I sat down (well, virtually) with Jen Rose Smith, the author of the new Moon New England Road Trip travel guide to talk about my mysteries, New England authors, and more. Moon is also giving away two of my books: the Boston-based World Enough and the Berkshires-set When Bunnies Go Bad. You can enter below.
JEN: Is there anything essentially New England about your mysteries?
CLEA: Setting is most definitely a character in my mysteries. My brand new book, World Enough, could only take place in Boston. It starts in 2007 – just before the crash, when real estate in the city was booming and the waterfront area was being transformed by tech companies, like the one my heroine, Tara Winton, works for. But it quickly jumps back twenty years, when the waterfront was the home of a rough and tumble rock club, called the Casbah. That’s where Tara found her community and several lifelong friends, and where the multiple mysteries at the heart of the book begin. Although the clubs and the companies are fictional, the setting – and some of the darker aspects of the story, such as the drugs – are real enough. In fact, my publisher Severn House is calling World Enough a “Boston noir.”
My Pru Marlowe pet noir mysteries, which are lighter, are set in a fictional town in the Berkshires. In books like the recent When Bunnies Go Bad and the upcoming Fear on Four Paws (Poisoned Pen Press), Pru and her tabby cat Wallis have to deal with all the very real conflicts of an old Berkshires mill town that now relies on tourism to get by – all with some absolutely gorgeous scenery.
JEN: But you didn’t grow up in New England, did you?
CLEA: No, I was raised in suburban Long Island and only came up here to attend college. But I immediately fell in love with the sense of place and history in New England. Suburbia can feel pretty generic, but cities like Boston and Providence, and towns like Northampton and North Adams, in the western part of the state, have distinct personalities. I do miss the easy access to the beach – but the beauty of Cape Cod, especially Provincetown, makes up for the longer drive (or ferry ride).
JEN: New England’s full of mysteries and creepy tales, from the Salem witch trials to haunted places—do you have any favorites?
CLEA: I’m not really a fan of horror, though I do love me some Nathaniel Hawthorne! And you do know Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston, yes? There are some contemporary writers who are doing more playful fun takes on creepiness – Dana Cameron writes Fangborn mysteries, which have werewolves in them, and the hero of Leigh Perry’s skeleton mysteries is a skeleton named Sid!
JEN: Are there any places in Boston that you like to go for inspiration?
CLEA: Many! The clubs I write about in World Enough pretty much don’t exist anymore, but the city still has a vibrant live music scene and I always find myself revived after a night out at Once in Somerville or the Sinclair or Regattabar in Cambridge. And because I grew up near the shore, I always find myself inspired by the ocean. I adore Provincetown and try to get there as often as possible. And, of course, I find myself walking into Harvard Square pretty much every weekend. The Square has changed so much during my years here, but I can still always find a bookstore to browse and a café to sit in, with whatever new title caught my fancy.
JEN: New England has such a rich literary tradition, who are some of your favorite writers from the region?
CLEA: Which century do you want to know about? I studied literature at Harvard, so I still find myself muttering lines from the Puritan sermon“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” at inappropriate moments. Other than that, J. Anthony Lukas explained a lot about the city to me in his Common Ground. As a mystery writer, I owe a ton to Robert Parker, whose Spenser novels introduced so many of us to this city. And Michael Patrick MacDonald’s All Souls (as well as his Easter Rising, which has some parallels with World Enough) really get at the underside of the city.
JEN: Do you have any plans for other New England mysteries?
CLEA: Yes! My very first mystery series was set in Cambridge, and I’ll be returning to Cambridge with a new series in 2019. Although I now live in Somerville, I adore the mix of old and new, counterculture and academic that still makes Cambridge, the home of both Harvard and aging hippies, fun and funky. My new series – the Witch Cats of Cambridge, with Polis Books – couldn’t take place anywhere else.
JEN: Any New England trivia you care to share?
CLEA: When I worked in Providence (for the now-defunct Providence Phoenix), I learned that coffee milk is the official drink of Rhode Island. The only way my parents could get me to drink my milk when I was little was by putting a dash of sweetened coffee in it – so I felt like I’d found my people! And, yes, I married a man from Woonsocket, RI!