Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Making the Holiday Reading List

I'm not normally a reader of historical mysteries, but CITY OF LOST DREAMS, the new book by Magnus Flyte, seems to be much more than that--it is whimsey and fantasy in a historical setting, according to Kirkus, who called it "a lively, amusing romantic mystery," while CNN dubbed it "one of the most original novels released this year."

You had me at romantic, actually, but I always like to read something fresh and lively, and this book seems to be just the ticket for my holiday reading.

There is, apparently, a first book, called CITY OF DARK MAGIC, but I think I'm going to start with number two and see if it strikes my fancy.  I can always go back and read the other book by the mysterious Mr. Flyte.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Gearing up for Autumn



Fall is almost here, and the weather in Chicago is aready crisp and cool. This is the time for long walks, hot soup, sweatshirts, and extra covers on the bed--with the windows open!!

What's your favorite thing about autumn?

Monday, September 02, 2013

Happy Labor Day

                                                    May all of your labors be appreciated.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Barbara Rogan on Writers, Agents, Editors, and Her New Mystery

Hello, Barbara!  I enjoyed reading your new mystery, A DANGEROUS FICTION, and once I got about halfway through I really couldn’t put it down until I finished it!  Thanks for agreeing to chat about it.

Let’s begin with the title: it’s a clever one, referring both to the publishing business, in which the main character works, and the heroine’s tendency to embellish her history. What came to you first: the title, or the plot?

I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I agree, it is a very apt title; but as usual with my books, I didn’t come up with it. It was the brainchild of my editor at Viking. While I was writing the book, I was calling it “Can You Hear Me Now?” which I quite liked; but “A Dangerous Fiction” really nailed the novel and I loved it as soon as I heard it.

Your main character, Jo, is tough, yet vulnerable, and she goes through a lot in this novel, both personally and professionally.  Is she utterly fictional, or is she an amalgam of agents you have known?

I subscribe to the great Ivy Compton-Burnett’s take on creating fictional characters.  “People in life hardly seem definite enough to appear in print,” she once said. “They are not good or bad enough, or clever or stupid enough, or comic or pitiful enough.”  I drew from my own experience and that of my friends in the industry to write this book, but Jo Donovan, the character, was who she needed to be for the story.
  
The book offers us an inside look at a successful literary agency and some of the work that is done inside. I was shocked by the uncertainty of it: the fear of colleagues who might bear grudges, of media that might affect the agency’s reputation, of clients that might leave, seeking greener pastures.  Is agenting, indeed, not for the faint of heart?

Publishing in general is not for the faint of heart, whether you’re an editor, agent, or writer. When I first started my agency, there were times that I had to worry about putting food on the table. But most people who work in that field do it because they love books and writing, and both agents and editors take great pride in their writers' work. 

The cop in the novel, NYPD Detective Tommy Cullen, is an attractive man. He reminded me of Joseph Cotton’s character in Dial M for Murder.  Do you happen to like that Hitchcock flick?

I do, though I haven’t seen it in ages. In the back of my mind, though, as I wrote A DANGEROUS FICTION, I was hearing dialogue from those classic Thin Man movies and Dorothy Parker’s stories.

Cool!!  Jo’s past is littered with memories she doesn’t want to confront: the deaths of her parents; the abuses perpetrated by her grandmother; the marriage she insists was perfect. Why would someone as brilliant as Jo be so limited in analyzing her own experience?

Because it worked for her to compartmentalize her life, instead of integrating all its disparate parts. That integration is part of the journey she’s on, and one of the reasons I feel compelled to write more about Jo. But don’t we all tweak bits of our lives to make it a better story?  Fiction is so much tidier than real life: more reason, less chance.

I was particularly fond of a character named Mingus, who happened to be a dog.  Is Mingus based on any German Shepherds you have known?

All of them. So glad you liked Mingus! A good German shepherd is pretty much the ideal dog for me. Except for the shedding.

Jo has quite a few men in her corner.  Are they protective of her because she is vulnerable, or do they naturally want to help a beautiful damsel in distress?

She has women in her corner, too. And she’s pretty tough; I don’t see her playing the helpless woman card.

While we’re on the subject of beauty—you have quite a few truly beautiful characters.  Two gorgeous young interns, a beautiful protagonist, and a former lover whose nickname was “Prom King.”  Do you think audiences are more sympathetic to beautiful people—even fictional ones?

Subconsciously they may be. Studies have shown that in real life attractive people have a pronounced advantage; it’s not unlikely that that carries over to fiction. But I’d like to think there are functional reasons my characters look the way they do. Certainly it’s true in Jo’s case, because she’s used her looks, along with brains and determination, to make her way in the world.

You once ran a literary agency in Israel. What are the notable differences between agenting in Israel and agenting in New York?

New York is tougher, because it’s never one person who decides to buy a book, a number of people have to weigh in, and any one of them can veto it along the way. In Israel, editors seemed to have more autonomy. But I haven’t been an agent in many years, and things may have changed.

You once met Madeline L’Engle.  What was she like?  How did you happen to meet?

I represented her U.S. agent, Theron Raines, for Hebrew rights, which meant I handled her books among others. I took the opportunity of introducing myself, because I pretty much worshiped her. She was my favorite writer as a kid, and I still remember the experience of reading A WRINKLE IN TIME one day when I was 8 or 9 and thinking, for the first time, that I wanted to do this; I wanted to make up stories and write  books. We met a few times at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, had lunch and talked about books and writing. When my second novel, CAFÉ NEVOwas published, she wrote that it was “a wonderful novel with richly developed characters acting and interacting… the café and its clients will long remain in memory.” What was she like? Some writers put the best of themselves into their work and don’t have much left over. Madeleine L’Engle was as kind and gracious as she was gifted.


I always got that vibe from her dust jacket photo--it's nice to know it was true. What are you reading now?

Ruth Rendell’s THE ST. ZITA SOCIETY and Elizabeth Strout’s THE BURGESS BROTHERS.

Are you writing another mystery?

I’m currently writing the second of what will be at least two more Jo Donovan mysteries. She interests me strangely.

Awesome! You’ve done it all in publishing: agenting, writing, teaching, leading seminars.  What advice do you give writers that they seem to find the most helpful?

I also teach writing, at my online school www.nextlevelworkshop.com so I am a fount of advice. Very generally, I advise writers to work on the craft and not to rush a story into print just because it’s so easy to do in the era of easy self-publishing. Novels are complicated; they take time and multiple drafts to fully emerge.


You’ve traveled many places; is there a place on Earth that you’d love to visit but have not yet done so? 

Kenya and South Africa. I want to do a safari, though preferably one with comfortable beds and no bugs.

Which of the places you’ve visited was the most beautiful?

The west coast of Ireland; the Adriatic coast around Dubrovnik; parts of Switzerland; and Ein Gedi on the shore of the Dead Sea.

Thanks for chatting with me, Barbara! 


My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Find out more about Barbara Rogan on her website.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sarah Weinman Salutes the Women of Suspense

I was excited to receive this in the mail last week: Sarah Weinman's awesome compilation of suspense tales by women.  As a life-long mystery fan, I recognized just about all of the names of the authors Weinman has selected, starting with Margaret Millar, one of my favorites from way back. I never felt Millar got the credit she deserved, perhaps because she was somehow seen as the writing spouse of Ross MacDonald, as though it was his profession and her hobby.

I read Millar's story first, something reminiscent of a really good Twilight Zone episode and definitely a fun thing to read right before bed!

Other writers in the book include the great Charlotte Armstrong and Patricia Highsmith (author of The Talented Mr. Ripley).

For those who loved Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (which used to be in just about every grade school anthology, guaranteeing nightmares for generations of children), Weinman has provided a different Jackson tale, equally eerie and memorable.

It's so refreshing to see a book focused on the talented women in mystery fiction--the undersung writers whose accomplishments, if you read the biographies listed here, are multitudinous.

Hurrah! May more books like this be forthcoming.




Thursday, July 18, 2013

Crime Writer John Barlow: Leeds and Crime Fiction

 John Barlow is a British crime writer who has just released the second book in his LS9 Crime Series, called FATHER AND SON.  In this guest blog, he explains why Leeds has been underused as a site for crime fiction.  


The case for Leeds

by John Barlow

Crime writers often base their novels in a specific place, and become identified with that city or area: Ian Rankin (Edinburgh), Peter James (Brighton), John Harvey (Nottingham), Peter Robinson (North Yorkshire), Ann Cleeves Northumberland, Shetlands), Nick Quantril (Hull). The new wave of self-published writers has continued this tradition: Kerry Wilkinson (Manchester), Bill Rogers (Manchester), Mel Sherratt (Stoke)...

The setting for these books become part of the works themselves, almost characters in the fiction. When you open a new novel by one of these writers, you sink back into the familiar atmosphere of a familiar place, just as you reacquaint yourself with the main character.

Looking back at that (very incomplete) list, there’s a lot of northern towns and cities. Whereas ‘literary’ fiction is often associated with the south, especially London, the same cannot be said of crime writing, where both Tartan and Northern Noir are squarely on the map.

Except for Leeds. England’s third largest city (after Birmingham and London) is more or less absent from the list. Sure, there’s David Peace. But his novels, for some reason, don’t resonate with the city in the same way as Ian Rankin’s do of Edinburgh. We do have Kate Atkinson’s STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG there, but apart from that, Leeds really lacks a major presence in crime writing. Which is strange, because rival city Manchester is bursting with crime fiction, so much that at any moment we might expect the city’s Tourism Office to take out ads in the national press reminding people that this is fiction, and that Deansgate and Peter Street are not in fact littered with bleeding corpses.

A couple of years ago I wrote my first crime thriller, and decided to set it in Leeds. As part of the research for the book, I contacted the West Yorkshire Police, explained who I was, and was allocated an official contact on the city’s CID. I asked him what it was like working on serious crime in Leeds. The best place! he said, grinning. He went on to tell me how interesting and varied crime was in the city, and that for a CID officer there was no better posting.

I started to realise that Leeds was in fact perfect for crime fiction. It is large, with a varied economy and a rich social mix. There’s the broad swathe of 1960s social housing to the north of the city, which at one point included Quarry Hill, at the time the largest social housing project in the UK. Then, just a few miles further out are the millionaires’ residences and golf clubs of the city’s rich folk, many of whom are extremely rich, and absolutely fair game for any fictional criminal...

Leeds also has a long history of immigration, with a number of very well established ethnic communities. For example, when young Polish immigrants began to arrive in the city in recents years, they found the remnants of an earlier wave of Polish immigration, including social centres.

Then, inevitably, there’s the Ripper. The hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper was coordinated from Millgarth Police Station in Leeds city centre. It was a watershed in British policing, and showed how inadequate the investigative practices of the time were; at one point, the floor in Millgarth used to store the huge card index system for the Ripper inquiry had to be reinforced, since it was threatening to bring down the whole building.

A direct consequence of this was the HOLMES nation database, which figures in most police procedural novels these days, since all serious crime is entered into its vast digital store. Every police officer I have talked from the city to carries the Ripper investigation deep in their psyche, part of the DNA of policing there.

To say Leeds could be the new Edinburgh is not stretching the imagination. And given that the Harrogate Festival is just a bus ride away (OK, a short drive in your BMW), it seemed a good place to celebrate Leeds in all its (fictional) criminal glory. The Tartan lot may have had all the headlines up until now, but I think Northern Noir is ripe for a surge, with Leeds at the helm. I’m doing my bit, with a series set right in Leeds city centre. I don’t know to what extent this is a risk, but when the first novel came out, last year, a blogger from Australia not only reviewed the book, but wrote a piece about the city itself.

So, if you’re looking for a new destination in your crime reading, give Leeds a try. The streets are not littered with bleeding corpses just yet, but I’m doing my best.

John Barlow’s second novel set in Leeds, FATHER AND SON, is out now. Buy it here:
Amazon (US)
Amazon (UK)
 Or find him at his website, www.johnbarlow.net.






























Thursday, June 20, 2013

Anxiety, Imprisonment, and THE NEVER LIST

It was little more than a month ago that three women were rescued from  a Cleveland, Ohio home, where they had been held for years against their will and where they were beaten, raped, and restrained in a dungeon-like basement. Koethi Zan's new thriller THE NEVER LIST has eerie parallels to that story, since it tells the tale of a woman who was held in similar captivity for three years, along with two other women.

The narrator of THE NEVER LIST is one of the captives, and she begins her tale by saying "There were four of us down there for the first thirty-two months and eleven days of our captivity."

Perhaps the most frightening thing about this book is that it doesn't even necessarily seem like fiction.  Several high-profile rescues in the last ten years (notably two in Austria and two in California) involved similar kidnappings and imprisonments of women, sometimes for many years.  One of the Austrian women,  Elisabeth Fritzl, was imprisoned (by her own father) when she was eighteen and was only freed twenty-four years later, after giving birth to seven children sired by her father and suffering repeated abuse by him.

THE NEVER LIST, to my relief, does not so much detail the abuse that the prisoners received as it does examine the psychology of imprisonment--not only the motivation of the captor, but the many repercussions, physical and psychological, created by the loss of freedom.

The book's title emerges as a central irony of the novel--the narrator, Sarah, and her best friend, Jennifer, survive a car crash when they are young, after which, in their anxiety, they try to manage their lives by preventing any possible tragedies.  They do this by creating THE NEVER LIST--what never to do if one wants to stay safe. Never walk alone, never trust a stranger, never park far from your destination, etc. When Jennifer and Sarah eventually become captives, Sarah is faced with the bitter truth: victimization is not necessarily something one can avoid by being vigilant.

Indeed, the notion of victimization is explored at length in this novel, in an interesting and compelling way.  While I didn't always predict the direction that the novel would go and I found at least one event utterly unbelievable, I must admit that I read this book practically in one sitting, and it was truly compulsive reading.

Zan's premise is fascinating not only because she takes us inside the mind of one who has endured horror, but because she examines the reality of anxiety in teenagers. Recent studies have suggested that both anxiety and depression have increased at a rapid rate in young people, and I thought of that when I read Sarah's account of the time she spent with her teenage friend chronicling all possible disasters that could befall them and then making plans to avoid them. Their anxiety created a sort of agoraphobic avoidance, an imprisonment-before-their-imprisonment.

Sarah's narrative voice is compelling and heartbreaking, and her life after captivity makes the reader root for her even while they acknowledge that she can never be the same.

An interesting and sobering read.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Marian Keyes on Beautiful Handbags, Clever Children, and Her Fun New Mystery

Marian Keyes is one of the most successful Irish novelists of all time. Her new book, The Mystery of Mercy Close, is available in bookstores now.

Hello, Marian! First, let me say that your book was a delight to read!  I very much enjoyed The Mystery of Mercy Close.

Hello Julia, and thank you very much. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, I had lots of fun writing it!

Your character, Helen, has a wonderful narrative voice—direct and spritely and likable.  How do you keep her narration so full of energy?  Did you hear her voice in your head while you were writing the novel?

The thing is that Helen has already appeared in 4 of my other books. There is a family of 5 sisters, and 4 of the other sisters have already had ‘their’ book and this was Helen’s turn. So in a way I already knew her voice. But it’s very different to mine so every time I sat down to write I had to ‘become’ Helen, like an actor preparing for a part. And I knew she was no-nonsense and slightly acerbic, so I had to divest myself of any sentimentality

Helen had two love interests in this novel, and they were both extremely attractive.  One of them truly won my heart.  Are you a romantic at heart?  Do you like reading romantic stories?

I’m so glad you liked them! I’m interested in reading about relationships, all relationships and all my novels are about emotional landscapes. When I was a lot younger and studying law I got light relief by reading a couple of Harlequin-style romances every weekend. …I’m not so sure I could do that now. I’m not really a fan of books that present a man as the solution to all the heroine’s problems.

The premise of the mystery is that a former boy band member goes missing right before the band’s reunion.  Do you have a favorite boy band that you would like to see reunited?

There’s an Irish boyband called BoyZone, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them? Also, I need to say I’m very fond of One Direction!

On your website you mention that one of your favorite artists is George Michael.  If you could sing a duet with him, what would it be?

Oh, what a lovely thought! I’d happily sing  anything with him! Perhaps Club Tropicana!

One of my favorite characters in Mercy Close is a nine-year-old girl named Bella, whose dialogue is routinely hilarious.  Is she inspired by any real nine-year-olds, or did you just tap into your little-girl memories?

I will whisper this… Bella was inspired by 2 little girls I know. One is my niece, Ema, who was always incredibly bright and at the age of 4, her favourite movie was Roman Holiday. Even from a young age, I was able to have ‘grown-up’ conversations with her about movies and clothes and nail varnish. She took our discussions very seriously. The other inspiration for Bella is my god-daughter Kitten, who often does quizzes for me, the way Bella does for Helen.

The quiz was wonderful! (And I love the name Kitten). You have a law degree.  If you practiced law today instead of writing your wonderful books, what would be your specialty?

Oooooh…. Tricky question. I feel so so so far away from the world of law that I couldn’t imagine practicing anything.  I suppose I feel that the legal world is invoked to either anticipate a conflict or to resolve it and I’m a bit sappy. I like everyone to be nice!

Helen struggles with anxiety and depression; at one point she confides to her doctor that she is waking up each day at 4:44.  I’m curious to know if this is a real phenomenon, because I’ve had my share of panic attacks, and there was a point when I was also not only waking up at 4:44 each morning, but also seeing that number everywhere—on license plates, on billboards.  Do you think this a number that stands out to anxious people?

VERY interesting point! They do say that, with human beings, our bio-rhythms make us most sad/fearful/vulnerable around 4 am. Without getting too morbid, it’s the time when ill people are most likely to die. There is so much anecdotal evidence that 4am-ish is when people wake to do their worrying that it must be true. I don’t think the fault lies with the numbers themselves, though, but the fact that our bodies and psyches are at their most depleted around then. 

Helen’s descriptions of her depression is so detailed and realistic that I became depressed when reading some of the passages.  How were you able to so well balance the darker side of Helen’s psyche with her fun, humorous narration?

It’s a feature of all my book that I balance serious issues with lots of humour. It was very important for me to write an accuture account of what it’s really like suffering from depression. However, I could only take so much darkness and I needed to write comedy and fun and lightness to counteract it. Laughter is a survival mechanism and it kicks in with me when it’s needed. And I want my readers to have a good time, I’m happy to reveal some darkness, but ultimately I’d like everyone to leave my books feeling uplifted and hopeful.

Helen notes with some irony that the Devlin family (her boyfriend’s family) are seemingly perfect: they’re all blonde and good-looking, they have a gorgeous house and nice possessions, and everything they touch seems to turn to gold.  So why are they such a likeable bunch?  Shouldn’t  we (and Helen) hate them?

I know what you mean! But it’s because the Devlins themselves are so well-mannered and thoughtful and loving that makes them likeable. I happen to know a family of 3 sisters and they’re all gorgeous and accomplished and successful, but they have such a knack of making me feel special and loved when I’m in their company that it’s impossible to do anything but adore them! The same with the Devlins (apart from Bruno, of course, who is not a fan of Helen’s.) They treat her with such admiration and fondness that she can’t help but be seduced.

That makes sense.  On another note, you are in Ireland.  Do you visit America often?   If so, what stands out the most about our country for you?

Well, I do visit often, because one of my sisters lives in New York. And over the years I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many places in your beautiful country.  I suppose what amazes me about the US is your incredible geographical diversity.  Also, you have such amazing handbag designers! My sister lets me know about what’s new and exciting long before it arrives here. Last time I saw her, she had a fabulous cross-body purse by Vince Camuto, which I really really really want…

Will there be more mystery novels starring Helen Walsh?

Yes! I’m hoping! I’m currently working on a new book, which isn’t about Helen, but I’m hoping that the one after will be about Helen and – the best bit – set in New York!

Terrific! How can readers find out more about you?

I have a website www.mariankeyes.com or you can follow me on twitter @mariankeyes.

Thanks so much, Marian, for the interview!!

Thank you so much!

(Photo credit: Barry McCall).



Thursday, April 11, 2013

French Thriller Writer Franck Thilliez Chats About Sharks, Subliminal Messages and Syndrome E


Franck Thilliez's new novel, SYNDROME E, is his first book available in an American translation. The movie rights have been sold to Paintbrush Films.

Franck, thanks so much for discussing your book with me.

This novel introduced many themes: neuroscience, police work, schizophrenia, parent-child relationships, a computer-oriented world, violent video games, film technology, and subliminal suggestion, to name a few.  Do you start a novel knowing all the themes you would like to discuss, or does your research and writing lead you to more and more complicated plots?

Yes, I know, in a general way, the main topics I’ll talk about. Concerning Syndrome E, I wanted to talk about all themes concerning pictures and the impact they have on our brain. So, it concerned movies, video games, subliminal pictures, brain studies… But you’re right: the more I researched, the more I discovered plots that I could talk about, like neuromarketing or the way a movie is made. So, I naturally included them in my story.   

Lucie Hennebelle is a single mother of twins; she is also a career cop.  This sounds like an almost impossible combination. Do you think that cops, male and female, spend a lot of time feeling guilty about their family obligations?

I know a few cops and I often talk with them about their job. They are people really involved in their work, they like what they’re doing and are proud of it. When you work in the violent crime department, here in France, you can’t say: “I go to work at 8 am and come back home at 5 pm,” because it does not depend on you, but on murderers! If you work on a big case, it will take all your time, day and night, because, you know, the 2 or 3 first days after a crime is committed are the most important: you can’t lose a minute. So, you’ll not be at home, near your family, and your work will consume you. But, most of time, they do not feel guilty, because this job is a part of their life, as much important as their children. It’s not easy to be the wife of a cop (or the husband of a female cop), because, adding to that, this could be a dangerous job…

Someone in the novel suffers from hysterical blindness. I’d heard the term before, but had never really seen it applied to a situation.  How common is this condition?  How did you research it?

It’s an amazing condition. I heard about it when I talked with a psychiatrist. He said to me: “One day, I treated a woman who did not hear her husband when he talked to her. She heard her children, but she couldn’t hear him! This is what we call hysterical deafness. She’s not really deaf, but her brain makes her believe she is… ” It was amazing. By doing research, I discovered that there were all sorts of such hysterical problems: people thinking they’ve lost a leg or arm, people thinking they’re blind… All those conditions have a psychological explanation and can be solved.

Franck Sharko is a great name for a detective. Did he become Sharko because he is predatory to the bad guys?  Or did you have other reasons for giving him this name? (And is there a reason that you share a Christian name?)

Here, in France, most readers ask me : “Why did you call your detective Sharko ?” It’s great that you are American, because you immediately see that in Sharko, there is the English word “Shark."  Shark, because Franck Sharko never abandons, he’s really a hunter of killers and will work and work until he catches them! And for the first name, Franck, the same as mine: I just wanted “Franck Sharko” to sound hard, like German. Because he’s a hard guy!

One of the many facts that stood out for me was a film expert’s claim that François Mitterand attempted, in 1988, to subliminally influence voters by splicing his image into the credits of the evening news.  How did he achieve this?  Did he pay off a producer?

In France, the “Chanel 2” is a public channel, so it belongs to the French State. A president can choose the head of the channel, and he can decide to squelch publicity, … I don’t know how it really happened with François Mitterand, but because he was president since 1980 he had the power to put a subliminal image of himself on the evening news a few weeks before the election of 1988 to re-elect him! You must also know that during this period, there were no laws that forbade someone to use subliminal images in films or advertising…

Wow!  How worried should we be, in 2012, that we are being manipulated through the medium of film or things that we see on computer and television screens?

As I say in the book, we must protect our children, who are always watching violent pictures, in video games, on Internet or television. Most of them (under 7 years old) can’t distinguish reality from fiction. With the new technologies (phones, i-pads, Internet), times are changing; now our sons and daughters are growing up with violent pictures around them.

In extreme cases, we can perhaps see the consequence of this in the news: look what happened in Norway with Behring Breivik, look at the different massacres in schools over the last years, or the awful killing in the cinema during the broadcast of Batman, a few days ago. Some killers even try to post their acts on the Internet.

So, I don’t think we are manipulated, I just want to tell people: be careful of all those screen broadcasted pictures; they could be dangerous…

Are you an old film buff yourself?  Do you collect films?

When I was 15 years old, and for many years later, I used to watch all horror/thriller/suspense films that would be broadcast on TV! Sometimes, films were broadcast late in the night, and I remember going to bed and setting my alarm clock to wake me up just before the beginning of the film. It was also the period I was a member of a small video club, near my house, so I could rent of all the tapes I wanted. I used to collect video tapes, and then DVDs, but I sold most of them when I grew up, because I needed money! I always loved Hitchcock’s films, Dario Argento, Andrew Romero, David Cronenberg; and nowadays, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan or Ridley Scott are some of my favorite directors.

You must have loved Inception.  :)

Your description of Egypt, through Sharko’s eyes, is not flattering—it talked me out of ever visiting Egypt.  Have you travelled there?

Talking about the Egypt in tour guides with the Pyramids, Sphinx, nice places in Cairo was not interesting me. A crime novel must be more than a diversion; it must inform readers of the reality of our world. So, I wanted to show the country as it really is.  Most of people there are poor; they have difficulties surviving and they live in awful conditions. There are more than 8 shantytowns at the border of the Cairo, containing thousands and thousands of people. I say in the book that the police and government are corrupt. Revolution exploded in Egypt only a few months after the publication of Syndrome E in France, and I proves that I was not completely wrong…

And no, I never travelled there, but did a lot of research on this country, watching Egyptian films, reading books, talking by email with people there.

A small story : I tried to be in contact with the police there, just to ask single things, like “how are you clothed?” or “what are the grades in your police?,” but they never answered, they said top secret!

At one point Lily and Sharko feast on Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Is this American chain popular in France?

It’s starting to gain popularity, but it’s not as popular as McDonalds!

Ah, the ubiquitous McDonalds!  :)

There are many airplane journeys in the novel—Sharko finds them wearying, almost existential experiences—and yet they retain a certain glamour for the reader, linking the characters to far-flung locales.  What’s your attitude toward airplane travel?  Do you enjoy it?

In the last two years, I travelled a lot because of the publication of my books in many countries. I really like airplane travel. I love being in an airport, seeing people going abroad, and others coming back home. An airport is a particular place where you can touch the world. I read a lot during my travels, and sometimes I write. The most difficult is, of course, the jet lag, but it’s such a good thing to discover new countries and people.

Great point! On to Lucie Henebelle. Lucie is compared, by one character, to Jodie Foster.  Are you a Jodie Foster fan?  Did you see Lucie Henebelle as sort of similar to Foster’s Clarice Starling?  Or do you just like Foster’s combination of toughness and femininity?

I’m absolutely a fan of Jodie Foster! She’s a great actor and she would be perfect for Lucie, the main character of my book, if she were slightly younger. When I created Lucie a few years ago, I had in mind Jodie Foster as she was in The Silence of the Lambs, one of my favorite films.

Who are your literary influences? What are you reading now?

I started by reading Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and classical Anglo-Saxon crime novels. Then I had my period of Stephen King (and still do).  He’s a great writer. I spent night after night reading his books, trying to guess how he could frighten us so much. During my studies, I did not read a lot (but was watching films!). I started reading crime novels again 10 years ago. Nowadays, I read Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, but also books by John Steinbeck.

If I could make only one journey to France, where should I be sure to go?

Everywhere ! France is a beautiful country, with many cultures, great landscape, big towns but also very quaint villages, where the time has stood still. French food and wine are excellent; just spend time in a little restaurant of Paris or by the sea at Deauville or Cannes!

Sounds lovely! Thank you so much for a terrific read and for answering these questions.

You’re welcome. It was a pleasure. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Kaye Barley Returns to Talk About Whimsical Women, Beautiful Places, and Delicious Food



Hi, Kaye!  Nice to see you again on the blog.

Hi, Julia – Thanks so much for having me back.

Your writer friends have been telling you for years to write a book.  Not until recently did you take them up on the challenge.  What made you sit down to write Whimsey, your self-published book?

They have been, haven’t they?  Especially a couple in particular – Judith Greber and Earl Staggs.  Judith with gentle nudges, Earl – eh, not so gently.  (I’m teasing about Earl - sorta).  But after I retired I decided it was now or never and I wanted to see if I could actually write the book I wanted to write.  It took a couple years, but with Earl’s patient guidance, holding my hand and teaching me every step of the way, along with excellent editing on his part, I wrote the book that was living in my head and in my heart and I’m proud of it.

You live in Boone, North Carolina, but the island of Whimsey is located off of Georgia.  How did you decide upon the setting?

I love these North Carolina mountains, but I think by growing up on the water that’s where my heart is.  I find magic when I’m near the ocean and it just wouldn’t be “my” book if I tried to place the story anywhere else.

Whimsey the island is a place that celebrates the arts.   Was there, for you,  a sort of Renaissance feeling to this creation?

I wanted WHIMSEY to celebrate many things.  Connections for one, thus the strong family and friendship storyline that runs through the novel.  Beauty for another, and that’s where the artsy things came into play.  I’m a lover of beautiful things, and having these women who have been friends since they were little girls creating beautiful things just felt right to me. The renaissance may be in the rebirth of a talent thought lost by the protagonist, Emma, but truthfully, a renaissance for me--I’m not so sure.  An “awakening” of a talent, then yes, probably so.
  
I love the title, not only because it sums up the tone of the book but because it reminds me of Lord Peter Wimsey and of all things whimsical.   What came first: your idea for a title, or your idea for a plot?

The idea for the story came first – and I wrote a lot of it before Earl said, “Kaye, this is lovely, but you don’t have a plot.”  By then the name WHIMSEY was just there.  I have no idea where it came from, it was just there.  And I think it’s perfect and I love it and the name Whimsey, honestly, helped spark a lot of what happens through the book.  With a different title, even a working title, I don’t think the same book would have emerged.  I’ve always tried to live my own life with a bit of whimsy – right down to decorating our home with surprise touches of playful and whimsical things sitting around.  I’m sure it drives some people a little crazy when they walk in the door, and I sometimes think I’m going to try decorating the house like a grown-up and I try, but those “things” just seem to find their way back.  And having Lord Peter Wimsey as a long time “friend” was   part of the mix also.

You recently retired.  What’s the best thing about retired life?  Are you reading a lot more than you did before?

I love being retired.  I now believe I was born to be a retired person.  When I was younger my interests were SO different than they are now.  I had years of working in an office in jobs that offered little in the way of creative outlets.  I’ve taken a beezillion classes in lots of different areas – I’ve taken basketweaving, knitting, pottery, weaving, jewelry making, and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.  Some were more successful than others, but all were precluded by the fact that I had a “job.”  That job made a difference.  While none of the jobs have been bad, just the very fact of them seemed to suck up the time and the inclination to spread my wings and do more.  Once I retired I promised myself I would do the things I didn’t feel as though I had the time for while working.  The best thing is that time.  Time is my most cherished possession now and I try to use it in ways that are productive and bring me joy.  I am not reading as much as I did.  I’m still reading a lot and I still love it, but now there are other joys in addition to my books.

What made you decide to self-publish instead of going the route of querying agents or publishers?

I did it for a number of reasons, and it's working for me, but it's not for everyone.  The whole two years I was working on WHIMSEY, I had intended to try to publish traditionally. I did my research, I made lists of agents and editors of some of my favorite authors (the acknowledgements in books by your favorite writers is an excellent source for this type of information). But when I was finally finished and when Earl Staggs, who edited WHIMSEY, agreed that it was finally finished, the traditional route suddenly wasn't as important to me as it had been in the beginning.

What was important to me now was getting it out there. I personally think, for one thing, that starting out in the traditional way is now a young person's game and I'm not a young person and I'm not a patient person. And, truthfully, I wanted my mother to be able to read “Whimsey” and see it as a "real" book.

A more lengthy answer to your question, IF anyone is interested in here: http://www.meanderingsandmuses.com/2013/01/why-ive-decided-to-self-publish.html
In addition to the blog I wrote about why I made the decision I did (see above), I've also written a piece about the self-publishing process, and you can read it here - http://www.meanderingsandmuses.com/2013/03/what-ive-learned-so-far-about-being.htmlhttp://www.meanderingsandmuses.com/2013/03/what-ive-learned-so-far-about-being.html  

Are you thinking of writing  a sequel to Whimsey?

Actually, my plan is to write four more WHIMSEY books.  There are five women (The Wicked Women of Whimsey).  WHIMSEY: A NOVEL focused on Emma.  Book #2, which I’m working on, will focus on Olivia.

One of your glowing reviews praises the descriptions of food in your novel.  What was the food description that was the most fun to write?

I love to eat.  I wish I loved to cook as much as I love to eat.  But some of my loveliest times seem to involve nice meals shared with good friends.  Hanging around in their kitchens, sitting around tables.  I don’t think Donald and I have ever taken a trip that we don’t seem to gauge it by how well we ate.  So, there’s a lot of that in WHIMSEY.  I think one of my favorite scenes is one where most of the book’s characters are gathered for a “breakfast for dinner” being whipped up by Emma’s mother, Zelda. 

What did your husband and canine companions do when you were answering your writing Muse?  Did they miss you while you typed away?

Donald Barley is so good.  He has encouraged my writing since the very first piece I wrote in 2008 – a blog for The Stiletto Gang about my efforts to quit smoking.  He’s always been there for me to bounce ideas off when I write at Meanderings and Muses, and he encouraged me to write yjr pieces which I was thrilled to have accepted for two regional anthologies.

While I was writing WHIMSEY and we would talk on the phone during the day he would ALWAYS ask, “Are you working?”  and if I wasn’t, he would nudge me a bit.

Harley?  Now that’s a different story.  Harley makes the rules, and if it’s time for walkies, well – it’s time for walkies.


That seems pretty dog-like, yes.  :)  

Has Spring come to Boone?  If so, what does spring look like there?

Spring?  NO!  Is it ever coming???  We’re expecting snow this week.  How ‘bout you?  Are you beginning to see lovely spring flowers?

Actually, it's cold in Chicago, too.  We had an entire March without any temperatures in the 60s, and April has been mostly that way, too! 

If you could go to Whimsey, what’s the first thing you would do there?

I would go sit on the beach and watch the sunrise.

Aah. Where can readers find out more about Whimsey and Kaye Barley?

I talk about WHIMSEY endlessly.  Everywhere.  If you’re at Facebook, I’m there – a lot.  But here’s the WHIMSEY webpage which includes a schedule of blogs where I’ll be popping up.  It also includes the first chapter of the book.  http://www.kayewilkinsonbarley.com/  AND, I’m the blog mistress of Meanderings and Muses - http://www.meanderingsandmuses.com/ .  AND the very cool women at Jungle Red Writers let me pop in to play the first Sunday of each month - http://www.jungleredwriters.com/

Thanks for chatting, Kaye!

Julia, Thank You!  It’s always fun to spend a little time with you, my friend.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Parker Francis on History, Mystery and Mythological Retribution

Parker Francis is the author of Matanzas Bay and Bring Down the Furies, which The Kindle Book Review called "intriguing, engaging, and suspenseful."



     Your title references the Furies, who are mythological creatures of retribution.  Are you a fan of mythology, or just the Furies? :)

 In Greek mythology, the Furies were the three goddesses of vengeance. I can’t say I’m a big fan of mythology, but vengeance and justice are themes that play themselves out in my Quint Mitchell books as Quint always tries to do the right thing although he might take a roundabout route to get there.

Quint Mitchell is a great name for a detective.  Is he a fifth son? 

      Quinton “Quint” Mitchell is actually the first son in his family. In the first Quint Mitchell Mystery, MATANZAS BAY, the reader learns more of his backstory and family history. In that book Quint is in a darker place, carrying a load of guilt that stems from the death of younger brother. But I’m glad you like the name. Writers, as you know, strive to find a name that will resonate with the reader and carry the character through the book.

Quint has a likeable style; he’s hard-boiled, but he has a softer side.  Who are the hard-boiled detectives you most admire? 

      The hard-boiled detective has been a staple of American mysteries going back to the pulps. Authors I’ve admired, like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, brought us Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Mickey Spillane followed with his Mike Hammer tough guy series, but I absolutely loved John D. Macdonald, who gave us the Travis McGee novels, which I still consider among the best in the genre. Because I’m a real softie, I wanted to give Quint a softer, more human side and not make him into an indomitable superhero who can whip six men with one hand tied behind his back. This means he makes mistakes once in a while and might have misgivings about the choices he makes. This is beginning to sound like my autobiography.

Haha! One of Quint’s tasks in the book is to catch a womanizing con artist called “The Heartthrob Bandit.”  Is this criminal based on any real-life gigolo? 

      Ricardo “Ricky” DeAngelis was one of my favorite characters in the book. I’m sure I must have heard or read a news account of a con man preying on older wealthy women somewhere along the way, but Ricky was pretty much born of my warped imagination. I really didn’t envision him playing a major role in the story and used him mainly as a device to get Quint from Jacksonville Beach to Allendale, SC. But once he and Quint met in the first chapter, Ricky became a major subplot while Quint coped with the serial arsonist.

In addition to your mythological allusions, your book makes several historical allusions, as well.  Are you a history buff? 

      History was one of my favorite subjects in school, so I guess you can say I’m a bit of a history buff. I’d like to think that readers of mysteries are looking for more than just crime and punishment. They want to learn something as they try to solve the mystery, so I like to salt my fiction with historical facts. In BRING DOWN THE FURIES we learn a little about the history of Allendale, and how General Sherman’s troops burned down the original town during the Civil War. Matanzas Bay was set in St. Augustine, Florida, and readers were exposed to some of the colorful and bloody history of the nation’s oldest city.

What made you set the story in South Carolina? 

      After MATANZAS BAY I wanted to move Quint to another location. I also wanted find a setting where archaeology might play a part in a larger mystery, as it did in the first offering. Searching the Internet, I located a listing of archaeological projects in the southeast. That led me to the Topper site outside Allendale, South Carolina where Dr. Albert Goodyear has found artifacts made by the pre-Clovis people dating back thousands of years. Claxons began ringing in my head, and I asked myself what if a Creationist minister feuded with the archaeologist and it boiled over into a tension-filled media circus. Now I felt I was onto something that could explode from a single idea into a longer, more compelling narrative. With more research I learned that General Sherman’s troops had burned down the original town on their way to Columbia during the Civil War. This bit of historical news tripped another set of creative neurons and I decided fire would play a major role in the story. That led to the idea of a serial arsonist at work in Allendale.

 In addition to the Quint mysteries, you’ve written books with a feline protagonist in your WINDRUSHER series.  Was it hard to get the cat’s point of view just right? 

      It was, but having lived for years with a household overflowing with feline critters I had plenty of role models. They were also very strict editors who made sure I got it right. Seriously, though, it was a bit tricky, but once I got inside my protagonist’s head it became much easier. The WINDRUSHER trilogy was fun to write, and I still hear from readers wondering when the next one will come along.

Speaking of cats, your website informs me that one of your own cats, Duke, is quite the critic of manuscripts.  Does he help you polish drafts? 

      Wow, you’ve really done some digging. Duke has a habit of tap dancing across my keyboard when I’m writing. He isn’t as bad as he once was and will usually settle down in my lap for nap after he’s done his damage. He’s a bit of a bully who keeps the other cats at bay, but he’s really a pussycat at heart.

Will there be more Quint Mitchell books? 

      Yes there will. The next novel is in development stage (by which I mean I’m still in the daydreaming process) and will bring Quint back to Florida. This one will be set in Cedar Key on Florida’s west coast. Right now I’m readying a short story collection I’ve titled GHOSTLY WHISPERS, SECRET VOICES, containing six surprising and darker stories. This will be available for Kindle readers within the next month or so.

What are you reading right now? 

I’m a major consumer of books in any form. I have two “tree books” going right now. The Yard by Alex Grecian, which is a mystery set in Victorian England shortly after Jack the Ripper terrorized London. The other is Laura Smith’s debut novel, Heart of Palm, which won’t be out until April, but her publisher sent me an advance copy. It’s funny and warm and I’m enjoying it. On my iPad Kindle app I’m reading Paul Levine’s Fool Me Twice, a Jake Lassiter mystery, and in my car I’m listening to one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, Echo Burning. I also have a few books on my iPhone that I listen to while working out or pulling weeds from my lawn, which is a redundancy since my lawn is mostly weeds.

  If Hollywood made a movie of your book, who would you want cast as Quint? 

      Good question. There are a few who fit my image for Quint Mitchell, including Leonardo DiCaprio, KyleChandler and Mark Ruffalo. If Alec Baldwin was 15 years younger he’d be perfect. But while we’re dreaming of casting actors for my “movie,” how about these other characters: Sheriff Wilburn Peeks plays a major part in FURIES as the tough-talking adversary who gives Quint a hard time for much of the story. Of course, I’d love to see Tommy Lee Jones play the crusty sheriff after seeing his remarkable portrayal of Thaddeus Stephens in “Lincoln.” I can also envision Ed Harris in the role. One more role I’d fill would be Nurse Allene Skinner-Jarrett. Allene plays Quint’s love interest, or perhaps lust interest would be more accurate. She’s a bit of a tease, but exudes sensuality and knows how to push Quint’s buttons. I can picture Charlize Theron or Jennifer Garner slipping into (and out of) her medical scrubs to treat Quint.

You live in Florida.  Will you ever set a book there? 
See the answers to the above questions regarding Matanzas Bay and book three in the series. I think Quint will always come back to Florida as long as I’m here to greet him.

Thanks for chatting, Parker!! 

Thank you, Julia. I appreciate the opportunity to share with your readers.