Interview: Leah R. Cutter on “Dreams of Saffron and Lace”

Dreams of Saffron and Lace” by Leah R. Cutter

Regina Victoria Edmondson rules as Queen over the nursery she shares with her twin brother Tobias.

Except when she allows him to direct their play as Raj.

However, on the rambling country estate where they live, neither of them control the gardens, where time moves in an unorderly, disquieting fashion.

Secrets hide there.

Deadly secrets.

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Tobias crossed his arms stubbornly over his chest. “I want to play something else.”

“Like what?” Regina asked. As Queen, she could afford to be magnanimous. That was a word she’d only just learned the week before. On the day before the funeral. When the Vicar had been talking about Mum and what a kind, giving person she’d been.

He’d been right. Their mum had been the best. When she’d been around, of course, and not off working on one of her charities or lunching with Someone Important.

“We could pretend we live at Misselthwaite Manor,” Tobias suggested. “Go searching for the secret garden.”

Regina couldn’t hide her shudder. “The gardens have their own secrets,” she whispered, afraid to speak out loud about the strange things she’d seen.

Particularly the back garden. The one far behind the house, at the edge of the estate property.

A fountain that never had any water in it, filled with a green-bronze statue of turtles, sat at the back of that garden. Old fieldstone walls separated it from the other gardens. Sharp white rocks made up the pathways. They gleamed like bones in the dim winter daylight. Nothing grew there, though maybe that was just the season and they’d see green shoots poking above the earth soon.

Time moved there, but not in an orderly fashion. Instead, it flowed against the current, then seemed to turn and overflow the banks, pushing both backwards and forwards.
An icy silence passed between Regina and Tobias.

Tobias liked that garden, giggled at the things he saw.

Regina…didn’t. And knew she never would.

—from “Dreams of Saffron and Lace” by Leah R. Cutter

The Interview

“Dreams of Saffron and Lace” takes place at an estate in England, after World War II. Where did you get the idea to set the story in this time and place?

The inspiration for the garden came from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I had re-read bits of the week before I wrote the story. Something about that haunted, hidden place, with the sick boy, spoke to my writer brain. It all got twisted around, though, and I came up with a very different story as a result.

Regina, the protagonist in “Dreams of Saffron and Lace,” is a complicated character. We want to root for her, even though she’s often cruel to her twin brother. What did you enjoy about creating her, and about writing the story from her point of view?

She was inspired by the main character in “The Secret Garden,” Mary Lennox. Mary was a sour and spoiled child at the start of the book. Eventually, the garden and the estate taught her to be a better person.

In this story, Regina doesn’t have a chance to learn. The potential is there. But fate works against her. So she’s left with trying to figure it all out on her own, without her brother. And failing.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

Magic gives you an edge, to help set the world aright. Fantasy stories tend not to be noir. Things get set to right eventually. And magic helps you do that.

In addition, there’s frequently a sense of wonder with the magic. It isn’t mundane or everyday. There are always things to learn about the magic, how it works, what the limits are.

In addition, in the good stories, the magic always has limits. It’s nice to see balance that way.

Tell us about Mystery, Crime, and Mayhem!

Mystery, Crime, and Mayhem (MCM) is a quarterly mystery magazine that I publish. I have a syndicate of writers who submit stories based on the chosen theme for that quarter. It’s a year and a half old, and going splendidly! You can pick up copies at all reputable, and some not so reputable vendors.

Each new project you work on has to pass “the giggle test.” What does this mean, and why is this important to you.

Like many writers, I have *so many* ideas, so many things that I can write about. As I tend to write quickly, I get to chose projects frequently.

However, I don’t let marketing decisions drive the decision about what I get to write next. I am a full time writer. I need to enjoy what I’m writing. If I didn’t, that would be the quickest way to burnout that you can imagine.

So when I’m about to choose a new project, I think about whether or not writing it would delight me. Will writing this story about a serial killer makes giggle while I’m writing it (or even cackle maniacally?) Or instead, do I need to write this story about how a cute cat saves the world? Whichever project is guaranteed to make me giggle while I’m writing is the one that I choose.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing??

I just finished a writing marathon, where I wrote a novel in a week. I’m actually taking tomorrow off from writing fiction and writing some non-fiction. Then, I have two “short” stories that I need to write. They are both Rabbit mysteries, that is, mysteries written from the point of view of Rabbit, a law clerk in a small town in China. The stories are set during the Tang Dynasty. I have a collection of these stories (The Rabbit Mysteries) already published, and am working on the stories for the second collection.

The second of the two “short” stories that I’m currently writing is for MCM. The theme is “The Contract.” What better to write about than Rabbit’s wedding contract?

These stories make me giggle so hard. Rabbit is a silly, light character with a tremendous amount of voice.

The only problem is that they really aren’t short. A short story tends to be less than 10,000 words. Rabbit stories tend to be between 15-18,000 words. So they’re long stories. And I need to finish both of them before the end of the month. Ack! Good thing I like writing.

About Leah

Leah Cutter writes page-turning fiction in exotic locations, such as a magical New Orleans, the ancient Orient, Hungary, the Oregon coast, rural Kentucky, Seattle, Minneapolis, and many others.

She writes literary, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and horror fiction. Her short fiction has been published in magazines like Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Talebones, anthologies like Fiction River, and on the web. Her long fiction has been published both by New York publishers as well as small presses.

Find Leah

Website ~ Facebook ~ BookBub ~ Amazon ~ Goodreads

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