Interview with Author Mark Schweizer
I am so excited to have author Mark Schweizer on my blog. His award-winning liturgical detective mysteries have taken me to that place where I can't breath, my words make no sense, and tears roll down my cheeks because I'm laughing so hard.
Mr. Schweizer has waited tables, written articles for Collgehumor.com, won opera competitions, sung oratorios, taught in college music departments, raised pot-bellied pigs and hedgehogs, directed church choirs, sung the bass solo to Beethoven’s 9th with the Atlanta Symphony, hosted a classical music radio show, taught in a seminary, sung recitals, started a regional opera company, published choral music, built a log cabin, written opera librettos, directed stage productions, helped his wife to raise their two children and managed to remain married for thirty-two years. He also owns several chainsaws.
Your sleuth, Hayden Konig, is both the Chief of Police in St. Germaine, NC, and the organist and choirmaster for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. He likes fine wine, fine cigars, and knows both music and liturgy inside and out.
When I read your biography, it was easy to see how you came by your musical expertise. One job caught my attention--you taught in a seminary! How did that happen, and is that where you honed your liturgical knowledge?
I actually taught as a replacement for a music professor at the seminary who was on sabbatical. I directed the seminary choir, taught voice lessons, helped with planning the weekly services, introduced new music, and did my best to teach the seminarians (priests-in-training) how to chant. My experience with the musical end of the liturgy in the Episcopal (and other Protestant denominations) comes from a long career as a church musician. I've been working in churches, part and full-time, for 35 years.
How did a nice musician wind up writing mysteries?
The first one (The Alto Wore Tweed) came out of a choir newsletter that I started and that ran for several years. I wrote the "bad" story as filler when I ran out of material. And, of course, along with the bad detective story that found its way into the first book, I found myself ten years worth of "articles," most of which have been included in the books in some form or other. I wrote the first book thinking that church musicians — directors and choir singers — a demographic I was already involved with as a composer, would enjoy it. Then, when the first book did well, I kept at it.
Your books include a mystery within the mystery--the story that Hayden is working on at the time. Which mystery comes first when you’re writing the book?
I do the mystery within the mystery first if I can. Frequently it changes along the way, but it gives me a good, fun place to start from. And really, its the most fun to write. As my character says, "To write badly is something I can well do." For example:
"It was a dark and stormy night, although Tessie, the one o'clock weather-girl on Channel Two, had nasally predicted a clear and starry night, but was once again dead wrong, chiefly due to her education (Meteorology for Blondes), her inability to read a tele-prompter, and her current preoccupation with the ever-burgeoning hope that this fellow she'd be hearing about, Doppler Radar, would ask her out on a date."
Your series has done very well, and your books have gone into multiple printings. I heard about you by word of mouth--my mother, the Voracious Mystery Reader. How else do you promote your books?
There is an email list we send to when another book is in the offing. There's a website, of course, and Mystery Bookstores do a tremendous job in "hand-selling" the series. Basically though, it's been word-of-mouth from mystery readers.
Your publisher, St. James Music Press, is also the publisher of fine church anthems. (Music Directors and Choirmasters: Note that you pay a onetime fee for the music and receive the right to copy your heart out--for your use.) This definitely “brands” your books. Do you have any interest in creating a separate series?
I just finished with the first book in a different series. That is, I think it will be a series. It depends, of course, on if anyone likes it! It's titled "Dear Priscilla," and follows a couple of 1940's Chicago detectives. It's a harder-edged book — a 1940's comic noir thriller. (How's that for a description?)
As a Catholic, I’m well aware of that fragile and fallible human element that exists in organized religion. I find your humor hysterical, even when it targets our traditions and the many blessed items in the Vatican. (I should mention that you NEVER make fun of the subject of worship, unless, of course, it’s a confection.) Do you get mail from offended parties? And was this something you worried about when you began the series?
I never worried about it, because I'm VERY careful, and when I poke fun at the foibles that occur when we try to make the liturgy (literally: work of the people) into what we think will be more relevant to today's worshipper, I do so with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Also, there is line that I do not cross and I know where it is. The practices of worship are fair game. Faith and beliefs are not. I will add that ALMOST everything that happens in the church is taken from actual experience. Well, not the murders....
Humor aside, your characters are unapologetically Christian. Did you worry that this might limit your audience, and did this affect your marketing strategy?
It might well limit the audience. I didn't do any actual marketing strategy on this, but if every Christian in America bought just one book, I'd be VEEERRRRYYYYY happy!
How did you hook up with Jim Hunt, the fabulous illustrator who brings us the covers of your books as well as drawings for your blog and web site?
I saw Jim's political cartoons in the Charlotte Observer years ago. He has a very identifiable style and he captured the whimsy and humor of the books in his preliminary sketches immediately. I looked up "Jim Hunt Cartoonist" on the internet, sent him an email and we were off and running. Interestingly enough, as soon as I have the "bad story" finished (3000-4000 words), I call Jim and get some sketches for the book. His illustrations really help to push the writing ahead.
The blurbs offered on the first pages--from unpaid interns, students, and M.D.’s-- are just as much fun to read as the book! Are some of these actual people?
Almost all of them are actual people (although some of the quotes are invented!) We couldn't sit around waiting for reviews to come pouring— or rather dribbling—in. We call them Advance Reviews, because none of these folks have actually read the book.
Hayden Konig is influenced by Raymond Chandler. Who influenced your writing?
Well Raymond Chandler, of course. But more than that, the good comic writers —Dave Barry, Garrison Keeler, Bill Bryson—and early Robert Parker (for dialogue.)
Could you tell us what’s up next for you?
Number nine in the St. Germaine series. I have the "bad story" finished, and now I have to get cracking on the rest of the mystery. I have a couple of choir commissions to compose, editing, and an opera to sing in the spring. I'll stay busy.
Thank you so much for appearing on my blog.
Visit Mark's website, and you can sign up for his email list. Don't forget to read the blog and watch the video of Noylene's Beautifery and Dip-n-Tan. The Litergical Series in on sale right now from SJMP for only $10 per book. (I completed my set!) You can also get them from independent booksellers and Amazon, and they are available on Kindle.