By Jessica Johnson
Best-selling author Cara Black writes one of my favorite mystery series featuring the stylish French-American heroine Aimée Leduc. Black’s first book, Murder in the Marais, came out in 1999 and she has published one book every year since 2003.
Each book is set in a different arrondissement of Paris, and with the publication of her 16th book this past June — and Paris only having 20 arrondissements — San Francisco-based Black may be getting close to the end of her highly engaging series.
Although I have read her books religiously for the past 16 years I only met her at a book signing last summer, just weeks after my own trip to Paris. Then I heard her speak again at the Santa Cruz writer’s haven known as the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods.
She was so friendly, open, and warm that I felt brave enough to ask her to speak with me for this month’s The Creative Life column. Graciously, she agreed and I learned a lot about her journey from pre-school teacher to full-time author.
How long have you lived in in Bay Area?
I was born in Chicago, and we moved here when I was 5.
Are there other creatives in your family?
My uncle was an artist, although he didn’t do a lot with it. He went to France after World War II on the GI bill and he actually, well this is what he said, studied with [the French artist] George Braque.
I guess Braque took students, and my uncle studied with him until they had a falling out — whatever that means. [laughs] He told me about knowing Somerset Maugham and going to a party at [Maugham’s] villa in south of France.
What is the first thing you remember making/writing/creating?
I never wrote as a child, I just read. I read all the time. My dad was a huge reader, we went to the library, and he would read to us on Sundays. It was a big part of our life.
How do ideas come to you? Do they come in a flash or do they percolate?
I’m always reading or researching or thinking of the next book — consciously or subconsciously.
What is your writing routine?
I get up in the morning and I start writing. I’ll bring my laptop and work at the kitchen table or the counter. When my son was young I would be waiting in the carpool lane and would write on a yellow pad.
Do you have mentors?
James N. Frey. I took his writing class through UC Berkeley Extension and then eventually one of his critique groups. I had to wait six months until there was an opening.
I always take him out to lunch and tell him “this is what I am thinking for my next book” and he’ll say, “oh no, that will never work” or “think about the villain, what does the villain want?” In fact, I took him out to lunch about a month ago!
Do you have dry spells? What do you do when you do?
Oh sure, when I am not writing I take a lot of photos. I walk. We are getting a new dog tomorrow, so my life will be taken over by a puppy.
What are you working on now?
I am finishing up some edits for my editor, the next book comes out next June.
Do you do other types of writing?
Nope, this keeps me pretty busy! Some people write a more than a book a year, I personally can’t do that. You know, I go on book tour, I go to Paris and research.
When did you first call yourself an “author”?
I don’t think I called myself a writer until my 10th book.
What is the best advice you have been given about being a writer?
Don’t wait for the muse, or you will wait forever. Sit down in the chair and get on it.
What is the most surprising thing about being a successful author?
Well, I don’t know how successful I am but … You know people have come to me and said they were going through tough times in their lives and they tell me, “I read your book and it got me through.” I think really, a murder mystery did that?
But I guess it takes them away and that helps them get through things. That is amazing to me.
It means a lot when people say that … I’m honored.
What is the most common thing you get asked by readers?
How often do I go to France and if I have lived in Paris. People don’t believe I can write about Paris if I haven’t lived there.
What never fails to inspire you?
Looking at people’s interactions. Because we write about people, their big issues or big scenes, but sometimes it will just be a little thing, the human interaction, that informs us. How someone comes in and talks to the café owner …
What is the biggest joy of being an author?
That they give me a contract to do the next one! That I get to keep doing this.
Learn more about Cara Black’s mystery novels featuring Parisian detective Aimée Leduc as well as upcoming readings and appearances on her website: www.carablack.com. Black’s books are also available at the Santa Cruz Library.
Raised in Aptos, Jessica Johnson is a freelance journalist, blogger, and poet who writes for and about passionate people following their dreams. Learn more about her at www.JessicaJanisJohnson.com. Email your questions, comments and creative suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.