 1760’s. I really didn’t have to do any research on what the Deep South is like because I’ve lived it and understand its strengths, weaknesses and many layers — both social and economic, not to mention the roles that race and religion play. I do set my series in Rosalie, Ms, but it is actually a thinly-disguised version of Natchez. Every writer likes to take artistic license when necessary. Thus, the name change.

You’ve really nailed the characters in this series. How do you continually come up with this fantastic cavalcade of so many different personalities?

I have long said that Natchez is a writer’s laboratory. I have been exposed to quite a variety of characters in my grandparents’, parents’ and my own generation. It’s easy enough to blend characteristics to maintain privacy and stay out of trouble. That’s the secret. It’s like making a literary smoothie over and over again, but never quite the same. I’m always careful to review past characters I have created to make sure I am changing up the recipe just a bit.

I understand you’ve played bridge on and off since you were 15. What got you started on becoming an avid bridge player?

My parents were big bridge players in Natchez, as were many people in their social circle. They taught me how to play the summer I turned 15, and I caught on right away. It’s simultaneously a social and a cerebral game.

When I got to college, I found 3 guys in my town who also loved to play bridge as much as I did. We frequently got together in the common room after class or after dinner and played for hours. The only thing unbelievable about it was that all 3 guys I played with were named “Steve.” Yes, in writing fiction, you cannot use coincidences like that because your agent and editor will tell you that no on will believe it! This illustrates that the truth really is stranger than fiction.

Today, I regularly play social bridge sometimes twice a week here in Oxford with a club of 30 people. I’m also a member of the American Contract Bridge League which specializes in duplicate. I have to confess, however, that I prefer social bridge because duplicate is so highly-regulated and timed — I find I cannot relax the way I can with social bridge. I can see myself playing bridge until the end of time.

Do you take each Bridge to Death Mystery one by one or do you have a long-term goal or agenda for this series?

Each of my BRIDGE TO DEATH MYSTERY novels is its own puzzle. I make every attempt to create an entirely different kind of crime to solve with plenty of red herrings and a believable culprit with understandable motivation. Long-term, what I have done is grow the main characters which play the same roles from novel to novel. There is a core of about 5 main characters who appear in every novel – including my heroine, her boyfriend (and later her husband), father, cook and housekeeper, and newspaper editor/boss. Over the 4-novel series, each of those characters changes in important ways, as they deal with entirely different mysteries to solve.

Besides playing bridge, what do you enjoy doing during your downtime?

When I’m not writing or traveling to promote my novels, which I do quite a bit with libraries, book stores, book festivals and workshops, I enjoy following college sports, particularly football and baseball. I used to buy tickets and attend some of these games, but now, with wide-screen TV, it’s much easier just to stay home and switch channels, saving on gas, hotel room costs, eating out and all that comes with travel these days.

I also have a collection of over 350 films from the Golden Age of Hollywood forward, and will put one of them on when I want to sample some good writing, acting, cinematography and directing. I like everything from Hitchcock to MGM musicals and am particularly fond of the period between 1935 and 1965.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I consider that having a national platform for one’s published writing is a privilege. Therefore, I owe it to my readers to bring to the table the best plots, characters and imagery that I can conjure up. Resonating with them is what counts.

A special thank you to author R.J. Lee for taking the time out of his super busy work (and bridge) schedule to do this interview. Watch this site for a review of his most recent book, The King Falls. Read reviews on R.J.’s other Bridge to Death Mysteries and other mysteries on this site under the Books/Mystery Category.

Photo and books provided by Kensington Publishing.

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