Julia interviews Alan Gordon

Author of the Fools’ Guild mysteries. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. More...

For those new to your history mysteries, what precisely is the Fools’ Guild?

The Fools’ Guild is ostensibly a professional guild devoted to the training of jesters and troubadours [and trouveres, minnesingers, etc.]. Covertly, it is an organization that works behind the scenes to bring peace to a world that doesn’t always want it. The series is set primarily in the beginning of the 13th century.

What is THE MONEYLENDER OF TOULOUSE all about?

My protagonists, the jester couple Theophilos and Claudia,along with their apprentice, Helga, and daughter, Portia, have been sent by the Fools’ Guild to Toulouse to find a way of replacing the sitting Bishop with a candidate more sympathetic to the Guild. But while there, they become involved in the murder of a local moneylender. The investigation leads them deep into the factional squabbling of the city, and to a threat that may put all their lives in danger.

Your research is the equal of any in the field. How do you do it?

I have access to the NYC library, one of the great research facilities in the world. And I buy too many books.

You’re a practicing attorney. Having a Juris Doctor myself, legal writing often seems the antithesis of good prose. How do you balance the two?

Actually, I found that legal writing taught precision in the use of language, which is always helpful. But I find writing fiction to be a good balance to the day job. It’s as escapist for me as it [hopefully] is for my readers.

What’s your writing process? Outline or organic?

I’ve done both. I think that I am more character driven now. I tend to start writing until I find the story, and outline from there.

What projects are occupying Alan Gordon at the moment?

Too many! I’m about a quarter of the way through the next Fools’ Guild book, The Parisian Prodigal. My story, “Bottom of the Sixth,” is in the just-released Queens Noir, and my first werewolf story, “Fresh Meat,” will be in the Christmas werewolf anthology, Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kellner. I’m working on a book based on that character. And then there are a pair of musical theater projects with composer Mark Sutton-Smith for which I am doing book and lyrics.

What pithy words of advice would you offer for newbie crime fiction writers just starting out?

First: Write every day to get into your rhythm and because that muscle must be exercised in order to develop. Second: Ignore all pithy words of advice.

Who are some new voices you enjoy in crime fiction?

Megan Abbott, and a lot of the other writers in Queens Noir.

Who were your literary influences growing up?

Myriad. The ones who made me want to be a writer? Kafka, Pynchon, Stoppard.

Your plotlines are so tremendously off-beat and humorous. Where do you get your ideas?

Many from the research, either as to the incidents or the methods. Some are footnotes to history; others, I look for the spaces in between what is known. And then there’s that weird subconscious brain of mine. I don’t question it, I just sit back and go, “Thanks, Brain!”

Theophilos is such a unique character. How did you first conceive of him?

It all came from my love of the Shakespearean fools. I used to shoot silly ideas after class with a friend, and one that I came up with was that all the jesters in Shakespeare were the same guy, who would just go from gig to gig changing his name. From that came the opening image of Thirteenth Night: Feste sitting at the end of a bar in a tavern, being told Orsino was dead. I realized it needed a specific time and place to work, which led me to this period. And I was thinking one book, not a series when I wrote it.

Alan Gordon

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“I used to shoot silly ideas after class with a friend, and one that I came up with was that all the jesters in Shakespeare were the same guy, who would just go from gig to gig changing his name. From that came the opening image of Thirteenth Night: Feste sitting at the end of a bar in a tavern, being told Orsino was dead. I realized it needed a specific time and place to work, which led me to this period. And I was thinking one book, not a series when I wrote it. ”