Friday, April 9, 2021

Donis Casey

Donis Casey is the author of the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, an award-winning series featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. Her first mystery, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, was named an Oklahoma Centennial Book. She is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur.

Casey's new novel is Valentino Will Die, the sequel to The Wrong Girl.

My Q&A with the author:

How much does your title do to take readers into the story?

I usually suffer trying to come up with the perfect title. Only one time did I leave the title to the publisher, and I was not happy with what they chose. So for Valentino Will Die, I did it myself, and the reader can pretty much glean exactly what the story is about from the title. Most of my titles are taken from something one of the characters says, and Valentino Will Die is no exception. In fact it's Rudolph Valentino himself who utters the fateful line to our heroine, movie star Bianca LaBelle, one evening beside her swimming pool. She prods Rudy to tell her what has been bothering him for several weeks, and he replies he has been receiving threatening notes that say “Valentino will die.” I thought about having the notes say “Valentino must die,” but “must die” titles have been done to death, as it were. Instead, let's be decisive and say he “will die”.
What's in a name?

My protagonist was born Blanche Tucker, the eighth of ten children growing up on a horse farm in Oklahoma during the 1910s. She's originally named after a great-aunt of mine, whom I knew. Great Aunt Blanche was a beauty who ran away with a ne'er-do-well and ended up alone and in trouble. She was a lovely but troubled person, so I decided to give her a happy ending. Blanche became a silent movie star in the 1920s and changed her name to Bianca, oh so exotic and glamorous. Her mentor, another famous actress called Alma Bolding (also named after one of my aunts who deserved some glitz in her life) suggested Bianca change Tucker to LaBelle, after the Keats poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” “the beautiful lady without mercy,” after Bianca smacked a killer in the head with a tire iron.
Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

When I write the first draft of a novel, I don't worry about the beginning at all. I just write. After the draft is done, that's when I worry. I search through the early part of the manuscript to find where the story actually starts, an intriguing event or episode that will pose the problem and catch the reader's interest. It's usually there somewhere. When I find it, I move it to the beginning and rearrange the story to suit. When I started Valentino Will Die, I thought I knew how it would end, but I was only half right. The characters always decide to change the trajectory of the plot as it unfolds. I really work on the endings of all my books, and I certainly did so with Valentino. I love a twist, so if I can work in a logical twist at the end, I'll do it every time – and does Valentino have a twist!. I want my endings to be satisfying and memorable for the reader. The end is what makes the reader want to pick up your next book.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My family history, to begin with. Since I spun off a long, family-inspired series* into the Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse novels, set in 1920s Hollywood, my inspiration comes much more from digging into my own neuroses, especially memories of how I felt about things when I was as young and full of vinegar as my protagonist, Bianca LaBelle. I have come up with some fabulous story ideas from newspapers. When one writes historical mysteries, its fascinating to read contemporary reports of historical events. With the benefit of time, we might now know what actually happened, but it's usually not at all what they thought they knew while events were unfolding.

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

My teenaged reader self probably would identify, if she read the book at all, that is. My teenaged writer self would be surprised, all right. She already thought of herself as a deep thinker and an author who would only write existential novels full of angst. Fifty years and a lot of real life existential angst later, I want to write about likable people who eat good food, wear great clothes, and do the best they can.

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

Though her life and experiences are completely unlike my own, I see my young self very much in Bianca LaBelle's personality. She appears to the world as confident and outgoing but she's been badly burned, so she is wary of others, is drawn to misfits, and something of a loner. I also see a lot of my grown-up self in the villain K.D. Dix, a small, dimpled, elderly woman with a sweet face who runs a many-tentacled crime syndicate. She has to be in charge so no one can get to her. Dix had a tough youth. She dealt with it by becoming a stone cold killer. I write murder mysteries.

*FYI, the earlier series was the ten book Alafair Tucker Mysteries set in 1910s Oklahoma. Bianca is one of Alafair's children.
Visit Donis Casey's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hell with the Lid Blown Off.

My Book, The Movie: Hell With the Lid Blown Off.

The Page 69 Test: All Men Fear Me.

My Book, The Movie: All Men Fear Me.

The Page 69 Test: The Wrong Girl.

My Book, The Movie: Valentino Will Die.

The Page 69 Test: Valentino Will Die.

--Marshal Zeringue