By Don Lafferty
Driven by journalistic aspirations in the style of Georgie Anne Geyer, a young Carolyn Gimpel Hart took a left turn toward fiction, and inspired by strong, courageous women, has gone on to author more than forty novels, become a founding member of Sisters in Crime, and was deemed by her colleague, author Nancy Pickard, heir apparent to the Grand Dame of the traditional mystery novel, Agatha Christie.
But you better think twice before looking down your nose at this “Cozy” author.
“The publishing world uses cozy to define a book with a nice, genteel background.” Hart explains. “There can be trauma and despair in lives, but they can still have a genteel background. However, there is nothing cozy about murder. Agatha Christie was the finest mystery writer of all. Her favorite way to kill people was poison. How cozy is poison?”
In her newest novel, a previously unpublished, expanded edition of ESCAPE FROM PARIS, Hart taps into her passion for the untold stories of the real heroes of World War Two, where two American sisters caught in Paris after the fall of France defy the Gestapo as they help RAF fliers escape Occupied France.
The Big Thrill spoke to Carolyn recently about her influences, the changing face of bookselling, and Facebook.
You’ve mentioned your admiration for Amelia Earhart, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Hamilton, and Georgie Anne Geyer. I’m curious to learn how you were first exposed to these influential women, and if you think their courage consciously or unconsciously inspires and informs the characters in your novels.
I can’t remember when I wasn’t aware of Amelia Earhart, first as an adventurous pilot. It was only later, when I read more about her, that I came to appreciate her courage. She was not only brave as a flier, she was brave in her determination to defy the stereotypes of her time.
I discovered Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry in high school and have never lost my reverence for her work. Her briliance as a poet revealed a woman who thought deeply about meaning and loss and the immensity of the world.
Georgie Anne Geyer is and was a famous journalist. Our local paper carried her column for many years. I had the joy of reading her autobiography, Buying the Night Flight. She had the kind of career I aspired to in college. I took a different path but I will always raise a glass to women who are great reporters.
I discovered Edith Hamilton in my thirties, her wonderful books about ancient Greece and Rome. In my mind, she is one of the most graceful prose stylists who has ever written. She wrote simply, presenting great ideas and themes with utter clarity.
In one way or another, it is the spirit of women such as these that is celebrated in my books and characters.
Do you think young women today have access to the same quality of female role models that have inspired you?
There have always been and will always be women who dare. Eager young women will find them and be inspired.
Your love of journalism, friendly ghosts and traditional mysteries is evident throughout your body of work. Is this also what you read?
I loved thrillers when I was young, especially John Marquand, Eric Ambler, Manning Coles, Alistair MacLean, and Helen MacInnes. But I will confess that now my heart belongs to the traditional mystery. I am fascinated by the fractured relationships that drive people apart and driven to understand the passions that destroy lives.
Who are some of the authors you’ve been reading lately?
I just finished re-reading MING YELLOW by John Marquand and I am currently reading NAUGHTY IN NICE by Rhys Bowen.
I see you joined the Facebook hysteria back in September. Was it for personal or professional reasons, and are you having fun there?
Professional. Under duress from a very sweet publicist. It is not a world I understand. I know one is supposed to do this but I have a very hazy idea what “this” is.
Writing is a notoriously solitary pursuit. Are you part of a local writing community close to home?
I am not active in a local group but every six weeks or so I lunch with four dear friends and fellow Oklahoma authors Eve Sandstrom (aka JoAnna Carl), Merline Lovelace, Judith Henry Wall, and Marcia Preston.
It would seem that the DEATH ON DEMAND series would be a favorite of independent booksellers everywhere. When you first started the series, could you have ever imagined the current state of bookselling?
The enormous changes in writing, producing, and selling books are both astonishing and exciting. I see one lovely silver lining – I think the future of independent booksellers and small publishing houses has never been brighter.
Do you and your publisher view digital books as an opportunity for your backlist titles to reach new readers, or are all your books still largely in print?
The publication of ESCAPE FROM PARIS brings my total number of books in print to 33 and all are available as e-books. Thirteen more OP titles will be brought back in print within the next several years. The re-emergence of the OP backlist is a direct result of the digital revolution. My agent negotiated a deal with Amazon for a one-year exclusive for 14 novels and two short story collections. That triggered the interest of Oconee Spirit Press, which published ESCAPE FROM PARIS and has 4 more titles planned, including four suspense novels. There is a possibility that another house will reprint five of the early traditional mysteries.
You make no secret of your interest in all things WWII, and your admiration and gratitude to the people behind the war effort. What would you like to tell readers about ESCAPE FROM PARIS’ contribution to the catalogue of thriller fiction about the war?
I hope readers will appreciate the impact of the war on ordinary people, some of whom found depths of courage that will always serve as a beacon of hope for the strength of goodness.
Author of 46 published novels. Forthcoming in 2012, DEATH COMES SILENTLY, the 22nd title in the Death on Demand series. Awards include the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity. LETTER FROM HOME, a standalone WWII novel, was nominated for the Putlitzer Prize by the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at Oklahoma State University Tulsa. Lives in Oklahoma City with her husband Phil.
To learn more about Carolyn–and take the Classic Mystery Quiz–please visit her website.