Tuesday, June 14 is release date for Cara Black’s new Aimee Leduc mystery, Murder on the Quai. She’ll be here at The Poisoned Pen on Saturday, June 18 at 2 PM, so this is the perfect time to interview her. Cara’s In the Hot Seat today.
Cara, thank you for sitting In the Hot Seat. Would you introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m a former preschool teacher, my husband owned a bookstore and we live in San Francisco. I drink espresso and get to Paris whenever I can.
Now, would you introduce Aimee Leduc?
Aimée Leduc is the half-American, half-French daughter of a 70’s radical American mother who left her when she was eight, and a father, formerly in the Police, later a detective, who became a PI and took over the family business at Leduc Detective. Aimée lives in Paris on Ile Saint-Louis because that’s where I’d like to live. She has a motor scooter, a bichon frise puppy named Miles Davis pronounced Meels Daveez, a stormy relationship with her godfather, Commissaire Morbier, is attracted to bad boys and haunts the flea markets for vintage couture. She’s taller, thinner and with a better fashion sense than moi.
Tell us about Murder on the Quai. Why did you go back in Aimee’s career?
Great question. I never thought I would write a series much less sixteen books so it’s become a challenge to keep Aimée’s Paris world familiar yet fresh. Actually, at the end of Murder on the Champs de Mars, life changing things happened to Aimée Leduc and to someone close in her life. I couldn’t see much further ahead for her except from the Emergency room in the hospital where this person close to her, who betrayed her (she believes) and had shot, is fighting for their life. Conflicted, heartbroken, all I knew was that Aimée was at a crossroads. I didn’t know where she’d go from here. My editor asked me what would happen to Aimée, I think I mumbled I hadn’t much of a clue where Aimée’s life would take her now. Perfect segue for a prequel, my editor said in that brilliant way she has. She said she’d always wondered about Aimée’s origin story, on her younger days, what made her into the private detective (apart from inheriting the agency from her father) she’d become. Where did her dog, Miles Davis, come from and how did she find her partner, René Friant, and how did her vintage Chanel style emerge. Also, she asked, couldn’t we have a chance to meet Aimée’s father, Jean-Claude who we’ve heard about for 15 books and see him together with her mother and glimpse that love and attraction that drew these two very different people together. So in Murder on the Quai, we get to meet her father who’s death has affected her in the rest of the series. We also meet her grandfather, Claude, who I’ve sort of fallen in love with – he’s a bon vivant, loves good food and haunting the art auctions and has a mistress. Plus the music! I made a playlist to take me back to 1989 including some songs which Aimée hears in the story: 99 Luftballoons, Oh Champs Elysèes, Love Shack by the B-52’s, music by Duran Duran and Madonna. Also hearing wonderful old Parisian songs from the 1940’s by Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Charles Trenet that brought to me another era and dancing around the laptop.
Would you introduce us to Aimee’s Paris?
Aimée lives in 90’s Paris with art, fashion, and cuisine reflecting that time. Setting the stories in the 90’s was never a conscious decision on my part nor an organized plan, it evolved organically. I was so thrilled to publish my first book, Murder in the Marais, that I hadn’t thought of anything else. When my editor asked me where Aimée was going next in Paris, what would be happening with the man she met etc…I got tongue tied…then she said..”Wait, you are writing a series, aren’t you?” ‘Of course” I lied. So, I started writing about Belleville (this was in the early to mid 90’s when I stayed with my friend there), impressed by the vibrant street life, and found a story. It’s been like that with all the books, exploring and describing off the beaten track Paris I discovered. I was writing about the Paris I was seeing in the 90’s when I began to visit often. I’ve just moved Aimée a few months ahead in time and so the stories have stayed in that era (the first set in 1993-1999 – the latest, and now the prequel set in 1989). I’m so glad, too because, while Aimée has a cell phone she doesn’t have to worry about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or texting. There were few CCTV cameras and everyone paid in francs – much sexier than the Euro. Oh and you could still smoke in the cafes. French society, to me, was and remains underneath very traditional. They are still ruled by the Napoleonic code so try to get paperwork done in a timely fashion. The French Colonial rule brought immigrants from Indochina and North Africa to France then in the third generation at that time. Aimée’s Paris is a salad bowl of cultures with strong ties from a Colonial heritage, a past from WW2, 17th century cobbled streets and history on every corner.
I’ve heard a couple wonderful stories about your youth and love of Paris and your first trip. Would you tell our readers?
In high school for a book report, I discovered a book on the library shelf and fell in love. The book was Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary. In love with his writing, the story, his way with words, the way he evoked images and time. So I wrote the author a fan letter. In those days, we used pen and paper, we addressed the envelope to the writer in care of the publishing house in New York and hoped. I doubted my gushing fan letter would ever get a response, especially since Romain Gary, the writer, lived in France but something felt right about trying to tell him he’d touched me and the book changed the way I looked at writing and words.
I jumped out of my skin when later a letter addressed to Mademoiselle Black with a French stamp arrived.
Monsieur Romain Gary, who’d won the Prix Goncourt literary prize for Promise at Dawn, the book I’d read, had written thanking me for my letter. And he wrote to me as an adult, as if my letter mattered to him. It rocked my world.
I had saved my babysitting money and after high school, backpacked around Europe. In those days we slept under the Pont Neuf in Paris, munched baguettes and shared wine with other travelers down on the Seine, as one did. I had Monsieur Gary’s address. 108 rue du Bac opened to a treelined courtyard, an imposing white stone building. I followed the red carpeted staircase winding upwards past a stained glass window and bold as brass knocked on the tall carved wood door. A man answered. Wild black hair sticking up, thick mustache, blue-turquoise eyes with a severe stare who took one look at me and said.
“Do I know you?”
“Uhm..I wrote you a letter…” I fumbled, staring at the carpet wishing it would swallow me up “from California and you wrote me back..and..”
“Just a moment.” He slammed the door.
I waited, feeling stupid and awkward at my terrible faux pas. One doesn’t just appear at the door of a famous and busy Prix Goncourt winning author and expect them to…
The door opened. “Shall we go for a coffee?” I nodded dumbstruck. We walked to the corner cafe, his local and the cafe man had a cigar and expresso waiting on the counter for Monsieur Gary. The cafe man looked at me, in jeans, flannel shirt etc and then at Monsieur Gary.
“What about her?” he asked.
“She’ll have the same,” Monsieur Gary said.
I don’t remember everything we talked about because I was trying to puff on the cigar and not cough, drink this acid tasting coffee – my first ever expresso – and not choke and make some kind of intelligent conversation. I do remember Monsieur Gary, to his credit, showing amazing generosity.
I’m going off-topic. Hypothetically, you have the money to live anyplace you want. You can’t pick France or your present home. Where would you live, and why?
I’ve kind of fallen in love with a friend’s farmhouse in Umbria, somewhere between Rome and Florence. Rolling hills, cypress trees, breathtaking views, the way the light falls and the quiet of the countryside. There’s great hiking, old ruins, very off the beaten track except for an old Roman road. The only thing is the local cafe is too far away…I’d move it closer.
Cara, in five words or phrases, how would Aimee Leduc describe you?
Works best on a deadline.
Bucket list. We all have one. What’s next on your list? What do you hope to do soon?
I’d love to visit Prague, Talinn in Estonia and snorkel in the Maldives.
College students just graduated. Look back at your own twenties. What advice would you give new college graduates?
I think it’s great to take a year off and discover a part of the world and things about yourself before hitting the textbooks. I’m all for a gap year as they say in the UK.
What’s on top of your TBR (To Be Read) pile right now?
The new Alan Furst that comes out soon!
Thank you, Cara! As I said, Cara Black will be here Saturday, June 18 at 2 PM. If you can’t make it, you can purchase a signed copy of Murder on the Quai. http://bit.ly/1TH6qks