Sunday, June 10, 2012

Clea Simon

JAN BROGAN: Clea Simon is the author of 10 mysteries and three nonfiction books.  Her latest mysteries are “Grey Expectations” (Severn House), featuring the feline ghost Mr. Grey, and the Booklist-starred “Cats Can’t Shoot” (Poisoned Pen), which hosts several dogs as well as the curmudgeonly tabby Wallis. She, her husband Jon, and their tuxedo cat Musetta live in Somerville, Mass., where Clea and Musetta have taken to watching the birds together, sometimes with bad intent.   Please welcome her to Jungle Red! 

CLEA SIMON:  I’m an animal lover. And as they are in my writing, critters of one sort or another are essential to my life. Even, sometimes, ghost pets. Animals. I love them so much I can’t let them go. So you wouldn’t think I’d be throwing plates at critter, would you? Attempting to kill one, in cold blood?
What’s worse, there were witnesses. But I can explain.
To start with, I live in the city. Yes, we now have a little yard and I’ve gotten a bit obsessive about my bird feeder, doing my best to lure the cardinals and finches and discourage the ravenous sparrows (aka “pigbirds”) with every combination of seed and suet available. And I’m enough of a cat person that I keep up on the news of coyotes (there’s supposedly a pack in the woods of nearby Mt. Auburn Cemetary) and those nasty, weaselly fishers (spotted only one town farther out!) that are reclaiming their territory. But I’ve got an indie coffeehouse a five minute walk away, and two world-class bookstores within 20. There are buses and subways, and the sounds of sirens. I like it that way. It feels civilized.
So imagine my surprise when a friend dropped by and said, “You know, you’ve got a wild turkey at the end of your street.” I was wearing socks, no shoes, when I opened the door and I immediately ran out to see. Sure enough, a young male (we think) was two doors down, in a neighbor’s driveway, clucking. I ran back to alert Jon and we watched, entranced until we realized that our presence was probably keeping him in that driveway – and that he was likely clucking his distress. And then, being animal lovers, we walked away. We let him be.
Jon returned the favor only four days later, calling to me as he left for work. “Turkey!” He yelled. “On the shed!” Sure enough, the young male – we’re assuming for argument’s sake it was the same bird – was perched on our little tool shed. I watched him, entranced, as he sat, thinking whatever it is that birds think. My neighbor was watching too, and we did the miming thing (“Turkey!”) and waved. Turkey!
All was fine, and I went to get my coffee. And that’s when it happened. The turkey, spurred on by whatever motivates these birds, hopped into my yard. I ran for the camera and caught him pecking at our tiny bit of grass. I thought about going outside, about opening a gate. After all, it was probably easier to hop down into a fenced yard than to hop out of one. And I am, as I may have said, an animal lover. But then the turkey spread his wings and with a few flaps elevated himself to the top of our fence, right by the trellis where I have been training a sweet autumn clematis in hope of September blossoms. Once again, I was in awe.
And then he started eating. No, not eating. Grabbing big beakfuls of leaves and pulling them off, dropping half of them and denuding the young plant. Pulling it off the trellis. And I lost it. Still in my nightshirt, I ran out to our back deck and clapped loudly. Hey, it works with the cat. But the turkey only stared at me, as if to say, “Hey, lady, what’s your problem.” I yelled and clapped some more. No response. More leaves gone.
Finally, I picked up the drainage plate from an empty planter and winged it at him. It fell short – and shattered, our grass not being that thick. And that’s when I realized that I was standing on the deck, in my nightie, screaming bloody murder at a bird. I couldn’t tell if my neighbor was amused or appalled, he dropped his curtain so quickly, but I was forced to confront the dark truth at the bottom of my soul. I am an animal lover. But when forced to defend my clematis, I just may be capable of murder.

JAN: Clea's book, as well as all Severn House mysteries are now available on ebook atAmazon, Kobo, Barnes&Noble, and the Book Depository. You can like Severn House at
And you can follow at: @severnhouse

Clea will be stopping by to answer your questions about mysteries, animals, or animal mysteries. For more info on her books check out her site at


  1. I love animals, too, but I've had it with the deer. They eat all the buds and blooms off my flowers, including the brand new rose -- every single bud! The anti-deer spray smells like big cat urine (which I think it might be) and the deer come out when the world is dead asleep. I can't catch them, even at 4 in the morning. When are they doing this? Ideas JRs? No guns, although after losing my roses, I'm ready to fight.

  2. We have rafters of turkeys out here in the "country". They seem to be happy with apples, both dropped and on the trees, but are a road hazard as there always seems to be one lagging behind when they are crossing and he jumps out in front of you with no notice! The deer are worse and have even eaten holly! We love animals too, but....Dee

  3. Great story, Clea. I did something similar when I was a farmer. I caught a woodchuck INSIDE the electric fence calmly munching my broccoli seedlings. I started throwing rocks and boards and yelling at it. Having not that great of an aim, and being incensed to boot, I missed wildly. And then it started to come for me, odd behavior for a woodchuck, who usually run away. I called for reinforcements!

  4. There should be a support group for people like us! Animal lovers driven to the brink when forced to protect their homesteads. I actually bought a slingshot - not a little one like you see in old movies or the comics. One with a forearm piece to steady your aim. I saw it in a market in Utah and thought - Take that, Bambi! I never came close to hitting anything. But I love having it..

  5. Did I mention I LOVE the cover of Grey Expectations??

  6. Squirrels!! They're funny and cute and can move really fast..but when they dig up the tulip bulbs, I am homicidal!

    And when the tulips FINALLY have buds ,the stupid squitrels me and bite them off. Just--BITE THEM OFF and leave them on the ground. Ahhh.

    We put this stuff on the tulip foliage made out of--cayenne pepper, I think. And I waited to see what would happen. The stupid squirrel got close..and then leaped into the air and ran away. I am embarasssed to say I applauded.

    Clea, I wish I could have seen you in your nightgown throwing the thing. So funny! Humans win.

  7. Clea, what a great story! It's squirrels that make me homicidal. They dig up the plants in the pots on my deck. At least when I run out on the deck screaming, only our back neighbor sees me... And Hank, have given up on planting tulips or caladiums. The squirrels sit around chortling and saying, "Snacks? Juicy, yummy snacks? Just for us???"
    "You RODENTS!" I shout back at them. They are not impressed.

  8. Jack: Since we live in the midst of the Pine Barrens, the deer are regular, even if unwelcome, visitors. [Although I have to admit the little ones were pretty excited when deer came to drink out of the wading pool!] They love to eat the roses but we've learned and now get plants that are deer resistant. [I don't know how they do that, but Bambi does seem to leave the deer resistant plants alone]. So far, all the critters have been good about not eating the daffodils . . . perhaps they know that touching my much-loved daffodils would make me do a whole lot more than simply throw plates at them . . . I might even hunt up --- and use --- a slingshot like Rosemary has . . . .

    Now, if we could just find a way to keep the little critters away from the strawberries in the garden --- I'd try to catch them at it, but Mr. Grey is urgently calling to me to come and read his book . . . .

  9. Squirrels make me homicidal too. Mostly because they keep trying to get into the attic.

    The chipmunks eat my petunias, I think. And something is devastaiting my basil.

    I have planted clementis at least five times and only been successful twice. I could be driven to homicide to protect it.

    Hank, doesn't a hard rain wash the stuff off? Do you reapply?

  10. Squirrels and possums are our bete noir--and we live in the heart of the city. We have deer, coyote, raccoons, hawks and eagles, woodchucks, and more, but the squirrels and possums are the only one to get in our house. And animal-lover or not, I can't have that, so it was Hav-A-Heart trap time.

    When we had a vegetable garden, the possums would eat all the blossoms and baby veggies, such as squash. Then they'd be so fat and slow that they'd get run over crossing the street in front of our house--two or three a season. That's stopped now that we've stopped vegetable gardening.

    We did have Horty, short for Horticultural Squirrel, though. Long-deceased now, he used to dig up our tulip bulbs and those from people who live around us and replant them in our front yard in the middle of the lawn. So each spring now, we have the most prolifically blooming, best display of tulips--at random points in our front lawn. We miss Horty!

  11. Oh, don't even get me STARTED on the squirrels!! For me, the last straw was when some little fuzzy-tailed RAT tore my sole adolescent eggplant off the plant, took one bite, and LEFT it, on my patio table. As if to say, "Eh, not ripe." I saw RED! Jungle red?

  12. And thanks, folks. I feel.... sniff, sniff... understood.

  13. By the way, Jack, I've got dried fox urine. It comes in pellets and it smells, well, like pee. I'm not sure it is doing any good, but that's the latest. At least it keeps me from arming myself with anything more lethal. For now.

  14. Gack, the deer. Notice they don't say "deer-proof"? That's because they will eat anything, including supposedly deer-resistant plants. The only things they dependably do not eat are very fuzzy plants, like lambs' ears. They even ate my rose bush over this past winter, but I now than them because the bush has the most blossoms it's ever has. The deer were much better pruners than I am.

    We also had critters inside our electric fence--a rabbit had a nest in the middle of my parsley patch. I was weeding and saw this clump of fur. When I moved it I saw the sweetest little baby bunny. Called my husband over and he counted six. Who apparently, with their mother, were the reason why half the beets did not seem to germinate. Clearly, they ate the shoots.

    Clea, I think your turkey was female. The males gobble; the females cluck. (Married to a turkey hunter, and I've gone hunting with him a few times.)

  15. Also, the deer repellants only work if you alternate with different ones, apparently. I use one that has rotten eggs and garlic, and alternate it with pellets made of dried blood. And throw all garlic pulp left from mincing, etc. into the garden instead of pitching it.

    Hank, instead of paying extra for a squirrel repellant with cayenne pepper in it, just buy the extra-large containers of cayenne pepper and sprinkle that around. Works exactly the same.

  16. Don't get me started on the squirrels. I swear one of them gave me the finger yesterday morning when I yelled at it for digging holes in the lawn. It glared defiantly at me, lifted a paw in my direction and it really did look like only one digit was in the air.

    Clea, your turkey story is wonderful. Will it turn up in a book?

  17. Darlene - I don't know if I dare put it in a book. I mean, throwing things at a turkey?T hough I guess Wallis would understand. "Damn bird," she grumbled. "Too big by rights, and poking about in my territory..."

  18. Clea, I love kitty mysteries! And I have a kitty ghost! And I lived in Somerville the second 2 years of grad school! Over the P&K Deli! Do you know where that is? My round living room perched in the trees was the perfect place to read! Unfortunately I was banned from reading fiction for years, but when I graduated... ! Now that I have discovered kitty detectives, I will never go back to academic reading - or writing! [What? Too many exclamatory thingies?]

  19. Reine - I know exactly where you are. We're over by Dodakin auto (if you remember that!). Though I saw my own kitty ghost - the origin of Mr. Grey - over in Cambridge, by Youville Hospital (not far). Glad you can read fiction again, and I hope that mine amuses!

  20. Oh I do remember Dodakin's. I must have walked by your place on the way to the Macht building at Cambridge Hospital. I would walk through that little wooded park between the Center for the Study of World Religions and - aaaaah what was it... - yes, The Academy of Arts and Sciences. I remember always having a chuckle walking past Ivaloo Street. I don't know why it struck me funny. Please don't tell me it was named after an ancestor or something.

    Hah... you lived near the great Julia. She used to walk out the Museum Street way and over to Beacon Street Star Market. I miss seeing her about. She was lovely.

    Of course I love your books. They sustain me as I live in exile in Arizona for the time being.

  21. Even my congested suburban neighborhood has too many deer, turkeys that march down the sidewalks, and squirrels that have been known to leave peanut shells in my Impatiens boxes on my deck.

    I was used to seeing deer in more rural parts of CT but now they are all over the suburbs. A couple of years ago I returned home from a Saturday morning errand to find a dead deer in the entrance to my condo complex. We are NOT in the country - we are surrounded by apartment buildings!

    I've seen turkeys standing on the sidewalk across the street from the corner fire house, waiting next to the pedestrian light,as though trying to figure out how to push the button to change the light and safely cross the street.

  22. Clea, were you around when the moose came into town from Maine(?) via the trolley track? I think the turkeys come in by the bike trail/aquaduct north of Billerica, through Arlington and Cambridge/Somerville. One day there were deer by the Med School that were tracked down the trolley way and across Muddy River and The Fens.

  23. Wow, I vaguely recall hearing about a moose, but lived in a mid-Cambridge condo for so long, I thought I was immune to wildlife (though I remember a very territorial turkey chasing people in Kendall Square)! And Reine - my little one-way street empties out on Beacon right across from the AAAS woods, so we thought, maybe the turkey would have gone there. But no sign of him. No deer here, yet, but there is reportedly a pack of coyotes in Mt Auburn cemetary, and fishers have been seen in Arlington.

    PS - I wish the turkeys would learn to use the crosswalk button. I've seen one recently who hesitated at the wrong moment (on the highway, not "our" bird)... not pretty

  24. Clea, I love your turkey story, but coyotes at Mt. Auburn! Isn't there roughy iron gate all around? I guess they could dig in (too creepy). They could squeeze through. I forget what it looks like, and it is huge! It's an amazing place.

    If your street is right next to the old auto place I know where it is. A lot of my friends from The Div School and The Law School used to live up there. It's nice living so near the academy's woods. I used to love to get lunch at the refectory then go over there to eat and meditate. Those little woods show up in a surprising number of mystery novels.

    I'm glad you live over that way. Do you use the div school library? I can picture a kitty detective doing research in the glass-floored stacks and hiding out behind the ancient organ in "Emerson's" chapel. If you don't already have access, they have community memberships.

  25. Reine - I don't know that library, but I suspect Dulcie soon will. Thanks!

  26. Clea, a quick jog through the AAS woods; cross Francis Street and through Andover Hall using the cat walk straight into the library and Dulcie is there. Being the Div School, there are secret passages, of course... . We love Dulcie in this house.

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