PW: After 21 Sharon McCones, three Joanna Starks and three Elena Oliverezes, the last Oliverez written with your husband, Bill Pronzini, what made you decide to develop a new character?
MM: My husband had experimented with the so-called stand-alone novel, and it gave him a tremendous amount of freedom.
PW: How did you come up with the idea for Point Deception?
MM: We have a cottage on the Mendocino coast. I had been up there one weekend and my car broke down on the coastal highway, in a place where cell phones didn't work.
PW: In the book, that was so creepy.
MM: Well, my experience wasn't as creepy as Chrystal's experience in the book, because my situation was in the middle of the day, and finally, the sheriff's canine officer, of all things, came along. I got to talk to the dog while he called the dispatcher for a tow truck. A few days after that, I was in New York talking to my editor about what I might do for my next book—and I had a persistent vision of this woman standing beside the car at the side of the road. The book proceeded from there.
PW: Why do you use a fictitious county in the book?
MM: I think I saw that it would give me plenty of freedom to make up this place, which turned out to be "Soledad County."
PW: So some of the towns mentioned in the book are made up?
MM: Yes. Signal Port is a made-up town; Santa Carla is loosely based on a lot of the towns along the Highway 1 corridor.
PW: The novel has a very dark atmosphere. Does it reflect in any way your experience of the California coastline?
MM: There is some weirdness there. And you see pockets in the cities, as well as in the suburbs, of strangeness. I actually do know a place similar to Cascada Canyon that was one of the inspirations for the book.
PW: Does Rhoda Swift, your female deputy sheriff, come at the issue of women fending for themselves, solving their own problems and those of others, differently from your other heroines?
MM: I think that Rhoda is more vulnerable certainly than Sharon McCone. While she's very professional, she's basically a wounded person. She's taking a long, long time to heal. And she's reaching a resolution at this point in her life. She may gain strength in the future, although she's not planned to be a series character. We'll see what happens to her.
PW: Will you be reusing Soledad County?
MM: I think the county will become a series setting. I'm hoping to do the next book in a different part of Soledad County.
PW: Are you and your husband planning any future collaborations?
MM: Only if we do short stories, since we have different publishers. It's very hard to get one publisher to accept an author going over to the other author's company to collaborate. We would love to do more novels together, but it just doesn't look like it's going to be possible.
PW: Do you read each other's work as you go along?
MM: Yes, constantly we exchange whatever work we've done, say, in a two-week period. We critique it and scribble on it. And, of course, if one of us is having a plot problem, we kick ideas around. It's great to get another perspective. It's that fresh look at something through someone else's eyes that helps clear up real stumbling blocks.
PW: What's the next thing you've got coming up?
MM: The next one's a McCone, called Dead Midnight. It's about halfway done. I actually feel, when I get to about page 200, that it's going to be a book after all! It never gets easier—when you conquer one problem, another one rises up to take its place.