By Gary Kriss
There’s a special kind of dark that coats New York State’s Catskill Mountains at night, an eerie grisaille that captures its legends and lore. There, in an isolated cabin, sits a woman, alone, trying to gather her scattered thoughts. Before she had heard thunder. It thunders a lot in the Catskills during the summer. And the storms when they come, with their wicked winds and lightening lashes can be frightening. But at the moment she has all the frightening she needs.
She hears a noise coming from the woods, and then another. Some form of nocturnal wildlife? That’s what it usually is. But in her mind she sees something else, something more frightening. She sees capture; she sees torture; she sees death. Another sound, and this one chips the roughness away from those images haunting her brain, making them sharper, more terrifying.
Capture. Torture. Death.
Something at the cabin door? The door secured with a hook and eye door lock that a five year old could easily finesse? Or merely imagination, fueled by the spooky, meditative music of Estonian composer Arvo Part that she often favors. Maybe something else, something more contemporary by Bela Fleck, Tommy Emmanuel, the Punch Brothers, Mark O’Connor or the Gypsy King, all of whom she enjoys? Or perhaps a Caribbean Rum Punch—she loves Caribbean Rum Punch—but no, she has to stay sharp. And strong. Always strong. And independent. Not “a girly type girl” but “a high-testosterone woman.” Isn’t that how she sometimes describes herself, “a high-testosterone woman,” defined by what she does, rather than by the people in her life? Then, suddenly—keys and pounding—her worst fears are released and come crash out from her head into the world of the real.
Capture. Torture. Death.
And for C.E. Lawrence, the woman alone in the cabin, now it begins. . .
. . . the plotting and writing of SILENT SLAUGHTER (Pinnacle Books, August), her fourth, and perhaps grittiest novel featuring NYPD profiler Lee Campbell. This time around, the body of a young woman, her little fingers removed with surgical precision, turns up in a Lower Manhattan alleyway. While pondering over this strange form of ritualistic behavior, Campbell and his NYPD detective friend and foil Leonard Butts, receive a taunting letter signed by The Professor who claims to be the killer and who promises more victims. Indeed, the mutilation murders—and the messages—continue and it soon becomes obvious that The Professor has an additional agenda—destroying Campbell.
“I wanted to create a killer who was seriously dangerous and brilliant,” Lawrence says. “The Professor is a mathematician, and he loves Bach; he plays the piano rather brilliantly, perhaps better than Lee Campbell. He has a nasty scar his father gave him, which is a key to why he became a serial killer. He’s a Type 4 in the classification system developed by Robert Keppel and Richard Walter, a sadistic ‘anger-excitation’ killer, the worst kind. He’s completely without conscience.”
In fact, The Professor is so unique that Lawrence isn’t sure she can come up with another serial killer to top him and so she may have to “go in a different direction that will hopefully be just as interesting” in her next Lee Campbell book. However, she doesn’t rule out having The Professor return in a future book, noting “I don’t think I’m done with him yet.”
If readers sense something familiar about The Professor, it’s with good reason: Lawrence said he’s largely patterned on Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’s brilliant nemesis. Since a teenager, Lawrence has been an avid admirer of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, who created the great detective. She began her writing career by penning a short story for a Sherlock Holmes anthology and followed that with a Holmes novel, THE STAR OF INDIA. (She would later produce another Homes novel, THE HAUNTING OF TORRE ABBEY).
“As far as I’m concerned, Conan Doyle invented the modern mystery story,” Lawrence says. “Edgar Allan Poe and Willkie Collins gave him a running start, but the mystery story as we think of it today is really his creation.”
Besides Moriarty, there’s some of Lawrence in The Professor. Actually there’s some of Lawrence in every character (Lee Campbell suffers from depression, a “flaw” that derived from Lawrence’s own experience with clinical depression).
“I don’t think it’s possible to write a character who doesn’t have some of my traits,” Lawrence explains. “If you can’t identify with a character in some way, I don’t see how you can write them. I’m not sadistic, but I know what rage feels like, and all of my serial killers are filled with rage. (As Flaubert said, Madam Bovary, c’est mois.) I like to think I put something of myself in every character – different little bits in each one. It’s very therapeutic to write villains!”
But just because she invests a lot of herself, literally, in her character, Lawrence is equally concerned with plot. “I still believe plot and character are like time and space,” she says. “We thought they were different things until Einstein came along and told us that they’re part of the same continuum. That’s the way I feel about plot and character. They inform each other in a kind of lovely dance, when it goes well, and you can’t really separate them.”
She does, however, single out setting for special consideration, calling it “my favorite thing to write, and one of the elements I most enjoy reading in other people’s work.”
“To me setting is vital,” she continues. “I like to be taken somewhere in a story. To really understand characters, you have to know where they come from, and where they live now – in more than just the physical sense. A plot without grounding in setting is just a series of events to me; there’s no resonance.”
While Lawrence has been praised for how adroitly she handles setting, she turns to Sebastian Junger as a model because “he’s so damn good.”
“I’ve taught Sebastian Junger’s THE PERFECT STORM in my classes for years,” she says, and I must have read the opening paragraph three dozen times, but each time I get a thrill out of the beauty of his language, the eloquence of his understanding, and the vivid, deep way he talks about Gloucester.”
(However, in the interests of full disclosure, Lawrence says that she wouldn’t choose Junger to be her sole companion on a desert island, but rather Oscar Wilde, “because he would keep me laughing,” or, “if there was a piano there, Hugh Laurie, because we could play duets and he’s way hot.”)
Whoever is chosen, he would have the benefit of two writers, if not two women. (Actually three, but you’ll have to wait.) C. E. Lawrence is really Carole Buggé and she uses her real name for her non-crime themed books, as well as her Claire Rawlings mystery series (again infused with elements from the Sherlock Holmes canon). She’s currently working on a 19th century historical thriller set in Edinburgh, Scotland.
If that isn’t enough—and it obviously isn’t—as Carole Buggé she is an accomplished prize-winning poet and playwright, essayist and composer, actress and teacher. (Raise your hand if you suddenly feel inadequate!)
“Each form scratches a different itch for me,” Lawrence says of these various expressions of her creativity and explains that they are also interconnected and mutually reinforcing. “I always strive for elegant, beautiful language when I’m writing, whether it’s poetry or a description of a serial killer. It’s very important to me. So poetry really helps me with that. And language is so much like music—it has cadence and rhythm and pace.”
“The deepest, most profound experiences I put into music or poetry, and if it’s a very intellectual topic, sometimes a play is the best form,” she continues. “I wrote a play about physics, STRINGS, that was produced in New York. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written, and probably the most satisfying. In playwriting, it’s all about the dialogue, so it teaches you how to reveal character and subtext in dialogue, which is very useful in any kind of fiction writing.”
Lawrence, who says being disciplined is her best trait and being impatient her worst, also draws her creative energy from others. When in the Catskills (Lawrence does retreat to New York City during the cold of winter) she is an active participant in Brydcliffe, the famous, nearby arts colony.
“I love being around painters!” she says. “They think so differently. I love the way they experience the world, not tied to narrative. I’m so addicted to story that I’m always looking for the narrative thread to everything! Painters are great. Their energy is much calmer, I find, and I love the open studios where we all go around and look at their work. Also, we have a pottery and woodworking studio at Byrdcliffe, and I just adore potters. I’m a sucker for ceramics.”
But enough about C.E. Lawrence and about Carole Buggé. What about the third woman mentioned above? What about Dee Dee Buggé? You know—she’s the one that does the Mushroom Walks at Byrdcliff, showing people how to identify the delectable from the deadly.
“I like mucking about in the woods, and hunting mushrooms appeals to my hunter-gatherer genes, I guess,” she says. “Even after years of hunting, I get excited every time I find a morel. Writing is a kind of hunt, too – for the truth, interesting characters, for beautiful phrases and descriptions, stories that illuminate and entertain. If you can get excited every time, like finding the first morel in the spring, then you know you’re writing well.”
And if Dee Dee Buggé AKA Carole Buggé AKA C.E. Lawrence could be a mushroom, which would it be? “The King Bolete because I’ve never seen one,” she says, then adds, “and who wouldn’t like to be king someday?”
C.E. Lawrence is the byline of a New York-based suspense writer, performer, composer and prize-winning playwright and poet whose previous books have been praised as “lively. . .” (Publishers Weekly); “constantly absorbing. . .” (starred Kirkus Review); and “superbly crafted prose” (Boston Herald). SILENT SCREAMS, SILENT VICTIM and SILENT KILLS are the first three books in her Lee Campbell thriller series. Her short story SILENT JUSTICE appears in Mystery Writers of America’s 2012 anthology, VENGEANCE, edited by Lee Child. Her short story THE VLY will appear in the MWA 2013 anthology WHAT LIES INSIDE, edited by Brad Meltzer. Her other work is published under the name of Carole Bugge. Titan Press recently reissued her first Sherlock Holmes novel, THE STAR OF INDIA.
To learn more about C.E. Lawrence, please visit her website.