Clea Simon is a former journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, American Prospect, and other magazines. She’s written three nonfiction books and her essays have appeared in anthologies. A graduate of Harvard, Clea now lives in Somerville with her husband and feline companion, Musetta. I recently caught up with her to discuss her two upcoming releases, Dogs Don’t Lie and Grey Zone.
Congratulations on both Dogs Don’t Lie and Grey Zone! I can only imagine the insanity you must feel with two books releasing in the same month. How are you handling all the chaos?
It is kind of strange to have two books out at once! The one thing everyone asks I’ll answer right here: No, I did NOT write them both at the same time. Dogs Don’t Lie grew out of a short story that I wrote a few years ago, and the full-length manuscript was making the rounds when I got the call from Severn House asking for a third Dulcie Schwartz mystery, which became Grey Zone. Then Dogs Don’t Lie sold and what with editing and whatnot they both ended up going into production within a month or so – and are coming out together. But I didn’t write them that way! That would have made me crazy, I think.
That’s certainly understandable!
Thanks, Jeannie. The only real issue is promotion. That said – it’s really fun to tell people (and bookstores) that I have TWO new books out. I worry about shorting one or the other, but because Dogs Don’t Lie is the first in a new series, it’s sort of getting more attention. The advance press comes in waves though – first a starred Booklist review for Dogs Don’t Lie (along with a few others). Then a very favorable PW and Library Journal for Grey Zone, so that helps me switch gears!
Again, congratulations on the fabulous reviews! The Dulcie Schwartz (Grey Zone) and Pru Marlowe (Dogs Don’t Lie) series both feature animals in key roles. Dulcie has a ghost cat helping her solve mysteries while Pru is an animal psychic trying to clear a rescued pit bull of murder. Why did you choose to highlight pets in your books?
Choose? You assume I had a choice?
Allow me to rephrase: How did you come to write about pets?
I had been reading a lot of the new female-centered noir (think Megan Abbott) when I started writing the short story that grew into Dogs Don’t Lie. I wanted to try a tough, new voice. But then it turned out that the heroine had a cat! Go figure. And Dulcie (Grey Zone) started off the series as a bereaved pet owner – her beloved Mr. Grey had died. But, well, somewhere in there she started fostering a kitten. I guess I just can’t imagine a life without pets.
Neither can I, actually. In Dogs Don’t Lie, we meet Lily, a pit bull whose person is murdered, and as a “fighting-ring dropout,” Lily is suspected of the murder. We’ve heard a lot about dog fighting and the horrors these animals face. How much research did you do into dog fighting in order to create Lily? Is she based on any particular rescue you may have met? Were you able to meet any rescues who’ve been successfully transitioned out of the ring?
I did a ton of research and talked to a lot of pitbull lovers, animal rescuers, shelter workers, and the like. I confess, I’m not a real pitbull lover, though I know people who love their “pitties.” I’m a cat person through and through. But I learned a ton and heard lots of stories. They are dogs that require a lot of attention – very energetic and athletic, and bred to react quickly. Spoke with one young man who runs with his pit daily, says he wouldn’t have one if he couldn’t do at least two miles with him everyday. That’s the kind of commitment you should have if you’re going to take on one of these athletic (and fiercely loyal!) animals. But I do firmly believe in the philosophy that Pru espouses: When an animal misbehaves 99.9% of the time, a human is to blame.
Excellent philosophy and one with I agree completely. Speaking of Pru, she’s an animal psychic, but she’s on the run from her talents. What drew you to having a character who is an animal psychic?
Don’t we all, secretly, believe that we understand what our pets are saying to us? Maybe I spend too much time home alone with my cat, but I know I do. Then again, if you suddenly really heard actual words… wouldn’t it freak you out? That’s Pru’s dilemma.
You make an excellent point. But to contrast with Pru, Dulcie Schwartz is a Harvard student working on her doctoral thesis on the subject of the Gothic English novel of the late 18th Century. Do you find it difficult to write two characters that have such different experiences, or is it easier because they are so different?
The two are certainly very different, but I love them both. Pru is tough, a loner and a bit of a bad girl. Dulcie is a sweet bookworm. My husband says they’re both different sides of my personality, but in truth, I think I’m more Dulcie. My cat is more like Pru (or, perhaps, Wallis, Pru’s grouchy tabby). I do need a bit of a break when I go from writing one to writing the other, but that’s ok. It feels good to have such different outlets.
Dulcie has the ghost of her beloved cat, Mr. Grey, helping her along the way as well as a rambunctious kitten. Pru has a cranky feline companion, Wallis. I’m sensing a theme and as someone who is “owned” by four cats, I have to ask: Do you have cats?
I have one cat, Musetta, who oversees me daily. It’s a rough job but someone has to do it. (You can see Musetta on my website. She’s a lovely, medium-haired tuxedo gal from Animal Rescue League of Boston.)
I love tuxedo cats — and Musetta is, indeed, lovely! We’re out of times, so in closing, what can readers expect from Pru, Dulcie, and Clea next?
More murders, more supernatural thrills, more mysteries! I signed a three-book contract with Dogs Don’t Lie, so I have already drafted a second Pru mystery, Cats Can’t Shoot. I had a blast with that – it starts with an apparent accidental death: a white Persian has apparently stepped on a hair-trigger “perfume bottle” dueling pistol and discharged it. The research was just so much fun. Then, in January, Severn House told me they’d like another Dulcie book. So now the draft of Cats Can’t Shoot (aka “Pru 2”) is resting while I start Dulcie #4. I don’t have a title yet, but I can tell you that competition for a coveted post-grad fellowship may have led to a particularly fiendish murder.
Intrigue! I love it. Thanks, Clea, and wishing you much success with your books!
Thank you! If anyone would like to read more, I have excerpts of both these books (and more) up on my homesite.