Lise McClendon’s Bennett Sisters Mysteries are for anyone wanting to lose themselves in the magic of France with heart-warming family stories involving – like Jane Austen’s Bennetts – five daughters.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and in Binge Reading today Lise talks about the latest book in the series, Château Des Corbeaux, or in English, Castle of Ravens. Pascal’s dreams of owning his own vineyard come crashing down with a murder very close to home.
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Links for this episode:
Lise McClendon Books in Order:https://www.fictiondb.com/author/lise-mcclendon~21845.htm
The Bennett Sisters Cookbook: https://www.amazon.com/Bennett-Sisters-French-Cookbook-Mysteries/dp/1792884850
Thalia Press: https://lisemcclendon.com/the-books/thalia-press/
Alice Hoffman: https://alicehoffman.com/
James Lee Burke: https://www.jamesleeburke.com/
Ellen McGarrahan: Tow Truths and a Lie: www.Amazon.com/Two-Truths-Lie-Ellen-McGarrahan/dp/0812998669
William Deverell:Arthur Beauchamp legal thrillers: Stung: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55407906-stung
Martin Walker: To Kill A Troubadour: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/58467284-to-kill-a-troubadour
Where to find Lise McClendon:
Web site: https://lisemcclendon.com/
Facebook: @LiseMcClendon Author
Twitter: @LiseMcClendon: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/lise-mcclendon
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to the show notes in The Joys of Binge Reading.com for important mentions.
But now, here’s Lise.
Introducing mystery author Lise McLendon
Jenny Wheeler: Hello there Lise, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Lise McClendon: Thank you for having me, Jenny.
Jenny Wheeler: You have written a wonderfully lively series of French mysteries. We are talking about the latest one today, which is Château des Corbeaux, Castle of Ravens, which is just out. Theoretically, it’s number 17 in the series, but we’ll talk a little bit about some of the slight complications within that 17.
At the beginning, you had five strong-willed sisters who are all lawyers as their father and grandfathers were before them. When you started out, did you have any idea of how long these five sisters were going to be running?
Lise McClendon: Absolutely not. I envisioned five books, one featuring each sister. I wrote the first one, a New York publisher gave me some money to write it, and then he decided he didn’t like it, so I ended up going independent, but that took a little while.
Then it seemed like it was just a standalone because Blackbird Fly, the first book, is more of a women’s fiction than a mystery. It’s a lot of self-discovery, a lot of reinventing yourself after a tragedy. In that way it stands alone, or it could stand alone, and it did for about five years.
Then I decided to go back and revisit the characters again. After I did a walking tour in France, in Burgundy, with a group of women, I decided I would have the sisters going on a walking tour together. That’s how it got started again.
Merle’s shock of sudden widowhood
Jenny Wheeler: The first book features Merle. She loses her husband very unexpectedly and that first book focuses on her development when she gets, first of all, a very unwelcome thing happening, her husband dying suddenly, and then a lot of things unfold from that. She finds out he’s left her this house in France as part of his estate, which she had no idea existed.
That’s how we get the French connection in the beginning. At that stage, had you developed this passion for France that seems to have grown since?
Lise McClendon: Yes. I had been to France a few times over the years. I took French as a child so I had rudimentary high school French. I always loved to go to France and I’m not alone in that, I’m pretty sure.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s right. One thing about this book I think people would really appreciate is that there’s a strong escapist aspect to it. There is lots of French countryside and French wines and French food. For some of us there may be this feeling that we are never going to get to France again. This world has got so complicated that international travel has become difficult, but it is wonderful to have an escapist read like this, where it’s all laid out on the page for you and you don’t have to make the effort of going there.
Pascal – Merle’s boyfriend – wine fraud investigator
Lise McClendon: I like that too. That’s what I look for in books, so I write what I like to read.
Jenny Wheeler: Pascal is now Merle’s boyfriend. He’s a French wine fraud investigator but he has already had several other books in the series, hasn’t he? Explain for us how Pascal came into it and where he fits into the whole flow of the series.
Lise McClendon: Pascal is introduced in Blackbird Fly. He and Merle have a little fling and then she finds out that he’s not who she thought he was, so that creates a bit of a mess. She thinks it’s a summer fling and she goes on with her life. She goes back to the US. But then she decides not to sell the house her husband left her and to go back in the summer.
That’s how it develops. She goes back and meets up with him again. Then as the story goes on, I have to concoct ways for them to get together, even though there’s a big ocean between them. Sometimes he’s in New York, or outside of New York where Merle and some of her sisters live, and sometimes they’re in Scotland where one of the sisters is set to be married in the Highlands. I work a little international travel in there so that they can get together.
It was an interesting arc. I felt like their relationship arc ends, not that they have broken up but are they going to be together? It is kind of over by the end of the fifth book, The Frenchman, but I couldn’t stop writing about the sisters, so then I focused on some of the other sisters.
Interlocking series of mysteries
Jenny Wheeler: Is there a spinoff series? Tell us about Dead Flat. Where does that fit in?
Lise McClendon: In the last two winters – they would be summers in the Southern Hemisphere, but the last two winters, especially 2020 when everyone was in lockdown, I decided to write a little book about Pascal in the Champagne region and that’s called Dead Flat, like flat champagne.
I put it out in three hearts so that people could either wait and read it all together or read one section each month to get through the months when you were home alone. I did another one like that last winter, not this past year but 2021, but it wasn’t about Pascal so much.
That was the first time we get a point of view story from Pascal’s view of what he does. You hear more about his thoughts, about his relationship with Merle and the rest of his life.
Jenny Wheeler: That was a good idea, to specifically cater for readers who were locked down in the COVID pandemic.
Lise McClendon: It was good for me because it gave me these little chunks of work to do and get out. Normally when you write a novel, it can take 6, 9, 12 months to write, so to have shorter pieces up was good, getting through to the end of the next month or whatever. Readers seem to like that too.
Jenny Wheeler: You have developed a lot of knowledge about France over this period. Obviously you probably haven’t been there in the last few years. Tell us a bit about your own connections with France during the writing of these books.
How Lise McLendon came to love France
Lise McClendon: Back in 2003 I first came up with this idea of the five Bennett sisters, like the five Bennett sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which is one of my favorite books. That is the only real connection – their name is Bennett and there are five of them.
When I came up with that idea, I decided to see what I could find out over the internet before I went over, and I did connect with some ex-pat Americans and Brits who live in the Dordogne. I had not been to that area at that point in my life. I wanted to set it in a place where a lot of Americans hadn’t gone. I think that’s changed probably, but a lot of Brits know it.
I got a lot of good information from these people and some of them are still my friends. I have visited them in the Dordogne, so that was fun. Then I went over and did some on site research for Blackbird Fly and I’ve been back to that area a number of times as well.
Jenny Wheeler: You must know a great deal about wine because in Château des Corbeaux Pascal is exploring this lifelong dream he has to have his own vineyard. A lot of it is about vineyards and looking at possible sites for a vineyard and the sorts of wines they could grow.
I found that all very interesting, and I got the impression that you were quite an expert on wine. It may be your clever fiction writing but tell us about the wine aspect of it.
Learning about new things part of the fun
Lise McClendon: What I did was I took a little online course about becoming a winemaker. I do a lot of research. That’s the fun part of being a writer, learning about new things and trying to work them into your story – not in a pedantic way but in a way that makes them interesting, new information.
In Château des Corbeaux I have Pascal teach Merle about, where is the best place to have a vineyard? Is it on the top of the hill or on the river bank? Things like that, and how to match the soil samples to the right kinds of vines. I found that fascinating. There’s a lot of science behind wine making, so you can learn a lot.
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned that you had that five-year gap between Blackbird Fly and the next one you wrote, but you were doing another mystery series during that five years.
Lise McClendon: Yes I was. I wrote a couple of books in a series set in pre-war Kansas City, in 1939-40. I had lived in Kansas City and it has a rich gangster history, so that was interesting. Also during that five years I wrote a couple of standalone thrillers, one called Jump Cut, about a TV reporter in Seattle. The other one is Plan X about a policewoman who is just back from Iraq and has PTSD and she has to help find the identity of a bomb blast victim, who is not who he appears to be.
I wrote those two books, which I enjoyed a lot, but readers love to follow series characters, so I made my way back to the Bennett sisters.
Moving from trad to self publishing
Jenny Wheeler: Having had that experience at the beginning where you had a brush with a publishing company and then it didn’t quite work out, you’ve self-published everything since then. You’ve never looked back at doing the trad pub thing.
Lise McClendon: That’s right. I had six books out with two different New York publishers and then once you get into the business side of independent publishing, it’s kind of nice. You have control over your schedule and your covers and everything about what you do. You can respond to what readers like. I’m not rolling in money, but it still is pretty great. I like that.
Jenny Wheeler: You did a series that was located in Jackson Hole too, the Alix Thorssen series.
Lise McClendon: Those were my first books. In the nineties I wrote four books about Alix Thorssen. She is an art dealer in Jackson Hole. I still love books about art fraud. It’s sort of like wine fraud, I guess. I like fraud stories, con men and stuff like that. She lives in Jackson Hole and I have lived in Jackson Hole myself. After I wrote those books, I moved to Jackson Hole for a few years. Those were my first books, starting with The Bluejay Shaman.
Jenny Wheeler: Interesting juxtaposition of Jackson Hole and art fraud because from this side of the world, Jackson Hole is more or less synonymous with snow skiing and forests, but not necessarily a high level of culture.
The Jackson Hole series a change of pace
Lise McClendon: Well, you might not know this but the summer season in Jackson Hole is twice as big as the winter season for tourists. Being right by the Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, there are a lot of tourists, there’s a lot of money there, there are a lot of fancy people, and so there are a lot of art galleries.
It was interesting. I loved those books. I may write another one someday, but I kind of hate to look back. I like to go forward.
Jenny Wheeler: What is the biggest challenge in keeping a series going?
Lise McClendon: Keeping your interest in the characters. I feel like I did the right thing by having five sisters. There is even one sister I haven’t really written about yet. She’s not the most exciting sister. She’s married and has kids and she’s the most conventional one. The other sisters are all single at the time I write about them, and so there are some things about their romantic life.
I like to delve into the midlife of women. There are lots of things can happen. Choices you can make. You can still find love. You can still have adventures, you can still move across the ocean. I like to explore what women’s choices are and how they move on with their lives in the face of sadness or change or whatever. That’s how I approach the series. What are these characters going to be faced with?
Jenny Wheeler: And then you’ve got the Bennett Sisters cookbook. Are you an enthusiastic cook yourself?
The Bennett sisters cookbook
Lise McClendon: I do like to cook. I wouldn’t say I’m really enthusiastic though. I do like French food a lot and I love eating in France, and so I put this together. It’s just got 25 recipes. It’s a little cookbook of dishes that are mentioned in the books, in passing. We’ll talk about going into a restaurant and having a roti de canard or something.
People probably don’t know what that is, so if you’re interested in what those dishes are that are mentioned, then I give a little history, a little bit of snippet about where they’re mentioned in the books, and then the recipe. It is something you can get for free, a Kindle version of it, if you sign up for my newsletter, so it’s a promotional piece for me too.
Jenny Wheeler: I see you also operate a small press, Thalia Press. Tell us about that. How did you get into it and what are you doing with it now?
Lise McClendon: A publishing friend of mine, another mystery writer named Katy Munger and I, just before Kindle came on the scene in 2006/2007, decided we were going to get our old mysteries that were out of print back into print as paperbacks. Before Kindle times there was the beginning of print on demand books. That’s how we started out – as print on demand. Then when the Kindle took off we started eBooks as well.
Lise McClendon’s cooperative publishing venture
We had done a couple of books together. We did a short story anthology with some other people and Katy and I edited it. We also did a group novel, which was a hilarious experience with five writers. It took about two years. Katy started it. She’s good at throwing it in there and getting the ball rolling, and then each of us went round robin twice and she ended it. Then we had to pull it all together and make sure it all fit together.
It’s a foodie mystery and it’s called Beat Slay Love. It’s dark humor, but that was another thing we did is under the Thalia imprint.
Jenny Wheeler: When I saw that you said you were publishing out of time books, I thought you might be looking down and finding hidden a Sherlock Holmes or something like that, but not quite like that. They were your own books, not other peoples.
Lise McClendon: Yes, mostly we do our own books at the moment. We have talked about bringing some other people in, but it’s so easy to do it yourself that there’s not much point in helping other people publish now.
Jenny Wheeler: Perhaps readers don’t appreciate that sometimes authors might have a book published with a publisher. That means they sell the rights to it for a number of years, and then the publisher won’t bother to republish it, so it’s just sitting there. They can get the rights back, can’t they, and do it themselves?
Starting revitalising out-of-print books
Lise McClendon: Right. That’s how we started. It was out of print books. It’s got a bit harder because of eBooks now. Nothing really goes out of print, so it’s a little bit tricky if you work with a traditional publisher. But there are all kinds of machinations now. You can keep some rights yourself. This depends on how much leverage you have with the publisher, I guess.
Jenny Wheeler: Lise, we always like to ask you about your own reading tastes because as you’ve mentioned, people love series and they love to be able to binge read through a whole series if they discover something they love. That was partly the reason I started this podcast and called it The Joys of Binge Reading.
What do you like to read and what would you recommend to our listeners?
Lise McClendon: I love to read women’s fiction. I love to read mysteries. One of my favorite authors is Alice Hoffman who writes kind of magic realism. If you’ve never read any Alice Hoffman you’re in for a treat. James Lee Burke is a mystery writer who has an incredible command of the English language and is quite the poet.
It’s a bad time to ask what I’m reading because I just finished reading for the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers, North America Chapter. I had 150 books. I didn’t have time to read them all.
What Lise McClendon likes to read
I looked at them but one of the books I liked from that was a true crime book. I don’t read much true crime because I find it a little too visceral for me, but this book was really well-written. It’s called Two Truths and a Lie by Ellen McGarrahan. That’s a really good book.
I also like William Deverell’s Canadian novels. His latest one is called Stung. It’s an environment thriller about insects and the people that want to save them.
Jenny Wheeler: That sounds great. Looking back down the tunnel of time, if there was one thing in your writing career that you’d change, what would it be?
Lise McClendon: Probably start earlier. Don’t wait until somebody approves of your writing. Just try to get stories down on paper or digital, whatever you do. I was a broadcast journalism major in college and I thought I wanted to be in films. I still love movies, and so I wrote some of my first stories as screenplays. It’s a fool’s game, so I rewrote one of one the screenplays and that was my first novel.
You have to write a few novels before you know how to write a novel. It isn’t something that comes naturally. When you read a novel you think, that took me three hours, how hard could it have been? But it’s not the same as reading.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s for sure. Was there any catalytic moment when you decided, I’m going to write mystery fiction?
Lise McClendon: Yes. When I wrote the first novel that was originally was a screenplay and I rewrote it as a novel, it was set in the 1920s in Wyoming and so I had a lot of cowboys in it and stuff like that. But there was one section of it that was more of a mystery or suspense, and I realized that was the part of the story I liked. It was fun to write and fun to read.
What made Lise McClendon write mysteries
I ended up in a writing group with Sandra West Prowell who was a dear friend of mine, who wrote a number of good mysteries about Montana. She and I ended up at the same publisher and she was my mentor in writing mysteries.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s lovely. What is next for Lise the author? Over the next 12 months, what have you got on your desk?
Lise McClendon: I just finished writing a little Pascal story that fits into Blackbird Fly. Pascal disappears for a week or so in the middle of Blackbird Fly, and I never explained where he was. I didn’t even know. He just disappeared. If you read Blackbird Fly, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
So I decided I was going to write a little companion story about what he did during that time. It’s a little mystery of its own. It’s like a mystery short story that fits into that, but you should probably read it after you’ve read Blackbird Fly. I just finished that.
Then I’m going to write another Bennett Sisters Mystery. Pascal’s got to harvest his grapes, his first vintage, and Francie’s got to have a baby, so I’ve got a few things to juggle on the next one.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you enjoy interacting with your readers and where can they find you online?
Where to find Lise McClendon online
Lise McClendon: I do have a website. It’s my name www.LiseMcClendon.com. You can contact me through there. I have a Facebook page and then I have a readers group that’s associated with my Facebook page, but it’s separate and it’s called Girl Talk. I always interact with readers there. It seems like a lot of my readers are on Facebook but not all, so you can write to me. I answer all emails.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. Thanks so much for being with us today, Lise. It’s been a real pleasure.
Lise McClendon: Thank you, Jenny. It was fun talking to you.
If you enjoyed Lise McClendon you might also enjoy Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Police series https://thejoysofbingereading.com/martin-walker-bruno-police-chief/
Watch too, for the upcoming Encore chat with Martin about his latest Bruno mystery, To Kill A Troubador.
Next Week on Binge Reading:
Next week on The Joys of Binge Reading, Australian rural noir from Adrian Hyland.
Two bodies. One long hot summer. A town that will never be the same.
Perfect for fans of “The Dry” by Jane Harper and “Scrublands” by Chris Hammer comes a twisty crime thriller by award-winning author, Adrian Hyland.
“Canticle Creek” is a truly entertaining read with complex and engaging characters, heart-racing twists, and whip-smart writing. For those who love Australian-based crime fiction, this should be at the top of your reading list.
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