Interview: Carolyn J. Rose

Please welcome Carolyn J. Rose, author of No Substitute for Maturity and other novels.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Waking up to feel a breeze from an open window, smell coffee brewing, hear birds singing, and discover that my unconscious was at work while I slept and has at least two ideas for characters or plots. Finding that the supermarket has a sale on cheesy snacks is a bonus.

Do you havNSFMat200x300e a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My characters and I love cashews, dark chocolate, cheesy snacks, and a little rum now and then.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward, Angel) for his use of the language, Rex Stout (the Nero Wolfe series) for his characters, and my husband for never getting in my space or in my face.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. It distracts me from writing and from listening for the washer to finish, the dryer to tell me it’s done, the dogs wanting to go out or come in, the neighbors coming and going, etc. All of that is so distracting that I don’t need more distractions.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
My latest book, No Substitute for Maturity, is a cozy. So it would have a thin shell of dark chocolate (representing the theme of reaching maturity and the baggage that holds us back from that goal) and a fluffy whipped center filled with fruit and nuts (representing the quirky characters that populate Reckless River).

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
As a substitute teacher, I encounter kids on the road to adulthood. As someone who reads the paper and keeps up with the news, I’m well aware of all of those who never grow up and man up (or woman up) and who try to pass the buck and the blame. As my protagonist (Barbara Reed) embarked on a live-in relationship with her boyfriend and his teenage daughter, I saw the opportunity to create situations where the way characters reacted (childishly or in more adult manners) would create conflict and humor.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Responsibility, revenge, the ability to laugh at yourself, and the power of love.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Barbara Reed’s parents checked out emotionally after the death of her brother and she was shepherded through adolescence and her teen years by her domineering sister Jeannine. Jeannine went on to become a radical feminist known as Indigo Zephyr, shortened to Iz, and still feels she should run Barb’s life. She also feels that after two less-than-successful marriages, Barb should take a pass on getting involved with men. Fortunately, Barb meets two other strong women and, in the course of No Substitute for Murder, gets her life back on the rails. Her wealthy neighbor, Muriel Ballantine, a former Las Vegas showgirl, may or may not have been married to the mob. And Wilhelmina Frost, known as The Big Chill, has a caustic sense of humor and a clear view of reality—or what passes for reality at Captain Meriwether High School where Barb works as a substitute teacher. As the story arc develops, Barb becomes less tentative and more in charge.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Julia Roberts’ character from America’s Sweethearts, Bridget Jones, and Mary Tyler Moore.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie (to ask about that time she went missing), Edgar A. Poe (for the creepy factor), John Connolly (more shiver factor) and Tana French.

What’s next for you?
I’m revisiting Hemlock Lake, a fictional community in the Catskill Mountains. Like Hemlock Lake and Through a Yellow Wood, The Devil’s Tombstone will begin in April with winter giving way to spring and more change coming to the community and another long shadow of crimes in the past reaching into the present.

***

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of several novels, including No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret and A Place of Forgetting. She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Her interests are reading, gardening, and NOT cooking.

Website: www.deadlyduomysteries.com

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Spying – or People Watching?

I love to watch people. I am not alone in this. Sometimes, I think the entire practice of people-watching is custom-made for fiction writers, but I know a lot of non-writers who like to do it too.

Back in 1995, my first job out of college was a loan clerk for the Small Business Administration. What few people knew was that back then (and maybe even now) victims of natural disasters had to be turned down for an SBA loan before they could apply for money from FEMA. So in September of 1995, I was dispatched to Puerto Rico in response to Hurricane Marilyn.

Now this was back before gambling was “no big deal” in New York. It was a “big deal” in Puerto Rico. Every hotel had a casino, even the Holiday Inn I stayed at. And once the work day ended (around 7pm), there wasn’t much to do in San Juan except go clubbing (not for me) or gamble (also not for me).

So I developed a habit. I’d eat and perch just outside the casino area and observe. There was the group of little old ladies who camped out by the slot machines, the guy in the loud Hawaiian shirt who never left the craps table, the newlywed couple who lost at just about everything, but had fun anyway. One night, I managed to grab a spot at the El San Juan hotel – very swanky (it had a dress code just to walk in the lobby). There I watched men and women dressed in everything from designer beachwear, to suits and dresses, to tuxes and gowns sashay through the doors, ready to win – or lose. Somehow, by the looks of the clothes, I didn’t think it mattered to them.

Too bad I was years away from writing fiction. Oh, the fodder for characters! People left in various stages or jubilation or dejection. There were arguments between friends, spouses, patrons and hotel security. Who were these people? Why were they there? Why were they gambling away thousands of dollars every night?

And what happened when they went home?

As I grew into writing, the casual “people watching” bug became even more valuable. At the pool, what about that young girl who wears a demure one-piece when her parents are around, but a scanty bikini when she’s alone? Since cell phones have obliterated personal privacy, you can hear tantalizing snippets of conversation anywhere – the bus, the subway, the line at the grocery store. What’s up with that harassed-looking woman at the mall, poring over ties like her life depended on it?

Fodder, all of it. I even got to use an overheard snippet in a current WIP. “You’d better fix this. You hear me?”

Think of the possibilities.

My daughter likes to roam the mall. I’m not so big on roaming, but I love to sit in the food court or Starbucks and watch the world go by. So many stories, so many possibilities. She thinks it’s boring. I think it’s fascinating.

Shakespeare was right – all the world’s a stage. The characters, the settings, the plots are right there, just ripe for the picking.

Spying? No, I’m people watching.

So what about you, readers? Do you people watch? And do you make up stories about the people you watch?

 

Spying on the Neighbors

I live in a courtyard building. About a year ago, a quarrel broke out between my next door neighbor and the person catty corner from him. Somehow, the quarrel escalated from an angry exchange of words in the 3 a.m. hour to a restraining order, a lawsuit, and a camera being trained on his—and subsequently, my—front door.

Not being 100% on board with the whole filming my comings and goings part of the scenario, I took an interest in what was going down. The offended person, let’s call her Missy, started decorating her windows with message signs to tenants who passed her apartment. “This camera is legal, just ask the LAPD,” said one. Another spoke to Karma, and additional signs addressed peace, respect, and a community of “getting along.” Missy might have pasted a sign about getting along, but the problem was that passing her windows every day led to tension within the building.

I complained to my landlord and—not willing to trust a scotch taped sign–checked about the legalities of the camera with the LAPD. It seemed there was nothing I could do. My neighbor, let’s call him Guy, moved out after over a decade of living in my building. The harassment wasn’t worth it, he said.

One afternoon, while doing my usual writing/tweeting/FB’ing/checking email/pretending-to-get-through-a-draft thing, I heard a loud knock on a door. Being a nosy curious person by nature, I stopped playing FreeCell and listened. It appeared that someone in my building was being evicted.

Now, I’m too sly to press my nose up against the window in such situations, but I did catch a name: Missy. And later that day, after realizing I have ample amateur sleuthing skills in my arsenal, I checked the directory and the mailboxes, came up with a last name, hopped on the internet, and discovered who I was dealing with. Let’s just say, there was a history of similar behavior out there.

And in the next 30 seconds, I saw a potential cozy mystery unfold before my eyes. Clearly Missy would be the victim. And suspects? Easy:

1. Guy, who had a restraining order—that was now part of his permanent record–filed against him.

2. Resident Artist, who had had numerous smoking complaints lodged against her.

3. Landlord, who had been ignored after multiple warnings about silly things like overdue rent.

4. Previous apartment manager, who had evicted her too.

5. Former boss in the TV industry, who had Missy’s character written off on the first week of her show, for unexplained reasons.

(It really is fascinating how much dirt you can dig up on someone when you come to terms with your inner amateur sleuth.)

I don’t know what became of the real Missy. After the eviction papers were served, she kept a low profile. My started getting egged once a week, coincidentally on the same days I heard the shower running in her apartment. On the weekend she moved out, her mother gave me the finger.

And funny thing, my car hasn’t been egged since.

PS: On a personal note, to celebrate Doris Day’s 90th Birthday, I’m kicking off a Mad for Mod fundraiser for Doris Day’s Animal Foundation. I didn’t want to hijack the spying theme from the Mysteristas, but if you’re interested, click here.

Why I Wrote Blessed are the Dead Part III

The dimly lit interview room at the jail was full of shadows. The only light shone down on a row of tiny cubicles. Night after night, I sat down in one of the cubicles, put a grungy black phone up to my ear, and looked into the eyes of a monster. A piece of scratched glass the only barrier between a psychopath and me. Video cameras perched up high above us, recording every move and probably every word.

From the first interview with Curtis Dean Anderson, my goal had been to get him to slip up and confess something that might indicate whether he had also kidnapped Xiana, the little girl missing from Vallejo. But I soon realized I had to develop a rapport with this man so he would trust me enough to reveal his secrets.

I told him maybe he would feel better if he told someone about his crimes, someone like me, someone who wasn’t a cop.

He looked me dead in the eye and said, “I’ve been keeping in stuff worse than that for more than twenty years.”

“Like what? What is worse than that?” I asked. “When you tell me that it makes me think you’ve been killing people for twenty years.”

He took a small pencil and wadded up piece of paper out of his shirt pocket. He slowly smoothed the paper out, scribbled something, and then held it up to the glass for me to read:

1st kidnap 1981

Rape

Kill

He’d been doing this a long time. Our conversations made it clear he had zero remorse or empathy. He was a stereotypical psychopath and a predator, a killer. When he told me there had been others, I continued to try to get information about Xiana, in the hopes she was still alive somewhere. But I also tried to get him to tell me about his other victims. He kept promising to reveal details, but never did, stringing me along for months, using elaborate grids to point out areas where the bodies were supposedly hid. But he was slippery and never gave any concrete details. At least not to me.

He also loved taunting Xiana’s aunt, telling her he had taken Xiana. She told me he had given her at least one piece of information that only Xiana could have told him.

For months, I visited him in jail, accepted his collect phone calls to my desk phone at the newspaper and read the letters he mailed me. I developed a rapport with a monster. He was the one we are taught to be afraid of. He was the embodiment of pure evil. I listened to his terrible stories and took notes. But what disturbed me the most was my ability to go sit there and talk to him night after night trying to get information out of him.

It frightened me because I was talking to a killer like I would have a conversation with anyone else. But I had to. I had to put on a front, as if we were friends, to get him to trust me. So, I did it. Sometimes I wonder if I lost a piece of my soul by doing this: smiling at him and encouraging him to share his sick stories with me.

But my motivation was the purest sort: justice for his victims.

He eventually was convicted of kidnapping the little girl who escaped and sent away to prison. He continued to write me letters full of misspellings and nonsense. One letter contained a three-page list of the books he had read. Most, like “Helter Skelter,” were about horrific killings.

He later confessed to killing and kidnapping Xiana and that sentence was added to his previous one.

The Xiana story faded away; as all these horrible stories about kidnapped children tragically and eventually do, fading from the news and the public eye, but never from the lives of the people who loved them.

I moved to Minnesota and started my own family.

One day I got a call from a reporter at my newspaper. Curtis Dean Anderson had died in prison, of natural causes, they said. Police were saying he had confessed to killing other kids during his time in prison. They say he claimed to have taken Amber Swartz, as well.

When I moved to Minnesota I had carted a giant box of file folders and reporters’ notebooks having to do with Curtis Dean Anderson and Xiana. I thought one day I would write a nonfiction book. But then I sat down at the computer and something else emerged – a story about an Italian-American newspaper reporter named Gabriella Giovanni whose sister had been kidnapped and killed when they were children.

Giovanni hasn’t yet dealt with the trauma of that in any meaningful way. But then she is forced to when a little girl disappears on the way to the bus stop and she is assigned the story. When a man is jailed on kidnapping charges, Giovanni is caught up in the web of trying to get him to confess to taking both her sister and the still missing other girl. In the end, the kidnapper is released from jail on a technicality and goes after Giovanni.

Blessed are the Dead is my attempt to honor these girls — Traci, Christina, Polly, Amber, Nikki, and Xiana — who have marked me forever and at the same time, purge this monster — Curtis Dean Anderson — out of my head. So I won’t have to think about him anymore.

 Read part one here and part two here

 

 

I Spy, with My Little Eye

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Nancy Drew. Trixie Belden. Encyclopedia Brown. Boxcar Children. These are just a few of my childhood heroes (yes, I’m dating myself), characters with whom I spent endless hours, lost in worlds of the authors’ making. As an only child growing up in a rural area, reading was my first choice of entertainment and escape. By third grade, I’d read my way through the children’s room of our small, local library, and had moved on to more adult choices. Elizabeth Peters, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lillian Jackson Braun. (Agatha Christie is still a favorite.) Eventually, I ran out of adult books, too (it’s a small library, and the summer was looooong). What was it about these books that caught and held the attention of a young girl? The stories, the setting, the characters, yes, but I think what I loved best, if I’m being honest?

The spying.

Imagine young me, following along with Trixie and Honey and the gang. Those tantalizing, overheard conversations that set off grand adventures. Beginning, as a child, to realize the power of knowing something you shouldn’t, information gained by stealthily creeping along the edge of the house to settle under the open window of the room where adults were sharing the juiciest of gossip. Information discovered by picking up the phone extension (remember when people had wired phones?!?). Wondering what it would be like to spot the real thief snatching the candy bar without paying, because you were the one staring at the mirrors in the corners of the store while your mom or dad droned on and on with someone they ran into at the corner store. I spent as much time dreaming about being that stealthy sneaker, that saver of the day, as I did reading those books! And of course, the endings were always happy and tidy, the danger minimized in the end.

Today many new authors write amazing, wonderful mysteries to engage a young person’s attention, taking them on adventures while introducing them to the next generation of heroes, in series such: 39 Clues, Cam Jansen, Calendar Mysteries, and Sisters Grimm, to name but a few. Many classics also continue to transcend time, entertaining and introducing new generations of readers to the magic of mysteries.  My own tastes in reading have varied over the years, but my go-to books remain, to this day, mysteries. I’m still particularly drawn to series, where the characters become friends with whom I can grow, evolve, and journey.

And yes, I sometimes catch myself dreaming about being Kinsey Milhone, J.D. Robb, or Sherlock Holmes.

The beauty of being a writer, of course, is that all that day-dreaming can come in handy! My characters definitely have a little bit of me in them, and they can do all those scary/crazy/brave/brazen/amazing things that I couldn’t quite bring myself to do in real life (I’m truly opposed to being arrested. Or shot. Or kidnapped.). But how much fun it is to close my eyes and type like mad, spinning the twisty-turniest story I can imagine, with the most courageous female protagonist (one with a broad streak of “I love to spy” in her) having the grandest adventure I can come up with. Of course, as any writer will tell you, it’s not all fun and games being a writer. Sometimes these characters become willful, stubborn, downright frustrating. The lead character in the novel I’m working on has stopped speaking to me. And the one in my short thriller? Rolling her eyes with an “Are you really that dumb?” attitude, one worth of any pre-teen.

But that’s okay, too. Because I’ll spend a little time with my old friends Miss Marple, Kinsey, J.D., or Sherlock or I’ll reach out and explore the characters and stories created by wonderful new authors (I find many right here on this blog), I’ll head to the mall and watch the people (maybe catch a little of their conversations, by accident of course) or I’ll just grab a newspaper (one on actual paper!), and suddenly I just. have. to. write. The characters start speaking to me, I figure out who-done-it, and then all is right with this writer’s world.

What were some of your childhood favorites?

Interview: Annette Dashofy

Please welcome Annette Dashofy, author of the Zoe Chambers Mystery series.

Circle of Influence Cover FrontWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect work day would be one with no phone calls and no family obligations so I could write undisturbed. A perfect day off would sunny and warm, but not humid, and spent in the woods on horseback.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I tend to wear a lot of turquoise. The color, but also the stone. Until recently, I even drove a turquoise car!

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Only three? That’s tough because I’ve been surrounded by wonderful influences over the years. I’ll say Nancy Martin, who woke me up to the reality of how much work I had–and continue to have–to do to create good fiction; Timons Esaias—I enjoy simply sitting and listening to him lecture, absorbing all his genius; and Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose work ethic puts me to shame.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Only if I’m trying to work while Hubby has the TV volume cranked up in the next room. I prefer quiet so I can listen to the voices in my head. Mwahahaha.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark with lots of nuts. That’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Several years back there was some local political bickering going on, and I overheard the line, “Someone should just kill him and put him out of our misery.” It occurred me this is NOT the kind of line you should say in front of a mystery writer—or a cop. My brain immediately started spinning out the idea for the story. The line made it into the book, and was of course, said in the presence of the chief of police.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Families—and not just the standard biological type—and redemption. Also, it’s been pointed out to me that I have a…shall we say DISTURBING…fascination with death, but mostly how it affects those left behind.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Zoe lost her father when she was eight and has been seeking male approval ever since. That’s led her to make some very bad choices in her life. Now those choices and secrets are coming back to bite her in the—well, you get the idea. She’s been on her own for a long time, and she’s chosen a career (paramedic) that provides excitement, but also a chance to take care of those who are most vulnerable.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
That’s a tough one. I asked one of my critique buddies for help with it, and he said “Vic” from the Longmire series. More the TV version than Craig Johnson’s books, I think. So I’d have to say Zoe might be the love child of Vic and “Johnny Gage” from the old TV show Emergency! and she LOOKS like Jenna Elfman in her Dharma and Greg years.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Craig Johnson, Aimee Thurlo, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Robert Parker, and John Lawton. I’ve met Craig, Hank, Julia, and John and they’re all fantastic story-tellers. I wish I’d met Ms. Thurlo and Mr. Parker before they passed, so I’d love a chance to pick their brains.

What’s next for you?
Zoe Chambers Mystery #2, Lost Legacy, is scheduled for a September 16, 2014 release. “On a sultry summer afternoon, Paramedic Zoe Chambers responds to a call and finds a farmer’s body hanging from the rafters of his hay barn. What first appears to be a suicide quickly becomes something sinister when Zoe links the victim to a pair of deaths forty-five years earlier. Her attempts to wheedle information from her mother and stepfather hit a brick wall of deception, one that brings into question everything Zoe knows about her late father, who died in a car crash when she was eight. Or did he?”

***

Annette Dashofy, a Pennsylvania farm gal born and bred, grew up with horses, cattle, and chickens. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT for the local ambulance service, giving her plenty of fodder for her Zoe Chambers mystery series including Circle of Influence (Henery Press, March 2014) and Lost Legacy (Henery Press, September 2014) Her short fiction, including a 2007 Derringer nominee, has appeared in Spinetingler, Mysterical-e, Fish Tales: the Guppy Anthology, and Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales (December 2013).

Website: annettedashofy.com
Facebook: /annette.dashofy
Twitter: @Annette_Dashofy

The Hand of Fate — or Is It Luck?

It was a lucky day for me when I took a friend’s advice and went to investigate an ancient Mayan artifact that was visiting Hawaii the same time I was. This was a crystal skull named Max. Strange, but I enjoyed the lecture and seeing this curious object. Perfect for a paranormal mystery writer.

When I got back home, I moved to Boulder, and as luck would have it, Max came to visit my new town. I went to visit Max again and met this guy who had studied crystal skulls when he worked as a research scientist for the Rosicrucian Order AMORC in San Jose. He told us all about his research. He was also fascinated with Egypt. In fact, he’d studied Egypt all his life. This was his true love, and he finally went in 1992. One thing led to another, and we became a couple.

We brought each other luck. Stephen started doing yearly tours to Egypt starting the year we got together. I was lucky enough to get a sabbatical in 1999 and even luckier that enough people signed up for that year’s tour so I could come along. That got me started on my first novel, Under the Stone Paw, about the urban legend that a stash of ancient technology is buried beneath the paw of the Sphinx.

My second novel came from a tour we did together in England and Scotland. Stephen came as the Rosicrucian historian, and I got to tag along again. That’s where Beneath the Hallowed Hill was born, a novel exploring several myths of Glastonbury, formerly Avalon.

Luck was with me once more when I was browsing books at the International New Age Book Fair in Denver and found Marsha Keith Schuchard’s book William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision. My husband was off doing an interview on his latest book, so I was wandering. Luck guided my steps. Or fate? Jung’s serendipity? Is there a difference?

The British edition was titled Why Mrs. Blake Cried. Why did she cry? Because Blake wanted to practice sacred sexuality as taught by his mother’s church and Catherine didn’t want to. Blake suggested he have a concubine of sorts. So she cried. Leave it to that randy Sagittarius visionary poet to suggest such a thing.

Wait, what? His mother’s church? The Moravian Lodge in Fetter Lane?

The who? Moravian?

Wait, I was raised in the Moravian Church, and we certainly didn’t condone such activities. No concubines in my neighborhood.

Turns out Blake made that part up based on Abraham of the Old Testament. But Schuchard was right about the sacred sexuality part.

I was floored. Amazed. I had to know more.

This was the lucky start of my last novel. I’m waiting for fate to strike again. Meanwhile, I’m still working on the next two novels. Maybe when I heard about the house falling in on the Giza Plateau because they were digging for antiquities in their basement, that was fate. We shall see.