(June 2013 / Kensington / Trade Paperback Original / ISBN: 978-0-7582-8640-6)
What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing DEATH AND THE COURTESAN?
Solving the mystery. Because in real life, I like to leave the mysteries unsolved. Once I was in a pet store comparing the prices on chicken feed blends while a Mynah bird in a cage on my left appeared to be studying me with great interest. Suddenly it said, “Hi, Pam!” I couldn’t believe I’d heard that. So I pretended that I hadn’t. But the Mynah stuck its beak through the bars and said, “HI, PAM!” again, slowly and loudly, so I that couldn’t possibly ignore it. My roommate heard it on the other side of the store. She came over, with her eyes the size of saucers.
“Did you hear what that bird said?” she asked.
“Oh, God. You heard it, too? I thought I was merely having a psychotic break.””
“What are you going to do?” she demanded.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s pretty agitated. I think you need to answer it, don’t you?”
The Mynah was bobbing up and down on it’s perch, staring at me and flapping its wings. “Hi,” I muttered, feeling like an idiot. It stopped bobbing and cocked its head to one side.
“So,” it said, conversationally. “How been?”
“Come on, Margie,” I cried, grabbing my roommate. “We’re getting out of here!”
And as we ran for the door the bird called after us, “THAT’S NOT VERY NICE!”
Was I scared? Yes, indeed, but it’s not what you think. I was afraid that if I’d stayed to ask the owner about it, I’d have received some rational explanation, like “Oh, yeah. My wife’s name is Pam.” Of course, there might have been an even bigger mystery. He could have said, “I know. That bird’s uncanny! Whoever comes in here, total strangers, whatever, he instinctively knows their name.” But odds were that the answer was much more prosaic.
And, as I’ve said, I like to preserve a little mystery.
Why do you write about England?
Because I don’t live there. When I lived in Africa I wrote about Hollywood. When I moved back to LA I wrote about Africa. In Alexandria, Virginia, everything reminded me of Seattle. Now I’m in Seattle and I write about England.
What’s the best writing advice you ever got?
In the back of my mind, whenever I write I hear my metaphysical literature professor, saying – and you have to imagine this with an East Indian accent – “I cannot tell you what literature is. But I can tell you what it is for. The dual purpose of literature is to teach and delight.” Professor L. was a brilliant man. I never got to know him personally, but I was great friends with another professor, who used to drink with him on a regular basis. They must have made an interesting couple: he was quite a small man, and she was this big, horsey woman. One night, she told me, when he was quite sloshed, he turned to her and slurred: “Tell jokes... a sexual connotation.” Then he slid from his bar stool to the floor, and Anne carried him to the car in her arms, looking, I imagine, like the Mortimer of Calcutta.
How do you stimulate your imagination?
I’m visual, so looking at pictures of the places I’m writing about really helps to center my prose. I also like to find faces that look the way I picture my characters.
Describe one perfect moment in your life.
Following a personal tragedy in the 1980’s, I wanted the comfort of my family around me and went home to California. My mother was absolutely wonderful. All I wanted at the time was to walk and walk and walk in my favorite public gardens. We went to the Huntington and the Arboretum, and on New Year’s Day, we went to Descanso. The gate to the instructional center, which is usually locked, was wide open. I used to take classes there as a child: vegetable gardening, pond life, terrarium construction. There was a secret pond on the property that I had always loved and had not seen in over 20 years, owing to the locked gate. You have to understand how important this place is to me: whenever I’m stressed out, or unable to fall asleep, I picture myself on that pond, lying in a canoe, endlessly drifting through the flocks of water birds and gazing up at the clouds. And on this day, when I needed it most, there was suddenly access to this lost world. As Mom and I made our way down the pond, you probably won’t believe this, but a sunbeam broke through the cloud cover and illuminated two chairs, placed right at the water’s edge! We sat on them, filled with awe, as more sunbeams broke through, lighting up the green water to a depth of several feet. And suspended there, we saw 7 turtles – all different kinds and sizes, hanging motionless, with their necks stretched out underwater in the golden light.
What is your earliest memory?
When I was a toddler my parents both worked, and I spent my days at the home of my Mexican Babysitter and her husband. They had a wonderful house, with a big parrot in a cage on the front porch, and strings of peppers and garlic bulbs. Every room painted a different color. I loved it there, and I adored Mimi and Jose, but every day after lunch, I was placed in a crib in the blue bedroom to take my nap. And on the nightstand was a de Los figure, a skeleton, draped in blue like the Virgin Mary. At the bottom of the eye sockets (can this even be right?) there were two red light bulbs, that shone with palpable evil in the darkened room. I would scream and scream when they left me alone with this thing, but I didn’t yet know how to say “Take that away!” Or even “I’m scared!” The Cottas just assumed I was resistant to napping. So they let me scream myself unconscious. And this went on, every week, 5 days a week, for, I don’t know...6 months? It kind of fascinates me now...I’m told I was only 1 ½ when this happened. Why would a baby be frightened of a skeleton? Babies don’t know about death. Do they?
What sort of people do you find the most difficult to bear?
People who mess up the balance of life by forbidding all negativity. You have to have both: good & evil, politeness and rudeness. If everything was hearts and flowers all the time, we wouldn’t have any good stories.
What are you working on now?
Volume 3 of 10 in the Arabella Beaumont mystery series. In this one, the hare-brained Constance has unwittingly provided pornographic pleasure to paying voyeurs with Lady footman. And because she conducted her affair at The de (‘So much more than a beauty salon!’) the evil Madame is blackmailing her. Arabella would dearly love to leave Constance to her fate, but she will be out £46,000 if she does, and her new courtesan club has to be paid for!
Visit Pamela Christie online at: www.pamchristie.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Pamela Christie lives in Seattle and teaches English.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Arabella Beaumont, courtesan parfait, is widely held by the bucks of Regency London to be the most desirable creature on two legs...or off them. She lives well and does as she pleases – an altogether agreeable arrangement – until her rival is discovered in a pool of gore, stabbed with Arabella’s monogrammed paper knife!
Though she has a month to discover the real murderer, Arabella is almost certainly going to swing for this, because it’s riot season, and the prince regent feels that a celebrity execution would be just the thing to mollify those mischievous mobs!
Will she triumph, despite the obstacles? There seems to be quite a lot of them: adverse publicity; the vindictive Lady Ribbonhat; a wicked little nephew, and Arabella’s useless friend, Constance, who advises her to wear men’s trousers to her hanging so the gawkers won’t be able to look up her dress for free. Well, at least it was good while it lasted.