A former journalist, Clea Simon is the author of three nonfiction books and 16 mysteries in the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, and Pru Marlowe pet noir series. The latter two mystery series are ongoing and include her most recent books, Stages of Grey (Severn House) and Panthers Play for Keeps (Poisoned Pen Press). A contributor to such publications as the Boston Globe, New York Times, and San Francisco Chronicle, she lives in Somerville, Mass., with her husband, Jon Garelick. She can be reached at http://www.cleasimon.com and on Twitter @Clea_Simon.
PJ: How long have you been writing?
Clea: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I still have the short story I wrote in first grade. We were given a prompt, about a prince who is turned into a frog. I took it away from the expected – the frog learns to love being a frog! If you’re asking about my books, though: my first book (nonfiction) was published in 1997, my first mystery in 2005.
PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?
Clea: Do we ever feel like we’re successful? I feel successful when I meet readers who love my books. The rest of the time, I feel like I’m still just trying.
PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?
Clea: Like a lot of authors, I thought the world would change after my first book came out. It didn’t. So that wasn’t great. On the plus side, I never thought I’d be writing as much as I am – and that’s great.
PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?
Clea: Nope. I still supplement my income with journalism (largely book reviews for places like the Boston Globe). I also do corporate copy editing. Not very glamorous, but it makes the books possible.
PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?
Clea: Now I am focused on making each book better than the last.
PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?
Clea: I started as a journalist, so it was a gradual process: I wrote for newspapers and magazines, then better newspapers and magazines. Then I wrote a Sunday newspaper feature that became my first (nonfiction) book, “Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings.” It was all step by step.
PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?
Clea: I’m not sure I do! It’s always a struggle.
PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?
Clea: Don’t give up – but don’t take it too easy. I firmly believe that the ability to write is a muscle. It improves with exercise. But I also think that, given the ease of self-publishing these days, a lot of people don’t put in the necessary work. Yes, rejection hurts. But rejection makes you revise. Read through your work. Have other people read it through. Try, try, try to keep an open mind and actually hear what people are saying. Where do they stop reading? What don’t they believe in your story? Work on it until it’s as good as it can be. Then send it out again… you’ll be glad you waited and put the work in.
PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?
Clea: I am so lucky to be living where I do – Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA, is a 15-minute walk in one direction and Porter Square Books, also in Cambridge, is 10 minutes the other way. Both are wonderful stores with wise, supportive, and helpful staff.
Clea: I’m now celebrating the Oct. 1 US publication of the eighth Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery, “Stages of Grey.”
That follows (in order): Shades of Grey, Grey Matters, Grey Zone, Grey Expectations, True Grey, Grey Dawn, and Grey Howl. These are all on Severn House and, like all my books, available in print and ebook editions.
I’m also still writing the Pru Marlowe pet noir, and just turned in the edited version of the fifth mystery, “Kittens Can Kill,” which will be out in April 2015. That follows (in order): Dogs Don’t Lie, Cats Can’t Shoot, Parrots Prove Deadly, and Panthers Play for Keeps (all Poisoned Pen Press).
I also wrote the Theda Krakow cats ‘n’ crime ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll series for Poisoned Pen Press. These were Mew is for Murder, Cattery Row, Cries and Whiskers, and Probably Claws.
PJ: Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:
Clea: I don’t think I can do better than the Publishers Weekly review:
Simon’s diverting eighth Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after Grey Howl ) finds Dulcie, now a fifth-year Harvard grad student, in need of a break from her academic toils. As a distraction, Dulcie attends a “disco interpretation” of Ovid’s Metamorphosis at a Cambridge theater, accompanied by her boyfriend, Chris Sorenson. During the performance, a blonde actress lures Chris to the stage by picking his pocket, and a cat walks a tightrope above the audience. After the show, Dulcie and company discover the blonde actress lying dead in an alley, her throat slashed. Was she the victim of a passing stranger, or possibly of domestic abuse? Or is the truth even more sordid? The feline complications of the plot should please those readers who crave shed fur in their whodunits. Dulcie herself is an endearingly fragile but determined protagonist.
PJ: Where can we buy it?
Clea: Anywhere books are sold! I’d love you to go to an independent bookseller – http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780727883933 – but you can certainly get it in print or ebook at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Stages-Grey-feline-filled-academic-Schwartz/dp/0727883933
Clea: I have so many cats in my books, people expect me to have several. The truth is, I only have one cat – partly because I want her to focus on me. Shhh!