A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Building a Mystery

By Colleen Kearney Rich on March 1, 2018

This fall Mason English professor and novelist Laura Ellen Scott, MFA ’93, saw the release of the second book, Crybaby Lane (Pandamoon Publishing, 2017) in her New Royal Mysteries trilogy. The books revolve around a university and its crime writing program in the fictional Ohio town of New Royal.

When did you realize/decide you were a mystery writer?

Laura Ellen Scott

I asked [English Department professor and colleague] Art Taylor to read a long story I’d written called “Murder Dog.” He gave me tips and edits on the draft, and I asked him, “But is it a mystery?” He said sure, and I never looked back. That story became the beginning of The Mean Bone in Her Body.

What was the inspiration behind the trilogy?

The night I finished reading Stephen Dobyn’s The Church of Dead Girls, I dreamed the opening and voice of Mean Bone, and set it in Ohio, where I’m from. My memories are full of colleges, prisons, and mental hospitals, so I came up with the town of New Royal, Ohio, where all those industries have overlapping interests—like the Crime Writing program, which I started writing about when we were building the BFA in Creative Writing here. New Royal is mash-up of the Ohio towns Kent, Athens, and Chillicothe.

You’ve worked at Mason for a long time. Are there any traces of Mason in your work?

Ha! Mostly in the characters, and I’ll let the readers figure those out. Mason isn’t old enough to have a lot of crumbling, gothic spaces to write about, but I was thinking of Masonvale when I wrote about New Royal University’s little village of bachelor professors.

You have some unusual characters in the trilogy. Which of your characters would you most like to hang out with? 

I think I’m the only person who likes Dr. Murgatroyd, the icy, amoral professor at the center of Mean Bone. I’m sure she has a lot more secrets to reveal. Everyone else prefers Crocus, the punk ex-con with anger issues, who takes over in Crybaby Lane.

What scares you or keeps you up at night?

Scares me: Colonial days and horses.

Keeps me up at night: imaginary arguments.

How’s the third book going?

My last three books came out nine months apart, so I’d like to take a break, but I’m definitely in the idea phase. The repercussions of Crybaby‘s ending suggest a starting point for the next book, but the heart of it will be how an unsolved murder from the 1980s left its mark on Professor Alma Bell, now a memoirist in New Royal University’s Crime Writing program. I left a little clue about her past in Crybaby, and if anyone finds it, I’m happy to spill the beans.

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