Interview with Audrey Lavin (’84)

“When I was writing my first murder mystery, then untitled, I asked the Wednesday Writers Workshop for suggestions for a title. I was in favor of Thesis Interruptis.”

1. You’re an academic, author of Aspects of the Novelist (1995) and numerous journal articles. How did you come to write mysteries as well?

I was pleased with the reception of my book, and I enjoyed academic writing. I was good enough at it to have my work published in numerous journals in the U.S., plus in Spain, Chile, the Ukraine, and Russia, where my latest article was published in May of this year.

I have also been anthologized, plagiarized, and had my books stolen from the library. I had arrived.

So I did what many of us do, wondered: is this all? Can I break through the restrictions of academic writing and write something different? Other writers have had the same thought and are willing to take the same risks. I heard John Grisham interviewed. Here’s an author whose work has been translated into thirty-nine languages. He wondered if he could write anything except legal thrillers. And he recently did.

Not many people compare me with Usher, but basically I’m following his philosophy of “evolve or evaporate.”

I’m also a life-long reader of murder mysteries. Nothing relaxes me at bedtime more than reading a puzzle about a little (preferably, a lot of) blood and gore. It guarantees a good eight hours of sleep. I’ve read so many mysteries that I decided, “I can write one of these, too.”  Surprise! It’s not so easy. But my mysteries have been very rewarding and well received. I continue to set the bar higher with each one. If you read my three novels, you will see that each one is more complex than the one preceding it. A good introduction to them can be found on my web page <>.

 2. Why is your series called the “Eloquent” series? Is it because of the quotations with which this book is replete–in epigraphs, in student conversations, as little jokes among the characters? Could you talk about your use of quotations? In your acknowledgments you mention several writers groups. How have these groups been useful to you?

Readers tell me they like my quotations used as chapter headings. The quotes often become part of the puzzle themselves. I can’t help the puns and other word-play you mention. C’mon, Susan, I’m an English major, an English professor. I love words.

The “eloquent” in my titles, however, is not derived from that predilection (maybe subconsciously?) but I’m glad you asked the question, because it gives me a chance to talk about writing groups and my blog, which is now on four platforms, . Check it out.

I’ve belonged to three different critique groups. They are the Wednesday Writers Workshop, now meeting in Canton; the Akron Manuscript club, meeting in Akron; and the Walsh University writing group, now defunct. All have helped my writing. Both the Akron and Canton groups welcome new members or drop ins. If you are at all interested, please contact me.

When I was writing my first murder mystery, then untitled, I asked the Wednesday Writers Workshop for suggestions for a title. I was in favor of Thesis Interruptis. I still like it for a campus murder mystery. We brainstormed.  Eloquent Blood was the favorite. I respected the group’s choice. Hey, they represented my future readers.

When I wrote the second novel, I wanted to make an instant connection to the first: Eloquent Corpse is the result.

I was going to title book#3 That Young Man Eloquent and wrote about it in my blog. A stranger posted a comment, “That’s the worst title I’ve ever heard of.” He signed his name Reg Keeland. I googled him. He turned out to be the translator of Steig Larsson’s trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.). I figured he knew a little more about titles and merchandising than I did. With his permission, I incorporated the word “tattoo” into the title. After all, it’s a tip of my authorial hat to him. We now have my newest novel Eloquent Tattoo.

3. You’ve taught outside the U.S. a great deal. Do you have a preference for it? If so, why? Are you thinking of locating a mystery outside of the country, outside of your fictional Midfield? Is Midfield based on a real college town?

Teaching outside of the United States has been a grand adventure. It has given me the opportunity to make contributions to pedagogy in general and to students and faculty in specific instances that I never would have deemed possible.

I cannot count correctly: have I worked in fifteen countries in seventeen years or seventeen countries in fifteen years? I have taught undergraduate students, graduate students, and my professorial colleagues. I’ve organized conferences (I was told my two-day feminist conference was the first ever in Spain) and edited journals. By lecture and by example, I taught American Studies and American pedagogy. European pedagogy, followed by most of the world, is quite different with its rigid lecture-and-regurgitation of information regimen. I’ll give one example: After I lectured on “The Sexual Revolution–Who Won?” at the university in Novogorod, Russia, a faculty member took me aside to tell me that this was the first time “sex” had been mentioned at the university since before the dark (and puritanical) days of the Soviet Union.

I haven’t set any of my novels in any of the countries I’ve visited, though I have used scenes from Russia, Turkey, and Zambia in them. I’ve also had published a number of creative non-fiction pieces about some of my adventures in Russia and in Moldova.

As to Midfield, Ohio, it is a complete invention or rather combination of many campuses and many small towns (for example, every brick of the clock tower on campus is from Hudson).  My novels are murder mysteries +. The + is the academic satire each one contains. Some of my targets are still around. For safety’s sake I wouldn’t want any campuses or any English departments to be identifiable.

4. Is there something about your time at Case that made this project possible?

Yes, of course. First of all, my Ph.D. opened doors for me. I would not have been a two-time Fulbright professor to Spain if I had not completed my doctorate. I loved my students in Spain, my work, my colleagues, even the horrible feuds between departments. I was asked to stay on permanently, but could not. Later, when my husband worked as a volunteer consultant in other countries, I could take the temporary appointments I mentioned earlier.

The excellent teachers I had at CWRU have made a difference. Theirs are not usually direct influences, though I can say that if Bob Ornstein had not been such an excellent dissertation director, I never would have had the books on E. M. Forster published. Gary Stonum and Dr. Callender from the anthropology department were on my dissertation committee, too. Gary wrote to me that I had the best comprehensives he’d heard and Dr. Callender wrote that mine was the best dissertation he had ever read. Believe me, at a time I needed encouragement, they boosted my self-confidence.

Other teachers who have meant something to me and my work are Lou Gianetti (helped teach me to see) and P. K. Saha (support). Bill Siebenschuh came in as director of composition while I was at CWRU. I don’t know if he still takes the time to write clever memos, but in doing so, he taught me that every word counts and, by golly, if nothing else, I am told over and over again what pithy, funny memos I write.  And Mary Grimm, a well-known writer, was not at CWRU when I was but has continued to show me genuine support as one writer to another.

I’m glad I have this chance to thank Bob, P. K., Lou, Bill, Gary, and Mary. I very much appreciate all they have done for me, all I have learned from them.

I give many book chats, give programs for any group that will invite me (Mensa, Rotary, College Club, you name it). It’s all a part of peddling my wares. I hope that I encourage and support the writers and would-be writers who come to hear me in the same way that the CWRU English department has supported me.   

As a member of Stark County Women’s Hall of Fame and recipient of three State of Ohio awards for excellence in writing and education, Dr. Audrey Lavin is as well known for her academic articles (published in obscure literary journals in the U.S., Russia, Spain, the Ukraine, and Chile) as she is for her witty dissections of U.S. college life in her humorous series of eloquent murder mysteries. She has taught in seventeen countries and brings some of her international adventures to her whodunits. Audrey lives with her husband in Canton, Ohio.
Photo by Lauren Shay Lavin.