Channeling Austen: How I Found Inspiration for Love & Death in Burgundy

Read this exclusive guest post from Susan Shea about where she drew inspiration from for Love & Death in Burgundy, and then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win this wonderful French-themed mystery!

When I began writing what became Love & Death in Burgundy, the 1st of my French-themed mysteries, I wasn’t entirely sure what shape it would take. It was inspired by two friends who chucked their California lives and moved to France. She was an artist, spoke French, and had lived in Europe for a few months in an earlier life. He was an Idaho cowboy and musician who had not a word of French but would do anything to please his wife, even though they didn’t have much money. I was intrigued by the adventure they had chosen and wondered if they could pull it off.

They were close friends, and I visited them several times in the tiny crossroads town in Burgundy where they settled. As they explained the problems with the old stone house they could afford to buy—crumbling walls, balky heat, red clay roof tiles that crashed down whenever the wind blew—and their efforts to find workmen who could do the necessary repairs, their predicament reminded me of A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. It turned out the only guy in town who was willing to climb onto the roof was also the town thief. Neighbors whispered that if you had new tools you’d best lock them up or be prepared to re-purchase them from the man, who might just happen to have some like the ones you lost for sale in his courtyard.

On one visit, my friend told me the community they were hoping to become part of was being fractured by a marital breakup and people were choosing sides. Many of the villagers in the small cluster of houses that was hardly a pinpoint on a map were descendants of families that had worked the land for generations. The couple’s split was rocking the status quo and seemed to affect everyone.

I realized this situation could have come right out of a Jane Austen novel. I’m a huge fan of Austen’s brilliant social satires, and my story got a strong nudge forward as I channeled her perspectives on insular societies and the role gossip plays in keeping everyone on pins and needles!

But I am a mystery writer, so I needed something more dramatic than a pending divorce to serve as a catalyst. I needed an unexplained death, à la Agatha Christie. So, someone in my made-up town dies in mysterious circumstances—a good way to set my characters in motion.

The residents of Reigny-sur-Canne exchange malicious rumors and competing theories, and my protagonist—my version of Miss Marple—is drawn into solving the puzzle—with the help, or not, of an enthusiastic but clueless young woman—so that life in the village can regain its balance and she can finally be accepted in the town.

I channeled a little of my artist friend’s eccentricities into Katherine Goff, some of her laconic husband into Michael Goff—whose derailed rock and roll career is my fantasy—and only the sketchiest bits of their adopted village into Reigny-sur-Canne. And yet, in some ways—like Austen’s novels—there is a kind of truth in the story.

If you’ve lived in a closely knit neighborhood, be it in the middle of New York City or an old gold-mining town in California, you know that people form alliances, hold resentments, count on each other, or become famously aloof. They band together in adversity, or their friendships fracture under pressure. Love & Death in Burgundy is my way of telling the stories Christie, Mayle, and Austen all wrote so charmingly. I didn’t know that when I began, but “It is a truth universally acknowledged…
 

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Susan C. Shea spent more than two decades as a non-profit executive before beginning her career as a mystery author. Susan is past-president of the northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime and secretary of the national SinC board, a member of MWA, and blogs on CriminalMinds. In addition to Love & Death in Burgundy, she is also the author of the Dani O’Rourke mystery series. Susan lives in Marin County, California and travels to France as often as she can.

Comments

  1. Margie Bunting

    I love Susan’s books and am really looking forward to the first book in her new series, especially since it’s set in France!

  2. John Smith

    I have yet to read Mayle, but I liked the TV series!

  3. James Joyce

    I can’t wait for the dark alleys and smokey offices of the (pinot) Noir novel.

  4. Barbara Bibel

    O want to read this. I spent two years in France.

  5. lasvegasnv

    interesting

  6. pearl berger

    A fascinating feature and wonderful giveaway.

  7. Caren Luckie

    Sounds like a great read!

  8. Caren Luckie

    Sounds like a great read!

  9. Theresa Clarke

    You can’t go wrong with channelling Austen + Christie – lovely book!

  10. Richard Derus

    Burgundy, the nation that vanished. Thank goodness the wine didn’t.

  11. Pearl Berger

    Impressive novel which I would enjoy. Thanks.

  12. Jeffrey Tretin

    So interesting!

  13. Jeana Keller

    I would love to add to my summer reading list.

  14. ellie lewis

    Sounds captivating and enthralling.

  15. Jean Feingold

    Hoping the book has something about wine!

  16. Jean Feingold

    Hoping the book has something about wine!

  17. Sanda Means

    I love mysteries, especially the 1st in a new series, and I love France.

  18. Michele Van Epps

    Sounds like a great read — it’s fun to hear about the inspiration behind the series.

  19. Michele Van Epps

    Sounds like a great read — it’s fun to hear about the inspiration behind the series.

  20. Shaunterria Owens

    I am intrigued by the premise – and I hope I win! 🙂

  21. susan beamon

    This sounds like the type of cozy I love, that of life in a smallish town.

  22. Kathryn Baxter

    Sounds absolutely delicious! Would love to give this one a read.

  23. Janice Santillo

    Agatha Christie is my favorite ,so this book incorporating Agatha’s style and characters sounds interesting and one I want to read.

  24. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  25. Misch Brannock

    Sweet, she fun to read

  26. Elizabeth Matthiesen

    I don’t believe that I’ve read any books by Susan Shea so far and she does sound like a very interesting author.

  27. Gwen Ellington

    Christie, Mayle, Austen and mystery–how delightful!

  28. Portia Asher

    I need a new series..this one would be perfect.

  29. Lori P

    My curiosity is piqued! Sounds like the perfect mystery to enjoy while imbibing some full-bodied red wines characteristic of the region.

  30. Diane Pollock

    Fascinating!

  31. Beth Talmage

    I love her description of the alliances that can be formed in small towns & neighborhoods, for good or ill. I’m very intrigued, and would love to read this book and will be following this author.

  32. teresa sopher

    Great premise.

  33. Daniel Morrell

    always like a mystery

  34. Barbara Lima

    Trying to fit into an insular community. It’s hard! It should be funny, too!

  35. clcdark

    Just the book for me!!

  36. Alicia Sargant

    sacre bleu, I would love to read this

  37. Linda Sprencel

    sounds like a great new series

  38. Martha DeMarco

    Love this idea, what a great thought. Can’t wait to read, thanks for the chance for a giveaway.

  39. Russ Cross

    Sounds great!

  40. Frances Marshall

    Looking forward to this book!

  41. Irene Menge

    Interesting insights into the dynamics of a community.

  42. Connie Williamson

    I’ve never read any of Susan Shea’s books before, so I’m happy to learn about a new author of books I might very well enjoy. Thanks for the opportunity to win Love and Death in Burgundy. I simply love France.

  43. Rudy Wright

    Sounds like a great cozy! Just added it to my book order.

  44. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  45. HESTER MAYO

    Sounds like a great read!!

  46. Rhonda Barkhouse

    This is my type of book.

  47. Rhonda Barkhouse

    This is my type of book.

  48. Barbara Fish

    Sounds perfect for me!

  49. julie hedrick

    Want to win! 🙂

  50. Teresa Ward

    Adding this one to my TBR list. Thanks for the contest

  51. Carl

    This sounds both mysterious and fun, I’m sure we’d enjoy it. Thanks for the chance to win a copy

  52. Alyson Widen

    Austen is one of my all time faves. She writes with depth of feeling and I can feel her angst and disappointments when the virtues are not shining nor obligations unmet.

  53. Laurent Latulippe

    This looks like a fun book!

  54. Karen Hester

    Great setting for a mystery

  55. Michelle Fidler

    Sounds good. I enjoy Austen too and I like the book cover.

  56. Michelle Fidler
  57. Carolyn

    Sounds like a great read!

Comments are closed.