Riggs at the Vineyard
the Jungle Red Blog
By Jan Brogan
June 9, 2009
Visit the Jungle
Red web site for the original interview, and Cynthia's
ongoing discussion with blog visitors.
Cynthia Riggs is a 13th
generation Vineyarder -- that's Martha's Vineyard - the setting
for her terrific mysteries. Cynthia also runs a charming B&B
on the island, in West Tisbury, which I got to visit once
when I was lucky enough to be invited to one of her summer
writers group sessions. If you've never visited the Island
in real life, here's your chance to visit in your imagination.
Cynthia's 8th in the series, Death and Honesty, is just out
from St. Martin's.
JAN: Victoria Trumbull, your 92-year old protagonist is described
And I've read that she is modeled after your mother. Tell
us the joys and challenges of having a "senior sleuth"
dig up the dirt on Martha's Vineyard.
CYNTHIA: One of my aims in writing about a 92-year-old sleuth
is to attack rampant ageism. It's as bad as sexism, maybe
worse. After a certain age one is considered half-witted and
is consistently called "dear." Even Malice Domestic,
which should know better, lumps its senior sleuth writers
on cutesy panels. Victoria Trumbull, modeled after my mother,
who lived to be almost 99 (for credibility, I had to make
Victoria much younger), has some physical frailties, but mentally
she's all there. She's had years of experience to draw on.
She's no longer afraid to say what she thinks.
JAN: How does Victoria get involved in solving so many murders?
CYNTHIA: The police chief has come to depend on her because
Victoria is related to most of the people on the Island, knows
who's not speaking to whom, knows where they live, which is
useful on an Island that prides itself on few or no street
signs, and knows where the bodies are buried.
JAN: I love the plot line of your new book, Death and Honesty
- a corrupt assessors office skimming off the top of wealthy
landowners taxes. (Especially since I used to pay real estate
taxes in West Tisbury.) Tell us how you came up with the idea
and how you developed or researched it.
CYNTHIA: A friend of mine, a wealthy landowner, ran afoul
of the town's assessors, who treated him shabbily. I promised
him I'd get even. I changed him into a former hooker to hide
his identity, and changed the three male assessors into three
elderly and venal Harpies -- they're named for the three Harpies
of Greek mythology. Whenever the Harpies appeared in mythology,
there was a dreadful stench, so one of my assessors wears
too much perfume.
JAN: The critics rave about your evocative descriptions of
Martha's Vineyard. What are the advantages and limitations
(if any) of the island setting.
CYNTHIA: I was born on the Vineyard and have deep roots here.
So it was natural to use the Island for my setting. Because
I'm writing fiction, I take some liberties with places, but
for the most part a reader visiting the Vineyard can follow
Victoria's trail. I use real places, like Bert's Barber Shop,
where Victoria gets her hair cut. The real Bert's displays
the Victoria Trumbull books in a prominant place on top of
an ancient console radio. I'm careful to avoid insulting real
people and places. Knowing a setting intimately makes it easy
to write about it. I'm not apt to get roads and topography
By the way, we capitalize the word "Island" when
referring to Martha's Vineyard (see both Island newspapers).
We do not capitalize the word when referring to Nantucket
JAN: Living on the Island, are you ever worried about stepping
on anyone's toes with your fiction - say the local assessor's
office, or is everyone a good sport about it?
CYNTHIA: I've reached the stage where I'm not afraid of stepping
on toes. I think the assessors, as a matter of principle,
don't read my books. After a book comes out, three or four
people will come up to me and ask shyly if it's possible I
patterned so-and-so (a sympathetic character) after them.
No one claims credit for my villains. However, a lot of readers
claim to recognize most of my characters, even ones entirely
JAN: You also run a B&B in your family home, The Cleaveland
House. Tell us about your writing schedule and how you can
get any writing done in the summer months.
CYNTHIA: My writing and the Cleaveland House B&B work
together just beautifully. I cater to poets and writers, who
understand when I tell them I'm going upstairs to write. (And
they buy my books.) I have only three guest rooms, so it's
easy for me to deal with bedmaking and laundry, and I serve
a simple continental breakfast. I start writing at 10 am and
continue until about 5 pm, taking time out to pick up the
mail, make beds, weed the garden, and think of what comes
next in the story. Some guests read my manuscripts for me
and make suggestions. Some end up in the books. All my guests
- Cynthia Riggs by Jan Brogan, reprinted from
The Jungle Red Blog.