A Conversation with Author Connie di Marco

IR- Which book are we talking about today?

C- Enter a Wizard, Stage Left is the most recently published in the Zodiac Mysteries. This is a prequel novella to the series (in ebook format only) and predates the entire series.  

IR- Can you tell us a bit about the story and its main characters?

C- Julia Bonatti is a San Francisco astrologer who never thought murder would be part of her practice.  But she wasn’t always a crime-solving sleuth. Enter a Wizard takes place just a few months after the death of her fiancé.  Julia is devastated and she has no idea what direction her life should take.  She’s returned to her childhood home, her grandmother’s house, to recover.  Her grandmother Gloria has been hired to create costumes for a theater production of Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death and in an effort to pull Julia out of her slump, Gloria asks for Julia’s help at the theater.  

IR- What inspired the idea for your book?  

C-This novella came about because of questions from readers. Many people asked for more about Julia’s grandmother Gloria, how Julia found her cat and how she first became interested in astrology.  And the more I thought about those questions, I realized a prequel would be the best way to answer them.  

IR- What was the most surprising thing you learned in writing this book?

C– Enter a Wizard, Stage Left takes place at a production of Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death. When I finished writing, I realized I had quite unconsciously followed in the footsteps of Golden Age mystery writers, like Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey and others, and that Enter a Wizard was a nod to those classic authors. 

IR- Tell us about a favorite character from the book.

C- Gloria Bonatti, Julia’s grandmother who raised her after the death of her parents, is very much center stage in this novella. Gloria was a seamstress in her working life and ran a local dress shop. Retired now, she’s been hired to create costumes for the theater production. When a murder takes place on stage in front of an audience, echoing the play itself, Gloria discovers a clue that puts her life in danger.  In the Zodiac Mysteries, the character of Gloria weaves in and out, but in this novella she’s very much a main character.  She’s such a fun character to write about because she’s a very independent and feisty woman in her 70’s and nothing much gets in her way.  

IR- How do you define success as an author?

C- I think the most important thing is to know you’ve written a very good book that you, as a writer, can always be proud of. Of course, it’s wonderful to receive a large advance, to win awards and to have a book optioned for film. But that’s a bit like getting hit with a lightning bolt, it certainly doesn’t happen to every writer. 

IR- How do you avoid or defeat writer’s block?

C- I’ve been lucky, I guess. I haven’t really suffered from writer’s block. When I wrote my first book (which turned out to be the first in the Zodiac Mysteries) I was under no pressure and just wrote whenever I had a few hours. But with my first contract with Penguin for the five books in Soup Lovers’ Mysteries (written as Connie Archer), I had only eight months to complete each manuscript. Fear is a great motivator! I finished the first book and hit the button to send it off, not knowing if my editor would even approve it.  

A few years ago, I read an interview with a romance writer whose name I don’t remember now, and what she said has always stuck in my mind.  She said A-B-C-D – Apply Butt to Chair Daily. Great advice! Just sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard and write. 

I’m sure writer’s block is based in fear. Fear that you can’t do it, fear that no one will approve, fear that you’ll never finish. In other words, you’re worrying about the outcome and not letting go and submerging yourself into the real work. 

IR- What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

C- Keep writing and don’t give up, no matter how long it takes or how many times you have to edit and revise. The best learning process is reading and re-reading authors whose work you love. 

IR- What are you working on in the near future?

C- Zodiac #4, Serpent’s Doom, is finished and will be out in April 2022. Zodiac #5, as yet untitled, is also finished, but I want to go back to it with fresh eyes and decide if it’s where I want it to be. After that, I’d like to start on Zodiac #6. I have some of it roughed out, but I really need to finalize the plot.  It will take some time. 

Do you have any quirky writing rituals?

IR- What comes first for you – the plot or the characters?  

C- I always start with the plot which in a mystery is based on the crime. I think of the plot as the structure of the book. If that’s solid, the rest will come no matter how many times I have to revise or edit.  In the next book, Serpent’s Doom, something quite different happened. One of the characters “appeared” to me. I have no idea what synapse of my brain created him, but I could see him very clearly.  His name is Frankie Chang, he’s eleven years old, and he has a big role in Serpent’s Doom.  

IR- As an author what do you think makes a good story?

C- I love any story that I can sink into, into the world that an author has created, with characters that stay with me long after I’m done reading.  

IR- What would your dream library look like?

C- Floor to ceiling shelves, crammed with mysteries and thrillers.  A few history or astrology books would be okay too.  My library would have to have a deep comfy sofa, several wing chairs and soft blankets to snuggle in.  A fireplace, of course, that’s always lit. Lots of soft lighting and a lock on the door so my reading wouldn’t be disturbed.

IR- What does it mean to you to be called an author? 

C- It’s actually quite exciting — to realize you’ve written a book, or books, that other people want to read, and to see your name on the front cover. When my first book was published, I couldn’t quite believe it. It was very thrilling!

IR- If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?

C- I think I’d be the last person in the world to choose. I’d leave that up to the casting directors. Every reader visualizes what a character looks like as they read. And every reader, if asked, would describe a different person. That’s why I would never use pictures or drawings of characters on my website.  It would interfere with a reader’s perceptions. The film professionals would have to be the people who decide who will play a role.  There are some productions that do an excellent job at that, and others, like the movie based on the character of Stephanie Plum, (in my opinion) did a terrible job. All I can say is that it must be very hard for a writer to let go and trust a committee of strangers to make those choices.  

IR- Name three fun facts about you or your work.

C- Three?  Oh my!  Okay here goes:

(1) I’m not a professional, but I really enjoy astrology.  I delved into it many years ago at a very tough time in my life after meeting an amateur astrologer 

(2)  I never thought I would be a writer.  Never planned on it, never even occurred to me. I thought writing as a career would be too much torture. Having to come up with ideas, having to meet deadlines.  Yet here I am!

(3)  My publisher, Suspense Publishing, is wonderful and the people there have very curious and open minds. They let me choose the date of a new release – as long as it’s a Tuesday.  That’s why Serpent’s Doom will be released on April 26, 2022 at 9:47 a.m. with a wonderful stellum of Moon-Venus-Neptune and Jupiter in Pisces in the 10th house (public standing and recognition). There’s also a conjunction of Sun and Uranus in Taurus in the 11th house (fans and friends). I’ll even attach the chart of the event so anyone interested in astrology can see. 

Julia Bonatti wasn’t always a crime-solving San Francisco astrologer. She was a young woman, engaged to the love of her life, preparing for a teaching career when tragedy struck. Her fiancé was killed in a hit and run accident. As Julia struggles with her loss and attempts to find meaning in her life again, she takes refuge with her grandmother Gloria. But there’s little time for grief or rest because Gloria, a retired seamstress, needs Julia’s help. Gloria’s been hired to create costumes for a production of Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death at the newly opened Theatre Mars in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood.

Theatre Mars is a stunning jewel, the cast is supremely talented, and the script is brilliant. What could go wrong? Julia gets the first hint of trouble when her new friend, the owner of The Mystic Eye bookshop, warns that all might not go well. Opening night will take place during the dark of the moon, the last three days before the new moon, a time that bodes disaster for any new project. The dire prediction comes true when the lead actress is murdered before the final curtain, echoing the play itself. Julia discovers a vital clue to the murder, but a clue that puts Gloria’s life in grave danger. Can Julia rescue her grandmother before it’s too late? And will a black cat play a leading role?

Purchase Link – Amazon 

With the Zodiac Mysteries, featuring Julia Bonatti, a crime-solving San Francisco astrologer, Connie di Marco has combined her fascination with astrology and her love of writing mysteries.  Writing as Connie Archer, she’s the national bestselling author of the Soup Lover’s Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime.  You can find her excerpts and recipes in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook.  She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.  She lives in Los Angeles but dreams constantly of the San Francisco fog.

Author Links

Read More from Connie Di Marco

Guest Post: Writing a Mystery by Connie di Marco

“San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti never thought murder would be part of her practice. But when a disastrous Mercury retrograde period hits, her life and practice is turned upside down, along with that of many of her colleagues who practice in the city. San Francisco has fallen…”

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