Wednesday, August 28, 2019

An Interview with Author Cynthia Kuhn by E. B. Davis

I had marched into The Path’s End restaurant intending to order oatmeal, but somehow
my order translated itself to go with the flow after my friends had ordered waffles.
How does that happen, anyway? If someone could figure out how to keep one’s
willpower on a leash, they’d be a gazillionaire.
Cynthia Kuhn, The Subject of Malice, Kindle Loc. 1875

The organizers have rustled up plenty of surprises for the literary conference at Tattered Star Ranch. But the murder of an influential scholar wasn’t on the program—someone has clearly taken the theme of Malice in the Mountains to heart. This shocking crime is only the beginning: other dangers and deceptions are soon revealed.

English professor Lila Maclean has a full agenda: she must convince a press to publish her book (possibly), ace her panel presentations (hopefully), and deal with her nemesis (regrettably). However, when Detective Lex Archer requests Lila’s academic expertise, she agrees to consult on the case. While her contributions earn high marks from her partner, it could be too late; the killer is already taking aim at the next subject. As Lila races to keep her colleagues alive, publish or perish takes on new meaning.

Cynthia Kuhn won the Agatha Award for the first book in the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series for The Semester of Our Discontent. The Subject of Malice is the fourth book in this series and will surely cause a stir since it is held at a conference similar to the Malice Domestic Conference. Much like Cynthia, Lila is nominated for an award, but Lila must read and answer questions about her academic nonfiction. Her career hinges on the publication of her book.

But the Raleigh sisters, Simone and Selene, poke their nasty noses in Lila’s business and try to bring her down again. Lila knows it, Calista, her cousin, and Nate, her colleague, know it, but Lila’s blockhead publisher doesn’t get it. When a body appears, Lila’s boyfriend, Detective Lex Archer, asks for Lila’s help. She has to solve the case. But there is a truth waiting to jump Lila and shake her status quo that’s as nasty as Simone and Selene.

Please welcome Cynthia Kuhn back to WWK.                                                 E. B. Davis 

Thank you so much for hosting me!

The literary conference Lila is attending, Malice in the Mountains, is sponsored by the Horror and Gothic Society. What encompasses Gothic literature? How do you define the genre? What differentiates it from Mystery?

Gothic literature as a genre is often said to have blossomed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, though there were earlier texts that certainly had Gothic elements. The genre continued to shift in later eras following its “Golden Age,” but early Gothic harkened back to the mysterious and supernatural flavor of medieval romance to offer wild and inexplicable tales that thrilled readers. There are numerous conventions, but I’ll touch on a few big ones. The settings have changed over the years—from crumbling castles or other buildings with Gothic architecture (from which the genre gets its name) to isolated houses to urban landscapes—but there is still a strong sense of horror and, typically, a crossing of boundaries (physical, mental, spiritual, etc.) as well as a confrontation of reason and unreason. The uncanny remains a powerful aspect, defamiliarizing the familiar. Monsters and monstrosity are also common, whether in the form of external threats/figures or internal obsessions. Gothic has been discussed as a subgenre (or precursor) of horror, and Gothic and mystery are also intertwined. Consider that Edgar Allan Poe was a master of Gothic literature as well as the so-called “father” of the detective story. Detective fiction, mystery, and thriller have developed their own conventions, but they do generally focus on darker subjects, elements of terror, and the crossing of boundaries.

Simone Raleigh has been Lila’s nemesis since she got her job at Stonedale University after Lila was offered the position over Simone’s twin sister, Selene. Is that reason enough for revenge?

Simone and Selene definitely think it is. They are grudge-holders of the highest degree!

The Raleigh sisters announce they have a contract with Lila’s publisher to write a book, Brontë and Dare: Double Trouble. Is Brontë considered Gothic? Would a publisher want two books on the same author, Dare, who few people know about? Why would the publisher release them at the same time?

Yes, Jane Eyre has been discussed as a Gothic novel, with wonderfully unsettling aspects, from the red room scene to the madwoman in the attic and beyond. In The Subject of Malice, Fairlake Press sees itself as edgy and ahead of the curve, and they don’t do things exactly the way others do. (There’s another reason that emerges as the story progresses too.)

Since Lila’s dissertation and book is about Isabella Dare, she is taken aback that the sisters are also publishing a book about Dare and may preempt her book by getting theirs published first. Why would this concern Lila?
Lila has been the only one studying the work of Isabella Dare for years—she even had to fight to write her dissertation on Isabella’s books because no one knew who Dare was or thought she was important enough to be the subject of study. Lila finally won that battle, and has been working on the book that will introduce Isabella to the literary world. Now that Lila has a contract, her nemesis has swooped in, picked up the same topic, and cut in line. If the Raleighs publish their book first, Lila will be scooped. What’s more, her book may not be published at all, which means she is not likely to receive tenure and will need to leave Stonedale University.

Lila knows how to draw eyes and umbrellas. What does that say about her?

One interpretation might be that she is observant and prepared...

Lila catches Selene in several lies. Does Selene think she’ll never get caught?

Selene is of the opinion that whatever she says is true enough for her own purposes.

Flynn McMaster is also a professor at Fairlake University. His series seems to be a cross between Star Wars and Harry Potter. When he derides an anthology of critiques about his works, published by Lila’s publisher, does it discredit them? Isn’t he just being sour grapes and wouldn’t others think that?

With someone of Flynn’s stature, it does seem as though damage could be done to the press’s reputation because his fans adore him and hang on his every word. However, a number of the professors and authors in attendance at Tattered Star Ranch believe Flynn is completely out of line and behaving badly.

Lila’s beau, Detective Lex Archer from Stonedale PD, takes over the investigation when a professor’s body is found. When the weapon is found and murder is suspected, why does Lex ask for her help?  

He eventually comes to realize that there are procedures, hierarchies, and codes specific to academia that he doesn’t understand and he wants her insights behind the curtain, so to speak. 

What ingredients are in a Cobb salad?

Most commonly, I’ve seen lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, avocado, chicken, and blue cheese. Dressings vary. Bit of trivia: supposedly the salad was invented by or for Bob Cobb (I love names that rhyme!), who owned the famous Brown Derby.

Why types of lettuces have tails?

Ha! Lila thinks of the long stem as a “tail”— examples would be arugula, frisée, spinach, watercress, etc.
When Lila meets Beckett, Selene’s fiancé, she attributes him as, “the previously well-kissed boundary-setter.” What does she mean by this?

He ended some overly enthusiastic PDA...but only after it had gone on for too long already.

Midway through the conference, Simone apologizes to Lila, who is shocked. Why is Simone acting so out of character?

One never knows why Simone does what she does. It’s frequently self-serving, but sometimes it’s genuine.

When Simone verbally attacks Lila again, Lila defends herself well. What finally snapped in Lila? She isn’t usually confrontational.

Lila has stood up for herself before, but it’s usually in a quieter way. This time is different--you’re right. It’s a combination of things: she’s fed up with Simone’s behavior, the stakes are higher, and her emotions are a bit heightened already because of something that’s happened earlier.  

What do Calista and Nate think about Lila’s publishing debacle and Lex?

They are Team Lila--will help her through anything and cheer her on.  

What is next for Lila?

She will be encountering another mystery (surprise)!
Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries featuring an English professor with a knack for sleuthing. The Semester of Our Discontent received an Agatha Award for best first novel; The Art of Vanishing and The Spirit in Question were Lefty Award nominees for best humorous mystery. She blogs with Chicks on the Case and is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. For more information, please visit


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congratulations on your new release!

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Cynthia and Elaine, for an excellent interview. I love the university setting for your mystery. It describes a behind-the-scenes in the academic world I'm unfamiliar with. Sounds like being a college professor could put your life in danger.

Shari Randall said...

Great interview, ladies! I was an English major with a special fondness for the gothic - especially Jane Eyre - so I know I'll adore Lila's latest adventure. Congratulations on the new book, Cynthia!

Cynthia Kuhn said...

Thank you so much to Writers Who Kill and to Elaine for the lovely interview!! Honored to be here.

Margaret, thank you so much for the kind wishes!

Grace, much appreciation. It's an interesting environment, academia!

Shari, high five for English majorness. Hope you do enjoy if you give it a read and thank you!