Aaron Elkins

The Mutual Admiration Society, Featuring Victoria Laurie & Juliet Blackwell

I've gotta say that one of the coolest things about being a writer is getting to know some of my favorite authors. And even more amazing? The fact that several of my favorite authors have enjoyed my books and endorsed them. (Yes, I still pinch myself about this fact.)

Victoria Laurie's new M.J. mystery,
out January 6, 2015.
I discovered Victoria Laurie's books in 2011, when I was going through chemotherapy and wanted to read fresh, engaging mysteries to keep my mind occupied. I devoured her ghost hunter and psychic eye mysteries, and I now eagerly await each new release. The M.J. Holliday ghost hunter mysteries are my favorites, so I'm thrilled that No Ghouls Allowed is out today! I know what I'm reading tonight.

Victoria's books are in the same genre as my new series (paranormal cozy mysteries), so when it was time to get reviews for The Accidental Alchemist, I summoned the courage to ask her if she'd be willing to read the book and give it an endorsement if she enjoyed it.

I was thrilled that Victoria took the time to read the book, and gobsmacked by how much she loved it. She even called me on the phone to tell me so! Who does that anymore? It was  unbelievable and lovely.

“Zoe and Dorian are my new favorite amateur-sleuth duo!” 
New York Times bestselling author Victoria Laurie

It's a wonderful feeling to receive a great review from a trade publication (I'm happy that The Accidental Alchemist received praise from Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and others), but it's not the same as receiving a heartfelt endorsement from an author you admire.

Juliet Blackwell's latest mystery,
published in December 2014.
Juliet Blackwell is another of my favorite mystery authors. She's now a good friend of mine, but the first time I met her was when I approached her at a mystery convention to tell her how much I loved her first novel.

I was attending my first mystery convention, Malice Domestic. I didn't know a soul, but I'd read and loved Juliet's Feint of Art (written as Hailey Lind). Everyone at the convention was so friendly that it was easy to go up to Juliet and introduce myself. We quickly became friends, and she was an early and enthusiastic supporter of my rough draft of The Accidental Alchemist.

The Accidental Alchemist is a recipe for a great read. Gigi Pandian’s pen never disappoints.” 
New York Times bestselling author Juliet Blackwell

Juliet's books have always been great, but they keep getting better. If you're a fan of paranormal cozy mysteries, you should check out her new book Keeper of the Castle.

I'm tempted to ramble on about others, but it's time for me to get writing! I'll end with something that brings this blog post full circle:

If you've known me for a few years, you might remember hearing me squeal with excitement and disbelief that Aaron Elkins endorsed my first novel. Victoria Laurie and Juliet Blackwell weren't writing books when I was an impressionable kid, but Aaron Elkins was. I fell in love with his Gideon Oliver mysteries at the same time I did Elizabeth Peters' Vicky Bliss mysteries, as a teenager in the early 1990s.

Aaron Elkins signing my copy of
Gideon Oliver novel CURSES.
When I was getting ready to publish Artifact, I knew I'd regret it if I didn't have all the fun I possibly could with the book. That meant asking Aaron Elkins, a man I had never met, if he would read the book. I'd previously blogged about how much his books meant to me, so when I contacted him he already knew I was a big fan of his. That made him willing to check out Artifact.

When Aaron Elkins gave me an endorsement, I knew that whatever else happened in my publishing career, I'd already made it.

Artifact is witty, clever, and twisty. Do you like Agatha Christie? Elizabeth Peters? Then you’re going to love Gigi Pandian.”
Edgar-winning author Aaron Elkins

Happy New Year!

The Aaron Elkins Lifetime Achievement Award Interview at Malice Domestic

I had the honor of being asked to fill in to conduct an interview with Aaron Elkins, who was being given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th anniversary Malice Domestic. I wrote a little bit about the interview in my Malice Domestic recap blog post earlier this month. 

Since then, several people who weren't in attendance have asked for more details about what we talked about in the interview. Here are some of the fun things I learned about one of my favorite authors:

Learning a Literary Idol is a Real Guy – and a Great One
Aaron Elkins is one of the nicest guys imaginable. Even though we'd never previously met, because he enjoyed my debut novel and he knew how much I loved his books, he thought of me to fill in for Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), who was scheduled to conduct the interview but was sick with pneumonia. We met for the first time for coffee the day before the interview, and after my initial star-struck-fan moment, we hit it off as much as we'd hoped.

Travels with Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters
Because Barbara Mertz couldn't be there, it seemed fitting to kick things off with a couple stories about her. The two of them have been friends for decades. In the '90s, Aaron and his wife Charlotte took a Nile Cruise with Barbara. Barbara's most well-known mystery series is the Amelia Peabody Egyptology mystery series, so the trip location was fitting – and straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Aaron recounted how several of the other passengers seemed to have stepped straight out of a classic detective novel – so much so that he didn't think anyone would believe it if he'd put it in a book!

Writing What You Know
Aaron Elkins' first Gideon Oliver mystery novel, Fellowship of Fear, was the first novel he wrote. It's about a physical anthropologist who gets an assignment teaching at military bases in Europe. Which happened to be just what Aaron was doing at the time. He had some really ingenious plot points that involved deductions Gideon made about skeletal remains. It turns out Aaron never thought those forensic anthropology deductions would be the hook for a continued series. But because he's such a smart guy and made the subject so fascinating, that's what all the readers and reviewers responded to. Thus the Gideon Oliver "skeleton detective" mystery series was born. (And he confirmed he never fudges the forensic details in the books.)

People Confusing Writers With Their Characters
Aaron mentioned how readers often imagine Gideon Oliver to look like him. Well, Aaron is guilty of the same thing – when we first met, the first thing he said to me was "But you're so tall!" He was confusing me with my character Jaya Jones, who's five feet tall. As for me, I'm six feet tall in heels.

The Gideon Oliver TV Show
In the late '80s, ABC made a series of Gideon Oliver mystery movies. I remember watching them at the time, and thinking how funny it was that they were so different from the books. Gideon Oliver was played by Lou Gossett, Jr. as a Columbia University cultural anthropology professor who solves cases with his daughter – not the childless, White, West Coast physical anthropology professor of Aaron Elkins' books. Aaron was paid a consulting fee, but wasn’t asked to consult on the accuracy of the episodes. And with much of the media attention he received after the TV show came out, interviewers assumed the books were just like the show. I've tried to find the series on Netflix to watch it again, but sadly it's not there!

Writing With a Spouse
Aaron has written several novels with his wife Charlotte. How are they still happily married? It turns out they don't actually write "together" in the same room at the same time, but pass things back and forth. That sounds like a much more sensible arrangement.

Fan Gifts
Notice the skeleton tie he's wearing in the photos above? He has several skeleton ties, all of them gifts from fans.

Thank you to event photographer Greg Puhl for the wonderful photographs!

Malice Domestic 25: Interview of a Lifetime, Friends Winning Agatha Awards, and More Fun!

I didn't think the Malice Domestic mystery convention could get any better, but it keeps on surprising me. Here are some photos and highlights from this year:

Me and Aaron Elkins after his Lifetime Achievement Award interview.
One of the things I was most looking forward to at this year's Malice was getting to meet one of my two favorite mystery authors, Aaron Elkins. Even more exciting was the fact that Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), my other favorite mystery author, was scheduled to conduct his Lifetime Achievement Award Interview.

It turned out Barbara Mertz came down with pneumonia and wasn't able to make it (don't worry, she's doing better now!), so Aaron asked me to fill in for her. As you can imagine, the thoughts running through my brain amounted to the extremely eloquent OMG OMG OMG!

He knew that I was a huge fan of his books, especially the fantastic Gideon Oliver "Skeleton Detective" series, so he correctly assumed that I'd have lots to talk about in the interview. We'd never previously met, but he'd read and enjoyed my debut mystery novel and gave it a blurb—which, until the day of the interview, was the biggest thing that made me feel like I'd made it as a mystery author regardless of what else happened with my books.

The interview was so much fun! The hour flew by, and I was glad to hear audience members tell me they had as much fun as I did.

*UPDATE: Several people who didn't attend the interview have asked me for details about what we talked about, so I wrote up some interview highlights here (including fun facts about Aaron and great photos from event photographer Greg Puhl). 

After the interview, there was more fun to be had. I headed over to my Treasure Hunt panel.

Dorothy St. James, moderator Becky Hutchison,
Penny Warner, me, and Susan C. Shea.

Later that night, Penny Warner was awarded the Agatha Award for best Children's/Young Adult mystery for The Code Busters Club, Case #2: The Haunted Lighthouse! Coincidence that she'd appeared on our treasure hunt panel hours before? I think not ;)

Penny Warner with her husband Tom and the Agatha Award teapot.

Susan Boyer won the Agatha for Best First Novel for her wonderful debut, Lowcountry Boil.
The Henery Press crew celebrating with Susan: Christina Freeburn, Diane Vallere,
me, Susan, Kendel Lynn, LynDee Walker, and Larissa Reinhart.

Me and Susan—with her super-cool teapot award.

Additional highlights:

The Sisters in Crime Guppies Chapter lunch.
Lucy Burdette, Shari Randal, Kathy Krevat; me and Edith Maxwell.

Running into writer friends at every turn.
Top row: Barb Goffman and Leslie Budewitz; me and Daniel Stashower;
Bottom row: Maddy Hunter and me; Kendel Lynn, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Diane Vallere.

Kaye George, Tracy Kiely, Larissa Reinhart, Diane Vallere.

Even on west coast time, the early morning breakfasts were worth getting up for.
Top: SinC President Hank Phillippi Ryan.
Bottom: Diane Vallere, one of my fellow debut authors featured at the New Author Breakfast.

I'm looking forward to Malice 26 next year!

My Fan Girl Week

Two events this past week have gone a long way towards balancing out my crappy, cancer-filled last year. First, I met one of the two mystery authors whose books I've loved since I was a teenager. Then, I received a fantastic book blurb from the other one!

Last week, I wrote about meeting Barbara Mertz (who writes mysteries as Elizabeth Peters) at the Malice Domestic mystery convention. When I returned home, I had to pinch myself when I found a book blurb from Aaron Elkins waiting for me.

Aaron Elkins had graciously agreed to read an Advance Reader Copy of Artifact, so I knew it was a possibility that I'd receive a blurb if he liked the book. But I couldn't quite believe it when it when I read the email.

"How wonderful to see a young, new writer who harks back to the Golden Age of mystery fiction. Artifact is...witty, clever, and twisty, with a unique, easy-to-root-for protagonist in Jaya Jones...Do you like Agatha Christie? Elizabeth Peters? Then you're going to love Gigi Pandian."
AARON ELKINS, Edgar®-winning author of the Gideon Oliver "Skeleton Detective" mysteries

Now, for those of you who haven't read any mystery novels by Elizabeth Peters or Aaron Elkins, let me give a brief overview, since you're definitely missing out. There are lots of other fabulous mystery writers out there (such as one of my current favorites, Daniel Stashower, who writes a great series about Harry Houdini among other things), but there's nothing quite like the books we discovered while growing up, is there?

Both Elizabeth Peters and Aaron Elkins write adventure mysteries with American (and sometimes British) academics solving mysteries abroad, usually involving a historical mystery linked to a present day crime. These aren't thrillers, but rather are puzzle mysteries in the tradition of Agatha Christie, full of characters easy to fall in love with. I love this stuff, which is why I decided to write it.

Elizabeth Peters is best known for the humorous Amelia Peabody mystery series featuring a Victorian era Egyptologist. While I love Amelia, art historian Vicky Bliss is my favorite character written by Elizabeth Peters. Vicky gets swept up in mysteries across Europe and finds herself falling for a dashing jewel thief. (Oh, the romance! And yes, it says something about the stages of life that until I met my husband I never fully appreciated the romantic elements of the Amelia Peabody books, since I couldn't believe that settling down with a great guy could be as romantic as running around with an international jewel thief.)

Aaron Elkins writes the Gideon Oliver mysteries about a forensic anthropologist who solves mysteries all over the world. My parents are anthropologists, so I grew up getting to tag along on research trips like these, but for some reason our real life trips never ended up matching the level of adventure in these books. Hmm... I suppose that was probably a good thing. But I'm glad I've got the books.

Recommended reading:

Borrower of the Night - The first Vicky Bliss mystery by Elizabeth Peters that takes Vicky from the midwestern college where she teaches to a romp of a treasure hunt at a German castle.

The Crocodile on the Sandbank - The first Amelia Peabody mystery by Elizabeth Peters where Amelia first visits Egypt and must solve a mystery involving a walking mummy who's after Amelia's friend.

The Murders of Richard III - Paying homage to both Josephine Tey and the English countryside house-party murder mystery, in this book Elizabeth Peters takes librarian Jacqueline Kirby to a gathering of a Richard III society who want to prove the 500-year-old king innocent, but they instead find a murderous history repeating itself.

Old Bones - An atmospheric Gideon Oliver mystery by Aaron Elkins that takes place at Mont St. Michel in France. (This book won an Edgar award.)

Curses - Gideon Oliver solves the mystery of a supposed curse at a Mayan archaeological dig.