Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cathy Ace on location, location, location!

HALLIE EPHRON: It was my pleasure to find myself sitting next to Cathy Ace at the Surrey Writers Conference in British Columbia. We got to chitchatting as we longingly watched the lines of readers snaking their way up to get books signed by Diana Gabaldon and Anne Perry.

With a brand new book just out (The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb), I invited Cathy to talk about Cait Morgan, her "Welsh Canadian foodie criminologist sleuth" who definitely gets around. She travels, she eats, and one can only hope that Cathy writes that aspect of her adventures from firsthand experience.

CATHY ACE: I’ll tell you a secret—I’ve been everywhere she’s been, eaten everything she’s eaten, and drunk  everything she’s drunk. Who? My protagonist, Cait Morgan, my Welsh Canadian foodie criminologist sleuth. Luckily for her, I’ve travelled a lot. And luckily for me, she manages to find a dead body, or two, wherever she goes.

If I’m honest—and I understand the Reds like that—the real reason I move Cait about so much, and have her eat and drink her way through her books, is because it gives me the chance to revisit places, and flavors, I miss. I truly believe a location can become a character in a book, and I try to make sure that the story I am writing could only have happened in the specific locale I have selected.

My first Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, is set in Nice where I lived for several months each year for almost a decade. Good friends of mine owned an apartment in the block that was Gestapo Headquarters during WWII, and whenever I visited for dinner, or l'apĂ©ro, I couldn’t help but want to set a murder mystery there. Wherever you walk in Cimiez, you’re constantly treading upon thousands of years of human history. So a tale which involved a “Collar of Death” which had travelled from Wales to the south of France, and had a history reaching back millennia, nibbled at the fringes of my mind, even as I nibbled at the foie gras.

I couldn’t ignore the Province of British Columbia, where I live and have  a great fondness for the Okanagan Valley and the vineyards around the lake. Yes, my research for The Corpse with the Golden Nose involved exhaustive wine tasting, but I applied myself, and spent a good deal of time in and around Kelowna observing, nibbling, and sipping. But I didn’t want my fictitious ageing rock-star vintner to be confused with any of the real ones who live there, and I think I managed it. (No law suits yet!)

Mexico attracts a great deal of press coverage about the crime which, sadly, is all too real there. A rich cultural heritage lies beyond the inevitable stalls laden with tourist crafts, and bars selling cheap beer-and-shots combos. In The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb I wanted to use the Pacific coastal towns around Puerto Vallarta as a backdrop for a cast of mixed ethnicity and, only because the book needed it, duplicitousness. The book is set on a tequila-producing agave plantation, so once again I had to carry out some onerous research. Believe me when I tell you that the recuperative abilities I possessed when researching Cait first mystery are not what they once were!

In September 2014, Cait, who usually grapples with closed circle mysteries, takes on a closed room mystery in The Corpse with the Platinum Hair.

Luckily for her she’s trapped in one of the most exclusive restaurants in Las Vegas. Yes—Vegas, Baby…but maybe not the one you think you know.

Am I the only person who visits a place, and immediately starts to work out how it can become a great location for a murder? Please tell me I’m not alone?

HALLIE: I confess I read Donna Leon for a trip to Venice, Rhys and Susan for a trip back in time to England, Debs to London, Lucy to Key West. Where do you like to travels take you in your mystery reading?


  1. Although I can’t quite imagine finding a dead body wherever I travel, it certainly sounds like Cait [and Cathy] get around to lots of places.
    It’s always a treat to travel around with the characters in the books that you read and since I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading one of Cathy’s stories, I now have still more books to add to my to-be-read pile . . . .

  2. Hello Cathy and welcome!

    I absolutely read books for sense of place (as well as a cool protagonist) so your books sound absolutely like my cup of tea!

    I also think about book settings when I travel, and yes, I also think of place as a character that's just as important as my human characters....

  3. Cathy, you're such a clever writer/traveler! The idea of living in Nice several months a year sounds just heavenly. And your research? Well, we all have to suffer for our art:).

    I love reading for place too--we took a trip to Paris with Rhys's latest, that was great fun!

    thanks for visiting JRW!

  4. As much as I love to travel, the truth is that I was never out of the U.S. until spring of 2001, when I went to Europe for the first time. So I so appreciate authors who create "characters" from exotic (and not-so exotic) places. It gives the less peripatetic of us a chance to experience other cultures without leaving our comfy armchairs.

    Thanks, Cathy, for doing the hard work for the rest of us. It's a dirty job, right? Cait sounds like my kind of girl.

  5. Although I can't afford to take exotic vacations, I nearly always read books set in whatever place I'll be visiting. Reading for place is the only way I get to "visit" some places! At times, I've done a little research to find out what books are written in which places, and then I'll read as many books as possible in one particular setting, then move on to another location when I'm ready.

    Books written by JRW authors are high on my list of books to read for place.

    Cathy, you've given me some places to "visit" in the near future!

  6. Yes, yes -- "there is no frigate like a book." All my life I have traveled through reading, and sometimes when I arrive at a place, it feels familiar because I have walked the streets as I read.
    Just finished the latest Donna Leon -- talk about food and place. Their lunches are delicious.
    But a place doesn't have to be exotic to grab me --- love LA noir and Baltimore and rural upstate NY.

  7. I read for place. I just don't have the time, money, or physical capabilities to travel. I'll never roam the streets of London or Paris, so books will have to do.

    I certainly hope I bring a sense of place when I write. I like contrasting locations that would appear serene (like the Laurel Highlands in sw PA, which are gorgeous) with reality (low income in that area means crime - and not just what you'd expect).

    By the way, number captcha is so much easier to read than words. =)

  8. And great fun the books are too, I can assure you - I love a good location, plus mouth-watering food and wine descriptions! Lovely to hear about the background to these novels, Cathy!

  9. Hi Cathy!
    I love to travel, in real life and in books. And I too enjoyed setting a mystery in Nice--of course the research was such hard work, wasn't it?

    I really enjoyed the Corpse with the Emerald Thumb--I love that part of Mexico.

    And I do always think where I could set a mystery when I travel--who would be murdered in a European train carriage.

  10. Cathy, first of all, you have a great name. LOL! Cait and her peripatetic adventures sound most intriguing, and so there will be more books added to the TBR list. I look forward to enjoying the places you and Cait have visited.

    Sense of place is such an important part of my reading enjoyment. Each of the Reds has hooked me with their wonderful gift of creating that element to perfection. London, the Adirondacks, Key West, Boston, New York City (past and present) have become special places and characters to me. I admit that Lucy's Key West was already a favorite place for me, but her spot-on descriptions have me planning a new trip there for September this year.

    And, yes, I often think of places I visit as settings for murder mysteries, when I'm not thinking of them as places for music videos (starring me). LOL!

  11. Cathy, hello! It's great to see you here--still remembering that nice dinner out at LCC. :-)

    I get to travel to Ireland for novel research. Alas, it's not so much about the cuisine. (Hah!) Though, I've spent plenty of time sipping Guinness while bellied up to the bar. Great for eavesdropping and catching the eye of that garrulous old codgers.

    I read for place in novels too. I love setting as character.

  12. Cathy, I've always read for place. And your books sound fabulous! I especially want to read the book set in Mexico, as I love that area of the country. And your titles are great! How did you come up with the idea?

  13. You can all tell I'm on the West coast - right? Here you all are chatting away and I've been fast asleep. So excuse me for being "late to the party" (which, I can assure you, is very unlike me!). It seems as though I've touched a nerve here - and a happy one at that. I, too, use books to allow me to travel to distant lands, and times past, and I'm so happy to meet fellow travelers here. Of course, I am also pleased to note that you all realize just how tough it is to do all that traveling, eating and drinking in the hope of being able to communicate on the page with a touch of reality!

  14. I response to some of these comments...first of all it's only fair to tell you that Cathy Ace is, in fact, my real name. My maiden name. I thought it was too good to change! I'm glad you like it Kathy! Spending months each year in Nice was a pure joy, and, although I'm not delirious about airports, I do still travel when I can. A good question about the titles of the books, Deborah. I'd already written some Cait Morgan short stories and novella, all with "Corpse" in the title, so I decided to take that theme and run with it. It's the sort of title theme that readers can have fun with themselves, and I've had some hilarious suggestions for future titles. I have another six plotted out already, with two planned for 2015 release.

  15. Oh my, Cathy Ace! Six more already plotted?? Excuse me while I go crawl under a bush somewhere with my keyboard and pretend to be writing....

    I'm like everyone else here--location is always important to me. Some places I'm familiar with, others I long to become familiar with, and a good book can transport you anywhere in time/space. Can you imagine Tony Hillerman's books had he not understood his landscape so magnificently? And Ellis Peters--her Brother Cadfael novels--the landscape of medieval England became a reality for me. I think all of my favorite mystery writers--like the Reds, are suberb at incorporating location into the story they are telling.

  16. The photo I have of you two at SiWC 2013, taken from the exact same spot, shows you in deep conversation. How fun to find you together again here. :)

    As a reader, I love to find stories set in places that I already know, so I guess I can't say I read with a desire to discover new places, but I've read all of your novels, Hallie and Cathy, and love how their settings enrich the stories, much as if they were additional characters. My stories are set in places I know well, often close to home since I don't travel extensively, but I still try to make them important to the plot.

  17. Ha! It's great to see familiar faces and names here as well as to meet so many new people. Lisa, I'll never forget that dinner at LCC. I'll be trying to find someone with whom I can pop a cork or two at Malice Domestic this weekend - it's my birthday on May 2nd. Any volunteers? My first Malice, my birthday, a new book...lots of reasons to celebrate! It's great to hear from so many people who read for place. It's close to my heart, and there's no way I'll ever be able to travel to all the places I want to see, so I enjoy being taken there by my favorite authors. And yes, Rhys, Nice is a terribly tough place to research ;-)

  18. Cathy, you must look for Hank and Julia, who will both be at Malice--they are excellent choices for popping corks and celebrating birthdays!

  19. Good advice Lucy/Roberta, though I cannot be held responsible for the possible outcome!

  20. LynDee, I will be at Malice, and will look for you on Friday to say hi and happy birthday!

    Having dinner with my daughter that night, though. She lives and works in that area and I have not seen her since early December!

  21. I meant to address that last comment to Cathy. Geez. Sorry about that.

  22. Oh, now I'm wishing I was going to Malice... sigh.

    Hey, Cathy! Welcome!! My excuse for coming late to the party is that I'm in the throes of incorporating copyedits into my manuscript. My favorite past time, really, so much more fun than writing first draft.

  23. It's OK Karen - I got it! Have a great dinner, and I look forward to seeing you there! :-)

  24. Hi Hallie - how much fun that must be for you! I too find it to be the most exciting and creative part of the whole writing process. Good luck to you! I have to say that having my birthday coincide with my first ever Malice is a bit of good luck. I am hoping for cake, and no corpses!

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  26. Sorry. My auto-correct changed Cathy's name. How it came up with Donna, I don't get... but here you are:

    Hello Hallie and Cathy,

    I would have visited your tables straight off. You are both fantastic and have terrific settings.

    I love to get my mind in your locations, because they lead me further back to places that have to be unlocked by someone else to be experienced well. Good writers do that for me.

    I have a special fondness for New England locations, both the city and country, particularly my hometown area of Salem and Marblehead. Give me a clam roll and I'm yours forever.

  27. Hello Reine, I haven't taken Cait Morgan to the east coast of north America yet, but I have a feeling she'll get there one day. I suspect that clams, lobsters, chowders and all sorts of foodie wonders await her arrival there. Meanwhile, I hope folks enjoy visiting the places Cait has been to so far...

  28. Cathy... I LOVE wherever Cait goes! But if you can get her to a New England beach... I would adore her!

  29. Oxford! (Or wherever Morse lives.)

    Hey, Cathy--running is as the laaaaaasssssst Red of the day..so great o see you here!

    And packing for Malice..big problem with the shoes thing.

  30. For Reine: Have you read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe? Salem/Marblehead setting and a GREAT read!

  31. Hi Hank - so today is my "packing for Malice" day...and I agree, it's the matching shoes/purses thing that's a problem. I haven't given Cait that issue - I thought it unfair to burden her with one of my more annoying quirks. I'm looking forward to visiting Bethesda in Maryland - given that Malice takes place there I am sure I won;t be the only person seeking out great spots for nefarious deeds!

  32. FChurch, Hi— Yes I have read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. Excellent! Sorry I missed your note the other day.