re: THE DOCTOR ROCKS THE BOAT - March ‘06
Q: How did you get interested in rowing?
A: For years I’ve admired the scullers on the Schuylkill. There’s something mesmerizing about a shell gliding across the water, the rhythm of the rower’s stroke... And I’ve always loved that painting Max Schmitt by Thomas Eakins.
Q: How did you come to associate such a peaceful sport with murder?
A: Ha! A mystery writer associates everything with murder. The more peaceful the more horrifying it is when violence strikes. Mary Higgins Clark explained this. She said that it is much more terrifying to have someone attacked in their safe, cozy carport than in a dirty dark alley--because of the surprise element. You expect something bad to happen in a dark alley, but not in your own backyard
Q: Did you ever row yourself?
A: No, unfortunately. But my husband did and I borrowed some of his experiences for the book.
Q: What, for example?
A: Well, the meeting with Jack Kelly, Jr., for instance. In the book, it is Fenimore’s father who runs into Jack. But in real life, it was my husband. He was actually greeted by Kelly at the Vesper Club and invited to row for a nominal fee while he was a resident at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Q: And did he see Grace, too?
A: Yep. And he was just as stunned by her beauty as Dr. Fenimore, Sr.
Q: Do you often incorporate real incidents in your novels?
A: Yes, but they are usually transformed by the time I’m finished with them and bear little resemblance to the original incident. The Kelly case was an exception. It happened pretty much the way I described it.
Q: In your book, Boathouse Row is threatened by developers. Has this ever happened in real life?
A: Not to my knowledge. And I hope it never does. Rowing is a wonderful tradition in Philadelphia that goes back to the 1860s. Every weekend in the spring the Kelly Drive comes alive with rowers from schools and colleges around the country. They compete in regattas, and the banks of the Schuylkill are lined with spectators. The cherry blossoms are in bloom, bikers, joggers and Rollerbladers are all out in full force. It is a great time of year.
Q: When was Boathouse Row first illuminated?
A: Gosh, I don’t know. I’ll have to look that up. But it has been that way for sometime. Whoever thought of it was a genius. It’s one of the loveliest sights in the city.
Q: Did you do a lot of research for this book?
A: Oh, yes. When I start a book I always find a large carton for the research. Books, newspaper and magazine clippings, internet printouts, videos, my notes--they all go in the box. By the time I’m ready to write, it is overflowing. The sad thing is, so much of that material has to be left out. You can’t weigh a mystery down with too much historical detail (unless it’s an historical mystery) and I hate to throw out all that interesting stuff. So those boxes sit around for months--even years--until my husband trips over them once too often and he reads me the riot act!
Q: What is your next Fenimore going to be about?
A: Good question. I have a couple of other books I want to finish first. The third Jo Banks mystery, and a stand-alone spy story set during World War II on the Jersey coast. But I think the next Fenimore will probably be about the zoo...or maybe the mummers. Then again--there are those mystics who lived in caves on the Wissahickon...The trouble with Philadelphia is, there’s too much to write about!
©2006 Robin Hathaway