This week, we sat down with Gigi Pandian, author of The Accidental Alchemist, a series debut released earlier this month.
Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Gigi Pandian: I’ve been writing since I was a kid (I wrote my first “novel” in elementary school and wrote plays and scripts in high school) but it wasn’t until 2007 that I began to take my writing seriously. That’s when my first novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, a writer’s grant for unpublished traditional mystery writers. That was the first time I realized people outside my family and friends saw promise in my work, and that writing could be more than a hobby.
MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
GP: Elizabeth Peters has always been my favorite mystery novelist. Reading her Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody mysteries as a teenager inspired me to become a mystery novelist. Her books cleverly combine puzzling mysteries with romance, history, humor, and adventure. When I set out to write a novel, I knew that’s the kind of story I wanted to tell, but with my own unique spin.
I love writing short stories in addition to novels, and I generally write locked-room “impossible crime” short stories. My biggest inspiration for those stories was John Dickson Carr, who wrote during the Golden Age of detective fiction during the middle of the previous century.
There’s a wonderful book called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon that argues that anyone starting out in a creative field should emulate their favorite creators, because that’s how we grow into our own voice.
MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
GP: Sleeping in :)
MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
GP: I’m the Creative Strategist at a non-profit organization. I studied both public policy and graphic design, so I work on visual messaging that tells complex stories in visually compelling ways. Yup, I’m lucky that I get to be creative all day!
MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
GP: Cooking, reading, traveling, and photography.
I cook most of my meals from scratch (which inspired one of the main themes in The Accidental Alchemist), give myself plenty of time to read each night before bed (how else would I have time for all the great mysteries out there?!), am always planning my next trip abroad (I caught the travel bug the first time I accompanied my anthropologist mom on a research trip to Scotland when I was 10), and I post my gargoyle photography and other mysterious photographs at www.gargoylegirl.com.
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
GP: Vicky Bliss, Elizabeth Peters’ historian heroine. She is brilliant, independent, and has fun-filled adventures traipsing across the globe surrounded by a wonderful set of friends.
MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
GP: I have so many favorites, so I’ll go with one of my recent favorites. Marisha Pessl’s Night Film. It’s difficult to characterize the book, but one of the big reasons I find Pessl’s atmospheric books so satisfying is that her endings are both completely resolved and also open to interpretation. They stick with you.
MI: What was your inspiration for the Accidental Alchemist mystery series?
GP: A combination of three things inspired the series:
1) I’ve always loved gargoyles. I love mysteries, and gargoyles are so mysterious, lurking high above us on beautiful buildings.
2) A cancer diagnosis at 36 threw my life upside down. I wrote a draft of this book while undergoing chemotherapy, when the Elixir of Life was an especially intriguing idea.
3) Learning how to cook from scratch inspired the culinary alchemy of the series. My particular cancer markers gave me some food restrictions, so I taught myself to cook. I loved teaching myself to cook. Transforming healthy foods into amazingly decadent meals by using a few simple techniques is culinary alchemy in my own kitchen.
MI: Tell us about Zoe Faust (and Dorian!).
GP: Zoe Faust is a centuries-old alchemist who accidentally discovered the Elixir of Life over 300 years ago. She can never stay in one place for too long, so for decades she’s been living out of a silver Airstream trailer as she criss-crosses the U.S., until she falls in love with Portland, Oregon, and decides to stay a while. She has a way with plants, and she grows healing herbs and vegetables. Even though she doesn’t age, she’s far from immortal, so she’s adopted a vegan diet to feel healthy as she lives on.
Dorian Robert-Houdin is a three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle who was once stone, but was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician (“Father of Modern Magic” Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin) who didn’t realize the alchemy book he was reading contained real magic. Dorian is a food snob and secret chef, so when he leaves France to seek out Zoe for help, one of his biggest challenges is learning to cook decadent French cuisine with vegan ingredients. Spoiler alert: he succeeds in this culinary challenge!
MI: How does this series compare to your past works?
GP: All of my books are traditional puzzle mysteries that feature history, humor, and a touch of romance.
My first mystery series is the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand) featuring an Indian-American historian who solves present-day crimes linked to historic treasures related to India’s colonial past. Each of those books takes the characters from a home-base of San Francisco to a different foreign destination – so far Scotland, India, and France.
The Accidental Alchemist mysteries are set in Portland, Oregon, a city I fell in love with several years ago. The settings of the different series are at the heart of the stories, which is one of the things that gives each series a distinct voice.
MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
GP: I don’t currently have a pet, but my favorite pets from my childhood were two huge lop-eared rabbits named Snug and Bug. Bug used to chase neighborhood cats out of our backyard.
MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
GP: Does gargoyle count?
MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
GP: If coffee doesn’t count, I’ll go with oatmeal. You can’t go wrong with a comfort food that’s good for you, too.
MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
GP: I cook most of my meals from scratch, so I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with my own recipes. At the back of The Accidental Alchemist there are three of my vegan recipes: Kid-Friendly Green Smoothie, Roasted Butternut Squash with Lemon Tahini Sauce, and Cherry Walnut Oatmeal Cookies.
I’ve also begun to post additional recipes on my website: www.gigipandian.com/recipes .
MI: What is your favorite part about being an Inker?
GP: All the great people I’ve met! From the support of the Midnight Ink staff to the friendships I’ve formed with other authors, it’s been an amazing experience.
Get your copy of The Accidental Alchemist online or in bookstores now!