Today we sit down for a chat with Ella Shane (born Ellen O’Shaugnessy, Hebrew name Meira bat Malka). Ella is the amateur sleuth of author Kathleen Marple Kalb’s debut historical mystery series, The Ella Shane Mysteries.
What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
My life was quite satisfying and happy until my last Juliet died onstage and her cousin the Duke appeared in my Washington Square townhouse looking to find out what happened to her. While I began my life as the poor, and later orphan, child of an Irish father and Jewish mother on the Lower East Side, thanks to the gift of a voice, and good luck in finding a teacher, I’ve become a very successful opera singer, known for my “trouser roles,” heroic male parts now sung by women.
My beloved cousin Tommy Hurley and I run the Ella Shane Opera Company, with productions in New York and on the circuit. We were finishing a stand of I Capuleti e I Montecchi in New Haven when our Juliet drank real poison. Even though she’d been quite a difficult person, I felt terribly bad about it, but it seemed like a straightforward tragedy until her cousin appeared. He started out rather judgmental, but once I set him straight that I’m a respectable lady and an artist (at the point of my sword, as it happens), he asked my help in finding answers. Since he’s clearly grieving, and I really do feel responsible for the girl, I’ve decided to assist him. This would all be much less unsettling if he were like every other Duke I’ve met: old, cranky and smelling of camphor. Not this tall, dark and actually rather charming – if sometimes awkward – fellow.
What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
My kindness and concern for others. My mother raised me with good Jewish ethics: it’s not enough to try to please God and work for Heaven, you have to treat people well here on earth. I try to give back some of my good fortune by helping the needy or suffering any way I can.
What do you like least about yourself?
My Irish temper. I do wish I didn’t occasionally find myself in a shouting match with Tommy and ending up in tears.
What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
I’m a rather intrepid person, but I never expected to end up dueling the person who killed poor Juliet on a catwalk twenty feet above the stage. I suppose it was rather thrilling for her, but I was the one who had to find a way out of it!
Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
Sometimes she thinks I should be nicer to the Duke, but I’m in no hurry to pursue our involvement. He’s definitely an appealing and interesting man, and I’m glad to know his intentions are honorable…but I have no intention of becoming a man’s property.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing people I love, especially Tommy. When I was eight years old, I woke up one winter morning in our tenement room and discovered that my mother had died in the night. My aunt, Tommy’s mother, took me in before I was sent to the orphanage, and Tommy watched over me. Danger doesn’t scare me…but the idea of a life without the people I love does.
What makes you happy?
Singing, whether with a large audience in a prestigious theatre, my friends and musicians, or just my parrot Montezuma. Music is my gift, my blessing, and my greatest joy.
If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I would be very tempted to explain to readers that they might want to really keep their eyes open when my author is talking about social issues or women’s place in the world. She’s usually using it as a way to slip in important clues that you’ll want to remember later. For example, my reporter friend Hetty’s struggle to write about something other than hats actually leads to an important revelation as well as her own advancement.
Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Aline Corbyn, the society matron. Not because she’s mean and insulting to me, although she is, but because women should be better than that. My stage door Lotharios are pigs, which I expect. I’d like to think that as women we would try to help each other…but…
Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
I’d love to be Dr. Silver for an afternoon or two. She’s so smart and she does such good, important work. But I wouldn’t really want to be her forever – I’m sure she sees terrible things in her practice and can’t always save people.
Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
I do hope that “blog” comment wasn’t a reference to my author being an Irish bog-dweller. She actually is Scots-Irish, though she’s from Western Pennsylvania where they call it Scotch-Irish for reasons unknown. She does write a weekly “Throwback Thursday” column at a newspaper with the peculiar name of Goodreads.
At any rate, like me, she started her career early, and cared only for her work for a couple of decades. But then she had the good fortune to marry a longtime friend and have a child at a rather impressively late age, which – just between you, me and the lamp post – I find an encouraging example. She says this bit of garble (her website) will tell you more.
She also says, by the way, that she was in fact born Miss Marple, and chose to add Professor Kalb’s name to her own to honor their son, the Imp.
What's next for you?
The Ella Shane Opera Company is presenting The Princes in the Tower this fall in the City, and there may well be a few misadventures over the course of the run – which will be chronicled in my next outing: A Fatal First Night, due out next spring.
A Fatal Finale
The debut of Ella Shane, an opera singer who’s part Beverly Sills, part Anne of Green Gables, part Errol Flynn – and entirely herself.
New York City, 1899
Ella, an Irish-Jewish Lower East Side orphan made good, is singing Romeo when her Juliet dies onstage after drinking real poison. She thinks it’s a tragic mistake until the girl’s cousin, a genuine British Duke, comes to New York to find out what really happened. Right away, the Duke insults Ella -- so she makes him fence with her. Despite the rocky beginning, Ella, her cousin Tommy, a former boxing champ and “confirmed bachelor,” and the colorful cast of characters get drawn into the case. Soon, Ella and the Duke find they have an undeniable and quite possibly unresolvable attraction. No spoiler (just tease!) it all culminates in a catwalk duel with the killer – with Ella handling swordplay while the Duke waits in the wings.