Wednesday, September 27, 2017

All I Ever Wanted Was a Turret by Miranda James


JENN McKINLAY: I was fortunate enough to meet Dean (Miranda) James at my first book signing at Houston's renown Murder By The Book mystery bookstore back in 2010. We had an instant bond as we're both librarians and it's been a real joy to watch both of Dean's fabulous series, the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries and the Southern Ladies Mysteries, do so well in the world of traditional mysteries. It's my pleasure to invite him here today. Take it, Dean!

MIRANDA (DEAN) JAMES: Ever since I discovered Nancy Drew and immersed myself in her adventures, I have been fascinated by hidden rooms and secret passages. Ditto with old houses, especially multi-storied ones. When I was eighteen months old, my parents and I moved into a newly-constructed house, built by father’s cousin. Our house had only the one floor, alas, so I had to get my old-house fix through reading. I think this probably helps explain why I got hooked on romantic suspense novels when I was thirteen. Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Barbara Michaels often had mysterious mansions full of secrets in their books, and I read blissfully through them all.



Later on I became fascinated with English history – all those kings and queens and castles. Those castles had towers and turrets and all manner of secret spaces with them. I also remember a Judy Bolton book with a turret, probably the first time I ever encountered the word. After that I desperately wanted a turret of my own. I’m not sure why the notion appealed to me so much, but I was never a terribly practical child.



Then of course there are the classic English mystery novels set in villages and mansions in the countryside. I discovered those around the time I went to college, and though there weren’t as many turrets or hidden rooms, there was enough aura of mystery to keep me intrigued.



I suppose it’s no wonder, then, that I have included old houses in a number of my books – particularly in the Southern Ladies series. The heroines, Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce Ducote, live in the ancestral antebellum home, Riverhill. They and their home first appeared in Out of Circulation, the fourth Cat in the Stacks book. When I put them into their own series, I set the book almost entirely at Riverhill. Subsequent books have also featured antebellum homes, and in the latest, Fixing to Die, the house is in Natchez, Mississippi. Natchez is a town with a fascinating history, and some say it is one of the most haunted towns in America (the other being Savannah, Georgia).


Old houses and spirits – an irresistible combination, at least to me – and that was the beginning of the story. Now, the spirits in this book are not the murderous kind you’ll find in other types of books. This is a cozy, after all, but not all spirits are malicious. I had great fun with this story, and I believe readers will be able to detect the influences of my early loves, like Nancy Drew and Barbara Michaels. I couldn’t put in a turret, though, because antebellum homes in the South don’t have them. The architectural style doesn’t permit.


So I’ll have to find my turret somewhere else.



Fixing to Die: Available Oct 3rd!!!


The New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries and Digging Up the Dirt returns with the latest Southern Ladies Mystery...



It’s autumn down south, and An'gel and Dickce Ducote are in Natchez, Mississippi, at the request of Mary Turner Catlin, the granddaughter of an old friend. Mary and her husband, Henry Howard, live in Cliffwood, one of the beautiful antebellum homes for which Natchez is famous.

Odd things have been happening in the house for years, and the French Room in particular has become the focal point for spooky sensations. The Ducotes suspect the ghostly goings-on are caused by the living, but when a relative of the Catlins is found dead in the room, An'gel and Dickce must sift through a haunted family history to catch a killer.

What about you, Readers? What's fascinating feature do you most long for in a house? 


77 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your newest book . . . it certainly sounds as if the mysterious goings-on will keep the ladies busy . . . .

    As for fascinating house features, I’m passing on the turrets because they have stairs . . . and stairs and I have not had too good relationship lately. However, if I could have a sunroom . . . .

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    1. Joan, I know what you mean. My knees would probably be happier with a sunroom, too!

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  2. Wow, Dean! Sounds like you and I grew up in the same mystery universe. I love old houses. When I was in the third grade, my family moved to Springfield, Missouri, and I fell hard for a stately Victorian a few blocks away on Walnut Street. You can probably Google for pictures of it. It had all the classic features: wrap-around porch with lots of gingerbread, leaded glass windows, and an absolutely excellent tower with a pointed roof. Swoon!

    These days, being more practical, I can appreciate things like not having to force my bad knee up a lot of stairs, and not having to pay the heat and AC bills for a house with single-paned windows and no insulation. That said, I now live right on the edge of my town's historic district, near several excellent Victorians, and a lot of great Craftsman bungalows. Shortly after I moved here a friend came to visit, and apologized when she arrived, saying, "I'm sorry I'm so late, but you live in architectural heaven, and I had to keep going around the block!" Now I find myself crushing on a sort of fairy tale cottage built in 1924 that's just two blocks over--easy dog walking distance. I go by to drool from time to time, and dream of what it would look like with a little renovation, a few roses out front, and my Mustang in the driveway.

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    1. Gigi, sounds like you live in a gorgeous area! My aging body wouldn't be happy in a multi-story house, frankly, but I still can't help but dream about it. :-)

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  3. Oh dear! From the comments this sounds like an interesting post. Unfortunately, because of my vision problems, the all in caps all in red ink are just a jumbled blur. Is there any way a "Jungle Red techie" can convert this to upper and lower case and/or black print? Thanks for letting me whine... Happy Wednesday.

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    1. I agree, Elisabeth. I could barely read it.

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    2. Thanks, Edith, it's good to know that "it's not just me."

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    3. I gave up too, but it does look jazzy.

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    4. Trick I learned at an exhibit of art by the visually impaired: Highlight everything to reduce glare. If that's not enough, copy/paste to a document and have it match to whatever font and size you want. I could read this post, but there are many others that are too hard on my eyes.

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  5. Those Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Barbara Michaels novels influenced a whole generation of us. I couldn't read them fast enough! Those houses, the moors, those mysterious men and strong women. If I had the time, I would go back and read them again, as I am sure I would find touchstones of my youth in those words.

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    1. They were addictive for me. Sounds like for you, too!

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    2. Oh yes, Kristopher, the moors have always been a big draw for me. I need a novel with a moor now.

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  6. Hi! Sorry for the troubles. It shouldn't be all red or all in caps. I'm reading it on my phone and there are a few highlighted sentences in red per usual but otherwise the post looks normal to me - black text and large font. Perhaps it went wonky in blogger? Or did one of my dear Reds manage to fix it already?

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    1. Jenn, I think someone fixed it as the whole post "disappeared" for a bit and then "returned" in upper and lower case, black and white text with red and all caps highlights.Best guess that this happened in the 10 minutes between Ann Mason's post and yours. Great to be able to read this. Thank you for putting Miranda (Dean) on my author to learn about list.

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  7. Dean, are you my secret long-lost brother? We certainly had the same reading tastes as kids! My dream home would have high ceilings, leaded glass, pocket doors, a library, and definitely turrets. Unfortunately my husband and I would be fighting to see who gets the turret! I guess we would also need a very private backyard to bury the body in.

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    1. Pat, it's amazing how many readers had the same path to mysteries! Nice to know that I wasn't alone.

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    2. We have no turrets, but there is plenty of leaded glass, a sunroom, and a pocket door. I manage stairs well ever with bionic knees. House is available for use as a setting to the first applicant!

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  8. I would love a turret...in my youth. Now I, like Joan, have an uncomfortable relationship with stairs (can I get a turret with a private elevator?). But I'd gladly take a sun room.

    (And yes, the all-caps, all red was difficult to read).

    Mary/Liz

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    1. I'm no longer a fan of stairs, but sadly, I don't think you have turrets on the ground floor... Oh, well, it's a nice fantasy. :-)

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  9. Many thanks to whomever fixed the bold red problem!

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    1. Still working on it but thanks for the heads up, Elisabeth!

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  10. Okay, I just checked it on my laptop. Ahhhhh! That could be all in caps and red. LOL. I think Blogger is having an existential crisis. First it wouldn't let me change the font color back to what it was supposed to be and now it's making some sentences teeny tiny. Good grief. I am so sorry, Dean (Miranda)! I will keep playing with it and try to get it uniform. Sigh.

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  12. Sweet! I opened up the html option in blogger (I feel like a mechanic) and tweaked every wonky bit I could find. How's she look now?

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    1. Brava to our expert tweaker of all wonky bits.! Fine on my laptop, fine on my iPad. Thank you, again, Jenn

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  13. Perfect! But it always looked perfect on my phone..so weird!

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  14. And Dean, welcome!

    I always dream that my house has secret rooms that I forgot were there..I am so disappointed and realize it was a dream! I always wanted library shelves that swung open to reveal a room behind. Wouldn't that be great?

    I would settle for a built-in window seat. Love those.

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    1. Hank, I want those library shelves with a hidden room, too. Maybe one day...

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    2. The secret room dream is my favorite. Wonder what that means? Unfulfilled desire most likely

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  15. Hi Dean! I've always wanted a turret too! Or a window seat, or just some kind of secret snuggly place. Good luck with the new book!

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    1. Thanks, Rhys! Right now I'd settle for a cozy nook, but alas...

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  16. Congratulations on the latest book!

    Like others here, I am not on good terms with stairs. However, there are a couple of things I would like in a house if I could afford it: a greenhouse would be lovely, and I would also like to have built-in bookshelves all over my house, as well as a library.

    DebRo

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    1. Deb, built-in bookshelves through the house would be wonderful. But I probably still wouldn't have enough shelf space for my books...

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  17. An English-manor library. Fireplace, leather chairs, dark wood, floor-to-high-ceiling on-all-walls bookshelves filled with my books.

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  18. I know growing up I always wanted to live in a house with a 2nd floor. Of course now that I have a semblance of a brain I realize how much extra cleaning that would entail, so I'm fine with one floor.

    I don't need a fireplace or anything like that. The basics of a house (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room) are fine for me overall.

    I suppose if I was crazy enough to live with someone else, I'd end up wanting a completely tricked out mancave though.

    Congrats on the new book.

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    1. Thanks, Jay. After 20 years in various places with two floors, I am now happily living in a one-story house. My knees have never been so happy.

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  19. I am just now in the planning stage for a house I hope to build next year: no stairs, no turrets! I would dearly love a window seat but I don't think that will work out. Another thing I always wanted was a skylight but too many people explained a skylight was a hole in the roof! I'm sure there must be some that don't leak but I'll pass on that anyway. Most important thing is to stay within the budget!

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    1. Yes, sadly some of these features aren't always practical. But they are certainly fun to fantasize about.

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  20. I always wanted a bay window, and now I have one. The original design was for a fireplace, but I am much happier with my expanded view of the big hickory tree and the pond. My neighbor even carefully located her crepe myrtle so I could see it from the bay window. ;-) Turrets fascinate as well, and a local coffee house has one, which is used for meetings.

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    1. Bay windows are lovely! I wouldn't mind having one of those, too.

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  21. I definitely notice the Nancy Drew influence in this book, even before you mentioned it in the book itself.

    I finished this new book last night, and it's fun.

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  22. Welcome, Dean and congrats on the new book! When I was in middle school, one of my classmates lived in a French Normandy style home that was enormous and had, among other treats, a hidden staircase. It was quite exciting and a little scary attending sleepovers there!

    Turrets have never interested me, but I like the idea of one of those library walls that actually leads to a secret passage...

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    1. Ingrid, that sounds like a true treat!

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    2. Ingrid, if I was going to have a secret passage, I'd want it to lead to the Batcave!

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  23. I've always wanted a bookcase that opens to reveal a secret room - especially with two hooligans in the house - then no one could find me! Dean, you've made me remember so many favorites in your post, like Victoria Holt, I really want the old romantic suspense style novels to come back! I am SO looking forward to FIXING TO DIE, you write these characters flawlessly!

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    1. Jenn, thanks for the kind words. Yes, I miss those days of classic romantic suspense. If you haven't read Susanna Kearsley, put her on your reading list ASAP. :-)

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    2. THE WINTER SEA - one of my all time fave books! Love her! But you've reminded me that I have not read all of her books. Will rectify that immediately. Thanks again for visiting today.

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    3. I'll second that! Susanna's books are wonderful.

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    4. I haven't read Susanna Kearsley in ages. I need to pick up one of her books again.

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  24. My daughter, who's now an architect, always wanted a turret room. Isn't there a children's book series where the heroine has a turret room? The house feature that figures prominently in the plot of NEVER TELL A LIE is a dumb waiter. Victorian homes often have them. And when I lived in NYC the kitchen in my husband's apartment had one. Also a mail chute by the elevators so you could mail a letter on the 16th floor and it went down a glass tube and on each floor you could see it fly by. Also a garbage chute - so you went out in the hall and dumped your trash. I detect a theme.

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    1. Hallie, not sure about the series with a heroine who has a turret room. I'll have to see if I can figure it out.

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    2. As an escape hatch, fleeing from the killer, of course! :-)

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    3. I knew a boy (friend of my sis) whose grandparents had a house with a laundry chute. It was big enough that they could get in and slide to the basement...until the day he got stuck. His grandmother was a little deaf so she didn't hear them. He had to wait for someone to get his grandfather. I guess the fire department got involved. And it got boarded up.

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  25. Congrats on the new book! I'm with the crowd that would have liked a turret back when more mobile. For now I'll hope for a screened-in porch in our next place. With a view of trees and mountains. Maybe a creek.

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    1. Thanks, Jim. I'd be happy with a screened-in porch, too! Although I'd be looking at a fence...

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  26. Dean/Miranda welcome! I love your books, when I googled cats + librarians + mysteries, there you were along with Jenn and Lucy. Happily looking forward to reading more of the adventures of the southern ladies.

    I would love to have a tree house guest room. It would be complete with electronic capacity and teleportation so I wouldn't have to climb the rope ladder; I dream in sci-fi. While I am dreaming, the tree house would have a replicator and a sonic shower and commode.

    In the real world, a fire pit would be nice -- not very practical in FLorida -- but nice.

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    1. Coralee, thanks for the kind words! A tree house guest room sounds fun. :-) Especially with those added features!

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  27. I've always been intrigued with the idea of a secret "cozy" room. When I was growing up, I used to dream that my sister's closet had a room behind it, that was sort of like the room in the book Goodnight Moon. It seemed so real to me, and I spent lots of time in that closet tapping the walls and looking for a hidden door. My sisters (4 of them!) thought I was nuts, but then we read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I was somewhat vindicated ~ Thanks for visiting Jungle Reds, Dean ~

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    1. Celia, I love that you were intrigued enough to search for that hidden room!

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  28. I read all those romantic suspense novels but my favorite was Mary Stewart with her books Nine Coaches Waiting, The Moonspinners (made into a movie with Hayley Mills in her first grown-up role), My Brother Michael. I checked those out of the library as a teen and am now in the process of acquiring them all. Used book stores are my friend! I have just started reading Miranda's books and am hooked. And while not romantic suspense a book with a great castle and secret rooms I read at 14 and got me hooked on secret rooms was The Scarlet Pimpernel. Secret rooms everywhere.

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    1. Mary, so glad to hear that you're enjoying my books. Thank you! I too love Mary Stewart. My Brother Michael is probably my favorite, and I love The Moonspinners too (plus I have the movie!). Loved The Scarlet Pimpernel, too.

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  29. Um... if I send you a turret --- will you bring back Simon Kirby-Jones???? I LOVED that series!!!!!

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    1. I would love to bring him back, too, but with the day job and writing two books a year already, there just aren't enough hours in the day... but I haven't given up completely...

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  30. Dean, I feel like I've found my twin. I followed the same fascination path as you with old houses and secret rooms, then English history, and then the English countryside mysteries. Nancy Drew was the hook for me, too. The only difference between us is that I never really coveted a turret room, although I certainly wouldn't have turned one down. Of course, I must now start putting you books on my TBR list, Dean, as I can only imagine how much I will enjoy those.

    My experience with big old houses and secret rooms was when I was growing up. My aunt and her husband lived in a big old house, antebellum style in the country. The house was said to have a secret passage where slaves hid on their way to freedom, a part of the Underground Railroad (the house is in Kentucky). I loved to visit them and try to imagine where the hidden passage was. My first choice was behind the huge fireplace. The adults didn't talk about it, so I was left only to my imagination. What questions I had later when I was older, but the aunt and uncle were dead then and long gone from that house.

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  31. Kathy, it's so much fun to discover that other readers followed the same path. I do hope you'll enjoy my books. And how exciting that your aunt and uncle had a house that might have had a secret passage! Such a shame you never got to find out if it was really there.

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  32. Hi Dean and everyone! Sorry I missed the Blogger existential meltdown--I spent the day driving around the Cotswolds--or at least a small part of the Cotswolds, over and over. (Google is not my friend...)

    Dean, so excited about the new book! So funny that so many of us share the old house passion. My fantasy growing up was pure C.S. Lewis--a wardrobe that led into a different world. But then in college I lived in neighborhood full of Victorian gingerbread houses, and I was totally smitten. At least until we actually started looking to buy one and I found that they had really weird floorplans and cramped little rooms. I'll settle for my drafty Craftsman and read about the Victorians in Dean's books!

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  33. My house is just old not cute. Since I just lugged my wash from upstairs to the cellar, I really wish I had a laundry chute like my grandma had. As long as I'm healthy I view stairs as exercise. I really enjoy your books.

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  34. Dean, my cousin in France lives in a house with a turret! Apparently there are no screens on French windows, so she has an endless parade of winged wildlife checking out the turret. There is an owl that roosts on the balcony outside their bedroom. She would like to have some crows join the menagerie! I'll stick with the American birds I'm familiar with.

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  35. I always wanted a turret too. But I also wanted a library, a widow's walk, a cupola, a huge front porch, bay windows, double front doors, and a pond. What kind of mixed up looking house would that be? 😱😉

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    1. Ann, that sounds like my dream house, too.

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  36. I’ve always longed for a turret, preferably one jutting out from the library, with a window seat where I could sit reading. A cat or two would be curled up beside me and I would occasionally pause in my perusal to sip a cup of cocoa, nibble at a cookie, and gaze at the storm tumbling on the other side of the panes.

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