Please welcome Kris Neri, author of the Tracy Eaton mysteries and the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical mysteries.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
The temperature is 70-75 degrees. The air is crystal clear, and the skies over Sedona, Arizona, which seem to go on forever, are a rich, intense blue, and the crimson color of Sedona’s craggy red rocks pops against the backdrop of that forever sky. On my perfect day, I do a red rock hike, but not one of the short, rushed hikes that I squeeze in too infrequently on workdays. This hike is long, and on one of the rocks I don’t frequent too often, such as Cathedral Rock or Bell Rock. Tough, too, to let the muscle kinks stretch out. Still, I take lots of time to simply sit on interesting-shaped rocks that seem to have been placed there for me, and think and stare out as far as I can see. If I’m lucky, a hummingbird pauses in flight before me, or a hawk flies low overhead. After the hike, I head home and begin cooking one of my favorite meals, such as chicken-and-mushroom crepes or lasagna. I enjoy a great glass of wine with that. After dinner, I sink into a book that is so unexpectedly great, I can’t put it down. Yup, that’s a really perfect day.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I love the colors that used to be described as autumn colors, such as rust, gold, teal, bronze—I’m always told they look good with my skin tone and red hair. I wish I could say I wore them often enough to be a signature, but I don’t have enough garments in those colors. I seem to lack the shopping gene. If you don’t shop often, you don’t find enough of what you want. But whenever I do see things in my favorite colors, I snag ‘em.
I don’t have a signature meal, but anyone who’s ever roomed with me at conferences and conventions could report that I sure consume lots of rich, black coffee. I can’t go too long without it.
One of my novel protagonist’s, Tracy Eaton, the offbeat daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, likes to start sentences with “Jeez,” or she’ll say, “Talk about…” and end that sentence with something sarcastic. They can’t be my signature phrases, though, because I gave them to her.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, and Henrik Ibsen. I used to read loads of plays when I was younger. I learned about humor from Wilde and Coward, and about drama from Ibsen.
I’ve had loads of other influences, of course. Including many mystery authors, especially the female mystery authors who broke the publishing glass ceiling and left footprints for those of us who came later to follow. But those three were my earliest influences.
Do you listen to music when you write?
I don’t listen to music when I write. I like the sound of silence and the words I hear in my head. I do listen to music in the car when I drive, and think about writing to that music.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Revenge on Route 66 would be dark chocolate, since that’s the richest, best kind. It would also contain nuts because madcap mysteries are—well, nuts. And maybe it would also contain some marzipan filling, because it certainly contains some unexpected whimsy.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
A former publicist suggested to me that I set a book in my Tracy Eaton series, which features the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, on Route 66, but I only considered it after I came to love Route 66 myself. The Mother Road has such a wonderfully kitschy quality, and I knew that would be appeal to Tracy. Because Route 66 connects us to the past, I gave Tracy and her dad, aging Hollywood hunk Alec Grainger, a history there. When Tracy was little, she and Alec used to visit an old friend of his, Lucy Crier, a café owner in New Mexico. Until Lucy confessed to murdering her married lover. Since then, Lucy has been serving time in prison. Only now, although she’s safely tucked away in her cell, Lucy has also been seen dashing between cars on Route 66. That conundrum is enough to lure Tracy and her sweetie Drew to New Mexico.
That conundrum was also what made me want to write this story. I wanted to know more about Lucy, and what happened there in her café all those years ago. Did she really kill her old lover, Billy Rob Royce? If so, why. If not, why would she confess? Other puzzles built on that, and they lured me in, too. Such as the secrets Tracy’s dad and her husband’s Uncle Philly are keeping. Tracy says at one point, “If Nosiness was a country, they’d make me queen,” and that’s true for me, too. I write stories so I get to dig into my characters’ secrets. But it was Lucy’s past that hooked me first and kept me going.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
One of my most common themes is that life is a little crazy, but that it’s also meant to be a grand adventure, lived boldly. Those are ideas that my characters and I visit often.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality.
Tracy Eaton, the protagonist of my latest mystery, Revenge on Route 66, is a cheerful, adventurous amateur sleuth, who takes wild chances, and tends to solve mysteries through the most unconventional means. She also has a smart mouth and has been called by at least one reviewer as the “queen of one-liners.”
What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Tracy is the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars. Having spent her formative years on movie sets, where the impossible appears to happen all the time, she doesn’t take reality very seriously. She believes the impossible can be made to happen in actuality in life as well, and because she expects it, she often does make it happen. In the course of this series, Tracy has broken into a mobster’s home to solve a kidnapping; climbs out of a warehouse, in which they were being held after being abducted, by shimmying up a rope with her oddball mother on her back; finds and reclaims an eccentric old wreck of a house her mother denies ever existed; hides in a bunch of Dumpsters and garbage cans; and goes on the lam from the FBI after they declare her one of America’s Most Wanted. Her life is never ordinary or dull.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Ooh! That’s a hard one, since I don’t think in terms of real people when I write. I’d have to say that Tracy is a mash-up of Susan, the character Katharine Hepburn played in the movie, Bringing Up Baby, Jamie Lee Curtis, because she’s a show-biz offspring, and me—not exactly famous, I know, but while I’m not really Tracy, there’s a bit of her in me, and I do hear her voice in my head.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’d probably only include authors who’ve passed on, since I do see the living varieties pretty regularly. The guest at my special mystery-author dinner would include Dorothy Gilman, Charlotte Macleod, Josephine Tey, Leslie Ford, and two author friends who’ve passed on, Barbara Serenella and Barbara Burnett Smith.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing a standalone supernatural thriller called Where the Rocks Bleed Red.
Kris Neri writes the madcap Tracy Eaton mysteries, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, and the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical mysteries, which feature a questionable psychic who teams up with a modern goddess/FBI agent. Her novels have been finalists for such prestigious awards as the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Lefty, and the International Book Awards. Her latest magical mystery, Magical Alienation won the 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School, and works with writers individually as a freelance editor and writing coach. And with her husband owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ.