Kathy: Julia Bonatti is an astrologer. Had you an interest in astrology before starting the Zodiac Mystery series?
CdM: Yes, I definitely did. I’ve always found the subject fascinating and over the years have bought lots of books on the subject. I thought it would be intriguing to have a protagonist with an unusual occupation that brought her in contact with people from different worlds and people with unique problems.
Kathy: Do you follow your own stars?
CdM: Well, sure! I can’t say I worry about anything on a daily basis, but I do like to keep an eye on current transits to see what’s coming up. I’m very fortunate to have a computer program that will do all the hard work for me instantly.
Astrology is so helpful in terms of timing. When should I start a new blog tour? Or what’s a quiet time to plan a vacation? And when it comes to beginning a new project, it’s always smart to start at the new moon. Those are just a few examples.
Kathy: When many people think of astrology and horoscopes they simply think of a person's sun sign. What would your advice be to these people?
CdM: An individual’s sun sign represents the “ego” in Jungian terms. It’s a very important factor in a chart because a Capricorn will react differently to any given situation than, for example, a Leo, but it’s modified by other factors. The Ascendant, Moon placement, Venus, Mars, etc. all play a role and aspects to an individual’s Sun sign will color how that person approaches life.
Kathy: Have you had a full chart done for yourself?
CdM: Actually, no. I guess I’m a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to my own chart. I have learned so much just from reading, studying and comparing transits and progressions to what is actually happening in my life at any given time that I haven’t felt the need.
Kathy: The cover of The Madness of Mercury is wonderful and looks like that of a cozy mystery. I'm only a few chapters in so far, but I consider the book a thriller. What made you decide on this darker edge?
CdM: The Zodiac Mysteries are really traditional mysteries, in my opinion -- as are cozy mysteries. But for lots of readers, I think cozy has increasingly become associated with light or humorous stories. This particular book, The Madness of Mercury, takes place against the backdrop of the larger evil that is going on in the city. Julia never thought her own life would be affected but because of these events, she’s forced to fight. So there is a large element of the dystopian in this story and perhaps even thriller elements too. I do like the excitement of thrillers and every book I’ve written, even the Soup Lover’s Mysteries, has incorporated death-defying scenes for my protagonist. I try to write the kinds of things that I like to read. And of course, I want readers to be turning pages as much as possible.
Kathy: What first drew you to mysteries?
CdM: It would have to be Nancy Drew and then later Trixie Belden. As a kid, I absolutely loved those books. I wanted to be Nancy or Trixie. Nancy never had homework. Of course, it was impossible to pin down her age, but she was old enough to drive and didn’t have to work. She was a free spirit jumping into all sorts of adventures. After those books, I was a mystery devotée! At an early age, I read all the Sherlock Holmes stories, Georges Simenon (Maigret), Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and on and on – all the classics.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
CdM: So far, I have not, but I haven’t ruled it out. I think each tale takes its own form. And sometimes it’s impossible to label a book with a particular genre until the book is finished. And of course many books cross the lines or blend different styles and categories.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
CdM: In the Zodiac Mysteries, Julia Bonatti is a San Francisco astrologer who never thought murder would be part of her practice. She planned on a quiet life and a teaching career, but when her fiance is killed in a hit and run accident, she isn’t able to continue on that path. Astrology offered solace and was a study in which she hoped to find some answers. As time went on, she found a great deal of satisfaction in helping others with her skills.
The Soup Lover’s Mysteries are set in the tiny village of Snowflake, Vermont and revolve around Lucky Jamieson and the By the Spoonful Soup Shop which she inherited after her parents’ death. This series is a cozy series, but the characters are drawn as realistically as possible and the crimes are fueled by dark motivations. Lucky is always instrumental in solving the crime(s) and unmasking the murderer, but each book highlights one of the core characters and allows that character to take center stage.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
CdM: I do love them all! But I think Jack, Lucky’s grandfather, is my favorite in the Soup Lover’s Mysteries. Jack is an elderly Navy vet, devoted to his granddaughter. He tells time by the bells and calls the floor the deck and the walls the bulkhead. He’s kind of an amalgam of my dear Dad and my father-in-law, but Jack has taken on a life of his own.
In the Zodiac series, it’s a toss up between Gale, Julia’s best friend, an outspoken character, and Kuan Lee, Julia’s surrogate grandfather. Kuan is an old friend of Julia’s grandmother and (now deceased) grandfather. He’s a practitioner of Chinese medicine and lives in the first floor apartment of Julia’s grandmother’s house. Julia confides in Kuan so he’s become a sort of “Yoda” figure who can offer her a different perspective on her problems.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
CdM: I’ve always wanted to set a mystery in San Francisco. It’s a beautiful city, but it’s also a city of many moods – sunny and windy, dank and foggy, with an interesting history. I lived there for many years and still continually uncover interesting facts about the place. I also lived there during the years of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple on which Reverend Roy and the Prophet’s Tabernacle are based. Jones was a very popular and powerful figure in the city, supported by politicians and society people. It wasn’t until later when allegations of abuse began to surface that led to his decamping to the jungle and his descent into madness.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
CdM: When I first started out, my goal was to write one mystery and do my best to have it traditionally published. I knew absolutely nothing about the business and even less about self-publishing so I was starting at ground zero. If anyone had ever told me then that I would have written five books in one series, and starting another, I would never have believed them!
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
CdM: H.P. Lovecraft – for his very strange mind and his stories set in New England.
Nathaniel Hawthorne – for his Scarlet Letter, a book I really consider a feminist statement.
Dorothy Sayers – for her brilliant and clever plots.
Stephen King – see H.P. Lovecraft above and his incredible range and talent.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
CdM: Right now I’m reading Churchill’s Secret Spy, a World War II story, with a female protagonist, written by Raymond Buckland, who is also the author of the Bram Stoker series from Berkley Prime Crime. It’s a wonderful book!
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
CdM: I like to refinish old furniture. It’s hard work and messy, but doing something that’s manual work is very satisfying. Stripping away old paint and varnish and uncovering the beauty of a piece is wonderful. I just wish I had more time to do some of the things I enjoy. Writing does take up a lot of time!
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
CdM: Cat food (for my talking cat), coffee (absolutely essential), pasta and tomatoes (I love tomatoes in any dish).
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
CdM: The second book in the Zodiac Mysteries, Dark Sun, has been submitted to my publisher and will be released next year (June 2017). Right now, I’m starting work on the third book in that series but haven’t settled on a title yet. I’m also working on an LA crime story and have a couple of cozier ideas with unusual female protagonists.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
CdM: I think the most wonderful thing about being an author is to hear from a reader that he or she really enjoyed my book. That’s truly priceless. I’m very proud to be a member of the mystery writing community too. I’ve met so many wonderful people. Mystery and thriller writers are the most generous and supportive people imaginable.
The Madness of Mercury By Connie di Marco
The First Zodiac Mystery
Julia Bonatti is a professional astrologer in San Francisco. In addition to private clients, she also writes the Ask Zodia newspaper feature anonymously. However, somehow not only her name, but e-mail, phone number and address have been leaked out and she's getting protests, threats, and more from people associated with the Prophet's Tabernacle. In addition, some of her private clients are making surprising claims and making poor life choices. Already one person has died, although it appears to be accidental. Violence is increasing by these religious extremists and this period of mercury in retrograde could be Julia's worst one ever...if not her last!
The first few sentences into this book I thought I would love it. The writing was just my style, the theme was right up my alley, and I thought I'd just discovered a favorite new series. As I continued, however, I became more and more nervous. While the writing was excellent, the story was reading as more of a thriller. Threats and violence escalated and one act of violence nearly made me put down the book for good. At this point while I considered this book a very good thriller, it was not what I was expecting. I was led astray by the cover. The cover is an absolute gorgeous work of art, a warm inviting room with a cat that screams "cozy mystery". It is not a cozy mystery. I continued the book, which slowed its thriller pace and became what I would call a traditional mystery.
As a traditional mystery the book is stellar. The Madness of Mercury takes a fascinating look at people and their inner workings, their motivations. It is a complex mystery which combines astrology and cult mentality, showing what can happen when divergent beliefs cross paths and intolerance rears its ugly head. This book struck some very personal chords with me. When I read about people who believe they should "not suffer a witch to live". I get nervous for me and my cats. In the book di Marco took a step across a line to show just how far the cult would go. I don't think that step was necessary, but it most certainly amped up the adrenaline and made issues much more serious, although the characters used a serious lack of judgement in how they handled this heinous situation.
The Madness of Mercury is a fast paced thrill ride of a psychological mystery. Darker with more risks and violence, there is more at stake here than in a cozy mystery. As such, it is more gripping and more disturbing, making you think more and contemplate society as a whole.