Saturday, March 24, 2007

Meet Honora and Susan

Honora Finkelstein and Susan Smily, co-authors of the Lovey Award-winning and Agatha-nominated first novel, The Chef Who Died Sautéing, love to do things their characters do in their mystery series.

Honora, who says psychic detective Ariel Quigley is her inner 32-year-old, reads Tarot cards, talks to ghosts, has precognitive dreams (which she and Susan analyze to pieces), and studies metaphysics.

Honora’s love affair with the paranormal began when she had her first out-of-body experience at the age of four—while learning to tie her shoes. The conversations with disembodied spirits aren’t something she necessarily seeks out, but often people do ask for assistance with pesky other-dimensional presences, so she sometimes taps into these energies to see what they want and clears them out of houses if that’s what’s called for. (For the past 14 years, Susan has been assisting with these parapsychological activities.)

Both Honora and Susan also study magic, especially that associated with Egyptian Hermeticism and Hebrew Kabbalah. Like Michelle Wise in the first novel, Susan actually built a Kabbalistic Tree of Life out of paving stones in the back yard.

Honora’s favorite avocation is reading Tarot cards. She bought her first deck of cards in 1960 (even before she was an official adult), from a very strange bookstore in New Orleans run by a little guy who kept lots of cats and had cat pictures everywhere. When she paid her money for the deck of cards, he said, “Be very careful with these!” It was a really woo-woo experience! As a consequence of that warning, she played with the cards and studied their meanings, but she never actually allowed herself to read them for anyone until years later.

However, even more woo-woo was the event in 1987 that spurred her to actually learn to read the cards. She was teaching a summer workshop to writers on symbolism, and she’d put on her teaching outline to discuss the way the life energy of the human spinal column is imaged in different cultures. But on the day of that class, she’d forgotten to bring any visuals. When she went to the notes she’d made on that subject, there was a reference to the Tarot card of the High Priestess, who supposedly sits in the Temple of Solomon, with a black pillar on one side and a white pillar on the other. The note said, “The black and white pillars represent the two forces of energy (known in Sanskrit as the ida and pingalla) that flow up and down the spine (called the shushuma).”
Honora had her Tarot cards with her, so she started going through the deck to find the High Priestess card, which she figured she could pass around in class to show at least one visual of a symbol for the life force. But while flipping through the deck, she started thinking, “I’m such a ditzy person, I’ll probably pass the card around and forget at the end of class to pick it up—and then I’ll be playing without a full deck! I wish I could show this card to people without risking losing it altogether.” As she said these words, she came to the card of the High Priestess—and when she picked it up, underneath it was a second High Priestess card! That’s the day she resolved to learn to read the cards for other people.

Susan is the prototype for the character of psychotherapist Bernice Wise in the novel series. As Susan puts it, “Bernice is my inner me.” Anyone who’s already read the book knows that Bernice wears cool ‘60s clothing (especially muu-muus) and Birkenstocks, as does Susan. And Bernice also loves to cook gourmet meals. There’s a quote, the origin of which we haven’t yet traced, that goes,

“If it’s got four legs, and it’s not a table;
If it swims and is not a submarine;
If it has wings and it’s not an aeroplane;
Then there’s a bloody good chance the Chinese will eat it.”

Well, the same might be said for Susan, who has tried, or is willing to try, most edible things on the planet, and who has probably also cooked the majority of them. (Though Susan helps Honora with metaphysical pursuits, Honora does not cook! Ever, if she can help it.)

Spring also does strange things to Susan, who suddenly feels 16 again and goes out to tackle the great outdoors, planting trees, flowers, and vegetables, laying brick pathways, and generally defying any physical limitations.

So far, neither Honora nor Susan has tried defying gravity, but who knows what the future will bring?

Honora Finkelstein and Susan Smily are the authors of the Ariel Quigley Mystery series and the accompanying Killer Cookbook series. Please visit them at, and get on their mailing list.

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