It’s my pleasure to introduce the latest interview in my series Mystery Readers on Reading, Daniel Stallings!
M: Thanks for being my guest! First of all, YOU: Where do you live and what is your occupation? Besides reading, what are your favorite hobbies?
D: I live in a city named Ridgecrest buried deep in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. Although a sizeable city, it’s about two hours from any other city, surrounded on all sides by hot sand, spiky Joshua trees, and bristly creosote bushes. We’ve developed quite a rich, artistic tradition because of our isolation.
Besides reading and writing (my two loves), I am heavily involved in theatre. We have about five to six theatrical organizations in my town. My occupation is that I run one of them. Master Mystery Productions is my baby, where I’ve taken my passion for mystery fiction, writing, and theatre and I create interactive mystery shows for audiences to try and solve. You can find it on Facebook.
M: (Okay, I found Daniel’s Facebook page here.) What would you choose for your last meal?
D: My mother is German, and the dish I think she makes best is a meal called Bratkartoffeln. It’s essentially skillet-fried potatoes, onions, bacon, and cheese seasoned with salt, pepper, and Hungarian paprika. I could eat that every day and be totally satisfied. Heaven.
M: You’re a mystery reader. What sort of mysteries do you read?
D: I adore mysteries where the mystery is the primary focus, where the plot and planning of the crime and its solution are extremely well-done. I like it when the writers get a little tricky and creative with the actual mystery. Imaginative settings, plots, and characters will always tug at the heartstrings. I love mysteries that remember the emotional side of human interaction. I love it when characters are furious or heartbroken or triumphant or empathetic, because then they read as real people.
M: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Why?
D: Dame Agatha Christie is my heroine, naturally. What a genius of plotting. I love the Golden Age mystery writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries), Dame Ngaio Marsh (Roderick Alleyn Mysteries), Margery Allingham (Albert Campion Mysteries), Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe Mysteries), Ellery Queen, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan Mysteries), and so on and so forth. For more modern writers, I adore Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand Mysteries), Nancy Pickard (Jenny Cain Mysteries), Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael Mysteries), Martha Grimes (Richard Jury Mysteries), Peter Tremayne (Sister Fidelma Mysteries of Ancient Ireland), ad infinitum.
M: I am right there with you on Agatha Christie and the Golden Age Gang. What sort of characteristics do you enjoy the most in a protagonist?
D: Brains is the number one thing. If you have a sleuth, your sleuth should actually solve the mystery. If they stumble upon it every time without any actual thought, they’re not sleuths. I love protagonists with hearts, too. I love them to have empathy with others, to maybe have some pain in their lives that allow them to open up to others and understand the complex web of emotions that arise in good mysteries.
M: What are your favorite kinds of settings?
D: Anywhere. Take me to your wildest kingdoms of imagination. And while I do love England and small-town America, I love it when authors are a little more adventurous in their locations. Egypt, Rome, the Black Forest of Germany…
M: Why do you read cozy mysteries? I mean, what is it about this special sub-genre that draws you to it?
D: Cozies are my guilty pleasure reads, and there are some smartly written ones out there. I like Susan Wittig Albert, Cleo Coyle, Earlene Fowler, Robin Paige, Kate Carlisle, and Maia Chance. There’s heart in a cozy mystery. It’s about day-to-day people. They can be funny and charming. And I like that cozies, probably more than any other type of mystery, focus of exploring a trade or a culture in detail. You can learn about everything from bookbinding to tea to Renaissance fairs to fairy tales. But they should always be–and I stress this–intelligently plotted. Keep me guessing, because I don’t want to solve your mystery too soon.
M: What haven’t you seen in a mystery, in terms of protagonist, setting, or premise, that you would love to read?
D: Hmmm…I’d like more variety in settings and protagonists as a whole. Don’t get me wrong. I love England and craft stores and small towns and food as much as the next guy, but I love to explore cultures and worlds and people so different from myself. I’d like more diversity and wilder locations. There’s so much beauty and history out there. Why not write a mystery about the pilgrimage of Mansa Musa during the Mali Empire? Or about the birth of sitcoms with the production of the first I Love Lucy episode? Or something set during the 1960’s Space Race?
M: I LOVE your birth of sitcoms idea. Oddly, publishers shy away from 1950s and 1960s for mysteries, but I’m hoping we’ll see this change soon. What is your favorite children’s book?
D: Tough pick. I can barely pick a favorite author. I suppose the ones I treasure most are The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne. They were–pun intended–magical. All about books and magic and history and exploration. I adore them.
M: Where is your favorite place in the whole world to read?
D: My bed. It’s comfy and safe. With a mug of hot cocoa or cup of tea at my side, I can dive into the best mysteries in the world and feel completely serene.
M: If you were banned from reading mysteries EVER AGAIN, what would you resort to reading or doing instead?
D: I guess I would read plays and the classics, because I do enjoy them. Plays like Proof, A Raisin in the Sun, M. Butterfly, The Importance of Being Earnest, and so on are some of my favorites. I do read some Stephen King, but not religiously. And a have a few favorite poets. But the idea of never reading mysteries again breaks my heart. I love them. They are part of my world.
M: Thanks so much, Daniel!