Monday, November 6, 2017
Death at the Emerald: An Interview and Giveaway
I'm pleased to welcome R.J. Koreto to Cozy Up With Kathy today. R.J. pens the Frances Ffolkes Mystery series. DEATH AT THE EMERALD, the third book in the series, will be released November 7th.
Kathy: The Frances Ffolkes Mystery series takes place during Edwardian times. What drew you to this time period?
RJK: To begin with, I've always loved the British series Upstairs/Downstairs. The way the series showed the intimate and yet removed relationships between the upper-class family and their servants was fascinating and instructive.
As I researched the Edwardian period, I also realized what a period of change it was, even if it wasn't always seen at the time. Manners and customs were very much 19th century, but the telephone and railroad had shrunk the world, women were agitating for the vote, and rigid class boundaries were starting to blur. From my 21st century viewpoint, I like portraying this last gasp of the old order, before World War I wiped it away.
Kathy: In DEATH AT THE EMERALD Lady Frances Ffolkes and her loyal maid Mallow become immersed in the glamorous world of Edwardian theatre. Are you a fan of the theatre? What makes Edwardian theatre so special?
RJK: I've always loved theater, and growing up in Manhattan, I was introduced to Broadway as well as smaller venues from childhood.
Edwardian theatre was much like the Edwardian era—a time of change. There was old-fashioned Music Hall (like American vaudeville), comedies and melodramas. The musical theater became the ancestor of the musical comedy we still enjoy today. But there was also George Bernard Shaw, with his stunning portrayals—and attacks—on the comfortable world, and his plays are still relevant a century later.
The Edwardian theatre was also important as a training ground for future movie stars: Edmund Gwenn, famous as Kris Kringle on "Miracle on 34th Street," was in the original cast of Shaw's "Major Barbara." Gladys Cooper had a distinguished career in Edwardian theatre, and years later played Henry Higgins' mother in the film version of "My Fair Lady." She even starred in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Kathy: The twosome also get involved in the new sensation of moving pictures! Is there much documentation about the movies of this time?
RJK: A lot has survived of these old movie days, and although technology has changed the stories we love have not. Action films ruled: Most people don’t know that a greatly shortened version of "Ben Hur" was filmed in 1907. Firemen were put into robes as charioteers, with their horses pulling the chariots. This film is still available.
The first feature film made was a Western—"The Story of the Kelly Gang." It was screened in 1906, and didn't come out of Hollywood—but Australia. It was a huge commercial success, and much of it survives.
Kathy: Lady Frances Ffolkes meets George Bernard Shaw. I'm a huge Shaw fan and would have loved to have met him. Are you a fan. I admit to a partiality toward PYGMALION as I once was Eliza Doolittle! Do you have a favorite Shaw piece?
RJK: I also acted in Shaw in school—a short farce he wrote called "PASSION, POISON, AND PETRIFICATION. Eliza Doolittle remains one of his greatest and best-known characters. PYGMALION came out a few years after DEATH AT THE EMERALD takes place. Eliza Doolittle came from a poor Cockney family—just like Frances's maid, June Mallow.
Major Barbara is another great character in one of my favorite Shaw plays, and I loved weaving my fictional Lady Frances into the story of that play, as a friend and possible muse of Shaw's. Lady Frances would've been familiar with the play.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
RJK: Cozy mysteries are deceptively complex. You pick up a good one, and it looks light and simple, but they are actually cleverly crafted: they need to be, to keep the tone sweet and even humorous in the midst of death. Although plot is important, the great thing about Cozies is the characters, and in the best Cozies, you remember the characters long after you've forgotten the plot. We take memorable characters for granted, but they're hard to create. As a genre, the Cozy mystery gives us wonderful characters, and for me, creating characters is the best part of writing a novel—certainly the fun part.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
RJK: I jump around. I think of my Lady Frances books as "historical cozies," but I have another series imagining Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt's daughter. It's humorous and character-based, but it may be a little too action-packed to be a cozy. I have a character who has only appeared in short stories: Captain Edmund Winter, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. I describe him as "an adrenaline junkie with anger-management issues." And I recently experimented with "noir," in a short story centering on a young deputy sheriff, a murdered millionaire, his new mistress, and his jealous wife.
It’s fun to try different characters—and different genres. It keeps me from getting bored.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
Lady Frances Ffolkes, daughter of a wealthy aristocratic family, leads an unconventional life in Edwardian England. She lives on her own, with her maid and sidekick June Mallow, and is an active suffragette while also solving murders.
My other series features Alice Roosevelt, the real-life wildly unconventional daughter of Theodore Roosevelt. That series is narrated by her fictional bodyguard, an ex-Rough Rider with whom she has a love-hate relationship.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
RJK: That's always a hard question! I do like Lady Frances—I've known women like her. But I have a particular soft spot for her maid Mallow, who has made so much of herself and has grown so much in the books. I like Frances' patient suitor Hal very much—my wife says that's because I based him on myself, and she might be right.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
RJK: People asked me if Lady Frances is based on anyone: she went to Vassar College, as did I, and I knew lots of young women like her. My younger daughter is at Vassar now—and there are still plenty of Lady Frances students!
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
RJK: I've been working for years on getting published. At first, I wrote mostly for emotional reasons. I'm a financial journalist, and it was relaxing to write fiction at the end of the day. But then I thought, hey, maybe I could actually get this published.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
RJK: Let's imagine I could revive favorite writers! Isaac Asimov, the sci-fi king; Rex Stout, of the Nero Wolfe series; Georges Simenon, who wrote the Inspector Maigret books; and Agatha Christie—of course!
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
RJK: Speaking of Rex Stout—I just found a Nero Wolfe book I hadn’t read yet, at a second-hand bookstore. Enjoying every page.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
RJK: Aside from writing, I like spending time with my family—I have a wife and two grown daughters. My wife and I like walking at a local state park with Rose, our Labrador Retriever.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
RJK: Orange juice, apples, popcorn, Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
RJK: Lots of plans! In addition to my other series and short stories noted above, I sometimes revisit my first novel, as yet unpublished, featuring "Ted and Penelope." It's a sort of homage to Agatha Christie's "Tommy and Tuppence" mysteries, with the repartee between a young couple. I had a short story with them in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
I'm also planning a sort of mystery saga: an English police constable investigates a crime in the 1880s, and feeling there has been a miscarriage of justice, keeps investigating it as he rises through the ranks into the 1920s.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
RJK: Looking at the characters I've created, and seeing them come to life chapter by chapter.
I also like signing books.
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