Please help me welcome fellow mystery author K.B. Owen, author of UNSEEMLY PURSUITS (Concordia Wells Mysteries, #2), which just released this month.
K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact. 😀
A deadly secret that won’t stay buried…
It is the fall of 1896, and Miss Concordia Wells is hip-deep in the usual tumult of a lady professor’s life: classes, clubs, student pranks, and the unending drama generated by the girls she lives with on campus. Complicating this normality is the new Lady Principal, whom the students have nicknamed “the Ogre.” The woman seems bent on making Concordia’s life miserable.
And then there’s the exotic spirit medium, Madame Durand, who has befriended Concordia’s mother and has started a “Spirit Club” on campus. Madame’s prognostications of doom are at first only mildly irritating – until events take a sobering turn. An ancient Egyptian amulet donated to the college mysteriously disappears, the donor is found murdered, and his daughter – Concordia’s best friend – confesses to killing him.
Desperate for answers, Concordia unravels a 20-year-old secret, closely guarded by men now dead. But such secrets can be dangerous for the daughters left behind, including Concordia herself. Can she make sense of the mystery that has bound together their fates, before it’s too late?
I’m delighted that K.B. could join us today, and share a little more about her recent UNSEEMLY PURSUITS!
And so, with no further ado, on with the questions!
Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Definitely suburban! I was the kid with her nose always in a book. Well, not always: I did a lot of baking with my mom. She was the Christmas cookie maven in our neighborhood. Though it was a ton of work, we had lots of fun.
Here’s my favorite story in that regard:
When I was old enough, there were certain simple recipes my mom would trust me to make on my own, during the afternoons when I was home from school and she was still at work. Haystacks was one of those. It was only three ingredients – chow mein noodles, spanish peanuts, butterscotch morsels. There were no microwaves back then, but a pot on the stove to melt the butterscotch wasn’t that much more difficult. What could go wrong?
One afternoon, it was my job to make the haystacks. It was my first time solo, and Mom had left out the recipe, and all the ingredients.
I was sailing along until I got to the Spanish peanuts, also called (although I didn’t know it at the time) “redskin” peanuts. These nuts didn’t look anything like peanuts I’d seen before: they had these peeling flakes of reddish skin on them. That didn’t look too appetizing, in my mind.
I checked the recipe, again. Nope, it didn’t say anything about skins on peanuts. She must have gotten them on discount.
Sigh. I was going to have to peel them. Every blessed one.
Finally, exhausted but satisfied with the results, I had the last batch of haystacks hardening on wax paper when my mom came home from work.
Proud of my efforts, I showed her the bowl of cast-off peanut skins and talked about that time-intensive extra step. Could she get the regular kind next time?
Her face went from confused to surprised to laugh-out-loud.
“You weren’t supposed to peel them! We pay extra for them to come that way!”
Apparently, spanish peanuts are prized for their colored skins and extra flavor. Who knew?
We had a good laugh over that one.
What inspired you to write mysteries, and how did you choose your sleuth?
I was a big fan of Nancy Drew as a kid. Later came Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason, Mrs. Pollifax, Jim Chee, Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, Spenser, and so on. I knew I wanted a female sleuth, because I felt I could better identify with her and better write her interior life and behavior. I specifically decided to make Concordia a lady professor, since I had taught college literature for a number of years and felt I had a good handle on that. Because women professors back then were required to live with their charges on campus (they couldn’t be married), it makes for lots of fun student-teacher interaction possibilities.
If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
Hmm, interesting question! I don’t think I’d want to share a writing lesson as far as the craft goes (except for not having my characters sigh and raise their eyebrows so much, LOL). There’s something kind of fun about the eagerness of writing a novel for the first time.
The lesson I would have wanted to learn right from the start is that, in this business, you have to be patient and trust yourself. We’re talking marathon, not sprint. Book after book will build a readership; write each book to the best of your ability and put it out there. Don’t worry about trends or algorithms. It’s your reader you want to please.
Your new novel, UNSEEMLY PURSUITS, is the second in the Concorda Wells mystery series, which features a fabulous female sleuth who is also a professor at a women’s college. The novels are set in the 1890s Hartford, a time and place where women were not usually considered “detective material.”
What inspired you to create a female detective in a time when women rarely performed this role?
One of the things I love about amateur sleuths is their “fish out of water” status. Amateur sleuth mysteries have a different sort of feel in comparison to the P.I. and police procedural genres. Having a woman of this time period be active in such a role heightens that “fish out of water” experience. As a writer, it also left plenty of room for humor and absurd situations.
Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
My favorite genre is historical mystery, but I love mysteries in general – except for the disturbed psycho kind. I don’t know why, but I just can’t get into them, although I know they’re widely liked. There are so many fab historical mystery writers out there: Anne Perry, Stephanie Barron, Jeri Westerson, Jacqueline Winspear, Rhys Bowen…the list is endless. And Susan, I loved your first Shinobi mystery! I’m really looking forward to your next one…tell your publisher to hurry up already. 😉
The mystery in UNSEEMLY PURSUITS centers on the disappearance of an ancient Egyptian amulet. When the donor is found murdered, and his daughter – Concordia Wells’ best friend – confesses to killing him, Concordia must unravel a decades-old secret to find the killer and save (or convict) her closest friend. I love mysteries that involve ancient artifacts (and who doesn’t love a secret?). What inspired you to bring a bit of Ancient Egypt to Hartford?
Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries were part of the inspiration. For those who might not be familiar with them, the series is set in 1880s Egypt, and features Amelia Peabody, an amateur archaeologist and a quite unconventional Victorian lady. Peters began the series in 1975, and it’s still going.
Concordia’s father (who died during her teen years) was a scholar, but he deliberately kept his early scholarly work in Egyptology a secret, for reasons that are revealed in the story.
Do you have a favorite scene or section from UNSEEMLY PURSUITS? If so (and if you can tell us about it without revealing any spoilers!), what makes that scene stand out for you?
I do indeed have a favorite scene, and it involves one of my favorite minor characters, Miss Margaret Banning. She’s a curmudgeonly old lady, with bottle-glass spectacles, a cane she likes to thump and whack people with, and wears so many shawls and layers that you can’t tell if she’s thin or stout. She speaks her mind and quotes dead philosophers and statesmen a great deal.
In the scene I have in mind, Concordia nearly runs down the lady principal, Miss Grant, with her bicycle in her hurry to get changed and to dinner before she’s missed. She’s already in trouble with Miss Grant (nicknamed the Ogre, who’s a grumpy, malicious woman), for various reasons. Then Miss Banning comes on the scene.
Here’s a portion of it:
Concordia, open-mouthed, turned her head from one lady to the other, as though watching a game of lawn-tennis, waiting to see who would score an advantage first.
But Margaret Banning had been at the game too long to lose to the likes of the Ogre, who flushed a dusky red. “Miss Wells has been restricted to campus; I was merely ascertaining her whereabouts,” she muttered defensively.
“Oh, so you see fit to turn spies upon her, to make sure she doesn’t escape. What would she do if you weren’t watching her, climb a fence?”
As this was uncomfortably close to the truth, Concordia focused her attention upon digging the toe of her boot in the grass.
Miss Grant began to pout. “I will deal with my staff as I see fit.”
“Ah, but you didn’t ‘see fit’ to have your spies in my office today, now did you, Miss Grant?” Miss Banning asked, stabbing the ground with her cane again to emphasize her point. “If you had, perhaps you would have seen Miss Wells there, lending me a hand in cataloging that monstrous collection of ours.”
Concordia’s eyes widened at Miss Banning’s outright falsehood, but the old lady flushed with unabashed triumph.
The match was won, and the lady principal knew it.
“Go change into proper supper attire before you’re late,” Miss Grant tossed over her shoulder at Concordia, stomping off toward the dining hall in a swish of taffeta.
Miss Banning gave a gleeful chuckle when the woman was barely out of earshot.
“Thank you for rescuing me,” Concordia said.
“She would have given up soon, anyhow. I doubt the woman has ever been late for a meal in her life.”
Are there more mysteries in store for Concordia Wells? Can you give us a hint about her next adventure?
Ah, yes, Concordia can’t seem to stay out of trouble. That’s one of the things I like about her.
The next mystery, tentatively titled Unseemly Secrets, has Concordia searching for a missing boy to whom she’s grown very close. In the process, she stumbles upon a dangerous plot by a powerful secret society that will do anything to protect its own. Their reach is so great that Concordia doesn’t know whom to trust – even on her own campus, so she turns to an old ally for help. As in the last two books, there’s some physical danger that requires feats of derring-do on Concordia’s part, which is always fun. Her love life gets cranked up a few notches, too!
Writing a series involves special challenges for the author. What did you find most difficult—and most fun—about writing UNSEEMLY PURSUITS?
Probably the trickiest thing about series-writing is the backstory. You want to appeal to two different kinds of readers: those who are reading the newest book as a stand-alone, having never heard of your series before, and those who have been avid followers of the series since the beginning. (Now that I’m writing book #3, this issue is becoming especially apparent). You don’t want spoilers that would discourage a new fan to go back and read the earlier ones, and it’s important to avoid a big info dump in the beginning of a new book. On the other hand, some background info is needed in order to place the protag where she needs to be, especially for the veteran reader who remembers where you last left off.
Still, it’s a happy task, because I get to explore how these characters grow and are changed by their adventures. That’s my favorite part. I have lots of ideas in mind for their futures, so I’d better keep writing!
Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
Yes! I have a fun round of guest visits planned. And there will be a giveaway at each blog stop (including here!). The winner, randomly drawn from the commenters at each stop, will get a free ebook copy of Unseemly Pursuits. At the end of the tour, I’ll draw a grand prize winner from among the ebook winners. That person will receive a special Concordia Wells series swag package. It includes mug, keychain, JellyBelly mini-tin, and a signed paperback copy of both mysteries: Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits! (If the grand-prize winner lives outside the U.S., she or he will receive a $50 Amazon gift card instead, because of the cost of shipping).
Here’s the schedule:
|Susan Spann||Interview||Tues, Jan 28||www.susanspann.com|
|Elizabeth Craig||Detective fiction classic: The Hound of the Baskervilles||Wed, Jan 29||http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com|
|Nancy Lauzon||Book “shower”||Tues, Feb 4||http://nancylauzon.com/blog|
|Margot Kinberg||Dr. Watson: Narrator, Buffoon, or Crime-fighter?||Thurs, Feb 6||margotkinberg.wordpress.com|
|Bayard and Holmes||Houdini, Spirit Fraud-Hunter||Mon, Feb 10||http://bayardandholmes.com/blog|
|Susan Spann||The Nazi Chocolate Caper||Th, Feb 13||www.susanspann.com|
|Julie Glover||19th century female criminals||Wed, Feb 19||http://julieglover.com|
|Jess Witkins||Red-headed or red-handed: bank robbers in fact and fiction||Fri, Feb 21||http://jesswitkins.wordpress.com|
|Jill Kemerer||Interview||W, Feb 26||http://jillkemerer.blogspot.com|
|Jenny Hansen||Humor post, personal enhancement products||Th, Feb 28||http://jennyhansenauthor.wordpress.com|
|Tiffany White||Just One More Thing: Columbo||Tues, Mar 4||http://tiffanyawhite.wordpress.com/|
|Misterio Press||Love Detective Fiction? Thank the Metropolitan Police Act||Th, Mar 6||Misteriopress.com|
And now, the speed round:
Plotter or pantser?
Plotter. I know there are mystery writers out there who can figure it out on the fly, but I have to lay it all out first.
Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Tea (hot or iced) absolutely fuels my creative endeavors.
Socks or no socks?
Depends on time of year. It’s COLD right now!
Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
Never reptiles. *shudder* There’s a next-door neighbor’s cat who deigns to live with us. He was tired of their new hound dog chasing him.
For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Italian in winter, burgers in summer (I am Queen of the Grill, LOL).
Thank you, K.B., for joining me here today! I loved UNSEEMLY PURSUITS (I read it in a single night) and, personally, can’t wait for the next installment in the Concordia Wells series. If you’re a fan of mysteries, historical fiction, or strong female characters with great wit and intellect … definitely check out UNSEEMLY PURSUITS (and also DANGEROUS AND UNSEEMLY – Concordia Wells #1!)
Both Books are available now in paperback and ebook formats, through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Kobo and iBooks stores!
Want a chance to win a copy of UNSEEMLY PURSUITS? Leave a comment on this post – and K.B. will enter you in her drawing!