She is the author of what Publishers Weekly called an "impressive debut collection" of mystery fiction, Promises Made and Broken.
Friends of the Private Eye Writers of America know her for her work with that organization. And beyond all that, she writes sometimes under her real name, Marthayn Pelegrimas. A first-rate storyteller by any name.
Upon publication of Promises Made and Broken, Perfect Crime Books ventured a few questions, and here are Christine Matthews’s answers:
Q.: The first several stories in this collection are about a private eye—but she doesn’t bear much resemblance to Kinsey Milhone or V. I. Warshawski. Can you tell us where Robbie came from?
A.: I’d been writing short fiction for years, mostly in the horror genre. When I was asked to try my hand at a PI story I said, “Thanks for asking, but no thanks.” The only PI I was familiar with was Jim Rockford. But I was going through a strange time in my life and as they say, “write what you know.” So I tried figuring out how to incorporate real life in PI fiction and sat down to watch Donahue. The topic that day was “Strange Occupations.” On the panel was an attractive woman who happened to be a PI. I took it as a sign and started to write “Gentle Insanities.” A lot of the dialogue is word-for-word true. And so Roberta Stanton was born.
Q.: Robbie has more than a little in common with many of your characters. They seldom seem to achieve redemption. Is it unfair to say they’re maimed?
A.: To say my characters are maimed is perfect. But then, aren’t we all? No one can get through this life free of pain or heartache. All my stories are portraits (in part) taken from my life or people I’ve known. I’ve been told I ask too many questions and some people are put off by that. But I hope it shows I’m interested. If you take the time to get past all the cheery “have a nice day” crap, the real stuff comes out.
Q.: The settings around Omaha ring true. First-hand observation?
A.: Yes, I lived in Omaha for 13 years. I love it there. I’m originally from Chicago, lived a few years in St. Louis but back to Chicago. My son was ready to start school and we (my ex-husband and I) were looking to buy a house. We couldn’t afford what we wanted and those we could afford were in bad school districts. Then a job opportunity came up and we went to check out Nebraska. My friends told us to have a good life in Colorado. None of us knew where Omaha was then. But it’s a great city and has everything, on a smaller scale, that any large city has.
Q.: While a number of these stories have been published before, could you tell us something about the ones that appear here for the first time?
A.: There are two new ones here: “Sisterly Love” and “Grandmother’s Village.” The first one came about from my own relationship with my sister, which is up and down. I thought about how differently we would react to a family tragedy. One of us would retreat, the other would bulldoze for a resolution. And would that situation bring us closer or push us further apart? The second, “Grandmoher’s Village,” was first written as a horror story. My brother-in-law, an archeologist, had been on a dig where strange things were happening. He told me this story and I thought it was creepy. It never got published and ended up in a drawer. Years later I was asked to write a story for a Native American mystery anthology. I dug it out and re-wrote. Strike two—it didn’t get published there either. But I like this story very much and was anxious to get it out of its drawer.
Q.: It’s not a tightly kept secret that Christine Matthews is a pseudonym for your mystery writing. You also write as Marthayn Pelegrimas. What does Pelegrimas do that Matthews doesn’t—or vice versa?
A.: My real name is Marthayn Pelegrimas and I started my career writing freelance articles, poetry and horror. I’d planned to keep my fiction in that genre until I was asked to write mysteries. Then I moved in with another writer, Bob Randisi. Editing as many anthologies as he does, there’s usually a spot needing to be filled. One time it’s a mystery, then a western, then something erotic—I love the challenge. But I always wanted to keep my real name for my first love—horror. Enter my son, Marcus Pelegrimas. A very talented writer who has had great success with urban fantasy. He’s written western series, under Marcus Galloway, so he can keep Pelegrimas for horror. It got confusing having two M. Pelegrimases out there. And since he was born with the name and I married into it, he won. I now will have the Matthews name on everything I write.
Q.: You are well known for short stories. Are there novels we should know about?
A.: I’ve written three novels with Bob Randisi: Murder Is the Deal of the Day, The Masks of Auntie Laveau, and Same Time, Same Murder . They’re about a married couple, Claire and Gil Hunt. She’s a home shopping host and he owns a bookstore. And I wrote one on my own, On the Strength of Wings. It’s about an independent woman who travels west (against her wishes) and becomes strong in spite of herself. It’s been re-released by Crossroads Press and is doing really well.
Q.: It's been some time since we last talked. What have you been up to?
A.: I've finished Beating the Bushes, a thriller I'd been working on for a few years. It's about two fathers who each lose a son and how they bond over the years. I also did a mystery called, Sapphires Are Forever, about a jewelry maker. I was asked to do two books under the pseudonym "Emily Barnes," The Art of Murder and Death in the Abstract for Crooked Lane Books. My most recent book is Two Shades of Crazy, which was out last year.