Interview: Linda Rodriguez

Please welcome Linda Rodriguez, author of the Skeet Bannion series, beginning with Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), which won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Having a leisurely breakfast with my husband to start the day. Then, I’d read poetry for a short time and meditate on what I’d read to put me in the right place for my own writing. I’d write the first draft of a poem or revise one already drafted. (I find poetry the best way to rev up my writing mind.) Then I’d turn to my current novel project and write for several hours. I’d take a break for a late lunch, perhaps a short walk if the weather’s nice, and decide afterward whether to return to writing or take up editing or research or some other necessary task that must be done for this book or an earlier or future project. At the end of a good, long day, my husband and I would go out to a wonderful restaurant for dinner (quite possibly with good friends). Once we arrived back home, I’d read a novel or well-written nonfiction book (usually history) for pure pleasure and not because I must teach it or review it or learn from it—or we’d watch a movie together (and I’d likely knit or spin or weave while we watched). Also sometimes, we like to choose a book and read it aloud to each other over a period of weeks or month. I’d go to bed at a decent hour and fall right to sleep. I’m basically a boring person who could be happy writing and reading (and eating) all the time.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I’m a fiber artist, as well as a writer. I wear a lot of distinctive patchwork or embroidered or embellished or quilted jackets. I have a lot of woven and knitted shawls and scarves, often made of hand-dyed cloth or handspun yarn. I also often carry handmade purses or tote bags with lots of color, pattern, or embellishments.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
First would be Charles Dickens, our Shakespeare of the novel, from whom I’ve learned the origins of storytelling within character, the importance of mystery and energy within any story, and the necessity of productivity. Next, I’d have to acknowledge my dear friend and mentor, Sandra Cisneros, who taught me that I had to take care of myself and feed my own creativity, as well as helping others achieve their dreams. Third would be either Anthony Trollope or Agatha Christie, each of whom taught me the importance of perseverance, habit, and routine, making writing a job that I take seriously without taking myself seriously.

Do you listen to music when you write? 
I love music at other times in my life and was a formally trained vocalist who sang with a jazz and blues band when quite young. Usually, I don’t play music as I write, however, and almost never music with English or Spanish lyrics. Instrumental music or music with vocals in a language I can’t understand can work for me. Often, if I do use music, it’s because I know my writing time will be fractured and the same music throughout will help to put me immediately back into my book’s world. I have, at times, set a playlist for a novel that brings a time or particular background alive for me. My preference is to have none, however.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A handmade dark chocolate truffle infused with orange flavor.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I can’t really answer that without creating spoilers for the plot of my second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust, which will be published May 7, 2013. A news item came together with a concern I had about a societal issue and the need to present Skeet with circumstances that would crack open the protective shell she had built around her heart so that she could grow and develop as a person. My plots usually come out of character. What circumstances or events will challenge my character or stretch her to the absolute limits?

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I don’t think about themes consciously when I write, but looking back at what I’ve written I see various obsessions that I revisit—the empowerment of women (and the tragedy of women who remain weak), the amazing resilience of children even when neglected or abused, the necessity to protect and help the vulnerable, the way the choices we make shape our lives, the need to have the courage to love, and the possibility of redemption and hope.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Skeet Bannion, my protagonist, was shaped in large part by the influence her Cherokee grandmother had on her. Gran is a practitioner of traditional Cherokee beliefs, and Skeet struggles to find a way to balance those with the modern American world in which she must live and succeed, but she draws real strength from Gran’s teachings. In a more negative way, Skeet was shaped by her childhood hero worship of her policeman father and resentment of her Cherokee mother, who divorced him and took Skeet to live in Oklahoma when she was ten. As an adult, she’s come to recognize her father’s alcoholism, misogyny, and anger issues and to understand why her mother left him, but the many years of angry estrangement have left her feeling alternately guilty or resentful toward her mother. This has helped to create a woman who fights shy of emotional commitment, which makes her such a challenge that she is irresistible to some men.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Skeet has the fiercely protective sense of responsibility for “her people” of V.I. Warshawski. She has the lack of interest in fashion or appearance of Kinsey Millhone. She has the common sense and professionalism of Joe Leaphorn, who’s more interested in getting the job done in a professional way and solving the case than in showing off his physical prowess and bravery or “hotdogging.”

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, Patricia Highsmith, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers

What’s next for you?
I’ll be starting the third Skeet Bannion book soon. Trying right now to figure out how I can make life even harder for her and stretch her further, cracking open her shell some more so she will have to grow as a person whether she wants to or not.

I’m also doing the final polish on my third book of poetry, Dark Sister, prior to sending it off to a publisher who’s requested my next book of poetry. And I’m messing around with an idea for a standalone thriller.

***

Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was selected by Las Comadres National Book Club, and was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick. The second book in the Skeet Bannion series, Every Broken Trust, will be published in May 2013. Linda reads and writes everything, even award-winning books of poetry and a cookbook, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LindaRodriguezWrites.  She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.

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Interview: Carolyn Hart

Please welcome Carolyn Hart, author of numerous mysteries (the 50th novel comes out in spring 2013), including her most recent, What the Cat Saw.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Strolling on the beach at Hilton Head.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Phrase – It never hurts to ask. If you don’t ask, no one can say yes.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Edith Hamilton.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate raspberry truffle. Both bitter and sweet.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Cats always watch. They know everything about their surroundings and the people who are near them. And then I thought, what if a cat saw . . .

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
That personal relationships determine everything in life.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality.
Nela Farley is bright, smart, a good reporter now out of a job. At loose ends, she is glad to come to a small town and take her sister’s place at her job so Chloe can have a holiday. Since her fiancé’s death in Afghanistan, Nela has struggled with an eerie sense that she understands the thoughts of cats. She believes her mind is playing tricks on her and the connection to cats is a means of avoiding sad memories. But when she walks into a strange apartment on a cold winter night, she looks into the eyes of a cat and sees more than is safe to know.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Oh my. I don’t see her in that way. To me, she is Nela.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Josephine Tey, Eric Ambler, and Manning Coles.

What’s next for you?
Coming out next spring is Dead, White and Blue, 24th in the Death on Demand series.

***

Carolyn Hart’s new book is What the Cat Saw, a suspense novel about missing jewels, a cat who watches, and Nela Farley, who finds herself twisting and turing to avoid arrest. Carolyn’s 50th novel will be published in May 2013. Dead, White and Blue, Berkley Prime Crime, is 24th in the Death on Demand series. Her series include 23 Death on Demand titles, 3 Bailey Ruth Raeburn titles, and seven Henrie O titles. She is also the author of a half dozen suspense novels. Also new this fall is the e-book edition only of Cry in the Night, a thriller set in Mexico City. In November, Seventh Street Books will reprint Skulduggery, the deadly search for the missing Peking Man bones. Visit her at  www.CarolynHart.com.

Interview and Giveaway: Susan Boyer

Please welcome Susan Boyer, author of Lowcountry Boil, winner of the 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, an RWA Golden Heart® finalist, and a sister Mysterista!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day starts with a simple breakfast of fruit and a bagel, eaten on the pool deck of a small cottage in St. John lowcountryboiloverlooking Cinnamon Bay. After breakfast, we read and occasionally get up to dip in the pool. When we feel like lunch, we hop in the jeep and drive to either Island Blues or The Beach Bar. After lunch we go snorkeling at Waterlemon Key. Then it’s shower and nap time, followed by Sugar grilling something for dinner while we watch the sunset.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
It’s really hard to properly accessorize pajamas, and I wear those to work most days. But when I go out, I usually wear my silver hoop earrings. I tend to wear a lot of blues and greens. If I have a signature phrase, it’s probably, “just one more song,” on Karaoke night.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Vincent Van Gogh—I could stare at his paintings for days. Something in them feeds my creative spirit.
Marilyn Monroe—she was so much smarter than most people give her credit for.
Dr. Seuss—it’s amazing the wisdom he put into children’s books. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Do you listen to music when you write?
Never—it would pull me out of my alternate reality. I listen to a soundtrack of ocean waves, on repeat.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A Godiva open oyster—they’re full of nuts, but the nuts are so much a part of the chocolate you only notice the flavor.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
A combination of things—my love of the South Carolina lowcountry, my love of small towns in general, and a Don Henley song—Last Resort.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
One that comes to mind is that sometimes people are not at all what they appear. Some people are very adept at disguising their true selves.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Liz Talbot gets to do everything I’d like to do but don’t have the nerve. That’s her raison d’être. One thing she recently did that would really be fun is chase down some bad guys on a jet ski.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Melanie Smooter (the Reese Witherspoon character in Sweet Home Alabama) and Kinsey Millhone, with just a little Brenda Leigh Johnson.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Charlaine Harris, Sue Grafton, Dean Koontz, Carl Hiaasen, Joshilyn Jackson, and Lee Child.

What’s next for you?
Liz Talbot’s next adventure. We’re hoping it will be out in the spring.

***

Susan M. Boyer has been making up stories her whole life. She tags along with her husband on business trips whenever she can because hotels are great places to write: fresh coffee all day and cookies at 4 p.m. They have a home in Greenville, SC, which they occasionally visit. Susan’s short fiction has appeared in moonShine Review, Spinetingler Magazine, Relief Journal, The Petigru Review, and Catfish Stew. Her debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense recipient and an RWA Golden Heart® finalist.

Website Amazon B&N Fiction Addiction

BONUS: Giveaway! We’ll have a drawing from those who leave comments for one copy of Lowcountry Boil in either e-Book or trade paperback format–winner’s choice. Please leave your email address along with your comment to enter. (Trade paperbacks will only be shipped to North America.)

Interview: Edith Maxwell/Tace Baker

Please welcome Edith Maxwell, author (as Tace Baker) of Speaking of Murder.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?First, thanks so much for asking me over, Mysteristas! [Thank you, Edith! We’re so glad that you’re here.]  A perfect day? Ahh. Warm breezy weather. A few hours at home alone early in the morning for writing. A brisk walk outdoors either alone or with a friend. Lunch at a favorite bistro, sitting outside, with a glass of white wine. Time to read in the afternoon. Home-cooked dinner featuring local produce with my beau and my adult sons. And then a rousing game of Scrabble.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I’ve been carrying a leather-and-fabric handbag from Niger for about twenty years. It’s my only purse and it carries everything I need! Last time I was in West Africa I had the side repaired but otherwise it seems timeless and many people comment on it. Lauren Rousseau might well carry a bag like it.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Susan Oleksiw, for teaching me so much about writing when I really knew nothing. Kate Flora, for encouraging me to keep writing every time she rejected a short story for a Level Best anthology, saying, “You’re a really good writer.” Sheila Connolly, for announcing her first contract at my first Sisters in Crime New England meeting just a few years ago, and now she has THREE series with the sixth book in her Orchard series recently out.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No!

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A super dark organic chocolate with hints of hot pepper. Because I’m writing about murder it has to be dark. Organic because my new Local Foods Mystery series is set on an organic farm. Pepper because it’s unexpected in chocolate.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to write an academic mystery, even though I’m no longer in that world. And I wanted to feature a piece of video forensics crime-solving software that I was pretty sure had never been used in a mystery novel. So, after I was laid off my day job almost four years ago, I created Professor Rousseau, her boyfriend Zac, a video forensics expert, and off I went! Luckily the story was well underway by the time I was reemployed, so I was able to keep it moving forward. I’m very excited that my graduate linguistics program at Indiana University is holding a department reunion in just a couple of weeks, so I’ll be there with books in hand.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Food is always there. Lauren doesn’t really cook, but her sister and her boyfriend fill in with several delicious feasts featured in the book. I like to make sure my stories have romance in the background, and often that involves conflict about relationships. I’ve also included themes of addiction, immigration issues, local politics, but in the background, so the mystery and the protagonist’s personal struggles are what the story is really about.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Lauren is a runner, a world traveler, a linguist, a Quaker. Her mother, a Buddhist, is a bit of a free spirit who always encouraged Lauren to travel. She lost her Quaker father suddenly at age 19 under unusual circumstances, which has left her in an unsettled state with respect to intimate relationships.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Boy, that’s a hard one. How about Joan Benoit, Anaïs Nin, and Kinsey Millhone?

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Dorothy Sayers. Sue Grafton. Agatha Christie. Katherine Hall Page. Sara Paretsky. And Hank Phillippi Ryan, because she’d get everybody talking to each other!

What’s next for you?
I’m excited to be putting in final edits on A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die, the first book in my Local Foods Mystery series, which will be out in June, 2013 from Kensington. And I’m busy doing the rough plot for Book Two in that series, ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part. Have you ever read a book featuring a Locavore Club?

 ***

Edith Maxwell is the author of Speaking of Murder (Barking Rain Press, September 2012, under the pseudonym Tace Baker), which features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau. Edith holds a PhD in linguistics and has been a member of Amesbury Monthly Meeting of Friends for several decades.  Edith also writes the Local Foods Mysteries. A   Tine to Live, A Tine to Die introduces organic farmer Cam Flaherty and a colorful Locavore Club (Kensington Publishing, June, 2013). Edith once owned and operated the smallest certified organic farm in Essex County, Massachusetts.  A technical writer and fourth-generation Californian, Edith also writes short crime fiction and lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.

@tacebaker
http://www.tacebaker.com
http://www.facebook.com/TaceBaker

@edithmaxwell
http://www.edithmaxwell.com
https://www.facebook.com/EdithMaxwellAuthor

Interview: Gigi Pandian

Please welcome Gigi Pandian, author of Artifact: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery. 

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I love to travel, so a perfect day while traveling would be waking up to coffee and oatmeal in a tiny hotel room in a foreign country, then heading out for the day with the following items in tow: the husband, hiking shoes, my camera, train tickets for the train journey we’ll begin the next day, a rain slicker (since I love to travel off-season), and a notebook to jot down notes for a new mystery novel.

In day-to-day real life, a perfect day begins by meeting up with a writer friend for coffee and good company at a local café, where we can chat for a little while and then get down to work on our writing. After getting a couple hours of writing done, I head to my day job, which I’m fortunate to love.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My gargoyle ring. I never wanted a diamond, so instead I got two intertwined gargoyles, which suits me perfectly.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
My three favorite mystery novelists: Elizabeth Peters, Aaron Elkins, and John Dickson Carr.

Do you listen to music when you write? 
It depends on my mood. Interestingly, Brian Eno albums are great to listen to while writing and also while on airplanes.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate with chili peppers – a cozy treat with an adventurous kick.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I love the romance of history. My parents are both academics, and my dad is from India. I grew up traveling to places like Scotland and India, and thinking being an academic would be an awesome job. When I grew up, I realized I wasn’t cut out for it. I’m more of a creative personality than someone who wants to conduct my own rigorous academic research. I left a PhD program, went to art school instead, and began writing mysteries.

What themes do you regularly visit in your writing?
I find myself writing about characters who are a bridge between two different cultures. The premise of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery series is that in each book, Indian-American historian Jaya Jones solves a present-day crime linked to a historical treasure rooted in a different culture. Each book goes from San Francisco to a foreign destination.

In Artifact, the first book in the series that came out August 28th, Jaya travels from San Francisco to London to the Highlands of Scotland, piecing together the secrets of a lost Indian treasure that are hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. In the second book in the series, Jaya and friends will journey to the south of India to discover the truth about one of Jaya’s adventurous ancestors.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality.  What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today? 
Jaya’s personality was shaped by being raised in Berkeley by her hippie American father after her Indian mother died when Jaya was a child in Goa, India. Jaya has rebelled against Berkeley’s tie-dyed hippie culture, and is a very thinking, rational person as opposed to being a touchy-feely person. Playing her tabla drums is her escape, but she doesn’t think of herself as someone who can lose herself in the music.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Vicky Bliss (the character by Elizabeth Peters), Indiana Jones, and Nancy Drew (Jaya even has a roadster!).

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’d love to talk with my favorite writers from the Golden Age of detective fiction–authors who crafted ingenious locked-room puzzles: John Dickson Carr and Clayton Rawson.

Further back in history, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe, both of whom seem like fascinating personalities in addition to being great storytellers.

And to make sure the party is a good time for everyone, to round things out I’ll go with two mystery novelists who are also good friends: Sophie Littlefield and Juliet Blackwell, who are always entertaining in real life and on the page.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on the next book in the series, and in the meantime a prequel to Artifact will be coming out in December. Fool’s Gold is a novella being published by Henery Press in the Other People’s Baggage collection. In Fool’s Gold, all Jaya wants is a relaxing vacation in Scotland before starting her first year teaching college. But when a world-famous chess set is stolen from a locked room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Jaya and her magician best friend, The Hindi Houdini, must outwit actresses and alchemists to solve the baffling crime.

***

Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program in favor of art school. But adventurous academic characters wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series. Gigi was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant for her debut mystery novel, Artifact, which was released August 28, 2012. To sign up for Gigi’s newsletter or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter, visit http://gigipandian.com/.

Interview: Larissa Reinhart

Please welcome Larissa Reinhart, author of Portrait of a Dead Guy.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
First I’d like to thank the Mysteristas for the opportunity to hang out with them today. I love your weekly chat, which I plan to join more when school starts.

I would love to say a day free to write, which would be awesome, but in truth my perfect day would be waking in a foreign location and exploring that place with my family. We love to travel and it brings me a lot of peace and contentment to just walk around some place we’ve never been. Even when dealing with the travel hassles of pickpockets and monkeys.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My signature phrase has become Writing Mystery and Romance South of the Sweet Tea Line, although I’d never use it in a conversation. South of the Sweet Tea Line was my Twitter location when we moved back to Georgia and it morphed into a theme.

However, if you ask my family, my signature phrase is “Did you.” As in “Did you … feed the dog? finish your homework? remember to change your underwear?” and so on.

My signature scent is probably old coffee and Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered edamame. My signature color is orange, and my signature meal is Johnny’s Pizza, preferable eat-in and not carry-out.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Since I can’t whittle down the writers that have inspired me to three, I’ll name three people with whom I’ve had actual interactions. My high school English teacher, Ms. Scavuzzo, who introduced me to Barbara Michaels’ novels and helped me get a column at a local newspaper. My drawing professor in college who forced his students to sit through excruciating daily critiques, which helped thicken my skin. And when I returned to Georgia from Japan with two manuscripts written and no idea what to do next, Inspirational Romantic Suspense author Debby Giusti encouraged me to get published and pointed me in the direction of groups like Sisters in Crime, Kiss of Death and Georgia Romance Writers. Many people in those organizations have helped me learn the ropes of writing and publishing, too.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Not only do I listen to music, I have separate soundtracks for different books and characters. My Cherry Tucker books are really influenced by country music (although she listens to rock), particularly gritty female singers like Miss Willie Brown, Miranda Lambert, Pistol Annies, and Gretchen Wilson. They write humorous songs about righting wrongs, getting even, and drinking. Which sums up my character.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Cadbury Fruit and Nut Bar because I’ve got a lot of quirky characters who add crunch and sweetness to the bitter dark chocolate of murder.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
At the risk of sounding like a morbid psychotic, my father died while we were living in Japan. I stayed with my mom for three weeks in my hometown of 600 people. I thought a lot about funerals and small town life during those three weeks. In Japan, I wanted to write a story about a character from Georgia because I missed Georgia. I had already heard her speak and knew some of her family and her ex-boyfriend, but after the funeral it all started coming together. And I think the coffin portrait just jumped to mind because I’m a nut case.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I seem to have a fixation with death (doesn’t every writer?) that started in high school when all my heroines died from TB or in some other romantic way. I also must have some suppressed mother issues, because those seem to pop up a lot in my writing, too. (Actually my mother is a lovely person). And I definitely like to write about strong, tenacious heroines from rough or humble backgrounds. Those are my small town, reverse-snobbism roots kicking in.

I love the South, so most of my settings are southern, but because I lived in Japan and miss it, I’ve been thinking about bringing the South to Japan in various ways. All I’d have to do is make the heroine from a small, Southern town; bring her to Japan with her mother issues; add in a dead father; and boom… another Larissa Reinhart special. LOL.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Cherry’s got nerves of steel, a lack of inhibitions, and a lot of creativity. She’s broken into a funeral home to paint a dead body, invited herself to the house of a man she thinks may be a murderer, and pulled her Remington Wingmaster rifle on an intruder. I don’t think I would want to do any of those things. However, she makes up for her height with a lot of sass. I also lack height, but sass doesn’t occur to me until much later. It would be nice to have her comebacks on the tip of my tongue instead of lying dormant in the back of my brain until I sit at a computer.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
What a cool question. I would say Cherry Tucker is a mash-up of Annie Oakley, (an adult) Frankie Addams from Carson McCullers’ Member of the Wedding, and Tuppence from Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary (pre-marriage to Tommy and without the English accent).

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Only six? Ngaio Marsh, PD James, Mary Stewart, Martha Grimes, Sharyn McCrumb, and Dick Francis. But I’d probably hide in my kitchen and let them talk amongst themselves.

What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up Cherry Tucker’s next mystery, Still Life in Brunswick Stew. I’ve also got a romantic suspense that takes place in the North Georgia Mountains that I’m hoping to publish. After Still Life is finished, I’ll start brewing up Cherry Tucker’s third mystery, begin research on another mystery series idea that’s been fermenting in my brain, and write up a draft of my Southern girl in Japan story. I’m going to try really hard not to kill anybody in that one.

***

Larissa Reinhart considers herself lucky to have taught English in Japan, escaped a ferocious monkey in Thailand, studied archaeology in Egypt, and survived teaching high school history in the US. However, adopting her daughters from China has been her most rewarding experience. After moving around the midwest, the south and Japan, she now lives in Georgia with her husband, daughters, and Biscuit, a Cairn Terrier.

She loves small town characters with big attitudes, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble. Portrait of a Dead Guy (Henery Press, August 28, 2012) is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist, a 2012 The Emily finalist, and a 2011 Dixie Kane Memorial winner. When she’s not writing about southern fried chicken, she writes about Asian fried chicken at her blog about life as an ex-expat at theexpatreturneth.blogspot.com.

She and her writing friends also chat weekly about books on their Little Read Hens Facebook page and littlereadhens.com. You can find Larissa chatting on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. She loves pinning on her Cherry Tucker and other boards at Pinterest. You can also find more information on her website at larissareinhart.com.

Interview: Ellen Byerrum

Please welcome Ellen Byerrum, author of the Crimes of Fashion series.

  • Killer Hair
  • Designer Knockoff
  • Hostile Makeover
  • Raiders of the Lost Corset
  • Armed and Glamorous
  • Shot Through Velvet
  • Death on Heels

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
After moving West to the land of many droughts, my soul is parched for lack of rain. Therefore, a perfect day (and there are many varieties) begins with a lovely soaking rain. It is the kind of cool morning that lets you sleep in late. Somehow I am awakened with a great mug of good coffee, delivered bedside. I would have no pressing deadlines. That perfect day would be in October in the midst of a fiery fall in New England where my husband and I could walk for miles in the woods by a stream, in the mist, and amidst colorful leaves. The air is perfumed by the peppery smell of foliage and wood smoke. Perhaps we would buy a pumpkin at a roadside stand. Lunch would involve a hearty soup, hot bread with melting butter, and steaming coffee. Afterwards, perhaps a nap, settling in front of a fire with a great book, maybe a ghost story. Later, dressed up for dinner out at a restaurant with steaks and a roaring fire in a stone fireplace. Followed by a fabulous play I’ve never seen before with great actors, directing, and yes, a wonderful set. (I’ve grown tired of poverty productions with a few sticks and my imagination to suggest furnishings. Sue me). We would discuss the play back at a cozy inn in front of that fireplace with a few friends who tell hilarious stories about theater and cozy inns and former residents who may be dead but never really left. Something like that. As for the rest of the evening . . . you may use your imagination.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
When I attend mystery events or conferences, I try to wear vintage clothes from the 1940s, which I think are wonderful because they are classic and they fit my frame. In addition to vintage clothing, I love jackets and wear them when there isn’t a hundred-degree heat wave going on. I’ve always loved clever jackets. I first remember wanting one in the 7th grade, which I suppose makes me a bit weird. My mother had a forest green fine-wale corduroy jacket that she gave me. I wore it until it was in tatters. She stole it back when I wasn’t looking and hid it. Sigh. Now I have a pretty 1940’s jacket in forest green. I also had a copy of a different 1940s jacket made in dark green. Are you sensing a theme? A great jacket can hide a multitude of sartorial sins. Always pick a color you love.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Can I first simply acknowledge the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught me in grade school? They encouraged me to love reading and writing and said I had a fine brain. Thank God I wound up at a parochial school, the public school kindergarten teacher told my mother I wouldn’t make it through the first grade. Never a good sign.

I will always be grateful for my college English professor Art Kistner who was the only person at my university who encouraged me. (So much for the School of Journalism.) Art said I should write novels because I had too much plot for short stories. He also said that journalism would ruin me, but I ignored that advice.

And Ernie Joselovitz of the Playwright’s Forum, the playwriting guru in Washington, D.C. Ernie has always been generous with his time and encouragement.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Yes, I’m listening to music right now. Mostly I listen to classical music, but at the moment, I’ve been trying to find songs for Autumn, having been inspired by my perfect day. It seems that I have a playlist for the different books. When I was writing Death on Heels, I listened to a lot of old Marty Robbins cowboy songs. In other books I’ve listened to big band music, Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, and Tom Waits.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A dark chocolate truffle with an orange and caramel center. A truffle because truffles are always a bit fun. It would be dark chocolate because there is a dark aura around Death on Heels about women whose barefoot bodies have been abandoned on lonely country roads. The orange and caramel center is there because there are unexpected happenings and twists to the action both sweet and tart.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
As I write the Crimes of Fashion mysteries, the characters change and evolve. As Lacey Smithsonian’s love life and career progresses and she becomes more confident and sure of herself, I thought it was time to delve into Lacey’s past and take her back to the place where she worked at her first reporting job and met her first real love. It was in a town to which she never wanted to return—Sagebrush, Colorado. In order to go forward with her current flame Vic Donovan, it was necessary for Lacey to resolve her unfinished feelings about cowboy Cole Tucker. And it’s always fun when an old boyfriend shows up. At least in fiction! I wanted Lacey to become involved in a grittier mystery with a thriller feel. I also thought it would be fun to turn around some of the Western themes focusing on a smart woman instead of a guy.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The most prominent theme is how what we wear tells stories about us. Lacey is a genius at decoding outfits on a basic level. Women working hard to reach their career dreams despite miles of obstacles is a recurring theme. My books also deal with women friendships, loyalty, and love. The books are satiric and reflect current topics such as textile plant closings. While researching my latest book, I traveled to the town on which Sagebrush is based, and where I had my first journalism job. I walked miles in the sagebrush, found an ancient cowboy line camp, was followed by a wild horse, examined bleached cattle bones underfoot, and interviewed a legendary cowboy.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Lacey’s main attributes as a reporter are curiosity and follow-through, even when that might not be the best thing to do. She’s also loyal to her friends, honest, and brave. She tries to make the best of a reporting profession, which is changing in today’s world. Lacey loves vintage clothing and she has inherited a trunk full of 1930s and 1940s clothes and patterns from her late great Aunt Mimi. She takes a lot of her inspiration from the women who lived through WWII and took over the factories and the job. I wish I had Lacey’s wardrobe.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Lacey could be a combination of Brenda Starr, Dorothy Parker, and Hildy Johnson as played by Rosalind Russell from the movie His Girl Friday. I realize these choices are all a little vintage, but so are the clothes in my books.

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

  • Raymond Chandler, even if I had to lock up the liquor cabinet.
  • Dashiell Hammett, because he would bring Lillian Hellman and it would be a fabulous brawl. Ditto on locking up the liquor cabinet.
  • Elizabeth Peters, I’d love to hear her talk about archaeology and Amelia Peabody.
  • Mildred Wirt Benson, the original Nancy Drew.
  • Diane K. Shah, who wrote two elegant mysteries set in the late 40s Los Angeles, As Crime Goes By and Dying Cheek to Cheek. Oh why, weren’t there more?
  • Dorothy Sayers, because I love the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and he had a strange life.

What’s next for you?
The ninth Crime of Fashion mystery, Veiled Revenge, will be released in February 2013. Washington, D.C. fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian always believed clothes could be magical, but she never thought they could be cursed. Until now. What do a haunted Russian shawl and a fainting psychic’s cryptic warning have to do with a dead party crasher at her friend Stella’s utterly pink bachelorette bash? When a villain vows that nobody at these cherry blossom nuptials will live happily ever after, a walk down the aisle becomes a race against time. Cars crash, bullets fly, and ancient curses come to life as maid-of-honor Lacey scrambles for vital fashion clues.

It’s fun.

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Ellen Byerrum writes the popular Crime of Fashion mysteries, set in bustling Washington, D.C., The City That Fashion Forgot. Her most recent book is Death on Heels. While researching fashion for her sleuth Lacey Smithsonian, Byerrum has collected her own assortment of 1940s styles, but laments her lack of closet space. She has been a D.C. news reporter, and a playwright. And even though she has moved away from the East Coast, she holds a Virginia P.I. registration.
Web site: http://www.ellenbyerrum.com/
Blog: http://ellenbyerrum.livejournal.com/
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