Carole Nelson Douglas Author Interview

Morgan Doremus: You are known for combining mystery, fantasy, psychological realism, humor, romance ... anything I missed?

Carole Nelson Douglas: That covers it, although I've done all that in historical as well as contemporary novels. I'm glad you mention psychological realism, because that's what makes all the other elements work. Why do people do what they do, love whom they love, fight for what they fight for? Though I've had books categorized as mystery, romance, fantasy, historical, science fiction, and mainstream, I've always combined romance and at least another of those elements in each book. I've never had "humor" on a book spine, but that always makes the adventure and angst human and more entertaining.

MD: Your heroines tend to be very strong women. In fact, you once said that you are proud of reinventing the roles of women in fiction. Can you elaborate on this? What is your definition of the "true women" that you write about?

CND: I feel "strongly" that strong women can also enjoy being a girl, like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Although I write the Delilah Street "kick-ass" urban fantasy series, I want my women characters to be believable.

SFRevu (I believe this is a guy) said about Delilah, "What makes her stand out among the others in this field is that she's running on instinct, fear, and a great deal of curiosity — a trait that made her a great reporter. She gets hurt just like anyone would. She's not all-powerful or all knowing. Other than manipulating silver, she's essentially normal, except for an exceptional talent of being able to think on her feet."

My most notable reinvention is of Irene Adler, the only woman to outwit Sherlock Holmes, who is in eight novels, including a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Irene is a late-19-century opera singer, but in my novels she has fought a sword duel in the guise of Sarah Bernhardt's son (believable historically, yes) and hounded Jack the Ripper through London, Paris, and Transylvania. And she sings like an angel.

MD: Animals tend to play a very large role in your writing. Oftentimes you end up writing at least a part of your books from a cat's point of view. How difficult is it to crawl inside the head of a feline?

CND: I love cats, so it's not hard. I put myself on a cat's level when Midnight Louie, my feline PI, moves around Las Vegas ... how hot the asphalt is on his footpads, how a black cat uses shade and shadow to become invisible. What it smells and looks like on his level. As he says, he is "short, dark, and handsome, really short." I have to be short to write Louie, but he is a giant of cat-dom, number sixteen on Cat Fancy magazine's list of the 45 Top Fictional Cats, which includes cartoon figures.

MD: Louie, your cat protagonist, is very much like Sam Spade - exactly what readers might imagine a private investigator in the noir tradition. Was this done on purpose?
CND: Absolutely. The Midnight Louie character is "Sam Spade with hairballs." He has all the admirable (and annoying) characteristics of the hard-boiled detective of classic crime fiction. He's somewhat politically incorrect, but lovably so, and, although he's an acute judge of people, he needs his hard-boiled daughter, Midnight Louise, to keep him in line. The independence, sagacity and toughness of cats, whether domestic or feral, is an excellent model for a good detective.

MD: Cat In An Ultramarine Scheme is your 22nd Midnight Louie Mystery. How do you keep a series going after so many installments? Do you ever wish to scrap the whole thing and start over?

CND: Oh, never. I fell in love with the Midnight Louie character and knew he could have a good, long run. Say, forever. In fact, I started using an internal alphabet in the mystery titles with the third book, and readers have been worrying about "what will happen" when the Louie series reaches "Z" since about "E."

Louie actually debuted in the first proposed limited series in a category romance line, so he has a Las Vegas-set quartet behind him as well as the 22-book mystery series, which is contracted through book 25. Cats are said to have nine lives. Louie has ninety-nine and his readers are ready for them all.

A major part of what makes the series work are the four human characters and their developing story lines, which switches them from allies to antagonists, romantic and sleuthing, and back again. Sometimes I call the Midnight Louie series "Remington Steele with two couples and a cat," but that's a bit simplistic. It's deviously complex.

MD: Vegas can be a particularly salacious city. Is this why you have chosen it as the setting for many of your novels?
CND: It's fun to play with the "Sin City" image, but one of my annoyances is that all the TV shows set in Vegas emphasize the sexy, sleazy image and Louie's Vegas is much more multi-dimensional. One reviewer described Louie's Vegas as "slightly surreal" because I've invented hotels as well as used actual sites in detail. In fact, a hotel lobby water ride with gondolas, the "Love Moat," was shown in an early Louie mystery before any Vegas hotel had one. Then the Luxor did, and now the Venetian does.

My newer Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator series is set in a darker, urban fantasy Vegas, with a werewolf mob running a major hotel-casino, and the Inferno Hotel based on the Nine Circles of Hell, and a vampire empire under the Karnak Hotel ... and demon parking valets.

 I'm even doing small links between Louie's sunnier Vegas and Delilah's darker one. The two work together in a novella in Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance 2.

MD: In the past several novels you have had a variety of subplots involving everything from Russian artifacts, to dancing, to mobsters and even reality TV. How do you develop these ideas? Any interesting research techniques you would like to share?

CND: I want to challenge my characters with different environments as well as crime cases. I try to be topical — a Dancing With The Stars murder plot was fun to do with my handsome ex-priest character as a contestant. I also reflect global issues, such as a Russian exhibition at a Las Vegas hotel. Male readers have delighted to find an international espionage subplot running through the series. These settings are developed through the four human crime solvers Louie "helps." Two women, two men. Two amateur sleuths, two pros. They add up to a romantic quadrangle. Also, I love pop culture. The Internet and multi-media have made everything from vintage noir films to futuristic visions available to all, all the time.
MD: Temple Barr, the (human) heroine in the Midnight Louie Mysteries has been compared to everyone from Nancy Drew to Sherlock Holmes. Can you tell readers how you see her?
CND: Temple is a vital character to me. I created the Midnight Louie series back when "hard-boiled" women detectives were coming in, a welcome development, then it got overdone, and I found it very unrealistic that all these tall "superwomen" were depicted punching out bad guys. Most women just can't do that.

I was a newspaper reporter and found myself twice in a position where creepy men were in a position of total control. How did I get out of danger? My brain; I just talked them into a different mindset with me. Fist to fist, I wouldn't have had a chance. So Temple is five-foot-zero and mighty unhappy that people find her "cute." She is a terrier, small and "cute," all right, but often underestimated in the crime and romance departments. She has a lot of heart and she relentlessly roots out vermin. And she's had to survive many scary life-threatening situations, like a serial killer in next year's Cat In A Vegas Gold Vendetta.

MD: Lately there has been a rather interesting love triangle in your series between Max, Matt and Temple. Have you made any decisions on Temple's happily-ever-after and who she will end up with?

CND: I don't get to decide. I let these characters loose in every book and let them duke it out. Both Max and Matt (look at their coin-flip names), are different types but both worthy and desirable guys who deserve a happy ending — with Temple or without her. The journey is all, and the journeys end, as Shakespeare said, in "lovers meeting." All these characters will come to a satisfying journey's end by the end of the series. I just don't know what-with-whom yet, and neither do they. I don't want to disappoint readers, so the final resolution will be a challenge for all of us.

MD: Your Midnight Louie series was originally slated to be 27 books each following the letters of the alphabet with a color in the title (hence this month's Cat In An Ultramarine Scheme). I was wondering if you had the names for your upcoming titles. Just a few thoughts: Vermilion, Wisteria, Xanthian and Zaffre. What do you think?

CND: V will be "Vegas Gold Vendetta." Yes, that's an official color name, devised to highlight the golden glitz of Sin City. Readers offer me lots of suggestions, and I've considered your excellent suggestions for W and X, but Zaffre is new to me. Please tell me more!!

(Editor's note: According to Wikipedia, zaffre is a "deep blue pigment obtained by roasting cobalt ore.") 

MD: In addition to your 'cat' books, you are also currently writing a paranormal/mystery series featuring Delilah Street and releasing the fourth book, Silver Zombie, in November. Other than the obvious paranormal elements, what differences are there between your two series? What are the similarities?
CND: One big difference is that Delilah adopts a rescue dog in Sunset Park in Vegas, a 150-pound wolf/wolfhound mix, Quicksilver. Now there's an animal character with bipolar issues.

The Delilah series is about paranormal Vegas moguls and power and evil on a grand scale, including demon drug lords who have their roots in real contemporary evils. Yet there's a lot of humor amid the action in the books.

There's also lots of classic noir, via movies and vintage clothes. Illegally smuggled zombies can be combined with black-and-white film characters that act as "guest attractions" at the hotel-casinos. Want to share a drink with Sam Spade? Meet Dracula? You can in Delilah's Vegas.

Delilah lives in an "Enchanted Cottage" from a nineteen-forties movie, which comes with yard gnomes and a wardrobe witch. Perry Mason is her father figure-attorney, and she has attracted a dead-dowsing ex-FBI guy, a vampire with werewolf connections, and an albino rock star, not to mention having a CSI corpse double/sister as a frenemy and a psychic psychologist as a foster mother.

But I don't think she'll ever have a cat. Midnight Louie owns that role.