1. Tell us about your latest book.
Marley Clark, a retired military intelligence officer, works security for a Sea Island community simply to keep busy. A single night patrol transforms the feisty widow’s yawner of a job into a deadly battle of wits when she finds an islander drowned and bobbing naked amid a potpourri of veggies in a Jacuzzi.
Asked to serve as the lead investigator’s liaison, the 52-year-old heroine is startled to discover she’s become Deputy Braden Mann’s target as well-for romance. Yet their steamy attraction doesn’t deter the pair from sorting through a viper’s nest of suspects as the body count grows and the pun-loving killer plans a grizzly epitaph for Marley.
2. How did Marley come to you?
I began noodling around the idea of Marley shortly after I crossed the age 50 divide. My boomer friends were doing all sort of interesting things, and I thought it would be fun to create a heroine who was over 50, fit, smart AND sexy. My best friend since kindergarten, a military intelligence officer, had just retired from the Army. So I pumped her for details to breathe life into my heroine’s background. Like my friend Arlene, Marley began her Army career as a Polish linguist then moved into military intelligence. Of course, Marley inherited some of my personality traits, too-stubbornness and a generous dollop of snark.
3. Why do you write mysteries?
I love puzzles, and it’s satisfying to see justice served. I’ve always been a mystery fan. Guess it was inherited from my mom who sat down with my sister and me every week to watch Perry Mason. I grew up in a house with a very spooky, basement-coal bin, dirt/plank floors, cobwebs galore and all sorts of discarded mysterious implements. One pastime on a hot summer day was to visit the basement with the neighborhood kids and see who could tell the scariest story. I started reading mysteries back then and never stopped. I’ve gone through the alphabet with author Sue Grafton and enjoyed every J.D. Robb book I’ve read. When mystery is served with a side of humor I’m in pig heaven. Susan Isaacs has written some of my favorite books-Compromising Positions and Long Time No See.
4. How important is setting in this new series?
The South Carolina Lowcountry essentially acts as a character in DEAR KILLER, influencing the actions of the villain, the heroine and the hero in a myriad of ways. Sandy beaches and shifting dunes, pluff mud and crabs, spring tides and fog, Gullah culture and beachfront mansions, alligators and ocean creeks-these and other unique features of the Carolina Sea Islands intertwine with the plot. I lived in the Lowcountry for a dozen years and never ceased to wonder at its beauty and variety. For example, Hunting Island State Park is a showcase for nature untamed and untouched, while Beaufort’s historic district lets you savor the Old South’s architecture and charm at its best. In DEAR KILLER, I tried to give the reader at least a taste of what makes the Lowcountry so special.
5. Describe your typical writing day.
Early morning is my most productive time so I’m often at my computer by 6:30 a.m. I tend to run errands and take exercise breaks later in the day. What’s typical? Depends where I am in the writing/promotion cycle. Since DEAR KILLER debuts this month, I’m spending lots of time on launch events, book signings and social networking. I’ve also been busy finalizing courses I’m teaching this fall at OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute programs associated with Clemson University and the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. But, even now, I still try to carve out at least an hour or two for writing. When I’m working hot and heavy on a manuscript, I set daily word count goals and keep my fanny parked in my chair until I reach them. I have my very own office in our house, just as my husband has his own office. Years ago, when we began working together in our marketing company, we discovered we weren’t the best office mates. He likes to play the radio when he works. It distracts me. He’s Mr. Neat. I file by pile until the piles start to teeter. Of course, we do pop into each other’s office now and then during the day.
I’m definitely a “pantster.” Often my characters surprise me by their actions, and I get my best brainstorms in the shower. That said I start with a good handle on a central theme/criminal enterprise. I also will do quite a bit of research before I start writing to familiarize myself with relevant subject matter. And the research-could be on mortgage fraud, university security, spelunking or stun guns-often will prompt me to add a subplot or even tweak my main plot. While I may not know every twist and turn in the plot when I begin, I have rough sketches of my main characters-what they look like, their backgrounds, hobbies, love life, skills and attitude. That said it’s invigorating to be able to improvise if the mood strikes. During most of my writing career, I’ve been somewhat hemmed in by client requirements.
7. What promotional/marketing effort has worked well for you?
Since DEAR KILLER is brand new, the verdict is still out. I’m hopeful my courses and speaking engagements will prompt people to read my book and start a good buzz. I know I haven’t done enough with social media. I’m on a dozen listserves and regularly visit several blogs. I’m also relatively new to Facebook. By the time I’m through reading, there’s no time left to make witty comments or send timely congrats. I’d probably be better served by reducing the number of listserves and increasing my activity (and visibility) on the ones that remain. I think many authors are in the same boat-trying to figure out how to limit the time spent on social media to preserve writing time, yet knowing social media exposure is essential for name recognition.
8. What research is involved in your novels?
I try to go directly to the source when I can. For example, for DEAR KILLER, I called the head of maintenance at a golf course and asked which piece of equipment would prove the most lethal as a weapon. Later, I arranged to get in the cab of a Bobcat with a trencher attachment and take a test drive. Our Upstate Chapter of Sisters in Crime has provided me with a wealth of resources. Every other month, we try to have a guest speaker who’s an expert in some area of law enforcement-FBI agents, prosecutors, CSI techs, private investigators, arson investigators, U.S. Marshals, etc. Most of these folks volunteer to answer questions long after they visit our group. Of course, the Internet also provides a lot of info, but you have to make sure your sources are reliable.
9. Tell us about where you live — we love to travel.
I currently call Upstate South Carolina home, but, before that, I spent a dozen years in the South Carolina Lowcountry where DEAR KILLER is set. I loved every minute of it. I’m not sure anyone can describe the beauty and sensuality of the Lowcountry better than Pat Conroy, but I try to serve up at least an appetizer in my novel. Variety is one of the area’s charms-historic plantations and moss-draped live oaks, white sand beaches dotted with the bleached bones of trees, lighthouses and shrimp boats, Frogmore stew and five-star resorts, Gullah songs and sweetgrass baskets. I now make my home on a lake that offers spectacular mountain views. The area boasts lots of hiking trails and waterfalls, and it’s paradise for folks like me who like to swim and kayak.
10. How did you meet your significant other?
A friend (reluctantly) introduced us at a party. Her fiancé shared a house with two other fellows, and she wanted to fix me up with the “other” guy-not my husband. She was certain we wouldn’t get along. We’ve been proving her wrong for 35 years now.
11. What’s your favorite southern saying?
Don’t crawfish on me.
12. What’s next in your writing life?
I’m polishing the sequel to DEAR KILLER, which is set in Spirit Lake, Iowa, where Marley heads to visit her aunt and cousin. Not surprisingly, Spirit Lake (Lake Okoboji) is another of my favorite spots and some of my fondest memories are linked to visits there with my aunt, uncle and cousins. I’m also working on a romantic suspense set in the 1930s in Keokuk, Iowa, my hometown. The 1930s are a very interesting time. Of course, there’s the Depression, but there’s a lot more going on, too, with gambling, mobs, drifters, and shifts in attitudes toward women. My heroine is accused of murdering her philandering husband.