Oftentimes, readers like to ask authors questions about their book, such as, “Where do you get your ideas?” Lee Murray, award-winning New Zealand author, asked me the following questions about my debut novel Unholy Secrets:
Tell us briefly about Unholy Secrets. What inspired it?
Unholy Secrets actually was inspired by an actual event that occurred when I was a child. A second-grade student from my elementary school was kidnapped and murdered, and the story stayed with me. It was the first time I became aware of evil in the world. I was so frightened I had my mother walk me to school every day until I was in sixth grade!
Your heroine, Dana Greer, is a police investigator with a former female mentor. A Catholic coming to grips with her recent divorce, and a woman with her own childhood secrets, she is nevertheless, portrayed as independent, intelligent, and likeable, even while navigating a male-dominated environment in 1950s society. So, in your view, is Unholy Secrets a feminist novel?
I never set out to create Dana Greer as a feminist but, rather, I wanted the plot to be told from a woman’s perspective…a woman’s voice. Then, the idea occurred to me that in 1950, she really was a woman ahead of her time. I wanted to make her edgy, confident, and strong yet at the same time to question how life might have played out differently had she chosen the typical housewife role of the 50s.
If you were to shelve Unholy Secrets in the bookstore, would you put it under cozy mystery or gritty police procedural, or some other genre?
I would place Unholy Secrets under the genre of crime detective.
Tell us about the literary references in the story: The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson, and Robert Frost’s poetry, and their significance to the story. How have these literary works influenced your work?
I researched Catholic books written in the 50s and came upon Robinson’s novel the Cardinal. Since my characters “speak to me,” Dana chose to read it. As for Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Dana so often could relate to the “many miles” she had to go in order to finally solve the crime.
The story is set in Cape Peril, an imaginary island off the coast of Maine. What was your inspiration for this setting, and why did you feel compelled to create a your own, rather than base the story in a real place?
Yes, Cape Peril is an imaginary island off the coast of Maine. I visited Maine once and, at one time, lived in Massachusetts, near Salem. There’s something definitely foreboding about islands…their isolation, their separateness from the mainland. As for Maine, I liked the idea of the harsh winters…I guess, the motif of coldness.
The historic aspect of the story reminds me a little of the UK’s George Gently TV series. If there were a film version of the Dana Greer mysteries, what modern-day actress would you like to see playing the heroine and why?
Of course, I’d be thrilled to see Unholy Secrets become a film. I would choose the French actress Marion Cotillard for the lead role. There’s something about the role she played in “Allied” with Brad Pitt that made me a fan. She would need a blond wig, however.
In Unholy Secrets, some of the female characters, such as Carmelina Artinelli while set up as villains, could also be seen as victims. Would you agree?
I would definitely agree with this statement. At times, the reader will find her heartless, ruthless and at other time, she evokes sympathy.
Unholy Secrets, at its core, deals with the horror of the death of a child. I see from the excerpt included at the end of the book that the next mystery, Silent Betrayal, releasing in October of this year, also involves the loss of a child. Why this morbid fascination with horrors inflicted on children?
I hope my readers won’t see the loss of a child in my books as a morbid fascination. As mentioned, Unholy Secrets was loosely based on an actual event from my own childhood. There is something to be said about children who lack a knowledge of evil in much the same way that I as a child, was abruptly forced to face the harsh reality of a sinful world. Suddenly, fear was introduced into my life. As for future books in the series, there will be three key elements: Dana will travel to wherever there is a crime involving a child and the Catholic Church. Also, the overall theme will be that even the godly can fall into the depths of sin. As for the Church, it is part of my fiber, my love. Even in the face of evil, it has withstood the test of time.
And finally, do you have a favorite spindled porch somewhere? (don’t worry if you don’t have one – we can leave this question out).
Interesting question! I hadn’t thought about it, but yes, the house I grew-up in was not a Victorian, but it did have a spindled porch!