I'm so pleased to welcome Nupur Tustin to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Nupur pens the Haydn Mystery series. Aria to Death, the second book in the series, was released October 16th.
Kathy: How did you choose to make Franz Joseph Haydn the protagonist of your mystery series?
NT: I enjoy biographical mysteries, and back in 2012 when I first decided to write a mystery novel, I was reading Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen series, Bruce Alexander’s John Fielding series, and Susan Wittig Albert’s Beatrix Potter series. I didn’t, however, want to set a historical series in England. Many other writers have done so, and done it quite brilliantly. I also didn’t want my protagonist to be a writer. So I turned to my other love: music.
Haydn with his diligence, his generosity, and his unassuming nature appealed immediately to my imagination. Beethoven was too irascible to make a good detective. Mozart not so interested in things outside of himself that he would have served my purposes either. Haydn has two key qualities that make for a wonderful detective. He was the sort of person you could approach, confident he’d do his best to help, if you had a problem. So much so, his musicians before long began addressing him as Papa Haydn.
Then, like his slighter older contemporary, Leopold Mozart, Haydn was interested in all manner of things. He had the entire collection of Shakespeare’s works in his library in the original English. He hunted, and was quite a good shot. He was interested in the world outside himself. He’s very reminiscent in that respect of Sherlock Holmes.
Kathy: Aria to Death features lost operas of Monteverdi. Were you a fan of Monteverdi before writing this novel? Is there any truth behind possible lost operas composed by him?
NT: There’s a vast body of Monteverdi’s music, his theatrical works, in particular, that is lost to us. We know about his music because of his vast correspondence and the details of his works that he incorporates in them. Of the ten operas, Monteverdi wrote, seven are lost. L’Orfeo, his very first opera written for the Duke Gonzaga, is still extant and two of his Venetian operas, Poppea and Il Ritorno d’Ulisses, survive as well. Interestingly enough, Ulises was found in Vienna in the Habsburg Library. Musicologists at first dismissed the score as a fake, but extensive detective work has established that the work is indeed Monteverdi’s opera.
Researching the novel was fun. I listened to Monteverdi’s madrigals and rented Poppea from Netflix. And reading about the way Monteverdi set text to music gave me a new appreciation for some of the bands my husband likes: Slipknot and Pearl Jam. I think Monteverdi would have approved of them.
Kathy: I am a huge opera fan. Are you? What are some of your favorite operas and/or composers?
NT: To be honest, I’m fonder of keyboard works and symphonies. But if I had to pick an opera favorite, it would probably be Bizet’s Carmen. The music is superb. Verdi, like Mozart, is melodically very rich, and like Bizet’s work, you can enjoy their music without the spectacle of opera. Of the older composers, I especially like Henry Purcell. His Lament of Dido was used in the television production of a Poirot mystery set somewhere in the middle east. A rather unpleasant woman gets herself killed and her children and her archaeologist husband come under suspicion.
Other than that, my favorite composers are naturally, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. But I also enjoy Vivaldi, Telemann, and Bach as well as Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Debussy. There’s such a delightful array of good music available to us, it’s hard to select a favorite. There’s a breathtaking beauty in Yiruma’s piano works and I always marvel at the music that accompanies Andrea Bocelli’s songs.
Kathy: What first drew you to mysteries?
NT: I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery. I can remember coming home from school and, instead of taking a nap, reading an Agatha Christie novel or Arthur Conan Doyle for an hour or two before getting up to do homework. I suppose it’s the puzzle aspect of the genre that appeals to me. That and the fact that the victims’ families always find closure. There’s always justice done. That’s unfortunately not the case in real life where despite the ability to collect a vast body of forensic evidence, cases sometimes go unsolved for decades.
There’s another aspect of the genre that appeals to me. When I first decided to try my hand at it, I was in a Ph.D. program getting a degree in Communication. You have only to watch television shows like White Collar and Burn Notice to realize just how much the mystery genre relies upon mis-communication. I thought that was absolutely fascinating. Detectives and amateur sleuths misinterpret the information provided to them, making assumptions we’re all too likely to make in everyday communication situations. Conmen and other criminals are often very adept at exploiting our common assumptions. That’s what makes for a successful con.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
NT: Not yet. I’m not sure I ever will. I don’t think I’d be any good at romance. I’ve never been good at interpreting romantic signals. When we were dating, I told my husband he’d need to spell things out for me and not expect me to interpret subtle signals of interest. He still needs to spell things out!
The Haydn Mysteries do have a comic element to them, mainly because I enjoy that genre a lot. From Shakespeare and Ben Jonson through Wilde and Shaw to modern televised comedy shows like Frasier and Mike and Molly, I’m a huge fan. But it’s one thing to write a mystery with comic elements, quite another to write unadulterated comedy. The latter requires a wisdom I’m not sure I’ve acquired yet.
So for the foreseeable future, it’ll be mysteries for me.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
NT: The Haydn Mysteries are a biographical mystery series set in eighteenth-century Austria. They also have a downstairs cozy dynamic provided by palace maids Rosalie and Greta and to some extent by Haydn’s wife, Maria Anna. This is partly because I enjoy cozy mysteries and partly because eighteenth-century society, at least in Austria, was rather complex and allowed for a greater degree of social mobility than one might think possible.
Haydn’s own life illustrates this. His father was a wheelwright. His mother a cook. His background was quite ordinary, but because of his talent he was soon consorting with Princes and Kings and he amassed a great deal of wealth in his own lifetime. So, Haydn like many protagonists of historical mysteries, is able to understand and gain the trust of people from all walks of life.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
NT: In my own series, other than Haydn, I like Rosalie and Greta a lot. They’re both fun to write and as downstairs characters can do things —listen in on conversations and follow people—that Haydn can’t. He would have to behave in a manner appropriate to that of an officer of the Esterhazy Court, and his contract, of course, specified this in no uncertain terms.
I also enjoy writing Maria Anna, and I’ve drawn especially upon the stories of her cantankerous nature and her tendency to use Haydn’s scores to line her pie tins for my characterization of her. I enjoy writing a character who speaks her mind without ever considering the consequences or the effect of her words on others. And I think my readers enjoy reading about her.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
NT: Yes, the biographical mysteries I was reading at the time that I first conceived the series. From Stephanie Barron, I had the idea of using eighteenth-century voice for my mysteries. But the downstairs element comes from a couple of other authors I really love: Emily Brightwell and Kate Kingsbury.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
NT: Part of the joy of being a writer is the pleasure one gets from having other people read and enjoy one’s work. It’s what every writer strives for. I never intended not to publish. That was always the goal. And when I started querying my series, the encouraging responses I received suggested I was on the right path.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
NT: Donna Leon. I love her Guido Brunetti series and her portrayal of Venice. From her, I’ve learned that sophisticated writing isn’t about fancy words you’d get out of a thesaurus. It comes from sophisticated thought.
Naomi Hirahara would have to be at the table as well. She’s a lovely person and an incredible writer. I admire the way she succinctly evokes Los Angeles and its people. Her characters come alive almost effortlessly. I remember reading Murder on Bamboo Lane and immediately wanting to drive to downtown Los Angeles. And I never want to drive there if I can help it!
What Naomi does for contemporary mysteries, Susan Spann does for historical mysteries. She can evoke an era and a place—in her case, sixteenth-century Japan—with an economy of style that doesn’t slow down the mystery plot at all. That’s an incredible achievement.
Finally, Stephanie Barron, whose Jane Austen series are an all-time favorite. If you’re a Jane Austen fan and can’t get enough of her, all you have to do is turn to Stephanie Barron.
And, if I could invite a fifth guest, I think it would be Jeffrey Deaver. I l was at one of his workshops recently and loved hearing him talk about craft and the importance of plotting and research.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
NT: I’m working on the third Haydn novel, so I’m reading about Frederick of Prussia and Potsdam. I’m also looking into manipulative and deceptive personalities. Part of this stems from my interest in criminal behavior. I think it’s important to understand the complexities of the criminal mind. Without that understanding you can’t write a compelling mystery. But part of my interest is also because of Frederick’s own very complex personality. He was severely abused by his father—beaten publicly and when he tried to escape, imprisoned and forced to watch a close friend—possibly a lover—executed.
Because of his father’s strict, rigid personality, Frederick quickly learned to deceive. But he was also odd in that he’d sometimes resort to tears and wailing—this as a child and adolescent. He’d throw himself down at his father’s feet—behavior that his father naturally didn’t find endearing. Frederick was never interested in the military, but after his imprisonment and the traumatic experience of watching his friend die, he took a renewed interest in it. Most people thought this was feigned for his father’s benefit. Until he became King! By the end of his life, he wore nothing but his army uniform.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
NT: Apart from reading and writing, I enjoy composing music and drawing and painting. My music can be found at http://ntustin.musicaneo.com and I share my drawings on Facebook.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
NT: Almond milk and spinach for the smoothies I make, string cheese for the kids, and fruit like pineapples, watermelon or cantaloupe.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
NT: Yes, Aria is the second in the Haydn series. A Minor Deception is the first book. I have two more books planned so far and a couple of other series ideas that are still in the planning process.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
NT: Writing and reading. I get to do what I enjoy most. When I read fiction, I tell myself I’m researching the genre and learning more about the craft. And, in a sense, that is exactly what I’m doing.
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