Blair Yeatts will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
Character Interview: Miranda Lamden
1. What is your MC like? Miranda Lamden is a thirty-to-forty-something professor of religion at a small liberal arts college deep in the hollers of Appalachia, founded by a guilt-ridden coal baron under a curse. Miranda herself comes from old Virginia money, but has turned her back on her blue-blood roots to travel the world researching unusual religious phenomena. She has published several books on legends, rituals, and obscure religions, and as Madness opens she is preparing a book on Appalachian folklore. She spends her down-time with local hermit-craftsman Jack Crispen, a military vet with bad nightmares and periodic drinking binges, who creates stained glass windows of luminous beauty.
2. What does your MC do best? What is the perfect location for this action? Miranda gets a lot of good press for her innovative classroom teaching methods, but her first love is her research. Using her training in phenomenology (setting personal beliefs aside and disappearing into a subject’s viewpoint), she goes into alien cultures as a participant observer in their rituals and tries to experience reality as the people who live there do. The training freely given her by numerous indigenous elders points to her success, although her own spiritual gifts probably influences their openness. Both her finely honed spiritual sensitivity and rigorous logic serve her well when she finds herself caught up in human violence and cruelty.
- What drives your MC to do the things they do? Miranda was brought in a very proper Southern culture, where men—white men—had the last word in all things, including women’s lives, bodies, and beliefs; not to mention the power to value, and devalue, everything else in their world, from cultures and races to the non-human environment. Miranda’s experience of this intimidation eventually led to her very vocal rejection of most things Southern . . . at least things touching sexual, racial, and cultural bigotry. Her passion for fairness and justice follow close behind, especially for the often-marginalized people in her research.
- You are introduced to MC. Is MC happy to meet you? I hope so! In many ways, she’s the woman I’d’ve liked to be. We’d have love of wild nature and careers teaching college religion in common, as well as a love for Kentucky and Appalachia.5. What is your MC’s favorite guilty pleasure? Dancing naked in the deepening dusk with her cats at the Equinoxes.
6. How would your MC describe themself? This question is too big to answer—Miranda narrates the book herself, so Madness is all about her describing herself! Instead, I’ll quote her tongue-in-cheek imaginary obituary from the book:
Dr. Miranda Lamden, contrary lady-professor of world religions and anthropology at Obadiah Durham College, Canaan Wells, Kentucky, dead at 38. Known to her close friends as Mir, Mira, or Andi, she was discovered several hours after death in a remote mountain holler, car wedged under a moldering coal tipple hidden by a heavy stand of mountain laurel. Survived by grieving kin in the Virginia tidewater. Her West Virginia hosts say they warned her that she’d come to grief if she took to bathing with the moon rising toward the full. She should’ve listened. Mourned by students, uppity female friends, and Jack Crispen, significant other and local craftsman hunk.
- What is your MC’s weakness? I suspect Miranda’s greatest weakness is her defensiveness against close relationships with men. She has been married in the past—disastrously—and never intends to let anyone close enough to have that kind of power over her again. She scrutinizes Jack constantly lest he slip into any behavior suggestive of machismo. She also has knee-jerk responses to male (and sometimes female) attempts to dominate her in other areas, and that creates problems with the college administration.
8. Where does your MC go to regroup/unwind? Miranda’s safe place is her renovated chapel in the deep woods. She seeks isolation and silence there whenever she gets too overloaded. The forest may have the strongest power to heal, but the old stone chapel Jack renovated for her is also steeped in peace—and cats. When simple silence or woodland walking isn’t enough, she turns to quilting: the calmness of the quilter’s trance, stitching fabric to fabric, life to meaning, until all else flows away.
9. What does your MC live for? I think Miranda lives to understand, to find meaning: in people, behavior, pain, life. That’s the fascination of religious studies for her, trying to comprehend how human beings find meaning in their lives—and the strength to live through the pain.
10. What will your MC kill for? I think she’d kill to defend her own life, or the life of another. I don’t think this other individual she’d defend would have to be close to her, but I do think they’d have to be helpless—and the attacker without justifiable cause. Maybe I should add that I think she might also kill in defense of an animal, or perhaps some other non-human life, like a forest. Maybe.
Answer as your Main Character.
1. Give up three of your deepest, darkest secrets. I feed on the risks I take in my research, the adrenaline highs. I have fantasies of chaining my students to plows for the summer break; they might learn something from the horses. I once used the skills taught me by an old shaman to send a terrifying nightmare to a cruel and abusive woman as a way of changing her behavior. It’s not a thing people should do—stepping into another person’s mind without permission . . . a “defrocking” offense among some groups.
- If you could have one super power in your existence, what would it be?
A consciousness-enhancing (as opposed to mind-control!) ray that would force people to stop and consider fairly and objectively the stupid and cruel opinions they spout.
- A biography has been written about you. What do you think the title would be in six words or less? Backwoods Chameleon: The Shaman-Professor
- If money were not an object, where would you most like to live? Thanks to the kindness of a wealthy woman, I already live in the one place in the world I would most like to live. I’m miles away from any other human being, on a hilltop in the heart of an untouched forest, in an old stone church preserved and enhanced by my best friend’s carpentry. What more could I wish for?
Fill in the blanks:
- I can never refuse a plea for help because where would I be now, if people hadn’t helped me?6. The next time I catch a student plagiarizing I will fail the little turkey.7. Why do I always have to understand absolutely everything about whatever I’m investigating?
8. My favorite flavor is raspberry because it reminds me of my grandmother’s old farm in Virginia.
9. I love cats because I know they’re clever enough to outsmart me.
10. How much bullying can you take? Very little. Why? My whole life has been spent trying to understand why people think and act the way they do. Bullies tell people that they have no right to be who they are. They try to destroy everything that makes people whole and unique . . . (Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You bullied my father—prepare to die!)
11. Name one thing you must do before you die, and why.
by Blair Yeatts
GENRE: gothic mystery/thriller
Bad religion can be deadly. So Miranda Lamden, small-town religion professor, discovers in This Madness of the Heart. The dark hollers of Eastern Kentucky offer fertile soil for shady evangelist Jasper Jarboe, new president of Grace and Glory Bible College, as he beguiles the small mining town of Canaan Wells with his snake-oil charm.
When Miranda isn’t teaching at Obadiah Durham College, she’s investigating paranormal phenomena—or enjoying a turbulent romantic relationship with backwoods artist Jack Crispen. JJ’s inquisition-style gospel has alienated her long since, but when he announces his plan to transform her forest home into an evangelical Mecca, complete with neon cross and 40-foot Jesus, Miranda girds her loins for war. But JJ isn’t finished: he goes on to launch an attack on her friend and fellow professor Djinn Baude with an avalanche of vicious rumors. Not only does he accuse Djinn of demonic communion with the old Voudon witch whose curse killed the college’s founding family, but he also smears her with insinuations of lechery and vice.
With JJ’s urging, hate boils over into violence and tragedy, sweeping Miranda up in its flood. One death follows another as a miasma of evil overwhelms the tiny community, and only Miranda can see clearly enough to halt its spread.
This Madness of the Heart is the first in a new series of Gothic mystery-thrillers featuring Professor Miranda Lamden, whose spiritual gifts have drawn her beyond university walls to explore the mysteries of other world beliefs. Her unique vision brings her into repeated confrontations with evil, where too often she finds herself standing alone between oblivious onlookers and impending disaster.
The large woman beside me slid to the plank floor with surprising grace, twitching and jerking on her back, eyes glittering sightlessly under half-closed lids. Worshippers stepped around her with hardly a thought. Her lips fluttered in prayer, inaudible amidst the tumbling chaos of sound rolling through the tiny church.
“Hallelujer! Hallelujer! Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Jesus! Praise-a the Lord!
Oooooooohhh, glory be to God, honey! Praise-a his holy name!” The preacher’s voice roared over the babble.
I rocked contentedly in the midst of a storm of joy. Ecstasy beat against me like a rising spring tide. I loved my work. No matter how many hours I spent observing people celebrating their faith, their joy always lifted me up—perhaps bearing me on the wings of their prayers. And Appalachian Holiness congregations had to be among my favorites. I loved their lack of pretense, their tolerance of diversity, their unselfconscious enthusiasm. I envied how easily they gave themselves up to spiritual ecstasy. Comparatively, I was a clam, tightly sealed in a riotous bed of wave-swept anemones.
Several white-shirted men carried cardboard boxes into the center of the floor while the worshippers danced close around. One by one, two by two, three by three, coiling copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes were scooped from the boxes and passed from dancer to dancer, man or woman, whoever held out a willing hand.
Panic knocked the breath from my body like an adder’s sudden strike. My gut clenched, writhing with the coiling snakes. Tremors shook my hands. Shadow threatened to overwhelm my sight. I’d forgotten myself, relaxed my guard, let slip the rigorous discipline I wore like a second skin in my field studies.
Blair Yeatts grew up in the midst of a large, old southern Virginia family, much like the family of her main character. She followed her parents into a career in academia and taught religion at the college level in Kentucky for many years. Her special areas of expertise are psychology and Earth-based religions, in which she has done considerable research.
From childhood, Ms. Yeatts has been a fan of mystery fiction, starting with Nancy Drew and moving through Agatha Christie to twentieth century giants like Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, and Nevada Barr. She is fulfilling a life’s dream in writing her own mysteries.
Ms. Yeatts shares her home with her photographer husband, two cats, and a dog. She has a lifelong love of wild nature, and prefers to set her stories in rural areas, where threads of old spiritual realities still make themselves felt. Her first three books take place in different parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.
This Madness of the Heart e-book will be free on Smashwords during the tour.
(CreateSpace will be up on May 1)