Suzanne Arruda: the lure of the exotic
Excerpts from the interview by Reed Andrus in the December/January 2009 issue of Mystery News
First, some perspective. Among the literary phases I traveled through in my younger days was a prolonged relationship with a considerable amount of fiction and non-fiction dealing with Africa (the continent, not the country). The bulk of my reading seems to have occurred just before I entered military service at age nineteen, and I wonder now if there was a subliminal connection between literary preference and actual experience.
Most of my youthful African reading dealt with fin de seicle historical adventures such as the Boer War-Stuart Cloete's Rags of Glory, 1963; Wilbur Smith's earliest work (When the Lion Feeds, 1964; The Dark of the Sun, 1965; The Sound of Thunder, 1966), complemented nicely by Donald R. Morris's brilliant seminal history of the Zulu War, The Washing of the Spears (1965). It was only after I returned from four years in uniform that I found other, somewhat softer, but no less thrilling accounts of life in British colonial Africa-Elspeth Huxley's The Flame Trees of Thika (1959); John H. Patterson's The Man-Eaters of Tsavo (1907); Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa (1937).
There is a persistence to this literary phase that has traveled with me through the decades. In recent years, it has manifested in the work of Michael Gruber (Tropic of Night, 2003; Valley of Bones, 2005); and last year's A Carrion Death by Mark Stanley. But Gruber and Stanley are more concerned with the African influence today rather than the historical Africa of the first two decades of the 20th century. Suzanne Arruda appears to be the current standard bearer for the latter, and she's doing a fine job combining the mystery, history, and exotic adventure of yesteryear into a highly enjoyable series of novels.
Ms. Arruda first introduced herself to genre fans with the January 2006 release, Mark of the Lion, the first episode in her on-going series featuring American adventuress Jade del Cameron. She quickly followed with Stalking Ivory (2007), The Serpent's Daughter (2008), and not one but two forthcoming novels in 2009 (The Leopard's Prey, and Treasure of the Golden Cheetah). My reviews of her complete body of work to date have been published in Mystery News. I asked Ms. Arruda to introduce herself here.
"I grew up in Greensburg, Indiana, where my interests generally revolved around the outdoors or animals. I have been an armchair explorer ever since I first picked up a book of missionary tales. I grew up with Elsa the lioness in Born Free and read the semi-autobiographical stories of African bush pilot Beryl Markham and explorers and cinematographers Osa and Martin Johnson.
"I graduated into museum collector Roy Chapman Andrews whose exploits became the basis for Indiana Jones-Amazon explorer Col. Fawcett; African coffee farmer Isak Dinesen; and finally Peter Capstick, a modern big game hunter. Unfortunately, like Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life, an actual explorer's life eluded me, so I studied wildlife biology in college and took part time jobs as a zookeeper. It was the closest to getting into the wild that I could get in the mid-west...
"I started writing for children when my twin sons were born. I thought it seemed like something I could do while being a stay at home mom (or during summers when I taught school). It turned out to be a tremendously difficult undertaking. My best success was in nature and science-related non-fiction articles. I moved into biographies because I'd grown up reading (among other things) works and tales about early women explorers such as Osa Johnson. So I thought I might be able to cash in on some of that interest with a series of women explorers. Osa sold, but the publisher of the biographical material wanted a more diverse group. He assigned Dr. Rizal and Libbie Custer to me. By that time, Osa and all those other adventuresome women started taking over my brain and congealing into one character and Jade del Cameron was born. I originally put her into a suspense adventure but there's a fine line between suspense and mystery. Somehow I ended up crossing it. I'm glad I did."
Read the complete interview in the December/January 2009 issue of Mystery News