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“Simon expertly casts suspicion…”

Fellow authors have long talked about the “Kirkus kick” – this review publication’s reputation for zinging all but the most flawless books. That’s why I was a bit breathless when I got the email from my editor, alerting me to a Kirkus review for my upcoming An Incantation of Cats. I should explain – I’m reading the page proofs now. I can easily imagine a thousand things they would pick at (including many that I’m changing that will be corrected in the finished book)!

Me being me, I skimmed through the summary-type review – one reason for these advance reviews is to let libraries and bookstores know what a book is about – to the conclusion. You can imagine my surprise when I read:

Simon expertly casts suspicion on one member of her tiny human cast after another,

And the Kirkus kick? It’s this line:

but this series is really for readers who want all cats, all the time.

The three paranormally empowered feline detectives carve out a niche within a niche.

Ha! Some critic might think that’s a negative. I know it’s simple truth – and that my readers for this series are serious cat people! . And so I’m quite happy with it.

The full review is online here.

The Witch Detective of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has two clients knocking at her door, each one evidently suspicious of the other.

Since losing her job with the Cambridge Historical Society, Becca Colwin has been hoping that the paranormal powers she’s advertised in venues like Charm and Cherish, the New Age boutique that offers one-stop shopping for the local Wiccan community, will help turn her fledgling detective agency into a moneymaker. Among all the other difficulties of launching such a questionable venture, two are especially troubling. One is that minutes after Gaia Linquist, an aspiring herbalist who works at Charm and Cherish, leaves after asking her help in determining who left poisonous wolf’s bane in her coffee mug, Becca gets a visit from Margaret Cross, the co-owner of Charm and Cherish, who wants her to get the goods on the person who’s been stealing money from the till for the past three weeks—a thief she strongly suspects is Gaia Linquist. This question of how to decide between the two cases or how to juggle them both is daunting enough, but the second problem would be even more vexing if Becca had the slightest awareness of it. She doesn’t have any special powers at all; whatever success she’s enjoyed as a crime solver (A Spell of Murder, 2018) is due entirely to her three cats, littermates who actually do have them. Harriet can conjure physical objects; Laurel can manipulate human minds; and Clara can leap through solid objects. Although the mystery soon deepens to include the death of Margaret’s philandering husband, car dealer Frank Cross, it’s not at all clear whether he was felled by his heart condition or poisoned by wolf’s bane. Simon expertly casts suspicion on one member of her tiny human cast after another, but this series is really for readers who want all cats, all the time.

The three paranormally empowered feline detectives carve out a niche within a niche.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2020ISBN: 978-1-947993-80-8Page count: 288ppPublisher: Polis BooksReview Posted Online: Oct. 27th, 2019Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2019


                            AN INCANTATION OF CATS by Clea Simon

AN INCANTATION OF CATS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Witch Detective of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has two clients knocking at her door, each one evidently suspicious of the other.

Since losing her job with the Cambridge Historical Society, Becca Colwin has been hoping that the paranormal powers she’s advertised in venues like Charm and Cherish, the New Age boutique that offers one-stop shopping for the local Wiccan community, will help turn her fledgling detective agency into a moneymaker. Among all the other difficulties of launching such a questionable venture, two are especially troubling. One is that minutes after Gaia Linquist, an aspiring herbalist who works at Charm and Cherish, leaves after asking her help in determining who left poisonous wolf’s bane in her coffee mug, Becca gets a visit from Margaret Cross, the co-owner of Charm and Cherish, who wants her to get the goods on the person who’s been stealing money from the till for the past three weeks—a thief she strongly suspects is Gaia Linquist. This question of how to decide between the two cases or how to juggle them both is daunting enough, but the second problem would be even more vexing if Becca had the slightest awareness of it. She doesn’t have any special powers at all; whatever success she’s enjoyed as a crime solver (A Spell of Murder, 2018) is due entirely to her three cats, littermates who actually do have them. Harriet can conjure physical objects; Laurel can manipulate human minds; and Clara can leap through solid objects. Although the mystery soon deepens to include the death of Margaret’s philandering husband, car dealer Frank Cross, it’s not at all clear whether he was felled by his heart condition or poisoned by wolf’s bane. Simon expertly casts suspicion on one member of her tiny human cast after another, but this series is really for readers who want all cats, all the time.

The three paranormally empowered feline detectives carve out a niche within a niche.

In #MeToo era, we don’t need to make nice

As many of my writer friends know, I’ve been working on a darker-than-my-usual crime novel that deals with, among other things, the aftermath of violence, the funny tricks denial can play on memory, and how a single act can permanently alter the trajectory of a woman’s life. PTSD and recovery, particularly from sexual assault, are important topics for me – they are also very complex in a way that I don’t think are always understood. That’s one reason I wrote this op-ed, which ran in today’s Boston Globe, (though the other will be clear as soon as you start reading) and why I’ll keep writing about these topics, even after my mystery-in-process is published.

I hope you’ll take this journey with me. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we need to face the darkness first.

Thanks.

Clea

(The Globe op-ed may be behind a subscription paywall. I encourage everyone to subscribe to all your local papers! But in this case… )

OPINION | CLEA SIMON

In #MeToo era, we don’t need to make nice

By Clea Simon

As a victim of sexual assault, my first impulse is to make nice. Some of that is the survival instinct: Don’t invite any further violence. Slip away and disappear.

But recently, I learned again that making nice has its own price. Rage, like grief, has its own season, and recovery cannot be rushed.

I learned — relearned — this lesson when I received an e-mail from a college classmate who was the roommate of the man who raped me our freshman year. He was writing after 40 years of silence with an offer to talk. His roommate had told him “distressing” things about a “night” with me at the time, he said. “I regret never having discussed it before,” he wrote.

To say this e-mail shook me would be an understatement. Although I’ve healed considerably through therapy, and I’ve written extensively in both fiction and nonfiction about how sexual trauma can play out in a woman’s life, this awakened something. As other survivors know, we often cling a little bit to denial: It wasn’t that bad. We had some role, and therefore some control. Maybe it didn’t happen at all. This e-mail was proof, once again, that it did.

Several friends advised me not to respond. But once the strange vertigo of denial passed, I realized I had questions. The first was for him: Why now? The answer boiled down to his awareness of #MeToo and a reappraisal of his own past.

I then moved onto the specific queries that had long bothered me. No, his roommate didn’t use drugs, just a bottle of over-proof rum, which he kept solely to push on vulnerable women. Yes, there were other women. No, he was never prosecuted, as far as his former roommate knew. These answers were disturbing but ultimately useful. Old questions answered. Throughout, he kept reassuring me that he didn’t participate and that he didn’t like this roommate.

But his e-mails also signified that he still didn’t get it. For one, even though I called what happened rape, he didn’t. Instead, he talked about how his roommate would use alcohol “to try to have sex with women.” At one point, he said he thought I might want to “let bygones be bygones.” He also noted that I never reached out to talk to him, as if contact with someone who lived with the man who assaulted me was something I would seek.

He also was not, I came to believe, candid about what he really wanted. Absolution. Points for being a good guy, all these years later.

That’s when I realized why my friends had cautioned me about replying. That this was about him, not me, and by responding to his prompt, I was giving him something. I was entering into some kind of cooperative agreement or relationship — on his terms and on his timetable.

And I don’t have to. I don’t owe him any particular reaction — or a response at all. In her memoir, “Know My Name,” Chanel Miller talks about reclaiming power after being cast purely as the victim of assault. For me, this is part of that reclamation.

This e-mail out of the blue shook me. It sparked a lot of feelings, including anger. I’m trying to be OK with that. What I’m not OK with is for anyone else — particularly a man who was at least passively complicit — seeking reconciliation or some resolution now that he wants one.

Too often, making nice made us vulnerable to abuse. We didn’t protest, we played along. I’m now trying to fight that impulse. I’m pushing back. My anger is my own, and I — we — will let go of it when our time is right.


Clea Simon’s most recent novel is “A Spell of Murder.” She can be reached at www.CleaSimon.com.

If anyone wants to reach me, I’m reachable via this website. I am not going to read the comments.

Thanks

‘World Enough’ a MA Book Award ‘must read’

World Enough has been named a “must read” in the Massachusetts Book Awards, presented by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, for books published in 2017, joining such others notables as Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic and Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl. Top honors for the year went to The Chalk Artist, by Allegra Goodman, followed by Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng, and The World of Tomorrow, by Brendan Matthews. Thanks and a shout out to friend (and Pulitzer winner) Lloyd Schwartz – also a “must read” for his Little Kisses – for letting me know!

Becca and Clara are back!

Look for wannabe witch detective Becca and her loyal (and magical) calico Clara to return this winter in An Incantation of Cats (Polis). No cover yet, but you can pre-order here.

When two new clients seek Becca’s professional services, the fledgling witch detective is overjoyed. Finally, she can use her skills to help her magical community. But as the young witch finds the new cases intertwining, things grow more complicated. Becca’s three cats – the ones with the real power – can smell something is wrong with these clients. But not even Clara, the calico, knows what to do when a man ends up dead and a powerful and poisonous root appears – and disappears – in the case. To make matters worse, Clara and her littermates are feuding – and she can’t tell them about an unsettling interaction she’s had with one of the client’s sisters. Is it possible that some humans may have the same powers as the magical felines? What does that mean for Clara’s beloved Becca – and for the potent poison that has already taken one person’s life? In this second Witch Cats of Cambridge mystery, Clara and her sisters must learn to work together if they are to save the person they all love.

Reviewing the first Witch Cats of Cambridge mystery, A Spell of Murder, readers said:

“(A) delightful series launch…You don’t have to be a cat lover to appreciate this paranormal cozy’s witty observations, entertaining dialogue, and astute characterizations.” ―Publishers Weekly 

“Cats and magic–two of my favorite things! A Spell of Murder is a charming series debut.” ―Diane A.S. Stuckart, author of the Tarot Cats Mysteries

 “A delightful modern-day mystery―Simon has conjured up a magical tale for our reading pleasure.” ―Marty Wingate, USA Today bestselling author

 “Mystery, mayhem and magic, plus a triple dose of feline intuition, make an exciting start to this new series. These engaging felines will captivate and enchant you.” ―Mary Kennedy, author of The Talk Radio Mysteries 

“In this endearing first Witch Cats of Cambridge mystery, Clea Simon reveals what we’ve always suspected: cats really do have supernatural powers! While felines Clara, Harriet, and Laurel are focused on pillows and extra treats, it’s the readers who are treated to an absorbing plot as the cats use their secret abilities to help their human Becca find romance, a new career―and a murderer!” ―Leigh Perry, author of the Family Skeleton Mysteries

He Wrote/She Wrote

I contributed an op-ed to today’s Boston Globe about writing gender and the controversy surrounding the new crime fiction imprint, Scarlet:

“Most mystery authors have never killed anyone, nor personally solved any crimes. That doesn’t mean we can’t imagine it. In crime fiction, “write what you know” is not always the best advice. However, a controversy over a new crime fiction imprint has blown up into an uproar over who can — or should — write what, specifically in terms of gender… (read the whole piece here.)”