Saturday, July 23, 2011

Author Interview: Clea Simon

I recently had the honor of interviewing author Clea Simon. She is the author of several pet mystery series - The Theda Krakow books, the Dulcie Schwartz books and the Pru Marlowe books. As an animal lover, you know I can't pass these books up. Sit back, relax with a tall glass of ice tea and check out what Clea has to say.

1) What made you decide to become a writer?

I don’t know if I ever decided to become a writer. I simply always was one. Some of my earliest memories are of reading or being read to (the two kind of blend together, I think because I was sitting on my father’s lap and beginning to make out the words as he read them). And I also made up stories for friends and family, knowing they would amuse. I remember loving frogs, for example, so I told my mother I’d had a dream in which the frogs formed a circle and held hands and danced around her, singing.

The decision to write professionally, however, was a different matter. I never thought I could make my living by my pen. In college, I studied literature and language, but I tried an internship at a college press and at a magazine, and ultimately decided to pursue journalism. I became a music critic and then went into, first, magazine journalism (I ended up editing the short-lived Boston Woman monthly) and then to the daily Boston Globe. It seemed like I could make a living either using my knowledge of language to help shape others’ writing or I could be a purveyor of information – i.e., an editor or a journalist. I had written three nonfiction books already before I dared try writing stories again. And that was only because Kate Mattes, who owned the old (now defunct) Kate’s Mystery Book Store, told me at a party, “Clea, you should write a mystery.” I guess that felt like she was giving me permission to do what I’d always done, what I always wanted to do. I haven’t looked back.

2) You write both non-fiction and fiction. Do you have a preference? Is one genre easier to write than the other?

At this point, I much prefer writing fiction (see above)! But I am grateful for the research skills and discipline I learned as a journalist and nonfiction writer – and I like to think I’ve written some good nonfiction. As far as one being easier than the other, I will tell you what happened one day when I was working on my first mystery, Mew is for Murder, and talking it over with my husband Jon, who is also a writer. (He started off writing fiction, got his masters and was teaching college expository writing while writing short stories –but he’s a jazz fan and a movie fan, so he also started doing some reviews, for the fun of it, and since he liked getting published and making money from his writing, he started doing that more and more… he is now the arts editor for the Boston Phoenix, our weekly alternative newspaper – he also writes a column on jazz.) At any rate, I remember getting all excited about writing fiction. I said, “This is great. You can make (bleep) up!” And he turned to me and said, “Yes, but you HAVE to make (bleep) up.” That about sums it up – fiction is more free, but you have less information to fall back on.

3) How did you choose to feature animals in your books?

I have always loved animals and they’ve always been a part of my life. So I guess it just seemed natural to me that they would be part of my characters’ lives too.

4) Where did your ideas come from for the Dulcie series?

The basic idea came a few months after we had to put our beloved cat Cyrus – the original for Mr Grey – to sleep. I was walking down the street and I was sure I saw him. Must have been a cat who looked just like him – but I thought, “what if he came back? He would want to take care of me.” Beyond that, I’m not sure exactly. I know that I love books within books – think of A.S. Byatt’s Possession and The Children’s Book – and I have always wanted to champion underrated books. I think I was thnking about how people put down cozy mysteries – say they’re not “real books.” Well, people used to say that about the Gothic novels, too. Plus, I live right near Harvard and I could get an alumna pass to Widener library.

5) How many books do you plan to write for the Dulcie Schwartz series?

As many as my publisher wants! I am finishing up book #4 now, Grey Expectations, and I have an idea for the fifth. I honestly think they’re getting better – I set up a lot of the history (maybe too much?) in the first book, and from there on in, it’s all story!!

6) What about the Theda Krakow books? Can we expect anymore?

Probably not, but I will never say never!

7) How about your Pru Marlow series? The first one is called Dogs Don’t Lie. Would a cat lover enjoy it too?

I hope so! I want to include all animals in the Pru pet noirs – but Pru’s sidekick is a VERY opinionated tabby named Wallis. She’s my alter ego, I think. I adore her.

8) Can you give us any hints for some upcoming books? What can we look forward to?

Well, I am just polishing up Grey Expectations now and I can promise you that the kitten Esmé has a bigger role – though she is very much a kitten still and not Mr Grey, which causes some heartache for Dulcie. And Pru and Wallis are called in to help figure out a freak accident involving a white Persian in Cats Can’t Shoot.

9) Do you have any real life animal story to share with us? We love hearing stories :)

Well, I wrote about my and Musetta’s terrifying run-in with a pitbull on the new Poisoned Pen Press blog at - on a happier note, I can tell you that we all just moved from a one-level condo to a three-story house (it’s tiny, but it’s tall!). We werent’ sure how Musetta would take to stairs, but she loves them. She likes knocking her toys down the stairs and carrying them back up. But she seems to be a righty, because when she is walking down the stairs, she always starts with her right front paw.

10) Are you doing any book signings in the near future?

I will be a panelist and signing books at the New England Crimebake in Nov. The info is on my website. I don’t have other signings or readings beyond that, but I will – and they will all go up on my website, (click under “appearances”).


  1. Great interview :)
    I love all the cats on those covers cos I do love kitties

  2. Nice interview ladies! I've never read a pet mystery, but I'll keep Clea Simon in mind if I pick one up.

  3. Thanks, folks! Hope you enjoy the books - and that you'll let me know what you think (if you do read them). - Clea

    PS - there are excerpts on my website!


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