Jeri Westerson and The Demon's Parchment
The Demon's Parchment
Once a knight and nobleman at the court of the English king, Crispin Guest was convicted of treason and stripped of his land, his title and his honor. Effectively banished to the lower social reaches of the crowded neighborhoods of London, all he has left with which to earn a living is his intelligence and keen eye for detail. Now, using those wits and gifts, he has become known as the “Tracker” – a man who can find anything, can solve any puzzle and will do so for a price.
With the winter, however, have come tough times and paying clients are few. Even so, when approached by a mysterious figure, Crispin is wary of taking him on. The client is one Jacob of Provencal - a Jewish physician currently attending the Queen at court, despite the fact that all Jews were expelled from England nearly a century before. Jacob wants Crispin to find stolen parchments that might be behind the recent, ongoing, gruesome murders of young boys, parchments that someone might have used to bring forth a demon which now stalks the streets and alleys of London. With the help of his apprentice, Jack Tucker, an orphaned street urchin with a thief’s touch, Guest must unravel several mysteries at once if he’s to stop the murders in time to protect those nearest and dearest to him.
Jerri was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about her and her latest book.
Marilyn: Jeri, would you be so kind as to tell me about your background?
Jeri: I wasn’t a history major. In fact, I majored in art. But I was raised in a family of rabid Anglophiles so I came by my interest in all things medieval naturally. History was always something beloved at home through text books and through historical fiction, so when I decided to give being a novelist a try, I was naturally going to write about the medieval period.
For about ten years I wrote historical fiction novels…that no one wanted to publish. I had agents, though, and we tried our darnedest. Then a former agent recommended I switch to medieval mysteries as mysteries were a far better market. “You mean like Brother Cadfael?” I asked. “Yes, just like that.” Except I didn’t want to write stories “just like that.” I wanted something with more action, more violence…more sex! I realized I wanted a hard-boiled detective in a medieval setting and that’s what finally sold.
Marilyn: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Jeri: I’ve always been a writer, ever since I could pick up a crayon. But it was a hobby, never a career choice. I wanted to be an actress, but after some real world auditions I decided the actor’s life was not for me.
I switched majors in college to art and became a graphic artist for some fifteen years in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until I semi-retired to have my baby that I realized I wanted to slow down and stay at home. I thought I could continue to do commercial art but during the two years I was raising a toddler, the whole graphics industry had switched over to computers, while I, alas, had not.
So I decided I might try this novel-writing that I had been doing for fun as a real career. After all, how hard could it be? Ha ha.
Marilyn: How hard was it for you to find a publisher?
Jeri: It took fourteen years to get published. Hard enough for you? Eleven years of writing historical fiction, and three writing medieval mysteries. The actual first Crispin book was rejected everywhere. It had at its heart a plot involving the knights Templars and the Holy Grail. Guess which book had hit the bookshelves the same time I was trying to sell mine? (Curse you, Dan Brown!)
But having networked with other mystery writers, I had heard that oftentimes the first in the series doesn’t get published and it’s the second one that does the trick. I had a habit of after finishing one novel starting in right away on the next. And in this case it was especially important because I had never written a series and wanted to make sure I could.
So by the time an editor was looking at Veil of Lies, I was deep into book number three. As it happened, fourteen months after we put Cup of Blood, the first real Crispin Guest novel to bed, my editor at St. Martin’s called my agent asking if I had any other books in that series because he “couldn’t get those characters out of his head.”
I had just sent Veil of Lies to my agent and without even reading it, he sent it off. Two weeks later I had my first contract. So it only took fourteen years and two weeks.
Marilyn: What was the inspiration for this particular book?
Jeri: Each book features a religious relic so I always start there. In The Demon’s Parchment, the latest Crispin Guest Medieval Noir, I wanted to do a few things. I wanted to talk about medieval Jews, I wanted a more supernatural sort of element in there with a Golem, and I wanted to feature a medieval serial killer (based on a real medieval serial killer).
Marilyn: Were there any surprises for you along the way?
Jeri: Oh yes. But I can’t really tell you about them. Those would be plot spoilers.
Marilyn: Tell us something about what you've been doing to promote this book.
Jeri: It’s the same thing I do for all my books. I get myself booked at all kinds of events all year round: bookstores, libraries, literary luncheons, big author events, mystery fan conventions like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, and have a big launch party once a year featuring sword fighting knights (Saturday, October 23 at 5:30 pm at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA—all are welcomed. It’s free!).
Marilyn: Where can the readers purchase your book?
Jeri: Barnes & Noble, any independent mystery bookstore, Amazon.com.
Marilyn: Is there anything else you'd like them to know?
Jeri: I’m working on a second medieval mystery series with all new characters that will be lighter in tone set to be a lusty, funny, fast-paced romp. But in the meantime, you can see the Crispin series book trailer, book discussion guides, my appearance schedule to see if I’ll be in your home town, and other fun stuff on my website:
http://www.JeriWesterson.com; you can see my blog of history and mystery at http://www.Getting-Medieval.com; and you can read Crispin's blog at http://www.CrispinGuest.com. You can also friend Crispin on his Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.
Marilyn: Thank you so much, Jeri, this was a fun interview.
Jeri's Bio: Noir and hard-boiled fiction seem to be in Jeri Westerson’s blood. She was born and bred on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Reporter, would-be actress, graphic artist; these are the things she spent her time on before creating her hardboiled detective, Crispin Guest—ex-knight turned PI, solving crimes on the mean streets of fourteenth century London in her Medieval Noir series. The Boston Globe called her detective, “A medieval Sam Spade, a tough guy who operates according to his own moral compass.” Her 2008 debut from St. Martin’s Press, VEIL OF LIES, garnered nominations for the Macavity Award for historical mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First PI novel. Her second, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, is also a 2010 Macavity finalist and a finalist for the 2010 Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Her third, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, is due for release October 12. Jeri is newsletter editor and on the board of directors for the southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and is president of the Orange County chapter of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Private Eye Writers of America and the Historical Novel Society.