Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sebastian Stuart talks about To The Manor Dead

I blame Stephen McCauley. He lives with the author Sebastian Stuart, and he sent me a copy of To the Manor Dead, and I was promptly enchanted. A deliciously funny mystery, it features a former psychologist who opens a collectibles shop and soon gets up to her elbows in mayhem. Thanks so much, Stuart for letting me irritate you with all my questions!

To the Manor Dead is a really witty charmer. So where did the idea spark? And where, especially did Janet come from?

When I was in my late twenties I bought a little cabin right at the foot of the eastern escarpment of the Catskills, where they meet the Hudson Valley. I just fell in love with the area -- it's gorgeous, diverse, full of history, and most important filled with fascinating, eccentric and bizarre people. I thought it would be a great place to set a mystery series.
Janet is sort of alter ego of mine; I'm a bit obsessed with psychology, families, the birth and blossoming of neurosis, psychoses, and pathologies. Janet gives me chance to explore all that, in a voice that I hope is fun.

Janet, an East Village psychotherapist, moves to a seemingly sleepy little town to sell antiques. So what makes an urbane guy attracted to small town life?

The town Janet moves to is a thinly-disguised Saugerties, New York, which is a Hudson River town. All the towns along the Hudson belie the traditional image of a small town -- because of the Hudson Valley's rich history and proximity to NYC, they're diverse and pretty sophisticated.You'll find ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities, lots of artists, druggies, lowlifes, aristocrats, farmers, you name it. It's a rich stew, perfect for cooking up murder.

What’s your writing day like? Are you an outliner or do you fly by the seat of your pants, and I have to ask, what is it like to live with another writer?

My typical writing day is a nightmare of procrastination, regret, and self-loathing. And those are the good days. I've tried everything short of a lobotomy to improve my discipline -- the only thing that works is a deadline that leads to a check. Terror and poverty are pretty good motivators.
I have an idea of where I'm going with my story, but if I just roll with it a lot of stuff happens that I hadn't planned. The trick for me is getting out of my own way.
Living with Steve McCauley is a dream come true -- and not only because he's a dreamboat. My great inspiration in life is Tom Sawyer and his fence-painting M.O.: "Gosh, Steve, writing this chapter is so much fun, all I need is one perfect phrase! You're so brilliant, can you think of one?"Pretty soon Steve is rewriting the entire chapter into something far wittier and more coherent than anything I could have come up with. I highly recommend this writing method.

You’ve also done ghostwriting, plays and screenplays. Is it difficult to navigate from one form to another?
Nope, it's fun. It's also made easier by the fact that my brain is constructed like a sieve. Stuff goes in and then it goes out: nothing remains but blank space. So I'm all fresh and ready for my next gig.

What’s obsessing you now?
Finishing book two in the Janet's Planet series. Oh, and the impending end of civilization, of course.

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