Irv Sternberg is a former journalist and public relations practitioner. He’s published 10 novels and three nonfiction books. A native of New Jersey, Irv has lived in Colorado since 1969.
Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
My book, “The Mervin Gardens Murders,” was inspired by my friends and neighbors at a senior living complex in east Denver. Using some of them as characters (well-disguised), my book is the fifth in a series of Izzy Brand mysteries, featuring an aging standup comic and amateur sleuth.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
When a frantic friend calls to report the sudden death of her boyfriend, Izzy launches an investigation, leading to the pursuit of a serial killer who has been preying on the elderly at Mervin Gardens. He’s assisted by Anita Bender, his devoted companion and clinical psychologist, and good friend Carlos Collins, a Denver detective.
The cast also includes residents who range from a fit, bikini-clad lady in her 60s to several quite large men and women in their 70s and 80s. Some require walkers or are confined to wheelchairs. I tested my repertoire of standup jokes with this group before inserting them in Izzy’s routines at a Denver comedy club.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
The excerpt is typical of the interviews Izzy conducts in pursuit of the killer. Lacking physical evidence, he is focusing on motive and opportunity and hopes the killer will reveal himself in the interviews. I selected this scene because I was enamored with the characters.
Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book?
Living in a senior housing complex, I’m aware that an ambulance sometimes means a neighbor has died. When contemplating the frequency, I pondered the possibility of death by homicide rather than by natural causes.
This led to speculation about a serial killer, and how my neighbors might fit into this scenario. Is there a motive? Are they capable? How would they do it? This led to extensive research about serial killers and poisoning as the method.
Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
Sometimes, a character would push back. “Don’t make me do that,” she would say. “I wouldn’t say or do such a thing.” I often rewrote the scene.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Keeping the action flowing and the dialogue engaging with characters who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Surprises: I was delighted to see that my neighbors enjoyed a healthy sense of humor, a bit of raunchiness, and were entertained by off-beat material not usually associated with the elderly.
Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
Readers appreciated the research about serial killers and the methods they used.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
As a morning person, I start early and try to write at least four pages a day. With the pandemic, I had fewer distractions and often wrote five or six hours a day.
I use a standard PC with an old Windows 7 system (so far no problems.) I work in a second bedroom converted to a cluttered study. (My cleaning lady is allowed to dust only because I don’t want her moving things; that would really confuse me.)
Tell us about your next project.
As a Bible class moderator for several years, I’m inspired to write a book for young readers about the good and bad women of the Bible. It’s been done before, but I hope I can find a whimsical way to tell their stories.