INTERVIEW WITH JERI WESTERSON
delighted to welcome back award-winning author Jeri Westerson to talk about her
upcoming medieval mystery BLOOD LANCE. For those of you unfamiliar with her
work, Jeri takes a different approach to her medieval novels. She employs the
tropes of the hard-boiled detective fiction of a Dashiell Hammett or Raymond
Chandler and re-imagines it in the fourteenth century. What was the idea behind
this for your “medieval noir” series and how exactly does it work?
Jeri: The need to
do something different, I suppose. What was going to make my series stand out above the outstanding series that were already
out there? And when I was developing these novels, I happened to have been
reading a lot of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. It just got me to
thinking about why couldn’t I incorporate some of the same tropes that you
might see in a hard-boiled mystery: the hard-drinking, tough-talking detective
with a chip on his shoulder, the dames in trouble, the corruption of officials,
the darker aspects of crime, the PI with his own code of honor. I felt it
translated very well to a detective who was a disgraced knight. Some things are
pretty universal, and the human condition, our greed, poverty, jealousy, lust,
go hand in hand in a murder story whether that story plays out in the 1940s or
1380s. But having said that, it is indeed a medieval story without anachronisms
in speech, motivations, or messing with history. It’s just my “what if?” What
if a man with his skill set found himself adrift on the streets of London? What
could he do to satisfy honor and make a living?
Sharon: We talked
about your main character before, Crispin Guest. Why do you think this kind of
somewhat hang-dog character appeals to readers?
Jeri: Well, he is
a man of his time but some of his attitudes are also timeless. He should be a
broken man with all that’s happened to him but he isn’t. He stands alone, and
readers, male readers particularly, find this appealing, just as they found the
characters John Wayne portrayed appealing in the same way. He doesn’t take any
crap, he keeps his honor intact even through adversity. Woman find him
appealing because they want to save and redeem him…plus he’s a sexy beast.
Sharon: One would
think that this approach to writing a medieval piece the author would have to
disregard the history aspect.
Jeri: Not at all!
I am well aware that those readers who like history with their mystery demand
authenticity and accuracy when it comes to the history. That’s why they enjoy
reading historical mysteries. I’ve been told time and again—as I’m sure you have—that they like to learn about
the time period when they are reading the fiction. There are political aspects
at play in my books and I try to be as accurate as I can when I include them in
the plots without degenerating into a thesis. I try to keep it lively and
energetic with a clever mystery to keep another ball in the air. But if you aren’t
willing to stick to the history, why write it?
LANCE is the fifth book in your series. I’ve noticed that each book seems to
highlight a religious relic. Tell us about that.
Jeri: When I
started to plot out the series and to really figure out how to write a mystery
(since I started out writing historical fiction with no publishing success), I
studied hard-boiled mysteries, and one of the books I literally took apart to
figure out how to write one, was Dashiell Hammett’s wonderful THE MALTESE
FALCON. The falcon in the book is the McGuffin. Alfred Hitchcock coined that
term. It means the thing that the plot turns on, that starts the action. It can
actually be interchangeable with anything, anything at all, because in the long
run of the plot, it really isn’t important. But it nevertheless begins a sort
of chase to get it…before the bad guy does. I felt this added a fun element to
the story. And by making it a religious relic or venerated object, it also
added an ambivalently mystical quality to the twists in the plot. But unlike
the ordinary McGuffin that is not important to the story except as a means of
starting off the action, sometimes my relic is. That keeps it from becoming
formulaic, to my mind.
Sharon: What is
the relic in BLOOD LANCE? And how do you decide what relic to use? Does the
relic come first, or the plot?
Jeri: The relic
usually comes first, though it depends on how I can wind around the history at
the time of the story. So once I’ve established the relic it presents a plot to
me. The relic in this instance is the Spear of Longinus. This was supposedly
the spear with which the Centurion Longinus pierced the side of Christ while he
hung on the cross. Like most relics from the time period, it has a long and
varied history, which makes it fun—and possible—to have it turn up when I need
Sharon: Did I
hear mention of jousting in this book?
Jeri: Yes! Being
a big fan of medieval weaponry and of knighthood, I wanted a book with jousting
in it. It’s all very formalized. I am fortunate that I have gotten to know men
who actually do competitive jousting—yes, even today!—and who teach sword
craft. I was afforded the opportunity to wear armor and even sit on a destrier,
a 2,000 pound Percheron, with a lance in my hand to really get the feel of it. I
also got a firsthand lesson on long sword fighting. I do love my hands-on research!
When I was studying about jousting in England, I read that
there had been jousts on London Bridge, so I decided to put that in the book.
In fact, a great deal of the action is set on London Bridge in this novel and
it almost becomes a character in itself. I know most people, when they picture
London Bridge think of a simple stone structure spanning the Thames, but it was
like a little city within a city. It had houses and shops and even a chapel
right there built along its span.
Without giving anything away, the joust becomes the exciting
climax to the story.
Sharon: Give us the “elevator pitch” of the novel.
witnesses a body hurtling from the uppermost reaches of London
Bridge. Whispers on the street claim it’s suicide, but Crispin insists
otherwise. Now he’s caught between rebellious factions in King Richard’s court,
Spanish spies, murderous knights, an old friend’s honor, and the true ownership
of the Holy Spear of Longinus, culminating in a deadly joust on London Bridge.
next for you?
Jeri: Next fall
will see the release of Crispin number six, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, where Perenelle,
the wife of French alchemist Nicholas Flamel, has been kidnapped, and the
culprit wants Flamel’s most prized creation, the Philosopher’s Stone. There is
more here than a simple abduction. What follows is a chase down the shadowy
streets of London, and a deadly game between men who know the secrets of
poisons and purges, sorcery and forbidden sciences.
Take a look at the awesome Crispin series book trailer, book
discussion guides, my appearance schedule to see if I’ll be in your home town,
and other fun stuff on my website www.JeriWesterson.com;
you can see my blog of history and mystery at www.Getting-Medieval.com; and you
can read Crispin’s blog at www.jeriwesterson.com/crispins-blog.
You can also friend Crispin on his Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.
Sharon: Thank you
for sharing with us, Jeri. I am looking
forward to reading Blood Lance.
Jeri: Thanks again
for having me, Sharon!
September 29, 2012