Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rescuing Seneca Crane: Review and Author Interview!

Remember back in March when I went on and on and on about Susan Runholt's first book, Mystery of the Third Lucretia? Well, she's back again with a new installment of the Kari and Lucas mystery series.

In Book 2: Rescuing Seneca Crane, Kari and Lucas travel to Scotland when Kari's mom is assigned to write about a thirteen-year old concert piano prodigy, Seneca Crane. Kari and Lucas are mesmerized by Seneca's abilities and love hearing her play. Kari is both star-struck by Seneca and in awe that she's just a normal teenage girl. The three girls hang out and become fast friends. But Seneca winds up getting kidnapped after a tremendous performance with the Orchestra Pacifica during a Scottish Highland festival. The girls find themselves once again in the middle of a mysterious situation that takes them to a small village and traipsing through the Scottish mist and bramble patches on a secret mission to save Seneca hidden away in an old castle.

Kari's mom is yet again conveniently absent from the story which allows the girls to take charge and problem solve on their own. One of the best lines that sums up the book well:
Like I said, this all seemed totally random at the time. But if things hadn't happened just like they did--the changes in Mom's travel plans, the cake in the cemetery, the cell phone on the dresser, what Seneca saw through the opera glasses, even the tarot cards--the story would have happened in a very different way. (page 70)

My thoughts: Honestly, I actually was expecting to like Seneca a little less than Lucretia just because I was being a snob about it being about music instead of art. Not that I don't enjoy classical music as well. ;-) Even though I loved the art historical storyline of Lucretia, I really thought this novel was more cohesive. Instead of Kari and Lucas sort of going all over the place to figure out the mystery, it was very focused. They seemed more mature. They took charge, and even though they were cautious, they thought through all their plans and did what they thought was best for the situation. They problem-solved and were quite smart about everything. There was a bit in the book where Kari's ability to fly fish comes in very handy. I love that a female character is shown to enjoy and excel at fly-fishing, casting, boating and knot-tying; something that is typically seen as a male dominated activity.

I recommend Book 2 in the Kari and Lucas Mystery series just as much as the first! And the good news is that Susan has already written the first draft of Book 3! Make sure you rush right out to purchase a copy of Rescuing Seneca Crane which hits bookstores TODAY, August 20th! And if you haven't read Mystery of the Third Lucretia, grab a copy of that as well!

After reading Lucretia and noticing that Susan Runholt was living in St. Paul, I made the effort to contact her and tell her how much I appreciated reading Mystery of the Third Lucretia. She was so approachable! And I have fully enjoyed our exchanges. (Seriously, if you like the Kari and Lucas series, write an email to let her know!!) She so generously sent me an advanced copy of Rescuing Seneca Crane and she also agreed to answer a few interview questions!

Author Interview
Please read and enjoy her answers below. I was so delighted she agreed to do them and couldn't wait to read through them!

Have you always been a writer?
Probably one way or another. At least I’ve always written, but not always fiction.

I was an English major and took two years of creative writing with the late Minnesota writer Frederick Manfred, author of Lord Grizzly, among other regional classics. I was named Best Creative Writer of my University of South Dakota graduating class.

But really the only writing I did for many years after college took the form of letters, especially during my 18-month residence in Europe: Amsterdam followed by Paris. One of my friends saved the letters for me, and some of them are pretty good!

Most of my reading has always been in the mystery genre, and sometime along the way I decided I could write a mystery as good as much of what I was reading. But it wasn’t until I moved to the Twin Cities in 1988 that I decided to get serious about writing a mystery book. Only took me 20 years before I was able to get a book published!

Your daughter, Annalisa was the inspiration for Third Lucretia and collaborated with you on it. Is she continuing to help you with the follow-up books in the series or are you on your own now that you have the characters established?
She reviewed and made good suggestions for Rescuing Seneca Crane, but didn’t collaborate, largely because she was living out of state. Now she’s back in the Twin Cities, and I’m again looking to her for a bit more help. She’s now reviewing the manuscript of my third book. When she gets it finished she and I are going to sit down and bounce ideas off each other on ways of approaching some of the changes I want to make.

Do you hope to keep writing these books or do you see a finite line for Kari and Lucas?
Right now I’m having so much fun hanging out with Kari, Lucas, Gillian and the rest of the recurring characters that I project writing one of these books a year until I die. Of course, at some point I may tire of them and switch to something else.

I’ve told many people that the two do grow up. But I see perils in this. They have four adventures at age 14, and I think I can manage to get six into the following year. That’s a total of 10 books. I’m not sure I can sustain the voice or the same readership if they turn 16, so that may imply a 10-book limit. I guess I’ll just have to let that play out.

Choosing the Lucretia storyline was such a personal thing (please visit Susan's website to read more of the back story behind Lucretia). How will you choose topics in the future? Your next book, Rescuing Seneca Crane focuses more on music, Scotland and even architecture. How did you choose this topic? And is Rhapsody in Blue one of your favorite pieces? Or Annalisa's perhaps?

I actually began Seneca, as I call it, in the mid-1990s, right after I finished the first version of Lucretia. At the time I was writing grants for The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, so I was intimately acquainted with the orchestra biz, and I started writing a second book in the series about Seneca as guest of an orchestra on an international tour. About 80 pages in, I realized that the touring was going to have to go. They needed to remain in the same place long enough for the plot to unfold. So if it was going to take place internationally, I needed to have the orchestra resident at a major art festival. I had never been to an international art festival. This barrier arose about the time I realized my agent wasn’t going to be able to find a buyer for Lucretia, so I abandoned the manuscript there, and only picked it up again in 2006 after visiting the Edinburgh Festival.

I absolutely love Rhapsody in Blue, but the reason I used it was because in the 1990s it was the theme for United Airlines, and I thought my young readers would be able to identify it. Couldn’t think of any other piano concerto that would be immediately familiar. Obviously United abandoned the piece long ago, but I let it remain Seneca’s concert piece.

I love the strong female characters you have created in your books. Fun role models for young girls reading your stories. I also think not enough young people are exposed to culture and the arts today. Did you have a love of art growing up, or was it something you came to enjoy more when you were visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art with your daughter?
I actually began going to museums when I lived abroad after college. They were free in Amsterdam, I was broke, and seeing the art gave me great pleasure. I had also traveled a bit before settling in Amsterdam, and had made it a point to visit a number of the great museums in London and Paris. Then I moved to Paris and was able to make repeat visits to the marvelous museums there. I’m a great traveler—go abroad every chance I get—and virtually everywhere I go, one of my first stops is a museum. One of my true goals as a writer is to introduce young people to culture and the arts in a way that demystifies it, makes it friendly and approachable and, more importantly, interesting, and aesthetically compelling.

So far you have dealt with art history and music/architecture, do you want to give anything away about the third book in the series? ;-)
Book three is set in Kenya and concerns thefts of rock art from an archaeological site.

What is your absolute favorite place you have traveled to and why?

I really can’t answer that. There are so many variations on the word “favorite.” I love London. Love just being there, and feel strangely at home. Africa, where I’m spending my mental time these days, is astonishing. Everyone should put it on their life list. There’s nothing like it. Nothing. But I’ve also loved Thailand, Istanbul, and what place on earth can top Paris? Then there are the Scottish Highlands, as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen…

What's next on your to-do list?

Aside from issues of family health and well-being, what I want to do more than anything else in the world is to be able to quit my day job and just write books for a living! Mind you, I love my work as a grantsmaker, but I want to be able to be a full-time author. The day that is possible I’m going to throw the biggest darn party Saint Paul has ever seen!

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