Interview: Tracy Ward

Please welcome Tracy Ward, author of Chorus of the Dead.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day would include a minimum of five hours uninterrupted writing time with a cat curled up close by, a bottomless mug of half hot chocolate, half coffee within arm’s reach, and a doggy door so I don’t have to worry about my puppy, Watson, peeing on my area rug.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
A bobby pin because in a pinch I can pick locks with it and in the meantime my hair doesn’t fall out of place…much.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
My first influence was Mrs. Fox, a teacher-librarian at my elementary school. Her passion for the written word made me want to read and eventually become a writer. An early writer inspiration for me was Lucy Maud Montgomery and her books about Anne, Emily, Marigold and Jane. As a teen I loved escaping to Prince Edward Island and knowing I wasn’t the only 12 year old girl who daydreamed. In high school I was blessed to have an art teacher, Mrs. Bethel, who asked me to be the editor of an arts newsletter she wanted to start for the school. That really reinforced my desire to write for a living and the next year I applied for a Journalism program in college. Her faith in my writing and leadership abilities set the stage for my career.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes I do. While writing Chorus of the Dead I listened to performances of piano music that would have been popular during the 1860s. Sometimes if I am stuck at the beginning of a writing session I put on my MP3 player and listen to Adele’s 21 album, or Jann Arden’s Time for Mercy with my eyes closed. Like meditation, it’s often enough to blank my mind so I can really work on my story without worrying about real life.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Probably a cocoa dusted truffle with a rich creamy ganache. There is just something spectacularly decadent about mid 19th-century England.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to write something about the Victorians that I didn’t know a lot about. In this case it was early forensic science and the evolution of autopsies. The Victorians had a lot of dark obsessions, some would argue an unhealthy interest in the dead and their attraction to spirituality highlighted this. The Victorian era is also a time of great scientific discovery and unforeseen progress. This overlap of science and spirituality is very alluring and makes for some very interesting story lines. When I developed Dr. Peter Ainsley, the methodical scientist and his sister, Margaret Marshall, the spiritual strong-willed woman, I knew they would complement each other nicely while displaying common attitudes of their time.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Scientific ethics seem to play a large role in Chorus of the Dead where Ainsley grapples with whether it is right to do what he feels he needs to do or follow the standard convention of society. I believe it is a question modern scientists still face every day.

The second book, which I am currently writing, is closer to home for Ainsley and Margaret and puts their family under the microscope. Again medical ethics plays a part, as does the role science plays in criminal investigations–which up until the mid-19th century was rudimentary and unreliable. Margaret and Ainsley are on the cusp of what we now know as forensic science but back then it was all uncharted territory.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Born Peter Marshall, Ainsley is a well-bred, privileged son of an earl and he despises it. Forbidden to work in any sort of worthwhile profession he created a double life, taking his mother’s maiden name, “Ainsley,” and using it professionally to protect the family from public ridicule. A doctor (a surgeon no less!) is a lowly labourer, not the sort of career befitting his station but Ainsley has always been the rebellious type. He’s a drinker and somewhat of a scoundrel, but a likeable one. Driven by what is right and not by what is socially acceptable, Ainsley uses his love for science and need for answers to develop autopsy techniques to solve crimes that no one seems to care about. I would totally have an affair with him if he were real.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
With looks of Adrien Brody, the personality of Gil Grissom (CSI) and a splash of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Peter Ainsley is a dreamboat.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Deanna Raybourn, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Sarah Waters and Charlotte Bronte.

What’s next for you?
I am working on book two of the Peter Ainsley mystery series. I am also finishing up a modern mystery set in New England. And I am involved with two short story anthologies due out this fall, so watch out for those.

If people want to keep abreast of my projects, they are welcome to follow my blog at www.gothicmystery.blogspot.com or “like” my fan page, www.facebook.com/TracyWard.author. I am also on twitter @TracyWardAuthor.

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A former journalist and graduate from Humber College’s School for Writers, Tracy L. Ward has been hard at work developing her favourite protagonist, Peter Ainsley, and chronicling his adventures as a young surgeon in Victorian England. Her first book featuring Peter Ainsley, Chorus of the Dead, is now available on Kindle, Kobo and other E-readers. Tracy Ward is currently working on the second book in the Peter Ainsley mystery series. She lives near Barrie, Ontario with her husband and two kids.

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Interview: Terri L. Austin

Please welcome Terri L. Austin, author of Diners, Dives and Dead Ends.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
For years my family and I have gone to an apple orchard/pumpkin patch out in the country. The leaves are the most colorful in mid-to-late October. We take pictures and drink hot cider. And even though my kids are in college now, if I can still get them to go to the petting zoo with me, I’m a happy mom.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I like watches. I collect different ones, none of them expensive, but all of them are colorful or a little funky.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
I started reading obsessively when I was pretty young. I liked Agatha Christie. Not only did I enjoy her mysteries, but I loved to see the progression of England through her books, from post WWI to the early seventies—each book was like a time capsule and I thought that was pretty cool. My twelfth grade English teacher, Ms. Thompson, who encouraged me to write with humor. And I think a big inspiration was the fact that I grew up with only four television stations. I could either use my imagination or watch The Wild World of Sports. The stories in my head were much more entertaining than professional bowling.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No music, just white noise. Otherwise I get too distracted and…oooh, the crystals on my watch are so shiny.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Milk chocolate with nuts. My characters are sometimes a little crazy.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I always root for the underdog and Rose fit the bill. She’s behind the eight ball of life, but she manages to keep her humor and grace. And when her friend Axton goes missing, she won’t stop until she finds him.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I tend to write about people who are alienated in some way. I think it’s interesting how a character deals with living on the fringes of society or a family and what brought them to that point of alienation.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Rose Strickland is the black sheep of her family. She made a very difficult decision to walk away from her parents’ wealth and status. She doesn’t always get it right, but she keeps trying, and that’s what I admire about her.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Rose is a combination of Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars, with a dash of Daria thrown into the mix.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
First of all, Jane Austen. She’s not a mystery writer, but I would totally cheat and invite her anyway, despite the probability that she’d have severe culture shock. Charlaine Harris because she’s awesome. Agatha Christie—my aforementioned inspiration. Ann Charles would be hilarious and full of witty repartee. Janet Evanovich–I would pepper her with questions all evening long and probably freak her out with my level of hero worship. And Deanna Raybourn because Lady Julia Grey is one of my all time favorite heroines.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on my next Rose Strickland book. The town of Huntingford is full of mysterious shenanigans and Rose is up for the challenge.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog. And thanks to all your readers.

***

Terri L. Austin lives in Missouri with her funny, handsome husband and a high maintenance peekapoo.  She’s the author of Diners, Dives and Dead Ends—a Rose Strickland Mystery.  “Austin’s debut kicks off her planned series by introducing a quirky, feisty heroine and a great supporting cast of characters and putting them through quite a number of interesting twists.” Kirkus Reviews

Special note from Terri: Want to win a copy of Diners, Dives and Dead Ends? Leave a comment along with your email address, and I’ll enter you to win on of three copies. Drawing takes place on August 31, 2012. Continental US only.  The book is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  You can catch me on TerriLAustin.com, Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.

Interview: Susan Schreyer

Please welcome Susan Schreyer, author of the Thea Campbell Mystery series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I have several types of “perfect” days, to be honest (depending on my current mood), and they all begin with me getting up early! I am my most creative in the morning, so I would begin by getting up around 5 or 6 (depending on the time of year), making a pot of coffee, eating breakfast and then sitting down to write until lunchtime. Afternoon would have me riding my horse, and then back home to write some more (because I would get some great ideas while also getting out of the house and getting some exercise), while my husband cooked dinner (hey, it’s a fantasy, right?). After dinner is family time.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Oddly enough, I have a signature fragrance and it’s not “eu de saddle leather.” It’s Paloma Picasso. I’ve been wearing it for …. uh… a long time.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
All three of these people are authors and, although at very different times in my life and for very different reasons, have had a profound influence on me. Each nudged me toward the path I am now on.

  • Elizabeth Peters
  • Lisa Stowe
  • Walter Farley

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. I need silence when I write. I get distracted too easily.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
It would be dark chocolate peanut clusters–dark themes with a bunch of nuts inside.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
My goal is always to entertain. BushWhacked, however, didn’t exactly begin with the intent of being humorous. It did begin with a body–all my story ideas start that way. This particular body was a bit of a puzzle for me. I knew the bones would be found buried under Thea’s rhododendron, but for the longest time I had no idea who it was. I tried other ideas, but this mystery refused to leave me alone. When I did some brain-storming with my critique partners, I knew the tale would lean heavily toward the light side. Humor was the key that kicked the whole plot into motion. Thea and friends have always had their moments that have made me smile, but this plot made me laugh outright. When it was done, I was honestly surprised to find out how very dark the themes were, but then humor is often that way.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
BushWhacked’s themes include relationships between people who love, and supposedly love, each other. Those are ties I have explored from the first book in the series, Death By A Dark Horse. Love, in all its manifestations, is complex and fascinating, whether it is between lovers, parents and children, friends, or even the attachment between a person and their animal companion. Also, anger, as a theme, is strong in this book. Each person’s background and their emotional makeup is going to influence the way it is expressed, as is their prior history with the person they’re feeling anger toward.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Thea Campbell is the eldest child in her family–by six years. That gave her time to experience the focused attention of her parents in the manner of an only child, and then get “turned loose”–so to speak–when her younger sibling came along. This caused her to be both self-reliant and, because she wanted the parental attention she’d lost, an overachiever. Because she truly does love her sister Juliet, and because Juliet lacks judgment and is impulsive, Thea feels responsible for her well-being. Without a doubt, if there is anyone you can rely on, it’s Thea. On the flip side, she often feels that she and she alone knows best and because she has been in a care-taker role in one sense or another for much of her life, she has trouble accepting help and being on the receiving end of care from others. This is a challenge for her in a love-relationship, and something she must learn if the relationship is to survive.

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

  • Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody–independent, devoted to family, seemingly unaware of how others see her.
  • Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe–compassionate, principled.
  • Katharine Hepburn–her wit and verbal sparring with Spencer Tracy.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Okay, because it’s my dinner party and I plan on being entertained, here are my choices:

1. Joanne Fluke: I’ve heard her speak and she is intelligent, entertaining and wonderfully funny.
2. Rex Stout: his life experiences are varied and fascinating. I love his books and am a fan of P.G. Wodehouse as he was. It delights me no end that he ignored a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee during the “height of the McCarthy era.”
3. Elizabeth Peters: I adore the humor in her books and admire her numerous accomplishments. If I could be her, I would.
4. Mark Twain: no explanation needed here. And I will argue that he wrote mysteries.
5. Alexander McCall Smith: an amazingly prolific writer, with a wry wit and an enviable ability to get into a character’s head.
6. Nancy Martin: a generous, intelligent individual, well informed and with a delightful sense of humor.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the next Thea Campbell Mystery. At this point, it is considerably darker than BushWhacked, and I can tell you the villain is seriously making my hands sweat! In addition, I’ll be working on promoting my books. I, along with two author friends of mine, Jeanne Matthews and Joyce Yarrow, do panels and appearances at bookstores, art festivals and wherever else they’ll have us. We are billed as “Women Who Kill.” We talk about our books, debate writing processes, and cover other topics that touch even remotely on writing. There’s a good deal of banter and laughter. Fun for the audience and fun for us.

***

Susan Schreyer lives in the great state of Washington with her husband, two teenage children, an untrustworthy rabbit, two playful kittens and the ghost of a demanding old cat. Her horse lives within easy driving distance. Occasionally, she makes a diligent effort at updating her blogs, “Writing Horses” and “Things I Learned From My Horse,” and writes articles for worthy publications. Mostly, she works on stories about people in the next town being murdered. As a diversion from the plotting of nefarious deeds Susan trains horses and teaches people how to ride them, and when the weather gets to her she works in a veterinarians’ office. She serves on the steering committee of the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime and is co-president of the Puget Sound Chapter of SinC. When she has a minute she cleans her house and does laundry.

Website: Susan Schreyer Mysteries http://www.susanschreyer.com
Blog: Writing Horses http://writinghorses.blogspot.com
Blog: Things I Learned From My Horse: http://thingsilearnedfrommyhorse.blogspot.com
Facebook: Susan Schreyer Mysteries: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Susan-Schreyer-Mysteries/161359303906634
Twitter: @susanschreyer
Email: susan@susanschreyer.com

Interview: Diane Vallere

Please welcome Diane Vallere, author of Designer Dirty Laundry.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day would include about 72 hours! Seriously, I think having enough time to do everything I want to do in a day would make it perfect. And a little extra time to read, too.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
If I have a signature anything, it would probably be Pucci printed dresses. I have a slight addiction to them, I think I own 13. That’s what Jacqueline Susann wore on her book tour while promoting Valley of the Dolls, and I think that in itself is fabulous!

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
John Hughes, Orson Welles, and Doris Day.

Do you listen to music when you write? 
I don’t listen to anything when I write at home, but my protagonist’s theme song is “Messin’ With the Kidd,” by Junior Wells.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
It would be a Hershey Bar with almonds. Hershey is in Pennsylvania, and Designer Dirty Laundry is set in Pennsylvania. The candy bar is milk chocolate—nothing too dark or deep—but the almonds are the “meat”: the fashion industry info and the character growth. Or, maybe the nuts are just nuts.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Being the younger of two girls, I grew up with the nickname “the kid.” I liked the idea of having a character literally named Kidd (Samantha Kidd). I put her into the house where she grew up, in the city where she grew up, and wanted to play with the constant pull of her having been successful in her former work life (but not satisfied) vs. her feeling like the kid she was when growing up, still trying to figure everything out on her own.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 
I tend to explore issues of identity. Not on purpose, but I can see that that’s the issue that’s central to my protagonists. My next book features a character older than Samantha, with a much more firm grasp on her own identity. In Designer Dirty Laundry, Samantha is still figuring out who she is.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today? 
Samantha Kidd doesn’t quite know what she wants out of life. She’s a natural problem solver and an over-achiever, probably the result of being a younger child herself. She’s learned that hard work and dedication get her praise in her job, but after many years of success as the buyer for a luxury department store in New York, she starts to realize that the countless hours at work and the praise on her performance reviews isn’t enough to satisfy her.

Samantha is willing to charge into situations without thinking about the repercussions. She’s able to live in the moment and not get bogged down by fears and what-ifs. I think I’d be a bit more rooted in reality if this situation happened to me, but I would love to have Samantha by my side telling me to worry about such stuff later!

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Gracie Allen, Carrie Bradshaw, and Trixie Belden.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Judy Blume, Mildred Wirt Benson, Susie Hinton, Lawrence Block, Norton Juster, and Vladimir Nabokov.

What’s next for you? 
The first book in a new series, Pillow Stalk, comes out in October. Interior Decorator Madison Night has modeled her life after a character in a Doris Day movie, but when a killer targets women dressed like the bubbly actress, Madison’s signature sixties style places her in the middle of a homicide investigation. The local detective connects the new crimes to a twenty-year old cold case, and Madison’s long-trusted contractor emerges as the leading suspect. As the body count piles up like a stack of plush pillows, Madison uncovers a former spy, a campaign to destroy all Doris Day movies, and six minutes of film that will change her life forever.

***

Diane Vallere is a textbook Capricorn who writes mysteries and loves clothes. Her first publication credit was “Identity Crisis” in Fish Tales:  The Guppy Anthology. She launched her own detective agency at ten-years-old and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.

Email: diane@dianevallere.com
Twitter: @dianevallere
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/diane.vallere
Newsletter Signup: http://polyesterpress.com/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4739022.Diane_Vallere

The Curious Case of the Classroom

As a young reader, I tore through the different series featuring Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, and Hardy Boys.  As a teenager, I favored mysteries by Phyllis Whitney, Agatha Christie, and too many others to count.  Yet I have no memory of reading a mystery for school (other than the mystery of math word problems).  Perhaps some schools did offer that opportunity, but mine did not.  It wasn’t until graduate school that I even heard the words “mystery” and “detective” in a classroom–it was only in connection with Edgar Allan Poe and was more of an aside than a focus of conversation.  Happily, college courses on the mystery have been increasing in number from the 1970s forward, though they often are listed under “special topics.”

However, knowing at least the basic conventions of mystery is crucial for interpreting certain literary texts (for example, there is little chance of fully appreciating Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound or Paul Auster’s City of Glass without them in mind).  When I teach such texts, it’s typically not until we go over some of “the rules” (e.g., Knox’s Decalogue and the Van Dine list) that classes can proceed to lively discussion of the ways in which the authors are playing with those conventions as postmodern technique.

I’m not suggesting that we should read mysteries only for literary analysis purposes.  We should read mysteries because we should read mysteries!  What I am pondering is how the mystery appears to have been labelled Not One Of The Necessary Genres To Be Taught.  I very much question that categorization.

Curious as to whether most people began reading the mystery genre at a young age or later on?  In school or out?