I'm happy to welcome Ellen Seltz to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Ellen pens the Mottley & Baker Mystery series. Mr. Mottley and the Dying Fall is the second book in the series.
Kathy: The Mottley & Baker Mysteries are classic whodunnits set in the Golden Age of 1930’s traditional detectives. Who is your favorite detective from this time period?
ES: Ah, that's a tough call. I've had a "pash" (as they used to say) for Lord Peter Wimsey since I first read Sayers' Have His Carcase as a teenager. But as I've gotten older my appreciation for Albert Campion has grown. He's introduced as a wild card in The Crime at Black Dudley, a rather outlandish figure who's almost a spoof. But the novels develop across the series in subtlety and depth, and Campion changes too. The earlier books are more adventures or thrillers than true mysteries. The later ones are very character-driven and psychological.
I think my love for both characters is rooted in the same teen crush I had on the Scarlet Pimpernel - a witty, vain, showman persona camouflaging deep passions and deep virtues. Mottley is very much in the same wheelhouse. Indeed, the name Mottley is a reference to traditional motley garb, with its associations to the trickster Harlequin from commedia dell'arte.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite author or book from the Golden Age of detective fiction?
ES: Just one? Can't possibly. But I'll throw out a few. For Agatha Christie, I'd put The 4.50 From Paddington and Murder on the Links at the top of the list. For Dorothy L. Sayers, probably Murder Must Advertise and Have His Carcase, for Ngaio Marsh I'll say Artists in Crime and Clutch of Constables (although that was much later). For Margery Allingham, I'll pick Sweet Danger (aka The Fear Sign) and Death of a Ghost, which she though of as her best. I have to say, though, I can't say enough good things about Tiger in the Smoke and The Mind Readers. They aren't in the same vein as classic mysteries, but they are fantastic novels. Mind Readers is positively prescient about the future of omnipresent social media and its effect on people, particularly young people.
Then to round it out I'll pick Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time. A masterpiece.
Now if you ask me tomorrow or next year, I'll probably come up with a different list. I have a terrible time with the whole concept of "one favorite thing."
Kathy: Why did you choose to set your mysteries in this time period?
ES: It was more a "go with the flow" than a deliberate choice. As you can tell from the list above, I'm pretty far gone obsessed with the genre. I found myself making up stories in that world, and decided to write them down and see what would happen.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
ES: My whole family are voracious readers, but we have wildly divergent tastes in food, music, movies, sense of humor, clothes, politics, everything. Mysteries were one thing we liked, and my parents loved the BBC series that were on PBS when I was a child -- Upstairs Downstairs, I Claudius, pretty much anything on "Masterpiece Theater" or "Mystery." So that heightened world of idealized British history and culture was kind of a meeting place for us. It evokes very happy memories and has a lot of warm-fuzzy feelings attached.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
ES: I have written some web series in contemporary chick-lit and comedy science fiction, but the mysteries are my only novels so far. I have a few different ideas in development, though!
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
ES: The Mottley & Baker Mysteries feature Edmund Mottley, a constitutionally incorrigible gadabout who styles himself a "Specialist in Discreet Enquiries." Mr Mottley is actually Lord Edmund Mottley, but he refuses to use his title due to an estrangement from his father. In the first book, Mister Mottley Gets His Man, he reluctantly acquires his valet and assistant, Aloysius Baker. Baker was formerly a footman at the Mottley estate, but was forced to leave hurriedly under mysterious circumstances. The two misfits find a common bond in solving crime.
In the new book, Mister Mottley and the Dying Fall, Mottley and Baker investigate the disappearance of an eccentric millionaire and wind up trapped on a remote island while the inhabitants are being picked off one at a time.
The series also includes several short stories -- some of them are prequels to Gets His Man, and some feature Mottley & Baker together. By the time this interview goes live, my Christmas collection should be out. It's called Happy Bloody Christmas, and will include the two previously-published holiday shorts, and a new one, "Mister Mottley Pulls a Cracker."
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
ES: Well, naturally Mottley and Baker come first. I couldn't possibly keep writing about them if I didn't like them!
I think my favorite character from Dying Fall must be Mr. Wickie, the lighthouse keeper. He's about three parts odd-duck to one part quite mad, but very sweet. I enjoyed writing him very much and have a soft spot in my heart for him.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
ES: It sounds quite cliche, but it was a dream. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what it was exactly because it's a scene that won't show up until Book 4 or perhaps 5. But I was so taken with the characters and situation that I felt compelled to write it. You know how dreams are -- you come into the middle of a situation, with a great deal of emotional intensity and meaning. As I reconstructed it in waking words, I realized that it was impossible to convey that moment without getting to know the characters. They had to live up to it.
The series grew from that need -- to make these characters live.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
ES: Fiction writing is my second career, creatively speaking. I started out in theater and film -- acting, then writing, then producing. I see fiction very much as entertainment, and entertainment is closely related to hospitality. You have to entertain somebody. It's relational. I felt that my writing wasn't really finished until someone else was reading it.
Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a wonderful book about this idea, actually: The Mind of the Maker. She believed being "created in the image of God" meant that creativity itself is a way of bearing God's image. She theorized that creativity is a picture of the Trinity. You have the central idea or truth from which a work flows, which is abstract and transcends its form. You have the singular, temporal, physical manifestation of the idea, its incarnation, which is the means by which we can encounter the idea and relate to it. And you have the effect or impact of the idea on a person's mind and emotions, where the idea and its incarnation come into you and change you.
It really defined my attitude about my own work.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
ES: Ah, great question. I'd really love to have C.S. Lewis and Douglas Adams, and get them talking about science fiction. Lewis' science fiction trilogy isn't as well known as Narnia, but I think it's just as good or better. And then we'd need P.G. Wodehouse to get going with Adams about comedy. But that only leaves me one slot for my Queens of Crime! Oh, dear. Well, then I'll have Sayers. She could bring the snark and get after Lewis about some of his chauvinistic remarks. That sounds like a good party as long as the wine holds out.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
ES: I picked up an anthology of Hercule Poirot novels for a book club. I'm in the middle of Death on the Nile right now. I've read it a zillion times, but Christie just never gets old. I see something new every time.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
ES: I really enjoy gardening, but I'm not very good at it. I always over-plant and under-weed. I have a few hard-core survival plants that God tends and waters for me -- tomatoes, collards, kale, carrots, asparagus, sweet potatoes. They are fairly un-killable, so we do get to eat some garden produce every year.
I also enjoy sewing, knitting and crochet. I'm currently working on a surprise Christmas present for a relative. I can't tell what it is, but I'll attach a picture.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
ES: Sliced almonds, apples, coffee, and grits.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
ES: Yes, there are seven Mottley books planned, and a possible spinoff series with a female main character. I have some drafts started in other genres -- romantic suspense, time travel, and a Victorian/steampunky thing that's just a wild notion more than a draft. I also have some nonfiction in the works -- a family devotional and some helps for other moms who have ADHD like me.
Most of the stuff out there is for moms to help their kids. My kids are fine. I'm the weak link.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
ES: The amazing blessed relief of getting all those voices out of my head and onto a page where other people can read them. They're quite fun and enjoyable there on the page. It gets a bit claustrophobic when they're all stuffed up here inside my skull. Very distracting.
Kathy: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
ES: Thank you! It's been a pleasure. I'm happy to answer reader questions anytime on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/EllenSeltzAuthor or by email at email@example.com. Readers can also try a free Mottley story by joining my Reader's Circle at http://ellenseltz.com/meet.
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