New York literary agent Jo Donovan reluctantly becomes a muse for a deranged writer who won’t take no for an answer in Barbara Rogan’s debut mystery, A Dangerous Fiction.
Some people consider book publishing a relatively boring industry. What inspired you to use it as the setting for a mystery?
Boring as opposed to skydiving or spying, maybe; otherwise I’d say publishing holds its own against any industry for intrigue, rivalry, and obsession. That’s fertile ground for any novel. Setting A Dangerous Fiction in the publishing world also meant creating characters who were as clever and witty as I could make them, which was great fun and a fortunate thing for me, given how much time we spent together. I don’t listen to music when I write, but in the back of my mind as I wrote this book, I was hearing dialogue from Dorothy Parker stories and the classic Thin Man movies.
Like your protagonist, you were a literary agent for many years. Was the book an homage to those years?
I loved the profession, first because I was passionate about books, but also because of the brilliant people I got to know. One of the joys of writing A Dangerous Fiction was returning to that world.
Jo, a widow who still grieves for her author husband many years after his death, must overcome personal and professional troubles. Did you think of them as interlinked?
I subscribe to the Mark Twain school of character development—“Chase ’em up a tree and throw rocks at ’em”—and I particularly like books in which the protagonist’s inner struggles are mirrored or exacerbated by the external conflict. I wanted the attacks on my protagonist to come on multiple levels, so that even as her unknown enemy wreaks havoc on her business and clients, other antagonists are tunneling inward, attacking her sense of self and memories of her husband. I also wanted Jo, who tells the story in first person, to emerge as a suspect narrator who may be hiding things from herself—which meant I needed to give her things to hide.
Are you considering another mystery?
I like the genre. It imposes formal constraints, like a sonnet, without in any way limiting the turf writers can explore. Jo Donovan is a particularly useful character for that purpose, not only because she’s complicated and flawed, but because her client list allows her access to experts in all sorts of fields. She and I still have a road to follow. I plan to write at least two more mysteries featuring Jo Donovan.