In Clea Simon's latest Dulcie Schwartz mystery, Grey Dawn, Dulcie is investigating the savage murder of a university student who looks unnervingly like Dulcie. The sleuth is once again aided by cryptic advice from her kitten Esmé and the ghost of her late, great cat Mr. Grey, in this Gothic mystery. Publishers Weekly gave the book a coveted star review, saying, "Simon delivers her winning combination of academic rivalries, student relationship drama, and kitty wisdom in the sixth Dulcie Schwartz mystery."
Clea Simon will be appearing, along with fellow mystery writer and friend Sheila Connolly, at the Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street, on Monday, July 29th at 7PM. I caught up with Clea by phone to ask her about her prolific writing career and where she got the idea for Mr. Grey, the ghost cat.
Brookline Hub: What drew you to mystery writing?
Clea Simon: I started out as a journalist and I read fiction and mysteries for fun. I wrote three nonfiction books (Mad House, Fatherless Daughters, and The Feline Mystique.) I enjoyed the research I did for them.
When The Feline Mystique came out I remember going to my friend Kate's mystery bookstore in Cambridge (which closed in August 2009). She invited me to their annual Christmas party where 30-40 mystery writers sign, sell books, and drink wine. She asked me to sign The Feline Mystique. I said, "But it's not a mystery." It's a true history of the mythology of cats and the ancient bond between cats and women. Kate told me that women who love cats often love mysteries. So I went, signed and sold books, and drank wine. And Kate said, "You should write a mystery." It was like she was giving me permission, an excuse to write fiction. Writing fiction is different than journalism because you're assuming that people want to hear a story you made up. So the next day I started writing my first mystery in the Theda Krakow series, Cries and Whiskers.
What I like about writing mysteries is you don't have to say farewell to the characters when you finish a book. You can have a longer relationship with them, which is satisfying.
BH: Where do you get your ideas for your mystery series?
CS: Everywhere! In my Pru Marlowe Pet Mystery series I played with the idea of people keeping exotic pets, like an alligator in their bathtub. In the Dulcie Schwartz series, the character of Mr. Grey came to me after I had to put Cyrus, one of my own cats, to sleep. The next day I was late for an appointment and as I was running out the door, I saw a cat that looked just like Cyrus on a neighbor's porch. I thought, oh my God, it's Cyrus! I never saw that cat again but Mr. Grey appears in the opening of the first Dulcie book.
BH: Tell me about your Brookline Booksmith event with Sheila Connolly. What do you have planned?
CS: We both write multiple mystery series so we'll probably talk about writing and how you write multiple mysteries and keep track of all the characters. It will be a sort of writing workshop.
BH: Which authors do you like to read and what are you reading now?
CS: I'm reading the new Naomi Novik (Blood of Tyrants). I like Daniel Silva, Donna Leon, Denise Mina, I'll read anything by Hilary Mantel. I also like Sarah Waters.
BH: What are you working on next?
CS: My editor just got back to me about Grey Howl, the next Dulcie Schwartz mystery coming out in November. She loved it. I also submitted the manuscript for Panthers Play for Keeps, for Poisoned Pen Press. I'm a freelance writer and write a column and book reviews for The Boston Globe.
BH: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
CS: I talk to so many people who say, "I want to write" and I say, "Do it!" Just start typing, be bad at it, but get it out there. If you write a little everyday it will add up. Just write, write badly, write often.
By Jennifer Campaniolo