If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sandra Parshall

Sandra Parshall, a former newspaper journalist, won the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award for The Heat of the Moon, her first book in the Rachael Goddard series. On September 1, Poisoned Pen Press released Under the Dog Star, the fourth book in this series. I wanted to interview Sandra, not only because I love the series, but also to learn about her writing techniques and publishing experiences.   E. B. Davis

Let’s start at the beginning with your first Agatha Award winning novel, The Heat of the Moon. When I read the novel, it seemed written as a one-off book, tying up all the loose ends. When you wrote the book, did you envision it as the start of the Rachael Goddard series?

No, I didn’t see it as the first in a series. When Poisoned Pen Press bought the book, however, I was happy to develop a series around Rachel. I love her and enjoy her company.

The Heat of the Moon was very much a psychological thriller, a different genre than the rest of the series. The second book of the series, Disturbing the Dead, transitions between psychological thriller to murder mystery, utilizing your main character Rachael as the deductive sleuth. Was Disturbing the Dead difficult to write?

I brought in Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger to handle the police work, while Rachel works around the edges of the case, driven by her attachment to Holly Turner, the teenage niece of the murdered woman. I wrote several versions of Disturbing the Dead before I got it the way I wanted it, and yes, it was difficult. I make the work hard for myself by dreaming up convoluted plots with lots of characters, crisscrossing relationships, and secrets galore. That’s what I enjoy reading, so it’s natural that I would write that kind of book, but it’s never easy.

Was changing the setting pivotal in this transition?

Yes. I couldn’t keep Rachel in quiet, civilized little McLean, VA, and have her getting involved in a lot of murder investigations. Besides, I wanted to write about a variety of characters in a landscape that presents its own challenges. I saw many more opportunities for conflict in Rachel’s new home.

Rachael had a successful and domineering mother. She becomes personally and professionally involved with an overprotective man. Do you think people tend to make the same mistakes?

I think most strong, self-confident men are hardwired to be overprotective of the people they love. Rachel is attracted to strong, self-confident men, so she has to take the negative qualities along with the good. Luke in The Heat of the Moon might seem her perfect match, but as it turned out, Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger is better suited. He’s overprotective at times, but then she doesn’t always object. If somebody’s trying to kill you, why would you object to a police officer looking out for you? He’s learning to respect her ability to take care of herself, though. He doesn’t treat her like a child, by any means.

People are reluctant to acknowledge their weaknesses. But Rachael is quite aware of hers and that characteristic is her strength. Do you value honesty above other virtues?

That depends on the situation. People often hide behind honesty when their real intention is to wound or destroy someone else’s confidence or happiness. We should be honest with ourselves about our motives and weaknesses. It’s not always wise to be totally honest with other people.

Among the many veterinarians, Rachael’s profession, there are a number of doctors for humans in your books. You know about the professions in the various medical communities. Do you have doctors in your family? Was this field your journalistic expertise? Or does it fascinate you?

No, the only personal experience I have with doctors is as a patient. I made Rachel a veterinarian because I wanted to include animals without turning the books into cozies, and also because her job gives readers a connection with her caring nature. Medical doctors crop up in stories because they’re useful characters. Doctors are in a uniquely powerful position. They can have enormous influence over other people’s lives. They can save and they can destroy. You couldn’t ask for a more versatile set of potential characters.

With each book, I get to know and like Rachael better. How do you write books for new readers without boring the old readers with backstory they already know?

I try to keep backstory to a minimum. Each book has to stand on its own, but new readers do need enough context to give the characters’ relationships some depth. In other words, I just do the best I can, and if my editor doesn’t object to what I’ve written, I figure I got it right.

Readers can forget secondary characters from book to book. Are there methods you use to spark the reader’s memory?

I have to remind myself to describe continuing characters when they first appear in each book. I know what they look like, but I have to make sure the reader does too. With Tom Bridger and Holly Turner, who are Melungeon — mixed race — it’s important that readers be able to “see” them clearly. With most characters, their personalities and relationships to one another will come out in the course of the story, so I don’t spend a lot of time filling in gaps.

Give us the hook for Under the Dog Star, please.

Veterinarian Rachel Goddard can’t stand by while animals suffer — and she feels equally driven to act if she believes a child is mistreated. In Under the Dog Star, she makes deadly enemies when she scrambles to save feral dogs wrongly accused of killing a prominent doctor, helps Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger track down an illegal dogfighting operation, and at the same time becomes entangled in the sad lives of the murdered doctor’s adopted children. This fast-paced suspense novel, praised by Kirkus Reviews for “spine-chilling tension from cover to cover,” is also a story about the meaning of family, the power of compassion, and the duty we have to the animals that share our lives.

What route did you take to become published? Did you obtain an agent, who sold the series to Poisoned Pen Press? Have you been satisfied with Poisoned Pen Press? Do they help promote books?

I wrote a number of books and had several agents over the years, with no luck in finding a publisher. My agent at the time submitted The Heat of the Moon to 20 New York editors. When it didn’t sell, I put it aside and moved on to other things. Eventually, my friend Judy Clemens, who had sold a book to Poisoned Pen Press, read The Heat of the Moon, loved it, and urged me to submit it. I did, with little expectation of success. After they’d had it for 16 months, and I’d almost forgotten about it, PPP offered a contract. By then I had a new agent, and she handled the contract for me.

Yes, PPP promotes its books in several ways. I’m sure they do as good a job as any larger publisher does. Unless you’re a bestselling author, you’ll be responsible for most of the promotion yourself, regardless of which press you’re with.

Do you think placing books in libraries ultimately gains readership and sales?

I’ve heard from many readers who discovered my books in libraries. The library market is huge, and those sales are vital to the success of all publishers and authors, so recent cutbacks in library budgets could have a serious economic impact on the publishing industry. Selling books to libraries is every bit as important as selling copies to individual readers.

I think that promotion is a daunting task and few writers have the personality to do it comfortably. Does promotion bother you, and do you have a public persona that you utilize for promotion?

I have to push myself to be a little more forward than I am naturally, but aside from that I try to be myself. I’m not an actress. I’ve become much more comfortable with speaking before groups, and I enjoy being on panels at conferences. It’s always fun to meet readers and I love talking to people who have read my books. What I don’t like is the amount of time that promotion can eat up. I need long stretches of uninterrupted time for writing, and when it’s chopped into bits by promotional activities, I have difficulty getting anything written.

Do you serve in discussion panels at conferences, if so, which conferences?

I attend Malice Domestic and Bouchercon. I’ve been to Deadly Ink, and I’ve appeared at book festivals. This fall I’ll be at the Virginia Literary Festival in Richmond.

Would you consider becoming president of SinC in the future?

No. A thousand times no! As a member of the national board for the past two years, I’ve seen exactly how time-consuming the president’s job is, and I’m happy to leave it to capable women like Cathy Pickens and Frankie Bailey. I do think serving on the board is a valuable experience for anyone who wants to be active in the organization, and I’d like to see more members rotated through board positions more frequently.

How do organizations like SinC help women crime writers?

On a personal level, the organization provides support and comradeship in what can be a lonely profession. SinC and its Guppies Chapter have helped a lot of writers get published. SinC’s original purpose was to work toward equality for women writers – equality in the number of books published, the number of reviews received, the size of advances. Publishing is changing so radically now that I’m not sure how SinC’s historical identity will be affected. The organization is focusing increasingly on education, to give our writer members the tools and knowledge they need to compete in an altered marketplace.

Rachael seems very devoted to her practice, her personal life and helping in her community. But there are times when she seems like a skittish colt, a prey animal, who could cast the life she’s built aside and run. Is that because she was a victim and it’s a hard cast to break? Or is there an element in all of us to escape our current lives and be free?

Rachel grew up knowing she wasn’t loved or valued, and that’s had a profound effect on her. She still has moments when she doubts that she’s worthy of love. She’s also carrying around a gigantic secret about her own identity, so she has a constant sense of being an imposter. She’s resilient, though, and naturally warm and caring. I think she’ll be all right.

Please ask your local libraries to purchase Sandy’s series. I have only one problem with her writing—I wish she wrote faster!

Find out more about Sandra Parshall and her series at: http://sandraparshall.com/index.html
Her books can be purchased at: Barnes and Noble and Amazon.


Warren Bull said...

It's a pleasure to hear from you and thanks for sharing so much with us.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Excellent interview, E.B. Congratulations on a fantastic series, Sandra. How great that you enjoy your protagonist's company. That must absolutely show in your work. Your talent shines through even in the interview. Will check out these books.

Pauline Alldred said...

Thanks for a fascinating interview. What an achievement to create a series character that continues to excite and intrigue.

E. B. Davis said...

I've enjoyed reading Sandra's series. She combines a character driven plot (a caring veterinarian)with mystery and romance.

Sandra Parshall said...

Thanks so much for having me as a guest -- and for your thoughtful questions.