Wednesday, February 22, 2017

An Interview with Agatha Nominee Cynthia Kuhn by E. B. Davis

When Professor Lila Maclean is sent to interview celebrated author and notorious
cad Damon Von Tussel, he disappears before her very eyes. The English department is
thrown into chaos by the news, as Damon is supposed to headline Stonedale University’s upcoming Arts Week. The chancellor makes it clear that he expects Lila to locate the writer
and set events back on track immediately. But someone appears to have a different plan:
strange warnings are received, valuable items go missing, and a series of dangerous
incidents threaten the lives of Stonedale’s guests. After her beloved mother, who happens
to be Damon’s ex, rushes onto campus and into harm’s way, Lila has even more
reason to bring the culprit to light before anything—or anyone—else vanishes.

Last May, I interviewed Cynthia Kuhn on the release of her first novel, The Semester Of Our Discontent. When the Malice Domestic nominations were released, sure enough, that book was on the list in the Best First category. Congratulations, Cynthia, from all of us at WWK, and welcome back.     E. B. Davis

Thank you so much—and thank you for letting me visit WWK again! Happy to be here.

First things first—what was your reaction to the Agatha nomination? As a professor, was there any reaction on campus from students or colleagues about the nomination?

Stunned! And very grateful to those who nominated it and to Malice Domestic. I’m a big fan of the other writers in the Best First Novel category, and it’s an honor to be among them. People on campus were very kind about the news. 

Are there still literature snobs who discriminate against genre authors on campus?

Both on and off campuses, surely. each their own.

When a student fails to cite sources on her paper, Lila reports her failure to the student judicial board. Why didn’t she let the girl off the hook?

Schools have policies in place for dealing with plagiarism, and Lila is following Stonedale’s procedures. The student’s paper was cobbled together from sections of various sources, so Lila didn’t have much of a choice. (Sidenote: there were a surprising number of “big” news stories about plagiarism this year!)

What do suspenders say about a man?

Well, in Spencer’s case, they say he’s dapper. He has an extensive collection. It was fun to “design” the ones that resemble an inked manuscript.

The reader learns more about Lila’s famous artist mother, Violet O. Does she live life large or is she melodramatic?

She lives life to the fullest and she’s a bit over the top. I would love to go to one of her art shows.

Francisco’s behavior seems to change depending on who he is with. Is he arrogant or not?

Great question. I don’t think he is arrogant. Lila can’t quite read him at first, but what seems like arrogance comes from an earnest desire to establish his scholarly credentials, to be recognized as an expert on his topic. The reception of his current project will genuinely affect his career, and he’s on edge about that.  On the other hand, he tends to be more relaxed around his close friends (like most of us are).

Judith, Lila’s mentor, and the department chair, Spencer, are married. Calista is dating Francisco. Are there no rules about fraternization in universities?

It varies, depending on where one works, but some schools do have policies that caution against or ban such fraternization. It can be especially complicated where different levels of authority/supervision are involved—for example, professor and student, or administrator and professor. (But Judith and Spencer were married before he became chair, whew.)

Poor Lila. She submits a nonfiction proposal for a book based on her dissertation. But the focus of it is an unknown author of mystery fiction. She realizes her book proposal won’t be of interest to anyone because she must get the author’s books published first. Is publish or perish still the edict for those without tenure? Has Lila messed up her chances?

Lila would appreciate your empathy for her situation! Yes, in places where research is expected for achieving tenure, it’s publish or perish. Because there was only a small press run of mystery writer Isabella Dare’s books, she is virtually unknown to contemporary readers. In order for Lila to persuade a press to publish her research (which is no small feat even if the author is well-known), she may first need to convince someone to republish Dare’s work. This could go either way for her, and it’s not going to be easy, in any case.

Does Nate deserve Lila’s consideration especially now that Detective Archer is interested?

Readers do seem to have an opinion on this matter after finishing The Art of Vanishing. Let’s just say I’m listening with great interest.

When you beta read, what are the most typical mistakes mystery writers make?

This is a difficult question to answer—every story is different. But there does need to be something upfront that engages readers, whether it’s an instant conflict that pulls us in or a style/character/structure so compelling that we are content to float along for awhile until the conflict is initiated.

Would you read Jane Austen or J. D. Salinger if you had time to fill waiting in an airport terminal?

Jane Austen for the win! Though I do like Salinger as well.

What’s next for Lila?

She will soon have cause to sleuth again—Stonedale University is chock-full of mysteries.


  1. Best wishes for The Art of Vanishing - I'm curious about the title, care to comment?

    ~ Jim

  2. Fun interview! And congrats again on the nomination, Cynthia!

  3. Congratulations and thanks for sharing with us.

  4. I think the university setting is a very cool place to set a mystery. Tensions can run high there!

  5. Hi Cynthia! Thank you for stopping by WWK. Congratulations on the Agatha nomination!

  6. Congratulations, Cynthia, on your Agatha nomination. I hope to see you at Malice.

  7. congratulations on your nomination. I loved the Amanda Cross books and look forward to reading yours.

  8. Thank you, everyone! Appreciate the warm welcome and thanks so much for letting me visit!

    Jim, the title has multiple layers that (I hope) become clear by the end of the book, but overtly, it focuses on the Arts Week event and the disappearance of Damon Von Tussel. Have to say, it was quite a process to come up with something that combined academia + mystery PLUS reflected the title structure of the first book in the series!

    Carla, yes--agree with you about the tensions. :)

    Margaret, oh, I loved the Kate Fansler series as well! Those were the first academic mysteries I ever read. Still re-read them from time to time.

    Thanks for your comments and kindness Art, Warren, Shari, and Gloria too!

  9. I love your main character's logic, values, and at times disgust and paranoia of the academic environment. Thanks for the interview, and good luck at Malice!

  10. E.B., what a lovely comments! Means a lot. And thank YOU for the interview--you ask *such* thought-provoking questions. Pleasure to have had the opportunity to visit today.

  11. Cynthia,
    I enjoyed reading about your series. I love mysteries set in academia.

    See you at Malice!!


  12. Congratulations, Cynthia, on the publication of your book and your Agatha Nomination. You must be on Cloud Nine. Wishing you well on the competition. I'll be at Malice cheering you on.

  13. Hi Cynthia, congratulations on the Agatha nom! I am so thrilled for you. Can't wait to catch up with The Art of Vanishing.

  14. Marilyn, Grace, and Kait: thank you for stopping by and for the comments--so VERY kind of you. (Looking forward to seeing you at Malice!)

  15. Best wishes for the Agatha! I'll be at Malice!

  16. Fun interview, Cynthia! I loved Vanishing and can't wait for book three!!

  17. Hi KM--thank you very much, and I look forward to seeing you at Malice. :)

    Ann, you're so kind! Thank you. :)