Louisa and the Crystal Gazer by Anna McClean
Interview of Anna McClean
Please tell me about your background.
First, thanks so much for hosting me!
I was a small town kid who spent an awful lot of time daydreaming and reading…and never outgrew that need to live many, many lives. As a young adult, I studied literature and traveled in Europe, filling my eyes and my imagination, and as soon as I settled down again – first in Boston, then in the Finger Lakes area of New York State – I started to write. I’ve worked as a waitress, apartment rental agent, hotel maid, bookkeeper, journalist, and college professor…in that order. But always, always, I was writing.
What inspired this particular book?
Louisa May Alcott herself. Her character, Jo from Little Women, was my role model when I was young. I was delighted to realize that Jo, for Louisa, too, represented a combination of real and fantasy life. Louisa, like Jo, was devoted to her family but also fiercely independent. And she wrote secretly, stories her father may not have approved of, but stories that readers of her day loved. Louisa May Alcott had a secret life, and I thought it would be fascinating to elaborate on that, to make her an amateur sleuth really involved in things other ladies could not be involved in.
As a child did you know you wanted to be a writer one day?
Absolutely. Except for brief spells of wanting to be a ballerina, nun, and kept woman – again in that order – I never considered anything else. Of course, the whole point of being a kept woman was that it would give me plenty of time to write. Thankfully, I found another way to manage my career.
Who are your favorite authors?
As a kid, I devoured every word written by Anya Seton and Daphne du Maurier. They kind of set the standard for me and set me on the path of wanting to write historical fiction. I still read historical but cast a wider net, including Jean Rhys, Jeanette Winterson, Sybille Bedford and many others. Essentially, when I open a book, or begin reading a new author, my plea is this: tell me a story! That’s why mysteries are especially fascinating. They are about story and character and conflict. And mystery, of course.
What was your path to publication with this book?
Initially, I was contacted by a representative of the Louisa May Alcott estate who had read some of my historical fiction written as Jeanne Mackin. He asked if I thought Louisa would make a good detective. I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I wrote up a proposal and that was accepted, and then I write the first novel, Louisa and the Country Bachelor, soon followed by a second, Louisa and the Country Gazer. Now the third, Louisa and the Crystal Gazer has just been re-released by NAL and I’m beginning to think about the fourth novel.
What are your plans for promotion?
I love blogging and reaching people that way but I’ll also be doing readings, as invited, and I’ll be at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop's 17th Annual Festival of Mystery on Monday April 30, in Oakmont Pennsylvania.
This is a great event and I encourage anyone who can to come. There’ll be lots of authors, lots of fabulous books.
Where is your favorite place to write?
At my desk. Actually, it’s the only place I can really write. I’d love to be able to take a nice fountain pen and write longhand on yellow legal pads under a weeping willow…but it’s not like that for me. I’m a leftie so everything happens at the keyboard. And I have to be surrounded by shelves and shelves of reference books or I feel lost.
And what do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Ah. The truth. I study middle eastern dance. Yep. Belly-dancing. The music is fabulous, and it’s a lot of fun. And I read, like crazy. Hundreds of books a year. I’m also a pretty good cook and love snowy winter afternoons with a few recipes in process at the same time.
What are you working on now?
Another mystery, set a few years after Louisa and the Crystal Gazer, when she’s older and has a little more life experience. She’s not a girl in this one but a woman who has a few regrets, a few very private memories…and she’s just about to become one of the most famous women of her generation.
What would you like my readers to know about you?
I’d love to hear their comments about the mystery! I can be emailed at Anna@annmaclean.net, or contacted through facebook.com/annamacleanauthor.
Thank you so much for visiting me today.
Anna is giving away a prize gift basket to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour. Everyone be sure to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better you chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2012/01/virtual-book-tour-louisa-and-crystal.html.
Anna McClean (Jeanne Mackin) is the author of several novels: The Sweet By and By (St. Martin’s Press), Dreams of Empire (Kensington Books), The Queen’s War (St. Martin’s Press), and The Frenchwoman (St. Martin’s Press). She has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in several journals and periodicals including American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications) and co-editor of The Norton Book of Love (W.W. Norton), and wrote art columns for newspapers as well as feature articles for several arts magazines. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C. She teaches creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont, has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and New York and has traveled extensively in Europe. She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie, in upstate New York.
Excerpt From Louisa and The Crystal Gazer
“I miss Father,” Sylvia signed one morning as we took our walk along the harbor. It was a misty cold day, and the harbor waves were tipped with frosty white.
“Unfortunately, your father passed away when you were a child,” I answered gently. “You barely knew that long-enduring man, so how do you now claim to miss him?”…
“My point exactly,” my companion responded…“I feel the need for a masculine presence in my life, and would like to converse with my father. I will, with the assistance of Mrs. Agatha Percy. Please come with me to one of her sittings!”
I groaned and jammed my hands deeper into my pocket, despite the stares of several passersby; a lady did not put her hands in her pockets. She did if they were cold, I thought. Ship rigging creaked in the wind and bells chimed the start of a new watch, and I pondered Sylvia’s statement.
Mrs. Agatha D. Percy was the newest fad in Boston, one of the recently risen members of that questionable group of individuals known as ‘spiritists,’ or mediums…
“I can think of better ways to spend time and money than sitting in the dark and watching parlor tricks. I would much rather, for instance, attend one of Signor Massimo’s musical evening.” The signor, a famous pianist, was touring the United States from his home in Rome and had decided to winter in Boston. He was giving a series of performances – performances I could not afford, since the tickets were as much as three dollars apiece, even when they were available.
“Mother tried to get tickets and could not. She was furious,” Sylvia said. I could understand; women with Mrs. Shattuck’s family name and wealth were not accustomed to hearing no.
“Look, there is ice in the harbor,” I said, putting my hand over my eyes to shield them from the glare.
“I will have your answer,” Sylvia persisted.
I introduced several new topics of conversation, hoping to distract Sylvia from her mission – Jenny Lind, the Wild West, a newly published travel book about France that was flying off the shelves – but each topic she cleverly rejoined and detoured back to Mrs. Percy…
“Don’t you see?” Sylvia sighed in exasperation, pulling at my hand to prevent me from taking another step. “The spirits themselves wish you to visit her. They put those very suggestions in your mind!”
“Then they should put a plot or two in my mind,” I said, remembering the still-blank sheet of paper before which I had sat that morning at my desk. Being between stories was an unpleasant state for me, when no plot or story threaded the random thoughts of every imagination.
“I am unconvinced that ‘fun’ is the correct word to describe an hour of sitting in the dark, pretending to speak with the dead,” I said.
“Spirits,” corrected Sylvia. “The dead don’t like to be called dead. Such a harsh word.”
Neither of us was yet aware of exactly how harsh that séance would become.