Please welcome Connie di Marco, author of the Zodiac Mysteries and the Soup Lover’s Mystery Series.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
First of all, no alarm clock, just delicious sleep until I wake up. Next, my cat does not nag me, or jump on my bladder, but quietly leads the way to the kitchen for his breakfast. Then hours and hours of inspired typing away at my keyboard to produce perfect prose that needs little or no revision. And finally, discovering that someone has magically cleaned my house, paid the bills and cooked dinner. Wouldn’t that be great? Oh, and a two hour break for a massage and a nap. Lovely!
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
I’d have to say red is my favorite color, although I love dark greens, deep blues and Scorpionic colors, by that I mean rich purples, greens mixed with black, colors that suggest depth and mystery. I also love crazy earrings, have an embarrassing collection, and am a total purse freak. Lots of women adore shoes and shoes are fine, I wear them, but purses are the first thing I inspect when I walk into a store, whether it’s a department store or a thrift shop. I do love thrift shops, you just never know what you’ll find there.
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Many many authors, certainly all the classic writers — Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh. I think Nancy Drew and her many authors set the stage initially. Nancy had a roadster, school was never mentioned and she never had homework. She just solved crimes and had exciting adventures. She was my first taste of mystery and after that I was lost.
I also love foreign authors – British and Scandinavian, or anyone who’s been translated into English. There’s Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Henning Mankell, Jussi Adler-Olson. I just love the Scandinavians, must be the cold climate that makes them so deadly. My tastes are very eclectic and when I’m in a bookstore I always look for authors I’ve never heard of. I’ve found some of the most wonderful books that way.
Do you listen to music when you write?
No, I can’t. I’d find it too distracting. I need quiet and total concentration. I love music best when I’m driving and I can sing along (badly) in traffic. That’s one of the main reasons I like to write late at night. The phone stops ringing, the house is quiet and the distractions of the day are done.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark, dark, truffle-y bittersweet chocolate! I find it totally delicious and decadent. Nothing sweet or milky.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The Zodiac Mysteries are set in San Francisco where I lived for many years and I’ve always thought it would be a great location for a mystery. The city is fascinating, so many moods – sunny and windy, foggy with dark alleyways, secret stairways and quaint cable cars. My inspiration for The Madness of Mercury was drawn from the heyday of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. My protagonist, Julia Bonatti, is an astrologer with an advice column that marks her as the target of a power-hungry preacher who will stop at nothing to quell the voices of those who disagree with him. I did quite a bit of research on Jones and the People’s Temple and, even though I was living in the city at that time, I was really unaware of the power the man wielded. It was frightening to review that history and the man’s descent into madness.
The fifth book in the Soup Lover’s Mysteries, A Clue in the Stew, came out in April of this year. These stories are set in a small Vermont village and since I grew up in New England, I’ve really enjoyed writing about that part of the country. As I was mulling over possibilities for a plot for this book, it occurred to me it might be interesting if two worlds collided. By that I mean, it was a shame no mystery writer had ever visited Snowflake, VT, especially since it has such a high murder rate for a tiny town. So I went with that idea — a famous mystery writer with a secret agenda and a dark history arrives in the village.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I’m never really conscious of theme, rather I start with a kernel of an idea that piques my interest or holds an emotional charge. Relationships between the characters are of prime importance and the motives behind the crimes are the interesting psychological aspect I always want to explore. I do my best to focus on making the story as strong as it can be and any theme that might arise takes shape of its own volition.
Tell us about your main character.
Julia Bonatti is a woman who had planned on a quiet life and a teaching career. When her fiancé is killed in a hit and run accident she’s not emotionally able to pick up the pieces of her former life. Astrology offers her a certain solace. She hopes to find answers, to make sense of it all, and discovers she has a talent that can help others.
In the Soup Lover’s Mysteries, Lucky Jamieson is a young woman who returns home to a town from which she had always wanted to escape. Her parents have been killed in a fatal car accident and her grandfather is the only family she has left. She has inherited her parents’ soup shop and while she struggles to make a decision, she discovers she has found the right path and a new world opens up for her, one she had never anticipated.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Well, let’s see . . . Lucky’s very much the girl-next-door but with heart and spunk, perhaps Jennifer Lawrence from the Hunger Games, a bit of Nancy Drew and a large dose of stubbornness, like a Kinsey Millhone. Julia Bonatti shares those traits as well, except she’s several years older and an urban woman. So perhaps she’s a little tougher, like a V.I. Warshawsky, and she’s inherited some of the brilliance of Liz Greene, a Jungian analyst, astrologer and writer. I think as writers we have to wonder much of our own essence we pour into our characters. Do our characters share some of our personality traits? Are they the better angels of our nature? Or are they the people we wish we were?
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
What a great idea! I would include Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was a man far ahead of his time and in my opinion The Scarlet Letter was a hymn to feminism and a woman’s strength and independence. Next guest would be H.P. Lovecraft, so I could ask him why he set Arkham in Massachusetts. I’m from Massachusetts, so I’m curious. Then, I’d invite John LeCarre, so I could pick his brain about spy craft. Let’s see . . . that’s three so far. To balance the dinner table, I should invite some women, don’t you think? Sue Grafton because she’s such a delightful person and a fantastic writer. Dorothy Sayers because her sleight of hand is brilliant and then Alan Hunter because I’m devoted to the George Gently series. That’s four men and three women counting myself. And after dinner, they’d have to stay the weekend for a good old fashioned English country house murder. The butler could be the victim and we’d all solve the crime.
What’s next for you?
I’ll be working on the next two books in the Zodiac Mysteries and dreaming up plots for Julia Bonatti, my astrologer. I’m also working on an LA crime story. I live in Los Angeles and I’ve neglected its dark noir history. I felt it was time I did something about that. I have some other ideas but it’s a little too soon to talk about them. All I need is more time!
Connie di Marco is the author of the upcoming Zodiac Mysteries from Midnight Ink (June 8, 2016) featuring San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti. Writing as Connie Archer, she’s the national bestselling author of the Soup Lover’s Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her excerpts and recipes in both The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.