Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Introducing Connie Berry - An Interview

It's always a pleasure to introduce a debut author when I loved her book. Tomorrow, I'm running my review of A Dream of Death. It was an outstanding, atmospheric mystery with characters I love. Today, it's my pleasure to introduce author Connie Berry with an interview. Thank you, Connie, for taking time to answer questions.

Connie, Would you introduce yourself to readers?

If we met on the street, you might think you know me already. People are always saying that—"You look so familiar." Then I have to wrack my brain to figure out if they look familiar, too. Embarrassing.

I was born in Wisconsin and grew up in northern Illinois. But apart from four peripatetic years in the Air Force, my husband and I have lived all our married lives in Ohio. We have two grown sons and a very sweet dog named Millie. Besides reading and writing mysteries, I love foreign travel, adventures with a hint of danger, cute animals, the northwoods of Wisconsin, and all things British. 

Would you introduce us to Kate Hamilton?

Kate is the kind of woman I'd like as a friend. She's in her mid-forties, of Scandinavian descent, a recent widow with two college-age children—an academically inclined son, Eric, who's working on a graduate degree in nuclear physics; and the tempestuous Christine, drawn to men she thinks are too good to be true and usually prove her right.

Kate's father, who taught her about antiques, teasingly called her a divvy, an antique whisperer, able to spot a fake at fifty paces, drawn to the single treasure in a roomful of junk. She has a gift for spotting patterns and anomalies, which comes in handy when she is sleuthing.

Having suffered a series of losses—her beloved Down-syndrome brother when she was five; her father when she was seventeen; and her husband when she was forty-three—Kate fortifies her heart against emotional involvements. That becomes a problem in the Scottish Hebrides when she meets a dashing detective inspector from England. Fortunately, Kate has an intelligent, down-to-earth, and wise mother who keeps her on track (usually).

I know Kate is an antiques dealer. Why did you pick that profession for her?

"Write what you know" is a piece of literary advice I took to heart. Like Kate, I was raised by charmingly eccentric antique collectors who eventually opened a shop, not because they wanted to sell antiques but because they needed a plausible excuse to keep buying them. Although I didn't realize it at the time (we all believe our lives are normal, don't we?), I grew up in a house that looked more like a museum than a residence. One time my parents went out to buy a new mattress and came home instead with a larger-than-life-size marble bust of Marie Antoinette. None of my friends had one of those in their living rooms. Their houses were French Provincial or Traditional or Country. Ours, my mother said, was "eclectic," meaning a jumble spanning three continents and six centuries. I asked her once, "Why don't we have new furniture like everyone else?" "Our things have a history," she answered mysteriously. "So much more interesting, don't you think?" That line made it into my first book. Growing up surrounded by the artifacts of the past has given me a life-long passion for antiques and history, elements in everything I write. 

Tell us about A Dream of Death, without spoilers.      

Autumn has come and gone on the Isle of Glenroth, and the locals gather for the Tartan Ball, the annual end-of-tourist-season gala. Spirits are high. A recently published novel about island history has brought hordes of tourists to the small Hebridean resort community. On the guest list is American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton. Kate returns reluctantly to the island where her husband died, determined to repair her relationship with his sister, proprietor of the island's luxe country house hotel, famous for its connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie. The next morning a body is found, murdered in a reenactment of an infamous crime described in the novel. The Scottish police discount the historical connection, but when a much-loved local handyman is arrested, Kate teams up with a vacationing detective inspector from England to unmask a killer determined to rewrite island history. And the only clue lies within a curiously embellished marquetry casket.

I know your next book is set in England. How did you become familiar with those parts of England and Scotland where you set your books?

Since my father's parents were immigrants from Scotland, I grew up with the taste of shortbread in my mouth and the Scots' accent in my ears. One of the characters in A Dream of Death is partly modeled on my Scottish grandmother who, in her old age, sent me frequent letters, informing me about all the Scots who'd played instrumental roles in American history. She was sure my friends would be impressed.

My first trip to England was during college when I studied at St. Clare's College in Oxford and traveled with a friend throughout the British Isles. Once our sons were old enough, we took them to the UK and have traveled there just about every year since. Suffolk is one of my favorite spots in England—off the beaten path tourist-wise but a lovely place with impossibly quaint villages and a history going back to Anglo-Saxon times and beyond. This past autumn we rented a fourteenth-century weaver's cottage in the village of Lavenham and spent an afternoon with a detective inspector in Bury St. Edmunds. 

Can you give us some hints about your next book?

A Legacy of Murder comes out in October of 2019.

What could be lovelier than Christmas in England? American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton arrives in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, dreaming of log fires, steaming wassail, and Tom Mallory, the detective inspector she met during a recent murder investigation in Scotland. Kate also looks forward to spending time with her daughter, Christine, an intern at Finchley Hall, famous for the unearthing in 1818 of a treasure trove known as The Finchley Hoard. But when the body of another intern is found on the estate, romance takes a back seat. Long Barston is on Tom Mallory’s patch, and the clues to the killer’s identity point backward more than four hundred years to a legacy of murder and a blood-red ruby ring.

Everyone’s journey to publishing is different. Tell us about your journey to the publication of A Dream of Death.

My journey was a long, slow process of learning the craft of writing. With a master's degree in English literature and having read countless mysteries, I thought writing one would be easy. Believe me, it was not. I didn't know what I didn't know.

I began writing A Dream of Death almost ten years ago. When I retired from teaching theology two years ago, I embarked on a final, major revision. Two months later at Sleuthfest, a writer's conference in Florida, I met my wonderful editor, Faith Black Ross, who offered me a contract. With the help of my agent, Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary Services, I signed a two-book contract with Crooked Lane Books.

If you had to recommend 5 books for a person to read so they could get a feel for you and your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?    

1. Agatha Christie (of course) 2. Deborah Crombie 3. Jane Austen 4. Susan Hill 5. Charles Todd

What books did you love as a child?

My mother was a retired schoolteacher, so I was read to from my earliest memory. I vividly remember The House at Pooh Corners, Now We Are Six, and the Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. Later, when I could read myself, I loved Charlotte's Web, The Borrowers, and Nancy Drew. And comic books. My sensible mother decided at least I was reading.

As a librarian, I like to end my interviews with the same question. Would you tell us a story about how a library or librarian influenced you?

I'd love to because when I was growing up, the public library was a magical place where new worlds were opened to me. I spent time wandering through the stacks, reading at random. My love of all things British began when, in eighth or ninth grade, I discovered the writings of P.G. Wodehouse. I'd never read anything so exquisitely witty in my life and was certain I'd discovered an author no one knew about but me. Ha! From there, with my precious library card in hand, I went on to devour the English classics and the Golden Age mysteries by writers like Agatha Christie, Cyril Hare, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and G. K. Chesterton. With my beloved hometown library as a foundation—and in spite of my parents' fear that I'd never earn a living by reading great books—I studied English literature in both college and graduate school. Then, to please my father, I attended Katharine Gibbs Secretarial College in New York City. Trust me, I was never meant to be a secretary, but those lightning-fast typing skills sure come in handy as a writer.

Connie, Thank you so much for taking the time for the interview. Good luck with A Dream of Death!

And, watch for my review of A Dream of Death tomorrow on the blog.

Connie Berry's website is www.connieberry.com


Grace Topping said...

Terrific interview, Connie. I enjoyed learning more about you, especially about your antique-collecting parents. Makes for more interesting story telling that if your parents had selected Danish modern.

Lesa said...

Oh, that's funny, Grace. Maybe the mystery would have been set in Denmark instead of Scotland.

Connie Berry said...

My parents, being not only eccentric but also wise, allowed me to choose ultra-modern furniture for my bedroom.

holdenj said...

Great to read about Connie and the new book! And that there is another one in the works, it sure sounds like it will hit a lot of fave points for me! I love a good sense of place and the setting sounds wonderful!

Lesa said...

Oh, Holdenj, I hope you enjoy it. I thought it was terrific!

Gram said...

and another book for my library list...Thanks.

Lesa said...

You're always welcome, Gram!