Once I read some of her work, I knew I wanted to ask award-winning author Jeri Westerson to join us on 4F, 1H. She has written in several genres including paranormal, rom/com and historicals. Her short stories are touching. She has a new series out called “Booke of the Hidden”. (Yes, the book was hidden, but, well, I’ll let her tell you more!)
Jeri has developed “Medieval Noir”, which centers around a disgraced knight, Crispin Guest. Crispin is a medieval equivalent of a private investigator, who uses clues and his wits to solve crimes that the local sheriff can’t, or won’t. More about him later.
I just finished “Booke of the Hidden”, which is the first installment in your new urban fantasy series. It is spooky and funny at the same time! Please tell our readers how you “dreamed up” the idea for this storyline.
Funny how you should put it quite that way. I was talking to my agent about venturing into the paranormal genre and I was kicking around some ideas. And then I dreamed. I mean I literally had a dream. I dreamed of a woman named Kylie who found an ancient book stuffed behind a wall, and when she opened it, it released all these deadly creatures into the world. It became her mission to put them all back with the help of the demon from the book. It was a very compelling and interesting dream, and when I woke up, I just lay in bed for a while thinking about how amusing it was. And when I told my husband about it as he readied for work, he told me, “Write. It. Down.” So I did. And then fleshed out the rest of the story in a one-page synopsis. And when I showed him that, he told me, “Write. The. Book!” Writing a paranormal is a lot of fun, a whole different experience from a heavily researched medieval mystery, dense with prose. Writing humor with dramatic scenes is always fun and very cinematic. Making the paranormal come alive is almost as challenging at making fourteenth century London alive to readers.
Would you, Jeri, be likely to open a book that had been walled-up? (I don’t think that I would dare!)
Of course I would! Especially if it looked really old. So I’d be a goner for sure.
This was not your first foray into the supernatural genre, but how much did you know about the elements in this story before you started writing about the Booke? How do you do research for any and all of your writings?
The Crispin Guest books always have some mystical element in them in the form of a religious relic or venerated object. Usually their magic is ambiguous: do they or don’t they have mystical powers? This time, it’s pretty much unquestionable. But like any story, I approach it by working on a story arc that spans the series. I needed each book to accomplish an important part of the six books planned, so I write loose paragraphs about each book and what should happen in them. Loose, because as I write the novels these things inevitably change. And there are also legendary/mythical creatures in each book that need research, and there’s keeping track of the world-building I’ve established as to what each demon can do magically, who’s in the town, and who the bad guys are and why. I’ve also never been to Maine, and though I made up the name of the town, “Moody Bog”, I extrapolated the name from researching place names of Maine, which in turn, provided me with surnames that go back to the founding of the state, and Founders become important to the overall story arc. Research always leads to new ideas and new plotpoints. The medieval mysteries take lots of heavy-duty research, but any book you write always needs some sort of inquiry, whether it’s what kind of uniforms the local cops wear, to the landscape (in order to create your fictional town and its features). The more truthful you are in the foundation of your story, the more real your paranormal aspects can be.
Kylie starts out in California, your home state. Why did you pick Maine for her new home?
It’s hot where I live. So I like to write about colder places: medieval London, Maine. I also wanted a place that had a history as old and older than the country that would play into my fake history of the area. Dark, cold nights. As simple as that.
Is there a method as to how you choose the names of your characters?
I have to like the way they sound and the way they look on the page since I’d have to be typing them over and over. Plus, I like the cadence of a one syllable first name and a two syllable last name, or vice versa. Crispin Guest, Jack Tucker, Kylie Strange, Erasmus Dark…well, he has three syllables in his first name. Names also have meaning, so I like to make sure that names are just a little Dickensian in that sense.
So, you have this planned as a six-book series, correct? Have all your demon/ducks in a row, have you? Do you foresee changes as you go along, or, (unlike mine), do all of your characters always cooperate with you?
I foresee changes as I go along. It always happens. It can’t help but happen as you write each one, and an editor suggests something else. I have to at least get it right in the first books and then stay consistent.
The first book has some sex and sexuality, which fits within the story. I’d call it mild-to-moderate. Are you planning on keeping it to that level?
I’m taking my cue from other books in the genre, like the Sookie Stackhouse books. They’ll stay at that level. It’s romantic enough but not, er, clinical.
I found much of what happens with the characters a little more, shall we say, ‘realistic’ than with many stories. Some of what happens, i.e.: not being able to find perfect people who know all the cure-alls, (no Mary Sues here!). It is also refreshing to see a main character who isn’t sure she should tell everyone everything, but then, quite humanly, does spill what is on her mind to those she chooses to trust. Are you more or less like her?
I’m never much like my characters. And I certainly don’t trust as easily as she does. She also has a lot of gumption, and while I can characterize myself that way, I don’t think I’d be as responsible as her and stick around. I’d run screaming. You have to admire her for being a mensch and doing the right thing.
I also liked the fact that, (again, more closer to reality), Kylie gets caught snooping and no one buys her pretense. This is the type of the hapless thing that have kept me from playing ‘detective’ in other people’s houses or at crime scenes! How about you? Are you the amateur detective type?
Never. I’ve always said, if there’s a murder on a cruise or a country house and a mystery writer is there, please don’t count on us to solve the crime. We have months and months to figure out murders, and we make up everything, including clues, and sometimes we change the murderer at the end. That doesn’t happen in real life. Me, if I found a body? First, I’d scream, then call 911. And that would be the last I’d want to know about it.
Crispin Guest is one of the most unique characters I have run across in some time. How did you come up with him?
I wanted to write a medieval mystery without the typical monk or nun protagonist. And I wanted to do something else different with it that might make it stand out. It took some time—something like two years—to develop the idea of the series, but when it occurred to me to create a hard-boiled detective on the order of a Sam Spade, it began to fall into place. A man who was a lone wolf, and in the case of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, a white knight who followed his own code, was hard-drinking, hard-fighting, tough-talking…and a sucker for a dame in trouble. What if I could translate those sensibilities to a gritty fourteenth century London, with a man who was a disgraced knight, who had all the advantages of money and status, a place at the table at court, and then lost it all and was forced to reinvent himself as a detective who had to live by his wits. He became the “Tracker” for hire to solve crimes and find lost objects, and the series became “Medieval Noir.” The tenth book, SEASON OF BLOOD, will be released in the US on New Year’s Day 2018.
I love Crispin’s Journal! [http://www.jeriwesterson.com/crispins-blog] I truly enjoy the tone of the speech you use. It is archaic/lyric enough to put your readers into the period, but not so antiquated to be annoying or to a cause a reader to struggle with the tenor of the story. How do you do it?!
Like an actor, a writer gets into character. And though the books are in a close third person, the journal is in first. It helps me understand the character better to do this first person writing, and because these posts are brief, it helps the reader, too. It was a way to bridge the gap between the release of the books…which reminds me that I haven’t written a post in a while! Also, it would have been impossible to write the series in Middle English and impossible to find people to read it. So I just give them a more formalized way of speaking, much like in a Victorian novel. [ Jeri is being modest; we have all read Regency /Victorian novels which are downright annoying; some of us have put our hands-to-pen , attempting to write in another time or place, but “Crispin” is pure fun to the mind’s ear.-T]
Why are you so fascinated with the Middle Ages? Please tell us about your collection of historical pieces. How involved have you been with what is often erroneously called “Renaissance Festivals”?
I was raised by rabid Anglophiles who had lots of historical fiction and non-fiction on our shelves, so I came by my interest in all things medieval naturally. And when I started writing the mystery series, I knew that when they were finally published (and it took fourteen years to finally get a publisher, having first started writing historical novels for ten of those years before I switched to medieval mysteries), I was going to have to develop some talks for libraries and bookstores. I thought that having show-and-tell items would be fun, so I started by getting a broadsword and daggers, and then a flail, and helmets, gauntlets…it escalated from there. But I must say, there is nothing quite as amusing as a plump, middle-aged woman swinging a sword around. As far as “Renaissance Faires” I did work at one with my then boyfriend, now husband, when we were in college. And it was fun, but there isn’t much authentic about it.
I have also read some of your (very) short stories. I found “Catching Elijah” completely charming. Although it is based on a young girl’s memories of one particular Passover, I think people of any religious background can identify with the family and their holiday traditions. I found it along the lines of the movie “Avalon”. How much of it is based on your own Passover memories?
A lot of it. And a lot of the people in it. It’s very autobiographical, except none of that really happened.
“The Tin Box” is a heart-warming story of a man who learns about his late father through the older man’s personal papers. May I ask what inspired that story?
It’s very similar to a story an old priest told about his own experience with his difficult father. He was Irish, but I switched it to Welsh-Americans. He approved of the story, by the way.
Thank you so much for being my guest, Jeri. Congratulations on your new series and all of your awards! How can our readers learn more about you and your work?
Thank YOU for inviting me! Anyone interested in exploring my books further can go to BOOKEoftheHIDDEN.com and JeriWesterson.com. Friend me on Facebook at Facebook.com/cripsin.guest and Instagram at jeriwestersonauthor. And do check out the fabulous book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=3LPfNQAIasc
[Great trailer, but it does not show any of the humor of the book-T]
Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
Both bookstores and authors take a chance on each other, so it would be great to have people come down to these appearances or at least order the book from these bookstores. Everyone should have a chance to see an author event, and, if I do say so myself, mine are a lot of fun. Check BOOKEoftheHIDDEN.com for my appearance schedule to see if I’ll be near you. They’re almost always free and it will be a fun time.
Thank you for joining us today, Jeri. I think most of the crew and many of the visitors here can all relate to both sides of the table at writers’ events. I’d love to join you at one of yours one day!