The books shown on the left are by Jean Sheldon. Click on the cover to order.
This interview was conducted by Douglas R. Cobb on April 9, 2010.
Jean, first I'll ask you a question that is both about your latest novel, and about your background. Seven Cities of Greed is set in Illinois , primarily Evanston and Chicago , and also in New Mexico . You write with a lot of authority about each region, as if you have either done quite a bit of research, had lived in each state, or both. Have you lived in either state?
Recently, I was granted the privilege and honor of an interview with one of today's best and brightest upcoming mystery authors, Jean Sheldon. She is the author of The Woman in the Wing, about the beginnings of women pilots during WWII and spies attempting to sabotage a plane factory, and her latest novel, Seven Cities of Greed. It is set in the modern day, and is about a hand-carved leather journal that shows up at Zodiac's Rare & Used Books in Chicago, and a close-knit group of women friends who try to use the clues in the journal to find a treasure of gold in New Mexico before they're beaten to it by the wealthy and ruthless Samuel Barnes and his henchmen.
Without further ado, Jean, let's get on to the questions!
Hi, Douglas , and thank you for the gracious words. I was born in Chicago and lived there until my early thirties when I moved to New Mexico . I spent twenty-five years in that fascinating state and it was a delight to roam around and let my imagination and my characters run wild.
In Seven Cites of Greed, a close-knit group of female friends who met at Northwestern University around thirty years previous to the events and their adventures in the novel are all co-owners of Zodiac Rare & Used Book Store. It's named after Zodiac (aka Zoey), a black cat that is the pet of one of the co-owners, Pat Sexton.
I was curious to know if you also owned a cat?
Ha. I am owned by a cat, and have served a number of them over the years.
The journal that Samuel Barnes is after goes to the highest bidder, who is Jacqueline (Jackie) Tracy, one of the book store's co-owners, and its major backer.
Why is Barnes so relentless in his efforts to get the journal, who is Father Marcos de Niza, and what terrible thing happens for the second time to Jackie?
Let me start with Jackie. She had the dubious honor of being kidnapped twice in her life, nearly 40 years apart. In the book, her nemesis, Samuel Barnes maintains the profile of a successful Chicago business man, but is a sociopath who lacks empathy and morals. He developed a passion for all things pertaining to the conquistadors and believes the journal contains the location of the treasures of Cibola and is destined to be his. Father Marcos de Niza was a real life Franciscan priest who made the original search for the Seven Cities of Cibola north of the New World . He claimed the land that is today Arizona and New Mexico for Spain .
One more question about Seven Cities of Greed, if you don't mind, then I'll move on to a few questions about your other novels.
At the same time Barnes is trying to pursue Jackie and her friends to get the journal, even having his men track them down in New Mexico, someone else is attempting to get revenge on Barnes, and posts pictures of him dressed as a conquistador on the Internet.
Who is doing this to Barnes, and why?
Barnes's brutality made him many enemies over the years and more than one of his former conquests seeks revenge.
You've written a whole series of mystery novels starring the woman police detective Kerry Grant. They include the novels A Chilling Goodbye, Should Old Acquaintance be Dead, and Identity Murder. I haven't yet read these novels, but I've heard they're very good reads, and if they're at all like your other novels, I'm sure that what I've heard is true.
Why did you name your heroine Kerry Grant? Are you a fan of the actor Cary Grant? Also, could you please describe her a little bit here, and maybe tell us about one or more of the novels in brief?
Thank you. The Kerry Grant books were the first ones I created when I began writing at the age of 53 and I love Kerry and her friends. Why the name Kerry Grant? I really don't know. Her name and her character simply grew. Kerry is a computer geek Chicago Police Detective whose crankiness is often softened by her loyal partner and friends. There are actually four completed books in the series, the fourth, Bidder Regrets, about online fraud, has never been published. The series is out of print, but I am hopeful they will all be reissued in the near future.
You're very good at creating strong, intelligent female characters in all of your novels. Also, your novels often have as a major aspect of them something to do with history. There's the story about Cortes, Father Marcos, and the Seven Cities of Cibola in Seven Cities of Greed, for example, and your novel The Woman in the Wing portrays the struggles and travails of young women during WWII who are trying to become pilots in the WAFS and the WASP forces.
One of the main characters of The Woman in the Wing is Char Mercer, and another is her friend, Maxine (Maxie) Davies.
What are some of the obstacles and sexual prejudices that they have to overcome that you mention in the book?
I enjoy the researching as much as the writing. I was stunned when I began The Woman in the Wing and learned how much the women had to overcome to work for their country. And not just the pilots. The woman factory workers faced the same kinds of ridicule and prejudices. They were doing what many considered 'men's work' and were called everything from sinners to un-American. As far as the pilots, there were real incidents of sugar being found in gas tanks on the women's training planes, and some male officers admitted to becoming trainers to keep the women from flying. The good news, of course, is that they overcame the prejudices and were great pilots. It is heartwarming to see the pilots finally receiving recognition for their services. In 2009, President Obama signed a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, to the Women Airforce Service Pilots from World War II.
Sabotage attempts are made by German spies/sympathizers at the airplane factory Char and Maxi work at, undercover for the FBI. Are these attempts based on actual ones you've heard/read about?
My research showed very little actual sabotage done in this country. Many of the events that occurred in the story are fiction although the descriptions of the environment, such as roller skating messengers are true.
Teams of two women were used in plane factories like the one Char and Ellie work at.
Why is that, and could you also tell us who Hannah Brown was in your novel, and tell us her fate?
Most of the jobs at the plants required team work, such as the riveters. One person shot the rivets with a pneumatic riveting gun and the other held something called a bucking bar, which stopped the rivet and formed a cap as a seal. Hannah Brown was a fictitious WASP pilot who originally had sympathies toward Germany . She eventually realized where her loyalty lay, and became instrumental in preventing a bomb planted by the German agent from exploding. There were, to my knowledge, no pilots whose loyalty was ever in question.
Who are some of your favorite authors, and which ones would you say have had the most influence on your own style of writing?
Whew, I have so many. I'll start with Cather, Markham, Vonnegut, Salinger, Woolf, Paretsky, Collette, Alcott, Sayers, Christie, Greenan, and countless others. They have all influenced me as a person and in turn, my writing. That's what makes reading so wonderful.
Finally, could you please tell us if you're currently working on a novel, if we can expect you to write any more Kerry Grant books, and when your next novel might be coming out at the bookstores and/or through Amazon?
I have just finished a great 'whodunit' called Flowers for Her Grave. I'm hoping to have it and Monet's Palette, a mystery about art forgery, available in 2010, and yes, I hope Kerry is back in action very soon.
Thanks once again for agreeing to do this interview, Jean! It's been a pleasure, and I look forward to reading more books by you in the future!
Read Our Review of Seven Cities of Greed by Jean Sheldon
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