Guest Post: Edith Maxwell

The Mystery of Reviews

Ah, reviews. Authors can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.a tine to live

My first book under my own name just came out. Last week! And it came out from a large publisher, which meant there were lots of Advance Review Copies (ARCs) floating around well in, uh, advance of the publication date. The publisher sent ARCs out to the big review sites, to local newpapers and magazines I had alerted them to, and who know where else. They sent me a box, and I scrounged up as many ways as I could think of to get them into the hands of likely reviewers, including hosting two Goodreads giveaways and sending one to Sister in Crime Gigi Pandian.

So A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die got some reviews. What does an author, particularly a sort of new author, do when she hears her book (that is, her baby, her cherished work, her…, you know what I mean) has been reviewed? More seasoned authors might advise you to Never Read Reviews. Of course, this makes sense. No one will like every book. All you need is enough people to like your book.

But still. As far as I know, I have read every review so far in the public domain. Publishers Weekly liked it. Woot! Library Journal liked it. Awesome news. An independent blogger/reviewer did not like it. Boo. The Goodreads reviews have been great. FB reviewer Dru Ann Love loved it. So far Amazon reviews are batting a straight five star.

Today, though, I opened a review I had been looking forward to. The publisher of The Natural Farmer, a quarterly publication that goes out to 10,000 organic farmers, received an ARC and said he would review it. I used to serve on the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) with him twenty years ago when I operated and co-owned a small certified organic farm. Several other farmers and gardeners had read the book and liked it. I was eager to gain a whole lot of new farmer-reader fans.

The newsletter (a misnomer, as it runs to several dozen large newsprint pages) came in the mail today. I opened it and flipped through to the book reviews.

Jack, the publisher, wrote that this was the first fiction review the newsletter had ever done. And then proceeded to rip apart the willing suspension of disbelief that a mystery relies on. He  stated that no real farmer would ever have time to do all the detecting and romance and socializing my protagonist, Cam Flaherty does, AND run an organic farm in June in the Northeast essentially single handed. Oh. Gulp. Rats. True. He acknowledged that my details about farming, about farm-share programs known as CSAs, about certification were all accurate, but they would not be new and interesting to farmers who would already know all that stuff.

So, I guess this is one to chalk up to, “Oh, well.” I’m still going to go to the big NOFA summer conference (with my 24-year old farmer son!) and sell books. I’ll continue to reach out to readers who are also gardeners and locavores and, yes, organic farmers. I’ll try to make the next book a bit more believable to professional farmers. And I’ll end this post with the Goodreads review that a farmer in California, Darryl Ray of Sunnyslope Family Farm, posted:

“I really enjoyed reading A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die. It is one of those books that once you start it you can’t put it down. The story’s location (a new Massachusetts organic farm) and main character (a novice farmer) are interesting and believable. I am looking forward to more stories involving Cameron and her farm.”

So, there, Jack!

Writers, what have your reactions to negative reviews been, or don’t you read them? Readers, do you write negative reviews? Do you suspend disbelief when you read a mystery?

***

Locavore  Edith Maxwell’s Local Foods mysteries published by Kensington let her  relive her days as an organic farmer in Massachusetts, although murder  in the greenhouse is new. A fourth-generation Californian, she has also  published short stories of murderous revenge, most recently in the Fish Nets and Thin Ice anthologies.

Edith  Maxwell’s pseudonym Tace Baker authored Speaking of Murder, which features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren  Rousseau and campus intrigue after her sexy star student is killed.  Edith is a long-time Quaker and holds a long-unused doctorate in linguistics.

A mother  and former technical writer, Edith lives north of Boston in an antique  house with her beau and three cats. You can find her at @edithmaxwell,  on facebook, and at www.edithmaxwell.com

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Interview: Beth Groundwater

Please welcome Beth Groundwater, author of the Claire Hanover Gift Basket Designer series and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
One spent outdoors with people whose company I enjoy, engaging in a fun active sport such as skiing, snowshoeing, whitewafataldescentter rafting, hiking or biking. Follow that up with a soak in the hot tub and a glass of good wine, a scrumptious dinner and a blockbuster movie.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Since I have wide, large, flat feet, I wear men’s shoes when I’m not dressed up. My athletic shoes, hiking shoes, and snow boots are all from the men’s department. I don’t wear much makeup, except lipstick and concealer for under-eye circles, and rarely wear perfume. My most common accessories are sunglasses (my contact lenses make my eyes more sensitive to sunlight) and earrings (I have pierced ears). My favorite colors are purple and green. I’m very eclectic in my language and my eating, so I don’t have a signature phrase or meal.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
My third grade teacher instilled a love of reading in me that is still going strong. I try to read at least a book a week. Mother Teresa inspired me to be of service to humanity whenever I can and to focus on the needs of others instead of my own. It’s very hard to pick the name of just one writer who influenced my creativity because so many helped me on my path to publication, but if pressed, I would name fellow mystery author Robert Spiller. He and I have been in the same critique group from the very beginning of my writing career, and his advice has always made my writing better.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to hear my characters talking.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate infused with chili. That’s because Fatal Descent is a pure locked-room style murder mystery (more on that later) not watered down with milky side plots, and it’s chock full of kick ass adventure. By “locked-room style,” I mean that my whitewater rafting guide Mandy Tanner and her co-leader and love-interest, Rob Juarez, are stuck in Cataract Canyon with a dead body and a killer among their rafting group and no way out other than to continue down the Colorado River. So, they have to solve whodunnit themselves. The “adventure” includes whitewater rafting and climbing scenes.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to write this kind of plot, where all the suspects and the sleuth are stuck together in a remote setting, so the sleuth has to solve the mystery on her own and is under constant threat of death herself from the unknown killer. So, I asked my river ranger consultant, Stew Pappenfort, Head Ranger of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, what was the most remote whitewater river canyon in the Western United States. He told me Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah was my best bet. So, my husband and I ran it ourselves with an outfitting company, much like Mandy and Rob’s RM Outdoor Adventures company, to check it out ourselves.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Loss is a recurring theme. How the death of someone close to you affects your character, your goals in life, and how you react to death again. My brother died of a sudden massive heart attack when he was in his early thirties, and that loss in my own life probably drives me to repeatedly explore the theme in my fiction. And, writing murder mysteries gives me plenty of opportunities to do so! Unlike in many cozies, where the victim is someone who everyone hates and no one misses, most of my victims are deeply mourned by those who were close to them, as murder victims are in real-life.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Mandy suffered a devastating loss the summer before her senior year in high school—both of her parents were killed in a car accident. This forces her to become more independent and self-sufficient, even though she moves in with her uncle, whose whitewater rafting outfitting business she was working for that summer. It also gives her a fragility when she experiences subsequent losses. And, her fierce independence hinders her in forming a strong love relationship with Rob Juarez. Through the series, Mandy has to work on these issues. Mandy also loves being in the outdoors and on the river. Communing with nature relieves her stress and grounds her, and running whitewater rapids focuses her concentration and thrills her. So, working as a whitewater rafting guide and as a river ranger are a natural choice of occupations for her. Mandy doesn’t make much money at either profession, but money is not important to her.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Susan Butcher (Alaska dog musher who won the Iditarod race multiple times), Anna Pigeon (Nevada Barr’s ranger protagonist), and Meryl Streep (who played a rafting guide in the movie The River Wild, but who is also known for the risks she takes in her acting and how hard she works on her roles).

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Sharyn McCrumb, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sara Paretsky, and Dorothy L Sayers.

What’s next for you?
The third books in both of my mystery series will be released this year, so I will be busy promoting them. Fatal Descent, the third in the RM Outdoor Adventures series, comes out this month, and A Basket of Trouble, the third in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, comes out in November.

***

Bestselling mystery author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A Real Basket Case, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (Deadly Currents, an Amazon #3 overall bestseller, and Wicked Eddies, finalist for the Rocky Award). The third books in both series will appear in 2013. Beth enjoys Colorado’s many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs.

Website: http://bethgroundwater.com/
Blog: http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/beth.groundwater
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/471598.Beth_Groundwater

Interview: Lucy Burdette

Please welcome Lucy Burdette, author of the Key West mysteries and other works.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Mmmm, that’s not so easy, but I’ll try. Let’s say we’re in Key West, ok? We’ll get up and walk Tonka the Australian Shepherd to the Ctoppedchefuban Coffee Queen. There we’ll order a large cafe con leche (with steamed milk and one sugar) and Tonka will get a little piece of ham. Back home, I’ll go to work and whip out five good pages of the new book in under two hours while my husband plays tennis. Oh, and my agent will call to say they’ve gone back for another printing on the first three Key West mysteries.

After pilates class, we’ll pick up chicken burritos and freshly-squeezed limeaid at Bad Boy burrito and bike over the Fort Zachary Taylor Beach to eat it. A few hours spent reading Barbara O’Neal’s new novel, and we’ll head home. Then a quick spin through the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square to see the Cat Man and his flying house cats perform, and off to dinner. Maybe we’ll choose tapas at Santiago’s Bodega, with a glass of Spanish Albarino? Finally, we’ll catch up on the latest episode of Nashville on TV and hit the hay!

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I don’t suppose I should admit to the blue yoga sweatpants…

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
I’ve had teachers, Mrs. Covey in fifth grade, Gabriel Asfar in college, and Roger Blashfield in graduate school, who told me I was a good writer. None of us imagined I’d end up writing fiction, but feeling encouraged about writing anything was so important! An aspiring writer hears so many negative voices (and lots in her own head), that hearing positive feedback makes a huge difference.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Oh no! Absolute quiet unless someone is purring…

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Topped Chef is the third Key West food critic mystery featuring Hayley Snow. She’s starting to settle into her job and her life in Key West, but she’s still a little uncertain about her abilities as a food critic–and her romantic prospects. This story about a reality TV cooking competition explores her growing confidence in her own judgment and her writing. I had a lot of fun exploring how I would show the personalities and tastes of the characters through what they chose to cook and eat!

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
In the end, it’s always about family–how important they are, how they can drive you crazy, how they mean more than anything in the world. And food, of course, as a way of showing love and making connections.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
As the series begins (An Appetite for Murder), Hayley Snow has impulsively followed a man from New Jersey to Key West. He dumps her (of course) but by now she’s fallen in love with the island and will do anything to stay. She starts out the series a little impulsive, but that gives her lots of room to grow. Like her mom, she’s a fabulous cook and foodie, with a great sense of humor.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Off the top of my head, let’s try Diane Mott Davidson’s catering character Goldy for her food and her nose for righting wrongs, Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle for the soft heart and charming dizziness, and a little dash of Julie Powell/Amy Adams in Julie and Julia–for the passion for food and cooking.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Last summer, I actually had a dream dinner party with my blog sisters at Jungle Red Writers–Hallie Ephron, Hank Ryan, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, and Rosemary Harris. We interact every day online, so it was so much fun to eat and gab together. Although, actually Debs couldn’t be there in person so we dialed her up on Skype and included her that way!

I blog with another group of mystery writers at Mystery Lovers Kitchen–I would LOVE to have dinner with them. The food would be amazing! Krista Davis, Avery Aames, Cleo Coyle, Sheila Connolly, Victoria Abbott, and Peg Cochran.

What’s next for you?
I’m almost finished with Murder with Ganache, which will be out in February 2014. ALL of Hayley’s family has arrived on the island for her best friend’s wedding. Mayhem ensues…I love this story!

***

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib is the author of eleven mysteries, including her latest, Topped Chef. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a past president of Sisters in Crime.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/lucyburdette
Twitter: @lucyburdette
Website: www.lucyburdette.com

Interview: Marilyn Levinson

Please welcome Marilyn Levinson, author of the Twin Lakes mystery series and the forthcoming Murder a la Christie, as well several YA and children’s books.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day would be a day in June—my birth month—that’s warm and sunny, but not blazing hot. I would write some pages in the morning, go to a museum or for a walk in the park with a friend, receive word in the afternoon that I’ve sold a book, tgettingbackhen go out to dinner with loved ones at a beautiful, sedate restaurant on the water where we would drink good wine, enjoy a delicious meal, and partake in stimulating conversation.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Not really. I love fragrances that are floral but not too sweet, like Dolce & Gabbana’s The One and Davidoff’s Cool Water. I love good food (see above), especially seafood and fish. I enjoy many ethnic cuisines: Thai, Argentinian, Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian, French, Belgian, and of course Chinese and Italian.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
First to come to mind is my dear friend and fellow writer, Roberta Gellis, with whom I took a writing course many, many years ago. Roberta helped me complete my first novel and has been my greatest supporter. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me. I remember her sending me to another class to read a composition. Last but not least, I’d have to say my dearly departed husband, Bernie, because he was always proud of my being a writer.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, I don’t, unless you count the birds chirping outside my open window.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark Belgian chocolate, my favorite, with veins of white chocolate running through it. Murder a la Christie takes place in an upscale community called Old Cadfield, which is a closed community like the small village settings in Agatha Christie’s novels. My sleuth, Professor Lexie Driscoll who facilitates the Golden Age of Mystery book club, finds herself housesitting in Old Cadfield, and living in a home she could never afford. She is an outsider observing the suspects that include her best friend who’s married to one of Lexie’s castoff college boyfriends. Though the residents of Old Cadfield are wealthy, they all have secrets and problems their money can’t resolve. The white veins are the happy elements that appear in Lexie’s life: an unexpected inheritance and two very different men she finds appealing.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’m a former high school teacher, and I’ve taught literature, which is probably why I occasionally write novels in which my characters discuss classic short stories and novels. In Murder a la Christie, the book club members discuss some of Dame Agatha’s novels. I had her books in mind when I created the setting and wrote the dénouement of Murder a la Christie.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Relationships. Human nature fascinates me, and I love writing about diverse three-dimensional characters. People are most interesting when they’re relating to one another. Every character has a secret that may implicate him or her in the murders. Romance always makes an appearance in my mysteries. In fact, Lexie has two admirers in Murder a la Christie. I also explore her relationship with her best friend, Rosie. For the first time since college, they’re living in the same community. Lexie sees a different side of Rosie.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
I love Lexie because of her quirks. She is an intelligent, independent woman, but she hasn’t been wise when it comes to choosing men. Her first husband left her when she was pregnant with their son. Her second husband proved unstable. When Lexie told him the marriage was over, he burned down her house and failed to escape the fire. Lexie is left homeless and with very little savings. She finds herself housesitting in Old Cadfield, where her college roommate now lives with her husband, a boyfriend Lexie once rejected. Lexie muses she could be living the good life if she hadn’t broken up with Hal.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I really can’t think of 3 people Rosie is like. Perhaps Addison in Family Practice would be one of them. Addison is beautiful, intelligent, but with human failings.

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

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Agatha Christie
  • Josephine Tey
  • Sue Grafton
  • Ross Macdonald
  • John Macdonald

What’s next for you?
I need to go over three novels: a YA horror called The Devil’s Pawn, a sequel to Rufus and Magic Run Amok called Rufus and the Witch’s Slave, and a romantic suspense called Come Home to Death. Then I intend to either write a new mystery in my Twin Lakes mysteries series or write a proposal for a new series.

***

I was born in Brooklyn, New York. When I was fourteen, my family moved to Long Island where I’ve lived ever since, except for the four years I spent at Syracuse University studying to become a Spanish teacher. When my two sons were very young, I wrote YA and children’s books. Rufus and Magic Run Amok was an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice.” Now I also write mysteries and romantic suspense. A Murderer Among Us, the first in my Twin Lakes mysteries was awarded a Best Indie of 2011 by Suspense Magazine. I’ve two new books coming out in the next few months: Murder a la Christie, a mystery, with L&L Dreamspell, and a young YA novel, Getting Back to Normal, with Untreed Reads.

I am co-founder and past-president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Please visit my website: www.marilynlevinson.com or my Amazon page: http://amzn.to/K6Md1O  for a list of all my titles. You can also find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.levinson.10?ref=ts&fref=ts  and Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarilynLevinson

Interview: Elaine Viets

Please welcome Elaine Viets, author of the Dead-End Job series and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Breakfast in bed, long walk on the beach, lunch by the water with friends, a good mystery to read icar-photo1n the afternoon and dinner at a favorite restaurant with my husband, Don Crinklaw.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Does a black ’86 Jaguar with a red leather interior count? Black Beauty is the other love of my life.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Mark Twain, the best humorist America ever produced, and a Missourian. His writing is still graceful and timely.

Sister St. Bernard, a nun at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, who let me writer a column for the school paper called “Under the Influence of Brandy.” Brandy was a school mascot — a St. Bernard. It was a god awful column, but I was bitten by the writing bug.

Agatha Christie. Still the Queen of Mystery.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, just the sounds of the boats and the water. I live on the Intracoastal Waterway.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate, with nuts. I savor the deliciously dark craziness of South Florida.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to boardstiff2write about Florida’s tourist industry. Not the big beach hotels that look like the tombs of the pharaohs, but the small companies that rent the jet skis, the parasails, and the paddleboards. I saw a story in the Sun-Sentinel about how the competition is so cutthroat some of these companies sabotage one another, especially before spring break. It was just a show step from cutthroat to murder in my book.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Adultery, blackmail and betrayal.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Helen Hawthorne made six figures in human resources at a corporation. She was a corporate nun who worked long hours. One day she came home early and her husband, who was supposed to be working on their back deck, nailing their neighbor, Sandy.

Helen trashed his Land Cruiser with a crow bar, then divorced him. The judge awarded him half of her future income. Helen vowed the man who betrayed her would never see another nickel and took off for South Florida, where she worked low-paying jobs for cash under the table.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Janet Evanovich meets “The Fugitive”

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

  • Agatha Christie
  • Conan Doyle
  • Michael Connelly
  • Harlan Coben
  • Harley Jane Kozak
  • Charlaine Harris

What’s next for you?
More of the work I love. I signed a contract with Penguin for two more Dead-End Job mysteries and two more Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries.

I also host a weekly half-hour talk show — the Dead-End Jobs Show — on Radio Ear Network (radioearnetwork.com). REN is Internet radio in 148 countries.

***

Board Stiff, Elaine Viets’ new hardcover mystery, is the ultimate beach book, set in the cutthroat world of catering to tourists. The New York Times Review of Books praises her “quick-witted mysteries.” Elaine’s bestselling Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Her character, Helen Hawthorne, works a different low-paying job each book. Elaine’s second series features mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Elaine won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards.

Website: www.elaineviets.com
Twitter: @evmysterywriter
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ElaineVietsMysteryWriter
Book trailer: BOARD STIFF http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppzz6vX8jvU
Dead-End Jobs Radio Show archives: http://www.mixcloud.com/tag/elaine-viets/

Guest Post: D.A. Lampi

What Better Setting for a Thriller?

Unmarked graves, a network of caves once used to store bodies, and an institution once called the Asylum for Inebriates–these are the things that make up the setting for Shadow Play.

The setting of a piece of fiction infuses it with a physical, almost palpable world. Who doesn’t remember the Yorkshire moors of Wuthering Heights or the workhouse of Oliver Twist? The small southern towns of To Kill a Mockingbird and more recently, The Help by Kathryn Stockett? The setting provides a context, a specific time and place in which the action takes place. It also provides a social environment for the characters, a canvas for their morals, values and cultural attributes.

In my debut novel, Shadow Play, Psychiatrist Grace Rendeau’s life was back on track. A widow with two young children, she had recently moved to work in Rochester, Minnesota to work in the fictional Rochester Forensic Center for the Criminally Insane. In the background of Grace’s story of love, loss, and unimaginable grief, the setting is rife with possibilities for a thriller. Suspects in the nightmarish abduction of Grace’s children are legion and are taken from the prison environment. They include escaped and released inmates, colleagues with whom Grace has had uneasy relationships, and her fiancé, among others.

Setting also influences the mood of the story. I begin the novel in autumn, on a bright sunny day when anything seems possible.

Grace stepped out of her car, lifted her face to the sun and breathed in the smell of wood after a warm rain. Leaves fluttered lazily to the ground as she strode through the parking lot and waved to a handful of men dressed in prison issue khakis. Uniformed officers stood like toy soldiers watching as the inmates hacked at stumps of ivy clinging to the razor wire topped fence circling the prison.

Shortly afterwards, the setting begins to show ominous warnings that all is not what it seems.

No matter what their crimes, in the few weeks she had worked in the unit, Grace had begun to see their humanity. Even felt a kind of sympathy for some of them. The barbaric ice baths, insulin shock, and lobotomies her predecessors once performed on those very grounds still caused her to shudder.

In the late 1800s, patients had worked on the land, growing vegetables that were preserved in a system of neighboring caves. The food from their labor fed the old state hospital population through the long Minnesota winters. The grounds now housed the modern Rochester Forensic Center, where she was the new psychiatrist.

The setting helps reveal the characters. We see that Grace is aware of the history of abuse the early patients suffered and is a compassionate, caring clinician. In the next paragraph, another character is introduced. The setting also heavily influences Bud Anderson’s character traits.

Corrections Officer Bud Anderson fell into step with Grace halfway to the entrance. Bud Anderson was forty-three years old, over six feet tall, and as large and gray-headed as a buzzard with a military buzz cut. He fell into step beside her. “Morning, Doc. What a day, huh?”

Grace had heard through the prison grapevine that he was having marital problems. Word was that he had a core made of iron and a life mortgaged to the hilt. He also had a limb length discrepancy resulting from an injury during his service and wore an orthotic shoe with a lift. Even so, his gait was brisk and measured.

 “So, how ‘ya doin’ Grace?” Anderson asked with a familiarity that set Grace on edge. He smiled. He had a space the size of a small stream through his front teeth.

Lastly, setting influences the mood of the story. This is particularly obvious in mysteries and thrillers. Several scenes in the novel take place either on the grounds of the Quarry Hill Nature Center, which is adjacent to the institution or, in the prison, originally the old state hospital. A key scene takes place in caves, which were once used for purposes of keeping the hospital’s food supplies cold as well as storage for bodies when the inhospitable and frozen Minnesota soil did not permit them to be buried.  Within the context of this setting, it is easy to vary the mood from a happy, hopeful family outing to the nature center, such as my family and I have often enjoyed, to Grace’s rising panic and claustrophobia while touring the cold, damp cave.

Once the scene has been set with this unrest, a mysterious woman follows Grace and her children leading to further questions. The scene ends with a visit to the cemetery where two thousand nineteen of the early souls from the institution are buried in unmarked graves.

The history of the grounds, although not dealt with significantly in the novel, provides a subtle background for the events that transpire in Shadow Play and certainly influenced how I wrote the novel. My hope is that this subtly influences the scenes with a degree of eeriness and dread.

Today, on a beautiful spring day at Quarry Hill, one might still come across a limestone fireplace or a cave, the old quarry or Dead Man’s Bridge, the reported site of a hanging. Just the name–Dead Man’s Bridge–is enough to raise the hairs on the neck of an unsuspecting hiker. Although, it’s the perfect setting for a crime, I like to think that the unfortunate souls who suffered from mental illnesses at a time when science and medicine had no cure, found respite on these hallowed grounds.

***

D.A. Lampi is the author of the forthcoming novel, Shadow Play.  Visit her at dalampiauthor.com.

Interview: Kendel Lynn

Please welcome Kendel Lynn, author of the Elliott Lisbon mystery series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A day at Disneyland. I love walking beneath the arch with the sign: Here you leave today, and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy. Walk down Main Street USA, visit all my favorite spots, ride the rides, eat churros and frozeboardstiffn bananas, lunch in Frontierland and dinner in the Bayou. Watch the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at the end of the day, then dream of going back again.

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

I’m awfully fond of In-N-Out burgers and cupcakes. Together in one meal and I get all weak-kneed.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Stephen King (nobody writes the way he does), Sue Grafton (all-time favorite series, read each one at least 5 times, A is for Alibi probably 10), Janet Evanovich (One for the Money set the bar for the humorous mystery genre).

Do you listen to music when you write?
Nope. I love the quiet. I barely listen to music when in my car!

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Godiva dark chocolate heart: fun, romantic, and mysterious.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’d written a middle-grade mystery and wanted to try my hand at an adult amateur sleuth. Once I dreamt up Elliott, I was off. I loved the idea of a formal boardroom set on a casual island filled with eccentric characters.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Independence and imperfection. I like strong women characters who can get it done on their own, but who make mistakes along the way.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Elliott strives for approval from her surrogate parents, the Ballantynes. She never wants to let them down. From overachieving as the directory of the Ballantyne Foundation, to performing discreet inquiries for board members, Elliott never gives up. Even if she sometimes gets it wrong.

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

Part Kinsey Millhone, part Achy McNally, part Monk.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Marsha Muller, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Charlaine Harris, J.K. Rowling. (All living; it would be weird to have dead people there.) I’d need lots of wine to hold down the nerves, and a fabulous caterer because I don’t cook.

What’s next for you?
Whack Job, the second Elliott Lisbon mystery (January 2014) is underway. I’m excited to be knee deep into her next adventure!

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Kendel Lynn is a Southern California native who now parks her flip-flops in Dallas, Texas. She read her first Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators at the age of seven and has loved mysteries ever since. Her debut novel, Board Stiff, won several literary competitions, including the Zola Award for Mystery/Suspense. Along with writing and reading, she spends her time as the managing editor of Henery Press where she acquires, edits, and figures out ways to avoid the gym but still eat cupcakes for dinner.

Web: www.kendellynn.com
Twitter: @Kendel_Lynn
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