Sunday, February 7, 2021

Jeri Westerson

Los Angeles native Jeri Westerson is the author of fifteen Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novels, a series nominated for 13 national awards from the Agatha to the Shamus.

The newly released 14th volume is Spiteful Bones.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I hope it intrigues enough to get them to pick it up and read the back matter. I work pretty hard on my titles. I want them to intrigue and then to describe what the book will be about in a, hopefully, subtle way. When I work on my medieval mystery titles, I gather a list of words that one might expect of such a book. For instance, “shadow”, “blood”, “sword”, “bone”, etc. with other word prompts like “season of…”, “conspiracy of… “house of…”. The title should evoke the time period as well as suggest a mystery. I wouldn’t have called a humorous book Spiteful Bones…unless, of course, I was describing the humerus. All in all, I’ve liked my titles, if I do say so myself.

What's in a name?

Crispin Guest, my protagonist in the series—a disgraced knight and lord banished from court and the only life he had ever known—was not a difficult name to come up with for me. I wanted a name that I wouldn’t mind typing over and over and also the way it sounds when spoken. And, of course, it had to be accurate to the time period. A saint’s name is safe, and I had always liked the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V, so Crispin it was. But the last name. This was still in a time period where some families didn’t have surnames, lower class families, at any rate. Also, there is a cadence to names. If he has a two-syllable first name, then I prefer a one-syllable last name, or vice versa. I came across the name “Guest”, at first thinking it was French, which was perfectly acceptable from a past Norman-invasion nobility. But I later discovered it was Welsh, which made his backstory all the more interesting. By giving his history this Welsh lord who was given his barony by Henry II (the king who was contemporary and friends with Thomas Becket), he already came with a somewhat troubled past. Hence, Crispin’s family motto “His Own Worst Enemy” since Wales and England have always been at odds. Also, due to Crispin’s circumstances as someone banished from court for treason and being unable to get the aid from relatives or friends from nobility, he has a very Dickensian-descriptive surname; his name is Guest but he isn’t welcomed anywhere. I love adding little tidbits like that for readers who may or may not catch on to these Easter eggs on their own.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenaged reader self would have devoured it, because not only was it in a medieval setting, but it was a mystery—with a tangled plot—and with characters I had grown to love and care about. It would have been better than the historical/medieval fiction I was already reading back in the day because of those extra added bits.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find it all harder these days. I used to be able to whip out the beginning (in a mystery, it’s still fairly easy), and I would have known where it was going to its conclusion. But I find the older I get that writing isn’t any easier. My mind isn’t as focused as it used to be. I used to be able to sit for eight hours straight writing to my heart’s content, but my attention span isn’t any better than anyone else in the age of the internet. That all being said, I still know how to start and I still know vaguely where the end is heading and I seem to be programmed to write it all within the same page count as I always seem to do. Though the villain at the end isn’t always the one that I start with. So the answer is that I will change the ending more frequently to make it harder to guess whodunnit.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I am nothing like my characters. I’m not that smart, I’m not that decent, I’m certainly not that nimble physically. Though one thing I have liked about having a long series (this is the fourteenth book and the series ends with the next one, The Deadliest Sin, releasing 2022). Crispin and his apprentice Jack Tucker have aged. Crispin is older and creakier and he has learned his limitations, which he now leaves to Jack who has grown from an eleven-year-old boy to a grown man with a wife and children. When a miscreant must be chased, he directs Jack to do it. That has been fun allowing the characters to not only grow in their feelings about themselves and life in general, but to allow them to grow up and grow old.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I suppose this is a way of saying what readers always ask; Where do you get your ideas? And they come from everywhere. From every book—both fiction and non-fiction—I have ever read, every movie I’ve seen, every television show I’ve watched, every conversation I’ve ever had, every place I’ve been, every quiet moment in a secluded grove and every crash of a wave on a beach. Because you never know what will spark some little idea in you that might lead to some story that will not let you go, that lingers in your head. I’ve even gotten an entire plot for a paranormal series from a dream that I went on to write and publish. Inspiration comes from everywhere, and I’m darned glad it does. But I can well see how the ancients called it a personification—the Muse, because it’s just like magic when it descends upon you.
Follow Jeri Westerson on Twitter and Facebook.

The Page 69 Test: Veil of Lies.

The Page 69 Test: Serpent in the Thorns.

The Page 69 Test: The Demon's Parchment.

My Book, The Movie: The Demon's Parchment.

The Page 69 Test: Troubled Bones.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Lance.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow of the Alchemist.

The Page 69 Test: Cup of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: The Silence of Stones.

The Page 69 Test: A Maiden Weeping.

--Marshal Zeringue