Welcome Carolyn Mulford, author of Show Me the Sinister Snowman (what a title!).
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
The day would begin with a simple breakfast on a terrace with a view of mountains. I grew up in northern Missouri’s rolling hills and returned to them ten years ago, but I taught at 8,000 feet in Ethiopia, edited a magazine a few hours from the Austrian Alps, and hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail while writing a travel book. Mountains delight the eye, refresh the spirit, and convey strength and serenity.
Then, with a cup of rich coffee in hand, I’d read a good newspaper—the paper edition. I crave unbiased, in-depth reporting, and I relish coming across unanticipated headlines. News articles also spark plot ideas, including contemporary rustling in Show Me the Deadly Deer.
Morning is prime writing time. I get a major charge from starting a new book, stumbling through unknown territory toward the right path for the story. The accelerated action at the end speeds up my fingers. In between, I get a big kick out of writing scenes in which humor diverts readers’ attention from important clues.
In the evening, I’ll eat a nice dinner with a friend and go to a play or concert.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
No, but when I give a book talk, I wear clothes that match the cover’s colors. When I attend a three-day conference, I plan outfits with the dominant colors on my book’s cover. For Show Me the Gold, I augmented basic black with a gold long-sleeved blouse, a short-sleeved yellow blouse, and a yellow jacket. Wearing the same color scheme each day helps people remember who you are.
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Many books have made deep impressions over decades of varied reading. My most lasting treasure is Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The teacher in my one-room school read it to us chapter by chapter to quiet us after lunch when I was in first grade. It was funny and scary and totally engrossing. I read it for myself in fifth grade, eighth grade, twelfth grade, college, and at least three times since then. Each time I read a different book because I understand more. Twain’s characters and plots have multiple layers, and his humor softens strong social commentary. I was particularly aware of layers as I wrote Thunder Beneath My Feet, a middle grade/YA novel that takes place during the devastating New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812.
When I began the transition from nonfiction to fiction, I read mysteries for guidance. Among my numerous guides have been Elizabeth Peters (well-drawn characters, appealing humor, excellent pacing), Sara Paretsky (research on serious societal problems enhances rather than burdens the story, compelling minor characters, strong sense of place), and Nevada Barr (outstanding descriptions of nature and action scenes that raise blood pressure).
Do you listen to music when you write?
Only if it’s related to what I’m writing, as when my protagonist plays Mozart on the piano to help her analyze her findings. In the first book, Show Me the Murder, she plays classic country in a bar while undercover. In my new book, Show Me the Sinister Snowman, people trapped by a blizzard entertain themselves by singing Gilbert & Sullivan songs.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate with a touch of marmalade because it’s a Missouri twist on the traditional British locked-room mystery.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Three factors came together. First, in each book I link the plot or a subplot to a societal problem. In Show Me the Sinister Snowman, that’s the danger and practical considerations of escaping from an abusive husband. I’ve been concerned about that since I wrote magazine articles about it more than 30 years ago. Second, I move the characters along in their lives, and it was time for the retiring sheriff to try to realize her dream of running for Congress. Third, I liked the challenge of trapping my ongoing characters in an isolated mansion with several suspects inside and a known killer outside.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Almost all mysteries describe the pursuit of justice, whether it be legal or moral. My characters deal with the friction between investigating by the book and using whatever works. Another theme is the dynamics of relationships under stress, particularly that of three women who grew up together, trod very different roads for thirty years, and have reunited as each faces a personal crisis.
Tell us about your main character.
Phoenix Smith, a wounded former CIA covert operative, returns to her hometown in northern Missouri to recuperate and relax with a lifelong friend, civic leader Annalynn Carr Keyser. Her husband just died violently, and she begs Phoenix to help discover the truth about his death (Show Me the Murder). A caring friend, the tough ex-spy adapts her tradecraft, including illegal procedures, to investigate this and other murders with law-abiding Annalynn, a melodramatic singer, and a K-9 dropout called Achilles.
Phoenix willingly, and skillfully, shoots to kill. She also protects innocents threatened by the bad guys or by the law.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’ll let a Library Journal reviewer answer that for me: “This character-driven series will intrigue fans of female PIs such as Sharon McCone, Kinsey Millhone, or Joanna Brady.”
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Let’s split it between past and present. The ghosts: Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie. I’m not sure how they would get along, so I’d invite three of my favorite contemporary writers with pleasant dispositions: Margaret Maron, William Kent Krueger, and Carolyn Hart.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a series featuring a freelancer trying to escape writing tweets and blogs and build a career as a crime reporter. I also plan to write some short stories/novellas featuring Phoenix Smith and friends, including her dog, Achilles.
Carolyn Mulford set out to be a writer shortly after learning to read in a one-room school in Missouri. She postponed her writing career to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dessie, Ethiopia. That experience fostered a fascination with other cultures that led her to work as a nonfiction writer and editor on four continents. She moved from nonfiction to fiction and from Washington, D.C., to Columbia, Missouri, in 2007, the year her first published novel, The Feedsack Dress, came out. Show Me the Sinister Snowman is her seventh novel and twelfth book. To contact her and read her blogs and the first chapters of her novels, go to http://carolynmulford.com. You also can follow her on Facebook and Goodreads.