Today is an interview with writer Jeanne Mackin, aka Anna Maclean as a kickoff for her virtual book tour for her newest novel, Louisa and the Crystal Gazer.
Anna Maclean is the author of the Louisa May Alcott mysteries series. Aka Jeanne Mackin, she is an award winning journalist and the author of several historical novels as well. She lives in the finger Lakes area of New York with her husband.
Welcome, Anna. Please tell us about your current release.
Louisa and the Crystal Gazer is the third in a series of mysteries featuring Louisa May Alcott as an amateur detective. The books have been translated and published in Japan as well as in this country.
“Maclean has a wonderful grasp of the history, language and style of nineteenth-century Boston.”—The Best Reviews
Boston, 1855. With her timeless Little Women years away from fruition, Louisa May Alcott is busy writing “blood and thunder” romance stories. To get by, Louisa takes a job as a seamstress while the rest of the Alcott family winters in New Hampshire. Fortunately, Louisa has her friend Sylvia Shattuck to keep her company.
Louisa accompanies her friend to visit Boston’s most famous spiritual medium, Mrs. Agatha D. Percy, to contact Sylvia’s long-dead father. She isn’t one to believe such folderol, but thinks the experience may inspire her imagination—until a prediction that Louisa will have an unexpected guest is followed by the arrival of her little sister, Lizzie.
Louisa and Sylvia visit the seer again to confirm whether her gifts might be genuine—but Mrs. Percy’s days of divination have been brutally cut short by a killer. Now, Louisa must solve the mystery of the crystal gazer’s untimely death by uncovering the shocking truth about her life.
Praise for the Louisa May Alcott Mysteries
“Charming and clever amateur sleuth Louisa May Alcott springs to life.”—Karen Harper, National Bestselling Author of The Queen’s Governess
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always been fascinated by stories of spiritualism and hauntings and other doings of the supernatural. The nineteenth century was a particularly rich time for other-worldly events, with the Fox sisters beginning what came to be known as American Spiritualism – the kind where spirits knock on the tables and walls, and trumpets fall from the ceiling.
In this novel, I had a great time recreating what I thought an actual nineteenth century séance might be like…and then letting Louisa, and one of the murder suspects, P.T. Barnum himself, go through the process of debunking it. Louisa is full of warmth and sympathy, though, and she quickly understands what the séances are really about, for those attending: somehow healing the past. In this mystery, though, the past doesn’t heal until a murder is found.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m beginning a fourth mystery, in which Louisa is older and wiser and more experienced. In the first three mysteries, she is still a very young woman, just beginning her career as a writer. I’m going to move her forward in time, to when she is on the verge of becoming the very famous author of Little Women.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Always. I’ve been writing stories since I was first able to hold a pencil. As a child I loved fairy tales, and wrote my own, and then of course I fell absolutely in love with Nancy Drew. I also love historical fiction, so when I began my mystery series I knew it would be historical, with a strong woman protagonist.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
A couple of hours is all my imagination can take – it’s kind of like running. When I sit down to write, I’m a sprinter, not a long distance runner. I write first thing in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day taking care of the rest of my life. I also teach and that takes up the afternoons. I cook great meals, I dance, I garden. It is important to me to have balance in my life, and lots of stimulation, or I can feel my imagination begin to wither. I read like mad, all over the place, nonfiction and fiction, mysteries and contemporary mainstream…everything that looks good. There are piles of books all over my house.
Finding time, of course, is always an issue, and when I worked full time as a university journalist, and when my teaching load is heavy, I just have to be really strict with myself. A page, I tell myself, you can do a page, can’t you? And then the page turns into two or three, and I’ve managed my quota for the day.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m still in love with the clacking keys of my old typewriter. I use a word processor, of course, but on days when the words are flowing like molasses, I go back to my typewriter and plunk and clack away. My cats love the sound and my husband hears it as a very useful warning: stay away!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Well, a writer, of course, interspersed with wanting to a missionary nun or a ballerina. Somehow my vision of my life was always one of traveling and creating stories, as do missionaries and ballerinas, and writers. My historical stories are very much a form of travel for me, a way of experiencing other lives and other cultures.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Thank you so much for inviting me!
Excerpt from Louisa and the Crystal Gazer:
“I miss Father,” Sylvia signed one morning as we took our walk along the harbor. It was a misty cold day, and the harbor waves were tipped with frosty white.
“Unfortunately, your father passed away when you were a child,” I answered gently. “You barely knew that long-enduring man, so how do you now claim to miss him?”
“My point exactly,” my companion responded…“I feel the need for a masculine presence in my life, and would like to converse with my father. I will, with the assistance of Mrs. Agatha Percy. Please come with me to one of her sittings!”
I groaned and jammed my hands deeper into my pocket, despite the stares of several passersby; a lady did not put her hands in her pockets. She did if they were cold, I thought. Ship rigging creaked in the wind and bells chimed the start of a new watch, and I pondered Sylvia’s statement.
Mrs. Agatha D. Percy was the newest fad in Boston, one of the recently risen members of that questionable group of individuals known as ‘spiritists,’ or mediums…
“I can think of better ways to spend time and money than sitting in the dark and watching parlor tricks. I would much rather, for instance, attend one of Signor Massimo’s musical evening.” The signor, a famous pianist, was touring the United States from his home in Rome and had decided to winter in Boston. He was giving a series of performances – performances I could not afford, since the tickets were as much as three dollars apiece, even when they were available.
“Mother tried to get tickets and could not. She was furious,” Sylvia said. I could understand; women with Mrs. Shattuck’s family name and wealth were not accustomed to hearing no.
“Look, there is ice in the harbor,” I said, putting my hand over my eyes to shield them from the glare.
“I will have your answer,” Sylvia persisted.
I introduced several new topics of conversation, hoping to distract Sylvia from her mission – Jenny Lind, the Wild West, a newly published travel book about France that was flying off the shelves – but each topic she cleverly rejoined and detoured back to Mrs. Percy…
“Don’t you see?” Sylvia sighed in exasperation, pulling at my hand to prevent me from taking another step. “The spirits themselves wish you to visit her. They put those very suggestions in your mind!”
“Then they should put a plot or two in my mind,” I said, remembering the still-blank sheet of paper before which I had sat that morning at my desk. Being between stories was an unpleasant state for me, when no plot or story threaded the random thoughts of every imagination.
“I am unconvinced that ‘fun’ is the correct word to describe an hour of sitting in the dark, pretending to speak with the dead,” I said.
“Spirits,” corrected Sylvia. “The dead don’t like to be called dead. Such a harsh word.”
Neither of us was yet aware of exactly how harsh that séance would become.