Welcome to author Kathleen Marple Kalb. After finishing her debut historical mystery book, A Fatal Finale, she took time to answer a few questions for us. Thank you, Kathleen. Now get to working on book two, please!
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I write whenever I can fit it into my normal insane schedule. I’m a radio news anchor on the weekends, working 3:30am to 11:30am Saturday and Sunday, and sometimes fill-in days; then most weekdays, I’m a stay-at-home mom to the Imp. And now, with everyone working from home, my husband the Professor is there too – so we have college classes in one room, fourth grade in another…and every so often, a radio studio somewhere. I just sit down with my laptop whenever I get a few free minutes and start working. I love being able to tune out everything else and go back to Ella Shane’s Washington Square townhouse for a while!
Did you ever consider a pseudonym?
No way. I’ve spent my life explaining to people that I really was born Miss Marple. Might as well use it!
What comes first for you, the plot or characters?
Absolutely characters! One of the best things for me about cozy and series mysteries is that the characters are a group of people you enjoy spending time with and want to see again. Most of my favorite books are series, and I don’t go back because I want to know about the latest twisty murder plot. I go back because I want to see what my friends are doing. Ella’s absolutely someone I like spending time with, and I hope you will too: an Irish-Jewish Lower East Side orphan made good as an opera singer specializing in male roles, she’s part Beverly Sills, part Anne of Green Gables and part Errol Flynn (with a little of me, too!). And her friends are just as unusual and interesting. Plus, I use the characters’ personal complications to drive the plot. For instance, in A Fatal Finale, Ella’s newspaper reporter friend is looking for a good story so she can finally escape from writing about hats, and her efforts lead to a key part of the solution of the murder.
How do you select the names of your characters?
First, in an historical, they have to be right for the period. Anything that distracts from the sense that you’re in another time and place is out. Beyond that, I do sometimes use family names as little inside tributes. Tommy gets his name from my grandfather, uncle and favorite cousin. I borrowed the first name of Ella’s doctor, Edith Silver, from my husband’s awesome aunt, who is also a doctor. Ella’s mother is a Malka who becomes a Molly at Immigration, as we suspect another of my husband’s relatives did. And Ella’s original first name, Ellen, was my grandfather’s mother…as well as my own original middle name.
Can you hear your characters talking?
I couldn’t write dialogue if I didn’t! As a broadcaster, I “hear” rather than write most sentences anyway. And for specific characters, I absolutely hear them…I’ll sometimes rework a sentence several times because it just doesn’t sound like something that person would say. A lifetime of writing news copy has also made my punctuation style a little weird, too: I write things the way they should sound, not how the grammar books say they should look. So I really, really defer to my copy editor, because they have a much better sense of that than I do!
What kind of research do you do for a book?
I was a history major in college, and I’ve always been fascinated by the Gilded Age – so I’ve already read a lot about the time. But then you have to nail down every detail, which means a lot of time with books and search engines. And when you’re writing in a very specific location, like Ella’s Washington Square, it’s good to walk it if you can because it’s one of the best ways to just absorb the feeling of the place, and the sense of the characters. I do that a lot; any time I have time on the way to or from work, I’ll sneak in a stop at Ella’s house (an actual building near the square) or just cut through the park.
Do you ever Google yourself?
I know I shouldn’t but I do! I can’t help it – I love seeing my name attached to A Fatal Finale!
Kathleen Marple Kalb is the author of A FATAL FINALE, the first Ella Shane mystery, in which a swashbuckling Gilded Age opera singer looks for the killer of a young colleague with the help of her colorful friends and an intriguing Duke, out now from Kensington Books. Available at your local bookstore, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.