Welcome to our New Faces column, where we're pleased to introduce debut mystery authors and their books. This time we're visiting with Susan Kandel, whose first book is the intriguingly-titled I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason, available from Avon Books.
Susan, welcome to The Mystery Reader! Tell us about yourself.
I'm a native Angeleno, born and bred -- though I'm not blond, and I don't
surf. I burn, and always preferred to have my nose in a book. I live in West
Hollywood, CA -- a stone's throw away from the house I grew up in -- with my
husband, who is a professor, and my two young daughters, and assorted pets.
Are you coming to mystery writing from another job?
My background is in art history and theory. For years, I worked as an art
critic for the Los Angeles Times, and I have has also taught art history at
NYU and UCLA, served as the editor of the international journal, artext, and
regularly contributed to books, magazines and museum catalogs. I'm not
actively involved in art writing anymore, but I still haunt museums and
galleries for pleasure.
What led you to write mysteries?
I am a longtime mystery reader, having been indoctrinated at an early age
by my mother (and I am indoctrinating my children, in turn). I always
harbored this fantasy of trying to write mysteries somewhere down the line,
when I retired, and then, one day a couple of years ago, when I was on
vacation in Ventura, CA with my husband, I encountered a plaque on the side
of a building that said, "Here is the birthplace of Perry Mason." It was the
site of Erle Stanley Gardner's old law practice. I had the thought,
"Wouldn't this be a great place to set a mystery?" and the series idea -- of
having a sleuth who was a biographer of dead mystery writers, and in
retracing their steps, gets into trouble of her own -- popped into my head.
So I went home and started writing.
Tell us about your road to publication.
It was miraculous how smooth the road to publication was: I had the
proverbial connection -- a friend who works in publishing (don't hate me).
She enjoyed my manuscript, and was able to recommend me to an agent, who
read it right away, so I wasn't forced to sit and wait, like most people
are. I remain eternally grateful. My agent is a dynamo, and got me an
auction and a three-book deal, the end of which I'm just coming up on.
What kind of research was involved for your first book?
The research I do is the fabulous kind: since my books center on writers,
I lie in bed with a Diet Coke and lots of candy and read whichever writer's
books. Then I move to the couch, and read the biographies of that writer.
Then I sit in libraries or my office and read about the particular time
period and locales (for Erle Stanley Gardner, for example, I read a lot
about Ventura's history, the origins of the oil business in California,
Tell us about I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason.
Here is a sketch:
All that writer Cece Caruso, a 39-year-old former beauty queen from Jersey,
really wants to do is finish her biography of Erle Stanley Gardner. Well,
that, and find a 1970 silk Ossie Clark to add to her collection of vintage
clothing. In a last-ditch effort to kick her writer's block, she pays a
visit to a prison inmate who had once corresponded with Gardner, pleading
his innocence, and lands smack dab in the middle of a case worthy of Perry
Mason himself, a double-edged mystery linking a forty-year old murder to one
where the body is still warm.
Who would you say are your influences as a writer?
I adore Ruth Rendell (as herself and as Barbara Vine) and Patricia
Highsmith; they write twisty, dark, psychological thrillers which I love,
and can't do at all. Carol Goodman is a wonderful writer, all mood and
atmosphere. I admire Alexander McCall Smith for his evocation of place and
deft characterizations. M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin books never fail to
amuse me. Lawrence Block has a light touch and great way with language.
Elinor Lipman is not a mystery writer, but I love her books for their wit
What does your family think of having a mystery author in their midst?
hey are thrilled. My daughters are especially excited by it, and both of
them--to my amazement and pride--tell me they want to be writers when they
Tell us about plans for future books.
n June 2005, my second Cece Caruso mystery comes out: NOT A GIRL
DETECTIVE. Here's the quick rundown: Biographer and amateur sleuth Cece Caruso will
freely admit that she spent her youth idolizing girl detective Nancy Drew, a
fantasy that undoubtedly influenced her grown-up job writing biographies of
dead mystery writers. But, as Cece will discover driving down the highway in
her Jackie O sunglasses and a borrowed baby-blue Cadillac, some fantasies
die harder than others.
Researching the life of "Carolyn Keene," the pseudonymous author of the
Nancy Drew mysteries, Cece meets a flamboyant collector of "Blue Nancys,"
the original books with blue covers. When he finds out she is taking a road
trip to Palm Springs to snoop around at the annual Nancy Drew fan
convention, he offers her the use of his swanky vacation house. But the last
thing she expects to find lying around the swimming pool is one very dead
In June 2006, readers can expect IN SAM SPADE'S BEDROOM:Things could be worse, thinks ex-beauty queen turned biographer Cece Caruso, as she zips around L.A. in a shiny green sports car with superstar Rafe
Simic at the wheel--he of the rippling biceps and laid-back attitude.
Turned out, she had no idea.
Years before, Rafe's production company optioned Cece's biography of crime
fiction master, Dashiell Hammett, only to let it languish in turnaround
hell. But when Rafe doesn't get so much as a Golden Globe nod for his
critically acclaimed turn as a gay hustler on the run, it's time to get
Shooting of "Dash" is set to commence. The problem is Rafe, whose attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder means he hasn't read so much as a
single Continental Op tale. Rafe's panicked manager begs Cece to save the day by working with the actor
as a one-woman literary pep squad--filling him in on Hammett's work, his
shattered health, his writer's block, his experience of McCarthyism, etc.
With her friends, Bridget and Lael, squirming with envy--and her fiance,
L.A.P.D. Detective, Peter Gambino, simply squirming--Cece takes the job,
which starts out with a quick jaunt to check out San Francisco's famed
Hammett haunts. But when an unidentified blonde turns up on a slab at the L.A. County morgue
with nothing on her but an old picture of Rafe, Cece and Rafe fly home in a
hurry, and our heroine finds herself drawn into an elaborate series of head
trips, con games, and more than one suicide that may just be murder.
How can readers get in touch with you?
Readers can write to me at my publishers, William Morrow, or get in touch
through my website www.susankandel.com.
Susan, thank you and best of luck! Readers, we have a review of I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason here at The Mystery Reader.