Thursday, January 29, 2015

Q&A with Gigi Pandian

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 That’s when my first novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, a writer’s grant for unpublished traditional mystery writers.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!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Q&A with Tracy Weber!

This week, we sat down with Tracy Weber, author of the Downward Dog mysteries. Her latest, A Killer Retreat, came out earlier this month.


Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Tracy Weber: I started my yoga blog in 2011, but I didn’t start writing fiction until 2012. I’ve been super lucky to have my first two books published.

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
TW: I walk in the paw prints of several other fabulous dog mystery writers, including Laurien Berenson, Susan Conant, Waverly Curtis, and Sheila Boneham. Each brings a unique voice and outlook to their mysteries, and each incorporates dogs in their mysteries in a different way—from dog shows, to animal photography, to talking Chihuahuas.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
TW: Teaching more yoga! I’ve had to give up most of my group classes and all of my private clients to find enough time to write. I don’t regret it though. I still get my yoga fix managing the studio and leading my yoga teacher trainings.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
TW: I own and teach at my Seattle yoga studio, Whole Life Yoga. The biggest parts of my non-writing work are managing the business aspects of the studio, providing the studio’s customer interface, and designing and teaching yoga teacher training programs. Like most people, I have a very full life.

MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
TW: Taking long walks with my German shepherd, Tasha. She introduces me to the neighbors and reminds me to find joy in life’s simple experiences, like visiting with crows, scarfing up dropped cookies, and tugging on fallen sticks. Lest he feel neglected, I should probably also mention that I love hanging out with my husband, Marc.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
TW: Susan Conant’s Holly Winter. Holly is a dog writer and dog trainer, and each of her stories explores a different facet of the dog world. I’ve read every one of Susan’s books at least once, and I hope there will be another someday soon.


MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
TW: Yes. I’m really fond of the murder case in my third book, tentatively titled Karma’s a Killer, which will be released by Midnight Ink in 2016. This case is truly personal for Kate. The more she learns about the murder suspects, the more she remembers from her past, which she forgot for good reason. By the time Kate solves the crime, she is truly transformed.

MI:What was your inspiration for the Downward Dog mysteries?
TW: The idea came to me on a rainy evening about three years ago, while in the middle of a brutal workout at my favorite health club. I was pedaling away, reading a Susan Conant novel to distract myself from the evil exercise bike, when a quote from Black Ribbon about crazy dog people made me burst out loud laughing. I knew I’d found my author soul mate. Someone who truly got me.

I went home, looked her up on the web, and stumbled across a site about cozy mysteries. As I read about hundreds of other wonderful cozy series, I began to wonder: What would happen if a yoga teacher with a crazy dog like mine got mixed up in murder? Kate Davidson and Bella popped into my head a few days later. The rest is history.

MI: Tell us about Kate Davidson (and Bella!)
TW: Kate is a study in contrasts. She’s a yoga teacher, but like many women, she’s “average” in weight, not super flexible, and not all that pleased with her body. Kate wants to live according to the yoga teachings, but she often acts impulsively, only to later regret it.

Kate has difficulty controlling her temper, but she is also a caring, committed person who protects those around her, even if doing so is not in her best interests. Kate will continue to grow and develop throughout the series. My first book, Murder Strikes a Pose, was the story of how she bonded with and commited to Bella; the second, A Killer Retreat, explores her relationship with Michael; the third, coming in 2016, introduces a third character from Kate’s past that will challenge her in unexpected ways. That character will force Kate to learn how to forgive.

Tasha
Bella is . . . amazing. But since she’s based on my own German shepherd, Tasha, how could I believe anything else? Like Kate, Bella is a deeply flawed being. She suffers from an autoimmune disease called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, and she doesn’t like other dogs or some men. Yet she’s loyal, smarter than most humans I know, and willing to sacrifice herself for Kate or anyone else in her pack. We should all be lucky enough to experience the devotion of a soul like Bella.



MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
Maggie
TW: I have two furred pets and about a dozen finned ones. Tasha, who I mentioned above, is my one hundred pound, ten-year-old German Shepherd. Maggie is my fourteen-year-old gray tabby cat. They are both a little quirky and they intensely dislike each other, so we’ve had to come up with a family compromise. Each of them owns one-third of the house. Maggie gets two bedrooms and a bathroom on the upper floor, Tasha gets my office, the bathroom, and the garage on the bottom. The kitchen and living room are a neutral zone that hubby Marc and I have claimed for our own.

"the suckie fish" and Darth
I also have a seventy-five gallon aquarium with a dozen fish. “Darth” and one of the “tiger fish” are in the photo. Darth, the striped fish, and a spotted plecostomus we call “the suckie fish” have been with us over thirteen years now. We moved them each in a separate 5-gallon bucket when we purchased our house eight years ago. So I guess I should really say that the second floor of our house belongs to the fish.

MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
TW: Even though I have pets, I have to answer this question. I love all animals. I have a dream of one day moving to the country and adding goats, chickens, and a pig or two to the menagerie!

MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
TW: Black bean pita burgers with three pepper salsa—a specialty at my local ale house. I already eat it three times a week, so expanding it to the rest of my life isn’t much of a stretch.

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
TW: Does tossing a few pomegranate seeds into a glass of champagne count? I can’t cook. I’m not even allowed to use the stove alone anymore, since I consistently forget to turn it off and leave the gas flame burning for hours at a time. I survive on smoothies, microwave dinners, and lots and lots of meals out.

MI: What is your favorite part about being an Inker?
TW: Getting to know my fellow Midnight Ink authors, of course. The Midnight Ink crowd is friendly, kind, funny, supportive, and . . . Well you get the picture. I feel like I’ve developed a network of friends with my other Inkers.

A Killer Retreat, the second Downward Dog mystery, is available online and in bookstores now!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

January 2015 Books Available Now!

Don't miss Midnight Ink's latest releases!




“Cozy readers will enjoy the twist-filled plot.”—Publishers Weekly on A Killer Retreat

“This reviewer is eagerly anticipating more from this series, and a return of a cast more fun than an episode of Portlandia.”—RT Book Reviews (4 1/2 stars) on The Accidental Alchemist

“[T]he twisty plot is well delivered . . . Anyone who loves a strong ghost yarn will savor this tale.”—Library Journal on Dying for the Past

Now available from Midnight InkBarnes & NobleAmazonIndiebound, and your local bookseller!