Interview: Shannon Baker

Welcome Shannon Baker, author of the Kate Fox mysteries!

Dark Signal final5Thank you to the Mysteristas for letting me pull up a chair and have lunch at the cool kids table today.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

There are so many iterations of a perfect day for me. It could be hanging out with my daughters, watching Gilmore Girls reruns. Any day diving along a reef is as close to perfect as it gets. I love a road trip with my husband. Maybe a hike on a mountain with a great friend. Mostly, my every day is pretty fantastic. I get to enjoy the desert sunshine, work on books, and sip a beverage on the deck watching the sunset.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I do not. Unless the phrase is “f*** me” which I uttered into the microphone in front of 350 people at a banquet. I had a cocktail at dinner and they surprised me. My mother would be so proud.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

A really long time ago I read And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. It’s a sweeping saga and I loved it so much. I’d heard it was her only book and she didn’t write it until she was in her eighties. I decided if I ever wanted to get good enough to create something that good, I’d better get started. And I did.

Recently, I’ve been inspired by Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. This great series sort of gave me permission to set stories in the rural west.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

Very rarely. My feeble brain can’t deal with too much at the same time. I am amazed at all these writers creating playlists for their books. One friend said she listens to different music for every book and when she needs to edit her book, she puts that music on and it takes right back the book. That’s awesome. I’m not awesome.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Dark chocolate with bits of toffee. Kate is sheriff and there’s a murder on a BNSF train, which is the dark part. But, as usual, there’s fair amount of humor with her interfering family meddling in her affairs.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

I lived in the Nebraska Sandhills for twenty years. It’s a unique place, and I really wanted to write about it. Dark Signal revolves around the railroad for a couple of reasons. 1) I couldn’t remember reading a book in a rural setting with the railroad. (This was before I read Barbara Nickless’s excellent book, Blood on the Tracks.) And 2) My husband worked on BNSF trains for 42 years before he retired two years ago.

When I asked him how he’d kill someone on the train, he didn’t hesitate. He offered details down to the type of wire to use to rig the murder weapon. It’s a little scary.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Ohhhh, therapy! I notice the mother/daughter theme coming up over and over. Since I was a daughter and I’m now a mother, I like exploring different aspects of that relationship.

I also tend to circle around women making a place for themselves in the world. Most of us aren’t kickass; we’re all trying to make it work. How we dig into ourselves and create our own lives is fascinating to me.

Tell us about your main character.

Kate Fox is nothing like me. She’s smart, confident, competent, is a Sandhills insider (fourth generation, smack in the middle of eight other siblings), and can work cattle, fix fence, break horses, and put up hay.

When Stripped Bare opens, she’s living her perfect life. But, as novels do, she loses it all and has to rebuild. That’s where we pick her up in Dark Signal. She’s got a new job, a new place to live, and is wondering where she’s going next.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

The Kate Fox series has been described as Longmire meets The Good Wife. Longmire, because of the setting and maybe the bit of humor injected in the books. The Good Wife because her husband has put her through hell but she ends up turning the tables on him.

Adding the third made me stop and think. But I’m going with Jan Brady. Because Kate is in the middle of so many brothers and sisters. Though, unlike Jan, Kate would be perfectly happy to be overlooked.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Since I only came to the mystery genre after I’d accidently sold a mystery, I’m playing catch up. I read more mysteries now than I ever did, but I don’t have the base of the classics. So, my dinner party would be contemporary writers.

I think it’s downright dirty to ask this question. There are so many great mystery writers I’d love to share a meal with. And that’s why going to Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime and any of the other mystery conferences is such a grand time.  This question would be so much simpler if you asked me to name the mystery writers I wouldn’t want to dine with. I could only answer two, and I’m telling you who they are.

What’s next for you?

Stripped Bare comes out in trade paper on Sept. 26th and Dark Signal releases in hard cover on October 17th. In between, Forge is releasing a .99 Kate Fox short story (if 26 pages can be called short) on Sept. 19th. It’s a bridge between the two books and they’re calling it a gateway drug to Kate Fox.

I have a short story in the upcoming anthology by Hex Publishers, “Blood Business.” That will be out in November. Hex is a relatively new publisher in the Denver area and they’re making a big splash, so I’m excited about that.

Kate book 3 had been turned in, tentatively titled Bitter Rain. So keep your fingers crossed my editor likes it.

And I’ve just finished a first draft (and it’s particularly shitty) of a book that is very different than anything I’ve ever written. It’s very dark. No humor at all. Set in Tucson. We’ll see how that shapes up, but it’s definitely a challenge for me.

*****

Shannon1884-4x6-webShannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series, set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills. She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2017 Writer of the Year and Stripped Bare earned the author a starred review in Library Journal (as their Pick of the Month) and a nomination for the 2016 Reading The West Award from Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers. She also writes the Nora Abbott Mysteries (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues inspired by her time working at the Grand Canyon Trust. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books).

Connect with Shannon (including her full tour schedule) at: http://shannon-baker.com/where-ill-be/

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Guest Post: Karen Borelli

Please welcome Karen Borelli, author of Do Grave Harm.

do grave harmA villain can be a person or thing. In my latest story, Do Grave Harm, the villain is both.

Do Grave Harm is a story about Jennifer Atkinson, a divorced breast cancer patient, who gets trapped in a radiation lab when the technician is killed outside. She feels driven to find out who would kill the man and why they did it while she was getting treatment. She’s a witness who hasn’t actually seen anything. More she’s a fighter and survivor. During October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, all proceeds from this story will be donated to metastatic breast cancer research charities.

Cancer is the obvious villainy thing. A truer villain I’ve never known.  I know breast cancer intimately. In 2014 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form called Her2+. Like Jennifer, I had a year of chemotherapy and thirty-three radiation treatments. All I could think about was fighting the disease, trying to keep my strength up to get through the treatments. Then trying to keep a good attitude through endless tests and holding my breath for the results, praying the medicines were killing the disease. That’s where the similarities between Jennifer and I stop.

Going through treatment, particularly radiation provided the fodder for the story behind Do Grave Harm. The machine that delivers the radiation is large and though my treatment time was short, you are all alone in a sterile room. Just you and the machine. I sometimes struggle with claustrophobia, usually in underground caves or narrow stairways with no windows.  I’ve never before suffered the anxiety during a medical test but during one radiation session, I realized all it would take was one slight miscalculation, one small missing bolt or screw and I would be toast.

So making cancer a villain was easy. But how does one person fight a disease that has no conscience, no morals, no soul, no physical being? Any animal (human or non) can be stopped by force or law. For some types of cancer there is no current cure. It won’t be controlled by judge or jury. So my villainy thing wasn’t going as easily as I hoped.

So we came to a person. A disease didn’t use a scalpel to kill the first victim in my story. That takes premeditation and dexterity. In short, a hand.

Was it raised in anger? Most certainly. Killing with a blade seems to be much more hostile, evil even, than other ways. What drives someone to that kind of anger?

Was the hand raised for greed? That could work, I thought. Killing because of greed has been a problem for as long as people have wanted more than they have.

What are some other reasons humans kill each other? Pity? Pride? Mercy?

Or was it raised for none of those? Alas my villainy person wasn’t going easy either.

Of course, our intrepid Jennifer, who has much more energy and curiosity than I ever would, gets all the answers, whether she wants them or not. I hope you will take the opportunity to read through the excerpt on my website or follow me on social media.

*****

“Helpless” and “vulnerable” aren’t normally part of freelance writer Jennifer Atkinson’s vocabulary. But there’s nothing normal about her regularly scheduled radiation treatment, especially when she discovers that while she was fighting claustrophobia inside the massive machine aimed at her breast, someone was murdering the technician at the controls.

As the gruesome scene plays over and over in her mind, small details that didn’t seem significant at the time start the wheels turning. Soon she’s asking more questions than she’s answering for the seriously attractive investigating officer, Blue Bald Falls Detective Ben Manteo.

Despite Ben’s warning she should keep her nose out of it, Jennifer can’t resist using her limited energy to pick up seemingly unrelated threads that, inevitably, begin to weave themselves into a narrative. A story of lies, deceit, and betrayal that someone will go to any length to make sure never gets told…

Note: The proceeds from this story during October, breast cancer awareness month, will be donated to metastatic breast cancer research.

*****

A southern girl, Trixie traveled north when she found the love of her life. Together, they enjoyed more than 20 years working as journalists. Now back home in Tennessee she’s writing stories that range from short hot romances with a kiss of humor to southern-flavored mysteries. She lives seven miles from the neighborhood where she grew up with two cats, an aging beagle and a host of characters waiting for her to tell their stories.

Website: http://www.trixiestilletto.com

Facebook: @TrixieStilleto

Twitter: @TrixieStilletto

LINK TO EXCERPT: http://www.trixiestilletto.com/portfolio/do-grave-harm-excerpt/

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2w68EVg

BN: http://bit.ly/2fG5Msl

iBooks: http://apple.co/2vC6EBQ

KOBO: http://bit.ly/2w3Wuxa

 

Interview: Joel Gordonson

Please welcome Joel Gordonson, author of The Atwelle Confession!

The Atwelle Confession_300dpiWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?
 
Sculling at dawn on calm water; quiet reflection and taking stock of life over a simple breakfast; checking the news and finding no violence or terrorism; writing/editing fiction in the morning; lunch with a friend; working with clients and colleagues in the afternoon; a walk on the beach to watch the sun set into the ocean before an evening of a late dinner with special people, reading a book worthy of admiration, or watching an escapist movie; no unanswered emails when I go to bed.
I’m lucky enough in life that I actually do have a fair number of these perfect days—except for the email part.

Do you have a signature phrase/expression?

“All men can be trusted, but not with the same things.”  John Barth—The Sotweed Factor
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
 
Dumas, Twain, Dickens, LeCarre, Heller –  all authors of fiction classics comprised of original, captivating, multi-faceted plots with a fitting message for our times as well as theirs.  I also greatly admire Beryl Markham’s West with the Night—extraordinary life experiences of a remarkable woman beautifully recounted in her first try at a book.
I am compelled to name Abraham Lincoln as well, though he may not be remembered foremost as an author. His collected letters and speeches contain some of the most elegant and inspiring phrases ever written about some of the most emotional and difficult burdens ever borne, along with courageous and instructive self-deprecating humor.  There’s an insightful analysis of his writing skills in Fred Kaplan’s Lincoln, The Biography of a Writer.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

I do, without fail.  I was raised on the greatest hits of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.  My mother was a piano teacher who served me a new classical piece with breakfast every morning.  Music, as a background to writing, allows me quick mental breaks from concentration and also inspiration from hearing how composers and performers follow, bend or break conventional forms.

What made you interested in writing The Atwelle Confession

The genesis of the book came from a dinner with a good friend, a medieval historian, who told me about her discovery of mysterious, rare gargoyles in a remote church in Norfolk, England.  After two hours of staring at the bedroom ceiling later that evening, I got up and wrote down the rough outline of the plot.  It was the kind of plot I like to read—lots of characters and scenes that seem unrelated at first and then come together to a surprising conclusion.  So I kept at it and had fun.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

If I’m going to cook, I want the meal to have more nutrition than cotton candy.  If I am to go through all the effort of writing a manuscript and getting a book published, I want the plot to be not only entertaining, but also reflective of a worthwhile theme.   So when planning my plots, I have as cornerstones an engaging story with a surprise ending and a meaningful message.
My first novel, an historical fiction adventure story based in biblical times, focused on the themes of love, sacrifice and forgiveness, and commitment to friends, family and community.  I chose to attempt an original treatment of these themes because our society continues to be incapable of dealing with the increasing problems of violence, poverty and prejudice, while we as individuals feel increasingly powerless.   Yet the remarkable power of love, sacrifice and forgiveness by individuals can make a significant difference in families and communities where one can actually do something about those problems.
My most recent novel, The Atwelle Confession, is a “whodunit” that comments on the evils of greed and the power of hopeful perseverance.
Tell us about your main character.
 
The book involves two murder mysteries in which the same sequence of bizarre murders occurs in a medieval church about five hundred years apart, first during the church’s construction and again during the church’s restoration.  So there are a good number of main characters leading up to the single solution in the last chapter.
Without a “spoiler alert,” I can’t tell you much about my main characters because most of them are suspects at one time or another.    But I (along with one of my editors) am particularly fond of the 16th Century priest, Father Regis, who is brilliant, well educated, respected by all and yet riddled with self-doubt, and his friend and confidante Peter, the village idiot who is completely self-confident and happily accepting of his life without home or means.  Their friendship is improbable, but wonderfully loving and supportive of each other.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Sorry. No can do without a spoiler alert. Who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist?  There’s the rub of the plot.  

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Raymond Chandler, who, like Philip Marlowe, would become more interesting the more he drank.  Every time he said the word “like” during dinner, (“He was like…”; “She was like…”; “It was like…”) I’d be on the edge of my seat.   I look for that word in his novels; what follows usually blows me away.

J. K. Rowling, aka Robert Galbraith, to hear her unique story of rags to riches and all the accompanying emotions and issues.  She’s also very bright and attractive, which never hurts a dinner party.
Anthony Horowitz, because we both list Harry Flashman as our favorite rogue character in literature, he is an engaging conversationalist, and I’d like to hear his comparison of approaching novels versus screenplays.
Agatha Christie, of course.  But perhaps because she knows it all, has done it all, and consequently would want to talk about anything but mystery writing.
                                                                                        
Elmore Leonard, who would call out people’s BS and make the conversation interestingly pointed.  However, I fear he would not accept my invitation since I continually violate some of  his rules of writing.
 
A new author, picked at random, to see what surprise ending might result.
 
What’s next for you?
My next (almost finished) manuscript involves Buddhist themes of present awareness, conscious action, self-actualization and self-forgiveness, all in the unlikely settings of LA gang violence and a remote Indian reservation. 

I also have a pile of plot outlines from spending too much time in airports and airplanes. Because they remain unwritten, they still seem like certain brilliant literary and commercial successes.  And I’m having great fun writing the book and lyrics for a musical with a dear friend who is a supremely talented jazz pianist.   Wine and cheese are often involved in our working sessions, so my lyrics occasionally rhyme.
*****
Author Joel Gordonson publicity photosJoel Gordonson is the author of The Atwelle Confession and That Boy from Nazareth: The Coming of Age of Jesus of Nazareth. Along with being a novelist, he is a successful international attorney. With law degrees in the United States and from the University of Cambridge, he has published scholarly works in legal publications while writing fiction on the side. In addition to writing, he has done extensive public speaking including decades of appellate arguments, seminars, speeches, and media appearances. “Home” is divided between the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. For more information, please visit http://joelgordonson.com/

Interview: J.T. Bishop

First off, we are very relieved that Mysterista Kait Carson came through the recent hurricanes in Florida (relatively) unscathed. What a relief!

Now, please welcome J.T. Bishop, author of Curse Breaker. Take it away!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day would start by waking up on a cool day and going for a run (preferably in a wooded area). Then I’d sit somewhere pretty outside and enjoy the scenery. Then I’d come home, get a cup of coffee, sit down and open my laptop. I’d be right in the middle of a juicy scene in an upcoming book and I’d write until I’d poured out whatever was in me that day. Once that was finished, I’d get something to eat, take a shower, relax a little, check emails, catch up on additional tasks, then go have a nice dinner with friends and have a glass of wine and a good laugh. Doesn’t that sound nice? The only thing that might make it slightly better would be if you put me in Bora Bora or maybe a secluded cabin in the woods. I’d like that, too.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I’m sort of known for wearing wraps and fun jewelry. Definitely fun rings with big stones.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Growing up, I read a lot of Stephen King. I’m sure a lot of writers mention him, but he was a big influence on me. I recently read his book On Writing, and found it to be brilliant. I’d recommend it to any aspiring writer.

I also liked Mary Higgins Clark and enjoyed her mysteries. I remember reading her books and thinking I’d like to do this and wondered if I could. She inspired me to give it a try.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

No. I like it quiet when I write. The only exception would be football. In the fall, I like to flip on the Sunday NFL football games and have them on in the background as I write. For some reason that doesn’t bother me, plus I can keep up with my favorite teams. (Go Cowboys! I’m from Dallas, btw.)

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

This is an interesting question, but if I have to choose, I’d say milk chocolate, because milk chocolate is the most satisfying. It’s creamy, smooth and delicious. White chocolate is just a little too sweet and dark chocolate is great in small doses, but milk chocolate, you can just keep coming back for more.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

Curse Breaker is a product of wanting to try my hand at something new, while also maintaining a connection to my first three novels, the Red-Line books, which are a trilogy. The trilogy was a lot of fun to write and I loved the characters and story line, and part of me didn’t want to leave that world behind. But I also wanted to go in a different direction. I decided to do a murder mystery thriller with new characters, but one that also had ties to my trilogy. From that Curse Breaker was born. I’m very proud of it because I think it accomplishes exactly what I set out to do. Keep the reader guessing.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

My stories deal with the unknown and unexpected. In the Red-Line trilogy, my characters exhibit unusual abilities because they are of extraterrestrial origin, but they live on earth, which makes their situation unique. How do they maintain a secretive existence without revealing themselves? Especially when their survival is threatened. The unknown and unexpected theme combined with unusual abilities is revisited in Curse Breaker to a smaller degree. I find the subject fascinating and rich with possibilities to write about.

Tell us about your main character.

My main character in Curse Breaker is Grayson Steele. He’s good looking, wealthy and successful, has a best friend and business partner named Cooper, but lives as a recluse and is on the verge of suicide because the women he loves are dying. He believes it is due to a childhood incident in which he was cursed. His best friends from high school are all aware of the curse, and he is close to them, but they have issues between them as well, creating more dishevel. He lives on the beach and drinks a lot in order to drown out the demons and the guilt of losing those he’s loved. Outside of that, he is a fiercely loyal best friend to Cooper, is deeply committed to the people he loves, has lived an extravagant life and is wondering what to do next.

When another woman in his life is murdered, Grayson is barely hanging on when he meets Gillian Fletcher. She believes Grayson isn’t cursed but is being targeted by someone he knows, maybe one of his friends. She chooses to act as Grayson’s lover in order to draw the murderer out, but Grayson soon learns that revealing her secrets could be more dangerous than finding his stalker.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Good question. This one takes some thinking. First off, I’d pick Howard Hughes for obvious reasons. He was a wealthy millionaire who became a recluse. It fits Grayson’s situation well, although for different reasons. The second would be Steve Jobs merely for the brilliant entrepreneur aspect, He rose quickly in the ranks and was the brainchild of a highly successful business, which is much like Grayson. The last, but not least, character would be Jeffrey Dean Morgan who played Jason Crouse in The Good Wife. There’s the obvious sexiness factor, plus the hint of mystery he exudes. Plus his tough bravado mixed with vulnerability that makes him a good match for Grayson.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Another good question, but my mystery-author dinner party would include Stephen King, Mark Twain, J. K. Rowling, Lee Child, Margaret Mitchell, and Diana Gabaldon. That would be a fun party.

What’s next for you?

My latest book, High Child, which is based on a character from Curse Breaker, just came out so I am busy promoting that book. My sixth book, Spark, which also focuses on a character from Curse Breaker is written, so I am busy editing that book and preparing it for publication. My next project is in the development phase. I haven’t started writing it, but it won’t be long before I do. I may bring the Red-Line trilogy and the Curse Breaker spin offs together and see what happens. That would be a fun challenge.

*****

JTBishopBorn and raised in Dallas, TX, J. T. Bishop began writing in 2012. Inspired by a video that theorized the meaning of the end of the Mayan calendar, J. T. began the Red-Line trilogy. The video surmised that the earth was the central hub of activity for extraterrestrials thousands of years ago. J.T. didn’t know whether that was true or not, but it did spawn an idea. What if those extraterrestrials were still here? Two years and a lot of work later, the first three Red-Line books were complete, but she’s not done. The Red-Line saga develops as she continues to write new books.

Website: https://jtbishopauthor.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jtbishopauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jtbishopauthor

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/judybishop99?trk=hp-identity-name

Buy High Child on Amazon

Buy Curse Breaker on Amazon

Guest Post: David Burnsworth

Welcome back David Burnsworth, author of the Blu Carraway mysteries!

There’s No Shortage of Stories

InItForTheMoneyAs a mystery author trying to get a book out a year, I find myself sometimes wondering about my next story. The nice thing about writing a series is that I already know my characters. It’s the coming up with a new mystery to solve that becomes the challenge.

And then I read the news and find that most of my plot problems can be solved from the headlines. In a round about way, I suppose our entertainment reflects our world. A three-hundred-word article on something tragic barely scratches the surface of what happened. An eighty-thousand word book can really dissect a calamity, showing all the players and why the dead body ended up in the river.

Or does our world reflect our entertainment? Shootings, arson, kidnappings, drugs—we’ve been reading about them for centuries and seeing them on TV and in the movies for decades. Maybe someone reads about something and decides that’s not a bad idea. Or wants to be like the cool bad guy.

I’m an ex-smoker. I started smoking in high school when my friends did and we all thought we were cool. Were we influenced by what we saw in advertisements and TV’s and movies?

Maybe for me, it comes down to something I truly believe: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” I’d say I’m not so much a visionary as a repackager. Someone still dies or is kidnapped or whatever. It’s how the story is told that sets it apart from the next one. Each writer has their own style and creativity. I like seeing how someone else puts the pieces together and develops their characters. The ones I enjoy reading about become small parts of my life.

I suppose that’s the gist of the story. We’re all in this world together. How we relate to each other affects the outcome. If it takes me reading a book to understand one perspective on something as tragic as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, then I have more empathy for someone struggling with it. I may never have empathy for someone who kidnaps and tortures someone else, but I may understand the path that led them to that point.

Do you find yourself reflecting on life after reading certain books or seeing certain movies?

*****

713-Pkxji1L._UX250_David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Big City Heat is his third mystery. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife along with their dog call South Carolina home.

Guest Post: Judy Alter

Welcome back Judy Alter with her new release Pigface and the Perfect Dog!

PigfaceFrontCoverThe Agrarian Myth, Small Towns, and the Cozy Mystery

When the first Anglo immigrants fled from Europe to our shores, they farmed, and they set the tone for our nation for over two hundred years. We were an agrarian culture, living close to the land.

Somewhere along the way the agrarian myth took root. It’s the belief that the best life is found in small villages where farming is the backbone of the economy. People who live close to the land are thought to be more honest, more independent, and possessed of a stronger work ethic. Small towns are safe; cities are dangerous places, full of crime and drugs.

Even though we are primarily an urban society today, that myth lives on. I have no statistics to back this up, but do you ever hear people say they want to raise their kids in the city for the wholesome life? Nope. Lots say they want to raise the kids in a small town, for that very wholesomeness. They overlook the educational and cultural opportunities for adults and children in cities. And they overlook the fact that small town teens often have drug problems as severe or more so than their city counterparts. If you did controlled comparative profiles on city kids and village kids, say from age 15 to 25, I suspect city kids would look better.

In other words, cities get a bad rap, and we fool ourselves about the purity of the pastoral life. But what does all this have to do with cozy mysteries?

A small-town setting is usually part of the profile of the traditional cozy. (More cozy series are set in the city recently, but I’m talking tradition here.) The limited environment makes it believable that the protagonist knows everyone in town—or seems to. And it’s all familiar to the reader if you follow the series. Read Leslie Budewitz’s Food Lover Village series—you know Erin, the Merc, the bar where Ned rules, the coffee shop with Michelle, and maybe the realtor’s office where cousin Molly presides. But you don’t really know the whole town—you just think you do. There’s an underside to Jewel Bay where many people struggle to make a living—it’s mentioned, but doesn’t figure in the story.

I think cozies are also set in small towns for contrast or shock value—a murder seems out of place in a village. In the city, murders become just another statistic and are often overlooked. In the small town, everyone focuses on this disruption of the natural order of things. Nothing bad is supposed to happen in this lovely, safe, pastoral village—but when it does it grabs our attention. It’s like evil has come to Mayberry.

I’m not sure that authors make these decisions consciously. Probably few say to themselves, “I’ll set this story in a village because I can control the population, and because the murder will have shock value.” I think, like much of writing fiction, it’s instinctive. At least that happened with the creation of the Oak Grove Mysteries, The Perfect Coed and the current Pigface and the Perfect Dog.

Not only are the books set in a small town, the main characters work on a university campus—another small and controlled environment. But this small town, like so many other fictional ones, turns out not to be as calm and peaceful as you’d expect if, say, you were a parent sending a son or daughter off to school there. In the first book, a coed is found dead in the trunk of a teacher’s car, and now in the new book, the protagonist is confronted by rifle-carrying, belligerent men in a grocery store. Really?

Did I plot all that out before hand? Not on your life. It’s just what happened when I, a dedicated pantser, sat down at the computer with that first line. I still like that opening: Susan Hogan thought she was going to meet her maker that March day. Her first thought was irreverent. “Really, God? In a grocery store in Oak Grove? Have you got this wrong somehow?”

*****

JudyAtWork 002Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement and will induct her into its Hall of Fame in June 2015.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie.

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her blog: http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com;

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Buy link for Pigface and the Perfect Dog

Buy link for The Color of Fear

Interview: Connie Cockrell

Please welcome Connie Cockrell!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

A day spent hiking. I love getting out in the woods or desert where it’s quiet, preferably alone though I don’t do much individual hiking any more. I usually go with the local hiking group.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

Spaghetti night is every Saturday at my house. I make a great red sauce and it’s my go-to comfort food meal. My husband tried to establish Tuesdays as taco night but it never took off.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

I went to heaven when I found Issac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and all of the other great classic SciFi writers. A friend of mine went on a paper drive with her church and at one house, the man gave her a whole box of scifi books. She gave them to me and I went through that box over the summer, reading to my heart’s content.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

Only if my husband turns on the kitchen radio or the Satellite TV to a music station. Otherwise, I think there’s already enough noise in my head.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Mystery at the Book Festival would be semi-sweet. Jean Hays isn’t a girly girl. She’s retired Air Force and divorced. But she does like to have fun, hiking, and of course, solving murders!

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

This book is the third in the Jean Hays series. Jean likes to be involved in her community. Since I run a book festival (www.PaysonBookFestival.org), it just seemed like a good place to dump a body for Jean to find. Nothing so exciting has happened at my real festival though.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

I write mysteries, scifi, fantasy, and even westerns. In nearly all of them I have strong women taking care of themselves and usually in a fight against big government, big conglomerates, or a combination of the two.

Tell us about your main character.

As I mentioned above, Jean Hays is strong and independent. She is a retired Air Force project manager and has the logical mind from that background which helps her find the murderers in the books. Her best friend, Karen, is more of the crafty person: sewing, gardening, scrap-booking, decorating her home, and cooking. She’s always on Jean for leaving the contractor paint on the walls of her house and not cooking meals for herself. They make a good team.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Jean is sort of like Jessica Fletcher, Miss Marple, and Kate Becket. She is never armed but she has the inquisitiveness and the ability to notice what’s happening around her that make a great detective.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Agatha Christie, Elmore Leonard, Issac Asimov, Nevada Barr, Mary Higgins Clark, and Tony Hillerman. I think they would make a delightful evening!

What’s next for you?

I’m preparing for the November National Novel Writing Month, where I’ll be drafting Mystery at the Reunion. I’m going to give my fictional town of Greyson a little break from murder!