I'm happy to welcome Mark Reutlinger to Cozy Up With Kathy. Mark writes the Mrs. Kaplan Mystery series. A Pain in the Tuchis is the second in the series and was released November 17th.
Kathy: How did you decide that a Jewish Senior Home would be a perfect setting for a mystery series?
MR: I’ve had a lot of experience with retirement homes and their residents (including my parents and several other relatives). As in the larger world, there are good people and bad, amusing stories and tragic ones, but the ages of the residents and their live experiences makes everything a bit more interesting. I also love the Yiddish expressions many of the Jewish seniors use (which my relatives also used frequently). It is a microcosm of the outside world, but with its own kind of humor, intrigue, and human interactions. I was at a seder at one such home when someone made a comment (I forget the context) about an older woman expiring face down in her matzoh ball soup. Somehow the image stayed with me, and I eventually used it as the premise for the first Mrs. Kaplan story.
Kathy: The residents at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors know their kosher cuisine. Do you have a favorite Jewish dish?
MR: Not surprisingly, I’d have to say matzoh ball soup, although my wife’s farfel dumplings run a close second.
Kathy: Vera Gold certainly knows how to irritate and anger people. Have you had dealings with a similar pain in the tuchis?
MR: Yes, more than one, including relatives, although Vera was an extreme case. Sometimes older people act in a hostile way toward others as a protest against the world in general and their now-limited role in it. I think Vera was one of those people.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
MR: I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries, and eventually I discovered other similar stories. I also like a mixture of suspense and humor, which many cozies (including mine) have.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
MR: Yes. Before I began the Mrs. Kaplan series, I published Made in China, a political thriller about the danger in our dependence on other countries for our manufactured goods. I’m just completing another political thriller about a plot to assassinate the President. The other genre I like to write in is caper novels, humorous crime stories in the spirit of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series. I’m working on such a manuscript using some of the characters from the Mrs. Kaplan stories.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
MR: Rose Kaplan plays amateur detective when bad things—such as murder, but also some more mundane problems—happen to fellow residents of the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors. Her best friend Ida Berkowitz narrates the stories in her Old World dialect, with a bissel of Yiddish mixed in for flavor.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
MR: I think Ida is my favorite character, perhaps because she is not quite as sharp as Mrs. Kaplan and therefore is more vulnerable. Also, because she is the narrator, her character is probably a bit more nuanced than Mrs. K, as we are privy to more of her thoughts about and observations on life at the Home.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
MR: The Home and its residents are to some extent composites of real institutions and actual people I know or have known. They and their real stories are the inspiration behind the fictional ones I write.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
MR: Although I had published several legal treatises before writing my first novel and therefore was a published “writer,” I believed I could not honestly call myself a “novelist” unless and until I had published a novel as well. Although the publishing landscape has changed markedly in the last few years and “indie publishing” is common, commercial publishers are still the gatekeepers to the industry and acceptance by them is, in a sense, an imprimatur of success. In addition, I wanted to get my stories out to as many people as possible, to which commercial publication was the best path.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
MR: That’s a tough question; there are so many I’d like to talk with. I’ll choose P.G. Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett, Agatha Christie, and Alexander McCall Smith.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
MR: The Boys in the Boat, about the University of Washington crew that won the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde (an audio book), and Christopher Buckley’s No Way to Treat a First Lady.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
MR: I have quite a few, although at present I don’t have time to indulge all of them. I like to read, of course, but beyond that I play tennis, ride a bicycle, and play clarinet in the Tacoma Concert Band. I also love sports cars (I have a 1995 Morgan Plus Eight) and trains (I have a model railroad layout). I’ve tried my hand at painting, wire sculpture, and several other crafts, some more successfully than others.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
MR: Carrots, apples, soup, and green tea.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
MR: I’m actually working on two manuscripts at the moment, but neither is planned as a series. As for Mrs. Kaplan, I’ll have to wait to see how her second adventure is accepted before deciding whether to write her a third.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
MR: I guess it’s the ability use my imagination to create whatever worlds, with whatever inhabitants and their stories, I wish. I also love to talk with people who have read my books about what they liked or disliked and how the stories affected them. Many readers of Mrs. Kaplan, for example, have told me they saw their own relatives or friends in the characters, and it’s very satisfying to think I made those characters real enough for people to identify with them. I also get some very good ideas for future stories from readers, who tell me things that happened to them or people they know in similar situations.
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