Nupur Tustin is a former journalist who says she misuses a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate mayhem in Haydn's Austria. She also writes music. Her 1903 Weber Upright is responsible for that crime. I first met Nupur in the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.
What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?
I'm so glad you ask. I hear the squeals, shrieks and squabbles of two rambunctious toddlers interspersed with the intermittent indignant cries of their baby brother when they tease him. Occasionally, my son will poke his head into the room, and ask: "Whatcha doin', Mom?" Or my daughter will cuddle up beside me on my bed as I write, and with the wide-eyed wonder of childhood, exclaim: "Wow! Look at all the letters. Did you write them, Mom?" My baby son follows soon after, and babbles endearments as he flashes his radiant smile at me. Not ideal, but I love it!
What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?
I've recently discovered Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti series, and am fast falling in love with her works. Quietly in their Sleep isn't the first book in the series, but it is the first one I read.
Leon's mysteries are set in modern-day Venice, a city that reminds me oddly enough of my birth city, Calcutta. A once-glorious city, rich in history, overtaken by corruption. And her characters have the same resigned cynicism. We've been taught to believe that the best mysteries are fast-paced, page-turners in the sense of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Yet here's an author who, like a master chef, invites you to linger over her pages and savor her writing. And her books are no less enthralling than Dan Brown's works, which I've enjoyed as well.
Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?
Somewhere in between, I've come to realize. A large-scale project like a novel needs a plan to help you keep track of things. If you write puzzle plot mysteries, you're going to have a hard time inserting clues and subtly diverting and misdirecting the reader without that plan.
I think of my outline as a roadmap. Just as Google Maps isn't going to tell you which roads are going to be closed the day you set out on your trip, and won't give you precise details of landmarks you need to look out for, your plot outline won't provide you with all the small scenes that will link from one major point to the next. As you write, other ideas will come along to flesh out the main idea, and sometimes you'll change major plot points around because it's in the actual writing that you see what works and what doesn't.
Name three not-well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.
I have a fondness—as you might suspect from my own choice of protagonist—for mysteries that center around historical figures. With that in mind, I'd recommend Rosemary Stevens' Beau Brummel mystery series. If you like the Regency period and Georgette Heyer's books, you'll enjoy this series.
Brummel was known for his wit, and Stevens has a light touch and is especially adept at the witty banter that characterized him. Unfortunately there are only four of these, so read at your own risk. After the fourth, there aren't any more to feed your addiction.
I'm not a huge fan of romance, but I'm beginning to notice that romance writers are wonderfully skilled at lending emotional depth to their characters and using the readers' emotional investment in the story to create and sustain tension. When writers like Amanda Carmack, who writes the Kate Haywood series set in Elizabethan England, turn to mystery, the puzzle plot combined with their ability to maintain tension makes for an unforgettable reading experience.
Another reason to like Carmack's series: her protagonist is a musician at the court of Queen Elizabeth.
Finally, if you're a sucker for real-life rags-to-riches stories, you'll be inspired by Mani Bhaumik's Code Name God. He went from a small village in Bengal, India, where he walked barefoot to the nearest school, to owning mansions in Bel Air, California. But it's not so much the wealth he amassed that inspires one, it's that science led him to God and a stronger belief in the divine. Quantum physics has always fascinated me, and when a physicist talks about seeing God in sub-atomic particles, I'm sold! By the way, it was my high school physics teacher who told me about this book. And, yes, that was aeons ago.
When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?
I tend to write sparse, and I think that's because I began as a short story writer. My journalism experience must come into play as well. So I add in words, and I'm usually fleshing out and adding depth to characters and scenes. I also often tend to assume that the reader has a hotline to my mind's eye, and can see and hear everything I do. Obviously that's not the case, so there are small but crucial details that need to be clarified and filled in as well.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
I'd just come out of a Ph.D. program when the thought of writing a novel took hold of my mind. And I'd been reading what I refer to as biographical mysteries, Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series, Susan Wittig Albert's Beatrix Potter series, and Bruce Alexander's John Fielding series. So, my love of research and biography made the general choice of subject fairly apparent. But I decided I didn't want to set my novel in England, and I didn't want to focus on a writer, or his brother in the case of Alexander's novels.
I've always loved music and the German lessons I had as a college student led me to the German composers. After that it was a simple question of deciding which one. Haydn, who was so approachable his musicians called him Papa Haydn, and who had the ability to settle disputes without getting into the center of them, seemed like the best choice for a detective. He was also interested in more than just music. He had, for instance, all the works of Shakespeare in his library, in the original English. He enjoyed shooting, and was rather good at it. His notebooks from London show him to be a keen observer of men and manners.
What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?
I like to think I'm pretty tolerant of most errors and, unless they interfere with my ability to read and understand the story, I can usually gloss over most. The one thing that does grate on the nerve like a shrill, out-of-tune piano, though, is hearing Haydn's name mispronounced and seeing it misspelled. It's "hy-den" and not "hay-den." And you really have to resist the temptation to add that 'e' between the final consonants.
Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.
For the Haydn series, Haydn's earliest biographers and their accounts of the composer continue to inspire me. I must have read G.A. Griesinger and A.C. Dies a thousand times, and every time I feel downcast, there's something in there that spurs me on. I have only to read a few pages for any scene I'm writing to come out far better than I anticipated.
When I decided to set a mystery in eighteenth-century Austria, the question of voice perplexed me. What voice would best convey the story? Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series and Jane Austen, herself, provided the answer. This is the voice I love best, the one that says: historical mystery coming up.
Finally, Kate Kingsbury, I think, is a marvelous storyteller, and extremely skilled at unfolding a story primarily through dialogue. The constant "he said," "she said" of some novelists can get tiresome. But Kingsbury's skilful use of beats—I feel sure she must have some experience in the theater—makes for a pleasant reading experience. I think my ability with dialogue has sharpened as a result of reading and re-reading her works.
Yes, I know you asked for three writers, and I somehow managed to give you five, didn't I? [Editor’s Comment: It’s not the most egregious example of counting-challenged authors, so you’re safe!]
What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?
There are no rules; only tools. This is a piece of songwriting advice from Berklee's Pat Pattison, but I think it applies to any kind of writing, indeed to any artistic endeavor. Haydn would have agreed if you'd asked him what he thought about occasionally flouting the rules in the interests of creating a certain effect.
Consider point-of-view (POV), for instance. We're told, are we not, to stringently avoid using more than one when writing a scene? Yet, Nora Roberts and Donna Leon, whom I've already mentioned, and countless other writers flout this rule to excellent effect.
In Nora Roberts' Dance Upon the Air, there's a scene that subtly shifts from Nell, the main character on the run from an abusive husband, to Mia, a strong supporting character in the novel who's considering offering Nell a job. And it sizzles with tension as a result of the technique. Mia senses Nell's fear, her distrust of strangers, and sympathizes with it. If we saw things from Nell's perspective alone, the scene would simply fall flat. We are vividly shown just how strong Nell's fear is when we realize she can't see beyond it to know who can be trusted.
I haven't had the courage to try this technique myself, but I'd love to. Maybe in the third Haydn novel. We'll see.
For more about Nupur Tustin and the Haydn Mysteries, please visit http://ntustin.com. And to whet your appetite, here’s a blurb and advanced praise for A Minor Deception.
When his newly hired violinist disappears just weeks before the Empress's visit, Haydn is forced to confront a disturbing truth. . .
Kapellmeister Joseph Haydn would like nothing better than to show his principal violinist, Bartó Daboczi, the door. But with the Empress Maria Theresa’s visit scheduled in three weeks, Haydn can ill-afford to lose his surly virtuoso. But when Bartó disappears—along with all the music composed for the imperial visit—the Kapellmeister is forced to don the role of Kapell-detective, or risk losing his job.
Before long Haydn's search uncovers pieces of a disturbing puzzle. Bartó, it appears, is more than just a petty thief—and more dangerous. And what seemed like a minor musical mishap could modulate into a major political catastrophe unless Haydn can find his missing virtuoso.
"A standout in the genre of historical mysteries. An encore is requested!"
Midwest Book Review
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