Q&A with Maia Chance - Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna
1) Describe Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna in 140 characters or less.
Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna is a fun, adventurous, and romantic historical mystery set in a secret-riddled French chateau in 1867.
2.) What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness for me is spending time outside somewhere beautiful, with my husband, kids, and dog.
3.) What’s your favorite part of Ophelia’s quirky personality?
I like the way Ophelia compensates in creative and gutsy ways for her lack of a good formal education. She’s smart and resourceful and she uses her unusual skill set—farm girl, circus performer, actress—to help solve the mystery.
4.) Which living person do you most admire?
My husband, actually. He is an unusually gifted person who overcame significant disadvantages and obstacles to get where he is today. And he gives the best pep-talks!
5.) What inspired you to marry fairytales and mystery?
I was searching for something that hadn’t been done yet, and I was reading a lot of fairy tale criticism for school at the time. It sounded like a deliciously fun project, so I plunged in.
6.) Is there a type of scene that's harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
Dialogue definitely comes more easily for me. I find action scenes more challenging—I’m paranoid that they’ll get bogged down. (So if I can, I add dialogue to my action scenes!)
7.) What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Sticking to strict schedules. I don’t like to keep people waiting, but there is something to be said for giving yourself creative or restful wiggle-room during the day.
8.) Which of the characters in this novel do you feel the most drawn to?
I became more attached to Professor Penrose in this book. He’s more vulnerable and at a loss than in the previous two books—and more deeply in love.
9.) Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Oh, my. Probably dozens. I seem to like “buzz” a lot for some reason. I’m deleting it all the time.
10.) Can you describe for us your process for naming characters?
For historical American characters I use census records. I collect names from cemeteries whenever I visit one, and I often borrow names from literature. Since my books have lots of characters, I try to give them all distinctive names that hint at their personalities, to help the reader keep everyone sorted in their mind.
11.) Who are your favorite writers?
Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton and Theodor Adorno.
12.) Who is your most loved hero of fiction?
13.) Which talent would you most like to have?
It would be ecstasy to be a really, really great opera singer.
14.) You're hosting a dinner party, which five authors (dead or alive) would you invite?
P. G. Wodehouse would probably be the life of any party. Also, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There would be lots of drinking at this party. Maybe some arguments. No strip poker though.
15.) Do you have a favorite time period in literature?
Not really. Because of my English degrees I have read very widely, and I have favorites from every era. And every era has its stultifying boring authors, too.
16.) What is your motto?
17.) What is the best reaction over a book that you’ve ever gotten from a fan?
Fans who say my book gave them pure pleasure—that’s happened a few times—make me so happy. It’s my aim to give people something to read that’s a pleasurable and absorbing diversion from Real Life. Real Life is hard.
18.) Where would you most like to live?
A place with lots of trees where I could do all my daily activities and errands on foot. I’m working on it.
19.) Which historical figure do you most identify with?
No one specific, but I often think of the female writers over the centuries who kept at their stories even when they had screaming kids and the dinner to cook and a really messy house piling up around them. They did it, and so can I.
20.) What are you working on next?
I just completed a humorous contemporary mystery that does not yet have a publisher, and I’m working on a historical fantasy adventure with a co-author. After that, the next thing will be book #3 of the Discreet Retrieval Agency series.
“What’s this?” Ophelia had almost stepped on something at the base of the cave wall.
Penrose crouched and held the lantern over it. “Good God,” he muttered. “Is it . . . a shrine?”
Small earthenware dishes held what appeared to be chocolate drops, purple berries, and loose pearls. A clay vase held a red and white striped rose.
Churches in New England didn’t have shrines. They didn’t even have stained glass windows or statues.
“Pearls,” Ophelia said. “Madame Dieudonné was missing a pearl necklace.” But—she looked carefully at the shrine—no ruby ring. Still, the pearls connected the shrine, very loosely, to the missing ring. There was hope yet.
“This resembles the offerings people of the Orient assemble for their gods or ancestors,” Penrose said.
“Those are belladonna berries, professor.” The skin of Ophelia’s back felt all itchy and crawly, and she stole a glance to the black gap where the cave continued into the earth. Someone could be back there. Watching.
“Miss Flax,” Penrose said slowly. “Look at this.” He lifted the lantern, illuminating the picture on the wall above the shrine.
Heavens to Betsy. A carved, black-painted beast, half-man, half-boar, undulated in the light.
The body of the beast was like a man’s, although the feet seemed—Gabriel squinted—yes, they seemed to have hooves. But the head! It was unmistakably that of a furry boar, with large pointed tusks and tiny round ears.
A slight crunching sound made Gabriel and Miss Flax freeze. Their eyes met.
Gabriel knew that somewhere in the shadows, someone or something lay in wait.
Miss Flax, wide-eyed, in those awful trousers, seemed at once horribly vulnerable and dear beyond measure. The pistol tucked into Gabriel waistband felt newly heavy. He picked up the lantern and slowly stood, willing himself not to exude the essence of fear in case whatever was watching was an animal.
“Come,” he mouthed to Miss Flax, wrapping his free hand around her wrist. “Slowly.”
She stayed very close to him as they walked steadily out of the cave.
They emerged into the cold, damp night. The moon glowed whitely above. The air tasted of soil and rot.
“Shouldn’t you extinguish the lamp?” Miss Flax whispered as they started down the rocky, ice-slicked slope. “So they can’t see us?” She tugged her wrist free of his hand so she could climb.
“Wild animals are afraid of light.” Gabriel longed to grab her wrist again, to enfold her, keep her safe. If something were to befall her—
“It wasn’t an animal in there,” Miss Flax said. “It was a human being. I could feel it. Animals don’t make one feel so frightened.”
“Not any animals?”
“No. Animals never seem evil, and I felt something evil up there in the cave.”
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