LaVonne Griffin-Valade brings back our favorite witty, cynical, and a bit profane Oregon State Police Sergeant Maggie Blackthorne in Murderers Creek. When Maggie arrives on a murder scene and finds out the victim is her ex-husband, she’s plunged into an investigation that positions her as a potential suspect. We asked LaVonne about the creation of this latest installment, who inspired Maggie’s creation, and the importance of music in both Maggie and LaVonne’s lives.
SRP: We are excited for the return of Maggie Blackthorne in Murderers Creek. Can you tell us a bit about the plot and how you came up with it?
LaVonne: Even before I had finished writing Dead Point, the first Maggie Blackthorne novel, it was clear to me that Maggie’s story deserved to be a series. I had spent much of my early childhood at my grandparents’ small farm along the John Day River. The picture window my grandmother had insisted be installed in their house held a stunning view of the Aldrich Mountains from which Murderers Creek flowed to the river. And since Maggie’s Oregon State Police district covers that entire area, I knew there wasn’t a better setting or title I could come up with for the second Blackthorne novel than Murderers Creek.
SRP: Is Maggie modeled after anyone in your life?
LaVonne: I always find this to be a difficult question to answer, particularly since I didn’t grow up in a family of law enforcement folks, nor did I go into policing as a profession. But if Maggie is modeled after anyone, it would be my mother—at least that’s where the acid wit and comic timing comes from. And as I’ve mentioned before, Maggie’s a justice warrior and a bit of an iconoclast, and I’ll admit, good or problematic, those qualities stem from her creator.
SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
LaVonne: In all honesty, writing on someone else’s timeline was the most difficult part of writing Murderers Creek.
SRP: Author is one of many career paths you’ve taken. How has your previous work as schoolteacher, working with homeless youth, and as a government performance auditor influenced your writing?
LaVonne: 1) Being a schoolteacher, much like being a mother of four, taught me patience. Trust me, a writer needs patience. 2) I grew up in a working class household, and often times were tough. For several years, I shared a bedroom with my sister and two of my younger brothers, while my baby brother slept in a crib in the living room. But there was always food on the table, a roof over my head, and love. Working with homeless youth was the most difficult career path I ever traveled down because those young people had lived with very little security regarding their own physical and emotional lives, and they were expected to effectively become responsible adults. Among other things, that experience taught me to work at creating fully-formed, three-dimensional characters in my stories—characters that are capable of messing up and figuring things out as they go through life, as well as have authenticity and/or being dogged by inner demons from time to time. 3) Being an auditor grounded me in the art of objective observation, analysis, and reporting, but it also helped me become more cognizant about writing clear, clean prose that is readable and says something worth reading and learning about.
SRP: Can we expect to see more Maggie Blackthorne in 2022?
LaVonne: Yes! I’m working on the third novel right now. It’s title is Desolation Ridge, and it’s scheduled for publication in the Summer of 2022.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
LaVonne: My annual counts of the books I’ve read that year have declined in the last several years. But a writer has to read in order to write! I currently have two mysteries going—Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo and Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto. I recently read novels by two of my favorite writers—So Much Blue by Percival Everett and The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. And I have a new novel on order written by another of my favorite writers, Claire Vaye Watkins—I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness.
SRP: We know Maggie loves a good playlist. Do you have a favorite writing playlist?
LaVonne: No surprise, but Maggie and I have very similar tastes in music. But I do like to change up what I listen to while writing, so I often put on classical music. I’m particularly fond of Yo-Yo Ma, Kathryn Stott, Joshua Bell, and the 2Cellos, a Croatian duo. I also have several R&B musicians I really like: Roberta Flack, Sade, Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone…you get the idea.
Murderers Creek launches November 23.