Recently, I interviewed mystery writer Paula Munier for the magazine,The Big Thrill. We had a fantastic fun chat by video that lasted well over an hour. We yakked on about her new book, The Hiding Place, her life in New Hampshire/Vermont, the doggie characters she puts in her stories, the writing life, and more. The whole conversation simply didn’t fit into my article so I thought I’d share a few choice bits from our conversation here. We talked about her dogs, why she puts all things French in her novels, and why gardening is important for one’s mental health.
A Dog’s Life
The dogs are one of my favorite aspects of these books. Can you talk about your canine inspirations? Obviously, Elvis and Susie Bear are actually trained search and rescue military dogs. But I know that Susie Bear bears a resemblance to your dog...
Yeah, my dog Bear. Here’s Bear… [Bear comes into view.]
What a good boy, I love Newfoundlands.
We were laughing because he’s about 85 pounds and my husband would like one of those 160-pound Newfoundlands. But we saw someone the other day who had a Newfoundland and he called his dog a “Pocket Newfie” because he’s only 85 pounds. A “Pocket Newfie.” [laughs]
Yeah, you need a giant pocket for that Newfie.
That was so funny. But during the pandemic, so we have three rescue dogs, and in Blind Search, the dog that Henry gets at the end, that dog he names Robin, who’s trained to keep him on track, that dog is based on our great Pyrenees Australian Shepherd mix named Bliss. She never moves, she’s on the couch. She only moves if there’s danger. Otherwise, she’s hanging out.
And during the pandemic, we were lucky enough to rescue a Malinois like Elvis. And although they said she won’t get much bigger, because Malinois are smaller than Shepherds, well, she’s enormous. [laughs] She’s also crazy athletic and super smart.
The biggest difference between my dogs and the dogs in the book are my dogs aren’t that well trained. It’s harder during the pandemic. Blondie may end up, there’s a great trainer in Massachusetts, he trained all kinds of dogs, so Blondie may go to boot camp at Mike’s to get her in shape. She’s pretty good but she’s insanely strong and so athletic. But she’s so much fun. It’s so nice to have a living breathing Elvis in the house. I’ve never had one so…
All Things French
I’m a total Francophile and I really like that you have a lot of references to France and French people in your books. What’s your relationship to France?
Well, my dad was in the military so I spent half my childhood in Europe. We were stationed in Germany and my mother took me to Paris when I was 12 because she loved Paris and we have a good French name, Munier. All my family, most of it, are all from Alsace-Lorraine. I went to high school in New Orleans so that sort of compounded the French thing. And I studied French. Now, my daughter and granddaughters live in Lozon. My granddaughters are native French speakers. So I have every reason to keep up my French. And I love the French. I’m an Anglophile and a Francophile. I watch all the Britbox and Acorn TV. And I watch all the French mysteries on MHz. So for me and my mother, we’re half-French, half-German.
Yes, my husband is the same ancestry. His family name, Hugg, is from Alsace.
Oh, yeah! My mother is French and my dad is German. My mother has a highly evolved French aesthetic. She loves French food, French art. It’s part of our lives and part of our loves. And I love putting in art and French stuff [into the novels].
Gardening During a Pandemic
I’ve been working on a book about plants and mental health. I know from Twitter that you’ve recently gotten into gardening so I wanted to ask, what does gardening do for you in terms of mental health?
Oh, interesting. Yeah, a few years ago, I wrote this little book called Happier Every Day and one of the things to do is grow a garden! Plant a garden because all these studies show that people who garden suffer less depression, are more physically active, and all those things. There’s something about playing in the dirt. It’s like when you’re a kid. It’s fun! You forget! I mean for me gardening is just me being three years old and playing in the dirt. That’s basically what it is with fancier tools. But that’s the appeal of it. I think that’s why more people have taken it up during this pandemic.
I’ve always been a gardener but I grew flowers and shrubs and I didn’t grow vegetables or fruit to eat. So, during this pandemic, like a year ago, I said to my husband, “What if there’s no food?” because we were already having shortages here. I said, “I think we better build” — we have 19 acres here and most of it’s woods — but I said, “You know I think it’s time we put in a potager garden. We’re going to have to have it just in case. We better grow some vegetables.” So he built me this spectacular big, rectangular garden with raised beds and arbors at each end and … just beautiful and I thought, “Oh no, now I have to plant something in there!” [laughs] And I wasn’t convinced I could do it.
But we got some good soil from the guy down the road, amended soil, and my neighbor said, “Oh, the soil’s so good here everything will grow,” and everything grew! I ordered a package of vegetable seeds, some of them I didn’t know what they were, some were vegetables I’d never heard of, but they came from this artisanal seed company in Vermont. It was 50 bucks worth of seeds and we had radishes and okra and tomatoes and chard and lettuce and beans and peas and squash. I mean this goes on and on. It was insane. And we got Blondie not long after we built that, and I would just spend the summer out there, in the garden with the puppy.
It’s like a form of meditation really. I do a lot of yoga and meditation and it’s a form of meditation to be out there in the dirt, digging away in nature, in the sun. I think that’s what a lot of people are missing. We were lucky because you know, we couldn’t travel, we couldn’t go to the movies, couldn’t go to dinner, couldn’t do any of those things, but I could go out in the garden and dig for a while. And that’s what really saved me.
And all we did was cook because we live, as my son says, in “Nowhere, New Hampshire,” so having the garden and all these new vegetables and new recipes, it even made cooking more fun. I would encourage everyone to grow something.