Thank you so much for joining me today, Max. Can you tell us about the Ophelia Wylde Mysteries?
Melissa, thanks so much for asking. OF GRAVE CONCERN is the first book in my new paranormal mystery series. It’s set in 1877 in Dodge City, Kansas, and as a matter of fact I’m sitting in a hotel in Dodge City as I write this. I’m here for the book launch, which will take place tomorrow at the Boot Hill Museum Complex. I’m pleased that the Brent Harris, the official marshal of Dodge City, thought enough of an advance copy of the book to invite me here.
What makes OF GRAVE CONCERN a different kind of paranormal mystery is that it’s grounded in a very specific time and place, and against an authentic background. There were a lot of spiritualists in the Victorian West, and like Ophelia, most of them were feminists… and sometimes con artists. Ophelia, of course, reforms after she discovers she really can talk to the dead.
What made you decide to write a cozy mystery series set in the Old West?
I was in Guthrie, Oklahoma, three or four years ago, doing research for the last book in my HELLFIRE western noir trilogy, when I came across a newspaper clipping about the restless ghost of a murdered Cyprian haunting the railroad tracks in the 1890s. There was no place for the story in the novel I was writing, but I filed a copy of the article away, because I knew I wanted to write a paranormal series set in the old west. A year or so later, I made a trip to Dodge City to do some research to see if the series might be set there, and the character of Ophelia Wylde came to me… a woman on the run, a former con artist and fake spiritualist who discovers she really can talk to the dead. Frankly, I was a bit tired of all the violence in the HELLFIRE trilogy, and wanted to write a character who knows very little about guns, and never picks one up. Also, I’ve always been interested in offbeat subjects, and Victorian spiritualism is a very rich background for a fictional detective.
Did people believe in the paranormal in those days?
Just as much as they do now, if not more. The Fox sisters started the craze in 1848 in Hydesville, N.Y., and soon Spiritualism grew into a movement, and gained added momentum by the massive loss of life during the Civil War, because so many people wanted proof that their loved ones had survived death. In researching the period, I was struck by how little had changed. A modern psychic would feel right at home in a Victorian séance. There was even photographic “proof,” in the form of spirit photographs, most notably the Lincoln hoax photos by William Mumler. Also, belief in an afterlife seemed to have a liberating effect on many, and the story of feminism and woman’s suffrage is inextricably linked to the Spiritualist movement. A Victorian Spiritualist and trance medium, Victorian Woodhull, even ran for president in 1872.
Which actress can you picture portraying Ophelia?
Great question. Kristen Stewart or Anne Hathaway.
Can you tell us more about Ophelia's pet raven on the cover?
His name is Eddie and he quotes Edgar Allan Poe. Ophelia had formerly used Eddie in her stage act, and he is one of the few things she carries with her from her former life as a con woman. Eddie isn’t human, but at times he seems to know more than any bird has a right to. But, when you talk to the dead on a regular basis, that doesn’t seem so strange.
What's next for Ophelia?
I’m wrapping up the next book in the series, which will take Ophelia to the wide-open mining town of Leadville, Colorado. She is still based in Dodge City, and has just now establishing herself as a consulting detective, but is called to the mountains for a murder investigation. Also involved is an overdue and very haunted library book – and that’s probably all I should give away.
Thanks for the interview. It was great fun.
About Of Grave Concern:
Dead Men Tell No Lies - The Civil War is over, and many a young widow has turned to spiritualism to contact their husbands on "the other side." But Ophelia Wylde won't be fooled twice. After wasting her money on a phoney psychic, she decides if she can't beat 'em, join 'em. She leaves New Orleans and heads West, selling her services as a spiritual medium who speaks to the dead. By the time she reaches Dodge City, business is booming. Except for a handsome but skeptical bounty hunter named Jack Calder, no one suspects Ophelia of running a con game - until an unfortunate "reading" of a girl who's still living exposes her to a townfull of angry customers. As punishment, the mob drags Ophelia to Boot Hill and buries her alive in a fresh grave overnight. That's when the dead start speaking. To her. For real. And for dead people, they've got lots to say.