Saturday, October 23, 2021

CAROLE NELSON DOUGLAS: R.I.P.

How very sad. Carole Nelson Douglas, 77, author of the Irene Adler and Midnight Louie mysteries, passed away this week. Carole was a very special person - kind, supportive, cat loving, and talented. I was lucky enough to spend time with her at mystery conferences and a week on a mystery cruise. The last time I saw her was at Bouchercon in Dallas a few years ago, but at Malice Domestic in 2011 we shared the stage several times. She was so much fun! Carole Nelson Douglas will be missed. My love and sympathy go out to her family and friends at this sad time.

From her website:

The author of  sixty-three novels, including mystery, thriller, romance, high fantasy, science fiction, and mainstream women’s fiction, Carole Nelson Douglas has been nominated for or won more than fifty writing awards.

The Midnight Louie series

Carole was an award-winning journalist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press until moving to Texas to write fiction full time. In fact, she “found” Midnight Louie in the newspaper’s classified ads  and wrote a feature article on the real-life alley cat long before she began writing novels or Louie returned in 1992 as a feline supersleuth with his own series and newsletter, Midnight Louie’s Scratching Post-Intelligencer, published since 1995.

The Irene Adler series

As a child, Carole loved the Sherlock Holmes stories, but the adult Carole found something missing: strong women. That literary lack drives her multi-genre odyssey: “I began Amberleigh, my first published novel, in college because I was fed up with the wimpy heroines of then-popular Gothics,” she says. “Since then, I’ve merrily reformed the fiction genres, reinventing women as realistic protagonists. Of course, creating true women means creating true men as partners and co-protagonists. I like writing popular and genre fiction because it’s so influential; it subconsciously forms attitudes that shape society.”

Many Douglas novels have received awards and appeared on various bestseller lists; her mystery short fiction appears in numerous anthologies, including eight of The Year’s 25 Best Crime and Mystery Stories.

Carole Nelson was born in Everett, Washington. Her elementary school teacher mother moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, to be near sisters when Carole’s father died before she was three. She received a bachelor of arts degrees in Speech and Theater and English Literature from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul in 1966. The next year, she married Sam Douglas, an artist who worked as the Minnesota Museum of Art as exhibitions director. She was a reporter and feature writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch from 1967 to 1983, then became a page designer and editorial writer for the opinion pages, 1983 to 1984.

First Book Sale


She sold a paperback original novel, Amberleigh (published 1980), to Jove and an adventurous and original high fantasy, Six of Swords (1982) and its sequels,  which were huge “surprise” bestsellers and  on top bestseller lists, to Del Rey Books. Carole became a fulltime fiction writer in 1984.

Interviewer Ed Gorman reported that she started writing she described as “the world’s first, and last” post-feminist Gothic novel, Amerleigh, while still in college, to counter the weak women characters she had found in Gothic fiction. When she finished the novel years later and took it to market, the Gothic genre had died, but an editor found it “especially well written” and published it anyway. “Since then,” Carole says. I’ve merrily reformed the fiction genres, reinventing women as realistic protagonists. Of course, creating true women means creating true men as partners and co-protagonists.My readers particularly enjoy my men characters, asking for more from their point of view.”

One man who spectacularly invested in Carole’s point of view was the late Golden Age Hollywood and Broadway film writer and director, Garson Kanin, who with his wife, actress Ruth Gordon, wrote film scripts for Kathatine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey that were known for their feminism in the 1950s  before women’s rights were fashionable.

He was so enthusiastic about her article on an interview with him in 1972 he’d phoned the newspaper department where she worked (unheard of), but she was out. He followed up with a treasured note, which included: “My friend, Phil Silvers, says he’s never won an interview yet,  but he’d never had the luck of you.”

A Big Break

 “My Irene Adler is as intelligent, self-sufficient and serious about her professional and personal integrity as Sherlock Holmes, and far too independent to be anyone’s mistress but her own,” Carole was quoted said in Contemporary Authors. “My Irene Alder also moonlights as an inquiry agent while building her performing career, so she is a professional rival of Holmes’s rather than a romantic interest.”

In a review of Spider Dance (2004), which Douglas has said is the last in the series, Publishers Weekly noted, “Witty, fast-paced and meticulously researched, this sepia-tinted Victorian confection also reflects a contemporary sensibility as it ponders religious fanaticism and the challenges of a female celebrity living by her own rules.”

The Animal Kingdom

Douglas had incorporated animals since her first novel (there was an Irish wolfhound in Amberleigh, a King Charles spaniel in the next historical, Fair Wind, Fiery Star (1981). So little surprise she began to write about Midnight Louie, the twenty-pound black tomcat with the wit of Damon Runyon. The cat was based on a true-life cat who made his home at a motel, and truly munched on the fish in the reflective pond. The owners had no use for the cat, but a sympathetic woman retrieved and cared for the feline — and Douglas interviewed the woman and cat for a story for the St. Paul newspaper she worked for at the time. Douglas later came to own a number of cats, including one she named Midnight Louie Jr.

Midnight Louie first appeared in romantic suspense novels, Crystal Days and Crystal Nights (1990). “I just moved Louie and his carp pond to the abandoned (fictional) Joshua Tree hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, which was remodeled into the (fictional) Crystal Phoenix, the classiest hotel in Vegas, with Midnight Louie in lace as ‘unofficial hosue dick,’” she explained in a Crescent Blues interview.

Louie lives with Nicky Fontana and Van Von Rhine in these stories. Each paperback contained two stories, Douglas’s manuscripts severely truncated by the publisher. Douglas eventually took back the rights and issued them in restored, slightly revised editions from Five Star as the Cat and a Playing Card series.

Midnight Louie made his hardcover debut in Catnap in 1992. This time he had moved on to become companion to Temple Barr, a public relations specialist with a boyfriend, Matt Devine, radio self-help guru, and an ex, a stage magician known as The Mystifying Max Kinsella. A police lieutenant, C.R. Molina, makes frequent appearances for good measure. And this time, the series found its voice and its audience, with annual appearances. The author has said she envisions the series as running 27 books, and thus has woven a few threads through the books that will only reach resolution at the last.

Meanwhile, Midnight Louie’s adventures take some interesting directions. In Cat in a Sapphire Slipper (2008), for instance, takes the action to a Nevada brothel, where a prostitute has been murdered. “Douglas explores the campy, lighter side of ‘chicken ranches’ at the same time she exposes their seamier aspects,” said a Publishers Weekly reviewer.



4 comments:

Kate Grilley said...

Oh, no; another loss. Carole and I shared many good times at Malice... I have one of her Midnight Louie t-shirts... which I wore, dressed as Midnight Louie, for a skit at Malice 2005 with Carole, and Donna Andrews as Ireme Adler. Good times, good memories. RIP Carole.

say what? said...

What a wonderful tribute! Thanks so much for writing this. I remember you from the mystery cruise (and several book conventions). I was the kid traveling with her and trailing around after her like a puppy dog. She was such an amazing woman and an incredible talent—gone way too soon! She had so many more ideas and so much more she wanted to write. She will be terribly, terribly missed.

say what? said...

Thank you for this wonderful tribute! I remember you from the mystery cruise and from several book conventions! (I was the kid who often traveled with her and carted around all her goodies.) She was such an amazing talent and also a wonderful person—gone way too soon. She will be sorely missed.

http://bunnythreads.blogspot.com/ said...

Thanks for all you gave us, you will live on 🐾 in your written words. Sending blessings to all in her path.💕