I’ve invited Katherine Bolger Hyde to drop in today and tell us a bit about Cyanide with Christie and her Crime with the Classics series.
Welcome Katherine. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
KBH: Cyanide with Christie is the third book in the Crime with the Classics series. The protagonist, Emily Cavanaugh, is a retired literature professor who solves crimes by relating them to her favorite classic novels. Each book focuses on a different classic author.
In Cyanide with Christie, Emily has finished remodelling the Victorian mansion she inherited in the first book, Arsenic with Austen, to turn it into a writers’ retreat center, and she’s welcoming her first group of guests for Christmas week. But several of those guests turn out to have history with each other, and in the middle of a game of charades on Christmas Day, one of them ends up dead.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
KBH: For this series, I always start by thinking about the author I’m focusing on. What kind of themes does the author address? What sort of characters does she portray? What recognizable elements can I play off of that will help readers relate to the story?
With Agatha Christie, since she’s a mystery writer with a huge oeuvre, I had a lot to play with. I used one of her typical settings—a country house cut off from the world by bad weather—and her favorite weapon, cyanide. I made the characters a little outrageous and sprinkled in a fair bit of humor. Also, the plot hinges on one of her most common tropes—but I won’t say which, because that would be telling.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
KBH: One theme is the importance of family. Emily has none living, and she feels a deep sense of bereavement because of it. Choosing that theme was primarily a way to get Emily emotionally involved in the story, since the victim is someone she’s only just met and heartily dislikes.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
KBH: I’m very fond of my main characters—Emily; her partner in life and detection, Lieutenant Sheriff Luke Richards; and her young housekeeper, Katie. Emily is a lot like me, though certainly not an exact portrait, and Luke is partly based on someone I used to know. I’m also quite partial to a character who dies before the beginning of the series—Emily’s great aunt Beatrice, who owes a lot to my own great aunt Gladys. The other characters in the series are completely imagined, but I don’t do detailed personality sketches or anything beforehand; I get to know the characters as they appear on the page. I always feel they exist independently of me, out in the ether, just waiting for my keyboard to bring them to life.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
KBH: Description is one of my favorite things to write. I don’t dwell on it but weave it in with the action. In describing settings, I always try to view them through the lens of the character’s emotions and reactions rather than just writing a travelogue. Then I look for sensory details that will evoke a feeling of the place in the reader. This series is set in a small town on the Oregon coast, and people familiar with the locale have consistently told me I capture it well.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
KBH: My “research” consists primarily of spending a week every summer at a writing retreat in the town my fictional town is based on. It’s quite a pleasant way to do research! Then of course I have to read up on the works of the classic author the book is focused on, which is also something I love to do anyway. For particular details about weapons, police procedure, and whatnot, I either search the internet or reference books or consult knowledgeable acquaintances. My chemist husband has proved helpful on numerous occasions.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
KBH: If you’re not familiar with the series, feel free to dive right in with Cyanide with Christie. You’ll get more background on the characters if you start with the first two books, Arsenic with Austen and Bloodstains with Brontë, but you won’t feel lost if you read the books out of order. Pull your easy chair up to the fire, pour yourself a big cup of cocoa or tea, and have a lovely time in transplanted Christie-land!
Thank you, Katherine, for your informative answers which you presented in an entertaining manner. I feel like I’ve met your main characters and would like to get to know them better.
Readers can learn more about Katherine and her writing by visiting her website, and her Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter pages. Cyanide with Christie and the other books in the series can be found on her Amazon author page.
About Katherine Bolger Hyde: Katherine was born almost in New York City in 1956 and has lived all over the US, but currently makes her home in the redwood country of California with her husband, youngest child, and two obstreperous cats. She decided at age eleven to become a writer, her initial idols being Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott. In college she majored in Russian literature and expanded her favorites to include Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Austen, Dickens, and many more.Katherine writes the Crime with the Classics traditional mystery series for adults as well as fantasy and picture books for children. When not writing, reading, or editing (her day job), she can usually be found singing, dancing, knitting, or drawing plans for her dream house.