Four Questions with Author Margot Douaihy
We talk about her new book “Scorched Grace” and crime writing trends
Scorched Grace, Margot Douiahy’s new novel, features a sleuth unlike any I’ve read before. Sister Holiday is chain-smoking, heavily-tattooed queer nun, as likely to quote a punk lyric as she is scripture.
The book, out on February 21, features a New Orleans setting that left me feeling sweaty from the way the damp, heavy air was described and a series of arsons targeting Catholic churches in the Big Easy. Sister Holiday, the newest member of her convent, sets out to find the culprit attacking her community.
If that premise intrigues you, you’re in luck. Zando Projects will give a copy to five lucky What To Read If subscribers. To enter, leave a comment about one of your favorite fictional detectives.
I had an amazing conversation with Margot, who is also a poet, a teacher at Franklin Pierce University and the co-editor of Elements in Crime Narrative Series, about Scorched Grace, the state of crime writing and more. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was your path to writing Scorched Grace?
I’ve been passionately obsessed with the hard-boiled style and mystery storytelling for a long time. I did a PhD exploring queer interventions in hard-boiled-style detective fiction.
Through that great love and looking at craft studies and also some of the poetic aspects of it, I became a practitioner of the form. I took a bold swing with thinking about the “lone wolf sleuth” and the notion of the “mean streets” and wrote Scorched Grace.
My lone wolf sleuth is a tattooed, gold-toothed, hot-tempered, genuinely faithful young nun named Sister Holiday. She is many things: a punk rocker, a seeker, someone trying to make sense of both the world and the mystery she finds herself embroiled in — quite literally.
There are a lot of mystery series featuring faith leaders as detectives, but Sister Holiday is different from any I’ve read before. How did you go about creating her?
I started from the anchor points of what creates a contoured character. People have paradoxes and contradictions, but it’s easy to pigeonhole a person or make snap judgements when you first meet them, whether it’s on a page or in real life. So, I wanted Sister Holiday to be a person who doesn’t quite make sense to herself, and yet credibly hold space for all of her contours, all of the things that she enjoys — coffee, cigarettes, reading scripture and playing punk music.
When I read characters that fill out spaces in unexpected ways, I’m held by them and will follow them into burning buildings. I’ll follow them wherever they go.
I really studied a lot of the spiritual sleuths. I love the Granchester mysteries. Father Brown features some intellectual game work I really appreciate. G.K. Chesterton, the author of Father Brown has some fantastic theories on the whodunnit.
Having said that, I like the idea of bold characters who are more flawed and unexpected, so they surprise themselves. When they surprise themselves, I think we can invest deeper in them.
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Scorched Grace is the first book from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s new publishing imprint. What was it like working with her?
I’ll never recover from how incredible it was and I’ll never stop thanking her for plucking me out of absolute obscurity.
She’s a genius who changed the course of domestic noir. There’s an absolute delineation between before Gillian and Gone Girl and after. She changed the game.
So, the ability to work with her as my publisher is just unbelievable. She sees the big picture and sees the way storytelling and risk go together. She likes a big swing as well. Working with her is an absolute dream. That’s not hyperbole.
As a scholar of crime fiction, what do you see as the big trends in the genre right now? And where is it going?
There’s a lot of new crime fiction that centers questions of identity — who am I in this world? And then the investigative sensibility matches those existential question. Is the sleuth an investigator or an instigator.
I’m a huge fan of indigenous noir. White Horse by Erika Wurth is great. It’s a blend of newer signatures, centering an indigenous woman searching in a world of unknows, but with all those things we love of our canonical and parboiled noir like “LA Confidential.”
Thanks to Margot for chatting. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter and order a signed copy (!) of Scorched Grace here.
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My favorite is Kinsey Milhone from the ABC series by Sue Grafton. I love a mystery before computers. I think she was an original badass!
My favorites are Maisie Dobbs and Armand Ganache