Saturday, April 9, 2011

Clea Simon: Cats, Dogs, and aTouch of Noir

Interviewed by Sandra Parshall
Clea Simon is the author of the Theda Krakow mystery series, the Dulcie Schwartz series, and the new Pru Marlow Pet Noir mysteries. She has published short stories as well as many articles on music, relationships, feminism, and psychological issues. She lives in Boston with her husband, writer Jon S. Garelick, and their cat Musetta. Visit her website at

SP: Two new books in the same month! You’re going to make the rest of us feel like slugs. Would you tell us a little about each novel?

CS: Gladly! Dogs Don't Lie is my first "pet noir" mystery. What's "pet noir"? Think tongue-in-cheek hardboiled, with a bad-girl detective, Pru Marlowe, who just happens to be able to hear what animals are thinking. Her first case involves a rescue dog, but her sidekick is a grouchy tabby cat. I seem incapable of writing a mystery without a cat in it. Grey Zone is the third Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery. This is a cozier series with grad student Dulcie and her ghost cat, Mr Grey. Dulcie is studying Gothic literature, so I figure a ghost cat makes sense. In this, third book, a student goes missing and a professor dies mysteriously just as Dulcie really should be grading midterms...

SP: How would you answer readers who think any book that involves clever pets and a woman who “hears” the thoughts of animals must be light and humorous?

CS: I was reading a lot of the new female-centered true noir, authors like Patti Abbott, and I was caught up in the voice. I love tough women! But when I write, it comes out softer. So my pet noir (a play on "bete noir") is tougher  than my usual, but still fundamentally cozy. Think of it this way - if you live with a cat, you know how your cat gets pissed off at you? How sometimes you KNOW your pet thinks you're stupid? Yeah, that's the attitude of a lot of the animals in pet noir.

SP: Where did Pru Marlowe come from? Is she a character you've had in mind for a while, or did you create her to tell this story?

CS: She just came out of the ether as the right voice for this story. I've been working on this book for about three years now, so she's had a little while to get her personality together. I think she's a side of me that not many people see.

SP: One of your animal characters is a pitbull refugee from a dogfighting operation. Do you think a lot of people have a distorted and unfair view of pitbulls?

CS: Probably. I confess, I am not a huge fan of pits -- they are bred to have lower reaction thresholds: like, other dogs will do more role-playing to figure out who is submissive, who is not. Pits are bred to just react. And they are very, VERY active, energetic dogs that should not be kept by people who do not have the time to exercise them. But nine times out of 10, problems originate with the owners. Just like with most animal problems! And in the book, I make it clear that Lily is a very gentle, abused dog.

SP: Do Pru and Dulcie share an ability to communicate with animals? What else do they have in common? How are they different?

CS: Well, Dulcie can't really communicate with animals. The ghost of her late, great Mr. Grey talks to her sometimes, but he didn't as a cat -- only as a ghost. Pru has this strange gift -- she can hear what animals are saying at times - but she's not that comfortable with it. It's odd and feels intrusive to her. At first, it caused her to doubt her sanity. Even now, she'd rather not always know, you know? Other than that, Dulcie is an academic, a little sheltered (despite her odd upbringing by her hippie mother) and very bookish. Pru is a hard drinking wild girl. One's a house cat, the other... definitely not!

SP: Did you write the two books at the same time? What is your writing schedule like?

CS: I had Dogs Don't Lie fully drafted when Severn House commissioned the third Dulcie book. Then DDL sold (to Poisoned Pen) and so I had to work on revisions while finishing up Grey Zone. It was a little crazy! When I'm writing (most of the time), I try to give myself word limits -- 1,000 or 1,500 words a day, usually. When I'm revising, I try to work to page limits. In reality? I don't know how it all gets done!

SP: I'm sure fans will want to know if you’ve ended your Theda Krakow series. Have you wrapped it up, or do you plan to return to it?

CS: I'd love to return to Theda at some point. I did get her to what seemed like a good place: she has been offered a steady job and her boyfriend has proposed to her. Odds are, she'll accept both but... well, I may have to write another book to find out!

SP: What are you working on now?

CS: I'm revising the draft of my next Pru book, tentatively called Cats Can't Shoot. After that, I'll tackle a fourth Dulcie book. That's a good year's work booked for me!


Victoria said...

I love the idea of a 'pet noir' (Hah! Bete noir??) Clever. I love cozies, but I also love something with a little edge, and I adore cats and dogs. Sounds like these books are right up my alley!

Clea Simon said...

Thanks, Victoria! And yes, I was playing with the idea of the bete noir... guess what Pru's is? Hope you enjoy - and please let me know what you think. - Clea

Nancy Adams said...

I can't wait to read your new books. And I love the picture of you and Musetta. She looks much like a little guy my husband had back when we first met, a real sweetheart named Fred. I'd love to have him back as a ghost cat. What a great idea!

Thanks, Clea and Sandy. Such a fun interview.

Nancy Adams

Sandra Parshall said...

Musetta is a beauty. I love black and white cats. And I love the way Clea writes about animals -- there's nothing cloying or cutesy about her portrayals of cat and human relationships.

Colleen Collins said...

I had to read this blog to understand "pet noir" and I love it! Can't wait to read them.

Clea Simon said...

Thanks so much, everyone!

Ingrid King said...

Great interview, Sandy!

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