By Amy Lignor
It will come as no surprise to fans who read Arlene Kay’s tales and enjoy the humor embedded within each mystery that she spent two decades serving the Federal Government. Thankfully for readers, Arlene decided to step away from that career so that fans across the country could see her fantastic mind and incredible imagination on paper. With her stand-alone and series fiction, Arlene creates the perfect mix of sultry and suspense; her novels not only keep readers on the edge-of-their-seats, but also provide the handsome men and stunning women that make for the ultimate dream. What began with Swann Dive and proceeded to Mantrap in the Swann series, now continues with the third unforgettable installment, GILT TRIP. And Arlene has taken time out of her busy writing schedule to talk all about her present and future work.
Where exactly did Eja Kane and Deming Swann—the extremely memorable characters from the Swann series—come from? Is there a personal/real-life “tilt” on the characters?
Eja and Deming actually evolved from the basic story line from Swann Dive, which concerned the murder of Cecilia Swann, Deming’s twin and Eja’s best friend. I shudder at using the term “organically” but their journey began with a shared quest for justice and evolved into a deep romantic attachment. Eja does own many of my own traits and insecurities. Deming—well that’s another matter entirely.
Humor has become almost an integral part of suspense novels in the twenty-first century. Even the darkest of thrill rides seem to add in a dry comment at just the right moment. Do you believe that humor and timing within a tale can make or break a novel? And as a reader, do you want that lightness to be inserted into the characters you love?
Humor leavens the most stressful situations and humanizes characters. I find that authors, fictional characters, or acquaintances who take themselves too seriously are basically boring. The Brits are masters at witty, understated humor; from the wry observations of Jane Austen to Christie, Sayers, and more contemporary crime novelists. I read the Scandinavian writers also (Larsson, Mankell, Nesbo) but they are very dour. Maybe it’s the weather, but they could use a bit of fun in their lives.
When it comes to your political background (although I need not ask about the humor you witnessed when it comes to this segment of the working world), I would like to ask if you could perhaps share one of the more humorous stories that made it into your novels?
My federal career was filled with unintentional humor particularly since I was surrounded by accountants; worthy souls who are not necessarily known for their sense of humor. I always said that creative writers use their pen but creative accountants go to the pen. I took my position seriously but myself—not so much. My novel The Abacus Prize is actually set in the IRS and contains a number of incidents that readers have been amused by.
This series is currently on book three. Is there a set time in your mind when Kane and Swann will end, or can fans expect much more to come? And is there a new series in the works?
The Swann saga will end with the fourth book, Swann Song, which should be released in late 2015. I gave them a happy ending and sent them on their way with only youth, beauty, and limitless wealth to sustain them. (Long pause). I have almost finished the first book in my Beltway Bandits series set in Washington, D.C. Having worked among many management consultants, I have some very strong views about them that will result in murder, mayhem, and mischief. One thing to remember: government entities like large corporations tend to attract smart, talented people who are motivated by the same things. Ego, jealousy, and power are always fertile fields for mystery writers to explore.
What would you tell wannabe authors is the perfect recipe to create a romantic suspense that’s noteworthy?
Balance is key for crafting a novel of romantic suspense. Mine are more romantic mysteries, and as such, must contain an intelligent crime with clues liberally sprinkled among the pages and a logical, satisfying conclusion that the reader can reasonably expect to reach. Then there’s the romance, which are fairly tame by today’s standards. Couples like Eja and Deming form deep emotional bonds that are reinforced by steamy physical scenes. Nothing too raw—I went to Catholic school and still have nightmares about nuns, the Baltimore Catechism, and violations of the sixth and ninth commandments.
These characters are most definitely candidates to star in a TV series. Are you thinking in that direction?
I try to be a realist as well as a dreamer. Putting on my business chapeau, I think either Hallmark or Lifetime would be ideal for the Swann series. TNT is also a possibility. To score with FX, I’d have to up the violence quotient and plop poor Eja on a motorcycle. Naturally that could be done for the right inducement. Eja is plucky and Deming would look sensational in leather.
The men you dream up—those alpha males that certainly make the reader swoon—must be set on someone. Are there any particular men; actors, characters or otherwise, that you use as models when you write? Do you personally have any favorite alpha males?
The alpha males in my books are not the bulging biceps kind of guys (although they are svelte and incredibly sexy). Brainy, sophisticated men with great hair transfix me, and my readers concur. I use various celebrities as models (Pinterest is great for that), but their personal traits are even more important. Romantic mysteries such as, The Thin Man and television shows, like Remington Steele and Hart to Hart, appeal to me, as well as the dazzling duos Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and Amelia Peabody and Emerson created by Dorothy Sayers and Elizabeth Peters. For more of my personal favorites, check out the book trailers for the Swann series. Enough said!
Can you tell readers a little about GILT TRIP?
GILT TRIP pits Eja and Deming against greed, gold, and ghastly murder. Poor Eja—she joins a dojo to improve her fitness and stumbles over the corpse of a con-woman with links to Deming’s biggest client. Bullion fraud, family feuds and a sexy Sifu wreak havoc on the duo’s wedding plans. Boston society may never be the same!
There is always that question regarding the limitations of a sex/sexy scene. Do you strive to make your books on more of a sensual level in order to concentrate on the murder mystery itself? I ask this because although you have the sultry, you seem to have a leash on it so that the mystery/suspense does not get overshadowed.
I write for adults who understand what happens during intimate scenes without requiring anatomical descriptions. For me, as a writer and reader, sensuality trumps graphic depictions. Erotica doesn’t shock me but too much of it often bores me. My sleuths have complicated lives and murderers to unmask. Sultry is good but sleazy doesn’t cut it.
I have to ask this of every author because the fans want to know. If you could have lunch with one author (living or dead), who would it be and why? And in your case, what alpha male would you choose to dine with if you could?
If I may pick two authors, both of whom wrote mysteries as well as political commentary, then reserve a table for three and seat me between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. Definitely have to be between them because they might resort to fisticuffs or even a duel otherwise. I admired both of these guys and their forays into fiction were a hoot! For dining a deux, I would choose my favorite alpha guy and literary creation Dr. Patrick Fong, Esq.—catnip to all sentient females especially this one.
In the end, Arlene Kay does it all. She writes for the fans and gifts them with everything they could ask for from a romantic mystery. The sexy duo constantly offer up the qualities to make one swoon; yet, like their creator, own the intelligence and intrigue that both captures and charms us all.
Arlene Kay spent twenty years as a Senior Executive with the Federal Government where she was known as a most unconventional public servant. Experience in offices around the nation allowed her to observe both human and corporate foibles and rejoice in unintentional humor.
Those locations and the characters she encountered are celebrated in a series of mysteries including INTRUSION (2011) and DIE LAUGHING (2012) both from Mainly Murder Press; THE ABACUS PRIZE (available now on Amazon); and the SWANN SERIES (SWANN DIVE; MANTRAP; and GILT TRIP); which will be available from Belle Bridge Books (SWANN DIVE in April, MANTRAP in July, GILT TRIP in October). She is currently writing the fourth installment of the Swann Series—LOOKBACK.
Ms. Kay holds graduate degrees in Political Science and Constitutional Law.
To learn more, please visit her website.