Wednesday, May 10, 2023

An Interview With Nupur Tustin

by Grace Topping

Confession time. I write cozy mysteries, but I mainly read historical mysteries. They take me out of current times and submerge me in a variety of time periods, and frequently feature actual people from history. Perfect escapism. So when I had the chance to read an advance copy of the fifth book in Nupur Tustin’s Joseph Haydn Mystery Series, Death of a Soprano, I jumped at it. It definitely didn’t disappoint. So mark your calendar for the release date of May 27, or better yet, preorder this beautifully written and intriguing mystery.  


Death of a Soprano

Charged with ensuring that an imperial wedding transpires without mishap, composer Joseph Haydn has his hands full. Barely seventeen, Archduke Ferdinand Karl, the imperial bridegroom, is reluctant to marry. And the bride, Maria Beatrice, has her reservations as well.

But when an extortion note surfaces—an unpleasant reminder of the bridegroom's shameful past—the wedding seems truly doomed. Worse still, all the evidence points to Haydn's prima donna, Lucia Pacelli, being the blackmailer.

Before Haydn can confront her, however, Lucia is fatally poisoned. And Haydn is left to wonder whether his imperial charge had a hand in her death.

Troubled by the dark secrets he might uncover, Haydn is nevertheless compelled to investigate. Will the young Archduke be found innocent? Or must Haydn lead His Imperial Highness to the gallows?




Welcome back to Writers Who Kill, Nupur.


What prompted your interest in Joseph Haydn and making him an amateur sleuth in your series?


It was Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen series that prompted me to consider writing a biographical mystery. Fresh out of a Ph.D. program, I loved the idea of research informing my fiction. It was part of my skill set, after all.  

I didn’t, however, want to set my mystery in England; there were too many series already set in that country. And I didn’t want to focus on a writer.  I wanted to write about a composer. 


Haydn, when I began to research him, had all the qualities a good detective should have. He was an excellent communicator, a good listener, and had a willingness and desire to help those in need. The more I read about Haydn, the more I came to admire him. 


You give us a view into the life of the monarchy, which appears not to be all that great sometimes. What is Haydn’s role in the royal household?


Haydn had the coveted position of Kapellmeister—Director of Music—to the powerful Esterházy family—a powerful Hungarian noble family with a great deal of influence in the Habsburg court.  


As Kapellmeister, Haydn had to furnish music for both secular and religious purposes—although Prince Nikolaus was more interested in Haydn’s secular music. Instrumental music was becoming popular, and Haydn’s style reflected the latest in musical taste. 


Your story about the predicament of being a younger son of a monarchy sounds a bit familiar. Did a current younger son inspire you in this story?


Archduke Ferdinand is a historical figure—a younger son of Empress Maria Theresa and younger brother of Emperor Joseph II. He didn’t have a scandalous secret in his past, and as for his reluctance to marry Maria Beatrice, it would have stemmed from reports of her lack of beauty. But marriages were arranged at the time, and you made the best of it.


But even for the wealthy, marriage was an expensive proposition. There were extensive marriage negotiations, ambassadors had to be fêted and wooed, and one was always competing with some other king or duke who also had their sights set on the same marital target. 


At a time when it was common to have as many as fourteen children—the Empress had sixteen—one simply couldn’t arrange a marriage for every child. Some daughters—in particular those lacking in beauty—would be sent to a convent; one or more daughters might be selected to stay home to look after their parents in old age. It would’ve been more profitable to marry off sons—it ensured the succession. But even so, the very youngest might be reserved for the Church, which afforded a secure and stable livelihood. 


Haydn compares his life to the young archduke and finds himself fortunate. Why?

Among the nobility, marriage was an important means of forming alliances and gaining power. Children were frequently used as pawns in these negotiations—meaning that they were expected to follow along with their elders’ plans. That’s not to say that an individual with a strong personality couldn’t control their own destiny. We know for a fact that Maria Theresa did—she married the man she’d loved almost from childhood, even though he was a relative nobody.

 Nevertheless, there was a strong expectation to conform and to fall in with one’s parents’ plans simply to further the interests of the family. 


As a cook and wheelwright, Haydn’s parents’ only concern would’ve been their son’s ability to provide for himself. They may not have had the wealth or wielded the kind of power the nobility did, but there was a freedom to marry as one chose and to follow one’s desire in whatever vocation one chose to follow. 


When reading a book of fiction based on real people, how much of the story about them is real and how much fiction? There seems to be a fine line in how much discretion an author has in writing about real people.


Yes, there is. There’s just so much leeway you can take with their characters. They certainly have to act true to character, although you can take certain liberties with some aspects of their history. In Prussian Counterpoint, Haydn travels to Potsdam and matches wits with Frederick the Great. This never happened, but it is a plausible event. 


On the other hand, I couldn’t have changed Haydn’s profession or had him be employed by someone other than Prince Nikolaus.  Had he really been treated as nothing more than a servant rather than a respected and valuable member of court, I’d have had to stay true to that as well. 


I always try to stay true to the person’s character. 


What’s the most challenging thing when writing historical mysteries?


Finding out about historical figures who seem to have been mostly non-entities, in the sense that there’s not much of a record of who they were or what they were like. This was certainly my predicament when creating the character of Maria Beatrice. I had to flesh her character out using certain aspects of her background. I’ve written a lengthy post about this on my blog, so I won’t go into greater detail here. 

Writing about real people requires a great deal of research into areas where information may not be readily available. Do you have any special resources?


I have a determination to ferret out any detail I need; a friend in the Austrian National Library who’s simply wonderful at providing me tidbits and nuggets I wouldn’t get elsewhere; and, when all else fails, a vivid imagination fueled by extensive reading in Haydn’s world. 


Money plays an important role in the royal household, whether it’s spending lavishly and frivolously in one area and neglecting hiring needed staff, or servants and tradesmen padding bills and blackmail attempts.  What causes the Serene Highness to go on economizing sprees?


Prince Nikolaus was extremely wealthy; he also spent very lavishly.  Like most individuals, cost wasn’t an object when it came to satisfying his desires or making an impression upon the Habsburgs or some other member of the nobility. However, not even the wealthiest person has unlimited funds to work with, and frequently, servants and others get short shrift. 


In Haydn’s time, as in ours, wealthy clients never hesitate to take their own sweet time about paying workers and employees in a timely fashion. My husband is in construction, so I have direct experience with this kind of thing. 


Poison seems to be a favorite method of getting rid of adversaries during this time. Was poison frequently used in Haydn’s time?


I’m not sure I’d agree that poison was a favorite method of murder. People have always used whatever means is at hand to kill. In the Haydn Mysteries, we’ve had stabbings and blunt-force trauma. Strangulation would’ve been another way to kill someone. Poison, of course, had the advantage of being mostly undetectable, and it’s such an insidious means of killing someone. The victim may have no conception they’re under attack, and they certainly have no means of fighting back. 


It appears that unscrupulous reporters were as much a problem during Haydn’s day as today. Were the presses and scandal sheets freely able to print stories about the royal family in Haydn’s time?


Oh, yes! I don’t have my research at hand as I write this, but one of the biographies of Maria Theresa that I own has a long, detailed section on the scurrilous rumors published about the Empress. Some of the pictures published of her were indecent to say the least. She’s portrayed as a woman being ravished in her bedchamber by a group of men—this was during the War of Succession. After Francis I’s death, rumors of an illegitimate daughter he’d apparently fathered surfaced. The “daughter” in question was reprimanded and, I think, sent off to a convent. Nevertheless, despite everyone’s best efforts at discretion, many of the details were later made public. 


The German states—Prussia, in particular—were reputed to have a free press. But believe it or not, they were more controlled than the state papers in Austria were. Frederick II never hesitated to send in pieces that were either anonymously or pseudonymously written, and he managed to control much of the propaganda about the war. 


It’s always a question, how free, the free press is. Under the veneer of freedom and independence, there may actually be more control and quite a bit of manipulation. Money and power can and do corrupt. But even if it weren’t for that, reporters need access to information, and you don’t get that access by ticking off the sources of that information—government officials, chiefs of police, wealthy entrepreneurs, and advertisers. 


In addition to your Joseph Haydn mystery series, you also write the Celine Skye Psychic Mystery series—totally different from your Haydn series. Which one do you find the more challenging to write?


I suppose I’d have to say the Haydn Mysteries are more of a challenge. Both series require a great deal of research. But Celine is a fictitious character.  The story is set in current times, so there are aspects of that world that absolutely don’t need research. 


You are an author, composer, painter, and homeschooling mom. How do you balance all of those things and still manage to get one or two books published a year?


One day at a time and by the Grace of God. I have to prioritize on a daily basis, and I have to accept the fact that some days may be less productive than others. On the whole, though, things balance out, and I find I can get everything done—albeit not as quickly as I’d like.


I understand that you have some budding writers with your children. Do they share your interest in mysteries?


Oh, yes! I’ve turned them onto the Sherlock Holmes stories—these have been rewritten for children. They also love Ron Roy’s Capital Mystery series, which is really very well done. I’m a fan as well. But like their mom, their reading tastes are eclectic. They love the Mr. Putter and Tabby books as well and are huge fans of anything related to Jurassic Park and Star Wars


We have a day dedicated to creative writing, and they absolutely love it! I thought it was especially fabulous when my daughter wrote a mystery in which traces of hair left at the crime scene provided the vital DNA that nabbed the culprit!


What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned since you started writing fiction?


That you have to nurture your creativity. It’s a precious gift, and one shouldn’t give up on it, no matter what the obstacles. That means persevering—through a book even when you’re not feeling creative or in your career despite the discouraging circumstances life throws at you. It also means keeping the flame of passion alive in your heart. That’s what keeps you motivated and helps you to endure. And contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to be special to be creative; every human being has creativity built into their DNA. That’s because our Creator—the Author of our lives—is abundantly creative, and we are made in His image. 

You don’t have to be Shakespeare to enjoy writing, Mozart to enjoy playing an instrument, or Leonardo da Vinci to enjoy painting. And, of course, those aren’t the only creative endeavors open to us—gardening is creative, as is cooking. Teaching requires creativity as well. So does marketing. So does something as basic as constructing a house. 


I’ve recently started learning how to accompany myself and others on the piano. That requires creative learning techniques. It’s quite different from simply playing a piece on the piano. You can go at your own pace and at whatever tempo feels comfortable. But when you sing, your hands need to keep pace with the singing—your own or someone else’s. Keeping an eye on the melody line with the lyrics and the piano accompaniment is tricky as well. And I’m not saying I’ve mastered it. But it’s fun!


What’s next for Haydn? And will we see more of the Celine Sky Psychic Mysteries?


I’m not sure if it’s the sixth mystery or a later one, but Haydn will encounter a serial killer. There’s also going to be a murder in an abbey, and I’d like to take him to France, traveling incognito with his nemesis, Emperor Joseph! But the next book I’m working on is a Celine Skye novel. I’m very excited to begin researching it. I love reading about art thefts and the unusual ways in which lost artworks have been recovered.  There’s such a wealth of mystery in that world. I can’t wait to delve in!


Thank you, Nupur.


To learn more about Nupur Tustin and her series, check out her website: www.ntustin.comDeath of a Soprano will be released on May 27, 2023 but is available for preorder. 



Grace Topping is the author of the Laura Bishop Mystery Series.




Mark Baker said...

Thanks for putting this series on my radar. It sounds great!

Jim Jackson said...

Congratulations Nupur on what sounds like a great addition to your series.

Kait said...

Welcome, Nupur. Looking forward to reading your latest.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congratulations, Nupur! Look forward to reading your latest.

Nupur said...

Thanks for interviewing me, Grace! Mark, I hope you’ll try the Haydn Mysteries. And for any reader who’s interested in the latest book, Death of a Soprano, this would be a good time to get it. It’s on preorder now and going for a song! You can get it from my website at only $2.99, and it’s not very much more on Amazon, Nook, and the other suspects.

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Nupur, for the very enjoyable and informative interview. It's always a pleasure to have you visit Writers Who Kill.

Lori Roberts Herbst said...

These books sound wonderful! Thank you for the fabulous interview!

Molly MacRae said...

Good interview! Nupur, you're an amazing person, amazing writer, and your children have wonderful reading taste.

Nupur Tustin said...

Thanks, Molly. You're very kind! Jim and Kait, I hope you enjoy Death of a Soprano when it comes out. I'm so glad you like the concept of the series, Lori! I hope you'll check out the books.

Shari Randall said...

Sounds like a terrific new book, Nupur! I am always in awe of everything you accomplish with your writing and family. Grace and Nupur, Thank you for this fascinating interview.

Nupur said...

Thanks, Shari.