Thursday, January 19, 2012

DEAN JAMES--FILE M FOR MURDER


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Dean James is the author of over twenty books, both mystery fiction and non-fiction. He has won the Agatha and Macavity Awards for his non-fiction and has twice been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical work. Formerly the general manager of Murder by the Book in Houston, he is currently a librarian in the Texas Medical Center. Writing as Miranda James, he is the New York Times bestselling author of the "Cat in the Stacks" mysteries, as well as mysteries under his own name and the pseudonyms Jimmie Ruth Evans and Honor Hartman.

Dean is also one of my oldest friends in the book business. I'm thrilled with the success of his new series, AND with the newest installment featuring librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, FILE M FOR MURDER, which publishes January 31st.

When I asked Dean about the pseudonym, he told me that "Dean James" was very
hard to find on the web, thanks to the dead movie star. He chose "Miranda" because she's the heroine of his favorite Shakespeare play, The Tempest. But here's our proper interview--

DEBS: Dean, you've written a very well-received series featuring Simon Kirby-Jones, a delightful Southern gentlemen transplanted to a fictional English village--a delightful Southern gentleman who is gay, and a vampire.

Now, in the Cat in the Stacks series, you've done a bit of gender bending. Writing as Miranda James, you've given us a male protagonist, a Southerner, Charlie Harris, who has gone home. A librarian who lived and worked in Houston for many years, Charlie, now widowed, has gone back to his home town of Athena, Mississippi, where he works part time in the college library and volunteers in the public library.

Is Athena a fictional town? Is it like the town you grew up in?

DEAN: Athena is mostly fictional, though it is based -- very, very loosely -- on Oxford, Mississippi, which is about 80 miles northeast of where I grew up on a farm in Grenada County. I've tried to imbue it with the kind of feeling that I remember from my youth in Mississippi, a small -- but not too small -- town where long-time residents know one another, where there's a strong sense of community and a sense of history.

DEBS: Athena is not idyllic--there are secrets and grudges and politics--but you've written about this small Mississippi town with such affection that I feel I want to go there for a visit. Has there been a sense of homecoming for you?

DEAN: Yes, there is a strong sense of homecoming for me. I've lived away from Mississippi for a little over three decades now. I do manage to get back occasionally to visit family there, but writing about Mississippi allows me to go home again in a special way. I can write about the good things I remember about growing up there. Mississippi has often been the butt of jokes and cynosure in the national consciousness, but despite its problems, it is a beautiful place full of some amazing people. With the kind of books I write I try to focus as much as possible on the positive.

DEBS: While I don't envy Charlie the loss of his wife to cancer, I am smitten with Charlie's new life in Athena. Living in the big, charming, old house he inherited from his Aunt Dottie, he takes in very civilized boarders. There's such a sense of this house as a welcoming place, with a kitchen where there is always iced tea and friends are always welcome at the table. Were you drawing on your own memories?

DEAN: The house I grew up in was much smaller than Charlie's house in Athena, but in my imagination, Aunt Dottie's house is one I would love to have lived in as a child and even now. I love the sense of history that a house like that possesses. Built solid and strong, meant to last for generations, where family traditions are kept up, where memories of loved ones never fade.

DEBS: A research librarian makes a very natural detective--Charlie has spent his career finding things out and he's very good at it, although that doesn't always please Sheriff's Deputy Kanesha Berry, Charlie's housekeeper's daughter. Charlie doesn't seek out murders. He's a decent man who simply wants to help people he cares about. But in writing an amateur sleuth in a small town, how do you avoid Cabot's Cove syndrome? (And I certainly hope to see many more books about Charlie.)

DEAN: I hope to see many more about Charlie myself! An amateur sleuth always faces the problem of stumbling over dead bodies, and we all know that isn't truly realistic outside the realms of fiction. I try to give Charlie a logical reason to be involved in the situation which brings the murder about, but eventually that becomes difficult to maintain for any writer. The authorities will certainly begin to look askance at anyone who's involved in that many homicides, albeit as mostly a bystander! But I tend to rely on what the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called "the willing suspension of disbelief." Readers of amateur sleuth stories are willing to grant this, I think, because they often find it easier to imagine themselves in the shoes of an amateur detective, rather than those of an official detective, i.e., a homicide cop. I grew up reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and I've never lost that sense of vicarious pleasure that I gained from following in the footsteps of Nancy, Frank and Joe as they solved one baffling mystery after another.

DEBS: I've left the best for last. The series isn't called The Cat in the Stacks Mysteries without good reason. When Charlie moved back to Athena, he adopted an abandoned Maine Coon kitten whom he named Diesel, because of his loud purr. Diesel is now full grown and weighs thirty-six pounds! (My own boy kitties weigh around twelve to fourteen pounds, and I can't imagine having a thirty-six pound cat jump in my lap!) Diesel is a wonderful cat. He's intelligent, loyal, and a very good judge of human character. He also wears a leash and harness and goes everywhere with Charlie. (I asked Dean to choose a picture of a Maine Coon that looked like Diesel as he imagines him.)

Why did you choose that particular breed of cat? Do you have personal experience with Maine Coons?

And will Charlie someday find out who abandoned Diesel, and why?

DEAN: When I knew I was going to write a series about a librarian and his cat, I simply knew that the cat would be a Maine Coon and that his name would be Diesel. The Diesel in my books is actually based on the first Maine Coon I ever saw in the flesh, and he was a big kitty, close to forty pounds. That is atypical of the breed, because most male Maine Coons are on average about twenty-two to twenty-five pounds. But I was so taken with the gentle giant that I met, I knew I had to "borrow" him for my series. I have a cat that I think may be at least part Maine Coon, but I didn't realize that until I started writing the series.

Reader response to Diesel has been amazing, and he even has his own page on FaceBook, as Diesel Harris. As for Charlie finding out who abandoned Diesel, the answer is "maybe." I might write that story one of these days, but until then, I think it's okay simply to think of Diesel as a special gift to Charlie from the universe at a time when he needed a friend like Diesel the most.

DEBS: Oh, and one more thing--is Charlie Harris by any chance named after your good friend Charlaine Harris?

DEAN: Yes, he is. He's also named for two other "CH" friends: Carolyn Haines and Carolyn Hart. Not only are these three women among my favorite writers, they're also dear friends who have been unfailing in their support and encouragement. Naming my hero as a I did is a small way of saying thanks to them for all they've done for me.

DEBS: I'm sure all the CHs love Charlie as much as I do. And Dean, if Diesel were real, I have to confess I'd be tempted to steal him.

Readers, you can say "hi" to Diesel here.

And Dean will be dropping in on Jungle Red today to chat and answer questions, and will have a copy of File M for Murder to give away to one of our commentors.

35 comments:

  1. My copy of File M for Murder arrived on Monday, so I don't need one. Just wanted to drop by and thank both of you for an enjoyable interview. BIG fan of Diesel's, and can't wait to read about his latest adventures with Charlie. Thanks to both of you!

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  2. Hi, Dean! Great to see you here...:)

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  3. Thanks, ya'll! Lesa, hope you enjoy #3!

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  4. Dean/Miranda, so nice to have you here on Jungle Red! You and Debs make the series sound irresistible!

    My question: How are cozy readers reacting to a male main character? Is that a hurdle to jump, or is he accepted easily? And do you think sales would have been affected if you'd kept your name on the cover?

    Love love love the main coon cat character, though I hate to think about the litter box:)

    Never thought of all those wonderful CH writers before...

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  5. I've been reading about Diesels's human from the very beginning. I love the stories and would love to actually own a Maine Coon cat. Unfortunately there aren't enough drugs in the world that would allow that to happen.

    I would also love to own a copy of Diesel's new book, File M for Murder

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  6. Lucy, so far readers seem to have taken to Charlie just fine. Of course, most of them are more enamored of Diesel. But I think having a male sleuth in a cozy makes for an interesting change.

    Regarding your second question, about the author name: I honestly don't know, but Miranda James is certainly easier to find via Google. And if readers can't find the books, well, ...

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  7. Very enlightening interview, thank you for doing it. The book sounds great too!

    wfnren(at)aol(dot)com
    wrensthoughts.blogspot.com

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  8. I'm really looking forward to this third book. I still miss Jimmie Ruth Evans though.

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  9. Welcome Dean (sorry, I mean Miranda) and good luck with the new book. I can't wait to read it.

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  10. I've loved Dean's books ever since I first encountered Maggie McLendon! I look forward to meeting Charlie and Diesel.

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  11. I love this series and am absolutely itching to get my hands on File M for Murder when its released.

    I actually have a big male Maine Coon cat myself, and I always chuckle and things Diesel does because my Maine Coon is very similar - a gentle giant with a purr like a car engine!

    I like Lucy's question about the male main character. It's such a refreshing change to see a male lead and I hope to see more in the future.

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  12. As a reader, I loved having a male protagonist in a cozy, a man who seems so real and genuine, and not a foil for a female detective. I love that Charlie is so protective of his friends and his family. It gives the books a different edge, and I hope that bodes well for the series.

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  13. I've known several cats named Johnson and Evinrude for their motors -- love the twist of "Diesel."

    I've wondered about a male protagonist, too, although one of the most successful cozy series was Lillian Jackson Braun's "The Cat Who..." series, with a male human. Maybe the secret is to give him a cat!

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  14. Janet: I still miss Jimmie Ruth, too.

    Jane: wow, you have been reading my books for a while! Thank you!

    Bella, Deb, Leslie: thanks for all the kind words. I really love writing about Charlie and Diesel and their family and friends.

    Rhys: thanks for the welcome! How on earth do you have time to read with writing two books a year of your own?

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  15. Another book for Mount TBR!

    On another subject, congrats to Hallie on her MHC Award nomination!

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  16. Thanks for the heads-up on the new book. Looking forward to reading it whether I win, borrow or buy a copy! MJ

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  17. Congratulations to Hallie Ephron for her nomination for the Simon & Schuster-Mary Higgins Clark Award
    Woo-hoo....Dee

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  18. Great interview. Can't wait for the new book. Diesel is my favorite character.

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  19. Dean, I love your books. I believe we have amutual friend in Carolyn Haines. So great to see you here! Can't wait to get my hands on File M for Murder!

    And congrats to our own Hallie Ephron on being a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award at the Edgars. Hurray for Hallie!

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  20. Congratulations to Hallie! Just saw the awards nominations list. Best of luck!

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  21. Welcome Dean/Miranda!

    I had an "aha!" moment reading today's blog post -until now, I worried that I had merely imagined or dreamed that I read a book about characters named Charlie and Diesel. I am not sure how long you've been writing this particular series, but I read one of the books while on vacation - it may have been left behind in a house we rented for a week. I read it, enjoyed it -and then could NOT remember the author's name when I was home again and trying to look for "her" books! (STRONG hint that I wouldn't mind winning the new one!)

    I am SO glad that I didn't imagine or dream that there is such an enjoyable series!

    Deb R

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  22. Cat-loving librarian and childJanuary 19, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    My 14 year old daughter and I both became instantly smitten with Charlie and Diesel. We're cat people (although sadly, Mom's allergies now curtail ownership) and after reading about Diesel, would love to cuddle a full-grown Maine Coon. Being addicts of Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie (and thanks to my boss, a plethora of other mystery series) solving murders from Charlie's point of view is a fun twist. What's also fun is seeing who'll be first to read the next installment. Am hiding this one from my book-devouring child until I'm done...she'll have to wait..ha-ha!

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  23. Hi Dean,

    I'm eagerly awaiting the release of File M for Murder and hoping you have more under contract! Can you share that information, or are you bound to secrecy?

    But like several other commenters here, I still miss Simon and Wanda Nell ...

    I think what I like best about the current series (besides Diesel, of course!) is how decent Charlie is. He struggles with ethical choices just like the rest of us, and is willing to admit when he makes a mistake. Being a librarian myself, I also appreciate how accurately you've portrayed both the setting and the profession.

    Best wishes for another NYT hit and lots of reprints,

    LynneW

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  24. Lynne, et al.:

    I'm happy to report that there will be at least 6 books in the series. I recently signed a contract for books 4, 5, and 6. The fourth one, tentatively titled Out of Circulation, should be out around the same time next year.

    And thanks for your kind words about Simon and Wanda Nell!

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  25. Hooray Dean/Miranda--that's wonderful news!

    And Yay for our pal Hallie--it's good news Thursday I think!

    Leslie, oh no, you mean there are other Evinrudes out there besides Hayley Snow's cat? And here we thought we were being so clever...

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  26. I'm another Diesel fan. And I like the fact that the series has a male protagonist. (And not because my cat series has a female main character. I swear.)

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  27. Dean, that's GREAT news about the contract! I am thrilled for you (bummed that I have to wait a year of the next Charlie and Diesel:-)).

    Thrilled for our Hallie, too! Good news Thursday is right.

    Deb Romano, I love your found book story. My friend Marcia Talley found one of mine in the "left book" library on the Queen Mary, which tickled me. (Still jealous of Marcia's voyage on the QM, though.)

    And I heard from a guy in a Finnish rock band once, who found one of my books on a freighter between the Med and Finland. Too funny where our books turn up.

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  28. Oh I loved the Trailer Park Mysteries! So nice you have a new series for us to enjoy. Thanks for the interview Deb & Dean!

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  29. Deb, what great vacations your books get to take!
    (By the way, I am waiting impatiently for your next one.)

    I'm grateful for the "vacation library" in the cottage we rented. I just wish I had written down the name of the author - I could have been reading other books by Dean/Miranda if I had done that!

    Congratulations Hallie!

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  30. This is my first visit to this blog and I love it. I am glad it was sent to me.

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  31. Diesel is going to wave a paw over the comments tonight and pick the happy recipient of File M for Murder. I'll announce his choice on the blog tomorrow!

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  32. I can't wait to read File M for Murder and am very happy that there will be more books!

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  33. That is the NICEST interview..I smiled through the whole thing. Welcome! And your CH anecdote is the most adorable..thank you so much for visiting! And Diesel is brilliant. Come back, okay? xoxo

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  34. How did I miss this! I am so sorry! You are wonderful! My 26lb Maine Coon cat, Buffalo Thunder Paws, says so!

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