Interview: Nupur Tustin

Today we get to know Nupur Tustin, author of the Haydn Mysteries.

deception_final_500x800What’s your idea of a perfect day?

I have three toddlers, so, as far as I’m concerned, a day when I can get some writing done is a perfect day. Beyond that, if it’s warm and sunny, and the kids are happy, I’m happy, too. And, if I also get to spend some time at the piano. . . well, at that point my cup runneth over!

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I’m quite fond of burgundy—the color, not so much the wine. I use it a lot in the Haydn newsletter, so you could say that’s a signature color. As far as a fragrance is concerned, it would have to be Estée Lauder’s Beautiful. I wear it because the scent is just heavenly, and it makes me feel beautiful.

My signature meal—please don’t laugh—is whole wheat bread with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese. It seems to have been the favorite meal of every fairy tale character who decided to set out on an adventure. I suppose that accounts for my fondness for it. Add a few tomato slices and some cucumber, and you have a gourmet meal!

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

For the Haydn mysteries, apart from his earliest biographers and Haydn’s own life, Stephanie Barron, whose Jane Austen series is simply out of this world, and Emily Brightwell and Kate Kingsbury, both of whom write historical cozies, have been my strongest influences. Stephanie Barron influenced the voice I chose to adopt for a series set in eighteenth-century Austria.

Emily Brightwell’s ability with plotting helped me develop a good puzzle-plot mystery and Kate Kingsbury’s natural way with dialogue enabled me to unfold the story, to a great extent, via dialogue.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I listen to the music—or noise, depending on your perspective—of toddler-speak as I write. When my children screech and squabble, they drown out most sounds. If I could listen to music, I’d be forced to listen to heavy metal because all three kids are metal-heads!

I’ll often hear my five-year-old daughter belting out the lyrics to Killpop—”she’s sticking needles in her skin, I turn with an ugly grin”—while my three-year-old son growls out some Crowbar— “I gave my heart to you, my friend, you let me fall. . .I live my life as a man would do. Why’s it so hard to find the truth?”

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

What an intriguing question! I’d have to say a marbled blend of dark and milk chocolate. I think dark chocolate is sophisticated, while milk chocolate is fun. A Minor Deception, is equal parts sophistication and fun! The downstairs dynamic provided by palace maids Rosalie and Greta is, I think, very milk chocolate.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I’ve always been fascinated by historical mysteries, in particular those that feature real-life historical figures. I love history, but I know many don’t. So, for me, historical mysteries are a wonderful way of getting people interested in history. In my case, I wanted to draw people’s attention to the history of music and to, perhaps, revive an interest in classical music.

Haydn, Brahms, and Liszt frequently drew upon folk music. Haydn, the son of a wheelwright, had grown up listening to folk songs, and working in the backwaters of Hungary, had plenty of opportunity to hear Hungarian folk music. In the eighteenth century, you could visit a pub, and hear a minuet, dance music. This isn’t “learned music,” and it isn’t music for the elite. It’s music, period. There are pieces you’ll like, and works you’ll hate. When you listen to Pearl Jam, SlipKnot, Tool, or any other modern band, you don’t like every single song you hear, do you? Well, you’re not going to like every single work written by the classical composers, and that’s fine.

Through my writing, I’m trying to do what British percussionist Evelyn Glennie does with her wonderful music. The same kind of thing Mr. Holland tries to accomplish with his students in the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus. My husband, a confirmed metal-head, has actually begun enjoying classical music as a result of the Haydn mysteries. He listens to it on his car radio these days! And he’s discovering it can be just as “badass” as heavy metal.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

Deception and the dichotomy between appearance and reality seem to come up a lot. These are old literary themes, and they go back as far, at least, as Shakespeare whose comedies often treat of these ideas. But they lend themselves particularly well to mysteries, where the reader and the sleuth are frequently deceived in both the characters of the perpetrator and the many suspects, who all seem to have plenty of reason to have committed murder.

Unfortunately, though, this theme comes up in real-life crime as well. Ted Bundy wasn’t the only serial killer who seemed like a polite, well-spoken man. There’ve been countless others. People aren’t always what they seem. Mysteries teach us that as well as comedy.

Tell us about your main character.

Joseph Haydn, the Austrian composer, was a fascinating man. The son of a wheelwright, he had none of the advantages of the young Mozart. His parents enjoyed music and his father played a little by ear. When the young Haydn was sent to the Parish School of a neighboring town, it was in the hopes that the musical training he received would equip him for a career in the church.

At the age of eighteen, Haydn was thrown out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna where he’d been a choirboy since the age of eight. He had no intentions of going into the Church, and he resisted his parents’ advice that he do so. Instead, he eked out a bare living giving music lessons and playing at churches and private chapels, all the while studying music theory and the writings of the great Southern German composers, Hasse, Mattheson, and the northern German, C.P.E. Bach. It took ten years before he managed to get a job as Kapellmeister—Director of Music—but when the noble family employing him lost their wealth, he lost his position.

But by 1766 when my story opens, he was known throughout the Holy Roman Empire for his music. Haydn epitomizes for me, the importance of believing in oneself and one’s dreams. He worked very hard, but was quick to recognize that without the help and support of numerous people he’d likely never have made it. He was very generous with both his time and money, and, just as he’d been helped in his younger days, he sought to help those in need.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

What an interesting proposition. Let’s see now. Haydn had such diverse interests—he enjoyed hunting, and was a good shot, and he had the complete works of Shakespeare in his library—that he reminds me a little of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve always marveled at Holmes’s wide-ranging interests. He always seems to have written a monograph on something or the other.

Haydn was also a shrewd judge of character, and knew how to appeal to his musicians to get the best performance out of them. In this respect, he’s very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple. Christie’s detectives are often underestimated by the villain, and both frequently elicit confidences from all sorts of people. Haydn, like Poirot and Miss Marple, was very approachable, too. He soon earned the nickname of Papa Haydn.

He was short, pockmarked, and one time he was even mistaken for a servant, and a visiting priest hotly contested his identity. How could the famous Haydn be such a small, insignificant fellow? Surely, this man was not he!

His helpfulness, his affability, and his easy ability to get on with upper and lower classes alike remind me a little of Kerry Greenwood’s delightful Phryne Fisher.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

I’d love to invite Naomi Hirahara. One of my piano teachers used to refer to Glenn Gould as a pianist’s pianist—so great only a fellow pianist could truly appreciate his performance. She’d probably refer to Naomi as a “writer’s writer.” You really have to be a writer to appreciate the depth of characterization and the sense of Los Angeles Naomi captures in her two series without ever sacrificing pace.

I’d love to have Kendel Lynn, whom I met at LCC last year. I’ve really enjoyed her Elliot Lisbon series, but more than that I admire her for forging her own path. It’s amazing how far Henery Press has come since it’s inception. Sylvia Johnson, another Henery Press author, would be an invitee, too. She has something of Naomi’s deft style, and her mysteries capture a very different side of Los Angeles.

Emily Brightwell, who truly is a contemporary Agatha Christie, would be at the table as well. Sheila Connolly said quite astutely that contemporary mysteries need to have more action. The actual business of investigating and questioning people is rather tedious. Well, Emily Brightwell has the amazing gift of making it fascinating, the red herrings are cleverly thrown in. And everyone seems like a plausible suspect.

I love Susan Wittig Albert’s mysteries. I became a fan when I read the Beatrix Potter series. Her China Bayles series is very different, but equally good. I sense that she enjoys research, and with each new book, she offers the reader a wealth of information on whatever topic her mystery plot is grounded in.

I enjoy that aspect of mystery writing, too. Fiction needs to transcend reality, but even when it does, it can take inspiration from and be grounded in reality. And, in this way, it opens a doorway to a new body of knowledge for the reader.

Finally, I think I’d have Amanda Carmack, who writes a historical mystery series as well as historical romance. I find myself amazed at how prolific she is. The research alone must taken an incredible amount of time. She used to work at a radio station, hosting their classical music programs, so we have in common a love of music and a love of the past.

What’s next for you?

I’m researching the third Haydn book, Prussian Counterpoint—the second, Aria to Death, is already written. I’m also working on short stories, and delving deeper into FBI investigations, in particular the exploits of the Behavioral Science Unit. I find it absolutely fascinating that a crime scene can yield such invaluable information about the killer’s personality and profession, and even, in some cases, their appearance! It’s uncanny how accurate they are.

I always like to see how much of what I read about modern investigative techniques might translate over into a historical context. Not all of it does, of course, so I set my short stories in the contemporary world. One of them, “The Christmas Stalker,” was published in the December issue of Heater Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue. 11.

Another short story, “The Evidence Never Lies,” is a contemporary variation of the armchair detective with a former crime reporter piecing together a serial killer’s identity as she delivers her firstborn child.


A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works. A Minor Deception, the first in the Haydn Mystery Series, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.

Haydn Mysteries:


7 thoughts on “Interview: Nupur Tustin”

  1. That’s an excellent question, Liz. And, I’ve written quite a few blog posts on that very subject. But briefly, Haydn brought a great deal of ingenuity to the problems that came his way. We see that in childhood solutions to such problems as learning how to play the drums without having any at his disposal. He used a bag of flour to practice. That ingenuity is brought to play later in life when he has to intercede on behalf of his musicians.

    He was an excellent communicator, able to earn the trust and affection of both upper and lower classes. I’ve explained elsewhere why this is such a necessary trait for a detective of historical mysteries. And, he was helpful– that is to say, if you sought out his help, he would willingly give it. The fact that he looked insignificant provides a lot of fodder to one’s imagination as well. Here was someone who looked nothing like a celebrity. He’d have been able to go about incognito.


  2. Nupur, I don’t know how you do it with three toddlers! I have three kids, too, but only one is a toddler. The book sounds great–can’t wait to read it!


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