So glad to have you visiting today. Let’s get started.
How likely are people you meet to end up in your next book?
I love to people watch, and I’m fascinated by the way we humans think, talk and act. I’m always listening to random conversations when I’m out and thinking how to turn them into a story, or stealing traits or habits from people around me for my characters. I don’t take people in their entirety, change their names and plop them in my books, but I do infuse parts of many people into my characters. People know it, too – a friend got me one of those T-shirts last Christmas that says “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel.”
Was your road to publication fraught with peril or a walk in the park?
I started writing seriously in grad school. After I graduated, I began writing mysteries in earnest. I wrote, edited, pitched, polished and got a lot of rejections. I attended conferences – my favorite is Crime Bake – and made great friends and contacts. I learned a ton, and I kept writing. But probably the most important thing I did (aside from honing my craft) was to join Sisters in Crime, and the Sisters in Crime New England chapter. Besides the benefits of belonging to a group of like-minded writers, the networking was invaluable – and in my case, resulted in a contract.
In 2011, agent John Talbot contacted then-president of SinCNE, Sheila Connolly, looking for writers interested in developing cozy proposals. Sheila put the offer out to the entire membership, and I was among the group that answered. After speaking with John in October, I wrote a proposal. By December, it had sold and I was off and running with the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries. So I wouldn’t say my road was either fraught with peril or a walk in the park, but the stars definitely aligned when they were supposed to.
Give us an elevator pitch for your book.
Stan Connor’s Pawsitively Organic pet food business is taking off – she’s even catering doggie parties. That’s what she’s doing at the local dairy farm during Halloween season – but the party is derailed when the farmer’s dead body is discovered in his haunted corn maze and Stan finds herself once again mixed up in murder.
Tell us about your heroine. Give us one of her strengths and one of her weaknesses.
Stan Connor is a recovering corporate girl who was eliminated from her job and saw the light. Instead of jumping right back into the rat race, she pulled up stakes and moved to a small town with her Maine coon cat, Nutty and her severance package. A saver and savvy investor, Stan doesn’t need to worry about working just yet, and decides to settle into her new town and meet her neighbors. Well, we all know how that turns out – there’s no downtime when you have a murder to solve!
Stan’s young – 35 – and not used to being fully in charge of her own life. She’s used to being “owned” by her career, and at first she isn’t sure how to handle it. But she learns quickly how to make her life her own.
One of Stan’s most obvious strengths is her love for animals. She does everything for Nutty, who she rescued from outside after he was hit by a car. She cooks for him because of his irritable bowel syndrome, and this leads her to her new career making organic, all-natural healthy treats for the pets in her new town.
Her weakness? She’s still in that corporate-thinking mindset, which means that she’s always on guard, doesn’t often trust people and is emotionally careful – sometimes too much so. Perhaps the handsome Irish pub owner, Jake McGee, will change all that for her….
What genres are you drawn to as a reader?
Along with cozies, of which I read many, I love dark and creepy. Dennis Lehane has been my favorite author since the first Patrick and Angie book. I love John Connolly, Tana French, R.J. Ellory, Harlan Coben, Lisa Gardner, Lee Child…you get the idea. Too many to list!
What did you want to be when you were a child? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I always knew I’d be a writer. I was a reader before I could even read – my mother would read me books every morning, early, before the day began. I remember being so disappointed when everyone had to start their day and the reading stopped. Later, I would re-type my favorite books on our old typewriter. I wrote bad poems, short stories and even outlined a soap opera before I was 13. I still have an essay I wrote – no idea what grade – about what my adult life would look like, and I wrote about being a best-selling author with people lined up waiting for me to sign their books. So I’ll just keep visualizing, intending and working toward a successful career. I think I’m on the right track!
Emmalee bolted out of the gate and raced to the corn maze behind the vampire, Stan on her heels. Stan hoped Em knew her way around the maze, otherwise they’d be running through it like beheaded chickens. She’d been lost in a corn maze once and it hadn’t been pretty. Then again, she was quite directionally impaired.
Yellow, coarse cornstalks slapped at her as she hurried after Em, heart pounding, wondering what in the world was happening and wishing she had sneakers on instead of her glittery gold flats. Then again, she had planned on hosting a bunch of dogs on the patio, not running willy-nilly through a corn maze. The vampire led them through a series of twists and turns, slowing when they came into a straightaway.
Stan could already see a crowd of costumed people gathered up ahead. Heading away from the scene was a short, skinny girl dressed like an evil nymph clutching the hand of a boy with a fake ax through his head. They were both crying as they fled, which sent a stab of dread through Stan’s belly. She’d been hoping to find Hal with a broken bone or something, after tripping and falling over one of the cornstalks. But why would people be fleeing from the scene crying? Stan thought of Danny Hoffman with his chain saw and hoped he hadn’t been part of an accident.
They finally reached the crowd at what appeared to be the top of the witch’s pointy hat within the maze design. They were at the end of the field. Emmalee elbowed her way through the crowd of kids. A girl wearing the bottom half of a werewolf costume sobbed. A boy with Dracula fangs had his arm around her shoulder. Stan could see his fingers, white with tension, digging into her arm.
Then Stan heard another noise–a wailing sound, starting out low in volume, then reaching a disturbing crescendo. Emmalee had reached the front of the crowd, and whatever she saw was not good.
Stan moved forward to stand behind her, peering around Emmalee’s shoulder. In the growing darkness, she could just make out a figure behind the short, wire fence containing the corn, face up, upper half immersed in a mud puddle left over from the weekend rain. She moved closer to get a better view.
And wished she hadn’t. A menacing hook-shaped weapon protruded from Hal Hoffman’s chest, a dark stain covering most of his upper body, discoloring his blue and green flannel shirt. His eyes were open. Empty.
For a second, she thought maybe this was the farmer’s idea of a bad joke. A staged murder in the corn maze for full Halloween effect. She waited for Hal to jump up, laughing, and pull the rubber prop out of his chest. Chide them all for falling for it.
But he didn’t.
Stan felt the contents of her stomach shift and had to turn away. She wondered how long it would take to erase the image of all that blood from her mind.
Emmalee snatched a flashlight from someone and pressed up against the green wire fence, shining the light square on the figure. Her screams grew louder, momentarily silencing the other sounds of the young kids who had first witnessed this scene. She moved forward, one hand on the low fence, ready to vault it.
Stan reached for her hand in the darkness, partly for support and partly to hold her back. “No,” she said quietly.
“But we have to help him,” Emmalee protested, her voice high, childlike. She yanked her hand away from Stan, but pounding feet and shouting froze her in her tracks as her son, the chain-saw-wielding Danny, crashed through the corn leaving broken stalks and scattered cobwebs in his wake.
“Where’s my dad?” the boy demanded, his voice dangerously shaky.
“Danny–” Stan stepped to the side, blocking his way. He shoved at her until his mother, finally realizing he was there, grabbed him and hugged him tight, forcing herself into some kind of composure. Her head barely grazed his chin.
“Danny, you can’t be here.” She locked desperate eyes with Stan over her son’s shoulder. “We need to get help.”
“We’ll get help. Did anyone call nine-one-one?” Stan called out, focusing on the vampire girl standing off to the side.
The girl shook her head, eyes wide as saucers as she watched Stan, clearly hoping for direction. Stan pulled her phone out of her back pocket. Noticed her hand was shaking. Great. Another call to Trooper Pasquale about a dead body.
Because Hal Hoffman was clearly beyond help.
Author of the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, from Kensington Books
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