I recently contacted amateur super-sleuth, Tess Camillo, and her delightful alter ego the author, Morgan Hunt, for a little chitchat about life, love and what makes them both tick. Here’s what Tess had to say.
First, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself, Tess.
TESS: (discreet sniff) That’s a fabulous fragrance you’re wearing, Alex. Subtle, sexy. I can smell it all the way across cyberspace. Where were we? Oh, my background? I was born and raised on an island off the Jersey coast near the Atlantic City boardwalk, which imbued me with a love of the ocean and a skepticism for the snake oil vendors of the world. Dad was a pilot; he reminded me of an Italian Bogart – a loner who personified a kind of macho tenderness. Like Lauren Bacall, Ma is Jewish, beautiful and aging well. She was always the more practical parent. From her I inherited a love of both numbers and language.
What’s your favourite story that you’ve appeared in? Why?
TESS: The most luscious moment is always “now” because we hold all of its potential in our hot little hands. And right now, I’m finishing up an adventure called BLINDED BY THE LIGHT. I visited an exotic earthworks art/landscape called The Lightning Field in New Mexico, and damned if a murder didn’t take place while I was there. I questioned all the usual suspects but was stumped. Then I got sidetracked by this gorgeous rabbi with a holy libido. But something my housemate Lana just said triggered an epiphany, and if I’m right, I’ve got to let the police know right away…
Is there any particular scene that you just really, really love in the plot(s) you’ve appeared in? What did you like about it?
TESS: Nova and I flirted and seduced one other in FOOL ON THE HILL. Wouldn’t mind reliving that any day of the week and twice on Tuesday nights.
Is there any particular scene you think your author could’ve done better? Which scene and how could she have improved it?
TESS: My author could’ve showed some restraint in STICKY FINGERS when she wrote about my needle phobia. Sometimes she made me look like a real wimp. But 10% of the population suffers from some degree of needle phobia. We’re not all cowards. Just because I can’t watch a “House” episode without turning green… well…Let’s talk about something else. I feel queasy.
How is it, working with your author? Are you ever at loggerheads? How do you get past that?
TESS: She’s pretty easy to work with because we both share an offbeat sense of humour. When we do have trouble agreeing on something, one of us manages to remind the other that we’ve come through breast cancer together. That bond surmounts any chicken feces roadblocks.
So Tess, what’s this with you and Math?
TESS: It’s weird, I know, but I find it so beautiful. When the world seems too cruel and chaotic to make any damned sense at all, math never lets me down. The square root of nine is still three, even on September 11th. The area of a triangle is still the base times the height divided by two, even after the shooting at Virginia Tech. We may never know the end of pi, but math is the beginning of a universal, transcendent truth. In FOOL ON THE HILL, my author gives me the chance to talk about math with my love interest.
If you could re-write yourself, what quality would you emphasize? What flaws?
TESS: I’d put more emphasis on my sensuality and less on my eating habits, a desire I share with about 90% of the female population.
How do you, as a character, feel about endings that aren’t necessarily “happily ever after”?
TESS: My author’s fundamentally an optimist, so most of my stories do end on an upbeat note. But I wonder about this one I’m currently involved in. Time will tell…
What plot would you like to appear in that your author hasn’t really considered?
TESS: I’d like her to send me on an Olivia Cruise of the Greek Islands. She can add any amount of deception and murder along the way that her dark little heart craves: I’ll be content as long as I get the cruise. As I keep telling her, the research costs are tax deductible.
Are you comfortable doing erotic scenes in front of readers? How do you deal with “performance anxiety,” if applicable?
TESS: To begin with, I don’t tell my author everything. I mean, we’re close, but some things are just hallowed turf. You know what I mean? That forces her to leave some room for the reader’s imagination, which I think is healthy. As for ‘performance anxiety,’ the mind is what creates anxiety, and I am so NOT in my head when I make love!
What is the most emotionally difficult scene you’ve been in? Why?
TESS: The visit to the surgeon’s office in STICKY FINGERS, when my breast cancer had first been diagnosed. It’s easier to talk about now, but at the time, criminitlies! I knew an intimacy with fear and mortality that I would gladly have passed by, given the chance.
What do you think is your best quality?
TESS: My ability to see the world, people, life for exactly what it is and love it anyway.
What’s your worst? Have you discussed this with your author?
TESS: The author and I did discuss this once, but it was over a fourth Bombay Sapphire on the rocks, and I don’t remember much of the conversation. (And you can tell Andi I enjoy a good Scotch now and then, but usually prefer gin.)
Talk a little bit about your co-characters. Who’s been the easiest to work with?
TESS: Definitely my housemate Lana. She’s a composite of several women my author was close to, and I just find her delightful to live with. In the most recent tale, Lana narrates a whole chapter herself, so readers get to know her better.
Which of your co-characters have you learned the most from? Why is that, do you think?
TESS: After the breast cancer, I realized the wisdom of Raj’s personal philosophy. He lives without complicated expectations, but enjoys the occasional soup bone, back rub, and pint at the pub. He never worries about being politically correct. He’s never constipated. He knows how to use his tongue. Based on those qualities, he’s the one I want to learn from.
Do you think your author really captures who you are? What could your author do better about expressing the inner you?
TESS: The author, the author, the author! You can interview her yourself; ask me something about ME!
There you are, on an Olivia Cruise in the Aegean Sea. Which islands are just an absolute must-visit for Tess Camillo? And why?
TESS: I want to visit Santorini because of the Atlantis connection. And Rhodes, when the scholars are in bloom. I’d like to sunbathe on the rocks of Lesbos – and maybe lick a few of them. I’ll let your imagination figure out why.
In 5 words, Ms. Camillo, what’s your philosophy of life?
TESS: Kissing is underrated; perfection, overrated.
Is there any other author you’d like to work with? Who and why?
TESS: I’d be delighted to join Kinky Friedman in a caper; perhaps solve a mystery with Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Odelia Grey or Claire McNab’s Kylie Kendall. I’d go anywhere Rita Mae Brown wanted to send me. And I’m sorry I missed the opportunity to work with Kurt Vonnegut. He could make me laugh and cry almost in the same moment; it doesn’t get any better than that.
Anything else you’d like to share?
TESS: Some day I’d like to visit La Rue Germain in Paris. It’s named in honour of Sophie Germain, an extraordinary math genius who died of breast cancer in 1831. She’s my hero. Maybe on my way back from solving a mystery on the Olivia Cruise, I could swing through Paris. I’ll have to talk to my author about that.
Raised on the Jersey shore in Brigantine, Morgan Hunt was fascinated with things like conch eggs and learning the Hebrew alphabet. She played at college, then enlisted in the Navy and served at Brunswick, Maine and San Diego, where she stayed for twenty five plus-years. She now hides out in the Pacific Northwest, twenty miles from the actual location of Einstein’s brain.
Morgan is author of three Tess Camillo mysteries, STICKY FINGERS, FOOL ON THE HILL, and BLINDED BY THE LIGHT; plus her recent political thriller, WE THE PEEPS.