Moose’s 25-year-old new mystery a winner

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 1, 2014

Writer and teacher Ruth Moose, who once lived in Stanly County, has published a book 25 years in the making. And it’s already won an award. The cozy mystery “Doing It at the Dixie Dew” won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.
It’s a classic tale of a daring woman who won’t stand for others’ incompetence in investigating a murder. It also has a cat, a rabbit and a hunky handyman to round things out.
Moose will be at Literary Bookpost & Just the Thing on Friday, June 6, 5-7:30 p.m. to talk about and sign her books. This is an edited version of her answers to our questions.
Q: You’ve been writing for a long time. What made you decide to try a mystery now?
A: “Doing it at the Dixie Dew” was written 25 years ago while I was living on a little mountain in the Uwharries. Doris Betts, who was my first creative writing instructor, suggested I read mysteries and try my hand at writing a novel as a way to teach myself to plot. Plot always seems such an artificial device and I work solely from character, a la Chekhov, who said if you have a character you have a plot.
Q: Are you looking at the success of certain writers, such as Ann B. Ross, Mignon Ballard and Joan Medlicott who fill their books with real characters and a definite sense of place?
A: Mignon Ballard is probably my oldest writer friend. When I organized a writers workshop in Charlotte that met in my husband’s art studio, she was the first person I invited. I heard a lot of her first drafts and I always admired her steady focus on writing mysteries. I think I am somewhat ADD and my attention span works best with short stories and poetry.
Littleboro is a town of my imagination as are all the characters except one. Only one is based on a real person, and I don’t want to name that character and give away too much of the novel. My grandmother’s name was Margaret Alice Buie, and I used that in a tribute to her. She taught me to read when I was 4, and I learned to read because she had read to me, especially the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Q: How was writing this book different from writing short stories or poetry?
A: Took much longer. How about 25 years?
Q: What is your writing ethic? Do you have a set time when you sit down or a certain number of words or pages you want to accomplish in a certain time period?
A: I have no writing schedule nor routine. I pick up a pen/pencil find a piece of paper and write. This is how I’ve always worked in between teaching, raising a family, helping my husband run a graphic arts business, (I did all his billing and bookkeeping), doing PTA things, Boy Scout mom stuff, swimming and basketball practice, cooking and a thousand other life things. I always dreamed of cloistering myself off and writing the great American masterpiece. Instead I found I had been writing this novel all along, on and off, revising, tinkering since 1987. I have my journal notes to document. I wasn’t steadily working on this, but writing and published short stories and poetry, doing workshops, a thousand non-fiction pieces. For two years I wrote columns three times a week for the Charlotte News. I taught Poetry in the Schools traveling North and South Carolina.
Q: Was the book something you decided to try once you’d retired?
A: I pulled it up in the computer once I got student manuscripts loose from my thinking, looked at it seriously, made some major revisions such as going from third person to first because I wanted to get more suspense in it.
Q: What was your favorite part of working on it — getting to know the characters, creating the setting, etc.?
A: I love beginnings! Openings are always full of joy and expectations. I am like Emily Dickenson who said, “I dwell in possibilities.”
Q: Congratulations on winning the Malice Domestic Award? Were you surprised?
A: I was totally surprised. Had forgotten I’d entered and it had been about six months since the manuscript was sent off. When I send anything out I have no expectations. I simply wing it into the universe. For the first time I now have an agent and it will be nice to turn some things over to her. All I really want to do is write. I love the craft! I love seeing words appear on paper, then onto a screen.
Q: Do you think this book is the start of a series?
A: I am writing the sequel, “Doing it AGAIN at the Dixie Dew.”
Q: I love Carolyn Hart’s description, “As deliciously Southern as pecan pie.” Did you ever feel like you had to tone it down or did you go full bore?
A: Didn’t tone down a thing. You and I know what it’s like in the small-town South, and truth is often stranger than fiction.
Q: Did you enjoy being able to paint the picture of this little town? Were you inspired by anywhere in particular?
A: I loved creating this whole town; the shops, the houses, the people, the churches, the library, the courthouse in the middle with the ubiquitous Confederate soldier who always points North. People are going to think it’s Pittsboro, but I envision Littleboro as being in the Sandhills. People in Littleboro read The Pilot newspaper and shop in Southern Pines.
Q: You lived in Albemarle for a long time, now you’re in Pittsboro. How are the two areas different in their inspiration for your writing?
A: When I lived in Albemarle my life was different. Part of the time I was doing Poetry in the Schools or writing columns or going back to school. I got my BA from Pfeiffer, then went to graduate school at UNC-Greensboro in library science. I worked nine months of the year as reference librarian at Pfeiffer University and wrote three months in the summers. Then I got the chance to be on the creative writing faculty at UNC (Chapel Hill) which was a dream job. I loved teaching with my whole heart. And my students who I still hear from. Many of them are publishing and/or teaching. It feels good when they write to say something they started in one of my classes has now become the basis of a novel that just got accepted. Or they ask about a certain exercise I used in class. Sometimes they write to share a wedding or birth announcement or a new job. Or even for recommendation letters to get in an MFA program. Daily life has usurped their writing life and they miss it, want to get back into their creative side.
Q: Tell readers anything you’d like them to know about this book and your writing.
A: I’d love to hear readers say they couldn’t put this book down once they started reading and there were places they laughed out loud or got misty eyed as I did writing it. Once I even scared myself. I’d like to hear readers say they know these people and this town.