In my continuing efforts to showcase other authors who incorporate the paranormal into their mysteries, today I am hosting Clea Simon. I met Clea at the 2013 Malice Domestic Conference, where we shared a panel called “Me and My Dead Shadow–Sleuthing with the Dead.” Clea has written three cozy mystery series, one featuring an animal psychic and another elements inspired by Gothic fiction. I asked her a bit about how she makes all of these factors work together so successfully:
Q. You have several mystery series going, and most of them seem to blend animal characters with some type of paranormal element. What do you think attracts you to this combination?
A. I’m not sure, exactly, except that, you know, we do write about what we know. I have a cat, have had one cat or another for the last three decades, so my characters always seem to cohabit with cats. And as for the supernatural elements? Well, I started out as a journalist, writing very straight fact-based stuff. Then I wrote serious nonfiction and now… I guess I’m having a little more fun.
Q. Have you had any psychic experiences of your own, and if not, did you do research to make this aspect of your fiction believable?
A. I did have a strange encounter. Not long after I had to put my beloved grey cat, Cyrus, to sleep, I was walking down a familiar street and I saw a cat who looked exactly like Cyrus: long grey fur, a huge ruff, and a slightly Siamese-style face. He was staring at me, and I paused to look at him, but then I had to move on. I had never seen that cat before and never saw him again. I felt strongly that I had been visited.
Q. It used to be that mystery readers disliked “real” paranormal situations in their stories because they wanted everything to have a logical explanation. How do you keep a paranormal story believable enough to satisfy the typical mystery fan?
A. It’s a question of obeying your own rules. You have to be consistent: ghosts can do what ghosts can do, but no more. In my case, they can appear and hint at things. They cannot affect physical change.
Q. One of your heroines is a student of Gothic novels, and they influence how she interprets the modern-day mystery. The Gothic had a long run of popularity up until the 1970s, when it kind of disappeared into the romance genre. Who is your favorite Gothic writer, and do you think this genre lives on today, maybe in different forms?
A. I confess to being a Horace Walpole (“Castle of Otranto”) fan, but these books – the orginal 18th-century ones – are not easy reading. That said, Gothic fiction does live on in several forms besides the romance. Most directly in today’s paranormal books! Especially paranormal mysteries and fantasy – not only because of the otherworldly elements but because these books are largely read by (and written by) women and, perhaps because of this, are discredited as literature.
Q. How do you feel the heroines of your various series stand apart from each other? Do you feel they express different aspects of yourself?
A. Dulcie is very bookish and not very worldly, while Pru is very tough. They are certainly both aspects of myself – but I’m neither as well educated as Dulcie nor as tough as Pru.
Q. Why do you think cozy-mystery writers, and readers, have such a fascination with cats? Are feline traits (such as curiosity) somehow suited to the genre?
A. Cats are the perfect companions for writers and readers! They’re such great thoughtful creatures.
Q. What extra dimension do you think the paranormal can bring to a mystery?
A. It’s another tool in the arsenal, another way for our imaginations to play.
Q. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and when did you start writing fiction?
A. I read early and wrote stories from as young as I can remember. For me, it was more a question of how I could live as a writer than how to be a writer. Hence, the detour through journalism.
Q. What was the first book you wrote? Is it among the ones you’ve published?
A. The first complete book I wrote was the nonfiction “Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadows of Mentally Ill Siblings” which was published by Doubleday. But I had started novels before.
Q. How did you connect with your publisher?
A. That book came out of a magazine story I wrote for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and I used it to get an agent. He sold it as a proposal.
Q. Where will you be appearing to promote your new book?
A. I’ll be doing various events and hope to attend Bouchercon in Albany, N.Y. There’s more on my site at www.cleasimon.com.
Q. What do you know now about being a professional novelist that you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
A. That the world doesn’t change when your book comes out. You’ve got to work to sell it – and write another. And another, and another. But that you can do it, and it’s great fun.
Thanks you, Clea, for a great interview! Clea Simon’s books may be previewed on her home site, http://www.cleasimon.com Follow her on Facebook or Twitter, @Clea_Simon.