Sunday, August 9, 2015

Clea Simon talks about CODE GREY, library theft, salted caramel, and so much more

 I first met Clea Simon in some weird online writers' group years and books ago, and we quickly became fast friends--we see each other at least once a year, and I can't tell you how many times she's come to my rescue!

 She's the author of three nonfiction books and three mystery series. The nonfiction books are Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings(Doubleday, 1997), Fatherless Women: How We Change After We Lose Our Dads (Wiley, 2001) and The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats (St. Martin’s Press, 2002). The Theda Krakow mystery series was launched with Mew is for Murder and continued with Cattery Row and Cries and Whiskers, and Probable Claws (Poisoned PenPress). Her Dulcie Schwartz series launched with Shades of Grey, and continues with Grey Matters, Grey Zone, Grey Expectations, True Grey, Grey Dawn, Grey Howl, Stages of Grey and, in summer 2015, Code Grey (Severn House). The Pru Marlowe pet noir series started with Dogs Don't Lie and continues with Cats Can't Shoot, Parrots Prove Deadly, Panthers Play for Keeps, and Kittens Can Kill (Poisoned Pen Press).

Her essays are included in several anthologies, including Cat Women: Female Writers on Their Feline Friends, For Keeps: Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance, and He Said What? Women Write About Moments When Everything Changed (Seal Press). Her short mysteries are included in Christmas Cats: A Literary Companion (Chamberlain Bros.), Deadfall: Crime Stories by New England Authors (Level Best), Cambridge Voices (Friends of the CPL), and Tales from the House Band, Volumes 1 and 2 (Plus One Press). She has also written new introductions for two Agatha Christie classics, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Secret Adversary, published by the Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading.

Clea, the only thing more fun that this interview would be conducting it in person!  Thank you!

What was the spark that led you to writing this book?

I was reading about a horrible and daring library theft in Naples, at the Girolamini library. Basically, it seems, a former director of the library conspired with antiquities dealers to raid a priceless collection of books and prints. He’s been arrested, but the authorities are still working to restore the collection. My Dulcie Schwartz series has an academic setting, and Dulcie is a scholar and a book lover, so it seemed like a natural fit. Who would steal rare books – and who would work to save them?

You've written so many fine mysteries--what was different when you approached this one? What surprised you in the writing?

Thank you! I loved researching this one, I have to say. Learning about book restoration – it’s a topic I’ve written on before, but I really got to indulge this time. In terms of the writing, I decided that I wanted to isolate my protagonist. This is the ninth book in the series, so Dulcie has acquired quite a coterie of friends and acquaintances. For this book, I sent them all away – it’s set during spring break on campus – so I could have her on her own. That was great fun.

Have your writing habits changed since you first started writing? How and why, do you think?

I think I have become more accepting of my writing habits. For example, I no longer fight the fact that I do my best work between four and nine p.m. That’s just the way it is. I wish I were a morning person, but I’m not. And dinner is always late. I do worry a little less, though. I’ve now written enough that I believe I can probably finish just about anything I start. That’s encouraging!

I deeply admire the way your story world (the world of academia) winds its way into the plot. You have a knack for having smart heroines AND savvy cats. Why is that combination so perfect?

Thank you! As a cat person, I’d say that any story is improved by the presence of a cat. As for smart heroines, well, we’re all book lovers, right? So who else would I write about?

What's obsessing you now and why?

Who the murderer is in my next Dulcie. I have a great victim and a ton of folks who have motive to kill him. He’s a petty, womanizing, nasty little man - a recent (unwanted) addition to Dulcie’s thesis committee who is questioning her research, so even Dulcie might be a suspect. But which one did it? I’ll let you know when I know!

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Chocolate or salted caramel? Only, I don’t know if I can answer that one. Oh, you could ask me about “The Ninth Life.” It’s a darker book than I’ve ever written and it will be published next spring by Severn House. It has a cat in it! I’ll tell you more next time!


Bill Peschel said...

I have to check out her books. I seen a number of cat mysteries out there, but anyone who can make me laugh at a title like "Mew is for Murder" is worth it.

Clea Simon said...

Thanks, Bill! It probably says a lot about me/my upbringing/genetics that I treasure a small wooden disc given to me by my father, with the letters TUIT printed on one side (think about it). And thank YOU, Caroline, for having me here, in spirit if not in person!