Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Beverle Graves Myers

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Beverle Graves Myers
with Beverle Graves Myers

We are delighted to welcome mystery author Beverle Graves Myers to Omnimystery News today.

Beverle's new Tito Amato mystery, the sixth of the series set in mid-18th century Venice, Whispers of Vivaldi (Poisoned Pen Press; hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook formats), is published this month.

We recently had the opportunity to talk to the author about her work.

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Omnimystery News: What prompted you to write a historical series featuring the recurring character of a castrato opera star?

Beverle Graves Myers
Photo provided courtesy of
Beverle Graves Myers

Beverle Graves Myers: I've always admired two very different but highly enjoyable series with a recurring character: Elizabeth Peters' long-running series featuring Victorian archaeologist Amelia Peabody and Stephen Saylor's Gordianus the Finder books set in ancient Rome. I realized that it was the rich family life and professional growth of both protagonists that made these books so special to me. So I started my own series with Tito Amato as a young man returning to Venice from a music conservatory in Naples. Tito is part of a dysfunctional family long before the term existed. Not surprisingly, qualms about his status as a castrato singer also bedevil him. Over the series, Tito grows to accept and even embrace his vocal talents and the opportunities they provide. He also learns to handle fame and jealous rivals, and overcomes a bout of ego excess. On a deeper level, the brutal surgery that was forced on Tito results in a sensitivity for other marginalized people and a compulsion to seek justice on their behalf. The Jews of the Venetian ghetto, friendless strangers, carnival acrobats and dwarves, and many more seek help from Tito. Along the way, he makes a peace, of sorts, with his father and other family members. If Tito didn't develop change along the way, I'd be very bored writing him.

OMN: How do you characterize your mystery series?

BGM: The Tito Amato mysteries fall into several categories. Historical mystery, of course. I'm not terribly comfortable in the modern world, so you will never find me writing a contemporary novel. My books are also structured as traditional mysteries with emphasis on character development and fair play where clues are concerned. Amateur sleuth is another category that fits well, but probably carries a slight disadvantage. As an accidental detective, Tito must always have a personal stake in solving the murder and work either alongside or in conflict with the official authorities. Making this dynamic seem natural and believable has taken a good deal of thought.

OMN: Tell us something about your new book, Whispers of Vivaldi, that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

BGM: Tito, a castrato, has a loving wife. How is this possible? It surprised me to learn that many castrato singers enjoyed reputations as great lovers. My research turned up the great Caffarelli who temporarily lost his voice to a cold he caught while hiding in a cistern to avoid his mistress' angry husband. And then there was the tragedy of Siface, a singer murdered by his noble mistress' family who objected to their liaison. Tito fell in love with Liya Dell'Vecchio, a seamstress originally from Venice's Hebrew ghetto who supplied his theater with masks and headdresses. As a secret pagan and follower of Italy's Old Religion, Liya is an herbalist skilled in concocting invigorating potions and unguents. Since the prevailing Catholic Church forbade the sacrament of marriage to castrati, Tito and Liya "jumped the broom" in the tradition of the Old Religion.

OMN: While writing, where do you find yourself most often?

BGM: A room in my house that contains a comfy armchair, a laptop computer that fits neatly on my lap, a gently snoring dog, and a glass of ice water at my elbow. There are many reference books on a nearby shelf. The ones that see the most use are art books that contain paintings of old Venice. Perhaps a classical music radio station is playing in the background. From here I can travel to any time or place.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

BGM: The best advice I ever received is to keep the reader at the forefront of my mind. That way I never suffer from writers' block for long. If I'm stuck, I try to imagine what the reader would enjoy happening next. Many times I end up zig-zagging into a great new plot line. The hardest criticism to absorb is that I obviously loath putting my protagonist in danger. It's hard because that while I agree with the criticism, I still have the devil of a time changing my ways. Over the years, Tito has become part of my family, and I hate for him to suffer. Of course, for the sake of tension and suspense, he must.

OMN: What advice might you offer to aspiring authors?

BGM: Several things. The most important: don't rush the process. It breaks my heart to see writers with a lot of promise attempt to publish their early efforts. You don't go to a dentist in his first month of dental school or hire a carpenter who just bought his first hammer to build your house. Learn your craft thoroughly, then practice, seek feedback, and revise as much as needed. The other heart breaker is when I see aspiring authors who do have work worthy of publication getting beaten down by the process. Rejection can be a killer. You have to develop a tough skin and be persistent. With so many new ways of getting your book out, there is no reason to toss your manuscript in the proverbial drawer.

OMN: Tell us about how Whispers of Vivaldi came to be titled.

BGM: With his theater losing audiences to a rival opera house and official support waning, Tito Amato must find the perfect opera to lure people back for the carnival season. Who would have guessed that an unknown composer would provide the very thing? Or did he? Rumors begin to snake through Venice's taverns and coffee houses. People speculate that the great Antonio Vivaldi, dead these past four years, is the authentic composer of the spectacular music. Tito, determined to ferret out the truth, soon has more to worry about than competition between opera houses. His old mentor is murdered and the whispers of Vivaldi appear to be involved.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any subject.

BGM: Best 5 films set in the 18th century. All of my picks manage to capture the essence of the era, depict characters with a true 18th-century mind-set, say something thoughtful about the human condition, and at least make a stab at historical accuracy. I promise that they're all entertaining, well-crafted films that won't waste your time.

5. Farinelli;
4. The Madness of King George;
3. Ridicule;
2. Amadeus; and
1. Dangerous Liaisons.

OMN: What is next for you?

BGM: I've become fascinated by gothic suspense novels in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and more recently, Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. Retaining the definitive features of this genre while still appealing to modern sensibilities is a major challenge, but I just might try my hand at it.

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Beverle Graves Myers made a mid-life career switch from psychiatry to full-time writing. A graduate of the University of Louisville with a BA in History and an MD, she worked at a public mental health clinic before her first Tito Amato novel was published in 2004.

As well as novels, Bev writes short fiction set in a variety of times and places. Most are mysteries, but she also lets her dark side creep out in sci fi and horror tales. Her stories have appeared in Futures, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler, Woman's World, and numerous anthologies. Bev's work has been nominated for the Macavity, Derringer, and Kentucky Literary Awards.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website at BeverleGravesMyers.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers

Whispers of Vivaldi
Beverle Graves Myers
A Tito Amato Mystery

Venice, 1745 — an age of reckless pleasures, playful artifice, and baroque excess. An accident has reduced Tito Amato's glorious singing voice to a husky croak. A tragedy — but also an opportunity. The once celebrated male soprano is now determined to prove himself as a director. With the theater losing subscribers to a rival company headed by an unscrupulous impresario, San Marco's Maestro Torani charges Tito with locating the perfect opera to fill the seats in time for the opening of Carnival.

Surprisingly, a second-rate composer provides the very thing — an opera so replete with gorgeous melodies the public speculates it was written by the late Antonio Vivaldi. Even more disconcerting are the rumors swirling around Angeletto, a male soprano imported from Naples to sing the lead. Is the singer truly a castrato or a female soprano engaging in a daring but lucrative masquerade?

Both matters lead the perplexed Tito into dangerous waters that turn murderous when Maestro Torani undergoes a series of increasingly vicious attacks ending in his death. And Tito is the prime suspect. His own life as well as the future of Teatro San Marco now depend on his skills as a sleuth …

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