Cozy author Luba Lesychyn is here today to chat about her new international art theft thriller, Theft Between the Rains.
During her virtual book tour, Luba will awarding a print copy of Theft Between the Rains to a lucky randomly drawn winner (US or Canada only). To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!
Luba Lesychyn is a popular Toronto-based mystery writer, a graduate of the Humber School for Writers, and a respected author in the local library readings and events circuit.
In her two books, she draws from her more than 20 years of work experiences at the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada’s largest museum), and her time working for a private museum consulting firm to write humorous, international art theft thrillers featuring amateur sleuth Kalena Boyko.
Luba currently spends her time writing and virtually touring Theft Between the Rains.
Please tell us about your current release.
What would you do if you worked at a reputable international museum and art works listed as still missing since WWII began showing up on your doorstep?
That’s the substance of my newest urban art theft thriller Theft Between the Rains.
This novel is a sequel to my debut novel, Theft By Chocolate (about a woman looking for chocolate, love and an international art thief in all the wrong places), published in 2012 by Attica Books and launched in Canada and the UK.
Drawing on my real-life experiences at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, I reintroduce many of the affable and quirky characters from Theft By Chocolate and resurrect the malicious art thief who has been on the world’s most wanted criminal list for decades.
Theft Between the Rains takes readers behind the scenes at the ROM and to some of the most intriguing parts unknown of Toronto. And with water being a character unto its own, I have used both humor and thriller elements to weave a page-turning story while simultaneously illustrating how changing weather patterns are impacting metropolitan centers around the world.
What inspired you to write this book?
Most importantly, it’s very possible that I would not have written Theft Between the Rains had it not been for relentless requests from readers of Theft By Chocolate for a sequel. I had never intended it to be anything more than a stand-alone story. But just in case, I had left a few plot points open-ended and, finally, some inspiration came my way from a very unexpected source – from a couple of documentary films, actually.
I saw the film Lost Rivers and it’s about how cities have undergrounded their urban rivers and streams and use them as part of their sewage systems. While watching the film I was reminded of the fact that the museum in which my first book was set is situated above an undergrounded creek.
Shortly afterwards, at a screening of the documentary The Rape of Europa, about the plunder of art during World War II, I got goosebumps. I’ve always been fascinated by films like The Monuments Men and Woman in Gold and something my mother had told me about her experiences in Germany during the war (where she was in a forced labor situation) had always stuck with me. And I was intrigued.
I came up with the notion about what my lead character, museum employee and reluctant sleuth Kalena Boyko, would do if art work listed as still missing since the Second World War started mysteriously showing up in her world. Then I began to construct the plot around specific settings including underground water systems and rarely seen or visited sites in Toronto. From there, water developed into a recurring theme throughout the book – there’s still some chocolate in it because Kalena is a chocolate addict – but water is the primary motif.
Excerpt from Theft Between the Rains:
In this scene, lead character Kalena is meeting with her partner-in-crime-solving, Marco, a museum security guard.
At the entrance of RoCoCo’s, the aroma of luxurious Valrhona chocolate enveloped me like a sweet fog, coating the delicate hairs inside my nostrils with a nectarous film. For a moment, I felt myself weightless, floating, defying gravity.
The establishment’s boutique served as a retail antechamber to the dining area, and it would take every single molecule of self-control to bypass the exquisite jewelry-case-like displays that were making all of my senses dance. Rather than gems, however, the delicate glass cabinets were appointed with rows of truffle delicacies infused with Bombay chai and Tahitian vanilla, Seville orange and sweet curry. The chocolaty delights sported deliciously creative names like Thai Me Up, Curry in a Hurry, Hot Mess, and Belle du Jour. From there my eyes wandered to wall displays strategically populated with pastel-hued macarons flavored with lavender and cassis, figs and red wine, passion fruit and pistachios. The white floors and walls formed a perfect backdrop highlighting the vibrant wares. I dug in my heels and cantered forward like a horse with blinders on.
As I passed towards the next room, the ethereal airiness of the shop area transitioned. What awaited further inside was best described as a den. Here the tones deepened to a palette of masculine browns, with deep saturations of tan and taupe, hazel and mahogany. The sense of formality was heightened with wainscoting galore and weighty furniture. It felt as though I had invaded the inner sanctum of an exclusive men’s club from another time. As the décor was not a Rococo style at all, I suspected the owners decided to maintain the previously existing aesthetic and not invest in a massive reno.
A buzzing crowd already occupied the room, but Marco was nowhere among the chatty throng. Before I drew my next breath, the restaurant’s host beelined towards me. Like a traditional Parisian waiter, he sported a large moustache, slicked-back hair and joker-like grin.
“Hello,” said the man in a fathomless baritone. “Do you have a reservation?”
“I don’t think so. I hope you can fit two more in.” I spied a small empty table. “What about that one over there?”
“I’m afraid it is reserved. I don’t suppose your moniker is Kalena, is it?”
“My most humble of apologies. Marco is awaiting you in our private Fireplace Room. You will have no disturbances there.”
Did he just give me a sly wink? What the hell was going on? Why would we need such a degree of privacy?
“Please, follow me. And again, my apologies for not pairing name to face. Might I be so bold as to say that Marco’s description of ‘really, really cute’ is rather an understatement.”
A flush swept over me as I was escorted towards a set of brocaded, chocolate-colored draperies hanging at the end of the room. With a gentle push, he separated the heavy folds of fabric allowing me to pass through first. A single log in the fireplace glowed as if a swarm of fireflies had settled on one end of the wood. My eyes adjusted and Marco’s silhouette grew clearer. The situation felt surreally odd. The room was more suitable for clandestine lovers than for colleagues.
“I will leave the two of you to peruse the menu. Simply pull that cord behind you when you’re ready to place your dinner order,” said the host, nodding towards an enormous tasseled golden rope straight out of a Bedouin tent in the middle of a desert. I was beginning to feel as if I was in a David Lynch film, where everything was a bit askew. All we needed was a smoke machine to heighten the atmosphere to the next level of eeriness.
“Thanks,” said Marco.
“So, what do you think of this room? Kind of cool, eh?”
“Uh, yeah.” The oversized wingback chair almost swallowed me up when I sank into it.
Marco slid the menus to the side of the table. “We’ll look at those in a bit. First, there’s something I want to show you.” Marco leaned to one side and began to reach for something under the table while keeping his eyes peeled on me. From a knapsack, he withdrew an electronic tablet and tapped the screen. “Hold on, this’ll fire up in two secs.” He rested the tablet on the table. “Have you ever been out to Eastern Road?”
“To the Museum’s off-site storage facility? No. I’ve never had an official reason to trek out there.” The colossal warehouse was in an industrial part of the city, nestled among nondescript buildings and surrounded by main thoroughfares.
“But you know about the kind of stuff they keep there, right?”
I rolled my eyeballs upwards at the thirty-something. “I’ve worked at the Museum about ten times longer than you, remember?”
Most museums with large collections, like ours, house a good portion of their inventory in covert outposts. It’s mostly a matter of cost. Museums located in downtown cores of sizable cities like Toronto, New York, and Chicago simply couldn’t afford the real estate required to store all of their monumental collections at their main centrally located public building. And keeping a goodly proportion of their stockpile off site is also seen as a sort of insurance policy for a museum. If there’s any kind of natural disaster or major security breach, a museum’s entire cache is not jeopardized.
“All of the Museum’s overstock is out there. Duplicate specimens and artifacts, and all the jumbo-sized objects,” I continued.
“Exactly. I haven’t been out there yet, but there’s supposed to be tons of dino skeletons, a bunch of old stuffed animals, even ancient Egyptian boats and Chinese carriages. They could probably make a killing if they sold some of that stuff off.”
“You know, the Museum can’t randomly sell its artifacts or specimens. As a government designated guardian of the collections, ethically, and legally it can’t just start dumping its treasures. Deaccessioning is pretty tricky, and there’s a complicated protocol involved.”
What exciting story are you working on next?
Years ago, I wrote a screen play that I always wanted to flesh out into a much more detailed story. It’s very different from my first two books, but it still falls into the mystery genre and unlike the script’s original story, I have reset it in the world of museums. It’s a paranormal tale about a few souls that meet in more than one lifetime.
I’m also considering writing another work in tandem with the aforementioned piece. It’s a memoir/fiction blend about my family’s experiences as first-generation Canadians. I also plan to launch a new blog series soon about memory and isolation inspired by the current world circumstances. I have much to keep me busy.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Although I wrote informally for a smaller audience in my blogs about cinema, I don’t think it was until I published my first book that I started calling myself a writer. It shouldn’t have taken that kind of validation to make me realize that I was a writer, but I think many an author suffers from a case of imposter syndrome.
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?
I have only very recently early-retired from a lifetime of full-time administrative work. As mentioned, I worked in the museum field for decades, then worked at a college and ended up my career working in the corporate world. I’ve also taught yoga part-time for decades as well and that’s been put on hold due to current world circumstances. So, I am able to devote my time to writing now.
It’s taken me a while to develop more of a routine because there have been so many changes in my life in the last year. I tend to spend my early mornings meditating and ideating (thinking about my stories). And then I move onto some kind of physical activity, alternating between yoga and dance (home versions these days). And then I try to clear up as many tasks and commitments as possible so that, at the very least, I have the afternoons and evenings for writing. Sometimes I will write on the weekends as well, but I allow myself to take a break from all my weekday routines to just relax.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m not sure it’s a quirk, but I edit, edit, edit all the way through my writing. I’m not one of those writers that can turn out a quick first draft and then go back and edit. It’s almost compulsive. I think it stems from the fact that when I was working 9-to-5, I had to fit in the writing whenever I could find the time and sometimes there were big gaps between writing sprees. So, when I went back to the work, I would have to reread everything to pick up the thread again and that always resulted in lots of editing in what I had already written.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in a world where I was allowed a lot of play and there was no pressure from my family to take up any kind of specific profession. It was just important to them and to myself to get a ‘good’ education and to flow with the universe. I didn’t realize that that was what I was doing at the time. But I never would have predicted the amazing career that I had or that I would become an author.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Whenever I do events and readings, I spend some time talking about my unorthodox journey to becoming a writer as an example to audience members that one can become a writer at any point in one’s life and that you can come to it from an infinite number of backgrounds and directions.
I would also add that the most important characteristic of a writer is persistence. In my writing journey, I have met so many truly gifted writers, but some give up on their art prematurely for fear of rejection. In this day and age and with the option of self-publishing anyone can share their stories with the world.
Thanks for being here today, Luba.