A Conversation with Carol Pouliot author of Blackwell and Watson time-travel mysteries

A Francophile at age 11, Carol Pouliot dreamed of going to Paris. She holds a BA in French and Spanish. After obtaining her MA in French at Stony Brook University, she headed to France for her first teaching job. She taught French and Spanish for over 30 years in Upstate New York. She also founded and operated an agency that provided translations in over 24 languages. Carol is the author of The Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mystery series, which includes Doorway to Murder and Threshold of Deceit. When not working on her series, Carol can be found reaching for her passport and packing a suitcase for her next adventure.

James:                  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Carol:                    I came to writing quite late. I had already retired from a teaching career and decided to write a memoir that had been rolling around in my mind for a long time. When I sat down to write it, an amazing sense of contentment washed over me. I absolutely loved the feeling of telling a story. I submitted it to Victoria magazine. They loved it and asked for more. I did a second piece for Victoria but wanted to do more than 700 words. It was then that I had the idea for my series. I sat down to write and haven’t looked back.

James:                  What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Carol:                    Thinking that your first draft is your last. I went through college and grad school never writing a rough draft. I organized my thoughts in my mind and used 3×5 notecards, then I sat down and wrote. Writing a novel is nothing like that. Some parts are re-written a dozen times.

Also, thinking that you can’t write, that writing is only for “other people.” If you have an idea, go for it! Get it down on paper (or in your computer) then work on improving your first, second, and third draft.

James:                  Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Carol:                    A big ego would hurt a writer because we need to be receptive to constructive criticism from Beta readers, writing groups, writing partners, and editors. Someone with an ego would probably have trouble accepting critiques, which are necessary to a well-written final project. I am happy to say that I have yet to meet a mystery writer with an ego. Every writer that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting has been humble, gracious, and helpful.

James:                  What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Carol:                    I come from a family of readers. We went to the library every week and I came home each time with an armful of books. I still remember the wonder I felt getting lost in the adventures of The Boxcar Children and the boy who travelled into space in a rocket built in his backyard in The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. As my reading skills improved, I experienced the struggles and shared the triumphs of the characters in John Steinbeck’s work and of the women in Henrik Ibsen’s plays. Later, in college, I fell in love with Baudelaire. Words have the power to do everything−soothe, inspire, entertain, inform. I can’t imagine not reading.

James:                  What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Carol:                    The best money I ever spent was in joining Sisters in Crime, a professional crime writers’ organization. (Joining was also the best advice I ever received.) I didn’t know anyone or anything about writing mysteries when I first started. As soon as I began attending monthly meetings of my SinC chapter, I started learning the craft and had the opportunity to meet fellow writers. This led to attending annual mystery writers’ conferences where I met more writers and eventually became a member of the mystery community.

James:                  How do you select the names of your characters?

Carol:                    There are almost as many answers to this question as there are characters in my books. I’ll select two.

My protagonist Detective Sergeant Steven Blackwell came to me fully formed. I knew his name, his character, his history, likes, fears, interests, and so forth. He just was.

As for my main female character Olivia Watson, I have always liked the name Olivia. Believe it or not, choosing Watson as her last name had nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. I’m a big Harry Potter fan. I was watching the movies when I created the series. The actress who plays Hermione Granger is called Emma Watson. I named Olivia after her.

James:                  Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Carol:                    Yes. In Doorway to Murder, Olivia and her friends Liz and Sophie reminisce about a mystery game they invented when they were kids. It’s the same secret game my cousin and I made up. (Okay, so it’s no longer a secret!) I also have a very good friend who has been extremely excited and enthusiastic in her support of my writing every step of the way. Because I know she’ll get a kick out of it, I plant something just for her in every book.

James:                  How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?

Carol:                    Writing is my third career. I retired after teaching French and Spanish for 34 years. I also ran a business−a translating agency−for 20 years during that same time. Because I had the luxury of time, I started out as a full-time writer right away.

James:                  What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

Carol:                    As I mentioned above, I taught for many years. However, the activity that has been most helpful was my work with U.S.A.I.D. I chaired an annual international business seminar for some 12 years, and had the opportunity to get to know many people from developing nations. I use the reactions they had and the comments they made when they encountered something completely new in the United States. When Steven travels into Olivia’s time, 80 years in the future, he is stunned by the inventions and technology that no one in 1934 was even dreaming of.

James:                  If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

Carol:                    I love Cornwall, the West Country in England. I might send Steven and Olivia there just so I can go back and “do some research.”

James:                  What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

Carol:                    Chapter 1 in Doorway to Murder actually happened to me. Invite me to your book club and I’ll tell you all about it. (Sophie’s comment to Olivia about nearly getting kidnapped in South America – that happened, too.)

James:                  What was the hardest part of writing your author bio?

Carol:                    I’ve been blessed and very lucky to have been able to travel extensively. It can come off as bragging – which I never intend or want to do.

James:                  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Carol:                    I love playing cards and board games with friends and family. I watch British TV, walk, and work out every day. And of course, I travel as much as I can.

James:                  What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? What is your response to that question?

Carol:                    Who would you like to play Steven in the movie?

Aaron Staton. Although he doesn’t look exactly like Steven, he could play him to perfection. I was impressed with the WWII American GI character he played in My Mother and Other Strangers, on PBS Masterpiece Theatre. He inhabited the character, who was a similar type of person that Steven is.

James:                  Pick one excerpt from one of your books that you would like to share with readers.

Carol:                    From DOORWAY TO MURDER

Patricia Castleman felt wonderful. The police were releasing her husband’s body, so she could plan the funeral and get it out of the way before the weekend. She’d telephoned the funeral parlor and arranged an appointment with Maurice Gettman as soon as she got the news. Now she was putting the finishing touches on her carefully chosen outfit.

She’d selected a dark green tweed suit—black was simply too depressing on such a glorious day. As the fitted, calf-length skirt slid over her hips, the rich fabric of the lining whispered across her silk stockings. She tucked a paisley scarf in the neckline of the short, molded jacket, fastened pearl earrings, and slipped a gold bracelet on her wrist. She took last year’s coat and cloche hat from the closet, chose a pair of soft leather gloves and matching envelope-style bag, into which she tucked a handkerchief, and made a mental note to be sure and use it when seated across from the funeral director. It would not do to neglect a show of emotion and distress on this sad occasion.

The peal of door chimes announced her taxi. Patricia took a final look in the full-length mirror and was satisfied.

“I am so very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Castleman,” oozed Maurice Gettman, as he attempted to guide her to a chair. Patricia was disgusted by this man and moved to the side so that she did not have to touch him. He was everything she loathed in a man. He was stooped, thin, and had combed a few sparse strands of oily hair over a bald pate. Ick. Let me get this done and get the hell out of this place before I’m sick.

An hour later, the arrangements were made. Patricia insisted that the customary three-day wake followed by the funeral was too much. A wake on the day before the funeral was enough. After all, everyone already knew Leo was dead. The newspaper notice would inform them of the service times. Let people take the responsibility to rearrange their schedules if they wanted to pay their respects.

Patricia shocked the funeral director when she chose, not the top of the line as befitting Mr. Castleman’s status in the community, but a casket in the middle price range. Why waste all that money when you were only going to put the damn thing in the ground, she thought.

The director was pleased, however, when she asked him to conduct the funeral on the premises. Leo had never been a religious man, she explained, had not attended church regularly. She did not think it appropriate to pretend otherwise. They discussed what Gettman would say and the music. Patricia remembered to feign a sniffle and dab her dry eyes with the handkerchief. She requested that he take care of the flowers and any other details that I simply can’t think of right now.

What Patricia really wanted to do next was stop in The Three Lords for a nice big gin and tonic, but she forced herself to go straight home. She’d make one herself.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.