by Cynthia Chow
We are excited to have not only a review of Gigi Pandian’s latest mystery, but a fun interview with her as well. Details at the end of this review on how to enter to win a copy of The Accidental Alchemist. There is also a link to purchase the book where a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy.
The Accidental Alchemist By Gigi Pandian
Review by Cynthia Chow
With so many mystery novels featuring witches, vampires, and psychics, it was about time that we see the absolutely unique entry of Zoe Faust, a three-hundred year-old alchemist from the Salem Witch Trials. After having been disillusioned by the practice of alchemy—striving to achieve purity or perfection by transforming the impure or corruptible—Zoe has brought her airstream to Portland, Oregon to renovate a home that defines the term “fixer-upper.” Zoe plans to renovate the old mansion into a storehouse for her online apothecary shop, Elixir, as well as construct a lab in the basement now that she is ready to experiment with plant alchemy.
Zoe makes a discovery that shocks even her; a living gargoyle has shipped himself in one of her boxes in the hope that she will translate a book and find a cure to turn him back into stone. Dorian Robert-Houdin, created by and named after one of the founding fathers of the practice of conjuring, is an admitted Francophile with French chef training, a skill that comes in handy considering Zoe’s vegan lifestyle. Zoe’s goal of keeping a low profile will prove difficult with a winged gargoyle in her kitchen. This was before she discovered the body of her contractor on her doorstep, dead from a poisoning. An attractive but suspicious police detective, a juvenile delinquent who threatens her privacy, and a deadline on Dorian’s return to his original state has Zoe fearing discovery.
I adored this first in a new series. Zoe is a practical and likable character. While she appears to be only twenty-eight (only her white hair reflects her true age), she is adept with modern technology. Losing those she loved has darkened her outlook, so Dorian’s companionship and his delectable cooking refresh both her outlook and her meals. Burdened with a fourteen year-old boy whose immature and self-involved mother designates Zoe as a babysitter, she ultimately finds that he may not be as threatening as she thought.
Fans of the paranormal will like this series, as it explores the practice of transforming the flawed into “perfection.” Zoe has found that long life is not always the gift that it may seem. Not being immortal, her devotion to healthy practices seems quite practical. A well-crafted plot and humorous dialogue highlight this very fun mystery full of characters who face and struggle with their own challenges. The author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries has crafted another promising series that is a blend of mystery, historical lore, science and a sprinkle of romance.
Interview with Gigi Pandian
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Gigi: I began taking my writing seriously in 2007. I’d recently discovered National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), the challenge where you sign up publicly to write a 50,000-word novel draft in 30 days. That’s the first time I finished a full draft of a novel. I really liked what I’d written, and it turned out others did, too. My work-in-progress was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished mystery writers.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Gigi:My NaNoWriMo novel became Artifact: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery. In the book, historian Jaya Jones discovers [that] the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj.
I self-published Artifact in 2012. It was well received, named a “Best of 2012” Debut Novel by Suspense Magazine, and the series was picked up by Henery Press in a three-book deal. The series features Indian-American historian Jaya Jones, who solves present-day crimes linked to historic treasures related to India’s colonial past. Each of those books takes the characters from her home base of San Francisco to a different foreign destination: so far Scotland (Artifact), India (Pirate Vishnu), and France (Quicksand, coming in March 2015). The series will continue, and I’m currently working on Book 4. The series is most frequently compared to the Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters.
KRL Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Gigi:I’ve always been drawn to mysteries. I write both novels and short stories, but they’re all mysteries.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? And please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Gigi:The Accidental Alchemist is the first in a new paranormal mystery series set in Portland, Oregon, featuring a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick who was accidentally brought to life by a stage magician.
Zoe Faust accidentally discovered the Elixir of Life over 300 years ago. For decades she’s been traveling across the U.S. and living out of a silver Airstream trailer. But she falls in love with Portland, Oregon, and decides to stay a while. She thinks her secret is safe, until she’s sought out by Dorian Robert-Houdin, a three-and-a-half-foot tall gargoyle who needs her help deciphering a dangerous alchemy book.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Gigi:Writing to entertain is my primary goal, but I like to add layers to my books, so there’s also something more for people. My favorite books are ones that both entertain and in which I learn something.
In The Accidental Alchemist, there’s an underlying theme of transformation, a lot of true history, and alchemical parallels such as culinary alchemy.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Gigi:I stick to a rigorous schedule. I love my day job as a Creative Strategist at a non-profit organization, so I want to keep both my day job and my writing job. That means I set my alarm clock every day. Once my writing career began to take off, I switched my work schedule so I work longer days some days in exchange for some mornings off, plus I plot in my notebook on my train ride to work.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Gigi:I outline to get started, but it inevitably goes out the window! I need the security of a roadmap, but once I start writing, my characters take over.
KRL: If you had your choice, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Gigi:I’m most creative in the mornings.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Gigi:Yes and no. Every author I’ve known has a different path to publication. I had an easy time getting a great agent, but she had a tough time selling the book because it didn’t fit neatly into a mystery sub-genre. Artifact is a not-quite-cozy women’s adventure novel – a cozy thriller? That’s why, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to be in control of something in my life, I decided to self-publish my first novel instead of waiting for my agent to continue to pitch the book to more publishers.
Self-publishing was a lot more work than I thought it would be, which is why I was thrilled that within the year I had two three-book deals, one with Henery Press for the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series, and one with Midnight Ink for the Accidental Alchemist mystery series.
KRL: Wow, that’s pretty inspiring. I hope you are in good health now. Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Gigi:This past year, I was invited to be a contributing author in an upcoming short story anthology. That was the first time I’d been offered a story slot, instead of submitting to a general call for stories. This happened after my locked-room mystery short story “The Hindi Houdini” was short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards. It’s exciting that my short fiction is resonating with people.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Gigi:I love doing joint events with other authors at bookstores. At a joint event, no matter how many people show up, it’s still a great time. It’s interesting that each event is so different! You never know who will show up and where the discussion will go.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Gigi:I’m continuing to write books in each series, plus short stories. I have so many stories I want to tell, and am having a lot of fun with this, so I hope to keep writing mysteries for years to come.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Gigi:I got to meet Elizabeth Peters the year before she passed away, which was meaningful since she’s the author who most inspired me to write mysteries. Another meaningful experience with an author hero was when Aaron Elkins, another of my favorite authors, loved my first novel and gave it a book blurb. The fact that one of my literary heroes endorsed my book made me feel that whatever else happened on my publishing journey, I’d already made it.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Gigi:Research is one of the best parts of being an author! Since my books involve a lot of history, I have to do a lot of research. The Internet isn’t enough. I visit libraries, look through obscure books, and check with experts. Even though I’m writing fiction, I want the historical backdrops of my stories to be true. My books are set in the present day, but involve a lot of history that’s relevant to the mysteries. My stories also involve foreign countries, so I have a wonderful excuse to travel.
KRL: What do you read?
Gigi:I read mostly mysteries. Some of my favorite authors are Elizabeth Peters, Aaron Elkins, John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson, Daniel Stashower, Victoria Laurie, and Juliet Blackwell.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Gigi:American Dreamer is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s a 1980s film that’s a humorous adventure/mystery/romance. Anyone who has enjoyed my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series would love the movie.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Gigi:Everyone’s path is different, so don’t worry if your journey is different than what you imagined.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Gigi:Since e-books are usually priced lower than print books (often for limited periods of time), they’re a great way for readers to take a chance on an author who’s new to them. I hope readers new to my work will find me that way.
KRL: Do you read e-books yourself?
Gigi:I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading e-books, but once I got used to it, I now love it. My e-reader allows me to buy more books than my bookshelves will hold!
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Gigi:I once played Wonder Woman on stage in Edinburgh, Scotland.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Gargoyle photography blog: www.gargoylegirl.com
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Gigi: I mentioned briefly that I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. It was shortly after my 36th birthday, and it’s the kind of experience that makes you realize the important things in life. Therefore, I don’t worry about the market. I only worry about the things I can control, such as writing what I feel passionately about, which I believe comes through in my books. Because my quirky stories don’t fit neatly into one genre, it was difficult to sell my work at the beginning, but now I think those unique aspects of my writing are helping me find readers in a crowded market.
Thanks for inviting me to do this interview!
To enter to win a copy of The Accidental Alchemist, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Alchemist,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 31, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Click on this link to purchase this book and you will be supporting an indie bookstore & a portion goes to help support KRL.
Fantastic title, Gigi. Great interview.
I think a roadmap is a great idea as I always ignore audio GPS directions : )
What a great interview and review! I have wanted to read this and I love the cover! Thank you for the chance to win a copy!
Great interview, Gigi. I love learning about my favorite authors and authors I’ve never read.
Became interested in your writing via a writer friend who said you should definitely be on my reading list. Currently reading Artifact and would most definitely like to win, read & review The Accidental Alchemist. Enjoyed the interview presented here as it gave better understanding of your creative process.
Thanks for featuring me and the book! Big thanks to Lorie and the Kings River Life team for the great interview questions.
And Tony — I hope you enjoy Artifact.
You are very welcome Gigi! We are happy to have you
Great interview, Gigi!
We have a winner
Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher
Not my normal type of reading but does sound good! Thanks for chance to win a copy!