Slashing Mona Lisa
by D.M. Barr
Genre: Mystery, Romantic Suspense
Most people are dying to lose a few pounds. Not so in Slashing Mona Lisa, where it's the weight-loss advocates who are losing their lives.
Whenever Terry Mangel's body acceptance revival meeting rolls into town, local diet execs and "fat shamers" turn up dead, often in grotesque, ironic ways. All single murders in small suburbs, no one's noticed the pattern…until now.
Rookie journalist Camarin Torres is a crusader against discrimination, partially to assuage the guilt she feels over the suicide of her obese, bullied twin sister. She reluctantly accepts a job offered by handsome publisher Lyle Fletcher, a widower with a vendetta, who sees Torres as salvation for Trend, his fledgling fashion magazine. Torres, however, detests everything the publication stands for, and joins solely to transform its judgmental, objectifying content.
As an unexpected romance blossoms, the overconfident, justice-hungry reporter defies orders and infiltrates Mangel's world—only to find herself in the crosshairs of a vigilante group targeting the sixty-billion-dollar diet industry. Unmasking the killer may save her life but shatter her heart: every clue seems to implicate Fletcher, her mercurial mentor and lover, as the group's mastermind.
With a sassy, snarky voice and multi-cultural overtones, Sashing Mona Lisa explores body shaming and its victims: the disenfranchised who don't conform to society's arbitrary norms, and the lengths they will go to for love and acceptance.
Content Warning: contains some strong language, violence, and explicit sexual scenes
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Fletcher shook his head and laughed.
"Camarin, you strike me as a persistent young lady, and it's clear you're not easily dissuaded. Hans Wynan must approve all copy decisions. Do you honestly think you can investigate this subtly, without letting him know you're not giving him a hundred percent of your attention?"
"Okay, let's keep this just between us for now. I'd like you to work up a preliminary outline of the story you propose. Get it to me by Friday?"
Camarin smiled her first big smile of the day. Inside, she was performing mental cartwheels. "I'd be delighted to, Mr. Fletcher."
"Camarin, I do have one problem with you."
"You do?" Her high-flying elation took a sudden nosedive.
"Yes, and I'm only going to say this once. Please call me Lyle."
She took a deep breath. "Lyle…it just doesn't feel right. You're my boss, and in the Chamorro culture, we pay profound respect to—"
She was about to apologize, to tell him that she was referring to supervisors, when she caught the evil glimmer in his eyes and realized he was just kidding with her. Emboldened by her big win of the day, she ignored her dead sister Monaeka's voice telling her to play it safe, that a handsome man of stature would never be interested in a girl like her, and instead her impulsive streak took over. She decided to take a gamble.
"If I was indicating you were elderly, you'd definitely know it," she countered, echoing the line he'd used the day they'd met.
"Oh, how so?"
"You really want to know?"
She stood up, silently begging her knees not to buckle underneath her, and shot a look backward to ensure the door was closed. Then she walked around the desk until she was standing at Fletcher's side.
"Give me your hand."
Fletcher held out his right arm. Locking her gaze with his, Camarin grasped his palm, bowed her head slightly, lifted the back of his hand to her nose and sniffed deeply. The sweet-soapy-musky tones of Tabac romanced her olfactory glands, reminding her of summers spent at Macy's, selling men's fragrances.
"This custom is called nginge'," she explained. "Elders are considered manåmko', and those who are considered to hold wisdom are called mañaina. When we sniff the back of your hand, it is our way of taking in the essence of your spirit while expressing respect and honor."
"Really? Hmmm," he said softly, the words smooth as lip gloss, his eyes never wavering from her. The heat emanating from their clasped hands hinted at secrets yet unspoken.
"Yes. And I would curtsy slightly, like this, and since you are a man—"
"I am indeed a man," he murmured.
Camarin felt herself blushing but persevered. "Since you are a man, I would say ñot, and you would say—" She felt him squeeze her hand as they continued their unbroken stare.
"I would say…"
She paused, lightheaded, the air suddenly as thin as atop Mt. Baldy back home. "You would say dioste ayudi, which means—"
At that moment, there was a loud knock on the door. Startled, Camarin pulled away just as Hans barged inside.
"Lyle, I need your approval on the Have You Heard? seg—oh, Camarin, I didn't realize you were in here."
"I-I was just leaving." She grabbed at her pad and pen but hit the edge of the ballpoint instead, sending it careening through the air and crash-landing in a corner by the window. Klutz! "Thanks again, Mr.…L-Lyle," she stammered and practically slammed into Wynan as she made a beeline for the door.
Once outside, she leaned against the wall, trying to ignore Monaeka's laughter at her failed attempt at flirtation, her heart pounding as loud and fast as a native drumbeat.
"Pitch giving you trouble, Cam?" asked Rachel as she passed, her hands filled with office supplies.
"Excuse me?" she answered, still disoriented from whatever that was.
"Pitch and toss. Boss."
"Oh, no, nothing like that. I was just—" Camarin's cellphone started vibrating, interrupting her thought. She pulled it from her pocket and, hand quivering, put it up to her ear. "Yes?"
"You were saying, which means…"
Her knees grew weak again. Fletcher had her private number?
Camarin turned away from Rachel and whispered into the phone, "Which means God help you."
"Ah. Well, considering our upcoming plans to turn this magazine around, I'd say, He'd better help us both."
By day, a mild-mannered salesperson, wife, mother, rescuer of senior shelter dogs, competitive trivia player and author groupie, happily living just north of New York City. By night, an author of sex, suspense and satire.
My background includes stints in travel marketing, travel journalism, meeting planning, public relations and real estate. I was, for a long and happy time, an award-winning magazine writer and editor. Then kids happened. And I needed to actually make money. Now they're off doing whatever it is they do (of which I have no idea since they won't friend me on Facebook) and I can spend my spare time weaving tales of debauchery and whatever else tickles my fancy.
The main thing to remember about my work is that I am NOT one of my characters. For example, as a real estate broker, I've never played Bondage Bingo in one of my empty listings or offed anyone at my local diet clinic.
But that's not to say I haven't wanted to...
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I noticed that two different camps target those who feel they are overweight. One camp is the traditional weight loss industry but the other is the group of “experts” telling the overweight they’re fine just the way they are—as long as they pay thousands to read books and attend seminars that reinforce this fact. It seems that hope and validation are the most expensive items for sale. That’s the premise of Slashing Mona Lisa.
Where did the title “Slashing Mona Lisa” come from?
In my twenties, I was skinny (I always have gone up and down in weight) and was dating a Scotsman in the travel industry. I warned him that I had a tendency to gain weight. He responded, “Don’t do that, it would be like slashing the Mona Lisa.” I broke up with him shortly afterwards.. One of the characters in this novel repeats that line verbatim and it encapsulates my feelings about how some people sum up a person’s entire worth by numbers on the scale.
Have you suffered any of the weight angst that your characters experience in the book?
I’ve traveled the road between size 2 and size 16 many times in my life and I’ve known men who were kind and friendly to me when skinny and avoided me like the plague when I gained weight. I think a lot of the angst is self-inflicted however, thanks to a mother who in many ways, was like Ana in the book, very concerned about a daughter’s weight over everything else. I have tried very hard not to repeat that mistake with my children.
Are there similarities between the characters in this book and your last novel?
I am noticing some recurrent themes in my books, so novel writing has become an affordable form of psychoanalysis! My books always seem to have a girl tied to a bed, though the reasons are very different in each book. They also have complicated mother-daughter relationships. Both books have LGBTQ characters but Slashing Mona Lisa is far more multi-cultural. And I think both novels reflect my past—in Expired Listings, my life as a Realtor and my friendships with people in the BDSM scene and in Slashing Mona Lisa, my feelings as a yoyo dieter, my friends in the world of dueling piano bars and my fascination with Cockney rhyming slang.
Why is your main character Chamorro in Slashing Mona Lisa?
I needed a heroine whose family had roots in tribal religions, who might believe that an epileptic or overweight person could be possessed by the devil. The exorcism scene was key to the storyline. But there is a lot of multi-culturalism in Slashing Mona Lisa—Chamorro, British, Jamaican, African-American, Asian as well as characters from the LGBQT community. It’s a true reflection of living in NYC.
How long does it take for you to write a book?
Anywhere from one month to ten years! Not to sound glib but my first book actually took ten years, on and off. With this one, I signed up for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, in November 2017, and pledged to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I ended up writing 65,000 which I added to the 9,000 I started with. During the editing phase, it grew to 86,000+. That daily discipline worked wonders!
Do you know the ending before writing your books?
When I started this book, I had three different potential storylines, each with a different killer. The ending that made the cut was a compromise between two of those storylines. I can’t say more without revealing too much except to say that romances and side plots often develop as I write. I have no control over what my characters do or their sometimes-crude language. I apologize on their behalf.
What's next for you?
My next novel will be more of a contemporary romance unless I manage to stick in a murder or two. Since I try to explore issues in my books, this one will tackle elder abuse.
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