I'm pleased to welcome Shelley Freydont to the blog today. Shelley has a new series, the Newport Gilded Age Mystery series which debuted this month with A Gilded Grave.
Kathy: A Gilded Grave is set in 1895 in Newport, Rhode Island. Why this time and place for your new series?
SF: I’ve always loved Newport and the Gilded Age, an era so outrageously excessive in all aspects of its culture: the wealth, the opulent houses and life styles, the ruthless business practices, the equally ruthless maneuvers in ballrooms and parlors. The scandals and secrets and skeletons in the closets. It’s a perfect period for murder.
Kathy: Historical mysteries require an extra special brand of research. What's your favorite method to research this time period?
SF: If at all possible I visit the physical location where my story unfolds. I’ve been to Newport numerous times, and writing gives me a good excuse for continuing my love affair with the town. I also love scouring primary sources. And there are plenty of these for the Gilded Age. Essays, novels, diaries, letters. Plus newspapers and magazines where gossip columns were particularly popular at the time.
Kathy: Spiritualism as a religion began in the mid 1800's in Western New York and was flourishing by the end of the century. It was not uncommon for fashionable members of society to host séances and seek guidance from the spirit world, as we see in A Gilded Grave. How do you see Spiritualism effecting high society during the Gilded Age?
SF: As with any new “fad,” spiritualism swept through all sections of society, considered a parlor game by many, but there were true believers. And like any period where there is upheaval, people were looking for some kind of consolation, understanding, hope, even the non-believers. It was a society ripe to be hoodwinked. Strange but there are so many similarities and parallels between the Gilded Age and the present day that it’s kind of shocking.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
SF: I was a dancer before I became a writer. One day I was in the museum with a friend and we were talking about what we wanted to do next. And she said you should write a mystery. (I was always reading them.) So I decided to write a mystery about a dance company. It was a perfect situation for a cozy. A dance company is like a family, or a small town, with quirky characters. They fight and love, laugh and cry, and in the theater or on tour you sometimes meet people who are ripe for murder, though to my knowledge no one ever has acted on the impulse except on the pages of a novel.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
SF: I write women’s fiction as Shelley Noble (Beach Colors, Whisper Beach) and a contemporary cozy series under my Shelley Freydont name. (The Celebration Bay mysteries)
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
SF: In the Celebration Bay Mysteries Liv Montgomery is a New York City event planner who moves to the upstate NY destination town of Celebration Bay to become their events coordinator. Once there, she and her intrepid Westie, Whiskey, encounter more murders than they dreamed of in the big city. But since Liv is so adept at coordinating their festivals and holidays, the locals naturally expect her to be a pro at solving a few murders.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
SF: I love my characters. That’s one of the many great things about writing cozies, you have so much fun with the people. I love Edna and Ida Zimmerman, two retired school teachers who are also Liv’s landladies, who adore Whiskey, the Westie, and encourage Liv to make a “lesson plan” for investigation. And there’s Chaz , the lazy, good-looking, good-for-nothing newspaper editor, that expends the most energy when he’s giving Liv a hard time. Besides he’s not all bad as we learn as the series continues. And of course I can’t leave out Dolly and Fred, or BeBe Ford, Liv’s best friend, or Whiskey, or Bill, and especially not Ted, Liv’s assistant, a man of a certain age and a mysterious past. See what I mean. I love them all.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
SF: Not really. My last series the Fish out of water stories are my favorites, so I noodled around and came up with the idea of a chic, high-powered Manhattanite embracing county life.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
SF: I’ve been published for over fifteen years now. That was the point of writing a mystery, to get it published. I’m still traditionally published for both series and my women’s fiction. I love being part of the professional team.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
SF: Well, the authors I would invite might end up killing each other or laughing themselves to pieces, so I’ll stick to mystery-ish writers. Elizabeth Peters. I was lucky enough to be present several times when she was holding forth in the way that only she could. Great storyteller. Mary Stewart. The mistress of romantic suspense, who could create that suspense just by the rhythm of her words. Georgette Heyer. What a sense of humor. And I would have to leave the fourth out, it would be too hard to choose. And if I named my other favorites we’d have to hire a banquet hall.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
SF: Lots of history. I just finished rereading Witch by Elizabeth Peters as Barbara Michaels. Just started A Desperate Fortune by Susannah Kearsley
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
SF: Theater history, jigsaw puzzles, antique carousels, old lighthouses. And I love to travel and go out to dinner with good friends.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
SF: Ginger and Horseradish, because they can make just about any meal better. Olive oil and garlic. Can’t make a dinner in this house without those two.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
SF: Yes, Yes, and Yes. For both my series and my women’s fiction.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
SF: The short commute; bedroom to office: 44 steps if I stop at the kitchen for a cup of coffee. BTW I always dress for work. What a wonderful way to spend your days, living in your imagination. And getting paid for it. I love working with imaginary people. The only downside is that it’s not the kind of job you can leave at the office. Characters are really tenacious. They have a way of following you around and demanding your attention when you least expect it.
A Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont
The First Newport Gilded Age Mystery
Deanna Randolph is trying to enjoy her first Newport season. It's somewhat of a challenge due to her domineering and exacting mother, plus the ramifications of a rebuffed engagement with a childhood friend who is now working amid the working class! A sugar plantation owner from Barbados has come to help her father's business, but he seems more interested in socializing that working. When a maid winds up dead Deanna decides to look in to the matter with the help of her own maid, hoping to gain information that she knows the police will never receive from the entitled crowd.
In A Gilded Grave Shelley Freydont brings us back to a time of opulence; where millions are made and frittered away. A world where the majority struggle to earn a living while a select few live in a self indulgent microcosm of excess. She also shows the other side of society, living side by side, dependent on each other, yet worlds apart. When a maid from the serving class is found murdered there are certain societal facts that can't be breached. The rich will protect their own, the maid's death will make little difference to the majority, and no one, rich, working class, or poor, will talk to the police!
Shelley Freydont has captured the essence of the era and brought it to life in A Gilded Grave. From the detailed descriptions of the clothing and social rituals to the realistic details of the murder and its investigation I felt immersed in the Gilded Age. The book is also a finely crafted mystery with subtle clues, interesting suspects, and a delightful way of capturing the villain. It also takes a look at society and its values and gives readers the opportunity to see what's changed and what hasn't. While a life of luxury and excess sounds lovely, I wouldn't wish to
trade my independent life for Deanna's for all the sugar in Barbados!
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