When reclusive, retired silver screen actress Barbara Lace dies in her bed, only the young widower of Cedarville suspects a crime. But Samson Delaware has always been something of an outsider, and his wife’s death hasn’t exactly improved his reputation. In fact, the local gossipmongers think he might be losing his mind. Their bless-your-heart manners can’t disguise their distrust, which makes his amateur attempts at an investigation even more difficult.
When Lace’s assistant is found decidedly murdered, the town starts to change its tune, though, and soon Samson finds himself in the thick of an improbable chase. Hollywood hotshots and small-town law enforcement make strange bedfellows—especially when secrets are getting women killed.
The Big Thrill caught up to author Erica Wright just in time to discuss her latest mystery, FAMOUS IN CEDARVILLE:
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
Without a doubt, writing about Los Angeles in 2003 was the biggest challenge. I hadn’t planned on including any other locations besides Cedarville, but I kept being pulled toward Hollywood. I knew there was material to explore, but I wanted to get the mood right. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles by Mike Davis gave me a clearer sense of the history, power dynamics, and evolution of this iconic place. In terms of opportunity, I decided to open each chapter with artifacts from the victim’s life, including excerpts from her films and newspaper clippings she might have saved.
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
Cedarville is based on my hometown of Wartrace, Tennessee. It was once a thriving community when trains stopped there, but after the depot closed, the shops shuttered and the population shrank. It’s still beautiful in its own way, albeit a bit rough around the edges. I wanted to explore the idea of how tight-knit communities can close ranks. How far would people go to protect the privacy of their resident celebrity?
Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?
At Killer Nashville a few years back, I sat down next to another attendee and had a great conversation about teaching and journalism. As I was leaving, he asked me about my own writing and stated without any seeming malice that he didn’t believe women could write believable male protagonists. Men could write women, he assured me, just not the other way around. I’ll admit that the comment festered, and when I imagined my hero Samson Delaware, a tiny part of me wanted to prove that stranger wrong.
Erica Wright’s latest crime novel is Famous in Cedarville. Her debut The Red Chameleon was one of O: The Oprah Magazine’s Best Books of Summer 2014. She is also the author of the poetry collections Instructions for Killing the Jackal and All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned. She is the poetry editor at Guernica Magazine as well as a former editorial board member for Alice James Books. Her interest in crime writing began while teaching English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She grew up in Wartrace, TN, and now lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and their dog Penny.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.