Welcome back, Nupur Tustin!

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Nupur Tustin back to the blog. Congratulations on your new book!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

First of all, let me say that it’s wonderful to be back! Last time I was here, I told your readers that I misuse a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate murder in Joseph Haydn’s Austria.

I have to confess, I’m still at it. Prussian Counterpoint, the third Joseph Haydn Mystery, came out just about thirteen days ago.

When I visited last year, I was in the throes of writing the novel, and although I plot all my novels, this one was written a little more intuitively than others. If your readers have watched The Man Who Invented Christmas, they’ll know what I mean. That the experiences we encounter and engage in can influence the shape our novel takes—more so when we have a strict deadline to follow.

I talk about this quite a bit in Rehearsal Notes, the free companion novel I was offering readers who preordered the book. I’m happy to extend that offer to any of your readers who buy the book by the end of this month.

So, then did blogging for Pens, Paws, and Claws influence the third novel at all?

Funny you should ask, because, yes, it absolutely did. I remember being a bit apprehensive about being interviewed.

“But my novels don’t really include pets,” I protested. “Eighteenth-century individuals don’t appear to have viewed their horses and dogs as pets.” You allayed my fears.

And so I focused last time on explaining to readers why historical mysteries typically don’t involve pets, but I did mention a couple of odd characters who were very fond of their dogs: Marie Antoinette and Frederick the Great.

You wondered at the time whether Frederick’s dogs would be given a key role in the novel. Now I hadn’t really intended to do so, but your question gave me pause. And the more I considered the matter, the more of an excellent idea it seemed. And so Frederick’s Italian greyhounds do get a small but significant role in the plot. They also provide Haydn with an important clue.

We’d love to read an excerpt.

Yes, of course. Now this is the first time that Haydn and the reader encounter Frederick’s spoiled Italian greyhounds. The servants had to address them using the formal “Vous,” instead of the more usual third person. The hounds were served special food in special bowls and were warmly welcomed in their royal master’s bed.

In this scene, they’re in the opera house and Haydn, as you’ll see, is rather uncomfortable about this situation:

“What think you of our opera, my dear Haydn?” The King, who had insisted the Kapellmeister be seated next to him, tapped him on the knee. The Italian greyhound at his feet shifted, flopping itself onto Haydn’s feet.

The Kapellmeister stiffened. He had nothing against dogs. On the hunting fields, no animal could be more useful. But what kind of man brought a dog into an opera house? God forbid, the creature should do its business on his shoes!

On the stage, Medea complained of having lost the love of Jason. A most unsuitable subject for the occasion, Haydn privately thought. This opera about a woman who forced her unfaithful husband to devour his children. But it was not the sort of remark one made to a King.

“It is a most intriguing subject, Your Majesty,” was all he could think of saying.

“Indeed.” A pair of piercing blue eyes fastened themselves upon Haydn’s features. “And why is that?”

Haydn took a deep breath and took the plunge. “One wonders how a man would react under the circumstances, Your Majesty.”

“A man would simply cut his losses and move on, Haydn. But women rather than accepting their fate try to interfere, thus spoiling everything.”

Haydn’s eyes flickered involuntarily to the Empress. Was that the King’s assessment of Her Majesty, then?

“My remarks appear to have hit the mark.” The King’s softly uttered words pulled Haydn’s gaze back. His Majesty’s well formed lips were curving into an amused smile. “You have the misfortune of being acquainted with such a woman, I suppose, Haydn.”

The Kapellmeister felt his cheeks burn at the insinuation. His nostrils flared. “Your Majesty is mistaken,” he said as calmly as he could manage. The sound of teeth clicking against metal reached his ears.

The infernal greyhound was chewing on the buckles of his shoes.

“Pepi!” The King called sharply, giving Haydn a start. But it was only the dog that His Majesty was addressing. So, the hound was christened Joseph, too! God be thanked, the King had not seen fit to nickname the creature Sepperl.

Explain Haydn’s reaction to the dog’s name.

The name Joseph, Haydn’s name, that is to say, had two diminutives. One was Sepperl. This is what Haydn’s parents called him. The other was Pepi. So naturally, Haydn gets a start when the King calls out this particular nickname. Can you imagine how insulted an eighteenth-century individual would feel about having a hound named after himself?

I like to think Haydn would’ve taken it in good spirit. He was never inclined to take himself seriously.

Do Pepi and his greyhound friends get any other scenes in the novel?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they do. They’re not particularly good guard dogs, too lazy to bark at anyone or even to take any notice of anyone who walks past them. This time, it’s the Prussian King’s principal court secretary, Anton Eichel, who encounters the dogs:

Eichel stepped out of the picture gallery to the sounds of an ever-growing commotion. It appeared to be coming from the cluster of rooms beyond the chamber he occupied as principal secretary.

The noise was loud enough to arrest his motion, but Eichel noticed that the King’s Italian greyhounds—sprawling lazily on their embroidered cushions—dozed on undisturbed. His own footsteps on the stone floor had merely caused one of the three dogs to open a single eyelid and glance reproachfully his way over a long, pointy snout.

Do make that infernal noise stop, Eichel, the creature seemed to be saying. We are trying to nap! In the principal court secretary’s head, the greyhounds sounded just like their master, with a voice just as high-pitched and mannered as the King’s.

What are you reading now?

I’ve been devouring Aaron Elkins’ art mystery series. He writes the Alix London series with his wife Charlotte Elkins and he’s also written a few standalones. I’ve just finished A Long Time Coming. A stupendous novel!

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new series with a new character. Haydn has several more cases to solve, but he’s informed me that he wants to focus on his music for a bit before I confront him with his next dead body. I think the poor man must be heartily sick of stumbling upon corpses.

He’ll do his duty and stumble upon more at my request, but I can understand his need to focus on something a little more pleasant for just a little while longer.

Who is your favorite author and why?

This changes all the time. At the moment, it’s Aaron & Charlotte Elkins. I love the cozy-thrillers they write. The books are fast-paced with a strong sense of danger, but you still get still get that sense of place and the sort of local flavor that’s only possible in a cozy. And their characters are wonderfully drawn as well with such fascinating backstories!

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

I usually don’t—not in my historical series, at any rate—for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Prussian Counterpoint was an exception, and I enjoyed writing the dogs into the plot. For the most part, though, if the plot calls for animals, I’ll use them. That may not always happen, and that’s fine.

What’s your real-life funniest pet story?

This isn’t a funny story, but it’s one I fondly remember. About seven years ago, when my eldest was just a tiny baby, Chicken, our younger pit bull, trotted into the kitchen and nudged me back toward the bedroom. Rena had just woken up from a nap and was crying. Washing dishes in the kitchen, I hadn’t heard her. If it weren’t for Chickie, she’d still have been crying.

That wasn’t the first time, Chickie alerted me to Rena’s crying. While she slept, he and Fatty would sit on either side of her nap-nanny on our bed and watch over her. It’s memories like these that I’ll always cherish.

We’ve lost both our pit bulls, unfortunately. Some day when the kids are a bit older, we’ll get a couple more dogs. For now, we’ll have to make do with our memories. Both Fatty and Chicken were great dogs—and very patient with their three rambunctious human siblings!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
I think the most important advice anyone can give someone just starting out on this path is that you have to believe in yourself in order to stay the course. It’s easy to let other people and setbacks discourage you. But when you do that, the only person you’ve disappointed is yourself.

When I first conceived of the Haydn Mysteries in 2012, I never thought I’d get one novel written, let alone publish three! I’m glad I persisted. And I hope to keep writing until I draw my last breath.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Readers interested in getting a Complimentary Taste of Murder are invited to visit http://bit.ly/Haydn_Taste_of_Murder where I’m offering Three Free Mysteries.

About Nupur:

Bio: A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works.

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Meet Nupur Tustin

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome author Nupur Tustin to the blog for #WriterWednesday!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I’m a former journalist who misuses a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate mayhem in Haydn’s Austria. I also write music. My 1903 Weber Upright is responsible for that crime.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
We used to have two adorable pit bulls. But Fatty, our oldest, passed on in 2014. Chickie, who really wasn’t all that old, went this last summer. So, unfortunately at this time, we have no pets at all. Once my three children—the oldest is five and the youngest two—are a little older, we might get a dog or two for the family.

Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
It’s a strange thing about the eighteenth century, but we never hear about people lavishing attention on their animals. Dogs and horses served a purely utilitarian purpose, and anyone who enjoyed hunting would have owned both. Haydn did enjoy the hunt as did Dittersdorf, a fellow musician, and they were both rather good at it.

Marie Antoinette was thought a bit strange because shortly after she married the Dauphin at the age of fourteen, she asked for a little dog to play with in her chambers. This was as strange as her tendency to invite the children of her chamber maids over to her rooms so she could play with them. In the Viennese court where she grew up, her desire to play and have fun would have been accepted as a natural part of her youthful high spirits. In the Court of Versailles, where etiquette reigned supreme, it was unseemly for the Crown Princess to do anything at all other than to devote herself to her dress and toilette and to observe the proprieties.

Frederick the Great of Prussia was also regarded as eccentric for lavishing as much attention as he did on his Italian greyhounds. They slept on his bed, were served in the best bowls, and the servants were instructed to use the formal “Vous” when addressing them rather than the more usual third person. All of this would have been regarded as being in keeping with his personality: a man who seemed to care little for his fellow humans.

 What are you reading now?

I’m re-reading a biography of Maria Theresa as well reading one of her daughter, Marie Antoinette. A straightforward young girl given over to levity and high spirits, Marie Antoinette was ill-suited for the web of intrigue that was the Court of Versailles. Unlike Vienna, where except for state functions, the royals lived in privacy—indeed almost like country squires—at Versailles, every detail of their lives from sleeping to getting dressed was done in the public eye. Worse still, for seven long years her marriage remained unconsummated.

In giving herself over to pleasure, she was both compensating for this lack of physical intimacy as well as rebelling against the interminable etiquette of the court that constrained her freedom in every manner. But had she heeded her mother’s advice and that of her brother, Joseph II, the revolution might have been avoided. It was fairly easy to make her the scapegoat for everything that was wrong with France, although things had been going wrong for a long time. Louis XV was an extremely unpopular king and the people hoped things would change under Louis XVI.

It’s fascinating to read simultaneously about mother and daughter. Both were pleasure-loving young women. But the mother at twenty-three was tasked with saving the Empire she’d inherited. She had already had two children and was heavily pregnant with her successor, Joseph II. Maria Theresa was forced to take herself to task. But unfortunately, the twin challenges of motherhood and adversity that eventually compelled her to draw upon her inner resources came too late for Marie Antoinette.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on the third Haydn Mystery, Prussian Counterpoint. Haydn will be traveling to Potsdam, a small town in Prussia that Frederick II preferred to Berlin. He spent most of his time there. It might be fun to give Frederick’s Italian greyhounds a strong story role, although I haven’t decided what that will be. They were, apparently, as misogynistic as their master and howled at women!

Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s hard to pick a favorite because there are so many I enjoy. Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti Mysteries are absolutely fascinating. It’s her portrayal of Venice that I find so compelling. Stephanie Barron captures Jane Austen’s voice so perfectly in her mystery series that one almost feels one is words penned by Austen herself. Emily Brightwell’s Mrs. Jeffries Series, so reminiscent of Agatha Christie, have given me many hours of joy as have Kate Kingsbury’s Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?

I’ve always enjoyed writing and since I was always having my essays and stories read out in class, I can’t really remember a time when I, or anyone else, thought I wasn’t one. We used to be given impromptu writing prompts, and I always did well on those. I never had a problem writing a coherent narrative, no matter what the topic.

But was I a storyteller? The confidence to call myself that came much later, once I’d written Minor Deception, the first Haydn Mystery, as well as published a few short stories.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?

I’d like to attend mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. It’s one of the oldest cathedrals in the city, and they still play music by Haydn, Mozart, and their contemporaries. I’m not a particularly religious person. I’m not even Catholic. But what a wondrous experience that would be.

What is the latest Haydn Mystery about?
Aria to Death, the second Haydn Mystery, is about music authentication. Haydn’s friend Kaspar asks him to examine a collection of scores reputed to be the lost operas of Monteverdi. Since seven of the ten operas this great master wrote are lost to us, Haydn is naturally intrigued. Until, of course, the Empress contacts him with a similar request. She, too, has managed to procure a couple of Monteverdi opera scores. Before Haydn can evaluate either set of scores, Kaspar is murdered—brutally beaten and left to die in front of a wine tavern.

The police are quick to dismiss the death as a robbery gone wrong. But Haydn is not so sure. Kaspar’s keys were stolen and his house broken into. Could his bequest be genuine after all? And can Haydn find the true operas—and the man willing to kill for them?

The answer is, of course, in the book!

Aria to Death: A Joseph Haydn Mystery

Genre: Historical Cozy Mystery

Preoccupied with preparations for the opera season at Eszterháza, Kapellmeister Joseph Haydn receives a curious request from a friend in Vienna. Kaspar, an impoverished violinist with an ailing wife, wishes Haydn to evaluate a collection of scores reputed to be the lost operas of Monteverdi.

Haydn is intrigued until Her Majesty, Empress Maria Theresa, summons him with a similar request. Skeptical of the value of Kaspar’s bequest, Haydn nevertheless offers to help. But before he can examine the works, Kaspar is murdered—beaten and left to die in front of a wine tavern.

The police are quick to dismiss the death as a robbery gone wrong. But Haydn is not so sure. Kaspar’s keys were stolen and his house broken into. Could his bequest be genuine after all? And can Haydn find the true operas—and the man willing to kill for them?

About Nupur:

A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem.  The Haydn mysteries are a result of her life-long passion for classical music and its history. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her original compositions, available on ntustin.musicaneo.com.

Her writing includes work for Reuters and CNBC, short stories and freelance articles, and research published in peer-reviewed academic journals. She lives in Southern California with her husband and  three rambunctious children.

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