Join me in welcoming Daniella Bernett to the blog, today. Daniella is here to tell us about A Checkered Past, the newest title in her Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series that features a journalist and a jewel thief, as her main characters.
MB: Art and the art world are foundational elements of A Checkered Past. Tell our readers where you learned so much about art?
DB: I’ve been interested in art since I was a kid. I have always wished that I could paint, in oils in the style of the Impressionists. However, I can’t even draw. Therefore, I must admire these masterworks and others in museums. Aside from the Impressionists, among my favorite artists are John Singer Sargent, Jacques Joseph Tissot, John Constable, J.W. Turner, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and many others who were able to capture light and movement on a canvas. When I gaze at their paintings, they are so vibrant and alive that I can almost hear the susurration of the wind through the trees or the rustle of fabric.
MB: Where did the idea for this story come from?
DB: I am passionate about the issue of looted Nazi art, as everyone should be about injustice. Sadly, in 2018 we routinely read these stories in the papers. Each one another ugly stigma of shame that the Holocaust was allowed to take place. That’s why it infuriates me when people continue to deny that it ever happened and that its victims are “greedy” for attempting to have THEIR property returned.
I simply attempted to keep the issue alive and to show how it reverberates today. In addition, the resurgence of such sentiments terrifies me. The war is never over for those who suffered, and continue to suffer, because of the injustices perpetrated against them. If we forget, humanity’s soul will be condemned in perpetuity.
I sought to tie my themes of betrayal and injustice together with the introduction of a sinister IRA commander named Doyle, who has a link to the stolen Constable painting in the story. His character leaped to mind when I came across the fascinating fact that the Irish Republican Army collaborated with Abwehr, German military intelligence, during the war.
MB: A Checkered Past has a complex story line. What is your process for creating a story like this? What is the most difficult part of writing such a book? What is your method for giving your main characters a distinct voice?
DB: I like weaving a nuanced and multilayered plot to give the story a certain richness and because, I suppose, I’m a teeny bit wicked at heart. I like to get the adrenaline rushing through readers’ veins by taking them to the edge of a cliff, leaving them breathless for a few suspended seconds, and then at the last moment veering off in a different direction. The most difficult part is to ensure that all the twists in the tale lead to the same juncture at the end. The reader must have an answer for why the crime was committed. On the other hand, I like to dangle a nugget on the last page to leave readers dying for the next book. Unfair, perhaps. But I did tell you I was naughty. What’s life without a little excitement (at least on the written page)?
As for giving my characters a distinct voice, it comes from knowing what motivates them—how they instinctively would think and react in certain situations. It is essential that an author thoroughly understand his or her characters.
MB: How did you decide to make your protagonists a journalist and a jewel thief?
DB: A journalist is inherently curious about many subjects. His or her job is to ask questions to uncover the truth and ensure transparency. Naturally, a journalist would be intrigued by crime, especially murder. The determination to find answers and see that justice is served are all important.
Meanwhile, a jewel thief’s modus operandi are lying and evasion of the law. Isn’t this in stark contrast to a journalist’s reverence for the truth and justice? Most definitely. That’s exactly the point. A portrait in contrasts. Who better than someone on the wrong side of the law to discern the twisted workings of a fellow criminal’s mind? A thief immediately recognizes things that the honest person would never even contemplate. In Gregory’s case, he has a certain code of honor. Murder is an offensive transgression. A line that should never be crossed. Thus, I have two diametrically opposed sleuths who are of one mind when it comes to the taking of a human life: the culprit must pay for the crime, otherwise chaos would reign in the world.
MB: What drew you to this particular foreign setting for your book?
DB: Since I was a kid, I’ve been an Anglophile. I devoured any book that was set in England and I’m a devoted Masterpiece Theater and Mystery fan. I’ve visited London and other parts of the United Kingdom several times. Therefore, when I started writing my own books my characters had to be British. Lead Me Into Danger, Book 1 in my series, also is set in Venice, which is one of my most favorite cities in the world.
MB: Tell our readers about how you came to your writing career? What has been the most satisfying part of your writing experience?
DB: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. The spark that launched me into the writing world was my fourth grade teacher. Once a week, she had Creative Writing hour and gave us different assignments. I absolutely loved it.
In school, I started pursuing my dream by writing short stories (mostly mysteries). After I graduated from college, in the four months it took me to find my first job, I wrote a mystery novel. My first job was as a copywriter at Penguin USA. One day, I plucked up the courage to show my book to one of the editors. She actually read it. She told me that it was better than what she usually sees from first-time writers. However, she said that I should think more in terms of a series. I tried revising the book and submitted it to several agents, who all rejected it. Thus, I chalked it up to a good exercise. But I didn’t forget the editor’s advice. The kernel of the idea for my mystery series featuring journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief Gregory Longdon slowly started swirling around in the back of my head, until one day when all pieces fell into place and Lead Me Into Danger came to life on the printed page.
Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy and From Beyond The Grave are the first three books in the series. In Lead Me Into Danger, Emmeline and Gregory haven’t seen each other in two years, but she literally runs into him in Venice after witnessing two men try to murder her colleague. Then, Emmeline and Gregory become ensnared in a hunt for a Russian spy in the British Foreign Office. Deadly Legacy, Book 2, is about $100 million in stolen diamonds, revenge and murder. It takes place in London. From Beyond The Grave is set in the seaside resort of Torquay along the English Riviera in Devon. It’s about the deep, dark secrets of Gregory’s past, love, betrayal and, of course, murder.
Meanwhile, I had always enjoyed poetry, especially the Romantics. So I began to dabble with verse and the result was my two collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections.
The most satisfying thing about writing is coming up with a story that will intrigue readers and provide an escape.
MB: What is coming next from the pen of Daniella Bernett?
DB: Book 5 will be released in fall 2019. I’m nearly finished with Book 6. I usually take a couple of months off in between books to allow the next one to percolate in mind. Then, Emmeline and Gregory drag me off on another adventure.
MB: Daniella, thank you for taking the time to give the readers of Murder Books a look at your new mystery.
Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy and From Beyond The Grave are the first three books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. Visit Daniella at www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 or on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/40690254-daniella-bernett.
Daniella was interviewed for MurderBooks by Roger Johns.