If Madison Kent had a bookclub, she would have wanted everyone to come dressed in Victorian attire, sip tea and read the classics. Her fascination with history inspired her historical mystery series, where characters are well-rounded and things are not always as they seem. As our Author of the Day, Kent tells us all about her latest book: The Mystery at Belle Magnolia.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Mystery at Belle Magnolia is about.
A young Creole boy, Armand LaLande, is slain during a robbery. When the residents of New Orleans learn the person they feel is responsible is acquitted, many in the city believe a grave injustice has occurred and there might have been undo prejudice because he is Creole. Threats are made to the residents of Belle Magnolia, where the defending lawyer lives and many call on the deceased Voodoo Priestess, defender of all mixed race residents, to place a curse upon the people who live there. Belle Mayfair, the owner of the mansion, seeks the assistance of Dr. Donovan and his daughter, Madeline. She feels helpless to defend herself against the actions occuring to punish them. Belle feels she can trust no one in New Orleans, not even her friends, to stem the tide of prejudice against them.
What inspired you to write this book?
New Orleans...what a place! If you've never been, I highly recommend it. This burgeoning, picturesque city stirred my imagine from the first time I visited and when I began writing The Madeline Donovan mysteries, I was certain one of the novels would be set against this backdrop. There is a wealth of history that begs to be written about, especially its well-known Voodoo practices.
Why did you bring Voodoo into the mix?
While in New Orleans, I attended séances and learned all I could about the Voodoo practices, which include fascinating practices even at the cemeteries. Voodoo is a wonderful tool for an author, there is so much mystery about this practice.
What got you into Mystery as a genre?
Mystery stories...who doesn't love them? I am an ardent admirer of Sherlock, Miss Marple, Endeavor, Hercule and so on. I love the intrigue and suspense of the mystery. Sometimes I see people complain that they guessed the murderer too soon, but I feel the journey is not just figuring out "who done it" but how the plot unfolds and the depth of the characters and if the author can make you have feelings about them...any will do...hate, love, anger, disappointment, but create feeling and even if they guess, it should be an enjoyable read.
The book is set in the late 1800's in New Orleans. How much research did it require from you to get the details of the setting right?
In writing historical novels, it definitely takes research into attire, speech, and most importantly not accidently adding some invention or other nuisance that was before its time.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
If I had to pick just one author I'd like to converse with, it might be commonplace to say it, but it would be Shakespeare. Every time I read over one of his stories, I get something different from it and I find it phenomenal how he spun his tales to include such intricacy of characters.
Readers found the book hard to put down. What are some tricks you use to keep them hooked throughout?
One of my steadfast rules is to weave a plot using dialogue as much as possible. For me personally, whenever I read a story, I connect more to the character if I am learning more about them through their own words. The other thing I always try to do is make the reader have some sympathy for the killer. It may sound strange but I don't like anyone to completely love or hate a character. As in life, we generally have complex feelings about people.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
I believe every author tries to assert through their characters their life's experiences and what they've learned or perceived to learn through them. There is no person I've ever written into a story that did not have actual characteristics of someone I've known or perhaps just observed.
Among the wealth of characters in this book who was the most difficult to create?
In this story, Madame Clarice is a noted Voodoo Queen whose séances are well-attended in New Orleans. She has an avid amount of followers and much power. She was a difficult person to define because she is under the category of adversary yet she is loved and honored by the people in the city and I had to strike the right balance of love and hate.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading — and why?
If I had a book club, I don't know who would attend because I would want everyone to come dressed in Victorian attire, sip tea and read the classics. The Bronte sisters would be high on my list of first reads.
Do you ever have days when writing is a struggle?
Like anything else, the more you do something, the better attuned and greased the wheels are. Sometimes I get stuck with who I want the character to be and sometimes have even switched mid-stream who I wanted the killer to be. It's wonderful when I get a streak where it flows easily and nerve wracking when it doesn't and you think your imagination took flight but not inside you but to an island somewhere.
When working on a new book, what’s the first thing you do?
The process of a new book forms way before I begin to write. First, I'll mull the idea over for quite a while to see if it holds water and if an entire novel length story can be formed around it. Then I begin to form the main characters but not the secondary. They seem to appear out of nowhere as I write. I write very few notes ahead of time, just a skeleton of an outline and do most of the writing as the story unfolds when I write. I tried doing the outline thing at first and it didn't work for me, it didn't allow me the freedom of taking an indiscriminate turn or take the unexpected fork in the road. So now I let the characters guide me.
What are you working on right now?
I am excited to have my character be on board the ocean liner, the SS City of New York again headed for London. The first in the series starts this way. The new title is "Devil on Deck" as Madeline observes the death of a violinist while at dinner in the Grand Saloon and only she thinks its murder.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My website is www.madisonkentbooks.com which features all of the Madeline Donovan books and information on how to contact me directly. There is email information on the website and I would be happy to answer any questions anyone might have or read any comments about the series. I always read emails from readers. They are, of course, the most important factor in the writing of any book. It is the reader who then takes the story to the next level and creates their own personal version and observations and makes the characters come to life.