by Grace Topping
Claws for Alarm (Nick and Nora Mysteries)
Since inheriting her mother’s sandwich shop, Nora Charles is more about hot grilled paninis than cold-blooded murder—until her sister Lacey is arrested. The victim, an esteemed art collector and Lacey’s bullying professor, was stabbed in the heart. Apparently, all over a lousy grade.
Off campus, things were just as dicey. The prof had an ex with secrets, a trophy wife set to inherit a fortune in masterworks, and a scorned student mistress. Going undercover, Nora realizes that investigating this crime is the biggest test of her sleuthing career. Because if she fails, even Nick’s animal instinct won’t be enough to rescue Lacey from a perfectly executed framing.
Toni LoTempio’s editor recently informed her that she is now qualified to use the phrase: National Bestselling Author. After years of writing and being published, her book Meow If It’s Murder put her on the bestseller list. Fans of that book are anxiously awaiting the next in her Nick and Nora Charles series, Claws for Alarm, which will be released on November 3, 2015.
It is a real pleasure to welcome National Bestselling Author, Toni LoTempio, to Writers Who Kill.
Your characters are a reminder of a gone-by era and classic movies. What prompted you to base your main characters on Nick and Nora Charles? Are you a fan of classic movies?
Yes, definitely. I love the classic movies, and the classic actors. Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and, of course, William Powell. As for how I decided to base my series on characters from the Thin Man, my then-supervisor at my day job advised me I should write a book about my cat. That night, Turner Classics was playing The Thin Man, and my cat Rocco jumped onto my lap when William Powell appeared on the screen. So that started me thinking: What if Nick Charles were reincarnated as a cat? That became the basic premise for the original Meow If It’s Murder, which Berkley nixed in favor of a non-talking cat.
Nora finds herself pulled between making a success of the sandwich shop she inherited from her mother and her former career as a crime reporter. You've done a good job of balancing those in your books. How hard was it finding that balance?
Not very, because in my own life I have to balance a full time career as a compliance analyst (it’s not as elegant as it sounds) with being a writer. I have a pretty good rhythm going right now, but it also means not having much of a personal life.
Nora's partner in crime solving turns out to be the cat that adopted her. This uber intelligent cat points her in the right direction using all kinds of tricks, including Scrabble game pieces and scratching pages from his former owner's diaries. What was your greatest challenge is making Nick a part of the team?
In the original version, Nick was supposed to be the reincarnation of his former owner and the cat actually talked. Berkley nixed the idea of him talking, but said that the cat “could do anything else” so that gave me plenty of latitude. My own cat Rocco has been known to bandy Scrabble tiles about (although its more for the purposes of chewing than spelling out clues), so I took a page from his behavior.
A theme in Meow If It's Murder is the far-reaching arm of organized crime mobs and witness protection. Are these subjects you've written about and researched before turning to fiction?
I’ve always been a big fan of true crime, and I think I must have read every book Ann Rule has ever written. I did research organized crime and especially the witness protection program when I did Meow.
Writers are often told to ditch the prologue. You've effectively used a prologue in both books. Did you face resistance from your editor or others using a prologue?
Not yet. J Hopefully not ever, because every Nick and Nora I’ve penned so far has a prologue. It sets up the murder/crime that Nora and Nick are faced with, and then, of course, there are other murders along the way….
Nora's friend Chantal helps guide her by reading her tarot cards. Do you have someone who helps guide you in your life or career? Using tarot cards or otherwise?
I have been fortunate in having many good friends who have helped me out, as well as wonderful parents. I did have one friend in particular, Sally Ann Morris, who was a gifted psychic. Events she predicted years ago still come out to this day, and her accuracy rate was truly astonishing. The character of Chantal is patterned after her.
Family relationships play a major part in both of your books. Out of loyalty to her mother Nora leaves a job in Chicago to return to California to carry on her mother's sandwich shop. She was also willing to risk her life savings to save her difficult sister when she is accused of murder. Do you think Nora is getting the short end of the stick?
Probably, but it wouldn’t matter to Nora. She’s one of those people for which family will always come first, no matter what. And that includes Nick, of course!
In Claws for Alarm you discuss the problem of art forgeries. In doing research for this book, did you discover ways that buyers can protect themselves from purchasing a forged piece of art?
Research what you are buying carefully, and know whom you’re dealing with. I think this applies to pretty most everything.
What inspired you to write mysteries?
I’ve always loved mysteries, ever since I read my first Nancy Drew at age ten. Perry Mason quickly followed. My mother was a big mystery lover too. She used to read my Nancy Drew books before I did!
Tell us about your journey to publication. Was it a difficult one?
Is there an easy one? I tabled writing for a long time due to family issues, and got back into it in 1997 at the urging of my friend Vi Kizis. I went the usual route of trying independent publishers, trying to get an agent, and I did have some luck having my horror stories published by a small press. In 2010 I decided to self-publish a paranormal called Raven’s Kiss, which went over pretty good, but not great. Then in 2011 I landed my agent, Josh Getzler, but we didn’t hit a sale until I wrote Meow If It’s Murder. Once I made the changes Berkley asked for, it sold quickly. If you’re the type of person who’s in a hurry, writing is not the profession for you. It takes a lot of time and patience, a virtue I honestly never thought I possessed.
What's next for Nick and Nora Charles? Will we ever discover what happened to Nick's owner, Nick Atkins?
I have several more adventures in the can for Nick and Nora. Now all I need is for Berkley to offer me a contract for them. J I am contracted for at least one more book. Of Crime and Catnip will be out December 2016, and in that book we get a sense of what may or may not have happened to Nick Atkins. The whereabouts of Human Nick will be a big question mark for Nick and Nora…at least for now.
Thank you, Toni, for joining us at Writers Who Kill.
To learn more about Toni LoTempio and her other books, visit her website:http://tclotempio.com