Paige Shelton, author of The Cracked Spine, will be one of The Poisoned Pen’s guest authors at this year’s Cozy Con, Saturday, May 7, 1-5 PM. I asked Paige to sit in the hot seat for some questions.
Paige, please introduce Delaney Nichols & The Cracked Spine.
Hi, everybody! Thanks for letting me drop by. Delaney is a late-twenties, intelligent, well-educated woman who found herself in a situation she never could have predicted: laid-off from the Wichita, Kansas, museum job she loved. She was really good at it too. It’s as she’s in this state of “stun,” the first time the real world has reared some of its unfairness her direction, that she answers an ad to work in a bookshop in Edinburgh, Scotland. Probably all the ramifications haven’t quite set in when she actually accepts the position during a phone call with her new boss, Edwin MacAlister. She had never been out of Kansas before, and she wanted to be bold. She decides that taking a job across the ocean is a good way to begin that bold journey.
There are lots of possibilities with a series that includes a bookstore, a pub, and a taxi driver. Can you give us hints as to the next book in the Scottish Bookshop series?
The bookstore, the taxi driver, and the pub are all included in the second book. More bookshop books will also be involved, specifically an Oor Wullie comic book. Oor Wullie (translantion: Our Willie) is a beloved Scottish character who always seems to get the short end of the stick, no matter how hard he tries. The comic strip has been around since 1936, and some of the annuals are quite valuable. As Delaney is sent on a secretive mission to barter a trade for an annual at a meeting atop a castle, she’s thrown into the middle of another murder. Historical characters William Wallace and Rob Roy make an appearance or two (not in a spectral way, just as their histories might contribute to the modern day story), and it seems that Edwin MacAlister’s past is even more mysterious than Delaney thought it was in the first book. I’m pretty sure this will be the title: OF BOOKS AND BAGPIPES.
Do you have places in Scotland that inspired this series?
Definitely. As I started writing the book I had no firsthand knowledge of Scotland, specifically Edinburgh. I’d read about Scotland, of course, and had seen many pictures but I’d never been there. However a friend of mine got her master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh. I took her out to lunch and brought a map along, asking for her guidance as to where might be a good spot for a bookshop. Turns out there are lots of good spots, but we zeroed in on the Grassmarket area. Then, when my husband, son, and I actually went to Scotland our first stop was Grassmarket, and I knew without a doubt that The Cracked Spine had to be located in this historical area near the Royal Mile and the Edinburgh Castle. There’s actually a bookshop right where The Cracked Spine would be located, though it’s not like The Cracked Spine. Here’s a picture of the outside of the real-life shop that’s there and a picture of the stairway inside it that leads to more bookshelves. The stairway is designed a bit differently in Delaney’s world. The idea of the fictional secret room full of treasures came to me when I saw this stairway; a room that will play an important part throughout the life of the series.
The people we met in Scotland were even more inspiring than the locale. Everyone was helpful and interesting – everyone had a story about their personal history or about Scotland to share and they all shared so willingly. I took lots of notes just from conversations and personal stories. I think the thing that surprised me the most was how varied the Scottish accents were to our American ears. When I first had the idea to write the book I was going to make the brogue the same for all the Scottish characters, but that’s truly not the way the voices sounded to us, so I hope I created a somewhat realistic range in the book. We also ventured to the Highlands and even to Loch Ness. There’s no doubt that the country’s beauty and its people surpassed all our expectations. We hope to go back again someday.
What are you working on now?
The publisher and I have been so delighted with the response to THE CRACKED SPINE that we just recently completed negotiations for two more books, so I started working on book three of the Scottish Bookshop series, and just turned in book three of a different series I write: The Rescued Word series.
Now, some personal questions. Tell us about living in a haunted house.
When I was seven my family moved to Portales, New Mexico. We lived in the most spectacular house – with a marble entryway and a spiral staircase. I was too young at the time to understand that my dad’s salary as a football coach would not realistically allow us to live in such a house. From the second we moved in, I couldn’t step into the dining room. There was some sort of invisible barrier that kept me out. For whatever reason, this didn’t bother me. I just stayed out of the dining room and my parents never pushed me to go into it. I frequently felt pockets of cold air move next to or even through me, and one time the downstairs shower turned scalding hot on my back, but normalized by the time I screamed and jumped out of it (I still remember this very clearly). I used the upstairs shower from then on. There were some other weird things that happened too but they’re not as clear in my mind anymore. It was probably twenty years after we left that house and lived in many more towns and in very un-haunted houses that my parents told me that a teenager had committed suicide in the Portales dining room, and that’s why we could afford to rent such a beautiful place; it was cheap just so someone would move in. My parents hadn’t heard about the suicide because we moved there from out of state. They told me they probably wouldn’t have chosen to live there if they’d known, and we were only there for one year. Hearing about this twenty years later was bothersome but didn’t surprise me much. I have no doubt that the young man’s unhappy spirit was even more agitated with having us – maybe just me – there. I’d like to go back to Portales and see the house again someday, but I’m not sure I could go inside it. As a kid, otherworldly stuff wasn’t as weird to me as it might be as an adult.
You’re fairly new to Arizona. What discovery have you made? What’s your favorite place to take visitors?
I LOVE Arizona. Really, I do. I’m not just saying that. It was unbelievably hot my first summer, but not as horrible as I thought it would be – mostly because staying inside with air-conditioning was an available option. I love the Arizona sky and the winter was perfection – beautiful days with cool, sometimes cold evenings when I could make use of my socks, jeans, and sweatshirts. We live where we can watch the sun rise over the Superstition Mountains, and there’s a canal not far from our house where we ride bikes. We’ve ridden outside almost every day since we moved in. We sometimes ride to The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, which is one of my favorite places to take visitors. Two others are The Desert Botanical Garden (thanks to Cathy Cole for being the first to show me around the garden), and the Poisoned Pen (cross my heart I’m not just saying that for this post) which always includes a nice stroll through old Scottsdale. I still have so much to explore. I’d love to spend a month or so traveling around the entire state. Maybe someday.
What do you miss about Utah?
Friends, of course – not just mine, but my husband’s and son’s too, as well as some delightful neighbors. Basically, the people – oh, and the mountains. The mountains are pretty amazing. I also miss our favorite Sushi place: Ichiban. We can’t find anything like it in Arizona, but we’re not giving up the search.
Everyone has a bucket list, whether it’s written or in our head. What’s next on your list? What do you hope to do soon?
I didn’t think I had a bucket list but when a couple of friends were in town a few weeks ago (and we went to the Botanical Garden and Poisoned Pen) I realized that I do have a short one. I’d like to see Pompeii. I would also like to go to Maine, one of the few states I’ve yet to experience in person. At this moment those are the only two things I can think of, but I’m sure the list will grow now that I’ve really started to think about it.
What’s on your TBR (To Be Read) pile right now?
I’ll just go with the three that are on the very top. “Dear Mr. You” by Mary-Louise Parker, “Nowhere But Here” by Katie McGarry, and “Fool Me Once,” by Harlan Coben. That’s not a preference list, just what seems to be at the top of the TBR stack at this moment. It will probably grow today. It seems to grow a little every day.
Delaney Nichols is very observant. How would she describe you?
Probably way too flakey for my own good – little does she know that I’m almost always in the middle of daydreaming about my characters, so it’s for work. I’m too addicted to Diet Pepsi and chocolate, and frequently severely fashion challenged. My unexpected shifts in focus would probably drive her crazy, but I think we’d ultimately get along because . . . well, books!
Thanks for the fun interview, Lesa! I look forward to seeing you and everyone at Poisoned Pen’s Cozy Con.
Join Paige Shelton and the other guest authors at The Poisoned Pen’s Cozy Con, Saturday, May 7, 1-5 PM.