Art & Murder: Mystery Authors Who Have a Passion for Art - Featuring Paula Munier
Art moves us. Readers and authors understand that books are not merely hobbies or a way to pass the time. Books Are Art. And when other forms of art are woven within books? Divine.
In my Art Deco Mystery Series, a different take on the liveliness of the 1930’s that can be overshadowed by the Depression, I always have a piece of art as a backdrop to the story. To create texture and interest on deeper levels, but it also comes alongside a character (and sometimes a villain) and weaves around them as it helps them navigate the mystery of both the crime and of themselves.
So I love it when I find authors who have art as a big part of who they are and what they create. Today, it is my privilege to introduce to you Paula Munier, author and literary agent extraordinaire. Many of you already know her, but in this article you will get to see her and her wonderful mind in perhaps a new way. I learned so much and honestly, this interview just makes me smile so much. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
1. Paula, could you give us a little introduction of yourself
I’m Paula Munier, and I’ve been in the publishing business one way or another for nearly 30 years. I started off as a reporter, and then worked as an editor for newspapers and magazines, and eventually made my way to the book business. I acquired projects for all kinds of companies, from Adams Media (now part of Simon and Schuster) to Disney. Seven years ago, I became an agent, Talcott Notch Literary, founded by the fabulous Gina Panettieri.
Now that my kids are grown, I have time to devote myself to telling and selling stories. I get to help my favorite writers get published and share what I’ve learned about making it in this business with writers everywhere. I also have time to write my own work. I couldn’t be happier.
2. I love hearing that! I’m so glad you love your work and your life. Tell us a little about the books you write and why you love that particular genre.
I write nonfiction and fiction. I’m thrilled that I’m finally writing a mystery series, something I’ve secretly wanted to do ever since I read my first Bobbsey Twins mystery at six. A Borrowing of Bones, the first in my Mercy Carr series, was published earlier this year and was nominated for a Mary Higgins Clark Award. The second in the series, Blind Search, debuts in November.
I also write nonfiction. I’ve written three books on writing, Plot Perfect, Writing With Quiet Hands, andThe Writer’s Guide to Beginnings. I write the writing books because I love talking about writing and because I can’t be everyone’s agent or everyone’s editor, but I can share what I’ve learned over the years, for what that’s worth.
I also publish in the mind/body/spirit category. I’m a certified yoga teacher, teaching asana as well as pranayama and chakras. I also help teach writers how to counteract the problems you can develop sitting at a computer too long, everything from carpal tunnel to sciatica, etc. I acquired projects in this category when I was an acquisitions editor, work for houses with mind/body/spirit imprints, so this is an area of great interest to me personally and professionally. My latest project is Happier Every Day: Simple Ways to Bring More Peace, Contentment and Joy into Your Life, published last month by Media Lab Books. It was a lovely book to write; writing it made me, well, happy.
3. I was very moved by your use of art in A Borrowing of Bones.I enjoyed that your protagonist, Mercy Carr, deeply loved Shakespeare and the beautiful artwork in the woods. To me, it made the story and the characters have depth and levels that were fun to think about. Within your writing, is art an integral aspect for you? Is it how you’re wired or is it a writing device that just works?
I love art. My mother was an artist at heart. We were a military family on the move, and she managed to transform every place we lived into someplace special, even the most god-awful Army quarters. We spent much of my childhood in Europe, and she took me to Paris to the Louvre. She took me to Amsterdam to see the Flemish artists. She took me to England to see the National Gallery. And of course we toured a million castles and churches.
Art always manages to find its way into my stories. In A Borrowing of Bones, there’s an artist who uses found objects to create art installations in the Vermont woods. There’s also a billionaire who collects early American masters, allowing me to weave Grandma Mosesand Winslow Homerinto the story.
When I appeared on The Inside Flapliterary podcast, Laura Medicuswanted to talk about the interiors of the spaces I write about in the book. She’s an interior designer who thought I must be one, too, given the way I wrote about the settings. Which I thought was hilarious because if I hadn’t been a writer, I would have been an interior designer.
4. Do you have multiple levels of symbolism within your mystery and your art? Or is the art more of a backdrop, giving ambiance?
What a cool question. For me, it’s not a conscious process, but now that I think about it, a lot of the art in my stories does not relate only to the story, but to the setting and theme as well. In A Borrowing of Bones, you’ll find the aforementioned early American masters and art installations in the wilderness. That reflects my fascination with nature and my fascination with art; I love it when the two come together. I love outdoor sculpture gardens, for example.
Nature is beautiful and art is beautiful, and I love when they connect. Whenever I see a beautiful sunset or a spectacular meadow field of wildflowers, I wish could capture that moment. And I have such respect and gratitude for those who can.
5. Do you have a favorite scene or moment involving art that is near and dear to you? And why?
I remember the first time I ever really experienced the power of art in a very emotional way. I was 12 and my mother had taken me to the Louvrein Paris. We came upon that huge open space where the light pours in and shines on the Winged Victory. I was so struck by the beauty of it—a visceral response I remember vividly all these years later. I feel the same way when I go to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which I visit as often as possible. I’ll just sit down on the bench in front of Pollock’s Number 31, looking at 31 and the people looking at 31. The same thing with The Danceby Matisse. If I see The Dance, I cry. I literally am one of those people who walks around museums crying, because I am simply so moved by the beauty of it. To the point that my family always restricts me to one or two days of museums per vacation, because I love museums so much and I would spend all my time there if I could. (**Laurie here: I love this so much!!!! Are you not just sitting there smiling as you read this??? Okay, back to Paula).
I love the sculpture courtyard at the MoMA. And I love the Musée d'Orsay, one of my favorite places on earth. And when we were in Madrid, we went to the Pradoand spent the whole day there. My daughter’s like, “Okay, that’s enough,” considering we had her two babies in tow. But we can’t miss the Picassos, I whined. So she took the little one Calypso to the nearest café, and I took the toddler Elektra to the Reina Sofia, and a good time was had by all. Even Elektra!
6 Besides the art of writing, are you involved in art in any other ways?
I go to galleries. I go to museums wherever I happen to be. I try to buy as much art as my walls will allow, the master works that speak to me as well as that of local artists. One of my favorite artists from the South Shore of Massachusetts (where I lived for many years) is Gail Marie Nauen, and I have three of her works. She captures the beauty of this area between Boston and Cape Cod in every season. And I have three of the four seasons. I need to get the fourth. I also buy antiques and found art and everything else.
7. It’s a lot like choosing your favorite child, but do you have one or two favorite pieces of art that you’d like to tell people about within or outside of your own work?
I’ve mentioned the art of Gail Marie Nauen that hangs in my home, but I have other favorites as well. And we’ve talked about Matisse’s The Dance, a print of which hangs in my bedroom. Every morning I see this when I wake up and it makes me happy. It makes me want to dance. On my fireplace mantle, I have a snow globe of Degas’ Little Dancer. And you shake it and fabulous golden snow swirls around the Little Dancer. It’s one of my favorite sculptures, and I am captivated by this snow globe, which I use as inspiration when I write. If I get stuck, I just shake her, and my imagination takes over.
As I mentioned, my mother took me to Paris when I was 12. She bought prints of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower from a street artist, and today they hang in my living room decades later, a daily reminder of my favorite city. In the wake of the Notre Dame fire, this print is all the more precious to me. (*Pictured in Question 3 above).
And finally, I must mention (selfishly) one of my favorite pieces. Bob Eckstein, the New Yorker cartoonist. He came to a writers conference where I was speaking, and he did a cartoon of me. It’s hilarious, and it doesn’t make me look too fat.
8. What is your current book that’s out and what do you have planned next? Where can you be found over the next several months?
A Borrowing of Bones, the first in the Mercy Carr series is out now, as is Happier Every Day. And in November, Blind Searchwill debut. I will be all over the place over the next several months now that we’re starting conference season. So, I was at the Edgarslast week, and Malice Domesticin Bethesda this weekend, the New York Pitch Conferencein June, ThrillerFestin July, and Writers Digest Conferencein August, all in in New York City.
Thank you so much. It’s been so much fun talking to you. I love talking art.