ABOUT THE BOOKThe Zodiac Mysteries feature San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti, who never thought murder would be part of her practice. Julia sought answers and found solace in astrology after the death of her fiancé in a hit and run accident. Since then, she’s successfully built a clientele of the city’s movers and shakers.
In The Madness of Mercury, Julia’s outspoken advice in her newspaper column, AskZodia, makes her the target of a recently-arrived cult preacher who advocates love and compassion to those less fortunate. But the power-hungry preacher is waging war on sin and his Army of the Prophet will stop at nothing to silence those who would stand in his way. Julia is at the top of his list.
INTERVIEW WITH CONNIE DI MARCO
Connie, what do you think is hardest aspect of writing a book?
I think making sure that all the little details are placed in the right spot and timed properly—clues, red herrings, etc. In a traditional mystery there are certain formats or expectations. That’s not to say a writer cannot push the envelope or break out of the box, but there are particular requirements. For one thing, the solution to the crime, the final unveiling, cannot come out of nowhere. It has to make organic sense, which really means being fair to the reader. A clue needs to be placed somewhere in the early part of the book, so that a percipient reader with a good memory will say, “Oh, wait a minute, back on page 5 there’s something that doesn’t quite fit with this information.” And if the reader thinks about it, they’ll have an inkling, if not knowledge of, exactly how the crime was committed. On the other hand, it cannot be an obvious drop, it must be something that will more than likely go unnoticed. By the end of a book, a mystery writer wants his or her readers to be totally surprised, not see the solution coming, and yet know that they were given enough to figure it out all along. It’s a tricky balancing act.
How often do you read?
I’m constantly reading, every break or few minutes I have to myself. I read mysteries and thrillers pretty much exclusively. For me, it’s not just about entertainment. I’m learning and training myself. It’s a process that really never ends—whether one is painting, acting, writing, playing music, there’s always more to develop, a project can always be better. And I don’t think there’s any better way to improve your game than to read the masters of your genre. I love to read a book and be swept away by the story and the atmosphere and then read it again later, maybe two or three more times, until I see the underpinnings of the writing. For example, I just re-read Ann Cleeves’ Thin Air and enjoyed it again. This time around I really grasped how wonderfully she uses the sounds of the wind and the birds to create the atmosphere of her haunting setting. There are lots of wonderful books on “how to” write, but I really believe the best teachers are the best books.
What is your writing style?
I’ve honestly never thought about it. I don’t know if I have a “style” per se. If there’s a mood, a feeling tone to any of the books I’ve written, then I’ve arrived there from the point of view of what would best suit this story or series of stories. What would make this genre work best? In the Soup Lover’s Mysteries, I felt that a strong sense of—I’ll call it Chicken Soup for the Soul—was important, would really make this setting and these stories work. I wanted to create very vulnerable characters who are strongly connected to each other, all with a sense of place and roots. Jack, Lucky’s grandfather, is an eccentric who tells time by the bells, but he’s devoted to his granddaughter and even his horrifying episodes of PTSD draw him closer to readers.
In the Zodiac Mysteries, it just seemed right to narrate the story in the first person. Julia’s an urban woman operating in a much more sophisticated and fast-paced environment. The first person choice made the story “pop,” made it more immediate, as the story unfolds through the prism of Julia’s point of view. There’s a strong sense of current time in these stories, while the Soup Lover’s Mysteries are more in the zone of timeless village mysteries.
What do you think makes a good story?
It’s essential for the reader to be able to connect with the character(s) on an emotional level. Without that identification, it just won’t be a story that will stay with a reader. I’ve read books with characters who are so sharply drawn that I think of them as (almost) real people. And I’ve read some very good books, well done and well constructed, but have felt the protagonist wasn’t particularly vulnerable or struggling against tremendous odds. It is important to give your protagonist lots of obstacles and lots of problems to solve and to keep upping the stakes whenever possible. That’s the device that creates suspense and keeps a reader turning pages.
It’s also important to have a well-constructed plot (especially in mysteries), the pacing must be right—not overwhelming and not too slow—and the psychology behind the murder must be solid. All that is essential, but unless a character is vulnerable, someone the reader is rooting for and can identify with, it’s not a story that will linger and haunt the reader, and make them want to revisit that story or those characters again.
What books do you currently have published?
The Madness of Mercury is the first book in the Zodiac Mysteries, the next one, which will be out next year, I’ve titled Dark Sun. Hopefully my publisher will like that title. If at all possible, I plan to use the name of a planet with each book, to tie in with the astrological theme.
In my other series, the Soup Lover’s Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime, I’ve published five books: A Spoonful of Murder, A Broth of Betrayal, A Roux of Revenge, Ladle to the Grave and A Clue in the Stew. It was a lot of fun coming up with titles/plays on words that tied in with the “soup” theme.
If you could only watch one television station for a year, what would it be?
I’d have to say PBS because I love the British exports, like Shetland and Vera. I’ve enjoyed Granchester and even the quirky Father Brown series—all murder mysteries, of course. And Foyle’s War as well. They’ve completely spoiled me for network or cable fare.
For several years (no longer, sadly) one of our local channels aired international mysteries every weekend. I gorged myself on Swedish (Beck, Van Veeteren, Wallandar), Italian, (Inspector Montalbano), German (Commissario Brunetti), not to mention Danish, Finnish and Icelandic productions. I wish American productions would catch up in content and quality.
How often do you tweet?
I’ve tweeted a bit, but all in all, I’m a really bad tweeter! I’ll tweet to promote a book or a blog post or an event. I’ll tweet and retweet posts by friends to support them, but other than that, I don’t really “get” Twitter and I’m amazed that so many people spend so much time on the site. I’m not judging it, but I just don’t understand it.
I agree with you! How do you feel about Facebook?
Well, first of all, I have to say it’s an absolute boon for writers in terms of promoting a new book or event. It’s wonderful to be able to chat with readers and hear what they have to say. I love that aspect of it. Even if the comments are critical. For example, in A Roux of Revenge, I couldn’t decide how to wind up the romantic thread of the story. Lucky and her beau went through a rocky time and it looked as if the relationship could possibly end. I went back and forth in my head as to how to wind it up and neither choice – a breakup or a clear reconciliation—felt correct. The book ended on an ambiguous note, with Lucky waiting for her lover to return home. I certainly got some upset comments about that cliffhanger! I didn’t mind though. My editor loved the ending, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt that my choice was the right one. Not everything needs to be tied up in a neat little bow.
I also love to hear about other writers’ books and even their trials and tribulations in their writing life. But to be really honest, if I weren’t writing books, I would probably never have a Facebook page at all. I have friends who post personal messages to me, rather than call or send an email. And I just cringe when that happens. I tend to be rather private about my personal life and don’t like the idea of “living out loud.”
For what would you like to be remembered?
Hmm, that reminds me of the question asked at the interviews done by the Actors Studio. “What do you want to hear when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?” or something along those lines. I think I’d liked to be remembered as someone who brought tears, laughter, suspense and enjoyment into peoples’ lives through my stories.
Name one thing you’re really good at and one thing you’re really bad at.
I’m really good at envisioning interiors and using colors. I guess I’m more a visual than auditory type of person. I love to look at decorating books and maybe if I had started on that path earlier, I would have loved to be an interior decorator.
On another note, I am absolutely terrible with hair. I can’t even blow dry my own hair. Maybe if I could grow a third arm I could do it, but in lieu of that, I just let it go however it’s going to go or call the hairdresser in desperation.
Where is your favorite place to visit?
The ocean—any ocean anywhere. I love to be by the sea and feel the ozone in the atmosphere whether it’s the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean. I wonder how it would feel to be next to the North Sea or the South Pacific seas or the Caspian Sea. Is it possible to tell the difference?
I don't know, but I'd like to find out. What’s one thing that drives you crazy?
This goes back to my comments about social media—I hate to be nagged! And all those sites nag! Twitter constantly sends suggestions about who I should follow, Facebook reminds me I have 95 comments waiting, but LinkedIn is the worst! If someone sends a request for a connection and I’m not able to get to the site within a day or so, LinkedIn will remind me again and again that so-and-so’s invitation is still waiting. Please! Don’t we all have enough chores in front of us on a daily basis? Why do our social media sites nag us?
Very true. What’s in your refrigerator right now?
Soup makings of course! I do love soup, and have had a lot of fun inventing soup recipes for the Vermont series. I always like to keep lots of vegetables in the drawer to choose from. I have three zucchinis right now, and those, with a large potato and some grated cheese would make a great soup! I think I might do just that this afternoon!
And right now, our poor dear cat has been ill, and there’s a whole box of various cat remedies taking up a lot of space. We’ve been very worried about him, but he’s doing better lately.
What would your main character say about you?
I think both Julia and Lucky would ask me why I’ve given them so many problems. Neither one of them thinks she deserves all these difficulties, much less life-threatening events. I’d have to remind them that their struggles are character-building and otherwise readers might not like them so much.
What’s your favorite song?
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” the Tony Bennett version. It reminds me of when I lived there, and it’s probably why I set the Zodiac Mysteries there. San Francisco is a beautiful city but it’s also a city of many moods—sunny and windy, cold and foggy, with hidden alleyways and secret stairways—a perfect place to set a mystery!
What is your favorite movie?
I don’t know if I can name just one, but I have a small collection of favorite (vintage) movies I love to watch every year, generally around the holidays. Don’t ask me why, perhaps that’s when I have a little more time to relax. Everyone in the family groans when I drag them out because they’ve seen them all umpty million times, but I never tire of them. They are Bell, Book and Candle (Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak), Tootsie (always makes me laugh), The Maltese Falcon (San Francisco again), and Casablanca (a little gem of a film).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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