Sunday, October 21, 2018

A BLAST FROM THE PAST - ROCCO INTERVIEWS CAROLE NELSON DOUGLAS!



In honor of "Midnight Louie" Month, we reprint this interview from 2011!
Meow, in the words of the Pointer Sisters, "I'm so excited" becasue today in my hotseat I have none other than the creator of one of my favorite feline characters, Midnight Louie, Carole Nelson Douglas herself!

For those not familiar with Carole or her works, here's a bit about her: (taken from her website)

Carole Nelson was born in Everett, Washington. She received a bachelor of arts degrees in Speech and Theater and English Literature from the College of St. Catherine in 1966. The next year, she married Sam Douglas, an artist who worked as the Minnesota Museum of Art as exhibitions director. She was a reporter and feature writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch from 1967 to 1983, then became a page designer and editorial writer for the opinion pages, 1983 to 1984.  She sold a paperback original novel, Amberleigh (1980), to Jove and a fantasy, Six of Swords (1982) and its sequels, to Del Rey Books. Douglas became a fulltime fiction writer in 1984.

Douglas had incorporated animals since her first novel (there was an Irish wolfhound in Amberleigh, a King Charles spaniel in the next historical, Fair Wind, Fiery Star (1981). So little surprise she began to write about Midnight Louie, the twenty-pound black tomcat with the wit of Damon Runyon. The cat was based on a true-life cat who made his home at a motel, and truly munched on the fish in the reflective pond. The owners had no use for the cat, but a sympathetic woman retrieved and cared for the feline — and Douglas interviewed the woman and cat for a story for the St. Paul newspaper she worked for at the time. Douglas later came to own a number of cats, including one she named Midnight Louie Jr.
Midnight Louie first appeared in romantic suspense novels, Crystal Days and Crystal Nights (1990). “I just moved Louie and his carp pond to the abandoned (fictional) Joshua Tree hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, which was remodeled into the (fictional) Crystal Phoenix, the classiest hotel in Vegas, with Midnight Louie in lace as ‘unofficial hosue dick,’” she explained in a Crescent Blues interview.  Lately his adventures have taken some interesting turns: In Cat in a Sapphire Slipper (2008), for instance, takes the action to a Nevada brothel, where a prostitute has been murdered. “Douglas explores the campy, lighter side of ‘chicken ranches’ at the same time she exposes their seamier aspects,” said a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

The author  novels, including mainstream, mystery, thriller, high fantasy, science fiction, and romance/women’s fiction, Carole Nelson Douglas has been nominated for or won more than fifty writing awards. Carole was an award-winning journalist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press until moving to Texas to write fiction full time. In fact, she “found” Midnight Louie in the newspaper’s classified ads  and wrote a feature article on the real-life alley cat long before she began writing novels or Louie returned as a feline supersleuth with his own newsletter, Midnight Louie’s Scratching Post-Intelligencer, published since 1995.

Now, let's get to it! In my hotseat! Carole Nelson Douglas!

R:  Meow, hello Carole. Welcome
C:  Thank you Rocco, I'm glad to be here.

R:  for starters, tell us about Midnight Louie.
C: Midnight Louie is the first-furperson, partial narrator of his own mystery series. His beat is glitzy, dangerous Las Vegas and he is “Sam Spade with hairballs.” His alley-cat noir voice has appeared in twenty-three mystery novels.

He shares the stage in his books with four human characters, two men, two women; two amateur sleuths, two pros. Crime-solving Temple Barr, PR woman, is Louie’s roommate. (No one “owns” Louie.) He’s Temple’s protector and “muscle.” Hard-boiled female homicide lieutenant C.R. Molina has to put up with the pair of them. Max Kinsella is Temple’s ex, a magician and counter-terrorist operative on the run. Matt Devine is an ex-priest radio advice counselor who’s become Temple’s fiancée.

R:  Meow, a cat after my own heart!  How did the series start and what was your inspiration for a feline PI?
C: Louie and I had a “cute meet” through the newspaper Classifieds. I was a reporter and animal lover in St. Paul. He was a California product. Cruising the pet Classifieds, I was intrigued by a very long and expensive ad for “Midnight Louey,” a black cat “equally at home on your best couch or your neighbor’s garbage can.” The right home could have him for a dollar.

I wrote a feature story and learned that ML was surviving nicely on the expensive koi at a fancy Palo Alto motel but in danger of being shipped to the shelter. He cozied up to a visiting woman from Minnesota by the soft drink machine, wanting to escape the chilly night in her room. Obviously a ladies’ man. She flew him to St. Paul in a borrowed puppy carrier. He didn’t like apartment living with her lawyer husband, two fixed females, a vacuum cleaner and a litter box. She wanted him to go to farm where he could be free. That did happen, thanks to my article, but his unique spirit and macho chutzpah had put a firm hook into in my mind.

The key moment came after I’d written the first “who, what, when, where” sentence of the article. I decided to let Louie narrate his own remarkable saga of survival and out came his voice, part Damon Runyon, part generic gumshoe with a tad of Mrs. Malaprop.

Midnight Louie was introduced in four romances with mystery, written in the mid-eighties. But the romance editor drastically cut his few sections and stripped out many mystery elements without telling me. You might be able to do that to a down-trodden author, but you can’t do that to a cat, and especially this 20-pound black literary lion and master of cattitude. I flipped the concept to mystery with an ongoing romantic triangle (or quadrangle) and an international thriller backstory. After Catnap and Pussyfoot I wanted readers to know the order, so began a title sequence with an interior “color word” alphabet starting with Cat on a Blue Monday. Cat in a White Tie and Tails is just out.

R: How did you become the first author to make a woman from the Sherlock Holmes stories the protagonist of her own series? And have the first book, Good Night, Mr. Holmes named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and win mystery and romance awards?
C: First, I loved the stories as a kid. As an author, I noticed yet another Holmes spin-off coming out and realized that only men wrote them. So I searched the “Canon” for a female heroine. Irene Adler has been portrayed in recent successful films and TV series . . . but not as the fully developed, substantial and strong character I reinvented from Conan Doyle’s original story, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” I’m bringing the first four Adler books out in eBook and trade paperback in late September. Check her out. The reviews are fabulous, and if more women produced and directed films, she’d surely have one that does her justice in her own right.

A theme might be developing here. I like to go where women writers and women characters have traditionally not “been allowed.”

I wrote bestselling high fantasy when I started out, but the bias against female writers in the sf/f genre forced me to migrate to mystery by coming up with the Irene Adler Sherlockian series, which I at first considered a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy. So when I saw women writing paranormal urban fantasy in the 2000s, I was primed to reenter the field. It’s been a delight to re-imagine Louie’s Las Vegas as a full-out supernatural Sin City with a werewolf mob running one hotel-casino and vampires a rival one and bunches more of scary, funny and socially relevant characters, elements and themes.

My protagonist is Delilah Street, an orphan in search of a mysterious double and a former investigative TV reporter. The name is a play on lawyer-detective Perry Mason’s right-hand woman, Della Street, so the black-and-white days of noir and mystery film are a big element. My “Cinema Simulacrums” are a paranormal blend of zombies and famous black-and-white film noir characters used as tourist draws and Delilah’s confidential informants. Delilah has a wolfhound-wolf cross rescue dog, Quicksilver, but there’s a shapeshifter who becomes an 800-pound white tiger. Midnight Louie has traveled to Delilah’s Vegas to help her on a case in a novella.

 R: Which do you prefer to write, paranormal ala Delilah Street or mystery ala Midnight Louie and why?
C: My favorite thing is to blend genres, so no series is a favorite. I’ve always liked to switch settings, times, styles. It’s the secret to being a prolific writer and the world-building is endlessly fascinating. I mix a tad of paranormal in my mystery (both Midnight Louie and Irene Adler) and put a lot of mystery noir in the seriously paranormal Delilah Street series. I even have the occasional cross reference between series, since Louie and Delilah series are both set in Las Vegas, although Delilah started out in 2013 six years before the calendar got there. Delilah started inventing paranormally named cocktails at the Inferno Hotel bar, so my characters in the Louie series can order an Albino Vampire or a Silver Zombie in the “real” world.

R: Which out of all the characters you’ve created is your favorite and why?
C: I must say Midnight Louie is my favorite. (He wouldn’t have it any other way.) This fantasy construct of a cat who thinks he’s Sam Spade can go anywhere, even the past, and satirize any social trend or institution that needs it. He’s the ultimate author’s mouthpiece. My main thrust for writing, though, is creating original and strong women characters in genre fiction. I like creating “innocent savants,” women who are smart and strong but initially naïve about the world’s evil, “Jane Doe” in the Probe books and Delilah Street in urban fantasy. That mirrors the comics male superhero upbringing in a more realistic way.

R: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
C: I’ve been a newspaper feature writer and reporter and editor and was the “first woman” in several positions at the paper. Had I not started writing fiction on the side, I was unconsciously heading in the direction of being a columnist on the opinion pages, probably syndicated. If I had been “allowed” to get all the way there in those times.

R: What other writing genre would you like to try that you haven’t yet? Historical, screenwriting, etc?
C: I’ve written high and urban fantasy, contemporary and historical romance and mystery and science fiction thrillers. I might try children’s or YA, or a straight thriller.

R: Every writer has an “agent” story. How did you get your agent, and what is your advice to aspiring novelists querying agents?
C: A newspaper book reviewer suggested I look for an agent who was just starting out. When the first New York agent I contacted responded positively to the book, but wasn’t taking on new clients, I asked if she knew someone starting out. She happened to be giving a desk at her agency to a friend, a children’s book publisher’s widow. I’d been fantasizing about an agent with a romantic “literary” name like Serena Ravenel . . . I got Frances Schwartz.

Nowadays you want to sign up for webinars on finding an agent by Writer’s Digest or by legitimate agents themselves who offer a reading of your first three pages or the like included with the cost of the webinbar. Legit agents will give any money they get to charity. With the feedback, you can approach other agents directly, saying your proposal or complete MS was seen by so-and-so.

R: What book is on your TBR shelf you can’t wait to get to?
C: Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. 

R: What advice would you give new writers just starting out?
C: First , read voraciously. You not only learn writing by osmosis, but you learn what you want your own writing to be and do. Second, hold true to your belief in your ability to write. Everyone will have an opinion on what and how you should do it. That’s easy for them to say. You have to do the hard part: believe in your hard work and talent no matter what.

R: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
C: I wanted to be an archaeologist or anthropologist in grade school.

R: Do you have any information on upcoming works or events that you are able to share?
C: The 2013 Midnight Louie novel will be Cat in an Alien X-File. I’m also getting all of my earlier books and shorter pieces of fiction into eBook format, and trade paperbacks when possible. Out in Ebook now is an Irene Adler novella, “The Private Wife of Sherlock Holmes,” and a Midnight Louie Past Life adventure in ancient Egypt, “Fruit of the Tomb,” where an early Midnight Louie incarnation solves a mystery and goes from lowly Pharaoh’s Footstool to the first private Eye of Horus.

R:  And now, a little thing I call:  JUST FOR FUN!
Your Favorite:
C: Book: Depends on the decade of my youth: Little Women, The Three Musketeers, The Lord of the RingsRebecca
Movie: The Wizard of Oz (but it should have had a cat in it)
TV show:  So You Think You Can Dance?
Actor: Johnny Depp
Actress: Meryl Streep
Night or Day: Dusk
Mountain or Lake: Lake
Hawaii or AlaskaHawaii
Book or Nook: Book
Cat or Dog?: Cats. And one occasional dog.  (Very diplomatic, heh heh)

R:  And now, in closing...Finish this sentence:  If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be _______
C:  Gee, I'm glad this was last!  Hmm...honest, I can’t come up with anybody I’d trade places with. It might be somebody rich. That’s always nice. I suppose it’d be a younger version of myself. I really want to know what happens to the world after I’m gone.



R:  Thank you so  much, Carole, for taking time out to visit with us and for one fantastic interview! 

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