Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Interview with Author Clea Simon!

First, I’d like to thank Clea Simon, author of the Theda Krakow Mystery series, for agreeing to be the first author interview at Socrates’ Book Reviews. We greatly appreciate you giving us some of your valuable time.

Thanks for having me, Yvonne! Writing is essentially a very lonely profession and it's always nice to meet readers, even in the virtual world.

1. What or who influenced you to begin your Theda series?

I've always been an avid reader of mysteries, so you'd think I'd have started off writing them, right? Nope. I spent most of my early career as a journalist and wrote three nonfiction books, first. I think that doing research and reporting on facts made me feel like my writing was legitimate. I mean, who would want to read a story that I'd just made up? But after my last nonfiction book, "The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats," came out, I ended up talking with Kate Mattes, who owns Kate's Mystery Books here in Cambridge. She invited me to sign at her annual holiday party. I said, "But, Kate, Feline Mystique isn't a mystery." To which she responded: "You'd be surprised at the overlap between women who love cats and mystery readers." So I came to the party and I signed (alongside local authors like Linda Barnes and Susan Conant!). And at the end of the party, Kate turned to me and said, "You should write a mystery." It was like I'd been given permission. I went right home and started.

2. What made you include Musetta in the books and can you tell us a little about the real Musetta?

I guess it's that she's just such a big part of my life. And I knew that I wanted to pass along some of the real information I've learned about cats and pets in general, and so each of my mysteries has a slightly different angle on cats. But Musetta is a constant! We call her our little "riot grrrl," our little rock and roller. My last cat, Cyrus, was a quiet, stately gentleman. Musetta is more like a linebaker. She thunders up and down the hallway. She mews for attention - very loudly! She purrs so hard her whole body shakes. She's an in-your-face kind of cat, which is great fun.

3. We know who the fictional Musetta is based on, is Theda based on any real life person?

Not me, that's for sure! Theda is a lot braver (and in better shape) than I ever was. But Theda's job experiences spring from my own past as a rock music critic, back in the '80s.

4. Where do you do your writing? Do you have a cozy office set up in your home? Do you go outside your home?
I have a very cozy office in my home. It's my own separate room, with all sorts of things that have meaning to me on the walls - posters from New Orleans. A photo of a cat in a French Quarter Alley. My President's Award from the Cat Writers' Association. Photos. And lots of cat tchochkes -- little fetishes and statuettes and the like. I painted it light purple when we moved in, but you can barely see the walls now.

5. Are you a reader yourself? What genres do you enjoy reading and do you have any favorite authors?

Of course I'm a reader! I think writers have to be readers, or else why are we in this field? I have so many favorites, it's hard to say. But outside the mystery genre, I can tell you I will always be excited to hear there's a new book by Hilary Mantel or Valerie Martin (who writes very weird, dark books) or Sarah Waters. Within mysteries, I adore Robert Wilson, Denise Mina, and Henning Mankell. New favorites include Tana French and Ariana Franklin. I've read everything Elizabeth Peters has written, too, and hope she keeps on writing for a long, long time.

6. You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction books, which was more of a challenge?

Fiction! Because you can't fall back on interviews and research. There is no "right answer." You have to come up with a story that makes sense, that is right in its own way.

7. Do you do any research for your books? How?

I do. I'll do a bit of poking about before I start. For instance, I wandered through the closest hospital's emergency room so often I think they wondered about me. And I just had a nice, long chat with an animal control officer for the project I'm working on now. I'll go walk around areas I want to write about, try to get hte feel of the air, so to speak. Sometimes I just talk to experts - I did a lot of that for "Probable Claws," because there's a possible case of cat-food poisoning in that and I wanted to get it right.

8. What was the first book that you had published and what were your initial feelings when you “got the call” that you would be published?

My first book was "Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadows of Mentally Ill Siblings," which Doubleday published in hardcover in 1997. That grew out of a magazine story I'd written for hte Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. I'd been working there for a while as a copy editor and I'd approached the editor with the idea of writing about my own family, because I had a brother and I have a sister who have schizophrenia. Turned out the editor had a sister who had schizophrenia, too, so she thought it would be a great subject. Once the story was published, I got so much mail that I thought there would be a book in it and set about finding an agent. Then, once I did, he sent it out. The call came at work and I was overjoyed. At that point, i'd thought it would never happen. But we'd sold that book on the magazine story and an outline for what a full-size book could be. (This is normal for nonfiction.) So my first thought was "Yay!" And my second thought was, "oh,hell, now I have to write the thing."

9. Your next book “Probable Claws” (the fourth book in the Theda Krakow series) will be released April 2009. Can you give us a sneak peek?

Sure! This is what I sent Poisoned Pen for the catalog. I'll put an excerpt up soon on my website, at - it's not up yet. But I do have the cover! You can see that on my blog at

Here's the summary:

When cats start getting sick, feline-loving freelance writer Theda Krakow suspects an accident is to blame. But her shelter-owning rocker buddy Violet claims the contaminated kibble was poisoned, and when Theda starts looking at shelter politics she finds a litter of suspects. The big city shelter may be backing down from a healthy pet initiative, a series of threatening letters suggests a darker motive, and old-fashioned jealousy may factor in as well. The pressure mounts as Theda's editor grabs onto the idea of a hot story - and dangles a prime staff writing job as bait. But how can Theda investigate when feelings - and felines - run so high? As the music scene rallies to raise funds to save the cats, Theda finds herself on the outs with both her buddies and her longtime boyfriend Bill. And when she's caught at a murder scene, bloody scalpel in hand and only her beloved cat Musetta as a witness to what really happened, Theda must scramble to find the real killer before she, and Musetta, become the next victims.

Thanks so much for having me here today!
- Clea

cats & crime & rock & roll


  1. Thanks for having me here, Yvonne!
    If anyone has any questions, I'll do my best to answer them. - Clea

  2. This was so much fun, Clea. Thank you for being the first author interview at Socrates' Book Reviews!

  3. great interview! the books sound good, i'll have to check those out.

  4. How exciting! Thank you for posting your interview, Yvonne--and for being the interviewee, Clea! Being a fan of the series, it was with great eagerness that I read the interview.

    I for one am glad Clea decided to make the jump from nonfiction to fiction.

    The main story line for the new book, Probable Claws, brings back memories of the mad dash to make sure my dog and cat foods weren't the ones being recalled during that big scare not too long ago. Now I hear they are finding the same poison in milk and children's cereal on China. It's just plan rotten what people will do for a buck.

    I am very excited about reading Probable Claws. It sounds like it will be the best yet. :-)


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