by Grace Topping
One of the benefits of attending mystery conferences is getting to meet other writers. After several years and attendance at a number of conferences, the subsequent conferences have become like reunions with those writers. One writer that I’m always happy to see is Carol Pouliot, who writes the Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mystery series. I had the pleasure of spending time with Carol recently at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Conference held in Dallas, and I was fascinated to learn more about her time-travel mystery series.
Doorway to Murder
In a small New York town, secrets lurk and betrayal is just around the corner. The morning after the worst blizzard of 1934, Detective Steven Blackwell takes on a highly charged murder case. The investigation starts badly: one clue, lots of lies and alibis. To make things worse, Steven is seeing visions of a woman in his house. One night, she speaks. Her name is Olivia Watson and she lives in 2014. She believes time has folded over in the house they share. As their relationship deepens, Steven’s investigation intensifies. Soon he can no longer trust anyone in his own time. Can Olivia help crack the case—and catch a killer?
Welcome, Carol, to Writers Who Kill.
After teaching French and Spanish for over thirty years and running a translation business, what made you turn to writing mysteries?
First of all, thank you, Grace, for inviting me to do this interview.
I’ve always loved reading mysteries, and I had an idea for a series that I couldn’t ignore any longer. As soon as I sat down at the computer and began to write, a sense of satisfaction washed over me, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I love creating the characters and figuring out how to incorporate the twists and turns in the plot. I enjoy the challenge of telling the story, dropping clues, and adding red herrings.
In Doorway to Murder, the first in your Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mystery series, your main character Olivia Watson sees a figure in her home late at night and at first thinks she is seeing a ghost, only to discover a time traveler. Have you ever experienced anything ghostly?
I actually have, but it’s quite a long story that’s better told in person. Suffice it to say that if you read Doorway to Murder, Olivia’s experience in Chapter One will give you an idea of what happened to me. I re-imagined my experience and used it as a jumping-off point. Einstein believed there is no past, present, or future—all time happens simultaneously. He also believed that time can fold over, revealing “another time.” This concept is fascinating to me and forms the basis for the time-travel aspect of my series.
Steven Blackwell is a police detective in the 1930s. What made you select that time period?
Like Olivia, my female protagonist, I am intrigued by the romanticized idea of the 1930s. I love the idea of the Golden Age of Travel—packing trunks, suitcases, and hatboxes and embarking on a long train or ship voyage. I am partial to train travel so the Simplon Orient Express would be my first choice. As a matter of fact, it’s number one on my bucket list. I also enjoy Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto movies. The 30s seem like a simpler time, although I am acutely aware that the Great Depression certainly didn’t make for easy times.
Some of my favorite mysteries are Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories, many of which were written in the 1930s. I especially like the idea that the detective of that era had to pit his wits against the wits of the criminal because there weren’t a lot of tools at his disposal. No DNA testing, no computers, no GPS.
Olivia and Stephen come to realize that things they do can affect the future. How do they deal with that in what they do or don’t do?
At the end of Doorway to Murder, Olivia is devastated by the results of her actions. She tried not to do anything to change what has already happened but, in the end, her efforts came to no avail. She and Steven decide that what happens is what was always meant to be.
That attitude allows me as the writer to create a story with twists and turns that grab the reader. Steven and Olivia do their best not to affect the future but just the fact that Olivia spends time in 1934 has an impact. If I were to keep “the past” pristine, there probably wouldn’t be a time-travel story.
With a background in languages and doing translations, have you translated any of your books?
No, it would take too much time away from my writing. Translating literature is a specialized field. I translated a variety of French projects but mostly technical Spanish for GE and RCA products. I stopped my translation work in 2000 at the same time that I closed my agency.
Writing is such an isolated activity—especially for you living in Upstate New York. How do you connect with others in the mystery-writing community?
I belong to the Upper Hudson Chapter of Sisters in Crime, which meets monthly in the Albany area, about a three-hour drive from me. I have attended a number of writers and mystery conferences over the past few years and have met a lot of people from all over the country and in Canada. I have been lucky to have made some very good friends, with whom I keep in touch on a semi-regular basis. I also belong to The Wandering Wordsmiths, a local-author group in the Syracuse area. We do book signings together and are in constant touch.
I’m thrilled to have a circle of writer friends that I can call, email, text, visit, or get together with to talk about writing issues, publication challenges, or issues that come up in the writing life. It makes all the difference knowing I’m connected.
How was your journey to publication?
I consider myself extremely lucky to have found two wonderful publishers. It took me five years to get my first manuscript ready for publication. In 2016, I signed with Bridle Path Press, an author’s co-op. The people with whom I worked were wonderful−knowledgeable, generous with their time and advice, and understanding how overwhelming a writer’s first publication experience can be. Through them, I learned a lot, much more than if I had signed with a traditional press right away. I learned most of the aspects involved in getting a book published, the behind-the-scenes stuff that writers usually are not involved with. All of this informs me as I move forward.
I always knew that eventually I wanted to sign with a traditional press. I parted ways with Bridle Path in early 2018, although I’m still in contact with people there. I spent the entire year sending out submissions. I checked out over 463 traditional publishers and ended submitting to about two dozen. It was incredibly time-consuming. I spent months researching, preparing the submission materials (everyone wants something different), and, most of all, patiently waiting. Waiting and not knowing was the most difficult thing for me because most websites tell you not to contact them after you’ve sent the submission. They say if you haven’t heard anything in six months you should consider it a pass. I spent a year writing the second book then I sent it out into what felt like a big black void.
In January 2019 I signed a 3-book contract with Level Best Books. In September 2019, Level Best re-issued Doorway to Murder, the first book in the Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mysteries, and published Threshold of Deceit, book two in the series. I’m currently writing book three, Death Rang the Bell, which is tentatively scheduled for publication in September 2020.
Having traveled extensively—five continents so far, have you ever considered setting a book somewhere other than in New York State?
Yes, the fifth book in the series is going to be a Toulouse-Lautrec mystery and will take place in the late 1800s in Paris. I’m also considering setting part of book six in England, but I haven’t decided for sure yet. I love England.
Are you still traveling, or has writing and promoting your books cut into your travel time? Any upcoming trips planned?
Most of the travel I’ve done in the past few years has been book-related, and I’ll continue that−conferences and book signings. But, I am planning a trip to Prague next year with one of my friends. We’re also going to spend a couple of days on the Orient Express. I’m super psyched about that.
In Threshold of Deceit, Olivia does a little time travel herself. Did you have to do a lot of research about life in the 1930s?
It’s important to me to give my stories verisimilitude. I try to pepper the novels with enough details about life in the 1930s so the reader can picture where the scenes take place, the clothes people wear, and the cars they drive or ride in, even the smells that were different then.
I use a lot of sources to research the series. I read the magazines and newspapers that were on newsstands during the weeks when my stories take place. I study old photographs, watch movies from the 30s, read books that were written then, go to museums and libraries to examine original items such as menus, yearbooks, appliances, and cars. I’ve interviewed my father about his memories of 1934. I also draw on my own memories of my grandparents—things they enjoyed, expressions they used. I am constantly aware of anything that can contribute to the authenticity of the stories.
What’s next for Olivia Watson and Steven Blackwell? I hope we’ll see another book in the series.
Steven and Olivia have a long way to go. As I said earlier, Death Rang the Bell is the third book in the series. Olivia travels to 1934 and attends a Halloween party with Steven. Later that evening, she witnesses the murder of Benjamin Woolworth, the fictional son of F. W. Woolworth and heir to the family fortune. Olivia becomes entangled in the investigation, which, of course, puts her and Steven’s time-travel secret in jeopardy.
Book four ends the year (1934) with a Christmas mystery about a prodigal “son” who returns home for the holidays. Number five is a Toulouse-Lautrec mystery, as I mentioned above. I’ve spent a lot of time in what’s known as the artists’ quarter in Paris—Montmartre. It’s one of my favorite areas. I’m excited to go back and look at it in a new and different way, and to do the research. I’m still deciding on book six. I’m planning to wind up the series in book seven. I’ve been planting clues all through the books in preparation for what happens in number seven.
Thank you, Carol. I look forward to reading more books in your series.
You can learn more about Carol and her Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mystery Series by following her on Facebook or Pinterest and at https://www.carolpouliot.com/contact-carol-pouliot/
Threshold of Deceit
On a sunny spring day in 1934, local lothario Frankie Russo is murdered in broad daylight. It seems no one saw anything, but things are not always what they seem in this small New York town. Tackling the investigation, Detective Steven Blackwell discovers Frankie’s little black book, a coded list of dozens of flings, affairs, and one-night stands−and a solid motive for the widow. Soon, what appeared to be a straightforward case gets complicated. A witness goes missing, a second body turns up, the victim’s cousin disappears, and an old flame surfaces. Faced with conflicting pieces of evidence, lies, and false alibis, Steven creates a psychological portrait of the killer. He realizes he’s looking for someone wearing a mask. But the killer is not the only one in disguise.
Two months ago, Steven came face-to-face with 21st-century journalist Olivia Watson when time folded over in the house they share−80 years apart. They’ve experimented within the safety of its walls and proven Einstein was right: there is no past, present, or future. All time exists simultaneously. Now, Steven and Olivia test the boundaries of time travel, risking the exposure of their secret. Olivia travels to Steven’s time, where the community embraces her, unaware of whom she really is. She unwittingly falls in with Steven’s main suspect, an action that threatens her life.
Can Olivia outsmart a killer before becoming the next victim? Can Steven and Olivia solve the case of the poisoned philanderer in time to protect her true identity and their time-travel secret?