Checked Out For Murder

In Checked Out for Murder—the fourth book in The Haunted Library series—the filming of a new movie in Clover Ridge is suddenly overshadowed by mystery, mayhem…and murder. Protagonist Carrie Singleton not only has her hands full dealing with the death of a new friend but also finding herself involved in her mother’s marital problems. Author Marilyn Levinson (writing as Allison Brook) takes time from her busy schedule to share why cozies are so popular with fans of mystery novels.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: For readers who aren’t familiar with a “cozy,” what are some of the elements which differentiate this subgenre from other mysteries?

A: Cozy mysteries are called that because aside from the murder or murders in each book, they evoke a cozy feeling in the reader. The setting is a picturesque small town where people know one another. The sleuth is usually an amateur detective who gets involved in solving a murder because either he/she is a suspect or someone close is a suspect. The murder or murders occur off scene, and children and animals are never harmed.

Q: What aspects of writing cozies especially appeal to you?

A: I love writing cozies because I enjoy writing a series that enables me to write about my sleuth and her friends and family and activities that take place in the town where she lives. The story lives on and on, and there’s no need to say good-bye to the main characters because they reappear in the next book.

Q: The physical backdrop/setting of a novel is just as important as any of the characters who populate it. Tell us about Clover Ridge and whether it bears any similarity to actual places you’ve lived in or visited.

A: Clover Ridge is a town that I created. That said, I created it based on my visit to Guilford, Connecticut. I was impressed by the centuries’ old buildings that were built around the village green. I loved the idea of the green, and that’s where I set the library where my sleuth, Carrie Singleton, is head of programs and events. I also liked setting the town close to the Long Island Sound, across from Long Island, where I’ve lived most of my life. Also, my family had a summer home in Connecticut when I was growing up and I have always maintained a love for that state.

Q: What’s not to love about amateur sleuths? Not only is your heroine, Carrie, someone who can’t turn her back on murder and mayhem but she is also paired with a paranormal partner who is equally zealous about seeing that criminals get properly “booked.” How and why did Carrie’s librarian friend become a mainstay of the series?

A: Evelyn Havers—the ghost in my series— is a woman in her sixties who used to work in the Clover Ridge Library and appears in the library very often. Of course, the only people who can see and communicate with Evelyn are Carrie and Carrie’s four-year-old cousin. Evelyn isn’t the first ghost I’ve included in a book. There’s a ghost in my mystery Giving Up the Ghost and in my children’s novel, Getting Back to Normal. Evelyn often helps Carrie solve mysteries and crimes, but holds back information when she feels it casts one of her relatives in a bad light. She often asks Carrie to handle or investigate personal requests, which always seem to connect to the unsolved mystery.  

Q: And why is there a cat?

A: I love cats and cozies often include a cat or a dog or a furry creature of some sort. In the case of the Haunted Library series, Carrie discovered Smoky Joe one day when he walked through the woods separating her cottage from the farm where he was born. He jumped into her car and she found herself bringing him into the library where he immediately became the library cat. Smoky Joe is beloved by the library patrons. He helps to solve a mystery in Read and Gone.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I do plot my books. That said, I’m a pantser when it comes to linking scenes and explaining why something happens. Then, of course, something completely unplanned occurs. So I suppose I’m both plotter and pantser.

Q: What are some of the challenges inherent in penning a series versus a standalone?

A: When writing a series, you’re dealing with a cast of characters, many of whom continue to appear from book to book. I often find that something I mention about a character in one book, has an impact on the events in a book further on in the series. Also, my characters change and evolve through the series. Carrie, who comes from a dysfunctional family and has never felt secure in any one place, grows more confident and becomes an active member of her community. Her father, a thief for many years, makes important changes in his life. These are challenges but are very rewarding to me.

Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress and offer feedback or do you make everyone wait until you have typed THE END?

A: My editor is the first person who reads my manuscript. If I have a plotting problem I throw it out to the members of my little group of seasoned mystery authors. We’ve been together about twenty years. Invariably, their comments either provide a solution or inspire me to come up with my own solution to the problem.

Q: Does romance have a place in your cozies or do you feel it detracts from the mystery aspects?

A: I always include a romantic interest in my mysteries. I think it adds a dimension to the story. In the Haunted Library series, Carrie has a love interest. Though her relationship with Dylan Avery continues to deepen with each book, it never detracts from the mystery. In fact, in Book Number Six, which I’m currently outlining, the mystery affects Carrie’s fiancé and she learns more about Dylan’s earlier life.

Q: Two female arrivals to Clover Ridge cause Carrie plausible apprehensions. Who are they and which one generates the higher degree of angst for your protagonist?

A: One is Daphne Marriott, a psychic, whom Carrie befriends. Though Daphne shares some of her past with Carrie, she omits the most important elements, elements Carrie finally unravels at the end of the book.

The other female who comes to Clover Ridge is Carrie’s mother–a visit Carrie dreads and generates the most angst for her because she and her mother don’t get along. Linda, or Brianna as she now calls herself, has come to Clover Ridge because her second husband, who is twelve years her junior, is featured in a movie being filmed in Clover Ridge. Neither Carrie nor her mother is prepared for the turmoil this visit provides.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: My wonderful agent, Dawn Dowdle, found Crooked Lane Books for me. I might add that I’ve written many books before this series.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry headed in the next 5-10 years?

A: Good question. I think books will continue to thrive and e-books will continue to grow in popularity. Audios as well.

Q: When you’re not writing, who/what are you reading?

A: I read and listen to mysteries, of course. Loved The Guest List and The Silent Patient as well as several cozies. I also read and listen to mainstream novels. I recently enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. 

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I often procrastinate before I sit down to write each day.

Q: Best advice to fellow wordsmiths who want to enter the world of cozies?

A: Read several cozies by a wide range of authors to get a feel for the genre.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m doing edits for Dead On The Shelf, which will be out in the fall of 2021. I’m also outlining the sixth book in the Haunted Library series.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: You should read and write what you like, not what other people tell you to read and write.

Murder in Old Bombay

A despairing plea from a widower leads a recuperating officer in British India into dangerous adventures to reach the ultimate prize—a sense of belonging.

Our featured author, Nev March, takes us a world away to the culturally rich tapestry and darkly mysterious backdrop of 19th century India. Nev’s passion for historical research and a diverse cast of characters is well evidenced in her debut novel, Murder in Bombay.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What was the inspiration behind Murder in Old Bombay?

A: As a child I’d heard of ‘the Rajabai Tower Mystery’—the tale of two Parsi girls who fell from Bombay University clock tower in broad daylight. Though these were ruled suicides, 90 years later I heard this as a cautionary tale to warn girls that danger is ever present.

Researching these events, I learned that the husband of one of the victims was Ardeshir Godrej, who went on to become a famous entrepreneur and inventor. At the time of his wife and sister’s deaths, he was a 22-year-old law student. He never remarried, so I thought he must have been deeply in love with his young bride.

How does a young man recover from such a blow? An intense and private man, this must have been traumatic. From his remarkable achievements in later life, I wondered whether he’d hired a detective to solve the mystery of his wife’s death. The trial and acquittals of those accused were splattered over newspapers for months, so Ardeshir would not want more publicity… that was the start of my imaginings. What sort of man would he hire as private detective? At the time, British army officers often retired to take up private employment. So, I invented a young soldier recovering from injuries, disenchanted with the army and longing for a family of his own.

Q: Tell us how you handle the balance required in integrating a real-life event into the tapestry of a fictional murder mystery (i.e., taking liberty with the facts to accommodate the progression of the plot).

A: Many events in my book are based on fact—the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny which left resentment simmering within many Indians, the patchwork of self-ruled Princely States within British controlled India, the tragic deaths of the two girls.

I took some liberties with history in the plot: Karachi and Lahore were not attacked in 1891-92 as I’ve described but my plot is based on 1891 skirmishes in the Hunza and Nagar Princely states and the 1897 tragedy at Saragarhi. Published notices of Victoria Cross awardees describe many skirmishes between Afghan and British troops, before and after the second Afghan war of 1882. Until 1896 when the Durand line was drawn as the border between India and Afghanistan, the north-west Frontier Province of India was dangerous wilderness. Therefore, while fictional, history informed my plot.

The Parsi tradition of marrying within the community is very real, although in recent decades there are many more marriages of Parsi youth to non-Parsi spouses. In India, Parsi women who marry out still suffer disadvantages—their children aren’t considered Parsi. (In other parts of the world they are accepted.) Many of my aunts and uncles did not marry at all, because of this taboo. When women married out of the community—like tragic beauty Ruttie Petit who married Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan—they often became estranged from their families. So that part is based on fact.

Q: What historical characters make appearances in your chapters?

A: Only one historical character is named: Lord Harris, Governor General of Bombay makes a brief appearance at the end of the story.

The editor Tehmtan (Tom) Byram is based on Behramji Malabari, a Parsi reformer who advocated later marriages, was against infant marriage and lobbied to allow widows to remarry. Editor Jehangir B Murzban of the Jam-e-Jamshed Newspaper was another such reformer. These thought leaders wrote that the high number of maternal deaths was caused by early marriages and asked couples to avoid having children until the wife was over 20. In the era before birth-control, that meant allowing the bride to remain in her parent’s home until a suitable age, or keeping celibate–not an easy task for a young married couple! In my book I cite this to explain why both married girls were virgins when they died.

Q: Is Prince Akbar based on a real person?

A: No, he is not. Akbar is loosely based on a number of Indian princes who squandered their wealth or were cruel to their people.  There’s the tale of Maharaja of Alwar, Jai Singh Prabhakar, who was exiled after numerous excesses. He is said to have purchased six Rolls-Royce cars to clean streets, after he was slighted at the car showroom in London. Other rulers like the Nizam of Hyderabad amassed incredible wealth. Some extorted horrific taxes even during times of famines. However, many rulers like Digvijay Singh Jadeja of Nawanagar and the Gaikwad of Baroda were benevolent, promoting education and uplifting the poor.

Q: How about Ranjpoot—is it a real place?

A: Ranjpoot is based on the princely state of Balasinor near Ahmedabad, which had Muslim rulers and a female regent till 1882. The capital-city is based on Hyderabad, the gorgeous palace of its Nizam. The princely states have unique cultures and history, but were hotbeds of intrigue and political maneuvering. Reading Cornelia Sorabji’s books brought me some incredible true stories which served as my inspiration.

Q: Over the course of writing a book, plot changes and even twists often emerge. Sometimes these are even driven by the very characters whose actions we believe we are controlling as their creator. Was this the case for you?

A: The middle section of my book was really hijacked by Captain Jim. It contains two rather dramatic adventures while Captain Jim chases down a lead in Lahore and gets stuck in the middle of a civil war. While some see these as a detour to showcase the divergent landscapes of India, they are essential to resolving the romantic sub-plot. So while I didn’t quite plan these detours, they turned out to be invaluable in the end.

Q: There’s also an element of romance in your debut novel. Tell us about it.

A: Yes, the subplot is a ‘doomed romance’ between mixed-race Captain Jim and Diana, the daughter of the aristocratic Framji Family. Captain Jim wants a family—reflected in his affection for the Framjis who treat him as a trusted friend, and his adoption of a group of waifs on his journey. The sub-plot also echoes this, as he falls for Diana’s classy charm and spunky courage–but socially, she’s out of reach. She’s English-educated, widely read, and full of surprises, some good, some not so good. Ultimately—oh wait, you have to read the book to find out more!

Q: Murder in Old Bombay depicts 19th century Indian society as misogynistic. Was this actually the case? If so, what appeal will this hold for 21st century female readers who advocate for equality?

A: Traditional societies are often misogynistic—I can cite many examples. In 2014, when Malala Yousoufzai got the Nobel Prize, the Tariq Khattak, editor of the Pakistan Observer, a Karachi newspaper said, “She is a girl — a normal, useless type of a girl. She’s nothing special, nothing in her is special at all except they are selling what the West would buy happily.” 

Sati (the practice of burning a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre) was banned by British law in 1830s, but continued to be practiced in secret. In India, widow remarriage was rare before written into law in an 1856 Act. India has been called the ‘rape capital’ of the world for the outrageous number of crimes against women. Female infanticide has resulted in a lopsided sex ratio: In 2018, India had 943 women to every 1,000 men. Where are the millions of missing girls?

While my affection for India is plain in the descriptions of places and people in my book, a writer’s job is to hold up a truthful mirror, no matter how painful that picture might be, and propel both men and women to advocate for more equality.

Q: What is the overarching theme of this novel, and how do/will you identify themes for future works?

A: In my novels I explore essential truths. To feel a truth is so much more persuasive than hearing it. If one hears an argument, one usually counters with our own experience. However, to feel it brings emotion, so that this story is our own experience, and we are more likely to accept it. These truths are the human experience, the way we navigate the world. Bringing an essential truth to someone elevates their thinking, so that they will behave differently in their own worlds.

In Murder in Old Bombay, I portrayed the plight of women, who, regardless of wealth, are imprisoned by social attitudes. I also touched on the intrinsic unfairness of discrimination.  

In my next book two themes are intertwined. First, an immigrant’s journey from delight through disenchantment. A pair of immigrants must work together to foil a terrible disaster—yet are they willing to pay the final price for a society that sees them as insignificant? Second, my story is set in a period of conflict between haves and have-nots—during the gilded age, an era of social injustice. If entrenched interests resist change, can democracy survive? Is it worth saving?

Q: You left a successful career in business to pursue your passion for writing about history. What lessons from that prior occupation have been instrumental in influencing how you do research, how you craft suspense and how you structure/organize your writing schedule?

A: After two decades in a corporate career, I’ve learned to organize my time and materials—my files, research sources, and promotional assets. What surprised me is the amount of planning: I write from a well-researched, detailed outline. Market research helps me find information, as well as solicit input from critique partners. I needed to find my tribe, building partnerships with early readers, writers and advocates of my writing. My marketing skills were needed to create pitches, query letters, and then to promote my book.

To keep honing my skills, I allocate time between 1) Sprints to focus on writing 2) Teaching/coaching 3) reading craft books/courses. Learning to build suspense with emotion and pacing is something I keep working at. Teaching creative writing helps keep the energy flowing. I enjoy the conversation, the flow of ideas to catch glimpses of opportunity, dramatic scenes, intriguing contradictions!

Q: Aspiring authors often lament that they just can’t find the time to write. Based on your own experience, what’s your response to that?

A: I’ve learned that life and art cannot be separated, they co-mingle, informing each other. When I’m distressed I usually cannot write. But my emotion finds its way into a scene, building great dialog.

Composer Ludwig Van Beethoven was deaf, broke and isolated for his final years, fighting a bitter legal dispute over his nephew. All this he poured into writing the most beautiful music ever created.

When I’m writing the first draft, I write obsessively. Scenes haunt me even during sleep. While editing and revising phases I go through periods of intense doubt, chopping and tweaking until a chapter ‘works’. Then I have a fallow phase where I work on short stories, editing older work, or submit to magazines. However, when family medical issues pull me away, I tend to drop everything and just focus on family. Being a writer means one has to toggle between life and art. Each feeds the other.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s still in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: For Murder in Old Bombay I wrote continuously for four months, barely taking the time to eat. When the draft was complete, I presented a chapter each week to my critique group. For my most recent book, I shared three chapters at a time with my agent each week, so we got the first draft done in three months—this after I had researched and agonized over the outline for 15 months!

It was the first time I allowed someone to see my work while it was still evolving. Jill, my agent was the perfect partner, offering support and propelling me with excellent questions, pointing out gaps so I could flesh out the evolving plot. I usually end up modifying the outline as I work so getting input helped. This new process allowed me to have a more balanced life than when I was writing Murder in Old Bombay, much better for my sanity!

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m claustrophobic—can’t stand tight spaces! I didn’t realize this until I got special permission to go up into Bombay University’s Rajabai Tower where the original events in my book happened in 1891. The tower has been closed to the public ever since. On a sweltering hot day, as I climbed up 200 steps, my elbows touching stone on either side, the ceiling only a foot above my head, the only thing that kept me going was that there was no-one behind me. I could turn around if I panicked. So I didn’t. It was terrifying, but I managed to get all the way up to the gallery door, following the lady guard who I had been assigned.

Then tragedy struck. I asked the female guard to open the door. Blushing, she said, “They didn’t give me the key!” I guess University officials decided to “save me from myself!” So, after that torturous climb, I didn’t see the gallery the two girls fell from, but learned that I am claustrophobic!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on a sequel set in 1893 Chicago, where twenty-seven million Americans will visit the Columbian Exposition that summer. Captain Jim sets off to investigate a murder at the World’s Fair. When he doesn’t return, Diana travels into unknown terrain in search of him. Chicago hosts the first Parliament of World Religions that summer, while at the same time, the World Convention of Anarchists has assembled. What could possibly go wrong? When this pair of young immigrants discovers a possible plot to blow up the World’s Fair, the stakes rise–everything they care about is at risk, even each other.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Writing is such joy! I’d dreamed about having a career as an author for decades—to have it finally happen, to be living it, has been such joy. I’m deeply grateful to all that helped me: My friends who read my work over the years, my husband who said, “we can manage on one salary,” my fabulous critique group, and MWA who launched my career with the Best First Crime novel award, thank you!

I’ve been amazed at the welcome Murder in Old Bombay has received, and getting readers glowing emails and reviews! It tells me that when you speak from the heart, it reaches the recesses within other souls, and finds a home there. I’m so grateful.

Hot Ice, Cold Blood

For Victor Sykes, business is good. His illegal diamond importing business is thriving, and circumstances require that he bring more people to his team. His niece and nephew, Rubi Lee and Zeke, are as dangerous as they are desperate, and they follow orders to make sure everything goes right. But when the shipment of diamonds–sewn into the inner lining of a sweatshirt–is mistakenly confiscated, the entire operation is put at risk. Such is the set-up for author Holly Spofford’s second novel, Hot Ice, Cold Blood, a pulse-pounding thriller that will appeal to anyone who loves a good mystery.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with what sounds like a very intriguing career path. You’re a former middle school teacher and coach of 25 years. Tell us about your decision to leave the world of teaching to enter the world of writing.

A: My decision to leave the world of teaching was difficult and emotional because I loved my colleagues, my students and I loved teaching. For the last ten years of my career, I taught in a small all boys school with the greatest colleagues. We were a happy family.  I was very tight with my students; many of whom I taught for two years in a row because I taught sixth and seventh grade boys. The day I told my sixth graders I was not going to return the following year was April 1st. They knew I loved to joke around, so understandably they all were convinced I was pulling an April Fool’s day prank. It was heartbreaking to tell them I was not kidding, especially when some of them started to cry. That got me. I’ll admit, I cried too!

Q: What do you know now about writing/publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I now know that writing is easy; writing well is difficult. I’ve learned writing requires patience, personal trust and humility. I’ve learned writing is personal, scary, and very rewarding. I’ve learned to walk away when I am struggling because if I try to force the words, the work will be contrived. It’s a profession in which we (authors) expose ourselves to the world for all to see. That is a vulnerable feeling.  With regards to publishing, I self-published and I found the process to be painless. What I did not know about publishing (because I’m new) was how much there was to learn about designing covers, formatting, marketing, etc. I am lucky because I have gotten a “free” education.

Q: You published a murder mystery in 2017, yet your current book is a thriller. Which genre do you prefer to write?

A: Since the age of ten, I’ve wanted to write a book. I was not sure in what genre at that young age. As I grew older, I loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers. This was a tough question since I love both genres. My final answer: Thrillers with murders peppered throughout the book.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I’m a Planster. I have an old school black and white composition book in which I create character sketches, jot down ideas, and write skeletal frames of chapters. I love the feel of pen in hand. However, there are times when I do zero planning because an idea grabs me from out of the blue, and I must run with it. As a result, I end up writing several pages of a chapter in which that ‘IT’ factor is there.

Q: What was the inspiration for Hot Ice, Cold Blood?

A: After Christmas in 2016, my husband and I visited DC. We spent three nights there enjoying all the magnificent museums, memorials, and restaurants. We loved everything, especially the gorgeous War Memorials.  I loved the layout of the city, too. After that trip, I knew I had to write a book with DC as the setting. I felt the city’s vibe in my bones when we walked the streets.

Q: You kept a diary for many years. Do you feel that writing in those diaries was a pre-cursor to your career as a writer of fiction?

A: I do. I found the bag of my diaries in our attic. I laughed out loud at some of my more riveting entries as a twelve-year old: “Dear Diary, today I ate ice cream.” “Dear Diary, I really like G.O. but he likes L. D.” I enjoyed chronicling events in my life. Eventually, I realized how mundane they were, so I intermingled the real events with things I WISH were going on in my life- and BAM! A career in writing fiction was born.

Q: What governed your decision to self-publish your work?

A: As a new author, I figured self-publishing was the safest route to take. I knew my work would be published this way. I enjoy the autonomy of self-publishing, especially since I can set my own deadlines and schedule. With that, I can work at my own pace. Cost helped to govern my decision, too. Going forward, I will continue to explore publishing houses and see what they can offer. I would like to have three books completed before I begin to seriously explore them.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors planning to follow the DIY route?

A: Find a GREAT editor who edits solely in your genre. My editor is awesome.

Do your research on the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. a publishing house

Make sure to educate yourself on the different self-publishing platforms -many are available.

Q: Have you ever found your characters taking the reins and saying, “Oh, I think we should go a different way?” Do you tug them back or listen to them?

A: Yes, I have, and I am a good listener. If they want to go, I let them. Listening to them does not always guarantee they make the final cut though. Several times, specifically at the start, I had been 100 percent convinced that a character was necessary. And as the story unfolded, I realized they were not as relevant as I first thought. Rather than tossing that character away, I “save” them for potential use in another book.

Q: Where do your characters come from—straight from the ether or inspired by people you actually know?

A: The creation of my characters comes from both real people and the ether. I often “mix” a few real people together to create the ultimate character(s). I enjoy observing people and inventing stories about their lives. Creating characters is one of my favorite aspects of writing. I love describing their looks, their backstories and I love watching my characters evolve. I walk in their shoes and hope to have my readers cheer on the good ones and detest the bad ones. In my second book, I created some very dark people which made me wonder about myself!

Q: What do you find to be the most satisfying/rewarding aspects of penning works of fiction?

A: The most rewarding aspect was when the box containing copies of my first book arrived. I was so emotional I asked my husband to open it! When I held A Letter for Hoot in my hand and admired the gorgeous cover, I was overcome. Another highly rewarding aspect is hearing all the positive comments about my books from my readers. They motivate me to continue to write.  

One of the most satisfying aspects is how natural it feels to write. I never doubted I would publish a book. Sure, I struggle at times. However, I am very tenacious, and I know I will break through whatever barriers are thrown my way. In addition, another gratifying element is the improvement I see in my work. For example, I’ve learned to improve the pace of a novel by eliminating the superfluous. While I may LOVE a certain description or paragraph, if it’s not relevant and drags the pace along, it gets axed.   

Q: And the most frustrating/challenging?

A: The most frustrating thing is self-imposed: trying to make it all ‘perfect’. Nothing is perfect. I am working hard to avoid deleting and/or rewriting the same sentence a thousand times. My intellectual side says, “That’s why you write several drafts!” Yet the stubborn side of me doesn’t listen all the time. I drive myself (and my husband) nuts when I delete and delete. It is counterproductive and irritating.

Q: Tell us about an average writing day/week in the life of Holly Spofford.

A: I thrive on a schedule. Call me boring, but I need one. I love to exercise, therefore every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning I swim at least a mile. The pool is a fantastic place to engage in creative thinking. Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I spend writing thoughts/ideas/scenarios in my black and white composition book. In the afternoons, I walk with my stepdaughter and grandsons. I work almost every evening from about 5:00 until dinner which is usually around 8:30–we eat late! My husband and I come up with creative ideas during cocktail hour! After dinner, I often check sales, website traffic and other authors’ websites. I also indulge in some Words with Friends. My husband and I are avid golfers and play when we can-weather permitting. During our rounds we talk a great deal about my books. In essence then, I “work” on the golf course, too.

Q: What is the oldest, oddest or most nostalgic thing in your bedroom closet?

A: I’ll go with the oddest. An 18” long, hand-made machete from Costa Rica.

Q: If we took a peek at the books currently on your nightstand, what would be on it?

A: The Guest List,

Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar,

A Prayer for Owen Meany

The Family Upstairs

Q: You’re an avid golfer. What three authors (pretending they play) would comprise your perfect foursome and why?

A: Louise Penny: She is one of my favorite authors. I admire her writing style, she creates fantastic characters, and she always keeps me guessing. Her work inspires me to hone my writing skills and push myself to develop intricate plot lines, memorable characters and produce great books.

John Irving: I’ve read many of his books and loved them all. His character development is excellent, especially of Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany. His sense of humor comes across vividly in that book. The World According to Garp was one of my and my mom’s favorite books. Hollywood did a magnificent job (in my opinion) of turning that book into a movie. I don’t know how many times my mom and I laughed about Bonkers the dog.  Like Louise Penny, he makes the reader want to turn the page to find out what happens.

David Sedaris: He’s hilarious. My brother lent me Naked about twenty years ago and I still laugh at excerpts. I quickly read several more of his books, and I admire him because writing humor/comedy is extraordinarily difficult. Another reason he would be in my foursome is his wonderful story of achieving such success. I’d like to hear about that firsthand.

Q: As an indie writer, what have you found to be the best way to market your books?

A: My husband and I are my best marketing agents. He ordered face masks designed with my book covers on them! Voila! Instant advertising-and it works. I carry bookmarks and books with me wherever I go. My family and friends have helped spread the word of my books. Social media, creating videos, word of mouth and book signings have been helpful in marketing.  I have joined several writing groups too. A goal of mine for the next year is to start a newsletter about my books.  

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am currently working on the third book in my Daisy and Nick series.  I hope to publish it sometime in 2021.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Readers can go to https://hollyspofford.com​ for more information about me and my books.  I can be found on Independent Authors Network, on Instagram as hssauthor, and on Facebook as Holly Spofford Author. My books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thank you for the support, dear readers. Stay tuned for more and be well.

Killing Time

The Etonville Little Theatre is producing Dracula and somebody planted a stake in a stranger’s heart. Sleuth Dodie O’Dell is on the job!

Just in time for Halloween, a bewitching new mystery by author Suzanne Trauth.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: We’re clearly kindred spirits in our respective expertise with novels, theatrical scripts and screenplays. Of these three storytelling platforms, do you have a favorite?

A: Choosing one would be like choosing a favorite child! You love them all. Because my background is in theatre, playwriting was most familiar but the genre I started writing last. Writing screenplays taught me storytelling structure. But novels have provided the most freedom, the most leeway in storytelling. I would have to say my favorite is whatever genre I am working on at the moment and right now, at least through the pandemic, it’s been novels, so novels are my favorite genre right now.

Q: What was your first foray into publishing and where did it lead in your evolution as a writer?

A: My initial publishing ventures were in the academic arena—a book co-written with a colleague on acting technique titled Sonia Moore and American Acting Training, that focused on character development and the creation of story. I also co-edited a play anthology that included a play I’d co-written. The anthology, Katrina on Stage, focused on plays written about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Though these works were either non-fiction or theatre-based, writing them sowed seeds of discipline, the importance of editing, meeting schedules. And character development was the topic, or formed the basis, of all the works which naturally fed into the creation of character in novels.

Q: How do/did these various genres influence each other?

A: Since I started writing screenplays first, I had an opportunity to learn structure, hone dialogue, and create the specific world of characters quickly. Writing plays was an easy transition with dialogue and character, though I felt screenplays were more like an outline and theatrical plays allowed characters more room to express their emotional and internal lives. Once I settled into writing novels, both genres influenced my storytelling via a tight structure, dramatic dialogue that pushed the narrative forward, and characters that were specific, had clear wants and needs, and relationships.

Q: If you could sit down with any three writers whose work most influenced your own style, who would they be and what would you like to ask them?

A: Elizabeth George: “Though you are an American living in California, your Inspector Lynley Series takes place in England. How do you mine a foreign country and its language, manners, history, geography, and customs to be credible for an international audience?”

Agatha Christie: “When you disappeared in 1926 for eleven days, what really happened to you?” It’s still one of the great mysteries about the queen of mystery.

Louis Penny: “You’ve created a lovely, gentle, intelligent protagonist in Armand Gamache. How do you balance these wonderful character traits with the need to have a flawed protagonist as well?” I love this series and am working my way through all of her books.

Q: Tell us how your Dodie O’Dell mystery series came about.

A: I had written a book a number of years ago that featured Dodie and some of the characters currently in the series. When I approached an editor, a terrific help, he suggested I decide which I was writing: women’s fiction or a mystery? “Where do you see your book on the bookstore shelf?” I immediately said “mystery” and he set to work assisting me in the developmental editing process. I queried Kensington Books at his suggestion and was offered a three book contract.

Q: What is it about female sleuths that make them so appealing to mystery lovers?

A: Good question. I think most mystery readers are women and more and more protagonists are female. In my experience, they are rarely hard-boiled and bring sensitivity, humor, and personable traits to the sleuth. I’m thinking Kinsey Milhone in Sue Grafton’s series, Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s books, even Miss Marple and Nancy Drew which, by the way, I grew up reading!

Q: Is there a particular character in this series with whom you strongly identify?

A: I suppose I’d have to say Dodie…in a way she is my alter ego. I would have enjoyed engaging in amateur sleuthing on a regular basis years ago. However she manages a restaurant, and I include lots of menu items in the books, but I don’t cook so much…at least I didn’t before the pandemic hit. I’m actually cooking more now!

But since I spent decades teaching, producing, and directing theatre, I have a soft spot for Penny, the whistle-blowing stage manager. I was able to channel my funny, crazy, traumatic theatre experiences through her.

Q: Your mysteries include a good amount of time spent in the world of theatre, a focus which reflects both your academic background and the number of years you spent acting, directing, teaching and penning plays. In light of the current pandemic which has shuttered production companies across the country and around the world, what is your prediction for theatre’s comeback…or will it?

A: Yes! I definitely believe theatre will come back. It’s an art form that has an almost three thousand year history…an institution like that cannot simply die. However, I think “coming back” will take time and require flexibility. For example, some regional theatres are producing work outside under tents; some are severely limiting indoor seating and size of productions and casts; new plays are being written and presented in staged readings on Zoom and other platforms. Writers are still creating and actors still performing. I do fear, however, that it will be a while before Broadway reopens. But I am hopeful that even two thousand seat houses will one day be able to fill them. I so look forward to it.

Q: How do you choose which plays and details of production to feature in each book?

A: When I started the series I began with Romeo and Juliet, a play that is well known to most readers, for the first book, Show Time. I continued to choose shows that most people would have some familiarity with: classics, a musical, a new play based on an old chestnut. Once I had the play, I worked the mystery around it: Who is murdered? Who is new to the theatre company? What characters in the company would have a motivation to kill? What would the rehearsal process be like with this particular production? How does the rehearsal and performance mesh with Dodie’s sleuthing and attempts to solve the mystery? I could then incorporate running jokes, like the artistic director’s comical pre-show warm-ups. I have to say, much of the theatre activity is based on my experience, and then enhanced.

Q: Writers often do “casting” in their heads as they develop their characters. Is this the case for you?

A: While I don’t actually cast characters in my mystery series, I do see them and hear them as I am writing and they give me quite the runaround! Sometimes they get ahead of me and I have to catch up…maybe it’s my theatre background but the characters are always “acting out.”

Q: In your own experience, what are the pros and cons of writing a mystery series versus standalone works?

A: Writing a series gives me the opportunity to develop characters and setting over a number of books. I have the time to create arcs for the main characters and watch them change and grow. Readers tell me they love to see the small town of Etonville come alive book after book. However, I have to be careful not to repeat myself with a series: though each book has primarily the same cast and setting, the play, murder, motivations etc. have to change.

I am writing my first standalone novel now and I am finding it exhilarating. I have the freedom to wander in different directions. I can make the book breathe. On the other hand, each standalone novel requires a whole new setting and cast of characters. I think it takes much more preparation and research time. Though I have to admit I am a “plantser,” I combine some plotting with writing by the seat of my pants.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I am a celebrant and perform weddings in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania area.

Q: What’s currently on your reading list?

A: I have several great books that I am in the midst of or looking forward to reading:

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Aftermath by Julia Alvarez

Bury Your Dead by Louis Penny

The Abolitionist’s Daughter by Diane McPhail

Q: Best advice for aspiring writers?

A: The same advice I was given over and over: persist. Don’t get bogged down by perfectionism (especially on that first draft), in-your-head criticism, or distractions. Write every day even if it’s only one sentence! Find a great editor when you are ready to share your book with the world. And, I am doing it for the first time this year, try NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. It is a project to push writers to attempt 50,000 words during the month of November. In other words, draft a new novel. I am cheating a little since I hope to have the novel half-drafted by November.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am in the midst of a standalone mystery that I hope to have drafted by Christmas—with the help of NaNoWriMo. I am also finishing a last draft of a new play.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I really enjoyed sharing my thoughts on writing with you.

Killing the Girl

“There are two tragedies in life,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. “One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.” Unfortunately, the desires so often lusted after when we are too young to know any better can carry perilous and sometimes deadly consequences. Such is the premise of U.K. author Elizabeth Hill’s gripping debut novel, Killing the Girl. A buried body about to be unearthed. Lies that are hidden in the past. Will Hill’s protagonist escape justice or pay for the sins of her friends? Who else deserves to die?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who or what had the greatest influence on your storytelling style.

A: I joined the library when I was young and was an avid reader. Many writers have influenced me from Christie to Lawrence to King. One book stands out that made me want to write and that was, Stolen by Deborah Moggach. My previous career was mainly in credit management and litigation, but writing was my dream. Unfortunately, my spinal problems worsened, and by summer 2018, I decided that it was time to leave the 5.30am alarm clock and see if I could start a new career.

Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your young adult self? Now?

A: Nancy Drew was a favorite, then Christie and many mystery writers, though I read many by Graham Greene in my late teens. Now it’s anything with a mystery, and there are too many talented writers to name them. Jane Harper is one stand out.

Q: You classify Killing The Girl as “domestic noir.” What prompted you to choose such a dark genre for your debut novel?

A: I wanted to write about the reasons women kill, (those that aren’t serial killers), and decided that for my first novel the premise would be a relationship between lovers. My principal character set out on her doomed path to fall in love with the gorgeous Frankie and told me about what pushed her to the point where she killed him.

Q: What was your inspiration for this particular plot?

A: Relationships going wrong, dreams being thwarted, and people using and abusing others. Killing The Girl is about relationships between women and lovers, Killing The Shadowman is about relationships between women and their fathers. My third novel will be about women’s relationships with their mothers—that will be called, ‘Killing The ‘Something’.

Q: Tell us about the story’s setting. Is it a real place or one which exists only inside your head?

A: The place setting is imaginary but vaguely set on a range of hills south of Bristol, UK. There was a possibility of a ring road being built years ago around these hills. That’s where the idea sprang from—what if your house was demolished for a ring road and you had buried someone in your garden…

Q: Oftentimes what we perceive to be a dream life when we are younger can become the stuff of nightmares when seen through the prism of adult perspective. Such was the tortured path you crafted for your main character, Carol. During the development of the story, did you ever feel badly about giving her so many wicked obstacles?

A: No. I wanted to push her to her limit, and I wanted the reader to react against what she was accepting as normal behavior, but also to understand that she was young and naïve. Many women put up with abuse and I hoped that the story would make them think about what they would accept – or not – and recognize cohesive behavior if they were in that kind of relationship.

Q: If Carol could be offered a single do-over, what would it be?

A: To learn to become independent and gain self-confidence.

Q: What are the prevalent themes in Killing The Girl, and why did you choose them?

A: The themes are, ‘go careful what you wish for’, and ‘you can’t make someone love you’ -both chosen to illustrate that you have to accept life’s limitations and make your own way despite the many set-backs you encounter.

Q: What governed the decision to write Carol’s story in first person rather than third?

A: The first drafts were in third person (there were eighteen drafts!) but one day I started writing and Carol ‘took over’ so the novel had to be re-written. I’m glad I changed it as, to me, the first person is more effective and Carol came ‘alive’ on the page.

Q: The plot is split between 1970 and present-day. How is this an effective device for the development of the plot and its characters?

A: The time zone was used to illustrate the difference in women’s lives. In the 1970s, especially in working-class backgrounds, the primary aim for every woman was marriage—also encouraged by their families and society. The Equal Pay Act came into effect in 1970 but we didn’t see a great change in pay straight away. Many women couldn’t afford to leave home without marriage, even if they had a reasonable job. That spurred many women to marry too young and be trapped in a life of domesticity before they had developed a sense of who they were as people.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

A: The title was originally, ‘Wicked’, but one day, as I was re-writing part two, it just announced itself. She had to ‘kill’ the girl she was and grow to accept her part in what had happened.

Q: Why have you chosen to write about women and why they kill?

A: The market is full of men who kill women and I wanted to be different. It’s easier for me to write from a woman’s perspective as that can be based on what I’ve experienced in general, or seen happen to others – not that my friends and I have killed any boyfriends! The premise is much more interesting as this type of killer is not as prolific and therefore more original. 

Q: Would women make good serial killers of random victims, or are they psychologically attuned to only kill those who personally harm them?

A: There are very few women serial killers (that we know about) compared to men so maybe they are good, as they have escaped justice and kept under the radar. To me, women kill for different reasons and often because they are pushed to the limits of endurance, rather than killing being a main option.

Q: Tell us about your writing process (i.e., how many drafts do you write, do you re-write/edit early drafts, do you allow anyone to read your work in progress?).

A: I write many drafts, and many fresh drafts, deleting thousands of words, until I’m happy. Then I send it to beta readers and pay attention to all feedback before implementing all relevant changes. I also use a story editor and a proof-reader/line editor.

Q: What’s the takeaway for your readers after they finish the book?

A: I hope that they are surprised at the ending in a way that makes them reflect on life and that the story stays with them a while after reading the last page. That the novel makes them think about how someone can focus on their own life so much that they miss something surprising right under their nose. That the story illustrates how entwined our lives can be and what friendship means to them.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Accept that your first draft will be terrible but contain everything you want to say. Never correct it or re-write that awful first draft. Open a new document and have the original beside it, then go through each scene and chapter writing the new draft, bearing in mind that you now know what will happen and the path each character takes. This will produce a fresh, generic draft that will save you time in the long run and will be more original.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: To finish Killing The Shadowman.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: My new world of writers and readers is a lovely place and I’m grateful to all my new writer friends for their assistance, the giving of their time, and sharing their experience with me. Although writing is at times stressful, and a solitary pursuit, there is always another writer who has ‘been there, done that’ to listen, or to point in the right direction for help and resources. For that I am truly thankful.

Old Sins Never Die

The good news is that journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon have an opportunity to thwart an international assassination when they overhear someone attempting to hire a rogue MI5 agent for the deed. The bad news is that they have no idea who the intended victim is going to be. In the latest book in Daniella Burnett’s mystery series, Old Sins Never Die, the intrepid pair has more than enough on their plate to keep them one step ahead of certain danger.

It’s enough to put any new marriage to the test.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s talk about your journey as a writer. Who or what would you say had the greatest influence on your passion for storytelling?

A: It began with a love affair with reading. I thank my parents for reading to me and my sister from a very young age. This developed into an appreciation for the written word. All writers are readers at heart. Writing is like breathing. It’s something I must do. I can’t imagine not writing. I would be like an empty shell, lost and forlorn on a stretch of silken sands. I love devising plots, adding twists and turns, and leaving a string of red herrings in my characters’ wake just for a bit of fun.

Q: Were you an avid fan of mysteries when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors whose work especially resonated with you?

A: Since my mother introduced my sister and me to mysteries and thrillers, I’ve been off on a literary adventure. Agatha Christie is my hero. She was truly a master at her craft. Her deliciously wicked and ingenious plots appeal to the reader’s intellect. Christie had an astute insight into human nature and all its foibles. One wouldn’t characterize Daphne Du Maurier as a mystery author, but I admire the brilliant way she created an atmosphere of suspense. As each page was flipped, the reader had the sense that he or she was taking another step toward the danger.

Q: Do you ever play armchair detective in your real life or do you leave all the savvy sleuthing to your fictional characters?

A: Oh, I am definitely an expert armchair detective. I enjoy racing the sleuth to the solution. It’s a matter of paying careful attention to the clues that the author casts before readers. Only on very rare occasions have I been proved wrong, when it comes to unmasking the murderer. I suppose it’s because my mind leans toward the devious.

Q: Do you share any particular attributes with your lead players, Emmeline and Gregory?

A: I think a part of every author is in his or her characters. Perhaps it’s a trait you wish you had. Or a witty riposte you should have flung back at some quite insufferable person. Now, as an author, you have a second chance. Anything is possible. The author and his or her characters set out on a journey together. It’s a conspiracy, if you will. Each brings something distinctive to the story as it unfolds.

Q: What do you feel makes you uniquely qualified to shine in this genre?

A: Everyone comes from different backgrounds. Each one of us is shaped by the myriad people with which we come into contact; the situations in which we find ourselves; and the opportunities we’re given—and let slip through our fingers—in life. It is this confluence of factors combined with our inherent nature and temperament that make us unique. Therefore, only I could have conjured up Emmeline and Gregory. It is the story that I wanted to tell.

Q: Tell us what governed your decision to develop a series rather than a standalone title.

A: I chose to write a series because I wanted to take time to develop my characters—their flaws, admirable qualities, likes and dislikes. Each book provides another nugget of information to peel back the curtain on Emmeline and Gregory, while also leaving something dangling. After all, the human species is full of contradictions that are begging to be explored.

Q: Series fiction is not without its own set of challenges, especially if your readers don’t read the books in the sequential order in which they were intended. Share with us how you addressed keeping each book fresh and yet still building on what your readership already knows.

A: Each book can stand alone. Readers will be fine if they pick up one of the middle books because I include some of the backstory so that they understand the characters and don’t feel lost. Of course, if readers want to see how the relationship between Emmeline and Gregory develops, then they should start with the first book.

In terms of keeping each book fresh, I find it devilishly good fun to dangle a little surprise on the last page to leave readers clamoring to know what happens next. It also sets me on the path of the plot for my new book.

Q: Oftentimes the kiss of death in television series where there is sexual chemistry between the two leads is the decision to marry them off. How do you plan to maintain the heat between Emmeline and Gregory now that they have said, “I do”?

A: Gregory’s shadowy past provides endless possibilities and the fact that he continues to derive an adrenaline rush from stealing jewels. Meanwhile, secrets and lies are a constant threat. And yet, Gregory has gotten under Emmeline’s skin. She can’t deny her love for him. What’s life without a dollop of trouble, now and then.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast?

A: I’ve often been asked this question. Naturally, all my choices are British actors. Rufus Sewell would be perfect as Gregory. He’s charming, witty and handsome, and extremely talented. Emmeline is a bit more difficult, but I believe Lily James would bring her to life with great skill because she has such a wide acting range. Hugh Bonneville would pull off the character of Superintendent Oliver Burnell of Scotland Yard with aplomb. Rupert Penrys-Jones would be terrific as Philip Acheson, who ostensibly works for the British Foreign Office, but is a MI5 agent.

Q: What makes for a good mystery?

A: A tantalizing puzzle that the reader must unravel hooks me every time. It has always been about answering the question, “Why?” I love following the clues that the author has strategically dropped. Once the reader understands a criminal’s motivation, everything falls into place.

Q: What tropes do you loathe the most in mystery novels?

A: I find insanity (although terrifying) a boring motive. Rather than devising a knotty reason for the crime, an author is taking the easy road by suggesting that the murderer could not help himself or herself. On the same token, serial killer novels make me shudder. They focus too heavily on gore and violence.

Q: Who’s your favorite detective and why?

A: Hercule Poirot, bien sûr. I adore Poirot for his razor-sharp mind. Yes, he is fusty and arrogant, but not in a mean-spirited way. He is merely confident in his own abilities and impatient with those who are slow-witted. Poirot has a tremendous respect for the law and therefore cannot allow a criminal to flout it. Meanwhile, he is sensitive and empathetic. He understands that we all have faults, as well as good qualities.

Q: If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite any three writers to join you, who would be on the guest list and what would you most like to ask each one?

A: Agatha Christie, of course. I would hang on her every word, absorbing things like a sponge. I would like to know whether she was involved in any adventures in her personal life that influenced her writing. Anthony Horowitz would be invited too. I saw him in an interview once. He has an incisive mind and a droll personality. I would ask him for advice on subtle ways to add shocking twists to the tale. Finally, Jeffrey Archer would round out the table. I would pepper him with questions about his life. He’s a peer of the realm, a former politician and was sent to jail for perjury and perverting the course of justice. I would be curious to know about the fascinating life he has led.

Q: What’s on your current reading list and where do you most like to spend time enjoying the work of others?

A: I’m looking forward to reading The Rose Code by Kate Quinn; Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig; Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz; Hidden In Plain Sight by Jeffrey Archer; The King’s Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal; Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers by Tessa Arlen; A Devious Death by Alyssa Maxwell, and so many others. My TBR pile never dwindles since there is a perpetual need to nourish the mind and the soul.

As for the nook where I like to escape with a book, I usually like to read curled up in a comfortable armchair or in bed. In the summer, I often lose myself in a good book in the cool shadows of a tree as the dulcet susurration of the balmy breeze dandles the branches above me.

Q: Best advice for aspiring authors?

A: I would tell aspiring authors to write the story that they want to write and not what others tell them or what the current market trends are. To write a great story, you have to breathe it, live with it, and nurture it in your dreams and waking hours.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I am utterly useless when it comes to technology and anything mechanical. Don’t ever ask me a question having to do with a computer. If my laptop starts giving me a problem, my first reaction is to throw it out the window. Another secret I will share (more of a warning) is that I’m impatient and have a short temper.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Viper’s Nest of Lies, Book 7, will be published in fall 2021. I’m currently working on Book 8. There’s no rest for the wicked. Emmeline and Gregory are always dragging me off on another adventure.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If readers would like to learn more about me, my website is http://www.daniellabernett.com. There’s an e-mail address on the site, if anyone would like to drop me a note. Readers also can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 or on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/40690254-daniella-bernett.

A Palette For Love and Murder

A Palette For Murder

Author Saralyn Richard knows how to weave an excellent tale of murder and mystery in her newest page-turning book, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, that’s sure to pull readers in and hold them fast. Fans of her protagonist, Detective Oliver Parrot, will enjoy continuing to follow his adventures, and his life, in this intriguing new series that’s winning readers from all walks of life. A creative writing instructor at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Saralyn loves to pen stories of mystery, mayhem, and love that have garnered terrific reviews. Read on to learn more about this fascinating author and her work.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q Why did you choose to set this series in the world of Brandywine Valley?

A I’ve been fortunate enough to visit relatives in Brandywine Valley frequently. It is one of my happy places. The country landscape is scenic and lush, and the people who live there are among the country’s wealthiest and most powerful. Whether I’m hanging with the equestrian crowd, visiting the amazing Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum, antique shopping at Kennett Square, or hiking through the gorgeous vegetation at Longwood Gardens, I know I’m experiencing some of the best that rural America has to offer.

Some years ago, I attended a birthday celebration at a country mansion there, and after the nine-course meal, I was lounging by the fireplace and chatting with another partygoer. I said, “This would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.” When she recovered from the shock, I added, “but for that to happen, one of us would have to die, and one of us would have to be a killer.”

What struck me about the setting was that it was so serene. It was the last place one would expect a murder to take place.

Now, having set two novels in Brandywine Valley, I have to say that the people who live and work there are so friendly and cooperative. I’ve interviewed policemen, architects, restaurateurs, artists, horse owners, magazine publishers, funeral home directors, museum employees, landscapers, and others. Everyone has been delightful to talk with and very happy to be interviewed—as long as they weren’t going to be the murder victim or the murderer!

Q What distinguishes Detective Oliver Parrott from other literary detectives?

A In MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, the first book in the series, we meet Oliver Parrott as he starts his rookie year as detective. He’s African-American, raised in an underprivileged urban neighborhood, and a former college football hero from Syracuse. He’s chosen a career in criminal justice because he wants to right wrongs, but sometimes the people he meets and the milieu in which he serves rub him the wrong way.

The fact that he’s an outsider, an Everyman detective (as Kirkus magazine calls him in its review of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT), gives him a strong rooting interest with the reader.

Parrott’s fiancée is a Navy SEAL on tour of duty in Afghanistan. His cousin Bo has been killed by policemen in a random accident. Throughout the first book and the second, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, his personal and professional lives come together in various ways, and Parrott becomes more than just a detective. He is a smart, responsible, organized, determined, moral, and caring individual; someone we would all want for a son, a husband, an employee, or a friend.

Q Why did you choose to write with a male protagonist?

A I don’t recall choosing at all. Parrott came to me, fully developed, and he happened to be male. As a former teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant, I’ve spent a lot of time around young people who come from similar backgrounds as Parrott, and I suppose he is an amalgamation of the best of them. I’ve written other mysteries with female sleuths, but it never occurred to me to make Parrott a female.

Q How much research did you do into the art world, and how did you choose which aspects of that world to incorporate into your work?

A Art history was an area of concentration in my college curriculum, so I’ve long been an appreciator of paintings, sculptures, museums, and artists. The Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum is one of my favorite small museums in the world, and I admire the works of the Wyeth family. It was easy to imagine a plot set in the art community of Brandywine, but I did do extensive interviews with artists, dealers, museum personnel, and others. The National Arts Club in New York, which is mentioned several times in the book, is another place I adore.

Q Do you dabble in art yourself? If so, what do you do? If not, have you thought of exploring that area of expression?

A In one of my previous positions, I was the Fine Arts Chairperson of a large high school, so I was able to hobnob with the creative types. I’ve always had a creative passion, and I’ve taken piano, art, dance, and needlework classes. One of these days when I have time I hope to be able to paint, but right now, I’m content to admire the work of others.

Q Why did you choose the art world as your backdrop in this book?

A The proximity of the Brandywine Valley to the museum, and art galleries in the Kennett Square area, made it a perfect choice to center the book on the art world. I enjoy reading art mysteries, and I knew I would enjoy writing one.

Also, artists are fascinating people. In a sense we lead double lives—the interior lives of our imaginations, and the exterior lives of reality. Sometimes there are struggles and obstacles and secrets that live within this dichotomy, and those provide fertile ground for stories.

Q  The art world can seem mysterious and nebulous to many people. What have you learned about it that surprised you and that you’d like to share with us?

A I learned about climate and security-controlled art warehouses, where a person who buys a multi-million-dollar painting for an investment can store his purchase and avoid paying taxes until he takes the painting out to sell it. Sometimes paintings are stored in these warehouses for years, and the privacy of the owners is strictly preserved.

Q What is your favorite part about writing mysteries?

A Because a mystery author presents an intellectual and emotional puzzle for the reader to solve, there is a tight connection between the author and the reader. Every step of the way, the reader is discovering clues and evidence and foreshadowing that the author has carefully laid out for the reader. In no other genre is that author-reader wavelength so well-matched. Any time I talk with a reader, I delight in the conversation. I love hearing what the reading journey was like, whom the reader suspected, whether or not the reader was surprised by the ending.

A mystery is a feeling person’s book; a thinking person’s book. It’s a joy to engage with the reader’s heart and mind.

Q Reviewers have lauded A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER for its in-depth depictions of characters and relationships, as well as its sensitive treatment of difficult topics, both of which are rare in mysteries. Did you intend to veer away from the genre tropes, and, if so, why?

A Traditional mysteries are plot-based, but, over time, genre-blending has changed that landscape, particularly when it comes to using the tools of characterization, such as deep point of view, unheroic characters, villains with redeeming characteristics, unreliable narrators, and amateur sleuths. Many of my favorite mystery writers portray characters with complexity and depth. For example, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is someone I know so well—he could be my friend, my neighbor, my brother. My detective, Oliver Parrott, is the same way. After you’ve read the book, you will know him inside and out. Modern readers want to connect with protagonists. They want to feel the story from inside the protagonist’s shoes. As an author, I want the same thing. I feel it makes for a more authentic, relatable reading experience.

Q How do you come up with the names in your books?

A I approach name selection in the same way as I would if I were naming a new-born baby of mine. The name has to endure throughout the writing of the book, and long afterward, so I want to make sure it has staying power. Many of my characters are named after people in my life whom I want to honor. Many names are ethnic in nature, or attuned to the time period in which the characters were born. Once in a while, I’ll change a character’s name after I’ve started writing the book, but that’s rare. Once I’ve named him, that name starts to fit him perfectly, and I think of him as ___. In Brandywine Valley, the houses have names, too, so I have an added opportunity to play with names. The house in A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, for example, is named Manderley, after the mansion in Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA.

Some of my characters’ names are humorous, some are intentionally ordinary or unusual, and some are nods to famous characters in other authors’ books. Parrott, for instance, is a nod to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Q As a teacher of creative writing, what is your belief about talent vs. craft in the act of producing a work of fiction? How important is research in the writing of a fiction book?

A Talent vs. craft is the age-old question, much like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Over the years I’ve had students with immense talent, but little regard for perfecting craft, and I’ve seen the opposite, as well. The truth is that both talent and craft are required to produce a work of fiction, and there is no ideal measure of how much of one or another is needed. A facility with words is certainly important, as is having a good story to tell. Whether those constitute talent or craft is debatable.

Research, however, is a much more concrete and definable part of the process of writing. I believe research is indispensable in developing a story that is realistic, believable, and authentic. Today’s reader wants to come away from a work of fiction knowing more about the people, places, and things within the novel. Research keeps the story up-to-date and relevant.

Q Who is your ideal reader?

A My ideal reader is anyone who is open to immersing himself in the milieu of the story; willing to engage with the appropriate characters; alert in catching the subtleties of clues, humor, and tension; and allowing himself or herself to be drawn in.

Q What is your greatest satisfaction in being an author?

A Because being an author is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, I have many satisfactions: having a job that delights me every single day, being able to interact meaningfully with other authors and people in the publishing industry, holding my books in my hands, attending book clubs and other meetings where my books are being discussed, winning awards for my writing, and the list goes on and on. But, hands-down, the most important satisfaction for me is having a reader understand and appreciate my book. When someone tells me I’ve touched his or her life, I know I’ve succeeded as an author.

Q What plans do you have for future books?

A I have a standalone mystery, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, coming out in January 2021. I’m writing another standalone, BLOOD SISTERS, which I also hope will come out in 2021. Meanwhile, with all of the political unrest and recent events related to police brutality, Detective Parrott has been whispering in my ear. I’m sure he has another story or two to share with us.

Reviews, media, and tour schedule may be found at http://saralynrichard.com.

Buy links: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/A+Palette+for+Love+and+Murder?_requestid=2258777

https://www.amazon.com/Palette-Love-Murder-Detective-Parrott/dp/1644372045/ref= Social media links: https://www.amazon.com/Saralyn-Richard/e/B0787F6HD4/ref= https://twitter.com/SaralynRichard https://www.facebook.com/saralyn.richard, https://www.twitter.com/SaralynRichard, https://www.linkedin.com/in/saralyn-richard-b06b6355/, https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/, https://www.instagram.com/naughty_nana_sheepdog/ https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/ and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7338961.Saralyn_Richard. https://www.bookbub.com/profile/saralyn-richard

 

 

 

 

The Sign Behind the Crime Series

Ronnie Allen

No matter the season or reason, who among us doesn’t love playing armchair detective? In her The Sign Behind the Crime mystery series, author Ronnie Allen invites us on a ride-along through the mean streets of New York … and the meaner minds of crafty villains seeking to elude capture for their dark deeds.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When I read that you and your husband made a relocation leap twelve years ago from the bustle of New York to the rural quiet of Central Florida, I couldn’t help but hear the Green Acres theme song dance through my head. Is it true that you can take the girl out of the city but not the city out of the girl?

A: Totally, Christina. I miss NYC on so many levels; the diversity, the restaurants, shopping, fast paced energy. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Floridian. And I went back home through my novels which are set in NYC. The last time I was in Manhattan was for ThrillerFest in 2015 as a debut author.

Q: Tell us how your educational and professional background made you such a natural to pen a pulse-pounding crime series with psychological elements.

A: For one, psychology is my formal education. I’m a NYS licensed School Psychologist, and have been a teacher in the NYC Department of Education for thirty-three years, retiring in 2003. Aspects of my careers are in my books. The killer in Gemini is a pretend school psychologist, and one of the detectives, Det. Samantha Wright, in Aries and the rest of the series was an elementary school teacher before she joined the police force. My holistic and alternative therapies training and experiences are also in the books, manifested through character development and the plots. Dr. John Trenton in Gemini is psychic and clairvoyant and has the same skills in the areas in which I’m certified. Det. Samantha Wright is at the beginning of becoming in tune with her abilities and her approach was similar to mine when I first became aware.

Q: Did you envision writing a series when you began or did typing THE END on the first book inspire and dare you to not let go of the gritty crime world you had created for your readers?

A: Actually, I didn’t foresee the series until I was in the middle of writing book two, Aries. I had started writing book two before Gemini was in contract. I didn’t want to write the same characters if I didn’t know the book would be picked up. When I was writing Aries, the astrological components started to reveal themselves, and I got that ‘ah ha’ moment. My tag line was The Mind Behind the Crime because I write psychological thrillers. The Sign Behind the Crime popped into my mind as the astrological signs give the clues to solving the crime. I approached my publisher about it and we ran with it.

Q: Whether it’s a novel, a film or a television program, writing about crime requires a high degree of accuracy, plausibility and realism in order for the fiction to ring true. Tell us about the level of research you employed in order to click on all cylinders.

A: Yes, research is crucial in the crime genre. Nothing is as easy in real life as portrayed on TV. I had several consultants; a detective in NYC, and a Captain of Major Crimes here in our small county, and others for the different subplots. I have folders of printed out research from police procedural courses I’ve taken as well as internet searches. I was at FBI headquarters in NYC in 2015 and received a wealth of information there. Also, getting forensic psychiatry correct was crucial for my characters and the situations in which they found themselves. Police procedure, department names, terminology used all vary from state to state. It was interesting to see the differences between the NYC PD and our Sheriff’s office. The author also needs to know what organizational names and locations have to be fictionalized, such as psychiatric organizations, hospitals, and schools.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your books while they’re still a work in progress or do you make them wait it out? Why does your chosen method work for you?

A: During my writing process, no one reads them. When I get a complete first draft, or second, or third, then I go to my critique partners and beta readers. This works for me because I strongly believe that writing is rewriting and rewriting. Nothing is written in stone in the first or even following drafts. I want people to see my best possible work effort. If someone points out something, I don’t want to say, “Yeah, I know, I have to fix that.” It’s very frustrating for a critique partner to spend their time giving you feedback and then for you to know about it.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I started out being a plotter, a very intense plotter. I had Gemini in my brain, and in notes before I hit the computer. As I was writing, if my character started to take over, which they did, I ran with it. The second book was also heavily plotted. Book three, Scorpio, was a mix, and by the time I was writing Libra, I was like, “Whoa, where are you going so fast?” Libra is the longest book.

Q: The four books in your series have all been given the names of zodiac signs. Why is that?

A: I’m a Gemini, so I decided to start with me. It went through several title changes, and when the Gemini aspects came out, I said, ‘that’s it!” And as a series, I felt it was fitting for the rest of the books.

Q: Do they need to be read in order or could each be read as a standalone?

A: Gemini and Aries can definitely be read as standalones. The third and fourth books have the characters from the first two, and I weave in enough backstory so that the reader will not get lost.

Q: Will there be more books in this crime series? (You do, after all, have eight more zodiac signs to go …)

A: I’m not sure. I wrapped up Libra with the happiest ever after the reader could want, so I’m content with ending the series there.

Q: Are any of your fictional characters fashioned after real-life people you know (including yourself)?

A: Definitely me. My readers will learn a lot about me. I’m a part of all of the major characters. My parents, Esther and Sam, are Dr. John Trenton’s parents in the series. It’s their personality, and names, not their careers. I tell my friends that no one I actually know is in the books.

Q: Which of these fictional personas would you most like to go to lunch with (and why)?

A: To go to lunch? Definitely Drs. John Trenton and Frank Khaos. Frank is the forensic psychiatrist who’s introduced in Aries. For one, I love hunky men. Dr. Trenton is a holistic psychiatrist, and I can lean more about Medical Orgone Therapy that is one of his specialties. I participated in this in the 1970’s in another form, and it pivoted me into wanting to work with chakras as part of my holistic healing practice in NYC. Frank is a BJJ fighter and I’m fascinated with martial arts.

Q: What’s the takeaway for your fans after they’ve read the final chapter(s)?

A: There are several takeaways; dreams can be manifested, your childhood traumas do not have to determine the quality of your adult life, resolving an issue from childhood is not as fearful as you thought before you took the action, traumas can push you to be a better more compassionate human being.

Q: As a fellow wordsmith, I have an extensive collection of reference books, most notably the Howdunit series published by Writer’s Digest. (You can imagine how unsettled it made our dinner guests on the occasion I’d leave one out on the coffee table.) Hypothetically, if you were to embark on a successful life of crime, what would you be most likely to pursue?

A: Yes! I can imagine how it made dinner guests feel. I don’t know! If I hadn’t resolved my childhood trauma around asthma like AriellaRose Larcon in Aries, I probably would have been a serial killer. I can’t imagine me hurting anyone, though.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors before they begin their journey to getting published?

A: Thank you for asking this. I feel too many writers want to cut short this process. My words of advice; make sure you listen to those who have accomplished what you want. For example, in social media groups, be careful on whose advice to take. Don’t fall for any scams. Have critique partners and beta readers go through your manuscript before you submit. I’m a proponent of traditional publishing. Make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be before submission. Read the publishers guidelines on their website before you submit. Follow the directions. That’s a major reason for rejection. If you’re lucky enough to get feedback and it’s consistent between editors, listen. Edit, rewrite. Don’t submit the same manuscript repeatedly with the same errors. The writer has to step back and get their ego out of it. Don’t say, “It’s my manuscript, and I want it this way.” Because I listened, I received my first contract on only my seventh submission.

Q: What do you do to prepare yourself mentally for each new project?

A: When plotting, it comes to me naturally. There isn’t mental preparation. I don’t have to talk myself into it.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m very much like my characters, except for the murders or violent parts. I’ve had a very pampered life, so writing these scenes is really a stretch for me. Some scenes have actually happened. Not telling which ones, though.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m coming from a film and screenwriting background from the late ‘70s through mid ‘90s, and I would like to get my books to a TV episodic series.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thank you so much, Christina. My website is http://www.ronnieallennovel.com, and your readers can find me on Facebook at Ronnie.allen.507. On Twitter and IG, I’m @ronnieanovelist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frances Darwin Investigates

 

Photo by Shelley Corcoran

Brew a cup of tea, invite neighborhood children to a cozy story hour, and immerse yourself in Eileen Moynihan’s latest release, Frances Darwin Investigates. When the intrepid young heroine, Frances, discovers a bit of torn paper on the ground, it instantly ignites her desire to be a detective and reunite a stray dog with its owner. But that’s just the beginning for Frances and her new friends; dog-nappers are on an aggressive prowl in her neighborhood, and it’s up to the amateur sleuth to find out who’s behind it. In a delightful interview from across the pond, Eileen attests that being young at heart has a lot to do with successfully penning stories which will resonate with the next generation of readers.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you along the way.

A: I have been writing from an early age. I loved to make up stories about magic and fairies when I was about 7. Then I moved onto adventure stories around the age of 9. As I grew older I was more into characters and what made them tick. I was definitely inspired by my mother reading books to me, regular visits to the library and encouragement from teachers at school. But as I got bogged down in rearing children and working, my writing got put on the back burner. Then in later years I heard about S.C.B.W.I (Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators) and became a member. They were very helpful in directing me in my writing. I also joined local writers groups where I could network and receive feedback.

Q: When you were the same age as your young target readership, were you a voracious reader?

A: Yes I was always reading. I would read when and wherever I could. I would even read the cereal packets. I was often caught with a torch under the sheets reading a book.

Q: What sorts of books might we have found on your bookshelves and nightstand when you were growing up?

A: Books by Enid Blyton, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, @Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson and A. A. Milne.

Q: What influence did your upbringing in the U.K. have on your storytelling style and your general outlook on life?

A: I suppose I was influenced by writers from the U.K. in my use of language and style of storytelling. I liked the idea of the rural idyll of small quaint villages and countryside. But my father who was Irish also persuaded me to read books by Patricia Lynch such as The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey which sparked an interest in the Irish way of life.

Q: What attracted you to the children’s market as your genre of choice?

A: I used to teach and loved to share my love of books with children. I also wanted to revisit the books I had enjoyed as a child, and discover new ones. It was just a natural step to write for children.

Q: What inspires your creativity as a wordsmith?

A: It could be something I overhear or read – a phrase that may catch my fancy. It could be something I see or feel. Sometimes it is just a random thought that ‘grows legs.’

Q: All of your titles are delightfully imaginative! How did you come up with them?

A: Rory Gumboots just jumped into my head.

The Reckolahesperus came from the phrase I heard as a child – ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperis.’ The Wreck of the Hesperis was a poem about a shipwreck.

Hattie and Jacques Love London came from the name of Hattie Jacques who was a star of the Carry On films.

The Dreamsmith was just pure imagination.

Q: What was the inspiration for Frances Darwin Investigates?

A: I had seen reports of dognapping in the paper and that started me thinking. I enjoyed adventure books written by Enid Blyton as a child so that definitely influenced me, too.

Q: How much of young Frances is actually Eileen?

A: There is definitely a lot of me in Frances, her curiosity, her independence and imagination.

Q: Over the course of the story, Frances makes friends with people young and old. Do you think children can identify with this?

A: I think so because children are surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends. Sometimes age doesn’t matter if there is a connection of hearts and minds.

Q: Why do you think children would enjoy this book?

A: I think children would enjoy this book because it has dogs, adventure, humour, interesting character relationships and it has a happy ending.

Q: Children today have far more distractions (many of them technological) than those of earlier generations. As a former educator, what would your advice be to parents who want their children to be more actively engaged in the joy of reading?

A: Read them books at bedtime from an early age. Encourage them to use libraries. Let them read comics. Let them read stories online or on Kindle and listen to audio-books. Buy them books as presents. Present reading in all its forms.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to don multiple hats and go the route of self-publishing. What governed this choice for you?

A: I sent Rory Gumboots to publishers and agents. I was told it was a sweet story but that they didn’t do books with anthromorphic animals etc.… so then I looked into self-publishing. I first did an eBook with KDP and then decided to get print books with Amazon’s Createspace. I am not getting any younger so I just wanted to get on with it.

Q: What have you learned (both pros and cons) about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you started?

A: The pros of self-publishing is that you are in charge of what you do and you can do it at your own pace and convenience. You learn a lot in the process and it is good to network with others who are self-publishing. The main thing is that you can produce the main product which is … your book.

The cons are that you have to do everything yourself, promotion, social media, uploading file, formatting and having to buy books before you can sell them yourself.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I enjoy dancing and used to do stage-dancing as a child on the Isle of Wight.

Q: What is the oldest item you still have from your childhood and what is its nostalgic value to you?

A: The oldest items I have from childhood are some A.A. Milne books that belonged to my mother when she was young. I remember her reading these to me when I was at home sick from school.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I believe I am mostly a pantser with a bit of plotter thrown in. For Frances Darwin Investigates I had a rough outline in my head but sometimes my characters would lead me down a different way.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: I have no typical writing day. I often work better when I have a deadline for myself. I am a slow writer and give myself little rewards after doing so many sentences. I start with a small number of sentences and keep building up.

Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress or do you make everyone wait until you’re finished?

A: I often read my works-in-progress to other people in my local writers group. I also used to be in an online S.C.B.W.I. group.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a poetry book for children about wild flowers with accompanying photographs from my friend, Margaret O’Driscoll, who is also a poet. The illustrations of accompanying flower fairies are by my sister, Angela Gawn. The cover is done by my friend Dan Flynn who is an artist and fellow writer.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I don’t claim to be a great writer but it is something I enjoy. I am loving the journey and learning new things every day.

 

 

 

 

 

Mildred in Disguise With Diamonds

Toni Kief

When I asked author Toni Kief what genre her work embraces, she whimsically replied, “OA,” for “Old Adult.” Hey, if there are categories for YA and NA, why not? Turns out that when she began researching this answer, there’s such a thing as “Matron Fiction” and “Boomer Fiction.” Who knew? “My target audience,” she says, “is for mature people who like to laugh.”

And laugh they will when her protagonist, Mildred (who was anticipating a comfortable retirement), becomes a widow and discovers that her husband’s secrets change everything. Needing work, she takes the job a local casino offers—undercover security.

A delightfully wicked chat with a writer who has plenty to say. And don’t even get her started on those rumors about Mick Jagger …

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your website divulges that you started writing around the same age as Grandma Moses started painting. What would you say accounts for your being a late-bloomer as an author?

A: I was 60, and after a little research found that—compared to G’ma Moses at 76—I was an early bloomer. I had never really thought about writing until I challenged a friend. He wanted to write more so I told him “…if you write, I’ll write.” Ten years later, we have eight books between us and new business cards.

Q: You also define yourself as an “accidental nomad.” Where have you been, what did you do there and where do you currently call Home?

A: I was born in Pekin, Illinois and moved to Peoria, almost in my cap and gown after graduation. I stayed there until I was about 22, got mad at my boyfriend, and moved to Phoenix for three weeks. (Even bought a car.) Then I flew to Florida to help my mother drive back to Illinois, but she introduced me to who would be my first husband. This is where the buses keep showing up in my short stories. I left him three times by bus and once took his van. Wonder why it didn’t work out. I ended up in Tampa Florida for 17 years and a couple relationships. Finally, I have moved to my mother’s hometown of Marysville, Washington. It is strange to be new in town and yet have generations in the cemetery. My sister told me when I arrived, “If they don’t have a neck, don’t date them they are family.” She has proven to be right. This doesn’t include my trips to Canada, Italy, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, the Bahamas, Ireland and many trips around the USA.

Q: What prompted you to take up a pen (or sit down in front of a keyboard) and pursue a career as an author?

A: When I was challenged to write, James Johnson and I started a cookbook based on women from myth and history. I did a light-hearted biography and then we cooked for them, making up recipes as we went along. We haven’t published it, and I think he may have lost the file; you know how life throws monkey wrenches. I did get it copyrighted but only two copies printed. “Dangerous Dishes and the Food they Inspire” is still a possibility.

Q: What has surprised (or dismayed) you the most about the creative process?

A: Commas! They are nasty little ninjas that move around at night. After that, it is the need for continual marketing.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Pant-seat all the way. I have a Flash Fiction writing group, and we write from prompts. It helped build skills of trying to look at things differently and then let the story tell me. I also learned to find the right words and not a line of adjectives. My first book was watching a woman walking along the side of the road near the railroad tracks. She was cussing and kicking dirt as she stomped down the road. I looked at my granddaughter and said, “That SOB got 49 years, he isn’t getting 50.” And Old Baggage was underway.

Q: Who, where or what was the inspiration for the character of Mildred?

A: I thought of her name while in the shower. The biggest inspiration is always someplace that I can’t write. I have made notes on my arm while driving. She took over from there. Mildred in Disguise with Diamonds was to be a standalone, except Mildred doesn’t quit. I just finished the third one, and I kind of miss her already.

Q: How much of Mildred is actually Toni Kief?

A: I say none, but my friends think that Mildred has Toni skills for falling into awkward situations and then mocking her way out. I was an independent insurance adjuster and did handle some of the claims at different casinos in the Northwestern USA.

Q: Tell us about the casino where Mildred goes to work undercover. Is it an actual place or a composite?

A: I live on the other side of the highway from the Tulalip Casino. The Ivory Winds is different, but I have gone over there for smells, sound, inspiration and the buffet.

Q: Like many authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. Why?

A: Basically because of my age. At 60 (70 now) I decided I didn’t have time to query agents, wait to be rejected and then when I find one, wait a year or so to be published. Additionally, publishing changes every day, and unknowns are stuck doing all of the marketing anyway. So, I might as well take all the bags of money and the indie route satisfies my need to hold the books and not imagine.

Q: What do you like best about wearing all of the self-publishing hats yourself versus turning it over to someone else?

A: The best thing is my books don’t have to follow a genre outline. They can be uniquely different and can blend into other types. There is so much to do, it keeps me out of the taverns.

Q: And what do you like the least about this process?

A: The 20 hours a day on marketing and trying to build a base and foundation letting my new projects waste away.

Q: What do you know now about the publishing industry that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I’m mostly stunned at the thousands of thousands of other writers out there.

Q: If Hollywood came calling and wanted to turn Mildred and her adventures into a movie or TV series, who do you picture in the lead role?

A: I’ve thought about this before, and settled on Sally Field or Helen Mirren.

Q: Speaking of adventures, what’s next on the plate for Mildred … and for you?

A: Mildred Raising the Ante is at the editors now. So, we have counterfeiters and a dash of organized crime.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. Do you belong to any writers groups and/or allow anyone to read your works in progress?

A: I actually lead two groups. Ever since I was a political activist in the 80s, I have the tendency to grab some lumber and put on a show. I’m in the Kickstart Writers which is flash fiction and I mentioned it before. Also, I’m a founding director of the Writers Cooperative of the Pacific Northwest. That group was started by watching so many of our Kickstart writers try to publish and have the same problems over and over. So, now we work together on publishing and marketing.

Q: If you could invite three authors (living or dead) to a dinner party, who would be on your guest list and what would you most like to ask them?

A: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Janet Evanovich. I have a chance for one of the three. The second part of this question stopped me cold. I’m a bit of a jabberer and let conversations build on their own. I guess I would ask Sam and Papa what books they were hoping to write next. As for Janet would be “Do you ever take a break?”

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I have an FBI file.

Q: And the rumors about you and Mick Jagger?

A: I made them up. As a fiction writer, you have to watch my stories closely. Although, in 1964 when the Beatles first arrived in the US, I swore to never go see them because Paul McCartney would love me so much, he would quit music to be with me. I just couldn’t do that to the rest of the world.

Q: Best advice to an aspiring author?

A: Read, read and then some more, and not just one contrived genre.

Q: Best advice anyone ever gave you about honing your craft as a wordsmith?

A: Keep at it and don’t quit. I particularly love the Hemingway quote “The first draft of everything is shit.” Followed with “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.”

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: A couple choices, the first is meet me at Happy Hour on Friday at CCR. Otherwise I have a website at www.tonikief.com and author pages on both Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tonikief8author/ and Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Toni-Kief/e/B01CR8V3RG/ref

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: This has been an unexpected reincarnation. I find it difficult, rewarding and exciting. I am stunned that I have written one book, let alone 300 short stories and 4 novels. No telling what will happen next.