Friday, May 31, 2013

Featured Author: Debbie Lampi

Debbie Lampi's mystery, Shadow Play, will be published on June 1 by North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc. She's here today with an excerpt and to talk about books, her book, and writing in general.

About the book:

Psychiatrist Grace Rendeau struggles to make sense of her husband’s untimely death. Left a widow with two children, Grace forges a new life for her family, abandoning her private practice and moving to Minnesota to take on a prestigious position at the Rochester Forensic Center for the Criminally Insane, work that will allow her to spend more time with her children.

At the Center Grace is immersed in a maelstrom of lives in disarray, the anguish and struggle of the inmates to regain a footing in sanity and face the devastating consequences of their criminal actions. In striving to heal her patients, Grace herself finds healing, a new strength, and a sense of possibilities.

Among the possibilities is a budding romance with Alex Sawyer, a divorced doctor engaged in humanitarian work. Romance blossoms into love and Grace accompanies Alex on a medical mission to Indonesia. They return committed to a new life together.

But their joy is short lived. Grace returns home not to her children, but to an empty house – and a chilling kidnapper’s note. It makes no demands and holds out no hope for the return of the children. It is clearly an act of pure vengeance.

Suspects are legion: a disgruntled security guard at the center with a grudge against Grace; Alex’s bitter ex-wife; a recently escaped insane inmate. Enemies known and unknown haunt Grace’s every waking hour. Where are her children? What has happened to them? Who is attempting to destroy her?

Grace’s riveting story illuminates the hopes and fears of every wife or husband, mother or father, woman or man, caught in life’s turmoil and striving to overcome it.

Interview with Debbie Lampi:

Debbie, how did you come up with the title Shadow Play?

I, like, Grace Rendeau, my main character, traveled to Indonesia. In the book, Grace travels on a medical mission. I traveled there two years ago to visit my daughter in the Peace Corps. I had a wonderful experience and wanted to incorporate it into the novel. In the novel, Grace and Alex see and buy shadow puppets for Grace’s children. The Indonesian name for shadow puppet theater is: Wayang kulit, hence the name, Shadow Play.

Did you have any say in your cover art? What do you think of it?

Yes. I wanted a black and white matte cover vs. a colorful glossy cover. I thought it was more in keeping with the mysterious disappearance of Grace’s children. I found the shadowy image of a little boy in a tunnel, and thought it was perfect. Fortunately, my publisher thought so too.

What books have you read more than once or want to read again?

I have read To Kill a Mockingbird several times and love it more each time. I would like to read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield again. It had a great surprise twist which unfortunately (or fortunately for me) I’ve forgotten what it was. It will be like reading it for the first time!

What’s your favorite line from a book? Have more than one?

This is a tough one but I’ll give you one. Okay two. The first is from On Love by Alain de Botton, and it’s about the narrator’s infatuation with the woman of his dreams. It’s a perfect description of the total infatuation/obsession one feels when newly in love: "....I felt ready to abandon self-absorption for the sake of total empathy, to follow Chloe into each of her possible selves, to catalogue everyone of her memories, to become a historian of her childhood, to learn of all her loves, fears, and hatreds - everything that could possibly have played itself out within her mind and body had suddenly grown fascinating..."

The second is from Marianne Williamson and was used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our
 darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be?"

When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?

No. I usually have one or two characters in mind and the others slowly make their presence known. In Shadow Play, I had the main character, Grace Rendeau, M.D. in mind and then her children came along. After a time, her co-workers and patients appeared, and finally a love interest, former in-laws, and a psychic showed up at the party!

Cool. Are any of your characters inspired by real people? Who?

Not necessarily the characters, but I’m familiar with some of the situations as a mother. The day-to-day life of children, for example. I have four children and although they are grown now, I drew on memories of their early childhood in writing Dane’s character, and Caleigh’s to a lesser extent. (My daughters were thankfully not as problematic as Caleigh!) I’ve never been to a psychic but have always wanted to, so I had a lot of fun imagining what Dayna and a visit with a psychic would be like. And, my husband is a psychiatrist in the real life Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, which the “Rochester Center for Forensic Psychiatry” is loosely based on.

Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

One of the scenes in the book always makes me cry. Even now after I’ve read and revised it at least fifty times, it still brings tears to my eyes. I won’t tell you what it is because I don’t want to give away the book, but if you’re a parent, you will know it when you read it.

Who are your favorite authors?

That’s a tough question. Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, Alain de Botton, Gillian Flynn, Tara French, Louse Erdrich, Jhumpa Lahiri and Mary Karr (to name a few).

What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

In paperback, I’m reading Haunted Ground by Erin Hart and The Silence of the Loons, Thirteen Tales of Mystery by Minnesota’s Premier Crime Writers. In hardcover, it’s The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly. On Kindle, I’m reading The Roundhouse by Louse Erdrich and am excited to begin One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis. As the saying goes, so many little time...

So true! won the lottery. What’s the first thing you would buy?

Weekly massages or maybe I’d hire a personal masseuse!

I'm with you there. Is there anything in particular that you do to help the writing flow?

I walk! In the past two years, I’ve walked so much, I actually ended up with a stress fracture of one foot and plantar fasciitis of the other. For me, nothing beats walking on my favorite trail for clearing my mind. It’s sort of a moving meditation. Once my mind is free, plot points that have alluded me as I’ve sat at my desk, just seem to flow naturally into my head.

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

I love quotes about writing. Hemingway’s quote comes to mind first. “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Anne Lamott had many memorable quotes in Bird by Bird, especially: “E.L. Doctorow once said that "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

Stephen King’s quotes from On Writing, A Memoir Of The Craft, encourage me as well. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”

All very good and very true. I'm adding them to my writing quotes page. What three books have you read recently and would recommend?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Beet Queen by Louse Erdrich, and Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks. 

What are you working on now?

As with reading a number of books at a time, I also work on several projects a time. Right now, I’m revising a novel called Repercussions. It’s literary fiction and, as hard as it is to write mysteries - getting clues, motivation, plot, and dark characters to all fall in place - I am finding literary fiction even more difficult to write. I am also working on another Grace Rendeau mystery novel tentatively called An Unfortunate Death and a short mystery story set in Minnesota for a mystery anthology.

Thanks for having me, Amy!  You came up with some wonderfully thought-provoking questions.

My pleasure, Debbie. Please come back when your next book comes out!

Excerpt from Shadow Play


Sometimes when it’s quiet, I remember what our lives were like before terror hovered over us like a funnel cloud. The abduction occurred on August 26, many years ago and a thousand miles away, a day that still haunts me like an unruly ghost.

My son was six years old then, my daughter thirteen. The events preceding the abduction have become as smudged as the glasses my son wore as a child, although the memories of the aftermath have never left me.

The months before the abduction were tumultuous. My husband had died of cancer and I grieved his loss. I left my private practice and went to work with inmates at the Rochester Forensic Center so that I might have more time with my children. I was a psychiatrist then.

I look at newspaper pictures taken of me soon after the abduction and do not recognize myself, so deeply are the lines of grief etched across my face. The Midwest had come to signify treachery and deceit and afterwards I moved to Rhinebeck, a small town nestled on the banks of the Hudson River and as far away as I could get from the memories. Unafraid, I sat on the riverbank and gazed at the water. It was along those riverbanks that I planned a new beginning. These are the events as they occurred.

Grace Rendeau

Chapter 1

Corrections Officer Bud Anderson fell into step with Grace halfway to the entrance. Bud Anderson was forty-three years old, over six feet tall, and as large and gray-headed as a buzzard with a military buzz cut. He fell into step beside her. “Morning, Doc. What a day, huh?”

Grace had heard through the prison grapevine that he was having marital problems. Word was that he had a core made of iron and a life mortgaged to the hilt. He also had a limb length discrepancy resulting from an injury during his service and wore an orthotic shoe with a lift. Even so, his gait was brisk and measured.

“So, how ‘ya doin’ Grace?” Anderson asked with a familiarity that set Grace on edge. He smiled. He had a space the size of a small stream through his front teeth.

Grace hadn’t had time that morning for anything but a slash of lip-gloss and a coat of brown mascara over her nearly invisible lashes. She pushed a long lock of coppery hair behind her ear, feeling as exposed under his scrutiny as if he’d unzipped her skirt and laid bare all her fears and insecurities. “It’s a beauty, Officer,” she said, her eyes drawn to the inmates.

“I wondered if you’d care to go out for lunch today?” 

Grace stared ahead and pretended not to notice the narrowing of his eyes. “Sorry, I’m busy. Maybe next time,” she said, her jaw set tight.

Bud gave her a brief, angry look. To Grace’s relief, they reached the security office before anymore could be said. She retrieved the heavy key ring, clipped it to her belt and fled to her office. Her keys jangled and her heels clicked along the cold tiled floor adding to the din in the halls. The smell of disinfectant hovered in the air. Grace unlocked her door and closed it to the chaos of the psychiatric unit. She leaned against her door, closed her eyes and for the first time that day, thought of Matt.

Before her husband’s death, she could not have imagined that her new patients would be a volatile mix of inmates incarcerated for everything from narcotics to murder. Many were living out sentences here; others had been deemed incompetent to stand trial, others had been transferred from prisons around the country for medical or psychiatric care.

Shortly after his death, Grace had gathered her remaining reserves of strength and moved to Rochester. Her new job in the forensic center was initially bearable only because she had evenings and weekends free for the children. During her days in private practice, Matt had often been both mother and father to the children but now she needed this seven thirty to five, mother’s hours job.

Beep beep beep...  Beep beep beep.... Her beeper vibrated at her hip.

“Paging Dr.Grace Rendeau. Dr. Rendeau please report to the dayroom in Psych West, stat.”
The sound of the nurse’s page echoed through the building.

Jarred into action by the page, Grace raced to the day room and then stopped stock-still to see two officers restraining her patient. Emanuel Venegas struggled, his muscles bulging underneath his olive shirt and blood splattering the walls like a Rorschach. Larry Reynolds, another inmate who had been escorted to the prison the previous day by U.S. Air Marshals, held an icepack to his face and cursed Emanuel. Aggression flowed like a geyser in the unit. Uniformed officers swarmed the dayroom like a scene from A Clockwork Orange.

“What happened?” She was still unaccustomed to the continual rage that spilled over on the unit. Grace’s heart beat like a caged bird in her chest.

Warren Hutchings, R.N., a balding, twelve-year veteran of the unit, the size of a minivan, stood in a wide-legged stance. “I gave 'em their meds and as soon as I turned my back, Emanuel punched him in the face. I heard the sound of cracking and turned to see blood spurting out of Reynolds’ nose. Then they were on the floor rolling, both of ‘em throwing punches.”

What a way to start the day. “Emanuel, I’m going to have to put you in the hole. You know the rules. Please escort Mr. Venegas to solitary,” Grace instructed Officer Anderson.

Bud was as firmly in command of the situation as a colonel in charge of an offensive. He clamped cuffs on Emanuel’s wrists. “Please escort him to security?” He stifled a laugh. “You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think that’s gonna work around here. Around here, we say, ‘throw him in the hole.’ You’ve gotta learn to toughen up if you wanna survive in this place, Doc.”

Grace despised the smugness with which he expressed his opinions. She pulled herself up to her full five feet eight inch height. “I’m as capable as anyone else of working here. I’m not going to dehumanize my patients on your advice, Officer.” So much for having my back, she thought, donning sterile gloves.  “Mr. Reynolds, are you okay? Let me take a look at your nose.”

Blood dripped from his nostrils and pooled on the floor. “I’m okay, Doc, just get me outta here. I don’t wanna be anywhere near that lunatic.” He spit a mouthful of blood onto the floor.

“I’m going to have to send you for x-rays. Mr. Hutchings, will you arrange for transport to the ER please?” I should probably say ‘Get him to the ER STAT’, Grace thought. “And get the hazard team to clean up.”

“Yeah, no problem.” Hutchings opened a wad of sterile bandages. “Hold these to your nose, man.”

Grace peeled off the gloves, washed her hands and went to the hole – a seclusion room devoid of everything but a sink, urinal and thin mattress on the floor. Emanuel rocked rhythmically in a corner of his cell, with his knees drawn into his chest and his arms clenched around his shins. Despair oozed from his pores. Thin morning light sifted in from the high barred windows and illuminated thick, wormy veins protruding from his hands. He reached his arms toward the window, apparently hallucinating.

About the author:

D.A. Lampi was born in Fishkill, New York and grew up in a community of Finnish immigrants with whom she danced the polka, attended a bi-weekly community sauna, and enjoyed skinny dipping afterwards in the  cold waters of the Fishkill Creek.

She attended New York University and The New School for Social Research where she earned her Master of Arts in psychology. Her favorite class in college? American Literature.
Ms. Lampi has worked as a psychiatric emergency room nurse, a mental health therapist, a second grade teacher, a yoga instructor and writer. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime.

After living in Puerto Rico for fifteen years and experiencing her share of hurricanes, Ms. Lampi now happily resides in Minnesota where she writes and takes long walks, weather permitting. Her first novel, Shadow Play, will be published by North Star Press on June 1, 2013.

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