Many of the characters in Murder in the Dog Park are eccentric. Did real people inspire them?
Baltimore itself is an eccentric character. To find inspiration all you need to do is hang around the Royal Farms store in the Hampden neighborhood, or wait your turn at the Motor Vehicle Administration and you’ll get a warts and all sample of a Baltimorean. It speaks volumes that people from Charm City regard this moniker as a term of endearment; it’s up there in the pantheon next to the ubiquitous “hon.” To be a true Baltimorean is to proudly wear your eccentricity on your sleeve. And thanks to John Waters and all of the characters in HBO’s “The Wire”, even non-Baltimoreans understand that Baltimore is city of misfits who can only thrive in its crazy ecosystem.
Speaking of characters, Jane Ronson seems a lot like Lisbeth Salander of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Was that intentional?
I was completely taken with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and the Swedish movie version of his books. Lisbeth is an incredibly compelling, flawed, and annoying character. She’s got super human fighting, math, and computer skills, but can’t manage to make a friend or say thank you to the people who saved her life. After finishing the books I couldn’t help thinking about what was going to happen to Lisbeth. You can’t stay a pissed off punk rocker forever. I envisioned Jane to be a distant cousin of Lisbeth, albeit a bit older and with marginally better social skills. Unlike Lisbeth, Jane has her cousin Lenny and dog Archie to anchor her, even if she complains about the responsibility of interpersonal relationships. Given Jane’s social challenges, it’s no surprise that she has no idea how to act around men. One of my favorite scenes to write was Jane and Don’s date at the diner. Jane alternates between tough chick and tearful teenager. She simply has no idea how to handle the situation.
You’ve been told that you “don’t write like a girl.” What do you think that means?
That comment came up while I was reading early draft of the book to the men in the Hampden Writer’s Group where I was the only woman. I guess it means I’m not afraid for my characters to act in non-stereotypical ways. This includes both my male and female characters. There are many female authors who do this. Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games series created a tough cookie character in Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is edgy and certainly not without issues. She’s kind of a tomboy, but also caught up in a love triangle. I think women readers will identify with Jane Ronson’s brand of femininity. And what male writer would think to include details like Jane getting her period at the worst possible time?
There’s a strong current of anger in Murder in the Dog Park concerning issues of race and class. Where did that come from?
Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods. All you have to do is cross the street and you can be a whole other reality. The last 20 years have not been kind to Baltimore. The city has lost more than 100,000 residents since 1990, the Sparrow’s Point steel mill is a shadow of a shadow of its former self, and the city is closing recreation centers while promoting new developments aimed at the one percent of the population who can still afford to spend without impunity. When the Baltimore Sun touts the city’s 2011 murder total of 196 bodies as a “triumph” you know there are big problems. I am not originally from Baltimore (I arrived in 1991—practically a greenhorn in the eyes of long-time Baltimoreans), but I have great affection for this place. It saddens me to see the city in decline.
What’s next for Jane Ronson?
Jane is going to go through some life changes. She’s now 30 years-old and is starting to wake up to new responsibilities. In the next book you’ll see Jane struggle with her relationship with Don. Her mother will reveal a family secret that rocks Jane’s world. Stay tuned!