I’m wicked excited to welcome Clea Simon to Wicked Cozy Authors. She is an amazing author and I was intrigued when I heard she was trying a new genre with a new book World Enough. I asked Clea if she’d be willing to talk about the change with us so here she is!
You should write romantic suspense.
That was how it started. A possibly offhand comment by my publisher over drinks at Crimefest that sent me off into a tizzy. After 22 mysteries ranging from cozy to paranormal, I was being directed to change things up. I’d written harder books, for sure (my Blackie and Care mysteries are positively dystopian), but all my mysteries had an essential sweetness to them. And cats – lots of cats – all based more or less on either my late, great Cyrus or my constant companion and muse, Musetta. Romantic suspense? I didn’t know where to start.
“Do you have any ideas?” My agent echoed the question my editor had voiced, when I’d next touched base. “Something you’ve always wanted to work on, perhaps?”
Well, yeah, I told them both. I did have a manuscript in the drawer – what writer didn’t – but I wasn’t sure if …
“Why not try it?” I don’t remember if my agent said that, or my husband, or some voice in the back of my head. All I know is I dug out that file – 100 pages I had worked and re-worked so many times I couldn’t remember – and I thought, “yeah, I could do this.” I read the opening scene, and I thought, “I want to do this.” A few pages later, and it hit me: “I’m ready to do this.” The book I had wanted to write for more than ten years was something I now could write. At some point, I broke it to my agent that the project I was diving into wasn’t anything at all like romantic suspense. By that point, I was already committed.
Those pages became the basis for my new World Enough, a rock and roll mystery that’s as close to a true noir as I’m ever likely to write. The setup is simple: A woman walks into a bar. It’s a bar filled with old friends, for sure, but also with history. The band that’s playing that night is one she’s followed for more than twenty years, as has the rest of the sparse crowd gathered there. The woman – Tara Winton – is a corporate PR drone, but back when the band was in its heyday, she’d been a rock critic, part of the garage-punk club scene. Back then, anything had seemed possible. Drugs and other dangers had taken their toll on the scene, but Tara is glad to be out. Glad to be among her surviving crew. Until, that is, she finds out that another of the old gang has died. Before long, she’s covering the scene again – asking questions that calls not only the present but her idyllic memories of the club days into doubt.
Yes, I was a rock critic, back in the day. I covered bands like the Aught Nines and the Whirled Shakers. But no, as I have now told several early readers from those days, I am not writing a thinly veiled exposé about any real bands. It’s funny, but none of them ask if I’m writing about myself. If Tara, with her illusions and faulty memory, is me. That would be a harder one to answer, and it would touch on why it took me so long to be able to write this book. Why it took me so long to get the club world right.
How did it feel it leave cozies behind for sex and drugs and rock and roll? In this case, liberating. In this new voice, I could depict the world I remember, without inhibitions. I could work through more complex, conflicting emotions than I’d felt capable of tackling before. Bigger issues – and, yes, I already have ideas for the next book. A rocker, getting on in years, who must re-visit the trauma that both made her and kept her stuck in place as the world moved on.
It also made me appreciate my cozies more. World Enough is rough, at least emotionally, and I missed the warmth and whimsy of magical cats and benevolent spirits. I confess, I found myself longing for a career like Catriona McPherson’s, alternating cozies with harder-edged books. Maybe that’s why I dove into another Pru Marlowe while waiting for World Enough to come out. And why I’m absolutely thrilled that Polis Books has now picked up my “Witch Cats of Cambridge” series (look for the first book, A Spell of Murder, probably in early 2019). I got the news of the Polis offer during a particularly rough couple of weeks, which saw the decline and death of Musetta, so the idea of withdrawing into a magical world of friendly felines has been just the comfort I need. I like to think that this new series will offer readers that same kind of haven – playful and homely and sweet.
The first book is due in January, by which point I will have been talking about World Enough for several months, even pairing up with some of the rockers from those days here in Boston. Will I want to go dark again, after spending time with the warm and fuzzy? Maybe. We’ll see where the muse takes me – or the spirit of Musetta, perhaps, inspiring my next move.
After three nonfiction books and 22 cozy/amateur sleuth mysteries, Clea Simon returns to her rock & roll past this fall with World Enough (Severn House), an edgy urban noir. She is also the author of four mystery series with cats in them, the most recent being the black cat-narrated As Dark As My Fur (Severn House) and the “pet noir,” When Bunnies Go Bad (Poisoned Pen Press). A recovering journalist, Clea lives in Massachusetts. She can be reached at www.cleasimon.com
Readers: Do you have a past career that would make a good protagonist for a book? Or is there a career you’d liked to see highlighted in a book?
Wow, so many congratulations are in order, Clea! How fabulous that you successfully dove not only into that old manuscript but into your own past. My past careers? Let’s see, I’ve already used linguistics professor, organic farmer, and doula. Except in one short story I haven’t had a technical writer, though – and hi-tech life holds plenty of material for suspense! World traveler is another, but that’s not exactly a career. Anyway, best of luck with the new genre – and have fun channeling Catriona in going back and forth between that which soothes and that which challenges, both writer and reader.
Thank you, Edith!
Way cool! Congrats on (1) saving those manuscripts and (2) having the courage to stretch yourself as a writer. And it’s great that you have such varied experiences to draw on. (My list: art historian, municipal finance adviser, non-profit fundraiser, professional genealogist–and I’ve used almost all of those professions in one book/series or another.)
I don’t recall a municipal fund adviser series, Sheila… next?
Clea, thank you for sharing your amazing story! I can’t wait to read World Enough. I worked at a horse racing track for one day taking bets. Plenty of crazy people for a book.
DEFINITELY a story in that! Channel your inner Dick Francis, perhaps?
It is always to interesting to see a writer move in another direction and might be in my future too.Clea, really looking forward to reading this one! remember fondly my youth in Boston, though before the punk rock era.There was both a folk and a rock scene though. Someone who became a big name in the at world was actually a college classmate. I hope to make it to your Mysterious Bookshop event!
I bet I can guess… and I hope that maybe “World Enough” might touch on some of the same themes of community and creativity. Hope to see you at Mysterious, and thank you!
Will it be available at Crime Bake? I would love to have you sign a copy for me! It sounds wonderful.
Indeed it will! Thank you!
Good luck with the new direction book Clea!
It is fun to find out about the past careers of others here. Years ago when my husband was on a TDY assignment in a large city, I worked for a temp agency. One day they sent me to a department store where I was given the task of walking around the store giving out samples of a new perfume. I was asked to come back a second day and discovered how hard a job it is to be on your feet for so many hours, but I did meet lots of folks and even see some strange activities.
All fodder for writing, Judy! Thanks!
Congrats and good luck with the venture into unfamiliar waters. I hope it goes well for you.
Thank you, Mark!
I was a temp for many years and loved it because I was always being sent to new environments. I think a series of cozies could be written about a temp who stumbles into bodies in different jobs. I learned so much about different professions and I think it would be interesting to read the behind the scenes activities of a variety of businesses.
Welcome to the Wickeds, Clea! World Enough sounds amazing. I agree that the closer you are to a subject, the harder it is to write about. I’ve never been able to write about the world of tech start-ups, though they are generally filled with hilarious figures and situations and provide plenty of motive for murder.
Never say never, Barbara … I bet stories from those days will start surfacing for you at some point! And thank you for the warm welcome!
Wow, thank you all so much!! Yes, Ruth, “World Enough” will be available at Crimebake! Edith – I know those travels will show up in your books at some point. Barbara – give it time and I bet you’ll use those start-up experiences too. And Ginny – keep notes! I bet you have stories…. I’m hoping my story will encourage all of you who are thinking of branching out a bit, too. It’s been fun! And thank you, Triss! I hope to see you.
Very inspiring to read a bit about your story here and the challenges (but achievement) with branching out.
I was an accountant at one point but I just can’t see it as being a profession for cozy protagonists. Then again, I wasn’t too fond of that job! lol.
Very funny! You never know…
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