Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interview with Susanna Calkins, author of The Masque of a Murderer

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Susanna Calkins to Flashlight Commentary to discuss The Masque of a Murderer.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Susanna. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Masque of a Murderer. 
Thanks for having me! THE MASQUE OF A MURDERER is the third in my series set in 17th century London, which feature Lucy Campion, a former chambermaid who has become a printer’s apprentice. In this story, Lucy is called to the home of a dying Quaker to record his last words. At this time, it was common for religious sects like the Quakers to record the last dying testimony of their more pious brethren. The intention was to print and sell these testimonies as cheap paper tracts to inspire others to live godly lives. In this case, the suffering man was dying of injuries suffered from having been trampled by a cart and horse the day before.  Before he draws his last breath, he tells Lucy that his death was no accident and that he feared his murderer was someone in his close acquaintance, perhaps even a fellow Quaker.  

The The Masque of a Murderer is the third novel to center on Lucy Campion. What kind of woman is Lucy and how has she evolved over the course of the story? 
At age 16, Lucy became a chambermaid in the household of Master Hargrave, a local magistrate.  She used to spend time secretly listening to the tutors who instructed Master Hargrave’s daughter, and learned to read and write for herself.  In fact, she became so intrigued by the bookseller’s trade that when her circumstances changed and she no longer was needed to serve the magistrate, that she finagled an apprenticeship of sorts with a master printer when she was about 20. From setting type to singing ballads on the streets, Lucy has started to carve out a new place in her world. 

Lucy finds herself torn between two men. How do Duncan and Adam differ and what does each represent to Lucy?  
Great question! Both men possess a keen sense of justice that appeal to Lucy, although the nature of their work and circumstances are considerably different. Adam Hargrave, the son of the local magistrate, is well-educated, courteous and never abusive towards the servants. As a lawyer, he seeks justice through law and order. Naturally, he’s quite handsome and Lucy was already a little in love with him from afar. Over time, he began to recognize—and admire—some surprising traits in Lucy as well (her inquisitive nature, compassion and bright mind), and fell in love with her. So he represents to Lucy the possibility of romantic love realized, as well as social change. Jeb Duncan, on the other hand, represents a different type of justice and order. As a former soldier and as a constable, he has lived a harder life. Though he doesn’t talk about himself much, they recognize in each other a kinship of sorts. He understands, perhaps more fully than Adam, Lucy’s dream to be a bookseller and supports this wish. So he represents the idea that marriage and love are a partnership, which was very common to the “middling sort” and laboring classes in 17th c England.

The Quakers play an interesting role in The Masque of the Murderer. Why did this religious sect appealed to you as an author?  
Well, when I was working on my PhD in British history, I became fascinated by the political activities of this group, as well as how they expressed themselves religiously.  Likening themselves to Old Testament prophets, they would wear sackcloth and ashes, “Quake in the presence of the Lord,” and even run naked as a sign.  In addition, Quakers produced more published tracts than any other group in the 17th century, with a great many women numbered among their writers.  Besides that, they were actually so different from what people today popularly think about Quakers, so I simply had to write them into my story. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing? 
This is a tough one, but I’ll say the last scene, which of course I can’t describe. There’s a satisfaction in achieving the last moments of the story. 

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?   
I struggled a little bit with all the scenes that brought out romantic feelings for Lucy.  She has strong feelings for both Adam and Duncan and is having a hard time dealing with them. Mostly I got through these scenes by having Lucy decide that she needed to focus on the criminal activities around her. So if she didn’t want to think about it, than I didn’t want to think about it either! 

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
Such interesting questions you’ve raised! I probably would have like to have delved into Jacob Whitby’s character a bit more. He dies so early in the story—and before that he was suffering from having been run over by a cart and horse—so I wasn’t able to bring his character to life except through the remembrances of other characters. 

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Masque of a Murderer and if so, what did you alter? 
Well, generally speaking I’ve had to adapt the language considerably. No one would understand a single word of dialogue if I tried to replicate how they spoke back then. I’ve also given Duncan a bit broader scope as a constable than he might have had. There was no established police force yet in England, so it made sense that he might be able to investigate more. I also collapsed a few of the bookmaking trades—there was probably more specialization than what I described. So you might be a typesetter, but you probably were not selling the books yourself (let alone writing them!) 

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?  
Well, while I’d like to meet Lucy of course, I really wish to meet Adam and Duncan. Separately. Over a good beer.  Not sure I want to say why. 

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of The Masque of a Murderer, who would you hire? 
Ah, so fun.  I won’t say who I’d hire for Lucy, Adam and Duncan, but I will tell you who I envisioned for two of the main Quakers in the story. Esther Whitby with her violet eyes would be played by Elizabeth Taylor. And Sam Leighton would be played by Richard Bull (Mr. Olsen on Little House on the Prairie!)

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
Yes, I am working on A Death Along the River Fleet, the fourth book in the series.  It will come out April 2016. Thank you for having me!

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“…the high-quality writing augurs well for future outings.” -Publisher’s Weekly

“Calkins makes Lucy’s efforts to find the real killer entirely plausible, leading to a nail-biter climax with London in flames. This history-mystery delivers a strong heroine making her way through the social labyrinth of Restoration London.” -Booklist

“Calkins’ debut mystery places her unusual detective in a world rich in carefully researched historical detail.” -Kirkus

“A historical mystery with originality and great attention to detail. Readers are transported to 17th century England, a time when social classes were just beginning to change. The characters are multi-dimensional–including the smart, adventurous Lucy Campion–and the mystery will keep readers turning the pages, and they’ll eagerly await the next book in the series.” RT Book Reviews (4 Stars)

“…an intricate tale of fraud and blackmail, leavened by a touch of romance. Calkins, who holds a doctorate in British history, puts her knowledge to sparkling use in this intriguing mystery, which combines a gripping plot with rich historical detail and one of the most admirable protagonists in the genre.” -The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Calkins is able to seamlessly weave this romance into the story without making it the main plot line, and keeping the mystery the main focus of the story….The puzzles, anagrams, and many secrets combine to make intertwining plot twists that keep the pages turning. FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS is an exciting, secret filled, historical mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end.” –Fresh Fiction (Reviewer’s Pick)

“A good yarn and a fascinating look at life in England in a time when things began to change…social classes, positions, servants’ rights…all because of plague and fire.” -Book Babe Blog

“For me, this book was more than a mystery. It was an eye-opening look at what London was like in the mid-1660s, including the plague and fire that ravaged London, class struggle, the plight of women, and the laws of the time. The author’s engaging writing style made it easy to slip back into the past and experience these things with Lucy.” -Book of Secrets

“A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is Susanna Calkins’ absorbing debut novel. Just a warning that time WILL easily slip away as you become engrossed in this historical fiction mystery.” -1776 Books: A Philadelphian’s Literary Journey

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Born and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives in Highland Park, Illinois with her husband and two sons, where she is an educator at Northwestern University. With a PhD in history, her historical mysteries feature Lucy Campion, a 17th century chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice. Her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, was a finalist for the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (Macavity). The second in this series, From the Charred Remains, is currently a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Her third, The Masque of a Murderer, will be released in April 2015.

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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Released by: Minotaur Books/St. Martins Press
ISBN-13: 978-1250057365
Length: 323 pages
Series: Book Three, Lucy Campion Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Check Out All the Stops on Susanna Calkins' The Masque of a Murderer Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 16
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Tuesday, March 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Guest Post at Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, March 18
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, March 20
Spotlight at Historical Readings & Reviews
Monday, March 23
Review & Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, March 25
Review & Interview at The Emerald City Book Review
Tuesday, March 31
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Wednesday, April 1
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Thursday, April 2
Review at Just One More Chapter
Monday, April 6
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, April 7
Spotlight at The Genre Queen
Thursday, April 9
Review at The Lit Bitch
Guest Post at A Literary Vacation
Friday, April 10
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, April 13
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Tuesday, April 14
Review at Book Babe
Thursday, April 16
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Friday, April 17
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

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