Interview with Author Cathy Ace
When I read The Corpse with the Silver Tongue recently, I realized I had discovered a new favorite series. This contemporary murder mystery reads like a classic whodunit. Author Cathy Ace dropped by today to talk about writing, setting, and her Cait Morgan Mystery Series.
Cathy Ace - Thanks for inviting me along for a chat, Catherine. Great name, by the way!
CD –In The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, Cait expects to enjoy a few days in the south of France after filling in for a colleague at a conference. Each novel in your series takes place in a different exotic location. How do you decide where to set your novels?
Cathy Ace - This is an interesting question, and I’ll be honest about the answer. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a great deal in my life, and I have chosen to use places that I know well, and love. This means that, while I might not be able to get back to these places just to carry out the research for each book, I know them well enough to be able, I hope, to write about them with a truthfulness borne of familiarity. In the case of this first Cait Morgan Mystery, I sent Cait to Nice because I used to live there for a few months each year, and it’s a place that has found its way into my heart. The location of the dinner party in the opening pages, and the central setting for the book, is a real apartment that belongs to some friends of mine. They graciously allowed me to use it as the crime scene!
CD – Location mattered on many levels in your first novel. Which comes first – the plot idea or the setting?
Cathy Ace - Now that’s a tough one to answer. To be honest, the victim and the location go hand in hand, the rest of the characters then come along as being those who would “naturally occur” in the locale and the plot. The nature of the plot springs from the location, for example, in the second book, THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE, the death of an award-winning vintner needs to be linked to vineyards and wine country, and we have some of the best in the world right here in British Columbia.
CD – Besides location, the culture and history of southern France were an integral part of the mystery. Do you research the regions in which your novels are set? Have you travelled to these places?
Cathy Ace - I adore the research part of the writing process. You’re right, the way that history is layered in the south of France was a critical aspect of the first Cait Morgan Mystery, and, because I enjoy considering the way that culture springs from locale, it’s a theme and a plot device you’ll find in all my books. In BC’s wine country around Lake Okanagan, the culture is as diverse as the people who populate the area. In the third book in the series, THE CORPSE WITH THE EMERALD THUMB, Cait is on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where I was again able to peel away the modern-day experience of the region and expose complex layers of historical cultures. Knowing the places I write about, and having spent a great deal of time in them all, means I have some knowledge about the local cultures, but extra research is always needed. Then I am able to “add history” in that, as with many fiction authors, I like to invent a specific location so that I can also invent specific occurrences which allow the book to work as a whole. In the first book, for example, it is true that the Gestapo had their headquarters in a “Palais” in Nice, but I changed the name of the building and added an underground cellar. In the same vein, there is a wonderful museum of Roman antiquities in Cimiez, as described, but I invented the missing Druidic necklace. I like to use history and culture based in reality, but then embellish it.
CD – One reason I enjoyed your novel is the main character. While Cait is a criminologist, and therefore not exactly an amateur sleuth, neither is she a law enforcement professional. This places her in a sometimes awkward position when it comes time for sleuthing. Can you tell us a little more about Cait?
Cathy Ace - Cait’s background is as a psychology graduate who kicked off her career working at an advertising and public relations agency. But she found this to be unrewarding work, so took herself off to gain more academic qualifications in criminal psychology, which she did in Cambridge. While there, the sudden death of her ex-boyfriend led to her arrest on suspicion of murder. Although she was cleared, she found that the British tabloids wouldn’t leave her in peace, so she took the chance to finish her doctoral work at the University of Vancouver, where she’s now a professor who specializes in the controversial area of victim profiling. Her work brought her to the attention of the integrated homicide investigation team there, and she’s consulted on police cases, where an insight into the victim has allowed them to narrow, or focus, their hunt for criminals. As a sleuth, Cait is a reluctant one. This case in Nice has her cast as a suspect, so she feels compelled to try to solve the case to clear her name. Cait’s eidetic memory is not something she likes people to know about, though it’s very useful when she needs to recall a scene exactly, and, of course, it means she’s able to retain a great deal of knowledge, because, once she’s acquired it, it never leaves her. But Cait doesn’t just have a super memory, she’s also intensely bright; a member of Mensa, she’s able to put the pieces of a puzzle together with insight and intelligence. Cait’s not very good at applying this skill set when it comes to considering her own life, however. She’s pretty useless at managing her weakness for over-indulgence, and her judgmental nature. She’s far from perfect, and knows it, but the idea of changing herself doesn’t seem to arise for Cait!
CD – Cait is a Welsh-Canadian professor, which gives the story a unique voice. How much does your cultural history influence your writing?
Cathy Ace - I suspect it influences me more than I know. Certainly in the first book Cait is given the chance to use her own knowledge of Welsh cultural history because the missing necklace hails from ancient Wales. This won’t be the case in every book, of course! Both Cait and I will always be Welsh, and will always be becoming Canadian. I am sure that if you ask anyone who is born and raised within a culture, then leaves it, they will find it difficult to explain the extent to which that will color their entire outlook on life. I know I do. Stereotypically the Welsh love art, singing, talking, drinking beer and playing rugby. I have to admit that all those things are very dear to me. Beyond that, I feel a definite connection to my Welshness, even if I cannot define what that is. “Come from nothing, work hard, do your very best, never boast,” might sum it up, for me. Education and hard work were most certainly seen as very important in my home, but maybe that’s as much a reflection of the social class in which I was raised, as of my nationality. I’m delighted that you can hear Cait’s unique voice, which is hers, not mine, and I am sure she’ll be loath to ever shut up. As I said, we Welsh like to talk!
CD – Currently, there are four books in the Cait Morgan series. Are you working on more?
Cathy Ace - I certainly am! The fourth Cait Morgan Mystery will be published in September 2014; THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR finds Cait locked in an exclusive private dining room atop one of the most luxurious casinos in Las Vegas, with a corpse and a dwindling number of suspects! In spring 2015, Cait will be visiting her homeland, Wales, in THE CORPSE WITH THE SAPPHIRE EYES, and will be back again in the fall of that year with…well, an adventure that must remain a mystery for now!
CD – Which authors influenced your writing? Any favorites you recommend?
Cathy Ace - I realize that most of the authors who have influenced me are dead! Agatha Christie is my primary influence. It has been said that I write very “Christie-like” mysteries, with a modern setting. I believe that’s a compliment. Other true influencers would be Ngaio Marsh, and, more recently, PD James, who has always enchanted me by creating places that seem real to me. That said, until I began to write, I read a great deal, so it’s difficult to know who else has influenced me. I believe that influence seeps in, unnoticed. Overall, I suppose, it has to be the writers of the Golden Age; puzzle plots, lots of clues, red herrings, a constantly changing locale and characters – all these features find their way into my work. In terms of who I read for fun, when I get the chance to read at all (which I cannot do when I am writing) some of those authors would be Alan Bradley’s uber-cozy Flavia de Luce books (a guilty pleasure!), Linwood Barclay for thrillers, and Louise Penny and Peter Robinson for police procedurals. I still try to hunt out anything by Robert B Parker that I haven’t read, and the same goes for Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell, MC Beaton, Simon Brett, Lynda la Plante, Reginald Hill and Tony Hillerman, but this is becoming more and more difficult. Not all of these are “cozy” authors by any means.
CD – Do you have other writing projects, besides thus series?
Cathy Ace - I do, but I am not really able to speak about it right now. Maybe by the time this interview appears, and there are comments being made, I will be able to be more forthcoming. I hope so!
CD – Where can we learn more about you? Where can we find your novels?
Cathy Ace - I do my best to keep my website updated. www.cathyace.com will allow you to access more information about me and all my books, past, present and future. It’ll also allow you to read some more interviews, and even a specially written prequel to book #3! My Cait Morgan Mysteries can be purchased at all good bookstores, though you might have to order them. They are available in paperback or e-format through all the major online distributors, and are readable on all mainstream e-platforms. You could also do worse than ask your local library to get them into stock for you. THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, and THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE are both available as Audible audio books; I was lucky enough to pass the audition to read my own work, so, if you want to know what a Welsh-Canadian sounds like, you can listen to me, as Cait, for a total of seventeen hours, if you like!
CD - I will definitely be looking for the audio recordings! I am a big fan of audio books, and Cathy has a wonderful voice. Author Cathy Ace is standing by to respond to your comments.
7/1/2014 12:50:36 pm
Cathy, I love your book covers. The artwork gives them a distinct look.
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