Cozy mystery author Cassidy Salem has set her first book in a Think Tank in Washington, D.C. In this interview I ask Cassidy what a think tank is, why she chose such an unusual setting and what her plans are for future books.
Cassidy is not only an author, she’s an avid fan of mysteries, and a book reviewer. We discuss the different approaches she takes to writing, reading and reviewing.
You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcription of Interview
Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers, I’m Alexandra Amor. This is It’s a Mystery Podcast and I’m here today with Cassidy Salem. Hi, Cassidy.
Cassidy: Hi, how are you today?
Alexandra: I’m good, how are you?
Cassidy: Fine, thank you.
Alexandra: It’s kind of late where you are.
Cassidy: Yeah, pretty much, I say so.
Alexandra: So I’m just going to give our listeners a little bit of an introduction to you.
Cassidy Salem has always been an avid reader. She is especially fond of mysteries, both cozy and traditional and police procedurals. When she’s not reading, she enjoys singing, dancing and spending time with family and friends. Her travels have taken her to destinations throughout the United States, Europe and Scandinavia. Cassidy Salem is the author of Think Murder, the first book in the Adina Donati mystery series. The second book, Dying for Data, is slated for release in the summer of 2016, which is this summer. We’re recording this April 2016, so it should be out shortly, the second one.
Cassidy: I hope so.
Alexandra: Do you have a date that you’re aiming for?
Cassidy: Originally, I was aiming for the beginning of the summer, but life kind of got in the way, so now I’m hoping for mid-summer.
Alexandra: Okay, yeah. Well, that makes total sense.
Cassidy: I don’t want to rush it. I’d rather take the time to make sure it’s edited properly and work with the beta readers and proofreading and all the other stages and not rush it.
Alexandra: Yeah, exactly. I’m exactly the same way. I totally agree. So let’s talk about Think Murder a little bit then, the book that’s out now.
Adina Donati is your amateur sleuth. And she works at a think tank, which made me realize I don’t know what a think tank is, so why don’t we start there?
Cassidy: A think tank is generally an organization that can be university affiliated or not university affiliated where they discuss and handle all kinds of current events, politically-related very often, national policy-related. There are some of the more common ones and it’s actually nothing to do with the book, will be like the American Heritage Foundation, or the Georgetown Center for Strategic Studies, where you have your basic academics spouting their knowledge and learning and discussing issues of the day.
Alexandra: Okay, so local or international sort of current events and political…
Cassidy: And political issues.
Alexandra: Got it. Adina is a researcher there, correct?
Cassidy: In Think Murder she is still basically an admin assistant or a glorified secretary of sorts.
Alexandra: Oh, okay, okay. And then does she rise in the ranks? Is that…
Cassidy: She’ll rise in the ranks in the future.
Alexandra: Okay, got it. And so she becomes embroiled in a situation.
One of her friends disappears. Is that correct? Tell us a bit about the book.
Cassidy: The book opens with Adina and a good friend of hers from work going to a local pub, and her friend goes to the ladies’ room and doesn’t come out and turns out she’s been killed in the ladies’ room. So Adina finds the body and gradually becomes involved in the murder investigation partly because people like to suspect the person that finds the body, but also because she’s concerned. This was her friend. She is not a amateur sleuth detective in what many people will consider the classic sense, she’s more like an accidental sleuth.
Alexandra: That’s a great phrase.
Cassidy: She kind of stumbles onto things. It’s not like she doesn’t pretend to be some super sleuth detective that aggressively goes out and seeks things.
Alexandra: Yeah. So something has happened. She’s invested in the outcome in the first book essentially, and gets involved that way.
Alexandra: I read one of your reviewers mention that they had never been to Washington, D.C., but they felt like they had after they read the book because of the lovely descriptions and everything.
That made me wonder, have you lived in Washington?
Cassidy: Yes. I did live in Washington immediately after college, somewhat like Adina. And I actually did work at a think tank, which is where the idea of writing about someone working in a think tank appealed to me because I wanted to do something a little bit more original. I love cozies and I enjoy all of the cozies with all of the different cutesy settings, but there are so many of them in craft stores, in bakeries, in food-related stuff. I figured no one’s done it in a think tank, so let’s try and do that. The descriptions of Washington are partly based on memory and partly based on…of course I did some research to see, because things do change over time.
Alexandra: Right. Yes. And these are set in the present day?
Cassidy: With that said, I may have worked at the think tank, but the story is entirely fictional as are the characters.
Alexandra: Okay, there we go. There’s the disclaimer.
Cassidy: Don’t want to have any misunderstandings here. Nobody was murdered there, in the think tank where I worked. ;-)
Alexandra: Awesome. Well, that’s great. And I did notice the banner of your website, is that the Washington Monument I think that’s there?
Alexandra: Yes. Yeah, I thought so. Okay, yeah.
Tell us a bit about Adina’s background too. She’s young.
Cassidy: She’s young. She’s a college graduate that’s been in D.C. for close to two years. She studied linguistics and foreign languages. Unlike me, she speaks five languages. I gave her some of the qualities I wish I had. I wish I could speak five languages, but I can’t. But she can speak five languages and she was drawn to Washington because of the international flavor, hoping that she could find a job that would enable her to work and take advantage of the languages. Turns out there’s lots of multilingual people in D.C. So she took a job that she could find that seemed like a relatively interesting, possibly, maybe, place, although work, it isn’t always that interesting, where she would at least be surrounded by intelligent people and be able to pay her bills. If you can’t pay your bills when you’re a college graduate, you end up having to move home.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah.
Cassidy: Yeah. No fun.
Alexandra: No fun. Where’s she from originally?
Cassidy: Adina is originally from a suburb of Massachusetts.
And she volunteers at a dog rescue organization?
Cassidy: Yeah. Yeah.
Alexandra: And that’s kind of almost what attracted me to your book. We have one of the same cover designers, which was how I found you, and there’s a dog, of course, on the cover of your book, which I loved. So that’s sort of her passion project, I guess.
Cassidy: Yes. That’s what she does. She goes to work and does her work stuff, and for her soul and her spirit, she goes and volunteers at the dog rescue center, interacts with the people there, interacts with the dogs, and in this book, there is some interaction with the dog that actually does pertain to the story.
The dogs, they have a little…it’s not a major role, but one of the dogs does have a role in the actual story.
Alexandra: Oh, cool. That’s great.
And then the other thing I wanted to ask you was, so in the upcoming book, can you tell us a little a bit about that or is it kind of under wraps?
Cassidy: I can tell you a little bit about it. In this book, it’s not going to be based as much on the think tank. It’ll be there in the background, or with certain things have happened to do with the think tank will play in the picture. However, it’s more about Adina being drawn into a case because her neighbor, Elena, who is mentioned in the first book but mostly just in passing, she has a much greater role this time around. Her boyfriend is accused of, or is suspected in way of killing his cousin and Adina wants her help. So she tries to help her.
And in that context, she again finds herself interacting with the charming detective to add a little bit of romantic suspense into the story. Got to have a little bit of everything, right?
Alexandra: Yes. Yeah, we all love a little romance.
Cassidy: I won’t go into the motives and the backstory and the actual plot because it’s not final yet. We don’t want to give away too much information.
Alexandra: No, absolutely not. That’s right. Yes, yeah. Okay, great. So we can look forward to that this summer sometime.
Cassidy: Sometime this summer, yes.
Alexandra: Fantastic. You do a bit of book reviewing as well. You review mysteries on your website.
I wanted to ask what it’s like for you now that you’re writing your own books, are you able to kind of take off the reviewer hat and put on your creator hat easily?
Cassidy: I don’t think it’s a question of taking off hats and putting them on. It’s more of a problem of taking off the writer hat and trying to get into plain old reader mode and trying not to be hypercritical and analytical of someone else’s writing when you’re reading it for pleasure. To go back to finding that niche where you’re just reading for pleasure and getting your impressions of it as a reader, not as a writer reading to see, “Well how did they do this? Well maybe I should do that, maybe they could have done that” type analysis, to try and keep that kind of perspective out of it, because that I don’t think is something that a potential reader really needs in my review.
So you kind of have to try and distance yourself in that respect from the fact that you too try and write. But you can also learn from other writers. We see some books that are really well-written into different kinds of technique in terms of how they describe things, the level of the description. Some books you read and you realize there’s way too much exposition, way too much lengthy blah, blah boring stuff. I’ve got to make sure I don’t do that. “Oh, that’s good. Let’s try and do more of that kind of thing”, obviously not copying, but just getting a feel for different styles and things you like or don’t like as you’re going about it.
Alexandra: Yes. Yeah, exactly. And so in a way you have three roles, essentially writer, reader and then reviewer. And I know even myself, since I started writing more seriously, do find a little bit tricky to take off the writer hat when I’m reading, and part of my brain and in fact, even watching movies and TV, part of my brain is watching, “Oh, okay. This is a certain plot point. I love the way they did that. I love the way they took us off in this direction,” or whatever.
Cassidy: Because we’re looking at it with a different perspective now, now that we’ve become writers to some extent.
I noticed you mentioned you’re a fan of police procedurals and I am as well. And although at the same time as a writer, they intimidate me.
Cassidy: Oh, I would never try to do that. I would never try and write a police procedural.
Alexandra: Oh, okay. That was my question.
Cassidy: I would find that very intimidating as well.
Alexandra: What would you find intimidating about it?
Cassidy: Trying to make sure that what I wrote was actually realistic and accurate I think would be the hardest thing. Even in writing a cozy, I try…or a quasi cozy, because my cozies are…some people have maintained that they aren’t cozy enough. I try to keep some sense that it might actually be a plausible story, not too far-fetched even though you have little bits of things.
A police procedural, if it was too far-fetched, really wouldn’t make sense and I don’t have the knowledge. Even reading on the Internet about all kinds of things, I don’t think you would have the insight than someone who has actually worked closely with law enforcement has. I’d be intimidated, yes.
Alexandra: Yes, me too. And I’m always impressed when people do write police procedurals if they don’t have a law enforcement background. One of my favorite authors does that and I always wonder how does she get it right. And I’m speaking to a fellow next week actually for the podcast, who was a police detective and now writes mystery novels. So I’m really looking forward to hearing what he has to say about how he folds all that procedural stuff into his books.
Cassidy: Yeah, he has at least more of the knowledge to start with.
Alexandra: Yes. Exactly.
I’m assuming your intention with the Adina books is to carry on after book two and write some more.
Cassidy: Hopefully, yeah.
Alexandra: Do you find that you come up with ideas that you’ll jot down for future books?
Cassidy: I have an idea for a third book, but it’s not anywhere near the point of being able to sit down and write anything.
Cassidy: I have little ideas that yeah, they pop. I don’t usually write them down, but I have a few ideas floating around in the back of my head.
Is she a character you would like to spend more time with and write more books about?
Cassidy: I think I might do a third book. I’ll see after the third book also whether or not I have an idea that I think would make sense. I don’t want it to be…I like to have some sense of something being reasonably plausible, which is why in the second book I was like, “Okay, I can’t kill another one of her coworkers. That just wouldn’t make sense.” I can’t write a series of books where everyday somebody else in the think tank gets killed. This would be like ridiculous. So you have to try and think of scenarios that would touch on her life but…so we’ll see.
Alexandra: Yes. Yeah, and as you…
Cassidy: It’s a very open question.
Alexandra: Okay, yeah.
And as you said, she doesn’t think of herself as a sleuth, so she has to kind of stumble upon whatever’s happening.
Cassidy: Yeah. She’s more of an accidental sleuth.
Alexandra: An accidental sleuth, right.
And so if you don’t continue with those books after, say book number three, would you want to write another kind of series? Has this given you a craving for writing more?
Cassidy: To some extent, yes. I would say yes. I’ll probably continue writing. It’s hard for me to tell you exactly what my long plan terms are. I’m not a full-time fiction writer. I have a real job too, so as long as I’m still working, then the pace gets a little bit slowed down and we shall see. In time.
Alexandra: Yeah, exactly. Just let it unfold and happen the way it wants to. It’s been so great having you on the show, Cassidy. Thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Cassidy: Thank you for having me, Alexandra.
Alexandra: Oh, you’re so welcome.
Why don’t you share your website address and where everybody can find your books.
Cassidy: Okay. My website address is simply cassidysalem.wordpress.com. On Twitter, I am @csalem, C-S-A-L-E-M, 11. And you can find my books on Amazon by looking for my name. Think Murder is the only one there yet.
Alexandra: Right. And I’ll put links in the show notes, so everybody can find your books and your website as well. Well thanks again so much and all the best. Talk to you soon.
Cassidy: Oh, okay. Thank you.