Friday, June 18, 2010

The Monastery Murders

MOZART:  Today I am conducting my first interview with a published author. Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 35 books, mostly novels dealing with British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England , her best-known work, is an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history.  Having spent some time in England as a child, I am quite fascinated with British history, and, may I say, most impressed with your diligence in researching it.
DONNA:  Yes, I’ve always loved history.  Mostly I write about English history, although I haven’t covered the time when you and your sister were performing in London.
MOZART:  I understand your new novel, A Very Private Grave, is being released in the UK today and will be available in the US in September.
I see here in my notes that this is the first in your Monastery Murders series.   Monastery Murders, oh my!  Indeed, an intriguing idea for a series!
Welcome to my blog, Madame Fletcher Crow.
DONNA:  Thank you, Amadeus— May I call you Amadeus?  Or would you prefer Wolfgang?
MOZART: Contrary to a popular 20th  Century movie wherein my dear wife referred to me as“Wolfie,”  I prefer to be addressed as Amadé.
DONNA:  Right then, Amadé, thank you so much for choosing to interview me today.  I’ve always been a great lover of your music, so this is a real honor for me.  As a matter of fact, in chapter one of A Very Private Grave my heroine attends a service where your Miserere is sung.  Well, of course, I know it’s really Allegri’s composition, but you gave it to the world, so to speak, by smuggling it out of the Vatican in your head.  I’ve always adored that story.  I can see why you’ll do so well in your new career as a detective.
MOZART:  Yes, I do have a photographic memory, especially when it comes to music notation.  And I love figuring things out.  But enough about me for the moment, let us return to you.
After a long career of writing historical novels, what prompted you to tackle a mystery?
DONNA:   For my Monastery Murders series I have moved from doing straight historical novels to including history as background.  It seemed like a more exciting way to tell the stories I wanted to share with my readers, and history contains so many mysteries it was quite a natural shift.

MOZART:  And what inspired you to set your mystery in a monastery, of all places?
DONNA:  Since I wanted to tell the story of the 7th century Saint Cuthbert and the mystery surrounding his burial, starting out in a contemporary monastery seemed a very natural thing to do.  Actually, my fictional monastery is modeled very closely on an actual monastery and theological college where my daughter studied.  So, once again, I didn’t really have to make up very much.

MOZART:  Tell me a bit about the two characters you created for A Private Grave - Felicity and Antony. Are they based on real life people or totally fictional?
DONNA:  Once again, true life provides the best springboards for fiction.  I started out modeling Felicity very closely on my daughter, but quickly found that didn’t work very well.  I needed a more difficult heroine and, fortunately, my daughter is absolutely lovely and much more mature than Felicity.  Growing Felicity up will be one of the fun things of the series, I believe.  Antony is much more of a composite.  There are elements of several lecturers and ordinands I’ve met while visiting my daughter in England. Some of the monks are absolutely real, too.  Although, fortunately, the real Fr. Dominic was not the victim of a brutal murder, but instead is happily tending his rose garden in the monastery.

MOZART:  On your Web site I saw the term "ecclesiastical mysteries."  Would you be so kind as to provide some background on this?
DONNA:  Yes, this is the subgenre I’ve chosen to work in because it’s what I love to read.  I love visiting old churches and I believe contemporary society is in danger of losing so much of our heritage as we let our busyness crowd out the spiritual.  I love the beauty, the peace.  I hope I can convey a bit of this to my readers.  Ironic, isn’t it, to be talking about beauty and peace while dealing with a brutal murder.  I think the contrast is part of the appeal.  Kate Charles, who is one of the best writing in the subgenre was kind enough to say that “Donna Fletcher Crow has created her own niche within the genre of clerical mysteries.”  That pleased me a great deal.

MOZART:  How much time do you spend researching your historical background for your Monastery series?
DONNA:  Oh, research is my favorite thing.  I knew I wanted to write about St. Cuthbert when I first heard of him while visiting Durham Cathedral in the mid-90’s.  In 2001 I took a pilgrimage to ancient holy sites in England, Scotland and Wales.  Many of those sites served as settings for A Very Private Grave, so you could say I researched for 10 years, but really I was doing lots of other things in that time.

MOZART:  A question for the writers out there:  Do you write from an outline?
DONNA:  In this case I certainly did, because I had the historic life of St. Cuthbert and the strange 300-year journey of his relics to follow, so the history provided its own outline.  I suppose it’s much like yourself, Amadé, the form of the piece of music you are composing has its own structure, but then the story or the melody takes over and fills in, although I could never aspire to your level of inspiration.
MOZART:  Yes, it is true, I was, and still am, touched by the hand of the Infinite.  But, I digress.  Who are your favorite mystery authors?
DONNA:  Dorothy L. Sayers and the English writers of the Golden Age are really the foundation of my reading.  I also especially enjoy those writing my own subgenre of the ecclesiastical thriller or clerical mystery.  Kate Charles, Julia Spencer-Fleming and Phil Rickman are some of the best.  P. D. James’ Death in Holy Orders is also one of my favorites.

MOZART:  And who are your favorite historical characters?  Besides myself, of course.
DONNA:  Oh, Amadé, that’s a little like asking me which is my favorite grandchild.  What is your favorite composition?  Seriously, though, I love all periods of history and my favorite characters would be which ever one I’m working with at the moment.

MOZART:  I see you've taken a 10-year hiatus from writing. What brought you back?
DONNA:  Well, I never left.  I did take a one-year sabbatical after my mother died, but other than that I was always writing.  I just wasn’t publishing.  The market changed to some extent, but mostly I changed.  I was doing a great deal of searching and study, as well as writing two nonfiction books that will remain unpublished, but they were important for my own development and I’ve already used a lot of the material from those books as background for The Monastery Murders. Perhaps somewhat like you would use themes from one composition in another.  I think that’s one of the most exciting things about the creative life— the creator must always be growing and changing in order to create.  Don’t you think that’s so?
MOZART:  Most certainly.  But tell me, after not publishing for ten years, how did you manage to get back into the game, as they say?
DONNA: As you can imagine, it wasn't easy.  Things had changed so much in that time that it was actually like starting a whole new career.  Ten years ago there was no electronic promotion, no ebooks, few websites, no Facebook, no Twitter. . .  Getting up to speed on all that has been much harder than writing the book.
MOZART:  Dear me, if you think it was difficult for you, try to put yourself in my powdered wig for a moment!  I travel from a time when there was no such thing as telephone, and now here I am in the land of social networking!  It is most certainly a different world.
My readers will want to know, did you have the assistance of a literary agent in getting your book published?  And if so, how did you find her?

DONNA: , Getting the right agent was definitely the key.  I combed the listings on and wrote to several, but kept coming back to Janet Benrey.  it wasn't until after we had signed— which was a real squeaker in itself, because her reply had gone into Spam and I almost missed her— that we talked on the phone and I discovered she is English.  Someone who really understands the story I'm telling.  She promoted me to Monarch Books— who made us wait a year while they market-tested another series in a similar genre.  The other series sold well for them, so they were willing to take me on and they have been great to work with.  It's definitely a team effort.

MOZART:  Well, congratulations, Donna.  I know it took much patience to see your book through to publication.  I admire your persistence.  And I am sure your story will inspire other writers who are waiting to see their work in print.

I wish you much success with your UK release, and hope you will return here in September when A Very Private Grave is released in the US. 

DONNA:  Thank you, Amadé.  And may I just mention that your readers can watch the trailer for A Very Private Grave, and read my international blog at