My special guest to wrap up the week is mystery novelist, Connie di Marco. We’re chatting about her newest book, The Madness of Mercury.
Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries featuring San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti. The Madness of Mercury is the first in the series. Writing as Connie Archer, she is also the author of the Soup Lover’s Mysteries set in Vermont from Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her excerpts and recipes in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers.
Please tell us about your current release.
The Zodiac Mysteries feature San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti, who never thought murder would be part of her practice. After the death of her fiancé in a hit and run accident, Julia wasn’t able to pick up the pieces of her former life. She sought answers and found solace in the study of astrology. Since then, she’s built a successful business in personal consultations and writes an advice column – AskZodia -- for the San Francisco Chronicle.
In The Madness of Mercury, Julia offers outspoken advice to a woman concerned that her mother had become involved in a religious cult. Julia quickly discovers she is now the target of a power-hungry preacher who’s recently arrived in the city. The Reverend Roy advocates love and compassion to those less fortunate, but he’s 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.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always been fascinated by astrology and the idea of inventing a protagonist with a unique profession appealed to me. Julia’s a woman who meets all sorts of people in her working life, often finds herself involved in their problems, and ultimately involved in crime. And where better to have Julia practicing her craft than in San Francisco? It’s a city of many moods – cold and windy, foggy and mysterious, with an interesting history and lots of secret alleys and stairways. It just seemed the perfect place to set a mystery.
The events in The Madness of Mercury are loosely based on the Jim Jones years in San Francisco, before he came to worldwide attention. I was living in the city then, but like a lot of people, took no notice of Jones until the shooting of Congressman Ryan and others in Guyana. In fact, if Julia had been around at the time, perhaps Jones wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did. The real mystery takes place against the backdrop of these events but Julia is forced into taking on the Reverend’s followers, and in exposing his empire, solves a crime much closer to home.
Excerpt from The Madness of Mercury:
“Thank God you’re there.” Gale sounded very shaky.
“I’m at the Mystic Eye. Something very strange just happened. I heard a knock at the back door. I thought it might be you.”
“Are you alone?”
“Yes. I closed up and sent Cheryl home. When I opened the door . . . oh God, Julia. Someone left a dead cat on the doorstep.”
I cringed. “I’ll be right there.”
“I’m sorry. You don’t need to come. I wrapped it up and put it in plastic in the dumpster. It looked like its neck had been broken.”
“Don’t argue. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Less than that.”
I drove the length of California Street as fast as I could, slowing at each red light. Once I was sure no other cars were crossing I ran through several intersections. When I reached the Eye the shop was closed but the display lights were on in the front windows. I pulled down the alleyway and parked next to Gale’s car. I tapped on the door. “Gale, it’s me.” She opened the door immediately. The storeroom was dark. A stack of empty boxes and packing materials stood against the wall. Inside, the only light was a small desk lamp in the office.
Gale is tall and self-assured with a regal bearing. Tonight she was completely shaken. She hugged her arms, more from fright than from cold. “I feel bad now that I’ve called you. I was just so freaked out. I recognized the cat, it was the little gray one that hangs out behind the apartment building next door. I think it’s a stray. Everyone around here feeds it, even the restaurant people, and it’s such a friendly little thing. Some sick bastard probably gave it some food and then snapped its neck. God, I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Shouldn’t you call the cops?”
“And tell them what? I found a dead cat? Please. Like they’d listen. Even if they thought someone had killed it, what could they do?”
“It shows a pattern of harassment. Might be worth making a report.” I shrugged out of my coat. “Why are you here so late?”
“We just got a huge shipment of books and supplies in. Cheryl’s been working late every night so I sent her home. I had just finished stacking the boxes in the storeroom.” Gale shivered involuntarily. “Look, let’s get out of here. Have you eaten? Why don’t we go up the block and grab some food? Actually a drink sounds even better.”
“Get your coat. We can leave the cars here and walk. I’ll just get my purse.”
I headed to the front door and checked that the locks were all in place. The drapes separating the display windows from the shop were drawn for privacy. Gale left the desk lamp on in the office and walked out to the front counter. As she reached under the counter for her purse, we heard glass breaking. Then I saw a flash of flame through the doorway to the back storeroom. I screamed. The empty boxes and packing materials had caught fire in an explosive flash. The smoke alarm started to ring, filling the shop with earsplitting sound.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m just finishing up the second Zodiac Mystery – Dark Sun – which will be released next year (June 2017). And I’m looking forward to working on the third book in this series. I plan to name each book after a planet, assuming my publisher approves, so the third book will tentatively be entitled Widow’s Moon.
I’m also working on an LA crime story, featuring a homicide cop and a couple of very eccentric characters, so I hope to find some time in the coming year to get back to that and finally finish it. I have a couple of other ideas for some unusual female protagonists, which I’ve managed to rough out but haven’t seriously tackled as yet. They’re fresh in my mind, so with luck, I’ll finish the third Zodiac mystery and get to all the other projects I want to work on. I do wish these characters would stop talking to me and leave me alone so I can meet my deadlines!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m not really sure – there were markers along the way, I think. The first shock was a letter from my about-to-be agent saying she was intrigued by my proposal. Of course, I still expected rejection. And then, about a month later, a contract came in the mail. I was blown away! Unfortunately, that first book didn’t sell, so I kept writing. In the meantime, I began the Soup Lover’s Mysteries, and when the first book in that series was ready to go, I was just keeping my fingers crossed it sold a few copies. A few days after its release, my editor wrote to tell me it was a national bestseller! I couldn’t take it all in. I still wasn’t sure I was a real “writer.” I think the moment it really dawned on me was walking into my very first panel at Bouchercon and seeing a ballroom of perhaps 200 plus people, who were actually interested in what I was writing. If I had to pick one moment, that would probably be it. I couldn’t avoid accepting the fact I was a writer!
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do have a day job which takes up an annoying amount of time. LOL! During the week, I write at night when the house is quiet, and the phones stop ringing, from about 9 PM to midnight and then on weekends, for as many hours as I can squeeze in. I try to give myself one or two nights off – maybe Friday or Saturday –and I like to spend those evenings watching international crime drama. It’s always fascinating to study how plots are revealed, like peeling layers of an onion and often you can understand the mechanics better by watching screenplays.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Don’t laugh, but I like to play Freecell on the computer as soon as I settle down to work. I’m convinced staring at those mixed-up cards gets my brain out of linear thinking and makes it easier to write. I only allow myself three games, because it can be quite addictive and if I don’t discipline myself, an hour will go by and I’ll realize I’ve accomplished nothing! Molly MacRae, a writer friend, once told me she likes to play the games in order. This was not helpful because I decided I should do that too. (Maybe it’s some form of OCD) So, since there are maybe 100,000 variations of Freecell in the program, I’ve got a long way to go. Molly – if you’re out there, you did not do me a favor!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be alternately a ballerina, a detective like Nancy Drew, or a spy. All those professions appealed to me. Thank heavens I found a sensible(?) profession!
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’m very excited about the debut of the Zodiac Mysteries and I’m hoping my readers who know me as the author of the Soup Lover’s Mysteries will welcome and enjoy the adventures of Julia, my crime-solving astrologer.
Buy links for The Madness of Mercury:
Thanks for being here today, Connie!