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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Question 2: Is Burning Questions both a mystery and a memoir?


Q.    The death of Kenny diSimone that you have said was inspired by an actual homicide took place when you were already an attorney. That’s years after the ‘50s and ‘60s when you lived in Cape Ann.  Did you set your story then to introduce elements of memoir?

A.   There’s no question that there are elements of memoir in this mystery, but it's not really that. My definition of a memoir is "What you choose to remember."  While it is true that much of the background in the novel comes from my recollections of growing up on Cape Ann at a time when the economy of the area was changing, there is too much fiction in the story to qualify under my definition. I don't remember a lot of the things in the story because they never happened - although there are some close approximations. 

For instance, there were several hotels that burned down and Gloucester changed from a wealthy escape location to a commuter burb of Boston. Until WWII, rich people got on the Boston& Maine and went up to some big hotels in Gloucester for weekends, holidays and trysts. The biggest hotel was The Oceanside in Magnolia (a section of Gloucester.)  It had 600 rooms and was extremely upscale. It supported a whole economy of pricey shops in Magnolia. But then they built Route 128 and Gloucester became within range of the average Joe from Boston, along with it acquiring a commuter population. And of course, along with the new commuter population came the usual real estate speculation.The big old hotels were no longer attractive. The rich headed for more exotic locales.  And so, one by one, the old wooden hotels burnt down. The Oceanside burned in 1957. It was getting a frayed at the edges by then.  Everyone suspected it was arson and when the same thing started happening to other venues it became a sort of “no brainer.”

Meanwhile, Russian and Japanese factory ships were scooping up all the fish and the old Portuguese and Italian fishing fleet couldn’t hold its own against these behemoths.  So that part of the economy was changing as well. That economy began to feel the pain.  In the novel, Kenny’s stepfather Stephen is in construction and is profiting from these changes. It lends credence to the diSimone claim that Christina (the daughter of a lobsterman) was gold-digging. 

All of this is grist for a “motive-to-kill” mill.  I didn’t want to just do a psycho-drama about teenage suicide (although a lot of the reasons teens kill themselves is addressed in Kenny’s psychological profile.) I wanted to place Kenny’s death in the context of what was really happening. That seemed to me to be also a story worth telling. Greed. Corruption. Sexual ambiguities. Class warfare.  Good stuff for a murder mystery.

Still, it’s fiction and it would be a mistake to read all of my narrative as factual. I make some very big digressions from the actual facts in Burning Questions. We’ll discuss some of those in another Q&A.


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