Merit Badge Murder: Interview with Leslie Langtry, Humor and Mystery Writer
Author Leslie Langtry grew up in the small town of Dewitt, Iowa, where her teachers wrote, “Leslie spends too much time daydreaming in class” on her report cards and kids wrote, “You are funny and really weird” in her yearbooks.
Over the years, she lived and worked in Lynchburg, Virginia; Springfield, Illinois; and Delmar/Clinton, Iowa. She currently lives in the Iowa/Illinois Quad-Cities with her family. She divides her time between writing, her most excellent critique group, and her perfectly behaved Girl Scout troop.
Some of her recent books include Merit Badge Murder; Sex, Lies & Family Vacations (one of my favorites), Hell House (co-written with Max Deimos) and the Greatest Hits series.
MICHAEL McCARTY: Why do you think assassins are popular in film and fiction?
LESLIE LANGTRY: I think people love an outlaw. We love to see someone who does something outrageous and root for them. Why? Maybe because we will never have the chance to do what they do. And in the case of assassins, I’d say that was a good thing. I know I loved Mr. & Mrs. Smith because I could relate to the characters. I loved the idea of a married couple who have to deal with the secrecy of their real lives. How much fun is that?
I’m a fan of Lawrence Block’s Hitman series because the character is so human. I see him as a loveable loser – something others might not agree with, but he’s a great character. I loved La Femme Nikita – the French version especially – because of the details we saw in the female protagonist’s life. There have been so many other assassin movies, TV shows, and films lately. Look at Dexter, a serial killer. If we can find a way to relate to him, an assassin isn’t such a big leap, right?
McCARTY: In your series, The Bombay Family’s Greatest Hits – all the family members are named after cities. Why?
LANGTRY: Actually, the characters told me about that tradition. I had nothing to do with it. They just started telling me about all their weird peccadilloes – like the confidentiality agreement you sign in your own blood when you are five – and they wouldn’t shut up. Sometimes I think I’m just a life support system for my characters. Wait…that sounds a bit schizophrenic, doesn’t it?
McCARTY: Speaking of names, how about Gin Bombay in ’Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy? Was she named after Bombay Gin? And did the Bombay Gin Company give you free gin for life?
LANGTRY: The name came up when I was messing around with names. I love to play with names. And the funny thing is, I don’t even drink gin. As for the Bombay Gin company … I’d be willing to start with the “proper” motivation.
McCARTY: Is Poppy the puppy in ’Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy modeled after any family pets?
LANGTRY: Poppy is my pug, Lucy. She was a gift for Mother’s Day one year. I told my family that since all I did was worry about them, I wanted someone who would only worry about me. Actually, now that I mention it, she really worries about herself. And food. She’s big on food. Anyway, Lucy is on my website as the buttons for links. I have a basset hound too, but haven’t used him yet. In I Shot You Babe, I use my guinea pig, Dewey, as the model for Coney Island Bombay’s pet guinea pig, Sartre.
McCARTY: Let’s talk about I Shot You Babe.
LANGTRY: I Shot You Babe is Gin’s cousin, Coney’s story. Each book in the Bombay Greatest Hits series is about a different family member. I’d love to be like Janet Evanovich and write about the same character each time, but I don’t think I can do that.
Back to the book – Coney Island Bombay is kind of the family’s black sheep. He’s a carny with a Ph.D. in philosophy from an Ivy League school. He’s interested in learning fighting techniques from other cultures so he takes sabbaticals from circus life every now and then to study jui-jitsu in Brazil or muy-thai kickboxing in Thailand.
For this book, he travels to Mongolia to participate in the Naadam wrestling festival. Along the way, he has to kill bad people and deal with Veronica Gale, a sheltered, eternal student who has never left the university. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
McCARTY: What character do you find the most interesting: Gin in ’Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy, Dakota in Guns Will Keep Us Together, Missi in Stand by Your Hitman, or Coney in I Shot You Babe?
LANGTRY: Actually, they are all interesting in their own way. I loved Gin because she was a single mom/girl scout leader/PTA member/assassin. It was fun to write about her unloading the dishwasher then running off to kill a neighbor who finances terrorists. Especially when she really just wants to kill the PTA president.
Dak was wonderful because he was the eternal kid. A playboy who never grew up. He’s kind of based on one of my kid brothers. I loved tormenting him at every turn and threw in some strange twists to keep him on his toes.
Missi’s awesome because she is probably the character who most thinks like me. She’s kind of a kook and chaotic thinker but comes up with these bizarre inventions for killing people. And I set the book on the set of a cheap, Canadian knock-off of Survivor. What’s not to love?
As for Coney…. It’s a little too soon yet. He is based on the Daniel Craig version of James Bond … but as a carny. I know … even I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.
McCARTY: Are you a fan of Christopher Moore?
LANGTRY: He’s a God of Fiction. His book, Lamb, blew me away. I was so incredibly flattered when my editor told me she tells others that I write like him.
McCARTY: Here’s an open mic…. I will mention a celebrity and tells us what you think:
McCARTY: Koko Taylor –
LANGTRY: The Queeeeeeeeeeen of the Blues! I’m actually listening to “Wang Dang Doodle” right now. I’ve seen her three times live and she’s still the best. She is the pinnacle of sexy blues music as far as I’m concerned.
McCARTY: Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues –
LANGTRY: I love “Nights In White Satin.” Great song on so many levels. Their lyrics are pure poetry and the music is the gravy.
McCARTY: Max Collins –
LANGTRY: I first met Max at my uncle’s comic book store, Tim’s Corner, in Rock Island. I was a kid then and a serious science-fiction and comics fan (Golden Age is my preference but there are a few Silver Age storylines I follow). Anyway, Max was writing Ms. Tree back then and made appearances at Tim’s Corner. I was always there because on Saturdays we came up with my dad – Tim’s brother, Larry – and helped out. That was a long time ago. I’m a real fan of Road to Perdition, both the graphic novel and the film.
McCARTY: Bobcat Goldthwait –
LANGTRY: A sad loss for the comic underworld. I was using one his lines on my kids the other day. You know the one where he says he lost his job? Then he says, “Well, I know where it’s at – but now when I go there, some other guy’s doing it.” (Sigh) – Comedy is lost on kids.
McCARTY: Talking about Bobcat … you used to book comedians. How long did you do that and where did you work? Name names! Who was the funniest off-stage? Who was the biggest pain in the butt? Who was the nicest comedian you worked with? What was the strangest thing that happened to you in comedy? And your Bombay books are funny … is this where your humor came from?
LANGTRY: I did! I started as a student at the University of Iowa. I booked Tom Arnold way before his Roseanne days. He had this weird show called The Goldfish Review where he used actual goldfish doing impersonations. I went on to work at a women’s college on the east coast where I booked Carrot Top before he was big. I also worked with Anthony Clark – this was before Yes, Dear. He was my favorite. I loved working with him.
Carrot Top was a pain. I won’t tell you what he did, but it was pretty unprofessional. When I was in college, I was part of an improvisational comedy troupe called I.C. Improvs. I loved being on stage making up strange stuff as I went. I think that training helps me when I write now.
McCARTY: Who is your favorite James Bond?
LANGTRY: I was aaaaalll about Sean Connery. He was the ONLY Bond as far as I was concerned. Roger Moore did okay as the older, seasoned Bond. And I grew up on these flicks.
But, Daniel Craig blew them all away as 007 in his earliest adventures. There’s just so much humanity inside him struggling with love, loss and betrayal. If you think about it, that’s how he would start out, right? No way would he be as smooth as Connery at first. By Connery – all the edginess is fading and by the time he’s Moore – he’s golden.
McCARTY: You worked with both the Quad-City Arts and the Midwest Writing Center. Has working for those two organizations helped you in your writing?
LANGTRY: I think they helped me by showing me what really goes on in the business. By the time I was ready to write my book, I had very real expectations about what might or might not happen. There is no magic formula, no secrets of the trade. You just have to write and persist. It worked for Stephen King and it works for me. Not on the same level, of course….
McCARTY: You consider your writing “hybrid” – what do you mean by that?
LANGTRY: My editor calls me a hybrid because I write across so many genres: contemporary, comedy, soccer mom-lit, mystery, romance. I actually think that’s what most writers are. I can’t imagine writing straight mystery or romance. There have to be other elements or I’d get bored.
McCARTY: On your website, the Bombay family tree is big. Do you see this series going on for a long time?
LANGTRY: I honestly have no idea. There certainly are a lot of characters for future books but they have to tell me what they want. I’m considering having them fight for it in a steel-cage death match.
McCARTY: What advice would you give beginning writers?
LANGTRY: Work hard. Know your market. Buy my books. A lot.
McCARTY: Last words?
LANGTRY: The arts make life worth living! Support the arts!