Friday, November 30, 2018

Interview with mystery author Rosemary Simpson

Welcome, readers. My special guest today is Rosemary Simpson. We’re chatting about her new historical mystery, Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets (A Gilded Age Mystery).

Rosemary Simpson is the author of two previous historical novels, The Seven Hills of Paradise and Dreams and Shadows, and two previous Gilded Age Mysteries, What the Dead Leave Behind and Lies That Comfort and Betray. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Historical Novel Society. Educated in France and the United States, she now lives near Tucson, Arizona.

Welcome, Rosemary. Please tell us about your current release.
Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets is the third book in the Gilded Age Mystery series, set in New York City in the late 1880s. Opera singer Claire Buchanan shows heiress Prudence MacKenzie and ex-Pinkerton Geoffrey Hunter a postmortem cabinet photograph of her deceased twin sister and newborn niece. Claire is convinced that a double murder has been committed by the cold, controlling widower, Aaron Sorensen, who swiftly remarried. His second wife is already pregnant and may be in terrible danger. In order to discover the truth and find evidence of guilt, Geoffrey probes Sorensen's past while Prudence casts herself as his next victim—putting her own life at grave risk.

What inspired you to write this book?
Postmortem photography was extremely popular during the era in which the novel is set. Black-bordered cabinet photos and cartes de visite served to announce and memorialize deaths, especially the passing of children. There was also a belief that the soul flew out of a person's mouth at the moment of death, and photographers vied for the distinction of being the first to capture the image of a departing soul. I imagined a photographer so obsessed with that idea that he hastened the deaths of mortally ill individuals in order to seize the moment of the soul in flight. And that's where the plot was born!

Excerpt from Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets:
The woman Josiah ushered into Geoffrey Hunter’s office was tall and slender, elegantly dressed in a gown that could only have been fashioned in one of the couturier salons of Paris. The high-necked black wool afternoon costume gleamed and glistened with elaborate designs of jet-beaded passementerie, rosettes, twisted cording, and finely worked braid, its severe perfection lightened by a fall of snow-white lace from the interior of the narrow sleeves. The perfectly pointed V waist and naturally contoured bustle were the epitome of the latest European fashion as pictured in Godey’s Lady’s Book.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Prudence,” she said. “I hope you’ll forgive me for declining your supper invitation last night. The rehearsal schedule has been brutal.” The women exchanged
kisses on the cheek in the French fashion; then Claire held out a gloved hand to Geoffrey. “I hardly recognize you when you’re not lurching about on the deck of a ship.” Her speech was lightly accented, as though she had spoken English as a child, then lived abroad for many years.

She accepted the cup of coffee Josiah handed her, settling herself into the chair he placed in front of Geoffrey’s desk. With one penetrating look she seemed to take his measure; the
slightest of nods indicated he would do.

“Thank you again for last night’s tickets to Aïda,” Prudence began.

“It wasn’t the best of performances,” Claire said. “There’s no point pretending otherwise.” She gestured toward the folded Times. “I see you’ve read the review.”

“Will Frau Schröder-Hanfstängl continue?”

“Everyone gets bad reviews occasionally. There was a rumor for a while that she was considering a teaching position at one of the conservatories, but nothing came of it. All performers grow thick skins. We wouldn’t survive otherwise. So, yes, she’ll sing for the rest of this season at the Met and probably for years to come.”

“I’m sure you can’t help but wish it were otherwise,” Geoffrey said. He knew that some artistes spent their entire professional careers singing minor roles or lost in the chorus, waiting for the chance that never came.

“Prudence mentioned that you’re a former Pinkerton agent, Mr. Hunter.” Claire Buchanan deftly sidestepped his comment.

“The Pinkertons claim to be the best detectives in the world. Is that true?”

“It’s a well-deserved reputation,” he answered.

“I hadn’t realized there were lady detectives until Prudence told me about your partnership and that Allan Pinkerton had hired female operatives,” Claire continued. “You were kind aboard ship not to ask questions about my personal life. I’m sure I made it obvious I wouldn’t welcome them.” She smiled an apology. “I wasn’t keeping secrets to be deliberately mysterious. I thought that if I didn’t talk about it, the pain would eventually lessen. So I taught Prudence the tarot and avoided all mention of what I’ve lost.”

“How can we be of assistance, Miss Buchanan?” Geoffrey asked. Josiah had been right, as usual. Their shipboard acquaintance had come to the office today with the intention of becoming a client.

The opera singer reached into a velvet reticule whose passementerie matched the patterns on her dress. She took out a black cardboard folder slightly larger than her hand. “Open it,” she said, giving the folder to Prudence. “A part of me dies every time I look at it.”

The cardboard was of the thickness used to mount and protect photographs, the two covers tied together by a narrow black silk ribbon. On the front was an embossed design of intertwined lilies surrounded by a stand of cypress trees, popular symbols of mourning throughout the Western world.

“Is this what I think it is?” Prudence asked. She’d seen cabinet photos like this one too many times not to recognize what she’d been given. She glanced up in time to catch a twitch of aversion cross Geoffrey’s face.

“Please undo the tie.”

Prudence opened the folder. Inside, mounted within an oval cutout decorated with the same motif of lilies and weeping cypress trees, was the photograph of a young woman holding in her lap a perfect infant. Eyes open, tiny features composed and expressionless, the child had been posed with its head lying against the mother’s bosom, as though to be comforted by the sound of her heartbeat.

Except that both of them were dead when the photograph was taken.

The lifeless woman was Claire Buchanan.

What exciting story are you working on next?
The fourth book in the Gilded Age Mystery series, Death Leaves a Shadow, will be released by Kensington in late 2019, and I'm working on the fifth volume. No title yet. I'm also developing another mystery series and crafting a standalone historical novel.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I've always written. I can't remember a time when I wasn’t writing. For me, the writing life started with a journal. When I occasionally go back and read some of the entries, they almost always include mention of a storyline I was developing.

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 write full-time now, and I start the day by listing the non-writing things that have to get done. Meetings, appointments, all of the commitments I can't postpone. Then I decide when I can work in blocks of time for concentrated writing work. I end up with a schedule that I try to stick to as much as possible, and which is slightly different day to day. It's also important to allow time for the research I do as a writer of historical fiction. And no writer should starve himself of reading time. That's vital!

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Probably the detailed spreadsheets I keep of daily time and word counts. I also write short summaries of every chapter and ongoing character development profiles.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be either a writer or an actress because it meant you could live in so many different worlds of the imagination.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
When I'm writing I feel transported into another place and time. My goal is always to take the reader along with me.

Thanks for being here today, Rosemary. Happy writing!

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