Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Q & A with Cara Black

Cara Black lives in San Francisco with her husband, a bookseller and son. She writes the bestselling and award nominated Aimée Leduc Investigations set in Paris. In the just released book Murder in Passy  Aimée Leduc  encounters Basque terrorists, police corruption, and a Spanish princess as she tries to clear her godfather of murder. 

‎"The ideal mix of the personal, the political, the puzzling and the Parisian make Aimes latest a perfect pleasure."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Q& A with Cara Black

What was your inspiration behind the Paris Mysteries of your Aimée Leduc Investigation?
A story my friend told me about her mother, a hidden Jewish girl, during the German Occupation of Paris in WWII. My friend showed me her mother's former apartment in the Marais, the old Jewish section, told me how her mother hid and survived - her family didn't - how her mother met her father after the war and this story haunted me. I looked at people on the Paris streets differently and wondered how they'd survived the war, what love affairs they'd had, the family they'd lost and what compromises they'd made to survive. This story could only have happened in Paris. For me, a detective novel was a great framework to use to tell this story of how the past impacted the present. That story become my first book Murder in the Marais which has just been re-released in a 10th anniversary issue. Boy, do I feel old :)

Are any of the characters modeled after people in your life?
I think I take a bit from a lot of people I've met or know. Aimée my computer security detective (half-American, half-French) is computer savvy, a fashionista, and attracted to bad boys. Many of my friends have one or more of those elements. Yet I'm not French and I can't even tie my scarf the right way. But I love France and have a deep appreciation for this country. Sometimes a character will appear to me in Paris, I'll watch someone on the late night Metro, or a couple in a bistro and wonder about them - their life, this relationship to the other person across from them at the table. Something about her scarf, his look out the window, how they hold hands or don't suggest a whiff of feeling and then three months later 'they' are on the page, in that bistro drinking wine and in the story.

Were any of your Aimée Leduc investigation books more challenging to write than others?
I'm an eavesdropper, bad habit, but invaluable in my line of work. I think writers do that all the time.

A line of dialogue or a mannerism for me can put a character onto the page. The challenge is to keep the character speaking more dialogue, being memorable and intrinsic to the plot and storyline. That's true for me in every book. Especially in crime fiction and mysteries, as you probably know, everything happens for a reason, every detail could be a clue, a red herring, a false lead or a key to a sub plot and a suspect.

The 11th installment,Murder in Passy, in the Aimee Leduc Paris mysteries has just come out. How do you continue to keep things exciting in a long running series?
That's a great point because when I wrote my first book, Murder in the Marais, I had no idea it would get published much less that I'd write a series. There was no master plan, the editor asked where Aimée's next investigation would take place in Paris - what district would she go to. Dumbfound I said 'what?" You are planning a series, aren't you? Of course, I lied and ran to the computer and my maps. It all just happened and I'm so grateful. I love to go window shopping 'with' Aimée, hang out at the flea markets and think what vintage couture she'd find, what case she'd be working on, what bad boy she might be attracted to. It's an evolving process to find out where she'll be in her life. To me she's a contemporary young Parisienne who has office rent to pay, a business to run, a dog to walk on the quai lining the Seine and trouble with men. Yet, writing a series is a challenge, one I'm lucky to have, and I strive to keep it fresh for myself and the reader. To show a different slice of Paris, one off the beaten track unexplored by tourists and fascinating

What is it about Paris that you find makes it a good setting for murder mystery?
Paris is layered with history. But it's not a museum, it's a living vibrant city with a traditional society still in place and a recent past of World War II, the Algerian conflict, colonialism in Indochina and all with a very French flavor. The intrigues since the time of the Kings and Royalty, the Revolution haven't changed that much to present day scandals which are more contemporary and relevant than we think. Love, money, revenge are eternal and what better place than in Paris? You know the first murder mystery credit goes to Edgar Allen Poe - an American - for his Murder on the Rue Morgue set in Paris. There's something elusive in Paris, a past that I feel can just about be grabbed if I scratch the surface enough and feel how it resonates today.

With a family and life in the States, are you still able to do ‘hands on’ research? (Visiting the locations etc… )
Research is the BEST part of my job. It means I must go to Paris as I tell my husband:) I'm lucky because I use frequent flyer miles, my friend lets me sleep on her Montmartre apartment couch in return for a little babysitting (she's Parisienne has two children and a demanding job and I've known her forever). This way I can research in the archives, in the cafe's, interview police and private detectives and scout out real locations. I even went drinking with the flics=cops from the Homicide Squad last November. From the sewers to the Morgue I go there. I keep notes, take photos, trace routes on maps where characters would really go, record conversations and noises in the cobbled streets and soak up as much atmosphere I can.

Your books are set in modern times – these days there are so many forensic details that need to be remembered – do you find that hard to deal with when planning your plot? And, how do you get the details just right?
Good question. My books are set in the mid 90's before Google came into being in 1998. Aimée still uses dial up, people pay in Francs but they had cell phones. I collected Paris phone books from that time ( a whole suitcase full) so I get the streets, the shops and the details right. Newspapers from that time give me what's on sale, world events and traffic jams in Paris. I've visited the morgue, spoken with the river police on the Seine about 'floaters' those bodies recovered in the Seine and procedures. My computer security detective Aimée and her partner René, who's a dwarf and computer hacker extraordinaire, are cutting edge in technology. To me a gripping story is about the characters, how crime impacts them, the victim's world and forensics and technology are tools. Every computer hacker I've had the chance to talk with has said that technology is only as good as the user - social engineering (chatting someone up, flirting, outwitting them) can get you a password, or beyond a computer's firewall much faster than anything else. No system or laboratory is immune from the human element.

What are some of your favorite things about France?
The light hitting the Paris rooftops at sunset, the butter smells emanating from the bakery, the gurgle of the Seine, the yellow leaves on the cobblestones, the love of a good meal with friends, appreciation for food and the time to savor it. The way a young man smiles at a woman of a certain age ie over 40 and no strings are attached. They have fun and enjoy a momentary appreciation that knows no age boundaries. I've seen a young Parisian hipster open the door for a grandmother in her 70's and flirt with her. I love the idea that I can walk out the door of my friend's apartment in Paris and within a block go to 'my' cafe where the owner smiles and asks 'the usual?' This only took seven years but now he knows me.

Things you wish the French got rid of?
French bureaucracy is something even French people complain about. Tons of paperwork, visits to different offices getting official seals and stamps can take up a day, a week or a month for something that's quite straightforward in the States. I opened a bank account last time in Paris well, I thought I did, with La Poste, the post office bank. For that I needed ten Euros, no problem, and a faxed phone bill from my house.

Two months later after receiving no acknowledgment or way into my online account, my friend in Paris called La Poste to find they needed three more forms. C'est la vie.

What's next for you? Can we expect more Paris adventures in the future?
Mais oui! Aimée's next investigation is in the editing phase. I'm signing a contract for #13. After all, Paris has twenty arrondissements - districts - and I've got a few more to go.

Thank you so much Kaye

And now for a little lagniappe.
Cara has also become known for her Paris photographs.  She has graciously allowed us to show a few of them here.  If you'd like to see more, be sure to visit her webpage photo album - Cara's Paris - 


Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful post, Cara! I'm looking forward to visiting Aimee's Paris again. And your photos are gorgeous!

Geraldine Evans said...

Great post, Cara. You really made Paris come alive for me and it's years since I visited there. Will look for you on kindle.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Vicki. And for your comment on the's hard to take a bad pic in Paris :) Geraldine, I hope you enjoy it. I think there's a way to open the Aimée Leduc companion guide, which I forgot to mention, via Kindle. But not sure how. My publisher commissioned this and there's maps and guides for all the books...pretty stunning and I had nothing to do with it.
Kaye, you're so kind - as always - to invite me...merci!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hi everyone - thanks for being here.

Cara - Thank You!!!! This was wonderful and I appreciate you being here.

I'm a big fan of Aimée AND your photography.

I tried to post the companion guide link too, but just don't seem to the technical know-how (dang).