Tuesday, August 25, 2015

An Interview With Clea Simon


By Pamela James

MM2: Clea, when and how did you become an author?
I became an author - a published author- with the publication of my very first book, “Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings” (St. Martin’s) in 1997, and before that I’d been a journalist for many years. (“Mad House” is nonfiction. I have three nonfiction books and 19 mysteries, all traditionally published). But I became a writer many, many years before - in fact, I’ve been a writer since I could write. I still have some of the stories I made up in elementary school. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t make up stories, usually about the animals in my yard or about my pets. Some things never change!

MM2: Where is your favorite place to write?
I have a cozy office on the second floor of our house. My desk faces a window with a tree outside, so I get to watch the birds. And all over my desk, around my computer are little figurines – mostly of cats! They’re my totems, and I think they lend me some magic.

MM2: Do you take the time to re-read books?
Most definitely! Although writing the first draft is the most fun, it is in the rewriting and revision that I do the real work, I think - that’s when I discover how much of the book made it to the page and how much has been left in my head!

MM2: Tell us about your latest book? Tell us about your series?
My latest book is “Code Grey,” book nine in the Dulcie Schwartz series. My publisher describes this as “a feline-filled academic series,” and it features Dulcie – a graduate student who is studying the Gothic literature of the late 18th Century. She thinks of herself as very rational, but because she is studying Gothic novels, she runs into ghosts and other paranormal phenomenon – most notably the ghost of her late great cat, Mr. Grey. (She also has a living kitty, Esmé). In “Code Grey,” Dulcie finds herself coming to the defense of an older former student who may or may not have stolen a rare and valuable book….

I have two series ongoing: these Dulcie Schwartz mysteries and also the Pru Marlowe pet noir mysteries (Poisoned Pen Press). The latest of those is “Kittens Can Kill,” and features Pru Marlowe, an animal behaviorist who can understand what animals are thinking (pet psychic) and her cat Wallis.

MM2: What would your characters tell us about you?
That I love books and cats! Also, that in my heart of hearts, I feel like I can understand what cats are saying to me.

MM2: Plain and simple what is the best writing advice you have received?
“Bash it out now, tart it up later.” That’s a quote from the British pub rocker Nick Lowe and it works for writing too. You need to get your first draft out anyway you can - and then you need to work on it to make sure it is everything you hoped it would be.

MM2: What comes first the setting, plot or character?
Well, by this point in my series, I have the characters, so it’s usually plot. But I have a new book – first in a new series – coming out next spring, called “The Ninth Life” (Severn House). That started with a character: a black cat who wakes up and can’t remember who he is or what happened to him.

MM2: Take us thru and typical writing day?
I work as a freelance copy editor, so I usually do that work in the morning. Then I do my errands and dither away some time and usually mid-afternoon, I’m at my desk. With all the distractions out of the way, I find I can finally concentrate. And then, I get to work. When I’m working on a first draft, I sit there until I hit my word count. Usually 1,500 words for the day! I usually end up working from 4 until around 9 p.m.

MM2: If you could sit down with any author that has passed away who would it be?
Wow, I’m not sure. Maybe Colette, because she wrote so well about emotions - what we feel when we’re in love or simply infatuated – an also about cats. Or maybe Anthony Trollope, because he was so funny and thought up such convoluted plots for his characters to get involved in.

MM2: What are your future writing plans? 

I’m looking forward to writing more books! Next up is another Dulcie and I just turned in “When Bunnies Go Bad,” the sixth Pru Marlowe. And then, if all goes well, the sequel to “The Ninth Life."

MM2: Give us a few details of where you live and why you like living there. Be our tour guide?
I live in a 105-year-old house in the city of Somerville, which is right next to Boston. I love my neighborhood. If you were here, I’d show you our tiny scrap of a yard, where I grow tomatoes (the bunnies don’t eat them) and where we get cardinals and nuthatches at the feeder. And then I’d invite you to walk with me. At the end of my street, there’s a park (it’s actually the grounds of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences) where right now a Cooper’s hawk has a nest with five fledglings. A bunch of us go out and watch them. The “babies” – they’re huge – can now fly to nearby trees, but their mom and dad still feed them. Then I’d suggest we walk either to Porter Square or Harvard Square - about 15 to 20 minutes – where there are independent bookstores and coffeeshops. We’d buy books - support those bookstores – and then go have coffee!

MM2: Here are some fun questions: Do you like to cook or bake? Do you have hobbies? If you could travel anywhere in the world this minute. Where would you travel? What is your favorite play, song, movie, way to spend a night out? Dessert, meal and who influenced your writing career more than anyone else?
I LOVE to cook! To cook, not bake: I’m not good at following recipes exactly and I love to improvise (I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, too — I like to write “by the seat of my pants” rather than have everything planned out). If I could travel anywhere in the world right now? Hmmm… I’d go back to Bali! I spent a few weeks there years ago and went back with my husband about 15 years ago. It was magical, but the flights … oh boy, they were long.  Favorite night out? Either ra really really nice dinner with either my husband or a small group of friends: eating, drinking wine, or talking. Or maybe hearing music! I love going out to hear live music - these days, that’s less rock and more blues or Cajun or zydeco. Something with a beat that gets my toe tapping! Dessert? Chocolate! Rich, deep chocolate. Meal? Depends on my mood - right now it’s summer, so I’m thinking fried clams, lobster, maybe some grilled striped bass… yum! 
As far as influences - I’m so lucky both to have had really great editors at several publishing houses and also in my journalism jobs, and I also have friends who write and we share support (and complaints). I guess if I have to choose one, I’d say my husband - not just for the emotional support but because he is also a writer and an editor and he really takes my writing seriously. He is encouraging and respects what I do - and that makes me believe in myself even when I start to give up.

MM2: Who is your every day hero?
see above!

MM2: When you hit a snag in your writing how do you conquer it?
I give myself permission to write badly. I say – sometimes out loud – that I can write something utterly awful, something that I will just erase tomorrow, but that I have to write SOMETHING. I tell myself that it’s like letting the rusty water come out of the tap so you can get to the clear. 

MM2: What writing conventions, book groups, book clubs, bookstores, libraries and reading groups do you enjoy? What blogs do you enjoy reading?
I’m going to be very busy coming up - I’ll be at the NewEngland Crimebake in November, then in the spring, Left Coast Crime (Phoenix), Malice Domestic, and CrimeFest in Bristol, England. And then in Sept. 2016, I’m planning on returning to Bouchercon (in New Orleans). I also hope to have bookstore events wherever and whenever I can — please check my website – http://www.cleasimon.com - for the latest! As far as reading blogs - I’m a big fan of the bookblog of the Bristol Public Library at http://bristol-library-bookblog.blogspot.com and  Lesa Holstine’s http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com - and yours, of course!!

MM2: Fall will be our next season. What are you looking forward this fall?
I love fall weather and, of course since I live in New England, the foliage! I love being able to walk and bike without getting sweaty! And there are so many great books coming out this fall. Actually, my “The Ninth Life” comes out in the UK in November (March 2016 in the US), so there’s that too!

MM2: Leave us with a Clea writing quote.
Well, the best advice is the advise I was given - “bash it out now, tart it up later.” But besides that? I’d remind you that the ability to write is a muscle - exercise it, tone it, work it. You will see the results!


  1. The Title "When Bunnies Go Bad" conjures so many images in my head.... :)


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