Bad religion can be deadly. So Miranda Lamden, small-town religion professor, discovers in This Madness of the Heart. The dark hollers of Eastern Kentucky offer fertile soil for shady evangelist Jasper Jarboe, new president of Grace and Glory Bible College, as he beguiles the small mining town of Canaan Wells with his snake-oil charm. When Miranda isn’t teaching at Obadiah Durham College, she’s investigating paranormal phenomena—or enjoying a turbulent romantic relationship with backwoods artist Jack Crispen. JJ’s inquisition-style gospel has alienated her long since, but when he announces his plan to transform her forest home into an evangelical Mecca, complete with neon cross and 40-foot Jesus, Miranda girds her loins for war. But JJ isn’t finished: he goes on to launch an attack on her friend and fellow faculty member Djinn Baude with an avalanche of vicious rumors. Not only does he accuse her of demonic communion with the old Voudon witch whose curse killed the college’s founding family, but he also smears her with insinuations of lechery and vice. With JJ’s urging, hate boils over into violence and tragedy, sweeping Miranda up in its flood. One death follows another as a miasma of evil overwhelms the tiny community, and only Miranda can see clearly enough to halt its spread. ‘This Madness of the Heart’ is the first in a new series of Gothic mystery-thrillers featuring Professor Miranda Lamden, whose spiritual gifts have drawn her beyond university walls to explore the mysteries of other world beliefs. Her unique vision brings her into repeated confrontations with evil, where too often she finds herself standing alone between oblivious onlookers and impending disaster.
With unique visions and impending disaster, I’ve been joined today by the author of ‘This Madness of the Heart’ C.L. Francisco, to delve through some of the impending disasters in this novel. C.L., thanks for coming back to chat with me about your new foray into mystery thrillers. Where did this new adventure start?
‘This Madness of the Heart’ came partly out of my own experience. During the 1980’s and 90’s there was a movement afoot in some American church groups for a minority of power-hungry individuals to take over control of the churches and drown out the voices of everyone who didn’t agree with them. I watched from the sidelines as people’s lives, dreams, and faith were destroyed and too often pockets were lined as well. I originally wrote Madness to get the helpless rage out of my heart, but I let it sit for almost 20 years, and then wrote the rage out of it, leaving it as a fast-paced story about a slimy charlatan in a haunted hollow in Appalachia.
I understand the pleasure of doing a little rage writing and I’m very hearted to hear that you set it aside to allow the emotions to dissipate before you published. Publishing rage writing is never a good look. To me it sounds like this novel came from a very emotional place in your life, rather than research like your Yeshua’s Cats series. Do you feel that is an accurate statement?
Yes, I usually do huge amounts of research for my Yeshua’s Cats series, but this book took very little: I wrote what I knew.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what you knew and drew into this tale?
Miranda Lamden is like my professional self in many ways: she’s a professor of religion who specializes in studying obscure spiritual practices, and uses phenomenological techniques in her study; mystical experiences have been a natural part of her life; she loves wild nature and feels more at home there than any other place; she’s a cat person.
*Laughs* Of course she’s a cat person! Continue.
All those things we have in common. But our personalities and actual life experiences have been different. Miranda is a Virginia blue blood and a career-driven academic . . . my father was a preacher/professor and my mother a homemaker, and I married fairly early and began teaching after my children were born. Miranda publishes academic research; I publish novels. She jettisoned her Southern upbringing early; I’ve been more ambivalent. She rarely guards her tongue; I speak with care. She’s probably a mix of my favorite female detectives, women I’ve taught with, and myself.
How did the characters other than Miranda unfold?
A couple of the good guys in the book are modeled on real people from my own experience, but the arch-villain JJ is a pastiche of many faces and names, with some fantasy thrown in. Jack Crispen, Miranda’s significant other, was named for my favorite fairy tale hero, King Crispin, in “Bluecrest,” but I suspect much of him comes from my first teenage crush, “Adventures in Paradise’s” Gardner McKay!
You’ve got a strong mix of characters there. Do you see each of them strongly enough that you could see who would play them if this novel was translated to the screen?
Just for giggles, without worrying about age, or living or dead, here’s who I’d choose
Rev. Jasper Jarboe DD: Jack Nicholson.
Miranda Lamden: Cate Blanchett.
Jack Crispen: Clive Owen.
Viola Ricketts: Maggie Smith.
Djinn: Alfre Woodard.
Sheriff Lyle Embry: Clint Eastwood.
Rev. Elmus Rooksby: Andy Griffith
I think that you’ve just gone and selected the strongest actors working in the business for your dream cast! Nice job! Other than dreaming of the ultimate dream cast and seeing those actors at work, if only in your mind, what was the most important aspect that you wanted to communicate to the readers?
Madness is my response to greedy and power-hungry “spiritual” predators. It’s admittedly over the top . . . vengeful ghosts don’t play much of a part in most charlatans’ life stories. But I believe that there’s often more than we realize happening beneath the surface where evil is present.
There’s nothing wrong with over the top! And how can you prove that vengeful ghosts aren’t out there conspiring? Speaking of conspiring, can you comment on the progress of the rest of the Miranda Lamden series. Or maybe you have some comments to make on works outside of the Miranda series?
I have three Miranda Lamden books written: This Madness of the Heart; Blood on Holy Ground, which is in the editing stages; and The Gorge Runs Red (tentative title), awaiting edits. Other ideas are hovering in the wings. Holy Ground finds Miranda and Jack exploring Native American spirituality, Catholic convent traditions, and prescient dreams while caught up in a savage storm of murder and psychosis. Gorge follows Miranda and a student seminar group to a retreat among the cliffs and arches of Red River Gorge, where sexual obsession and abusive power pit their dark strength against a priest’s faith and the soft coils of Appalachian Granny Magic.
With all of those ideas you’re going to be busy for quite a while! What keeps pulling you back to your keyboard to tap out another story?
I was one of those little kids who was forever making up stories and telling them to herself and to anyone else who’d listen, even before I was old enough to start school. I remember a kindergarten teacher who took a special interest in my stories and wrote some of them down. But life and growing up took their toll on that free-flowing creativity, and for many years whatever stories came to me I kept to myself. I wrote for English classes, but turned my attention to academic subjects—and art. I don’t think the urge to write really returned until I started journaling during a particularly tough personal time. Those journals eventually grew into (a perfectly dreadful) autobiography, which I am endlessly grateful was never published! But the act of writing it, and the intensity of that creative experience, reminded me of the delight I’d once found in weaving words into story . . . and I was hooked. That was twenty-some years and seven books ago now, and it’s all I can do to tear myself away from my desk when the muse is speaking.
I’m so glad your reacquainted yourself with your muse. I have a strong feeling that there are many other people who have been separated from their muses by life in general, and I hope that stories like your will inspire them to mend the bridges with their own muses. So, now that you and your muse are now speaking again. How do you find the writing process unfolds for you? Does it whisper the story ending to you before you start writing, or do you have to be patient and see how it unfolds?
Yes. LOL It depends on the book. I’ve done them both ways.
Is your writing technique also flexible? How does it writing work for you?
I have my own office, with cats, in my home. I sit at my Mac, often with a cat in my lap trying to help, and tap away. I write every available minute for as long as the words flow—and when they stop, I work on the other stuff. But what, you might ask, is “every available minute”? Well, it means after I’ve walked my mile or two and had enough coffee to be conscious . . . but before I start nodding out over the keyboard in mid-afternoon. It’s in between household chores and bills, errands and cat-box cleaning, and time invested with my husband. So, for real? Four – five hours early in the day and two – three in the evening, unless I’m really on a roll, and then everything gets jettisoned, including the husband and the cat boxes.
*Laughs* Your poor husband and cats! At least they can hang out together when you’re on a roll! Do you find that any music gets you into the writing groove?
Baroque! Telemann, Corelli, Handel, Bach, etc.
Ooohhh, that’s a nice selection there. I think that I’m going to have to steal your playlists. Once you’ve tapped out the majority of the tale, are you straight into the editing yourself?
I do almost all my own editing, which can be almost as time-consuming as the writing. I probably do at least 10 read-throughs when I edit, the last 2 or 3 out loud, so I can hear the words in my ears.
Are there annoying things that you are always finding keeps popping up?
I always have to go back through what I write and clean out all the adverbs and academic “qualifiers”!
Those devilish qualifiers. Other than eliminating those qualifiers, do you have any good tips up your sleeve to share with other keen authors?
Write for the love of it, not for the money. Then you won’t be disappointed.
I haven’t been disappointed with your wonderful insight today. I’m hoping that we can continue to march along the path away from such displeasures towards our final round quick fire round. Let’s start with revisiting one of our background questions, what is your occupation, and how does it influence your writing?
I’m retired, from teaching and research in religion, so no problem!
Nope, no problems there. What is your favourite quote?
“The best thing for being sad” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”? T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Have you ever danced in the rain?
Yes–in the desert!
Now that is an impressive feat! Are you left or right handed?
I was born left-handed, but “trained” to be right-handed.
What color socks are you wearing?
They sound pretty cute. What is your favourite word?
*Laughs* As a great cat lover I can understand why that’s your favourite word! And finally, with or without any cat references your choice, what is your favourite quote from ‘This Madness of the Heart’ that you would like to leave our readers with to entice them to pick get entwined in your new mystery series.
This was great fun to write: “His lips were thick and red, repellent in their woman’s softness. His tongue flicked out serpent-like, leaving a sheen of spittle in its wake. An absurd ski-jump nose sloped out from puffy cheeks, overshadowing a too-small chin and incipient jowls. The powerful lights exposed his teased pouf of thinning hair for what it was, chilling me with the unsettling image of a malicious overgrown infant, bald but for its newborn peach-fuzz.”
Now you don’t often hear about malicious overgrown infants do you? C.L., thanks for chatting with me today. And I hope that we’ve encouraged any readers keen on mysteries to pick up a copy of ‘This Madness of the Heart’.
Want to find out more about C. L. Francisco? Connect here!