I'd like to welcome Gigi Pandian to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Gigi starts a new series with The Accidental Alchemist.
Kathy: While there are many mysteries featuring witches, it is rare to find alchemists. How did you decide to feature an alchemist in your mystery series?
GP: This answer might sound depressing at first, but it has a happy ending: Right after my 36th birthday, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Ideas of the Elixir of Life and immortality were especially powerful during that time. While I went through chemotherapy and radiation, I read a lot of fun cozy mysteries to pass the time at the hospital – like Victoria Laurie’s ghost-hunter series and Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft mystery series. Their work inspired me to try my hand at writing a paranormal cozy, and alchemy was a natural fit for my interests. I wrote a proposal for the series that my agent loved, and not long after I got word that I was cancer-free, she sold the series.
Kathy: I get a kick out of Zoe Faust's name, especially as I just finished watching Gounod's Faust. Are you familiar with the opera?
GP: I’ve read Christopher Marlowe’s play about Faust – and even acted in it! – but I haven’t seen Gounod’s opera.
Kathy: While many people are familiar with the deal making aspect of Faust I'm unsure how many know of the real alchemist behind the fiction. How did you learn about Faust?
GP: It was in high school that I acted in the play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. It stuck with me, but I never realized I’d pull from it later in life.
When Zoe Faust’s name came to me, I was familiar with Faust’s “deal with the Devil,” but it was only after I began my research that I learned about the possibility of a greater connection to alchemy. The Faust of Goethe’s play Faust may have been based on an alchemist named Faust.
Kathy: You include many historical facts in the story. Do you enjoy history and historical research? What piqued your interest in this subject?
GP: Historical research is one of the best things about being a writer! My first mystery series (the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series) is about a historian who solves present-day crimes linked to historic treasures.
My parents are academics, and I was once on the academic track myself, but I didn’t enjoy the constraints of academic research. Now I use the basic research methods I learned while working on my PhD to have a lot more fun following the clues I uncover in historical documents.
Kathy: I am not a vegan by any means, but am intrigued by Dorian's cooking and pleased that you included recipes. I would like to add some healthier recipes to my diet-but they need to taste good! Would you tell us about your cooking style?
GP: I’m with you! I don’t want to eat something if it doesn’t taste good. My particular cancer diagnosis left me with a wide range of food restrictions, but I refused to live my life eating BORING food. Therefore I knew I needed to learn to cook. It was amazing for me to realize that simple cooking methods can transform basic foods into amazing creations. That’s why culinary alchemy became one of the themes in The Accidental Alchemist.
I started slowly, attending a few cooking classes and reading healthy cookbooks. I learned that simple techniques, such as deglazing a pan to get all the crisped seasoning stuck to the bottom of the pan, toasting spices, or adding a drop of sweetness to a savory dish, can make all the difference.
In addition to the recipes included in the book, there are additional recipes posted on my website at http://gigipandian.com/recipes/, with more coming soon.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
GP: I love the puzzle plots of mystery fiction, but gritty stories aren’t my thing. Elizabeth Peters’ books are what made me want to write mysteries. She wrote three main series, all of which I loved: Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, historian Vicky Bliss, and librarian Jacqueline Kirby. Peters was instrumental in founding Malice Domestic, the mystery convention for traditional mysteries – the category that cozy mysteries fall into.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
GP: In addition to this new paranormal cozy Accidental Alchemist series, my treasure hunt series is a traditional mystery that’s often referred to as a cozy or a cozy thriller (all of the adventure and romance but none of the violence).
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
GP: The Accidental Alchemist mysteries are about a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician.
In The Accidental Alchemist:
Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle—not to mention a master of French cuisine—and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text. Zoe, who’s trying to put her old life behind her, isn’t so sure she wants to reopen her alchemical past... until the dead man on her porch leaves her no choice.
And my third Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, Quicksand, comes out in March 2015. Historian Jaya Jones finds herself on the wrong side of the law during an art heist at the Louvre. To redeem herself, she follows clues from an illuminated manuscript that lead from the cobblestone streets of Paris to the quicksand-surrounded fortress of Mont Saint-Michel.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
GP: Dorian the gargoyle! He grew into something far greater than I imagined and took over the story. He’s the heart of the books.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
GP: Victoria Laurie’s ghost hunter books were the most immediate influence on my Accidental Alchemist mysteries, which is why it’s such a big thrill that she loved the book and gave it a blurb!
“Zoe and Dorian are my new favorite amateur-sleuth duo!”
—New York Times bestselling author Victoria Laurie
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
GP: When I was going through cancer treatments, I saw a lot of things clearly. I knew I wanted to share my stories.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
GP: I just finished reading Juliet Blackwell’s latest, Keeper of the Castle, and now I’m making my way through an anthology of locked-room mystery stories.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
GP: Based on what I’m currently reading, I’ll go with some classic authors who write brilliant locked-room mysteries: John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Agatha Christie.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
GP: Travel is one of my greatest passions. Even though we can see so much from our computers these days, nothing compares to experiencing the world first hand.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
GP: Almond milk, oatmeal, dulse seaweed, and a fully stocked spice rack.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
GP: There will be at least three books in the Accidental Alchemist series. I’m currently alternating between my two series. In 2015, in addition to the first book in the Accidental Alchemist series, the third book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Series, Quicksand, comes out in March.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
GP: Like the question about an author dinner party, there’s a lot to choose from! I’ll go with my writers group. I never would have met those amazing women if I hadn’t become a writer, and I can’t imagine my life without them.
Bio: Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and the forthcoming Quicksand) and the new Accidental Alchemist mysteries. Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards. A cancer diagnosis in her 30s taught her two important life lessons: healing foods can taste amazing, and life’s too short to waste a single moment. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with an overgrown vegetable garden in the backyard. Visit her at gigipandian.com and connect with her on Facebook (facebook.com/GigiPandian) and on Twitter (@GigiPandian).
The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian
The First Accidental Alchemist Mystery
Zoe Faust (gotta love the name) has decided to settle down in Portland,
Oregon after centuries of traveling. (Yes, Zoe is over 300 years old.)
She decides to buy a home, a fixer upper, and perhaps begin to practice
alchemy once again. There are many surprises awaiting her-a French
gargoyle requesting her alchemical help, a troubled youth, a burglary,
an intriguing detective, and a dead contractor on her doorstop.
Blend historical fact with modern day reality and add a dollop of fantasy and you get Gigi Pandian's newest book, The Accidental Alchemist. Gigi Pandian creates a truly unique mystery. While one may find a veritable plethora of witches in mysteries, it is quite rare to find an alchemist.
The Accidental Alchemist is filled with unique characters. Not only do we have a 300 year old alchemist with the appearance of a 28 year old woman, we have Dorian Robert-Houdin, a French gargoyle come to life who also happens to be a world class chef. There's a troubled teenager with a fly by night mother and we also find a hint of romance in the form of Detective Max Liu.
Alchemy is about transformation. The mundane can become the extraordinary. At the start of the book Zoe Faust is a woman searching for a normal life and Brixton is a punk looking to prove something. Through the course of the story their lives and the lives of those around them are transformed. As Dorian transforms simple ingredients into gourmet fare, so the lives of these characters are transformed by the circumstances they face together. Gigi Pandian balances the mundane and the extraordinary in this intriguing mystery. There are lots of things to relish in this delightful read-more than one mystery, a few what-ifs, and in depth characterization, all of which leaves a desire to learn more about this vision of Portland. The Accidental Alchemist is a magnificent start to a new series and I look forward to meeting up with Zoe, Dorian, and that dishy detective again.
If you'd like a chance to win a copy of The Accidental Alchemist, all you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post no later than Wednesday, January 14th at 11:59 pm EST telling us your thoughts about alchemy. Be sure to leave your e-mail address so that I can contact you, should you win! Good luck!