Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Nev March

Nev March is the recent winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Award for Best First Crime Fiction.

After a long career in business analysis, in 2015 she returned to her passion, writing fiction and now teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute. A Parsee Zoroastrian herself, she lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My novel Murder in Old Bombay is based on a real tragedy. It was first titled The Rajabai Tower Mystery when it won MWA’s award and chosen for publication. However, my publisher and I discussed that “Raja-bai” is unfamiliar, even alien to people in the States and could put off readers. (Search Rajabai Tower Tragedy to find articles about the original events.) “Old Bombay” gives an impression of the Colonial era, so that works well for a historical mystery set during the British Raj.

What's in a name?

My protagonist Captain Jim Agnihotri’s very name is his burden, and central to the plot. It reflects his mixed parentage; James is an English name while Agnihotri is a Hindu Brahmin (high caste) name. He’s Anglo-Indian. “Anglo-Indian” was a term which originally meant British people settled in India. In the 1700s, Englishmen often took Indian wives and mistresses. Later however, the children of such unions were disapproved of by Englishmen as well as Indians, and were treated as outcasts. So yes, names matter. Another key character is feisty Diana. That’s a western name, reflecting her outspoken nature. The Parsi community did well under British rule so they adopted many western names, including Diana, Amy, Jenny etc. In memory of the original victims Bacha and Pilloo, I’ve retained their first names in the story.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

That’s such a strange thing, I don’t think teen Nev would be surprised at all! I had written short stories from a male perspective even as a teen. My first short-story to be accepted in 1990 by a children’s magazine was a spooky adventure story for boys called “Must There be Crying?” I’d read war stories, western novels and classics even as a child. I’m now impressed that my parents allowed us kids to read these regardless of gender.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

My beginnings fuel my story. All through the narrative, the ending beckons, urging me on. I hold off writing it as a reward for getting through some twisty bits. I usually have a strong idea of the ending, but I’ll admit that I alter it more.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart? What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My observations and memories of small moments of life—those linger, germinate and influence my writing. The child waif in my tale, Chutki, comes from an incident decades ago. While waiting in line for a bus, I glimpsed a young mother (a baby in her lap) begging in front of Bandra Train Station. We didn’t even speak, but the look in her eyes when our gaze met--it has never left me. It’s curious how writing pulls these moments from my subconscious! Truly, we write to discover what we think.
Visit Nev March's website.

--Marshal Zeringue