Kelly Oliver - A Fun Historical Mystery With Plenty of Twists and Turns
Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series, including the Jessica James Mysteries, the Pet Detective Mysteries, and the Fiona Figg Mysteries. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, High Treason at the Grand Hotel.
Please give us a short introduction to what High Treason at the Grand Hotel is about.
Sent by the War Office to follow the notorious Black Panther, file clerk turned secret agent Fiona Figg is under strict orders not to get too close and not to wear any of her usual "get-ups."
But what self-respecting British spy can resist a good disguise? Within hours of her arrival in Paris, Fiona is up to her fake eyebrows in missing maids, jewel thieves, double agents, and high treason.
When Fiona is found dressed as a bellboy holding a bloody paperknife over the body of a dead countess, it's not just her career that's on the block.
Her next date might be with Madame Guillotine.
What inspired you to write a story set in 1917 Paris?
The first Fiona Figg novel (Betrayal at Ravenswick) is set in 1917. I love historical mysteries. And I love British mysteries. It’s so much fun doing the historical research—I learn so many interesting tidbits, some of which are included in the novel. I take Fiona to Paris because there she meets the mysterious Mata Hari. I became intrigued by Mata Hari’s story and wanted Fiona to meet her.
How much research did this require from you to make the history part of it ring true?
I did a lot of research as I wrote. There were many American writers in Paris during the first world war, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, e.e. cummings, and Walt Disney. A few of them make cameos in the novel. I got ahold of antique copies of Baedekers London and its Environs, and Baedekers Paris. They are such fun little books, tour guides of the day. They are heaping with good information.
The main antagonist is also based on a real-life person, Fredrick Duquesne, who was quite a character. Writing him is a lot of fun.
Tell us more about Fiona Figg. What makes her so special?
Fiona is a file clerk with a photographic memory and a sense of adventure. After she catches her husband with another woman, she’s desperate to get out of London. What’s the best way to forget an unfaithful husband? Become a spy for British Intelligence, of course.
Where does Fiona's fascination with disguises come from?
Fiona is keenly aware that there are many places a self-respecting young woman does not go alone, places only men are allowed. In order to gain access and succeed in her espionage, she often dresses as a man so she can enter the man’s world. Of course, Fiona’s cross-dressing is the source of much of the humor in the novels.
Why do you enjoy mixing humor and espionage?
I can’t help but inject humor in all of my novels. I write three mystery series and they are all humorous. Even my contemporary suspense-thriller series, The Jessica James Mysteries, are funny. Some of the issues I tackle in these novels are not funny—war, prison conditions, women’s oppression—which is all the more reason to approach them with humor. I don’t want to be heavy-handed. But it is also important to me to deal with social issues, especially women’s issues.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a philosophy professor by day. And a cat-whisperer by night.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
They definitely develop their own personalities—that is if I’m successful in dreaming up a good character. When that happens, I have a strong sense of what they would and would not do. The stories do take on a life of their own and often take me in surprising directions, which is part of the joy of writing.
Why do you write mysteries? What drew you to the genre?
Growing up, I wanted to be a detective, a spy, or a teacher. I used to walk around the play-ground talking into my shoe-phone like Get Smart. Yeah, I was that nerdy.
Being a professor and a mystery writer I get to do all three. In some ways, being a philosopher is a lot like being a detective, only instead of looking for clues to whodunnit, you’re looking for clues to the meaning of life.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
Anything but write. Clean the house. Brush the cats. Do yoga. Go for a walk. It’s hard to start a new project. Really, that’s the scariest part of writing—starting. I always go through a strange period of mourning before I can start a new project. I always start out overwhelmed, like I can’t write a novel. I have to remind myself that I’ve done it before—now many times before. Reading good books helps a lot.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I try to write first thing in the morning before I get distracted by anything else. With the internet and social media, that has become almost impossible. I drink pot after pot of green tea, along with a couple of matcha lattes. And I’m usually surrounded by my three cats, Mischief, Mayhem, and Flan.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished the first draft of my sixth Jessica James Mystery. It’s called Cottonmouth and takes place in Wyoming. Now comes the combing, brushing, and polishing.
And of course, next on my plate is the third Fiona Figg novel, which takes place in Vienna.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You can learn more about me and my books—and see lots of cute cat pictures—at my website, www.kellyoliverbooks.com.