Thursday, May 12, 2016

"The Madness of Mercury" by Connie di Marco

The Madness of Mercury
(Zodiac Mystery Book 1)
by Connie di Marco

The Madness of Mercury by Connie di Marco will be released 8 June but is currently available for pre-order. This tour is brought to you by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours and stops here today for my interview with the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

For another book by this author (writing as Connie Archer), please check out my blog post on Ladle to the Grave.

Astrologer Julia Bonatti never thought her chosen profession would bring danger into her life, but her outspoken advice in her newspaper column, AskZodia, makes her the target of San Francisco’s recently-arrived cult leader, Reverend Roy of the Prophet’s Tabernacle. The followers of the power hungry preacher will stop at nothing to quell the voices of those who would stand in his way and Julia’s at the top of his list. She’s willing to bet the charismatic Reverend is a Mercury-ruled individual, and she knows all too well that Mercury wasn’t just the messenger of the gods, he was a trickster and a liar as well.

As I stood in line at the checkout counter of the bookstore an uncomfortable feeling stole over me. Was I being watched? I turned slowly and surveyed the customers in line behind me. No one looked suspicious. No one turned away suddenly. Just holiday shoppers focused on their own business. When I turned back my eye caught someone standing at a table close by, separated by a metal bar from the line of shoppers. A man, dark hair, black jacket, seemingly immersed in a book he was holding in his hands. No shopping bags in sight. Something about him ... I mentally shook myself, pushing the thought out of my mind. I was being paranoid. Nerves were getting the better of me.
I paid for my purchase and left. Bundling up against the cold, I retraced my steps and approached the garage entrance. I took the elevator down to the lowest level where I had parked, stepped out and glanced around. In contrast to the crowds of people above on the streets, not a soul was in sight. I felt a frisson of fear. Why was it so deserted? My nerves were just on edge, I decided. I was imagining threats where there were none. I took a deep breath and hurried to my car. I unlocked the door and threw my bags onto the passenger seat. Before I could turn the key in the ignition I glanced in the rearview mirror. A face in a ski mask stared back at me, the eyes bright in the ambient lighting. A gasp caught in my throat. My heart raced as a gloved hand pulled my head back and covered my mouth. I felt the sharp prick of a knife point at my neck. I froze. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak.
“Forget about the Prophet. Make sure you keep your big mouth shut or my next visit won’t be so nice,” he growled. He pulled the knife away, let go of my jaw and jumped out of the car.

Praise for the Book
"This smartly written debut from di Marco sets the stage for a promising series." ~ Kirkus Reviews
"Connie di Marco begins a fascinating new series ... The writing is clever and compelling and the protagonist is smart and gutsy. The villains are seriously sinister and the darkly intricate plot will keep you turning the pages." ~ Kate Carlisle, New York Times bestselling author
"Connie di Marco blends real-life tragedy, heart-rending betrayal, loyal friends, and the kindness of strangers in this fast-paced, entertaining read." ~ Leslie Budewitz, two-time Agatha Award-winning author of the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries
"The stars may not align for the unlucky characters in The Madness of Mercury, but they certainly do for readers who discover this book. An astrologer with her eyes on her charts and her feet planted firmly on the ground, Julia Bonatti is an original sleuth, juggling astrological readings with a mysterious death and a Jim Jones-like cult leader. Dark wit and darker motivations unite to create a satisfying read." ~ Kim Fay, Edgar Award-finalist for The Map of Lost Memories
"A great read is in the stars. With the Zodiac Mysteries, Connie di Marco gives us a bright and interesting heroine and a mystery with plenty of twists and turns. Lots of action and well-written suspense equal good fortune for readers." ~ Casey Daniels, author of Graveyard Shift

Interview With the Author
Connie di Marco joins me today to discuss her new book, The Madness of Mercury.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
I think Madness would be appropriate for any adult age range, even high school or college age young adults. It’s an urban story, and even though it deals with a rather dystopian theme, Madness isn’t a hard-boiled book in terms of blood and gore. 
What sparked the idea for this book?
I’ve always had a great interest in astrology and I’ve read many of the super authors like Noel Tyl, Liz Greene, Stephen Arroyo, and many others. I think of astrology as a frame of reference for character, much like psychology. I also think most crime writers enjoy delving into what makes murderers and victims tick. So having an astrologer protagonist seemed a unique idea. This particular book, The Madness of Mercury, was inspired by the Jim Jones days in San Francisco. It’s loosely based on that theme and the horrifying phenomenon of a supposed man of God manipulating thousands of people. 
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
For this series, I would have to say the character came first. Each book will feature a different story, a different crime. But Julia Bonatti, my San Francisco astrologer, is in a perfect position to be exposed to other people’s problems.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
I don’t think there was one particular part of the story that was hard to write. Mostly, I wanted to create a sense of dread, a sense of threat, as my protagonist and the people around her come to realize the extent of the political and social power this preacher wields. His tentacles reach into many worlds – social, political, even law enforcement. I hope I’ve achieved a sense of that, an ever increasing fear that grips the city. Julia’s outspoken advice in her newspaper column marks her as an enemy of the preacher and she’s then targeted with harassment and death threats. 
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I certainly hope readers will be intrigued by Julia and her world. It’s terrific to be able to convey a social message, and there may be one here. But again, I have to say that the psychology of crime is the most important aspect. 
How long did it take you to write this book?
If I recall correctly, I think about eight months to finish. Since then, I’ve gone back to this manuscript many times and revised it a lot. I wanted to make it a very hard book to put down. I think I, and most authors, can never quite leave a manuscript alone. We always want to make it better and so we’re constantly tweaking, until an editor says, "okay, enough!"
What is your writing routine?
I’ve tried getting up very early in the morning to write, but that hasn’t worked very well. I find myself pulled into other things, laundry, feeding the cat, answering emails and social media types of things. It’s not a quiet time for me. What works best for me is writing at night, after 9pm or so. The house is quiet, the phone stops ringing and since I am a bit of a night owl, I don’t mind staying up late. I get a lot of work done that way. 
How did you get your book published?
Oh, that’s a bit of a long story. I wrote another, first book in this same series several years ago. My agent liked it, I liked it, but it didn’t sell. Somehow I guess it just wasn’t the right time for this series to be born. I still had a lot of faith in my idea, so I continued to write and finally finished The Madness of Mercury. Again, nothing happened right away, and in the meantime, I wrote five books in another series – the Soup Lover’s Mysteries – which was a great experience, and then, finally, when I least expected it, the Zodiac Mysteries found a home.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Just keep writing and most importantly, keep the faith! The first book, or maybe the fifth book, might not sell, but continue to write, read the masters in your genre, be open to good editing advice, and eventually your manuscript will find the right home. I consider myself very lucky that I’ve had the experience of being traditionally published. I’ve learned a lot! But even if a writer chooses to self-publish, don’t skip the step, make that book the best it can be. Eventually it will land on the desk of the perfect person. 
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I’m not sure when that might be! But one of the things I do love to do and haven’t had time for a while is to search for old pieces of furniture in junk shops and swap meets and refinish them. It’s a long, messy job, but that kind of manual work is very rewarding, when I find a lovely piece covered in years of grime and paint and uncover the diamond underneath. There’s something very satisfying about that. 
What does your family think of your writing?
My family has been absolutely wonderful and so supportive. They may not totally grasp why I love crime fiction so much, but they humor me. Plus I’m very lucky, my daughter is a computer whiz and has guided me through all sorts of tech support which I desperately needed at times. 
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I was born in Boston and grew up in a rambling old house that had been my grandmother’s home. Maybe it was house or maybe it was me, but I used to have nightmares that Abraham Lincoln was buried in the cellar. I think I probably had an overactive imagination! 
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Yes, definitely. I was an only child and there weren’t a lot of kids in my neighborhood, so I was kind of lonely and shy. Fortunately I learned to read at a very early age and devoured everything I could get my hands on. When I discovered mysteries I was over the moon! I loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, of course, what mystery writer didn’t read those books as a kid? I loved The Borrowers too, the thought of little people living between the floors of a house was so intriguing. Brilliant series! 
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I really didn’t, at least not until I finished writing my first mystery. In fact, I never thought I’d be a published writer. It wasn’t until I tried to find an agent and sell that first book that I accepted that I was aiming toward a goal. My first love was acting, and for a lot of years I worked as an actress, mostly in television. Most of those jobs were basically pretty boring and the idea of writing a mystery, or trying to, had been percolating somewhere in my brain and I finally decided to try my hand at it. Now, I wish I had started sooner. 
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
I’m sure. I think all life experiences influence how we view the world, how we craft characters and their problems. Ultimately, we only have ourselves and our own observations and experiences to draw upon.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
I’ve loved so many mystery and thriller authors, it’s hard to say. I’ve read all the classics, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham. In more recent years, Sue Grafton, Alan Furst, Lee Child, Swedish writers, such as Maj Sjowall and Per Wahl√∂√∂, Nicolas Freeling. I’ve recently discovered Jussi Adler-Olsen. My tastes are very eclectic but do lean more to the dark side. My favorite thing to do is browse through a bookstore and look for an author I’ve never heard of. I’ve discovered so many wonderful books that way. I try to learn from every author I read, and if I’m impressed by a book, I’ll read it once for pure enjoyment and then again to study the machinery behind the words.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Yes, I do and I love to hear from readers. With the Soup Lover’s Mysteries, many people have written to say they want to live in Snowflake, Vermont (my fictional village). I think that series and the characters have struck a real chord with many readers.
In the third book, A Roux of Revenge, my protagonist’s relationship looks like it’s about to go on the rocks. When I got to the end of the book, and needed to wind up that thread, I just couldn’t decide which way this should go. Do they break up? Or do they smooth over their differences? Neither choice felt right, so I left the romantic element open, a bit of a cliffhanger. Fans of the series didn’t like that one bit! And they let me know it. I do understand how they felt, they wanted to know these two people would still be together. Looking back, I couldn’t have done it differently. I still feel it was the right choice to end that book. But otherwise, the comments I’ve received have been very positive and supportive. Blessing on all mystery readers!!!
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m finishing up the second book in the Zodiac MysteriesDark Sun – which will be released next year, 2017. After that, I’ll start working on the third book. I have another project I’ve started, featuring an LA homicide detective that I hope to get finished sometime between the second and third books in this series. Plus, I have a couple of other ideas for an amateur sleuth that I hope to find time for. 
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Connie. Best of luck with your future projects.
Thank you, Lynda, and Books Direct! It’s been a pleasure visiting with you today.

About the Author
Connie di Marco is the author of the new Zodiac Mystery series from Midnight Ink, featuring San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti. Writing as Connie Archer, she is also the author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. Some of her excerpts and recipes can be found in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She grew up in New England and now lives on the other coast.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card or one of two ebook copies of The Madness of Mercury by Connie di Marco (US only).