Hannah Dennison and I didn’t connect before her recent appearance at The Poisoned Pen. So, I asked her to follow-up on her visit with a discussion of the inspiration for her Honeychurch Hall mystery series. Thank you, Hannah!
Thank you for inviting me to talk about the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries today. As you know I’m a huge fan of The Poisoned Pen Bookstore!
In a nutshell my protagonist Kat Stanford stars in a hit road show called Fakes & Treasures. Weary of being permanently in the public eye, Kat switches careers initially to set up an antique business with her newly widowed mother, Iris. Kat’s mother, however, has other ideas and Kat is horrified to learn that not only has Iris secretly purchased a dilapidated carriage house on a crumbling country estate several hundred miles away from London, she’s actually an internationally best-selling author of erotica, writing under the pseudonym of Krystalle Storm. Kat sets off to make her mother “see sense” and ends up staying herself.
The inspiration for this series came from my own mother’s rash decision to purchase a highly impractical wing of a country house in Devon, after my Dad passed away in 2002. She was 73 at the time. As you can imagine, my sister and I were really worried. It wasn’t so much the isolated location with a mile-long drive, no local shop and no public transport. The house was a money drain, with a roof in need of mending, heating and plumbing breaking down constantly and generally, the whole estate was falling apart.
Then we realized that it was what Mum really wanted. Although my parents had shared 54 years of marriage together, it had been in a different time when the man ruled the house. Suddenly, she could do exactly what she liked.
Of course I’m no former TV celebrity—although I have had some experience in the antique world—and my mother is definitely no romance writer nor does she have a brother who has spent a career in various establishments at “Her Majesty’s Pleasure” —although my relatives did box with the notorious Kray twins back in the 1960s.
Honeychurch Hall itself is based on two private houses. The first is Dundridge, near Totnes, where my mother lives and the second, where I grew up.
We used to live in the converted gatehouses at the bottom of the main drive of Hillersdon House near Cullompton, Devon. I was always fascinated by the “goings-on” at the big house. When Hillersdon came up for sale in June of 2009, I discovered that it had had a reputation for holding wild society parties during the 1890s or “naughty nineties” as they were then known. Elinor Glyn, who was rumored to be one of the first writers of erotic fiction, was a frequent visitor.
Men were to say: “Would you like to sin with Elinor Glyn on a tiger skin? Or would you prefer to err with her on some other fur?”
Elinor Glyn was said to popularize the concept of “It” as in, “You either have it, or you don’t.” She claimed that “With ‘It,’ you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man.” By modern standards, her books are pretty tame but well-worth reading. She said, “Romance is the glamour that turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.” I rather like that!
Mike Lloyd, my friend and the man who took on Hillersdon House, has unearthed the original plans dating from the mid-seventeen hundreds and he’s following them to the letter—putting back the lakes, introducing deer, and sprucing up the grotto and stumpery. It’s very exciting.
Now at age 87, my mother is more vibrant than ever. She continues to spy on the neighbors—all in the name of helping me with my stories. She still works as a docent at Greenway, Agatha Christie’s summer home and believe me, that comes in very handy whenever I’m stuck on a plot point or facing a blank page. She’ll just give me a few Agatha Christie tips. There is nothing my mother does not know about the Queen of Crime.
Yet, murder and romance aside, at the core of the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries is the relationship between a mother and daughter facing new and uncertain beginnings. I’m fascinated by the notion that it’s those who are nearest and dearest to us who are often the most duplicitous of all.
Interested in more about the mystery series? Check out this video of the carriage house that became the influence for the Honeychurch Hall mysteries.
Murder at Honeychurch Hall (Minotaur) May, 2014
Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall (Minotaur) May, 2015
A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall (Minotaur) May, 2016
Other series: The Vicky Hill Mysteries
Hannah Dennison’s books can be purchased through the Poisoned Pen’s Web Store. http://bit.ly/1UOfSkM
David Morrell recently shared a delightful story of his first sale as an author. We’d like to share it with you.
This is the background to my story “The Granite Kitchen” in the July issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Back in 1971, I finished the manuscript of FIRST BLOOD and sent it to my agent. Shortly afterward, I had a dream so vivid that I immediately used it as the basis for a short story. It was called “The Dripping,” and I submitted it to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I still recall the excitement of receiving an acceptance letter and a check for $100. My first sale. I smiled more broadly when I learned that the magazine had a “Department of First Stories,” which drew attention to writers whose first sale was to EQMM. Many authors who’d influenced me were in that “Department of First Stories”: Jack Finney, Stanley Ellin, William Link and Richard Levinson (Columbo, Murder She Wrote), for example. Last year, many decades later, EQMM asked me to write a new story for a 75th anniversary issue that celebrated the “Department of First Stories.” The joy of that first sale came back to me as I wrote the new story, remembering the suspense with which I’d submitted “The Dripping” years ago and now feeling that because EQMM had actually asked me to write a new story for it, I had finally arrived. My novel First Blood was later published, unleashing Rambo, but the thrill of that publication couldn’t equal what I felt when I received that acceptance letter from EQMM in 1971. “The Dripping” turned out to be my most reprinted story and was included in The Best American Noir of the Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler.
Congratulations, David! We’re so glad you feel as if you finally arrived! (And, thank you for allowing us to share the story of your first sale.)
Warren Easley’s Not Dead Enough, A Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery from Poisoned Pen Press, is the June pick for the Thriller Club.
Michael Barson recently did a Q&A with the author in which they discussed Easley’s series.
1) When you created attorney Cal Claxton, how did you envision him being different from other protagonists in today’s crime fiction?
I certainly knew what I didn’t want him to be—a tragically flawed, enigmatic figure, which, to me, is a cliché in mystery fiction. I wanted him to be an everyman, a character whose reactions to situations are not particularly out of the ordinary. But I wanted him to be dogged and resilient, too. I knock him down a lot, but he gets up and re-engages. It’s a trait I admire greatly. Like most of us, he’s reluctant to engage when it looks daunting, but he’s guided by a strong moral compass, and he’s particularly prone to come to the aid of the most vulnerable.
2) Why did you decide that Cal needed to move from practicing law in L.A. to rural Oregon?
Cal was shattered by his wife’s suicide in L.A. because he felt he was so wrapped up in his career as a prosecutor that he missed the signs of her depression. He moves to a remote farmhouse in Dundee, Oregon, in the heart of the wine country, to essentially re-invent himself as a small town lawyer and a fly fisherman. His goal is to keep his head down and mind his own business, but, of course, trouble has a way of finding him.
3) The Native American characters who populate Not Dead Enough, and the Indian lore that suffuses the story, carry the ring of authenticity. How much expertise do you possess?
It’s always a challenge to write about another culture, and I don’t claim any expertise in Native American culture. Central to the book is the flooding of Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, a fishing and cultural center of the river tribes for millennia. I visited the re-located Celilo Village several times and read and viewed everything I could get my hands on about Celilo Falls, including historian Katrine Barber’s excellent book, Death of Celilo Falls. Like Tony Hillerman, who had a great influence on me, I write about Native American culture with the utmost respect and admiration.
4) If you had to choose one author of a classic crime series from whom you drew inspiration for the Cal Claxton series, who would top the list?
Well, that’s pretty easy call for me—Raymond Chandler’s body of work, particularly The Long Goodbye. I like the blend of hard-boiled noir, satire, and social commentary that Chandler brings to the genre.
5) Is there one writer working in the mystery field today whom you especially admire?
I mentioned Tony Hillerman, but the writer I admire the most is James Lee Burke, who writes, among other things, the Dave Robicheaux series set on the Gulf Coast. Burke’s characters jump off the page, his dialogue crackles, and his descriptions of the Gulf Coast always mesmerize me. I wanted to do something like that in my series with Oregon as the setting.
6) What is your long-range goal for this series? To keep writing one installment each year for the next twenty years or so?
Ha! That’s what James Lee Burke has done. My goal is simple—make the next book in the series the best piece of mystery fiction I’m capable of. One book a year seems reasonable, although the one I’m working on now—number five in the series—is ahead of that schedule. So many stories to tell, so little time!
7) Have you ever entertained the idea of starting a second series featuring a different protagonist?
No, I’m pretty focused on the Cal Claxton series. I do have some ideas for stand-alones that I hope to get to in the not-too-distant future.
Copies of Warren Easley’s Cal Claxton books, including signed copies of Not Dead Enough, are available through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/1X7DSTl
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.
With the Tony Awards tonight, it’s the perfect time to share the advice for actors that comes from the Golden Age of Mysteries. Once again, thanks to https://crossexaminingcrime.wordpress.com for the clever post. Here’s the link – http://bit.ly/1Xuc0aZ
Thursday, June 16 at 7 PM, Whitney Terrell, author of The Good Lieutenant, will appear at The Poisoned Pen, joined by Grant Blackwood, author of Tom Clancy: Duty and Honor.
Author Anne Wilson, an Annapolis graduate and Navy veteran, hosts Terrell on June 16 and says this about our July Modern Firsts Club Pick (Terrell, Whitney. The Good Lieutenant, Farrar, $26): Whitney Terrell writes The Good Lieutenant with brutal honesty. We follow Lieutenant Emma Fowler and her all-male platoon in a story that unfolds backwards, Memento style, from an explosive and tragic beginning. Using this ingenious literary construct, Terrell pulls us in as we watch the changes in Emma—more naïve, more innocent, the further she moves from the Iraq War—in a heartbreaking tale of human loss, needless suffering, and the absurdities of war.” The PW Starred Review. “Terrell’s audacious new novel begins with a literal bang as a U.S. Army patrol in Iraq goes terribly wrong for Lt. Emma Fowler, who is present as her secret lover, Lt. Dixon Pulowski, is critically wounded in an explosion while attempting to recover the corpse of a kidnapped sergeant. The narrative moves in reverse chronological order from there, to show the events before the botched operation, depicting the previous op that got the sergeant abducted at Muthanna intersection, an IED explosion at the same intersection that cost the lives of two soldiers earlier, a bad call made by the colonel who declared the intersection safe, and Fowler’s stateside training, where she begins her love affair with Pulowski. Although this backward conceit has been used before, as in the Christopher Nolan film Memento and the Harold Pinter play Betrayal, it works particularly well in this story, which employs the structure to critique the follies of the Iraq War and the adamantine nature of the military mind-set. Terrell shows us how soldiers think and address one another with a stinging combination of military argot and pop culture references. The book’s last line echoes the title of one of the first novels about modern warfare, Thomas Boyd’s Through the Wheat (1923), to which this novel is an entirely worthy successor.”
Here’s the publisher’s summary of the book: “The Good Lieutenant literally starts with a bang as an operation led by Lieutenant Emma Fowler of the Twenty-seventh Infantry Battalion goes spectacularly wrong. Men are dead–one, a young Iraqi, by her hand. Others were soldiers in her platoon. And the signals officer, Dixon Pulowski. Pulowski is another story entirely–Fowler and Pulowski had been lovers since they met at Fort Riley in Kansas.
From this conflagration, The Good Lieutenant unspools backward in time as Fowler and her platoon are guided into disaster by suspicious informants and questionable intelligence, their very mission the result of a previous snafu in which a soldier had been kidnapped by insurgents. And then even further back, before things began to go so wrong, we see the backstory unfold from points of view that usually are not shown in war coverage–a female frontline officer, for one, but also jaded career soldiers and Iraqis both innocent and not so innocent. Ultimately, as all these stories unravel, what is revealed is what happens when good intentions destroy, experience distorts, and survival becomes everything.
Brilliantly told and expertly captured by a terrific writer at the top of his form, Whitney Terrell’s The Good Lieutenant is a gripping, insightful, necessary novel about a war that is proving to be the defining tragedy of our time.”
Have we caught your attention yet? If not, check out the video, “Behind the Scenes of The Good Lieutenant“. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usnG5IXqqYo
As I said, this is the July Modern Firsts Club pick. You might want to order your copy from our web store, http://bit.ly/1OVbxgK
Don’t forget, Terrell and Blackwood will be introduced by Anne Wilson, Thursday, June 16 at 7 PM.
I’ve known JT Ellison for a few years. We run into each other most years at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. Now, you have the chance to meet her, Wednesday, June 16 at 7 PM, when she appears at The Poisoned Pen with Heather Gudenkauf. JT is on book tour with her latest book, Field of Graves. And, she was kind enough to answer interview questions, to spend a little time In the Hot Seat. Thank you, JT.
J.T., welcome to the The Poisoned Pen’s blog. Would you introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us about yourself.
Thanks for having me! Let’s see, I’ve been writing thrillers for a decade now, and have 13 books published under my own name, and also co-write with the divine Catherine Coulter. I’m a wine junkie (see http://thewinevixen.com) and love golf and yoga. And kittens––I have twin girls, silver mackerel tabbies, who are an absolute hoot. I love to travel and have been married for over 20 years to the love of my life. I live in Nashville, which is one of the best literary cities in the country. I also co-host a literary television series called A Word on Words, which was started over 40 years ago by the esteemed John Seigenthaler. Needless to say, I’m juggling a lot of balls, but I’m having a blast!
Why did you become a writer?
I’ve always been a writer, so that wasn’t a conscious choice. But after a college professor told me I wasn’t good enough to be published, I quit, went in a different direction, working in the White House and Department of Commerce before swerving into aerospace marketing. But the bug wouldn’t leave me alone, and after we moved to Nashville, I discovered John Sandford, and three books into the Prey series decided I was going to give it another try. That book eventually became FIELD OF GRAVES. So as to why––I couldn’t stop myself, really. I was compelled, called, driven to it by the muse.
Field of Graves takes readers back to Nashville. I have all kinds of questions, but here’s the most important one. Let’s start with an introduction to your characters since it seems as if you’ve brought them together. Tell us about these people, please, with a brief summary of the book.
So FOG, as we call it, was my first full-length novel. I landed an awesome agent with it, but it didn’t sell, so I put it in a drawer and moved on to the next book in the series, which did sell, and kicked off my career. Last year, I revisited it and realized it wasn’t half bad. I did a full editorial on it, and it stands now as the prequel to the series.
This book introduced Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson, and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and the whole cast of characters from the Taylor series, including Dr. John Baldwin, FBI profiler extraordinaire. It is the story of how Taylor and Baldwin met, how Taylor got her scar, all set against the backdrop of a killer who is trying to create his own apocalypse.
Taylor Jackson is a fabulous character to write. She’s the warrior goddess of Nashville, half cop, half rock star, and my own personal Athena. Sam Owens is her best friend, the lodestone of the series, the conscience, so to speak. They’re quite a pair. Add in Baldwin, and all sorts of mayhem ensues.
Tell us about Nashville as a setting.
It’s the perfect backdrop—we have it all, from gangs to debutantes. The city has a rich history, and it’s a beautiful southern town. We’re growing very quickly right now, so there are all the attendant problems with a city breaking out of its long-held boundaries. I wanted to show the city we live in, not the one seen on the news or the awards shows.
Can you give us a hint about the next book to be released?
Next in line is THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE, the fourth “Brit in the FBI” novel with Catherine, coming March 14. It’s a crazy ride! I’m also working on a secret project (I’m always working on a secret project) and the fifth installment of the Sam Owens series, ALL FALL DOWN. No release date for that one yet, sometime next year, I’m sure.
Let’s go off topic. If friends come to visit, what’s your favorite place to take them?
We have a few awesome restaurants that we frequent, so there would definitely be food involved. We take people to Cheekwood Gardens, a brilliant botanical garden in west Nashville; to downtown Franklin, for the cool shops and great food. And golfing, of course! We have a pretty low key life here.
We’re going to turn the tables here. How would Taylor Jackson describe you?
Oh, that’s totally unfair! She’d see me as quiet, loyal, and tall. I think she’d like being able to look me in the eye. We share some odd biographical details, so I think we’d have a lot in common.
Bucket list. Everyone has one, either in their head or on paper. What’s next on your list? What do you hope to do soon?
American travel, actually. I want to go to Yosemite, and Yellowstone, the Black Hills and Montana, go back to Kennebunk, Maine and stay for a bit. I love the Northeast; I’d dig a summer trip to the Cape or Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket.
What were the last books you recommended?
I do book recommendations every month in my newsletter, so this one had Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once (it did, twice); Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica, Tosca Lee’s The Progeny, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. I literally just finished Claire Mackintosh’s I Let You Go – wow, what a great book—and Alan Furst’s A Hero Of France.
What’s on your TBR (To Be Read) pile right now?
Several blurb books, plus I’m really looking forward to Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song, but I’ll probably dive into Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld or Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty—she’s one of my favorite. Oh, and Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley and Forgive Me, by Daniel Palmer… Lord, I have a few lined up, don’t I? True confession, there’s 640 books on my Goodreads TBR… Yikes!
Thanks so much for having me, this was fun!
It was fun, JT. Thanks for sitting In the Hot Seat for us.
As I said, JT Ellison will be at The Poisoned Pen on Wednesday, June 16 at 7 PM. She’ll discuss and sign Field of Graves and Heather Gudenkauf will sign Missing Pieces. If you can’t be here that night, you can pre-order a signed copy of Field of Graves through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/1sqaefy