Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 577 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, and Deanna Raybourn is back! We are talking about some of the unusual methods used to kill people in Killers of a Certain Age, which is now out in paperback. There are mild plot spoilers for that book; please be aware. We also talk about the images she receives from fans of her series and the larger context of why there’s a sense of catharsis reading about terrible people meeting terrible ends.
I want to mention that we talk about lice when I’m talking about networks of women, and also, you know, we’re talking about poison and murder and some serial killers too.
While I have you, I want to ask for a small favor. Hi. I used to have reviews on Apple Podcasts, and now I have two. I used to have more than that! I know I had more! Do I know where they went? No, I do not. Is podcasting weird? Oh my gosh, you have no idea. But here is my humble request: if you have a moment and your thumbs are not busy, would you be so kind as to leave a review for this here show? I used to have some! And they’re gone, and it is a mystery to me, but it is true that reviews help people find the show, and there’s a lot of show, so lots of things for people to find. If you would be so kind as to leave a review, I would be so very, very appreciative, and you would help me and the show, you know, reach more nifty people! Can you tell I’m really out of practice at this? Seriously, I don’t know where the reviews went! It’s, it’s kind of bugging me. Like, I don’t understand! Either way, if you have the time and inclination, and like I said, if your thumbs are not currently occupied, if you left a review for the show I would be very, very grateful.
And speaking of grateful: hey, Patreon folks. How you doing? I have a compliment this week for Lilisonna:
Archaeologists have discovered an ancient site of worship and revelry, and it seems like it was inspired by you! Your warmth and kindness reaches beyond time and space! Which is pretty cool if you think about it.
If you would like a compliment of your very own or you would like to support this show, I would be so grateful if you took a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches! I want to say hello to Helen and Leah, who have just joined the Patreon. If you join you get bonus episodes; you get a truly lovely, wonderful Discord community; and you help me make sure that every episode has a transcript compiled by garlicknitter. Hey, garlicknitter! [Hi, Sarah! – gk] Have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Monthly pledges start at one dollar a month, and thank you in every possible way for your support.
Support for this episode comes from Lume Deodorant. It is the perfect time of year for me to talk about Lume because I live in a bowl of soup. The air is chowder. It is hot. And, thankfully, Lume Deodorant makes it easy for me to feel comfortable and rather freshly scented too. And there’s a special offer! New customers get five dollars off Lume’s Starter Pack with code SARAH30 at lumedeodorant.com. The whole family over here is so happy with Lume. I bought the Lavender Sage deodorant cream to take on vacation, and it worked so well! I also love the solid stick deodorant; I have the Toasted Coconut scent, and I never have to reapply. I think about it once a day, and then I don’t think about it again. And not only do I like Lume, but my teenagers do as well. One of my teens made off with the deodorant wipes that came with the sample pack, and their review was, “These really work, and they don’t smell weird!” Which I think for a teen is like A. Win. Lume is a first-of-its-kind deodorant. It was designed to be safe to use anywhere on your body, even your feet. It was developed by an OB/GYN, and it’s aluminum- and paraben-free, skin-safe, and clinically proven to control odor anywhere on your body for up to seventy-two hours. Lume’s Starter Pack is perfect for new customers: it comes with a solid stick deodorant; cream tube deodorant; two free products of your choice, like a mini body wash or deodorant wipes; and free shipping! As a special offer for listeners, new customers get five dollars off a Lume Starter Pack with code SARAH30 at lumedeodorant.com. That equates to over forty percent off your starter pack when you visit lumedeodorant.com and use code SARAH30.
Support for this episode comes from Wattpad. You might recognize the name Anna Todd from her number one bestselling After series – massive hit, made into a movie. Her appearances overseas cause lines around the block of readers eager to meet her and thank her in person. But did you know she’s written a new romance trilogy? The first two books in the Brightest Stars are out now, and if you are looking for some late summer reading, listen up! The Falling and The Burning are both available now. Set against the backdrop of a military base, both books feature emotionally powerful stories about slowly falling in love with another person and with yourself. Colleen Hoover is a big fan of Anna Todd’s heart-stopping new trilogy. She raved about the first book The Falling, saying, “Anna Todd…is my go-to for a story I know I’ll love and characters who live in the heart long after the last page is turned.” Look for The Falling and The Burning by Anna Todd and buy your copies wherever books are sold.
You ready to talk about killing folks? This is a very morally dubious episode. On with the podcast.
Deanna Raybourn: I am Deanna Raybourn! I am the author of the number nine New York Times bestseller Killers of a Certain Age, which is a contemporary thriller, as well as the Victorian mystery series featuring a, an amateur sleuth who is a lepidopterist by the name of Veronica Speedwell!
Sarah: I don’t know if you’ve caught mention of this, but I have been talking for a while about how I did a complete listen to the whole series back to back of the Veronica Speed- –
Deanna: No! Did you really?
Sarah: I did. Started at one –
Deanna: Oh fun!
Sarah: – went all the way through. Well, today in I’m Feeling Really Old, my older child –
Sarah: – goes off to college in August, and I’m making him –
Sarah: – a quilt, and I like to listen to audiobooks while I’m quilting.
Deanna: Love it.
Sarah: I consider it like my suburban, middle-aged, white lady side quest? I have to learn things like quilting, maybe I’ll pick up birding; that kind of thing. But –
Deanna: I love it.
Sarah: – I love, I love listening to audiobooks, and the narration for the Veronica series is so good.
Deanna: Angele Masters.
Sarah: It’s, it’s so good.
Deanna: Angele Masters is our narrator, and she is phenomenal. We have an incredible director; the whole crew are just, they’re so amazing. And I am immensely fortunate that they, they are bringing Veronica to voice. So much so that I actually have dedicated the next Veronica to the narrator, but don’t tell her; she doesn’t know yet.
Sarah: I won’t say a word.
Sarah: I love that, though, and I can’t say as I blame you, because her, her performance of all of the characters is exquisite! Particularly her voices for Stoker and for Tiberius? It’s really, really amazing!
Deanna: Yeah, and I love those boys. I mean, they’re, they’re, all the characters are so much fun to write. That’s one of the things I love about doing the, the Veronica series is it’s just fun! And I, I have the feeling that – actually, I don’t have the feeling, because they’ve told me this – Angele has fun recording them –
Deanna: – and, and I think that really comes through. Yeah, they, they will contact, Amber, the producer, will contact me, usually about a month or so before Angele’s going to go into the studio to record, and she’ll say, Okay, you know, here’s a list of questions that she sent. You know, things that, that she would like you to clarify. If there’s anything else, let us know. So it’s, it’s, it’s just, it’s really nice; they touch base with me before they go into the studio to create the book. They usually do that around December or so, and so I get a chance to, to say, you know, Hey! It’s, it’s, it’s pronounced this way or, you know, clarify things, because they are absolutely determined to get it right –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Deanna: – and I love that.
Sarah: I do have a question, though.
Sarah: I have a, I have a, I have a question, and I’ve only noticed this because I listened to them back to back.
Sarah: In the earlier books, was Stoker’s birth father Welsh, and then he became Irish, or was he always Irish and I just remembered him as Welsh?
Deanna: No! I have changed that! Okay, so this is awesome, and only people who read or listen to the books back to back will pick this stuff up. I have changed Stoker’s age. I have, I have changed – [laughs] – his father’s nationality. I have changed Vespertine’s gender. I have a pal who does, she is an, an ardent devotee of the Veronica series, and she is also a freelance editor, and she messaged me several weeks ago and said, Hey, girl, I’ve noticed a few continuity things! And I said, Look, man, we’re getting up to, I have literally written pushing a million words about these characters.
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Deanna: A girl forgets things. And so she said, Would you like for me to prepare a bible for you of – and I said, Yes, please! So I have hired her to prepare a bible, and that is what she is spending her summer doing is, is getting me straight with all my continuity, because –
Deanna: – it just – and, and here’s the thing: it’s not like I write these things and they go directly to print. I have the chance to read them several times!
Sarah: Oh yes!
Deanna: And I don’t catch it. My editor doesn’t catch it. The copyeditor doesn’t catch it. The proofreader – like, none of us! I mean, the buck absolutely stops with me, but it’s just so funny to think that that many pairs of eyes will go across a manuscript, and we’re like, Yeah, Vespertine’s totally female! No. No, Vespertine’s not. A lot of times I’ll be kind of romping along in a manuscript and, and I won’t stop and check a reference when I’m actually writing, because if you do that, you never get a book finished.
Deanna: So I’ll make a note to go back and check it, and sometimes things will go astray.
Deanna: I did that with, there was one book that, that made reference to Caravaggio, whose first name was Michelangelo, and so I, I put his full name in there, and somehow I ended up deleting Caravaggio –
Deanna: – and Michelangelo’s all that’s left, and they were not complete contemporaries, so now there’s a time error in one of the books, and so of course here, you know, here comes the nasty email that literally says, I’m so disappointed in you, and I’m like, What?!
Sarah: Oh for God’s sake.
Deanna: Girl, please! My mother’s the only one who’s allowed to be disappointed in me, and that doesn’t happen! Calm down! It’s an error.
Sarah: Yes. I am, I am not disappointed in you. I did question myself. Like, Wait, I thought, I thought his dad was, I thought his dad was Welsh?
Deanna: No! Girl, just assume the error is mine –
Deanna: – and it’s fine. No, I have – and you know, that was one of those things that absolutely would have, you know, crushed me like Giles Corey around the time my first – that’s a, that’s a Crucible reference for whoever’s going to get that. It, it would have absolutely devastated me when my first book came out! Like, you know –
Deanna: – what, seventeen years ago, if that sort of error had slipped through, but now I think I’ve done so much –
Deanna: – and I’ve, I’ve accomplished a fair bit, and –
Sarah: Just a bit, yeah.
Deanna: – I can look back and say, You know what? It’s fine. It’s okay that I’m human, it’s okay that some of these things slip through, and it helps a real lot because when I go back and I reread authors that I loved who did long series, like Elizabeth Peters, you find mistakes in their stuff too! And we’re like –
Sarah: Of course!
Deanna: – Oh, God, I feel so vindicated right now! I’m so happy!
Deanna: Because they – you know, these are people who, as, as craftspeople, you kind of put them on a bit of a pedestal, and then you go, Okay, look, man, if they can screw up –
Deanna: – it’s fine for the rest of us to make the occasional mistake. I still do my absolute best, but perfection is unattainable, and I’m not going to make myself bonkers trying for it.
Deanna: I’m just going to do the best that I can, and the errors that show up, I, I apologize for, but, you know, I’m a human person.
Sarah: Yeah, he’s Welsh-ish.
Deanna: Yeah. I think, I think he started maybe Welsh and now he’s ended up Irish is where we’re at with that?
Sarah: Yeah. You could just switch him again.
Deanna: No, you know what I’m going to do is I’m going to –
Sarah: He could be like Montenegrin or something.
Deanna: No, I’m – God, I love that! Just the, the, the whole idea of that country fascinates me to no end. No, I think what I’m going to do is actually clarify in a future book that his father was half Welsh, half Irish.
Sarah: Oh, perfect solution!
Deanna: [Laughs] And I, you know, I don’t know what to do about Vespertine. Like, I think we’re just going to have to pick one for, for Vespertine and stick with it, and I’m not sure where the female ever came in. Because there are other dogs whose gender never ever, ever changed. Like, I knew from the beginning exactly who that dog was, and the problem is I keep adding dogs!
Sarah: [Laughs] I noticed that!
Deanna: Yeah. I mean, I do it on purpose –
Sarah: Every time they solve a case, like, the prize is a dog!
Deanna: I know. I know, and I really, I have to put a stop to that.
Sarah: But then there’s a dog that needs a home, and of course you want to know that they end up in the, in the Folly with, in the Follies with, with Stoker and Veronica.
Deanna: Well, but here’s the thing: Stoker and Veronica have, they are, over the course of these books, amassing found family –
Deanna: – and the dogs are part of that!
Sarah: Of course!
Deanna: The dogs are part of the found family –
Sarah: Of course!
Deanna: – so, you know, we started with one; I think we’re up to five now?
Sarah: That’s fine!
Deanna: I think we’re up to five. But I will tell you, in the book that’s coming out next spring, A Grave Robbery, we have a new kind of animal.
Deanna: Yeah, we do. And it’s a menace.
Sarah: What was the one that Stoker was obsessed with in the last one? A lyc-, lycothene? No.
Deanna: A thylacine!
Deanna: Now, this animal is actually alive, and it wreaks some havoc, so I’m, I am delighted with this animal, but –
Sarah: I need to tell you, though, I was on Reddit the other day, and –
Sarah: – someone was saying that they were in a very, very uninhabited, I think, part of Tasmania and they were –
Sarah: – pretty sure that they had seen at a distance, that they had seen a thylacine?
Deanna: I have heard rumors that they may not actually be extinct, which is incredibly exciting.
Sarah: Isn’t that cool?
Deanna: If any of your listeners who don’t know what a thylacine is, it is, it is also known as a Tasmanian tiger –
Deanna: – and it is, it’s, it’s not as big as a conventional tiger –
Deanna: – by any means, but it has a bite almost as powerful. This thing is ferocious and, and they were incredibly rare, even by the late Victorian age, which is when my books are set, and so because Stoker is a natural historian he’s obsessed with this thylacine! The great thing is, like, readers keep sending me pictures of thylacines, like, when they’re, when they go into a museum and they’re like, I saw a thylacine! And they’ll snap a picture, and I love that! It’s like they’ll go to, they’ll go to garden centers and they see, you know, trays of speedwell growing –
Deanna: – and they send me pictures of it, or, Oh, I just planted some speedwell! Because of course the, the common name for it is speedwell, but the Latin name is Veronica, and so they, they will always, you know, kind of grab pictures for me, which I think is incredibly sweet! I love that.
Sarah: That’s adorable! It’s like a scavenger hunt in your books.
Deanna: It is! And I get butterfly pictures all the time –
Deanna: – which I really, I love that. If I’d been writing a mortician or something, they would be sending me really weird shit, so I’m very glad it’s butterflies.
Deanna: I’m so glad it’s butterflies! I got, so the, the reader Kate Flame, she, which I, I think she has the coolest name, and Kate Flame! She sounds like, you know, a 1940s reporter. I love it so hard. Anyway, she’s the one who’s compiling our bible, and she is currently traveling through Scotland, and she’s been sending me bad taxidermy pictures.
Deanna: But I, and I posted one on Instagram and, and just, everybody was like, Oh my God, Stoker would be so appalled! So I do get bad taxidermy pictures, which I also really enjoy, because –
Sarah: I mean.
Deanna: – really, come on.
Sarah: That’s a gift.
Deanna: It absolutely is. It absolutely is.
Sarah: So a lot of people die in the Speedwell series.
Deanna: So many people.
Sarah: So lots, lots of dying. And then –
Sarah: – in Killers of a Certain Age, one of the things that stuck with me was the very effective but unusual ways –
Sarah: – of killing people. Like, for example –
Sarah: – mild spoiler: one character is killed with nicotine poisoning, and they basically make what my grandmother would have called sun tea? Like you park the big jug of tea –
Sarah: – out in the yard and let the sun –
Sarah: – make the tea? It was like sun tea –
Sarah: – but it was cigarettes, and then they gave him –
Sarah: – a spa body wrap which then killed his terrible ass –
Sarah: – because, as part of the story, obviously, they’re cut off from all of the resources that they would usually be using to kill people.
Sarah: Where did you learn about nicotine sun tea?
Deanna: [Laughs] I made it up!
Sarah: I love this answer!
Deanna: It does, I mean, it does actually work. I had, I got so nervous. I have a couple of toxicology pals on Twitter, like literal doctors of toxicology, and I –
Deanna: – I was just absolutely petrified when one of them DMed me and said, Hey, I’m reading your book right now! I was like, No!
Deanna: But then he came back and he was like, No, it’s fine; you got it right. No, I, because of the Veronica Speedwell books, I, I, and before that I wrote another Victorian series, the Julia Grey series, so, and the very first book that was ever published, the first Julia Grey book dealt with a poisoning.
Deanna: And, you know, when you’re talking about Victorian characters, poisoning is, is a lot easier to use. You can do it at a distance –
Deanna: – it’s bloodless; it – well, most of the time it’s bloodless; sometimes it’s just nasty.
Deanna: But it, it, it’s much easier to administer. It’s much more, it’s, it’s a much subtler means of dealing death than a firearm or, you know, shoving somebody out a window. I, I did it, actually, I, I used to get bored sometimes – I’m such a bad mom – I used to get really bored at assemblies at my daughter’s school, so –
Sarah: I can’t imagine.
Deanna: I know, right? So, you know, they, they always hand out a program, and I would be, I would jot down, my thing to do would be to jot down as many methods of murder as I could possibly think of –
Deanna: – while I was, you know, listening to these kids sing like “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” or whatever. So I, I would be jotting down, you know, suffocation, defenestration, drowning, and jut jot them all down. Poisoning was always my absolute favorite thing to work with. Part of that is because I, I grew up a huge Agatha Christie fan, and Agatha Christie used it –
Sarah: Yeah, lot of poison in there.
Deanna: Yeah! She had a pharmacology background, and so she used a lot of poisons. And then because I used it in the first book, and I used it in a way that was considered to be a little bit novel at the time, it, it just kind of set up that challenge for me, this interesting puzzle of how do you introduce this stuff? Plus, so many people got away with it!
Sarah: Oh yes!
Deanna: In, in the Victorian period, you know, because they didn’t have the same chemical tests. You know, they introduced the Marsh test for arsenic in the early half of the, the 19th century, but so many poisons they were not able to test for, and so you could, you know, go to stay with a relative and just slowly introduce little doses of things into their tea or their blancmange, and, you know, oh, they’ve got gastric trouble, and then after six months they just get dead.
You and I are both making air quotes right now –
Deanna: – with our fingers.
Sarah: Yup. [Laughs]
Deanna: Yeah! And then after six months they just get dead, and, you know, you collect their insurance or you inherit the estate, or whatever!
Sarah: Yep! And it’s very intimate.
Deanna: And it’s just –
Sarah: It’s very intimate!
Deanna: It is! It’s very intimate, but at the same time, it can also be done at a distance! You can send poison chocolates through the mail.
Deanna: You don’t actually have to be there at the time. You don’t have to necessarily face the consequences of what you have done.
Deanna: Which is another interesting psychological thing to play with. So to me poison has always – I mean, guns are just so boring!
Sarah: So true.
Deanna: I mean, they’re so boring! They’re so loud! They’re so, you know, my God, they’re so anticlimactic. And so for me poison has always been a really interesting puzzle. Every once in a while I’ll use a nice little stabbing or a drowning, but I do, I do love me a poison. I love, I love a poison!
Sarah: I did an episode with Mikki Kendall, who’s on Twitter as @Karnythia.
Deanna: Oh, she’s amazing!
Sarah: We did –
Deanna: I love her!
Sarah: We did a whole episode about poison clusters, and if you go back –
Sarah: – into historical record, especially –
Sarah: – after the wars –
Sarah: – after the Civil War, after World War I, after World War II, if you had a shitty husband who came back even shittier, or you had a husband who you married really quickly and they went off to war, thinking you’d never see each other again, and then here he comes, and he’s terrible –
Sarah: – well, you know, food safety was nonexistent. There was no protection for what you were drinking or eating, so, you know, bad beer?
Deanna: Ah! Uh-huh?
Sarah: It was his stomach issues; it was heart troubles! Yeah.
Deanna: Yeah, exactly! And, you know, the, the, I, I feel like poison clusters almost kind of work in the same way that you will see sometimes suicides will do the same thing in friend groups or in, in family lines, because once something becomes a possibility –
Deanna: – then suddenly there are people who are considering it.
Deanna: You know, it’s, maybe it was never on the table before –
Deanna: – but now it is.
Deanna: And, you know, especially with, when you’re talking about after wars the reason you see them is, you know, it, your crappy husband may have gone off for two or three or five years, and you had all this freedom! Maybe you got a job for the first time!
Deanna: You were controlling money! You were running the household, and then he comes back –
Sarah: You were in charge!
Deanna: Absolutely. You had autonomy maybe for the first time. Maybe if, you know, your sex life wasn’t great, you didn’t have to deal with it! There was nobody making demands on you, and all of a sudden he comes back. Maybe, unfortunately, he’s brought back PTSD with him.
Deanna: Maybe he’s just come back a person who is bitter about his experiences, or maybe he’s a person who has come back and just really does not have the wherewithal to be the same – maybe he was awesome before the war and just is changed –
Sarah: And afterwards is not.
Deanna: – by – and afterward is not! And so suddenly, you know, the idea of slipping a little something in his coffee, you know, makes at least a little bit of, of sense. And I’m going to issue a huge caveat right here, which is: I would never actually poison anyone? These are historical cases or hypotheticals or fiction. They’re just how people play out these, these scenarios in their heads. Now, for some people it’s absolutely and completely real, and these are, these are tragic things that happen –
Deanna: – but that is, you know, those are, those are their choices, not my choices. [Laughs]
Sarah: And it reminds me a lot of the underground networks of women’s healthcare, like the Jane Collective –
Sarah: – the secret networks of people who provide at-home abortions. Even the network of people –
Sarah: – who, like, when I was working at a summer camp up in upstate New York, we always did lice checks when the kids arrived –
Sarah: – and the network of people whose job it is, is to help you get rid of lice by, like, combing out the hair, the lice ladies, that was a, they didn’t advertise! That was all word-of-mouth. So imagine having a word-of-mouth of I’m, oh, I heard you have a crappy husband. Would you, want to have tea? Let’s talk about that.
Deanna: I mean, women have always found ways to help other women.
Deanna: And, and this is what happens when you have any group that is marginalized –
Deanna: – and, and kept out of power: they will find ways to help each other.
Deanna: And they will find ways to look out for each other and, you know, that’s, that’s just what people have done throughout history. If you’re not part of the power structure, you have to figure out how to cope, and you need each other!
Deanna: And as far as the, the nicotine sun tea, you know, as you said, my four assassins, they’re sixty years old, they’re on the cusp of retirement, and they have to go on the run, and they have no access to any of the, the fancy gear and equipment, and, you know, their, their Q, you know, from, from MI6 is, is not able to help them, so they have to do things very, very old school, and you know the, the thing is, women have, have a lot of knowledge –
Sarah: Oh yes.
Deanna: – that they don’t necessarily advertise, and these women in particular are the kind who could walk down the, the aisle at CVS and find fifteen things that’ll kill you, and that’s exactly what they do! And, you know, the, the book came, came out shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, and, and I, I just kept thinking about these grandmothers in Ukraine who were baking rhubarb pies –
Deanna: – and putting the leaves in it – not the fruit – putting the leaves in it, handing it off to Russian soldiers who were like, Oh, thank you so much! Your pie looks delicious. And these guys dropped dead because they’re not realizing these grandmothers have just baked an incredibly poisonous pie!
Deanna: Because you can’t eat rhubarb leaves –
Deanna: – and these guys are just chowing down, not even realizing that these sweet-looking little grandmothers are, you know, basically fighting for their country the only way they can. They’re not picking up an assault rifle, they’re picking up a pastry brush.
Sarah: So what methods of killing folks did you discover while you were researching any of the series that you’ve written? Are there any methods that you wrote down in an assembly that you haven’t used yet or that you found particularly fascinating?
Deanna: I literally don’t think I’ve ever defenestrated anybody, even though that’s just the, it is one of my all time favorite words!
Sarah: It is a great word!
Deanna: It’s a superb word, but I don’t think I’ve actually shoved anybody out a window yet.
Sarah: There’s, there’s still time.
Deanna: Yeah, right? I, I’m, I mean, I think I’ve, I’ve, I’ve, I know that I have torched a few people, I have drowned a few people, I’ve stabbed a few people, I’ve slit a few throats. By and large, poison is, is the, is the instrument du jour. In Killers of a Certain Age, what I, because of the fact that they’re sixty years old and they’re still badass assassins, I thought it would be really, really fun to play with some of the tropes that we associate with older women.
Deanna: Like making sun tea, knitting, baking, and yet each one of those instruments in its own way, it ends up killing people. Kind of –
Sarah: Oh yeah! Circular needles make a great garrote!
Deanna: [Laughs] I think in, in one case I even used some jewelry, you know, because older women, you know, enjoying their accessories and their, their, their beautiful beaded necklace. You know, well, if it’s strung on piano wire it’s a, it’s a beautiful weapon.
Deanna: So I tried to take all of these things. I didn’t do it for everything, but I even, like, there’s a kind of a climactic action scene where I got a lot of emails from people who were very, very surprised at something I managed to pull out of a kitchen that is an explosive that folks did not realize would blow up, and it’s an everyday item that everybody has in their kitchen, but if you light it on fire –
Deanna: – you’ve got a little makeshift bomb! And, you know, discovering things like that is always really fun. I love poking around and creating kind of new and interesting ways to use things that people would look at and think are completely innocuous.
Deanna: And, you know, I mean, because, honestly, there’s peril all around if we’re not careful.
Sarah: So what are some of the other ways that you’ve discovered of doing off with people?
Deanna: I have poisons I have not used that I, I am really looking forward to how those are going to be administered, and I can’t talk about them because they’re, some of them are, are poisons I’ve kept tucked in my back pocket for fifteen or twenty years that I just haven’t had the opportunity to use yet. But it is, it, it’s funny when you start to become aware of them, because my husband and I were on vacation a couple months ago, and we’re walking across the resort, you know, under the moonlight, and it’s in the desert, and it’s beautiful –
Deanna: – and all of a sudden I’m just shrieking, and he’s like, Oh my God, what’s going on? And I said, That’s jimson weed! And so I’m screaming because this plant, and it’s Datura! It’s incredibly poisonous, and I’m like, Look! I’ve never seen them growing in the wild! And he’s like, Babe, that’s an awful strange thing to get this excited about, but I’m, like, I, I know. I understand what this means to – he’s been around a while. Like, he understands exactly what that means to me. So I –
Sarah: He is –
Deanna: – was so stoked to see it just growing in the wild, and I was like, Yeah, so, you know, definitely don’t touch that. And I’m, I’m, I want to go, I, well, I don’t want to go to one; I kind of want to plant a poison garden just for the, the sheer pleasure of having one.
Sarah: I mean –
Deanna: But some of them you have to get actual, like, permission to grow, they’re so toxic.
Deanna: And, you know, we have dogs, and we’ve got deer around here and all kinds of other critters that I would, I, I, I don’t want to expose to things they shouldn’t be exposed to.
Sarah: Maybe a poison Gothic greenhouse.
Deanna: There you go! That would be amazing. I don’t know what that to do to my insurance premiums, though, so – [laughs] – my homeowner’s insurance.
Sarah: Well, I mean, the insurance adjusters would be very, very terrified of you, and they would probably be very mellow. [Laughs]
Deanna: Well, there, you know, there, there is this extensive poison garden at Alnwick Castle, which is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. It’s been the Duchess of Northumberland’s kind of pet project for I think probably about twenty years now, maybe longer since she put the Poison Garden in, and it’s a huge attraction, and people absolutely love going there. It’s stunning to look at. She’s actually put out a couple of, of very slim books about the aphrodisiacs they grow there, the poisons they grow there –
Sarah: That’s cool.
Deanna: – the, the jams and jellies you can make of the things that they have, and it’s, it’s, it’s, botany in general is absolutely fascinating to me. I’m, I am not, I do not have a scientific brain, that’s not the way I think, but just knowing what these plants are capable of is, is endlessly fascinating to me.
Sarah: I mean, deadly jelly sounds like a great series. There’s a lot of –
Deanna: My God, right?
Sarah: – baking, bookstore, cat, bakery shop mysteries. Like, they all have food pun titles?
Sarah: You know, deadly compotes and jellies sounds awesome, sounds great.
Deanna: It absolutely does, and I offer that freely as a gift to anyone who’s writing those?
Deanna: I, I, keep on doing what you’re doing; we love a good scone murder.
Deanna: Ah, yeah.
Sarah: Murderous scones? Scones are up to no good.
Deanna: Scones are up to no good. No! So, you know, it, it’s, I’m, I’m, I’m always looking for a slightly unexpected method of murder, because that’s what sticks in readers’ minds; that’s what they enjoy! You know, I mean, what does everybody remember about Midsomer Murders? It’s death by cheese! It’s, it’s the –
Deanna: – the chicks who got crushed by the wheel of cheese! You know, I mean, we, we love a tinge of comedy with the macabre.
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Deanna: And if it’s not comic, at least it should be a little bit unexpected!
Sarah: The Veronica book with the dead bride in the cask of wine –
Sarah: – and how it had the best flavor reminded me so much of the origin, the well origin of cholera? Like, this well tastes really great. I’m like, Yeah, ‘cause it’s killing you.
Sarah: ‘Cause it’s got dead body in it. Yeah. Whaaagh!
Deanna: That, okay, that entire, that entire thing was actually given to me by another writer who does not write – she writes women’s fiction. She does not write mystery or thriller –
Deanna: – and we were sitting down at dinner, we’d just been introduced, and she, she found out what I wrote, and she’s like, I have the best story for you. And I said, What story? And she told me that she had been on a tour in Denmark in like a, a, of a country castle –
Deanna: – and they explained that the count who had owned it, his bride had just disappeared one day. There were rumors that she had been sleeping with a stable boy or a groom or something like that, and she just, you know, disappeared, and he said, Oh, she must have gone back to her family or run away with him or whatever. I don’t know! And then it wasn’t till like forty years later that they found her stuffed into a cask of wine, and the whole time that cask had just been refilled and people had been drinking out of it, and she was like, I gift you this story, and I was like, Good! ‘Cause I’m hundred percent using it!
Sarah: [Laughs] Thank you!
Deanna: And I did! And I gave her credit in the Acknowledgements, because I was like, That is way too good not to use.
Sarah: And it’s so out there, it could only be true, right?
Sarah: Oh my gosh.
Deanna: That is, and you know, that is the most fun thing when you’re writing is to use something that is so batshit crazy that people were like, How did you ever think of that? And I’m like, It’s literally true.
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Deanna: It happened! It happened!
Sarah: And how many stories are there of little old ladies who are overlooked, who are just busy quietly meting out justice to people who are never going to actually deal with it in their life?
Deanna: Or they do it for profit!
Sarah: That is also true.
Deanna: I mean, there, there’s a whole Netflix series about, you know, terrible roommates, and one of them is this little old woman who used to just take in boarders and kill ‘em –
Deanna: – for their Social Security checks!
Deanna: You know, and that is no different than women who, you know, Victorian poisoners who – I’m thinking of one in particular who, like, poisoned her children, her step-children, all these people, because she was cashing in on insurance policies.
Deanna: She would just, you know, meet you, take out an insurance policy on you, you know, bump you off, and there, there she was!
Deanna: Cashing checks! Belle Gunness, who was America’s first female serial killer, did that. She, you know, managed to collect on, I think, the, the – I don’t even think the first person she killed was necessarily anybody that she killed other than to rob him –
Deanna: – because…convenient! But then after that she was like, Oh! I’m going to collect pension – you know, she, she was able to amass quite a little bit of money just based on bumping off people who were in the way and had a little bit more than she did!
Sarah: One thing that I love in terms of larger trends, especially because your books definitely fit this, is the number of narratives of powerless people killing folks to restore some power where it needs to be. Or some –
Sarah: – some influence, or just to get rid of, like you said, someone who’s in the way in a way that’s deeply harmful. And in a larger political context, like right now, it makes total sense. I remember ages ago interviewing Emma Holly, who writes erotic romance and erotic stories, and she said that, you know, conservative political climate is outstanding for erotic romance, because the more restrictive the political climate is, the more absolutely wild the sexual content gets –
Sarah: – to counter it, and I feel like now we have this trend of what I call Earl Had to Die books?
Deanna: [Laughs] Oh, that’s perfect!
Sarah: Have you noticed this increase as well? I mean –
Deanna: Yeah, that’s perfect.
Sarah: – I know you’re part of it, but have you, have you noticed an increase in the, the Earl Had to Die genre?
Deanna: Yes, and I’m delighted to be a part of it!
Deanna: I mean, you know, honestly, here’s the thing: I have been pissed off since 2016.
Deanna: And, and to be very clear, I should have been pissed off a lot earlier, on behalf of people who don’t have the kind of privileges that I have. I have learned a lot. I have become aware of a lot, and, and I am still, you know, seven years later, pretty pissed off, because we are litigating things that I thought were settled!
Deanna: I thought were done. You know, I’m, I’m, I just turned fifty-five, and mine is the only generation to have had reproductive freedom from puberty through menopause –
Deanna: – the only generation in American history to have enjoyed that, and that’s bullshit! You know, the fact that women of, and trans men of childbearing age are dying because of the fact that people are putting a premium on the life of a fetus instead of an actual human being that exists and is walking this earth is appalling and horrible. These women and trans men should not be dying in childbirth. That’s not a thing that we should be happening, and when you realize that it happens disproportionately more to Black people than it does to anybody else, that’s also horrifying and should not be happening. And it just, it makes me so rage-y, and it was so incredibly cathartic to be able to kill off the kinds of people who would have been making those policies –
Deanna: – within this book, and to go, You know what, I hope for two seconds you see yourself here and realize you’re making a lot of people angry because you’re doing bad things!
Deanna: Maybe rethink your choices! Maybe rethink your life. They’re not going to, that’s never going to happen, but it provides a catharsis for the people like me who are reading these books.
Deanna: People like you who are reading these books going, You know what? I’m not alone. I’m not the only person who is angered by this; I’m not the only person who’s, you know, kind of devastated by what’s going on. And so, in addition to protesting and donating to causes, we also tend to share these things through our, our entertainment, because –
Deanna: – books, you know, for readers, books are how we process.
Deanna: Whether we’re reading them or writing them, books are how we process, and, you know, when, when things are going really, really well, I, it’s funny because, you know, I, I feel like people who, who read, there’s always an appetite for murder, because if things are going really, really great, you can afford to explore the dark side of things, because you’re not experiencing it in your life. If things are bleak, you want that sometimes because it provides that catharsis!
Deanna: So I feel like murder is always on the table –
Deanna: – as far as reading goes. But in this case it just, it was the, it was the right book at the right time for me –
Deanna: – and it happened to, to really kind of tap into that zeitgeist of women are pissed off, and I don’t think that that’s necessarily, I, I’m not sure genie’s going back in the bottle anytime soon.
Deanna: I think we’re, I think we’re still mad.
Sarah: And part of the catharsis, I think, is that when you’re reading a book or watching a movie or watching a show, that is going to be a completed narrative that may echo the narrative that you’re in the middle of, but you don’t know how your narrative is going to end, and here’s one possible ending to experience the completed story in a way that is going to be hopeful or satisfying, even if that means that all the shitty people end up dead in terribly disgusting, wonderful ways.
Deanna: But you know, that’s why people love genre fiction –
Deanna: – and that’s why genre fiction will always endure is because if you’re picking up a fantasy novel, you know you’re going on some great big, sweeping adventure.
Deanna: If you pick up romance, you know you’re getting Happily Ever After, Happily For Now.
Deanna: If you pick up a mystery or a thriller, you know that justice is being pursued.
Deanna: And I, you know, one of the things that I, I have always made very, very clear throughout all of my books, both of the series that I’ve written and in, in Killers of a Certain Age, I do not believe that justice and the law are the same thing.
Deanna: And none of my characters do.
Deanna: That justice and the law are sometimes very, very different. When they are congruent is when all is right with the world.
Deanna: But sometimes, many times, too many times, they are not the same.
Deanna: And my characters are always looking for a way to kind of help that arc of justice bend correctly.
So what books are you reading right now that you want to tell people about?
Deanna: I am absolutely in love with anything by Jesse Q. Sutanto. I love her. So much. And she is doing her first, I think it’s her first thriller, I’m Not Done with You Yet. I just got my hands on an ARC, so I’m stupidly excited to start this book, and I just finished her Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, which was so much fun. She first kind of came on my radar with the Dial A for Aunties and Four Aunties and a Wedding, which I thought were just so fun! If you want to talk about somebody who makes murder fun –
Deanna: – like, Jesse is, Jesse is your girl. And then I was lucky enough, I went to ThrillerFest in New York in June and was lucky enough to meet her, and she is every bit as funny and enchanting and awesome as you would hope that she is, and so I, I just will, you know, holler her books to the heavens.
And then in my monthly newsletters I always, you know, shout out what I’m, what I’m reading or what I’m looking forward to that I just threw into my To Be Read stacks, so there are always a couple book recommendations in there –
Deanna: – for folks. Yeah!
What about you? What are you reading?
Sarah: Well, let’s see: I read How to Kill Men and Get Away With It, which does what it says on the tin, and prior to that I read A Sinister Revenge, An Impossible Imposter, An Unexpected Peril, A Murderous Relation –
Sarah: – A Dangerous Collaboration, A Treacherous Curse, A Sinister Revenge, A Perilous Undertaking, and A Curious Beginning. You might have heard of them.
Deanna: Might have!
Sarah: And I’m currently reading Role Playing by Cathy Yardley. This is a book about a forty-eight-year-old woman whose coll-, whose son goes to college, and they’re both very introverted, and she’s divorced, and her son and she make a sort of agreement that they will go out and do things socially. So she ends up, through a friend of his, in an online gaming guild with a –
Deanna: Oh my God!
Sarah: And she plays as bog witch, and she meets up with a healer named Otter. She thinks he’s eighteen because she was connected through her son’s friends, and he found about her through his mother, so he thinks that she’s eighty. But they’re actually about the same age, and they’re both –
Deanna: Oh my God.
Sarah: – in a position to sort of start their lives over, but they have to get past the part where she thinks he’s a teenager and he thinks she’s a, like an octogenarian. But most of it –
Deanna: Oh my God.
Sarah: – is, it’s very, very much introverted Gen X characters being extremely introverted and Gen X?
Sarah: And I, I was like, I didn’t know this was a particular flavor that I needed, but I really needed this flavor. [Laughs]
Deanna: I love everything about that; that sounds awesome.
Sarah: I did an interview with, with Cathy for the podcast, and I explained the book in the intro, and I said, I know so many people just hit Pause to go find this book, and that’s fine! Welcome back!
Sarah: And then the next thing –
Deanna: Well, because I, you know, that’s another, that’s another thing too! Is because I think Gen Xers, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re in our fifties!
Deanna: People, we, we still have this hangover of an idea of people in their fifties looking a certain way or behaving a certain way –
Deanna: – and most of us I know are still walking around in T-shirts and Converse.
Deanna: We’re a different breed of –
Deanna: – middle-aged person, I think, than has ever come along before, possibly. I put it down to the fact that we had amazing music when we were teenagers?
Sarah: Oh, that’s so right. So true!
Deanna: Our music slapped. Those kids today – shaking my tiny fist – have no idea what they missed. I mean, I remember, I was telling my daughter because she went to a music festival, she’s going to be twenty-eight this year, and she went to a music festival several weeks ago, and she was like, Oh, Weezer was great! Weezer played! I was like, Yeah, that’s literally what I used to play for you when I was feeding you at the 2 a.m. feedings.
Deanna: It was – you know, and, and I realized too, I told her that the album – you know how everybody plays Mozart to their kids –
Deanna: – in utero? I played Green Day’s Dookie.
Deanna: I mean, that was the album that was on repeat the whole time I was gestating this child.
Deanna: And so I, we’re just, we’re, we’re a different group; we really are.
Sarah: My –
Deanna: And I love the fact that everybody ignores us.
Sarah: Oh yeah; that part’s the greatest. Like, please –
Deanna: It is the best.
Sarah: – just do not even look. My older son –
Deanna: Just don’t engage with us.
Sarah: – is very wide in his musical interests, but the other day he’s like, Mom! Have you ever heard of A Tribe Called Quest? And I was like –
Sarah: – My, my child. Please put on the kitchen stereo.
Sarah: I will tell you all – he’s like, I – he was not prepared for the depth of my knowledge about this particular area that he had just discovered. I’m like, Oh, oh no. [Laughs]
Deanna: You know, my, my husband and I, like, decided very early on that if we did not make of this child a, a, a fan of, on my end, like, Stevie Nicks –
Deanna: – and on his – and Van Halen – and on his end Queen and The Beatles –
Deanna: – like, then we, we had failed –
Deanna: – as parents, and so to this day I, I think her go-to karaoke song is something Beatles, and she walked down the aisle to, to, to a Fleetwood Mac song, so I feel like we have –
Sarah: Oh, fabulous!
Deanna: Yeah, she had, they had two different ceremonies, and one of them she walked down to “You Make Loving Fun,” which I thought was adorable, and the other one –
Sarah: That’s so precious!
Deanna: – we walked her down to “Burn the Witch,” which is on the Peaky Blinders soundtrack. [Laughs]
Sarah: Nice! Well, one of my older child’s favorite songs that he listens to at bedtime, that he finds deeply relaxing and very soothing, is a song that my husband used to sing to him when he was like a swaddled little newborn infant, and so now “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen is a lullaby in my house.
Deanna: Same. I’m telling you, we are a different breed of parent.
Sarah: We are a very different breed.
Deanna: We are a different breed of parent! I love, I love that!
Sarah: So where can people find you if you wish to be found?
Deanna: They can find me at deannaraybourn.com. I am on Instagram; I am on Twitter; I am on Bluesky.
Sarah: I, I know you’re on Bluesky! I saw you there! [Laughs]
Deanna: I know! I was so glad when you showed up; I was like, Yes! Sarah’s on Bluesky! Yeah, it’s still in beta testing and we’ll see how it goes. They, they are – you know, fingers crossed, man. We’ve tried so many other platforms while Twitter is circling the drain. [Laughs]
I, I do persist over at Twitter because I, I, I have built a following of, of folks that I absolutely adore. I am trying to up my Instagram game. I was in Venice last month, and I actually managed to post a Reel! I made a Reel, Sarah –
Deanna: – and posted it, so yeah. So I am, I’m trying to up my Instagram game.
Sarah: We’re so cool.
Sarah: Thank you so much for doing this interview. This has been an absolute delight. I really appreciate it.
Deanna: Ohhh, it is always a joy to talk to you, Sarah. It is, it is always the best. So thanks for having me, my dear, and Killers of a Certain Age will be out in paperback August 15th!
Sarah: August 15th; I will make a note, so I –
Deanna: I’m on tour! I’m on tour! I may be at a city near you!
Sarah: Oooh! For the paperback; how awesome!
Deanna: [Laughs] Yes! I will be in the greater LA, DC, Detroit, and San Francisco areas. The tour card will be going up soon, so folks will figure out where they can, where they can see me, or just, you know, order a book from your favorite local retailer.
Sarah: Heck yeah!
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you to Deanna Raybourn for hanging out with me. I will have links to all of the books she mentioned and the different gardens she mentioned, like the Alnwick Poison Garden, in the show notes, and I bet you know where that is: smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast, episode number 577! That’s a really big number. Whoof!
As always, I end each episode with a terrible joke, and this joke comes from Malaraa. Thank you, Malaraa.
What dessert does a T-rex order?
Give up? What dessert a T-rex order?
[Laughs] So bad, I love it!
Thank you, as always, for listening. It is really an honor to keep you company, and we hope you have a wonderful, wonderful weekend. We will see you back here next week.
[Click] That is Kate. She is demanding attention by attempting to lower my chair by pressing on the little lever underneath it. The cats are demonic, I tell you.
On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. We will see you back here next week, including Kate, who’s going to review this podcast as Not enough pets and I wish to murder you. She will really like this episode, actually.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
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