Frost Forest on my Window

Frost_on_windowFrost forest
On my window
Snowflake trees on
Icy slopes

(fleeting, passing)

Soon will sun
Melt
My frost forest
Spring is on her way
***

Writing, editing, and winter ailments have kept me from the blog,
BUT
After multiple revisions, my latest novel is ready for show time.
A big editing job is finally done.
My energy level is up.
I’m ready for Spring!

Gargoyles: Mischievous Monsters for over a Millennia

I’m pleased to welcome fellow Sister in Crime Gigi Pandian as today’s guest on the blog. Gigi and I share a fascination with gargoyles, the subject of her post, and Gigi’s latest mystery, The Accidental Alchemist, features a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician. Take it away, Gigi!

Gigi-Pandian-with-Notre-Dame-gargoyle-web-text

I’ve always been fascinated by gargoyles, so when I began writing a paranormal mystery about an alchemist, the gargoyle character ended up taking over the story!

I’m not alone. Gargoyles have fascinated people for millennia. Though they were most popular during the medieval era in Europe, the first known use of gargoyles was in ancient Egypt.

Nobody has the definitive answer as to why drainage pipes were anthropomorphized as gargoyles, but many different forces contributed to their rise in popularity. Gargoyles reached the height of popularity in 13th century Europe. Since they look like tormented souls, and were often used on cathedrals in medieval Europe, one common theory is that gargoyles symbolize trapped souls, showing people they would be safe once they entered the interior sanctuary of the church.

Within this theory, it’s up for debate whether or not those tormented gargoyles were trapped human souls, fierce guardians warding off the devil, or creatures ready to harm people who didn’t attend church. As with much religious interpretation in the Middle Ages, it’s likely that all of these interpretations were used. After all, most people were illiterate, so different ideas spread in different areas.

But what was the intent of the stone carvers themselves? Gargoyles provided an outlet where they could let loose with their creativity.

Historian Janetta Rebold Benton speculates that gargoyles have always fascinated people because we’re naturally drawn to the mysterious and the macabre. “The modern horror movie,” she says, “like the medieval gargoyle, pretends to threaten us but does no harm.” And yes, I do read books about gargoyles by historians!

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Technically, a gargoyle is a water spout used for draining rainwater away from a building. But over time, the term has come to be used more broadly, applying to ornamental grotesques perched on buildings. And today, many of these modern “gargoyles” are have a much more benevolent appearance. The gargoyles of Notre Dame in Paris are even said to keep watch for anyone drowning in the Seine.

Notre-Dame-2013-by-Gigi-Pandian-webres1-Gargoyle-Girl-website

Architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc was the man who created the gallery of gargoyles at Notre Dame, during the cathedral’s restoration in the 1800s. Those famous gargoyles are a “new” addition to the old cathedral.

I love to use real history in my novels, so in The Accidental Alchemist, I created Dorian the gargoyle using the real history of Notre Dame. Both Viollet-le-Duc and famous stage magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin are important figures in the Accidental Alchemist series.

Viollet-le-Duc-book-w-Accidental-Alchemist-book-instagram-Dec-2014-web-text

The Accidental Alchemist is the first in a series, so there’s plenty more fun with gargoyles to come.

In The Accidental Alchemist: Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle—not to mention a master of French cuisine—and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text.

“Pandian launches a supernatural cozy series that hits high marks for a modern twist on an ancient practice.”Library Journal

Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and the forthcoming Quicksand) and the new Accidental Alchemist mysteries. Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Find Gigi online at www.gigipandian.com, connect with her on Facebook (facebook.com/GigiPandian) and Twitter (@GigiPandian), and check out her gargoyle photography on the Gargoyle Girl Blog at http://www.gargoylegirl.com/.

Accidental-Alchemist-Gigi-Pandian-cover-w-text-WEB-medium

Favorite Books from 2014

This past year introduced me to some outstanding books by authors new to me as well as great reads from authors who are already favorites. Here they are, more or less in the order read:

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery Coming in 2014

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery
Coming in 2014

Shaman’s Blues (published February, 2014) and Snake Face (published November, 2014) are the second and third novels in Amber Foxx‘s Mae Martin series. Great books that are impossible to classify, having elements of mystery, romance, and women’s fiction. Mae, the series character, is a psychic, but the books will appeal even to readers who aren’t big fans of the paranormal in fiction. Mae is a very real, very grounded character, and her journey makes for compelling page-turners that will keep you surprised. Be sure to start with the very first book in the series, The Calling. For more information, see my interviews with Amber here and here.

the apartmentThe Apartment by Greg Baxter was a find from the local library’s New Book shelf. The unnamed narrator of this book is an American man who has left his desert home in the States because he “wanted to live in a cold city.” The city is never named, but it sounds very much like a place in Eastern Europe or northern Germany.  The author, Greg Baxter, hails from Texas and currently lives in Berlin, but this is a novel, not a memoir. What appealed to me most in this novel was the way in which the small, everyday details of life in this unnamed city are savored and the way the book’s leisurely pace shows an appreciation for the little things that make up life. I loved the European setting and the way the narrator’s past gradually unfolds in the telling.

rhetoric of deathHistorical mysteries are one of my favorite genres, and I found a new favorite series in Judith Rock‘s Charles Le Duc books, which feature an engaging young Jesuit sleuth and are set during the latter years of Louis XIV’s reign, the first, The Rhetoric of Death, taking place in 1686. Charles is an engaging character, the writing just flows, and the setting and plots are always intriguing. Alas, there are only four titles (short-sighted publishers, sigh!), but I was pleased to discover that Ms. Rock is working on further novels, and will certainly keep attuned to her progress. I’ve read the first three so far, all equally excellent, keeping the fourth one in reserve as a special treat. For more information, see my interview with the author here.

What were your favorite books from the past year?

Seasonal Music by Malcolm Dalglish

Years ago I stumbled on the album Hymnody of Earth by Malcolm Dalglish in a bin of holiday CDs in Tower Records (remember Tower?). I was attracted by the title, naturally, and also noticed that most of the lyrics were by Wendell Berry, whose poetry I already knew and loved. That clinched it. I bought the CD and it has become one of my favorite Christmas albums. The Hymnody really should be listened to as a whole, but I hope to give you a little taste here to encourage you to purchase it for yourself. According to the composer’s website, there are two versions/performances of the work available; I have the earlier one from 1991. The later version (1999) has some additional numbers.

The first  piece is an arrangement for two solo singers and guitar; I don’t know if the arrangement is the composer’s or not, but it is lovely and effective and the musicians, Sarah Stevens and Ben Belinski, do a great job. The simplicity of the church setting (Snowmass Chapel) harmonizes nicely with the essential simplicity of the music. The opening verses are in Latin and the two-part voice lines written in the style of early medieval chant. The piece, “Psalm of Solstice,” is Hymnody‘s opening number.

Next, a lovely, very moving performance of “For the Future” (unfortunately the singers and location are not given (I can’t tell if the setting is a church or concert hall).  Here are the lyrics by Wendell Berry (If you follow this blog, you should become acquainted with his work. If anyone is today’s patron saint of trees, it is he!):

Planting trees early in spring,
we make a place for birds to sing
in time to come. How do we know?
They are singing here now.
There is no other guarantee
that singing will ever be.

The next number on our little concert preview is “Great Trees,” performed by AKSARA. It can only be watched on youtube itself, and here is the link. The a cappella women’s group nicely balances out the a cappella men’s group on the number that follows. Lyrics again by Wendell Berry.

The final number, “Paradise,” is also the final piece on Dalglish’s 1991 Hymnody album, in mood a sort of sacred version of “Auld Lang Syne.” Like the opening number, it is written in medieval style. The all-male Cantus soloists present a moving performance:

Direct links to the youtube performances:

Psalm of Solstice, arr. for guitar and solo voices

For the Future

Great Trees

Paradise

Wishing you and yours a peaceful holiday season!

 

Interview with Fir Tree

santa_final_smToday I am presenting an interview of one of my own characters. The Fir Tree first made an appearance several years ago in the short story “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree,” and has been hanging around the corners of my mind ever since, angling for a sequel. Though that remains so far unwritten, I thought I would appease the Tree by inviting it to come to the blog for a seasonal interview. Leave a comment before midnight Dec. 18 EST and you’ll be in the running for a “Saint Nick” giveaway book.

(For reasons that will become apparent, this interview was conducted by a third party.)

SAT: How did you meet your writer?

FT: I was planted by a lovely man named Jack, and lived in their backyard for years and years. But time passes more swiftly for humans than it does for trees; Jack and his wife grew too old to take care of the house and yard. Eventually they sold it to Aunt Nancy and her husband. Aunt Nancy loved to garden and made sure I had plenty of yummy compost and trimmed me every year. But nowadays she stays inside more, writing, she says. Someone needs to tell her to get out and take care of me and the other plants in the yard!

SAT: Did you ever think that your life would end up being put in a story?

FT: No, I didn’t. But after I told Aunt Nancy about my little adventure with Saint Nick, she decided to write it down.

SAT: What are your favorite scenes in the “Saint Nick” story?

FT: It really is MY book. Aunt Nancy just wrote down what I told her and added a beginning and end. I suppose her parts are all right, but the really good stuff is all mine. I think I did an especially good job with the snow scene at the end, when I was worried that the ax murderer would return.

SAT: Did you have any difficulty collaborating with your author, er, scribe?

FT: To give Aunt Nancy credit, no, I didn’t. She was fascinated by the whole thing. But now all she wants to do is stay inside and write. If I’d known that’s what my story would lead to, maybe I would have kept it to myself.

SAT: Have you ever appeared in your writer’s dreams?

FT: I wish. If I did, she’d get off that stupid computer and pay attention to those of us who live in her backyard!

SAT: Do you have any hobbies?

FT: I really enjoy bird watching, and I’m in the perfect spot. There’s a hawk couple who live in the neighborhood, and it’s especially exciting when they drop by. Keeps those loud-mouthed squirrels in line, heh-heh.

SAT: Have you ever wished that you were a human instead of a tree?

FT: Of course not. Humans can be pretty strange, if you don’t mind my saying so. I think it’s much more satisfying being a tree. The other trees and plants in the yard are all friends, and so are the birds and rabbits. The squirrels, now—that’s another matter. They’re the rough element in the yard, if you know what I mean.

SAT: Are you happy with your story?

FT: Oh yes! Fir trees mean Christmas and “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree” is a wonderful Christmas story. But Aunt Nancy can’t take credit for that–most of the story is MINE. My words. My adventure.

SAT: If you could rewrite anything in your book, what would it be?

FT: Aunt Nancy’s beginning. What she calls a “punk haircut” is all her fault for not trimming me soon enough in the summer, and I don’t see why she had to mention it at all. It gives readers the wrong impression.

SAT: Do you like the way the book ended?

FT: I suppose the bit Aunt Nancy wrote at the end was all right, but personally I think it should have ended with my words. Other than that, I have no complaints. What she said was true.

SAT: I hear that you’re interested in a sequel. Any ideas?

FT: Plenty! If she’s going to be inside writing anyway, she might as well write about me.

SAT: Do you prefer paper books or electronic?

FT: A touchy question. Unless the paper is recycled, it comes from TREES. The very thought makes me queasy. Though Aunt Nancy says electronic readers may end up in landfills and that’s bad, too. If it were up to me, the book would be electronic ONLY.ADAMS St Nick No Title copy

SAT: What do you think of the book cover and illustrations?

FT: I have to admit Aunt Nancy had the right idea: she thought the cover should be all about me. And she found a great designer and a great illustrator. I just love my portraits!

SAT: Do you have any secrets that your author doesn’t know about?

FT: <giggle> I’m not telling.

Thank you, Fir Tree! Leave a comment before midnight Dec. 18 for a chance to win your own copy of “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree.”

Ursula K. Le Guin at the National Book Awards

Nancy Adams:

Ursula Le Guin is one of my favorite writers from way back. My favorite work of hers is the novella “Buffalo Gals” and I especially love her short stories. Thanks to Isaac of Ekostories for the original blog posting of this inspirational speech.

Originally posted on Ekostories:

Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality…

…Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable.

So did the divine right of kings.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”

View original 3 more words

Happy Thanksgiving!

cornucopia

Wishing all my readers safe travel and good times with family and friends

as you gather round the harvest table.

Let all Creation Praise

While searching for a link to explain the Blessing of Animals a few weeks ago, I stumbled on a delightful site: http://www.letallcreationpraise.org/home. Let All Creation Praise is an ecumenical Christian group—that is, one that welcomes all denominations—which is focused on raising awareness of environmental issues and the role of Creation in worship. As “praise” goes hand in hand with “thanksgiving,” it seems an appropriate topic for the week before Thanksgiving is celebrated here in the U.S. When I was working full time, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. We live too far from family to mess with travel, so it was basically a very long weekend with to do nothing but eat and rest up (and read!). Like bears preparing to hibernate.

The idea that Creation praises God is not some new “radical” notion in Christianity or Judaism. The Hebrew Psalms contain several examples:

forestPsalm 65:13 “The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.” (King James version) Here we see a sensitivity to nature and to the earth, that even something as lowly as dirt and grass is a fellow creature to be honored and respected; that the earth itself is capable of expressing joy. Both Psalm 96 and a verse in the history recounted in Chronicles talk about trees “singing for joy.” Likewise, the book of the prophet Isaiah speaks of trees “clapping their hands” (Isaiah 55:12 )–one of my favorite passages.

st francisSaint Francis is, of course, the most famous exemplar of Christian love for creation. His Canticle of the Sun expresses the notion that all facets of creation are the brothers of humankind. Legend has it that he preached to the birds and saved (and “reformed”) a wolf whom villagers were about to kill.

William Blake‘s poetry is steeped in both religious spirituality and the natural world. A century later, Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote poetry that expresses deep love and reverence for all creation within a religious context, most notably in “God’s Grandeur.”

In the 20th century, C.S. Lewis, quite possibly the most influential Christian of modern times, wrote in his autobiography Surprised by Joy of the joy and refreshment he found in the natural world. More recently, farmer-poet Wendell Berry‘s novels, essays, and poetry show a Christian worldview where nature and the fruits of the earth are central to the spiritual and moral life.

To return to the group that prompted these musings, on its website “Let All Creation Praise” states: “We seek to serve the whole church by providing resources for Christian worship that promotes love of and care for God’s creation.” The organization “offers resources for congregations to celebrate God’s love for creation, to worship God with creation so as to reconcile and restore our human relationship with the rest of nature, and to foster love and care for God’s whole creation. We also provide resources to celebrate a “season of creation” or “creation time” in the church year.” In a world where human greed threatens to overtax the climate and natural resources of our fragile globe, it is heartening to see this kind of endeavor. Reverence for the earth should not be seen as competition for the reverence of God, but as its natural consequence.

Interview with author Amber Foxx

Amber Foxx 2014Please welcome guest Amber Foxx to this week’s Saints and Trees. Amber writes the mystery series featuring healer and psychic Mae Martin. Amber’s professional training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, as well as her personal experience and travels, bring authenticity to her work. She divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, but Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is HOME.

SAT: Although part of the Mae Martin series, your new release differs from its predecessors in some noticeable ways. For me, the biggest change was the pace. While still character driven, Snake Face reads like a heart-stopping thriller, whereas the first two books, though certainly page turners, didn’t have me figuratively biting my nails throughout. Given the plot premise, the pace and anxiety level had naturally to follow, but I’m curious to know if you were consciously aware of that when you were writing.

AF: I like to vary the genre blend, and change the mood and the pace from book to book. If I’m going to be realistic with a series that’s not about murder or law enforcement, my protagonist’s life is going to vary that way. Each book will have a different feel. The Calling is more of a “paranormal realism” novel, with the mystery secondary to the development of Mae’s gift and her personal struggles in her family and her town. It’s been reviewed as literary fiction—with some disagreement also—but the pace is more like a literary novel than a conventional mystery. In Shaman’s Blues the mystery of Jamie’s layers of secrets is as important Muffie’s disappearance. I thought of it as an un-romance, with that genre turned upside down in many ways, as well as a mystery. As far as intending to write a nail-biter for the third book, I was very much aware that Snake Face was a departure from the previous books. I knew it would be as soon as I decided to write almost half the chapters in Jamie’s point of view. His emotional life tends to go over the speed limit, so that, as well as the plot, affected the feel of the book.

snake face man littleSAT: You state on your blog that the title, Snake Face, comes from a folk art statue you purchased in New Mexico. Did this statue spark the idea for the book, or did the connection occur to you later?

AF: The book was well along when I found the little snake face man in Mesilla. I have a few Oaxaca nightmare-art figurines, such as the two-headed winged deer that’s briefly mentioned in the book. (It is really evil-looking, but also beautiful.) The snake-face statuette intrigued me. Instead of portraying the creatures of the nightmare, it’s an image of the man who’s having the terrible dream. He has a snake crawling down his nose while he’s waving a useless little stick at it. The woman who sold it to me said, with a kind of empathy, “He’s fighting them off as best he can.” I gave Jamie that line, when he admires the figurine as part of the décor in a bar in Mesilla. The snake-face image was a perfect fit for the way Jamie often feels in this book.

snake face man closeup

SAT: So where did the idea for this particular book in the series come from?

AF: Before writing Snake Face, I’d written a scene that I never used in which a fortune teller in Santa Fe does Tarot readings for Mae and Jamie. (I recycle my works in progress into many forms before they finally come out.) Anyway, I drew cards for them and studied the meanings, and came up with a plot for book three from that. The suggestions from the cards became the plot when I interpreted them in terms of challenges that would disrupt their lives.

Given Mae’s marital history, starting a new relationship is a huge step, and then running into Jamie again adds another difficulty to that situation—one she isn’t prepared for. For Jamie, going on tour is progress for his career, but it’s also incredibly hard for him in many ways, above and beyond the road warrior aspect of it, due to—well, Jamie being Jamie. From the Tarot reading, I started with an image of him at a rest stop halfway across the country, where he realizes something awful has happened, and I worked forward and backward from there. The antagonist character showed up for me the way Jamie showed up, fully formed. I revised the book for two years, changed almost everything about it—but that turning point disaster never changed.

SAT: Jamie’s background is training in opera and his current career showcases his musical talents as a “world music” performer. You mention elsewhere that Jamie simply “came” to you, one of those wonderful gifts any writer would be grateful for. When describing his musical performances, did you have any particular artist or style in mind?

AF: When Jamie showed up, he showed up as a tenor. In my never-written backstory, Jamie’s parents took him and his older sister to the Sydney Opera House to see The Magic Flute when he was a musically gifted child of around eight years old, and he fell in love with opera. Whether it’s comic or tragic, it’s larger than life, and so is he. Before his family settled in Santa Fe (which has its own amazing opera house), he grew up off and on in Australia and also all around the world. With his father being an anthropologist studying shamanic cultures, he had contact with ceremonies like the Korean mudang’s ritual described in Shaman’s Blues. Such ceremonies have a lot of wild color and sound, music and dance.

In addition to these influences I had some elements of Robert Mirabal’s shows in mind, though I was not directly modeling on Mirabal. He’s a singer, dancer, composer and flute maker from Taos Pueblo. He plays, as one might expect, the Native American cedar flute, and he also plays didgeridoo and drums, and he dances. I’ve seen him leave the stage at Santa Fe Bandstand and dance with his audience. Mirabal’s eclecticism, his warmth and audience rapport, and his choice of instruments are part of Jamie’s music, but I added more and flipped it culturally, so I have an Aboriginal Australian who plays didgeridoo but also plays Native flute, and other flutes. I heard a collaboration that Carlos Nakai did with a musician who plays shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, and the mix of ethnic flavors fascinated me. The music scene in Santa Fe is full of performers who do some original, out-of-the mainstream things. So I’d say Jamie’s music emerged from the nature of music in Santa Fe—opera, blues, indigenous music, jazz, folk—everything. I should add that Santa Fe has some great alternative country bands, but as you can see in Snake Face, Jamie is not influenced by them.

SAT: I know that you’re working on Book 4 of the series. How many more are planned? Do you have a fixed end point in mind for the end of the series, or will Mae continue indefinitely?

AF: I enjoy series that take the protagonists through major life changes. Hillerman’s Chee and Leaphorn, and Barr’s Anna Pigeon, are good examples. They grow older and wiser, go through relationships, losses, and renewals, and stay interesting. Book four is with its third round of beta readers right now. Book five is well along, book six is up to chapter twelve in the first draft, and I have ideas for at least the initial disturbance that starts the plot spinning for several others. I don’t have a fixed endpoint in mind, but I do want to wrap it up and give it an end when I get close to my own, if I get some forewarning.

This is something I thought about when James D. Doss died. I could tell from his final book that he knew it was the last, and he wrapped up Charlie Moon’s ever-struggling love life finally, though not Sarah Frank’s training as Daisy Perika’s shaman’s apprentice. Over the course of the seventeen-book series, Sarah grows up from a spiritually gifted child to a college student. I wanted one more book—no, a lot more—in which Sarah would come into her power as shaman. I admire that kind of story line. Mae is twenty-six at the start of my series and I like to picture what she’ll be like in her thirties and forties. As she becomes a more established and experienced healer and psychic, the kinds of mysteries will change. I have a sense of what she’ll be doing as her life moves forward, and it looks so interesting I don’t think I’ll run out of plots or characters. I may take occasional breaks and work on some stand-alone books, but Mae should be around for decades.

SAT: That’s good news for readers! Thank you, Amber, for sharing your thoughts.

To learn more about Amber and her books, visit her website at: http://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/Snake Face, the third Mae Martin Psychic Mystery, has just been released. Shaman’s Blues, the second in the series, is the deserving recipient of a B.R.A.G. Medallion award.

snake face

Snake Face
The third Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Trying to revive his career, singer Jamie Ellerbee is on his first tour. Mae Martin is venturing into her first relationship since her divorce. Bad judgment and worse luck force Jamie to ask for Mae’s psychic aid. His unrequited love for her makes it an awkward request, but she can’t refuse to help a friend. The more she looks into the problem, the more frightening it becomes and the wider its web expands—not only into Jamie’s past, but also a bad-boy celebrity’s private life, and even her new boyfriend’s history.

 

 

Interview with author Clea Simon

Today I am pleased to present an interview with one of my favorite writers, Clea Simon, author of the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, and Pru Marlowe mysteries.

Clea SimonSAT: You write several mystery series, but the Dulcie Schwarz books are your longest running. What’s your secret for creating a great series and character who will keep the reader’s interest for so many books?

CS: Wow, thank you so much, Nancy. I think the only secret is that I love my characters. Doing a series means that I don’t have to leave them once a book is done, and I get to follow them through various adventures. In Dulcie’s case, this means watching as she not only solves crimes but also works on her graduate dissertation – and yes, she will finish it and get her PhD before the series ends!

SAT: As with all of your books, there is a cat involved. For those new to the series, what is the background of Dulcie’s relationship with her cat Mr. Grey?

CS: When we first met Dulcie, in “Shades of Grey,” she was mourning the death of her late, great Mr. Grey – her “heart cat” as some people put it. The friend who had been with her for years. Now, he was simply a regular cat – he didn’t talk or anything. But Dulcie always felt that he was special and that he was looking out for her. So it doesn’t really surprise her when, in that first book, she sees him again, sitting on the stoop of her apartment building. But when he warns her not to go inside, she doesn’t listen….

SAT: Early on—in the second book of the series, you introduced a new feline player, the kitten Esme. Tell us why you decided to give Dulcie a new pet and how you went about developing Esme’s very distinctive personality.

MusettaCS: Well, I wanted Dulcie to have an actual, live cat in her life. The spirit of Mr Grey hangs around, but he’s more of a guardian now than a pet. And I loved the idea of a spunky new feline in her life. And, yes, Esme – the Principessa Esmeralda – is modeled on my own Musetta.

SAT: The setting for Dulcie’s books, Harvard University—in particular Widener Library, is part of the charm. Did you attend Harvard yourself?

CS: Yes, I did. I studied English and American Literature and Language, as Dulcie does. But I stopped with an undergrad degree … Dulcie is rather more bookish and dedicated than I am!

SAT: As a beleaguered graduate student, Dulcie’s personality contains an appealing mix of self-doubt and a tough willingness to stand up for what she believes is right, whether it involves her research or questioning authority after a suspicious death. What inspired you to create her character?

CS: Well, I knew I wanted to use the ghost of Mr Grey after I had a similar experience with an apparent sighting of my own late, great grey cat, Cyrus. And I thought it would be fun to play with the idea of Gothic literature – the Gothics were (like mysteries) popular fiction, written largely by and for women and largely disparaged by the critics. So somewhere in there Dulcie was born, and she really developed her own personality, without much help from me.

SAT: Dulcie’s grad student world of teaching, wrestling with her dissertation topic, and money troubles is depicted with such genuine feeling and authenticity that I assumed you did graduate work yourself. Since you stopped with an undergrad degree, how did you go about depicting all these wonderful details of Dulcie’s academic life?

CS: Thank you! I do my research, and that includes talking to people who are graduate students.

SAT: One of my favorite aspects of this series is the way you interweave Dulcie’s area of expertise, the 18th-century Gothic novel, with the plot of the novels in her series. What was your inspiration for developing that?

CS: I have always loved books within books (like A.S.Byatt’s “Possession”) and so I’ve tried to pass that on.

SAT: You seem to be one of those fortunate writers who can turn out books at a rapid pace–this is the second Dulcie book to be released this year–without neglecting their quality, continuing to maintain the thoughtful and well written novels readers have come to expect from you. What is your secret?

CS: I’m afraid there is no secret. I work really hard – long hours – and toward deadline especially I become a hermit, quit working out, and rarely see the sun.

SAT: Mysteries and cats, the two just seem to go together! What in your opinion connects felines and mystery?

CS: Well, they are mysterious creatures! And their company is conducive to sitting and reading something cozy!

SAT: When you’re not writing, what is your favorite activity? When am I not writing?

CS: Well, I do love cooking and all things food-related (reading food magazines, browsing farmers’ markets, etc.) And I used to be a music critic and still love hearing live music – though these days, I’m more likely to be at a zydeco or Cajun music show than in a rock club (but I still make the occasional appearance for the right band!)

Thanks so much for having me here today! I hope you enjoy this as much as I have. – Clea

Read more about Clea and her books at: http://cleasimon.com/

Clea’s newest release is Stages of Grey:

stages of greyDulcie never considered herself a player. But when her friends drag her to a new local theatre company that is updating Ovid with a disco version of The Metamorphosis the grad student finds herself in the front row of a murder.

This could be the end of the struggling company, which is also plagued by money woes and romantic rivalries. But was jealousy the reason the performer was stabbed? Or are there darker secrets behind the scenes? And what role does Gus, the troupe’s feline mascot, play? As the classics get mangled, Dulcie must untangle the truth before she also gets caught up in deadly illusion.Pre-order now at your favorite local indie bookstore or at Amazon.

To order at your independently owned bookstore, click here

To order on Amazon, click here.

 

 

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