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.
SAT: 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.
CS: 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:
Dulcie 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.