with author Esri Allbritten
Q: Chihuahua of the Baskervilles features something called the Emma Crawford Coffin Race. Is that a real event?
It is. Emma Crawford came to Manitou Springs
, CO, in the late 1800s, hoping to cure her tuberculosis by drinking the spring waters. It didn’t work, but before she died, she got engaged and asked her fiancée to bury her on the top of Red Mountain. It wasn’t an official graveyard, and when the railroad needed the land, they moved her grave. Maybe they weren’t very careful, because in 1929, a huge rainstorm unearthed poor Emma and sent her coffin hurtling down the mountain on a tide of mud. So every year in October, the people of Manitou Springs dress up and race coffins down the main street. The event draws about ten thousand people, most of them in costume, and feels like a cross between Mardi Gras and Halloween.
Q:Is the coffin race the reason you set the novel in Manitou Springs?
That was part of it. My plan is to set each book of this series in a tourist town that has some cool event. I fell in love with Manitou Springs when I attended Authorfest
, a writing conference. It’s a real jewel of a town, everyone is tremendously friendly, and if they all buy a copy of my book, that’ll be a nice print run.
Q: One of your characters likes to poke fun at the supernatural. Are you a believer or a skeptic?
When I first moved to Boulder, I dived head-first into the New Age movement — wore home-made robes under the full moon, fondled crystals, the whole bit. It was fun but also expensive, and I never saw any results. I’m pretty skeptical now, but I love ghost and monster legends even more than I did, because they make for great stories, and they’re also a window on human psychology. Michael is the skeptic in the book — an unpublished novelist who only works at Tripping Magazine
for the money and résumé credit. He’s essentially me, but with fewer people skills. At least, I hope I behave better than him.
Q: Where did you get the idea to riff on a Sherlock Holmes classic?
First I came up with the idea of a magazine that covers supernatural stuff, only the stuff is always someone committing or covering up a crime rather a genuine paranormal event — very Scooby Doo. The first book I wrote with that concept was The Legend of Big Butt
, and that was my self-taught class on how to write a mystery – poorly, as it turned out. I’ll probably fix that book and publish it at some point, but it was easier to take what I learned and move on. I wanted to riff on classic horror or mystery titles, and I consider The Hound of the Baskervilles
one of the best books ever written. Do you know it’s been made into a movie at least 20 times? I just stumbled across a farce version
starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cook that has a Chihuahua, although it’s not the hound itself — just an excuse for pee jokes.
Q: Why a Chihuahua?
The short answer is that “Chihuahua of the Baskervilles” is funnier than “Poodle of the Baskervilles” and punchier than “Rat Terrier of the Baskervilles.” But I’ve been a huge fan of the breed for about four years. I spend a lot of time hanging out on Facebook sites like Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder
, and it turns out that Chi owners are a pretty perfect market for my writing voice. They have a sense of humor about themselves, don’t give a damn what other people think, and love to have fun. Recently I finally got my own Chihuahua, Josie O. She’s a delight. In the book after this, Portrait of Doreene Gray
, one of my characters is going to get a Chihuahua. It’ll be a great sidekick for the staff of Tripping Magazine. They can hide a pen recorder under its coat or hang a miniature camera from its collar. Its ruffled, Bedazzled collar.
Q: Do you have a folksinging alter ego?
A: Doesn’t everyone? Mine is named Jenny Blossom, and she writes songs for Tripping, the magazine for which my sleuths work. Jenny has long blonde hair with a pale pink streak in it, and her signature piece of jewelry is a silver necklace with a butterfly and the word “Dream.” If you’re lucky enough to see her live, ask for a souvenir guitar pick.