Wednesday, October 23, 2019

An Interview with Toni L. P. Kelner--Leigh Perry by E. B. Davis

Dr. Georgia Thackery is back at home with her parents after finding a new adjunct position at Bostock College. Everyone is excited for their first family Christmas with nothing to hide. Why? Because Georgia’s daughter Madison is now in the know about Sid, their walking, talking family skeleton.

But their Christmas cheer is interrupted when the Thackerys' dog Byron goes missing on a cold December night. When he’s finally found, he has a femur clutched between his jaws, and Georgia and Madison race to apologize to Sid for letting the dog gnaw on him yet again.

Except that all of Sid’s bones are present and accounted for.

This bone is from somebody else, and when they trace Byron’s trail to an overgrown lot nearby, they find the rest of the skeleton. It’s the normal kind, not moving or telling jokes, and when the police come to take charge, they’re sure it was murder.

And one of Georgia’s adjunct friends could be implicated.

With tensions stirring at the college and everyone hiding a secret or two, Sid and Georgia must uncover the truth before the ghost of a Christmas past strikes again.

Leigh Perry is a pseudonym for Toni L. P. Kelner, who wrote the “Where Are They Now” and Laura Fleming Southern mystery series. She’s won many awards and co-authored numerous anthologies with Charlaine Harris. No wonder she’s now writing a cozy paranormal series, The Family Skeleton mysteries. I’m a big fan of this subgenre.

Georgia Thackery is an adjunct college professor whose best friend is a living skeleton, Sid. The mysteries Georgia and Sid solve often occur at the colleges where Georgia teaches. Because she’s an adjunct professor, she often moves each new semester to a different college, and with a few exceptions, her colleagues change. The recurring secondary characters are Georgia’s family—her high-school-age daughter, Madison, Madison’s dog, Byron, Georgia’s sister, Deborah, and their parents, tenured college professors.
The series is well-crafted, fun to read, and gives insight into the Thackery’s lives in academia. The Skeleton Stuffs a Stocking is the sixth book in this series and ends with what I consider a Christmas gift to readers. I’ll say no more.

Please welcome, Toni/Leigh to WWK.                            ____           _________                                                    E. B. Davis

Did you start your career as a college professor? On the tenure track or adjunct? I’m so flattered that you asked this, but no, I’ve never been a college professor of any description. I know a lot of academics, and the background in these books comes from a combination of speaking to those friends and online research.  

I didn’t know that college professors had unions, like public school teachers do. I’ve never heard of strikes on college campuses. Is this more common than I know? Are the unions only at public colleges? It varies a lot. Some schools have them, some don’t. There was a recent strike to allow a union of grad students, and there are adjunct unions in some places, but not all. In other words, it’s a perfect situation for a mystery writer because I can make the internal reality match my plot.

Sid’s vitality and life itself hinges on how others need him, his interests, and if he fulfills a function, especially in Georgia’s life. Is this unique to living skeletons or are regular people dependent on the same things? I think so. I’m reminded of all those people who retire, and don’t feel they have reason to get up in the morning. Or, in my case, an empty-nester whose day is suddenly much emptier. (Don’t worry—I’m managing to fill in the gaps.)

Even though Georgia considers Sid her best friend, what sacrifices has she made to keep Sid in her life? It was probably harder when she was a young girl, when she had to keep Sid’s existence a secret. Secrecy is wearing on a person, and she probably hated that she couldn’t take her bestie out shopping or to parties with her. (She had other more typical friends, but they haven’t been mentioned in the books yet.) As an adult, she has to be a little more careful about people she lets into her life, but I don’t think she considers it a sacrifice. The way I think of it is this. I’m hard of hearing, and because of that, my husband has to make adaptations when speaking, and he’s used to repeating things I might not have heard. It can be annoying, but it’s worth it for the benefits of the relationship. (Since we’ve been married 31 years, I think I’m safe in saying that he doesn’t mind too much.)

Sid lives in the same house with Georgia’s professor parents and they’re aware of Sid, but they don’t seem to have a relationship with him. Why not? Phil and Dab are busy academics, and have grad students coming in and out of the house. While Georgia could sneak off to spend time with Sid, her parents just didn’t have the time. Then Madison came along, and Sid sequestered himself, and when Georgia moved out, he got used to being alone in the attic. It was complicated by the fact that Deborah, Georgia’s sister, didn’t want to interact with Sid for a long time. Families fall into odd habits sometimes.

Do Sid and Georgia fight? Not often, but sure they get cranky at one another in the books now and then. You spend enough time with anybody, you’re going to snap sometimes.

I’m surprised that Georgia kept Sid a secret from her daughter, Madison, until she was in high school. Georgia met Sid when she was a child. Why and how did she hide Sid from Madison? That was Sid’s decision, not Georgia’s. Part of the reason is a plot reveal in the first book, so I won’t go into details, but part of it was the worry that a small child wouldn’t be able to keep the secret of Sid’s existence. The how was easy. Georgia and Madison moved out of the Thackery house when Madison was very young, so Sid only had to make himself scarce during visits. Why would Madison go into the Thackery attic? 

I’m also surprised that Sid has no recollections of his life as a person. Did he have a rebirth? Why isn’t he more curious about who he was? His first memory is of waking up as a skeleton, and even if he had been curious, he wouldn’t have known where to start looking for more information. There’s also some denial going on. If he thinks about his past existence, he’ll start thinking about how he went from living-breathing person to semi-living-skeleton. That’s an uncomfortable thing to think about. It just didn’t come up, and by the time the books start, Sid had been dead longer than he was alive.

How does Sid contribute to cases when he can’t be known by others? Sid is great at brain-storming, despite the lack of a brain, and he usually handles the computer stuff and paperwork as needed. Plus, he can make phone calls and send emails. Where he excels is surveillance, because he only needs his skull and a hand to watch and report suspicious activities. There have even been rare times when he’s supplied the muscle. So to speak.

In The Skeleton Stuffs a Stocking, Sid doesn’t seem interested in the case when a skeleton is found in the neighborhood even after Georgia finds out it is a case of murder. Is he sandbagging Georgia or is he absorbed in Christmas? A little of both. He doesn’t see a way for them to get into the case at first, and he is excited about Christmas. But he’s also making the point that Georgia always defers to him in getting involved—he wants to make sure she enjoys their investigations as much as he does.

Charles, a fellow adjunct and friend, confesses that he knows the identity of the victim. Wasn’t he aware of the missing-person investigation into her disappearance? The missing-person investigation took place in a different town, and for reasons explained in the book, weren’t particularly vigorous. So no, he never knew.

Do you think there are as many helicopter parents as there are those who neglect their kids? I think helicopter parents are more obvious—they’re louder. Neglect can be silent and harder to detect.

Georgia is an English professor. Her sister, Deborah, is a locksmith. How can they be so different? I’m a former tech writer who writes mysteries. One of my sisters is a fulltime home caregiver, and another is a retired teacher’s aid. The third’s last job was a cashier at a package store. I’m used to sisters being wildly different.

Why does Deborah only tolerate Sid? Was she jealous? Deborah has always been more rooted in what she considered the real world rather than her parent’s ivory tower or her little sister’s imaginary adventures. Sid just didn’t fit into her worldview. Plus, as a child, she probably was a little jealous. As she got older, she was worried Sid was holding Georgia back in life.

Who is Art Taylor? Did the real Art Taylor, the award-winning mystery writer, lend his name to the book? Yes, I shamelessly borrowed Art’s name. It was late and I couldn’t come up with a name when I needed one. I did ask him, and if he hadn’t approved, I’d have changed it.

When a connection is found between the victim and the Fenton’s circus where Georgia found Sid, it necessitates a visit to the owners of the circus, who happen to be the parents of her old flame, Brownie. Why did Georgia and Brownie stop dating? To be technical, it’s a carnival, not a circus. (Many circuses have a few carnival rides, and many carnivals include a performance or two, so it can be confusing.) The reason Georgia and Brownie quit dating is a little bit of a spoiler, but basically it came down to a miscommunication.

Do carnies have their own vocabulary? Absolutely! I’ve read that modern carnies don’t use as much of the slang as they did in years past, but it’s still fun stuff. So I created a character who is a longtime carnie and who likes trolling on people to give me a reason to use it.

What’s next for Georgia and Sid? I should start thinking about that. A wedding? Another mystery from Sid’s past? Something involving Deborah? A live-action role-playing camp with Madison taking part? Plenty of ideas, but I’m just not sure yet. I can pretty much guarantee there will be bone puns.


  1. What a fun interview - thank you EB and Toni. I look forward to reading Sid's latest adventure.

  2. Sounds like a fun series, Toni. I look forward to reading it. Very imaginative.

  3. What a great concept. You have so many different directions you can go with this series!

  4. I fell in love with Sid when EB reviewed your book, I think it was last month. At any rate, I immediately downloaded the first of the series and now, I'm hung up on a skeleton! Does Sid date? It's a delightful series.

    Thank you for visiting.

  5. Sounds like a good Christmas gift for mystery lovers!

  6. Thanks, folks!

    And Kait, I'm sure that Sid would love to meet you. But I'll warn you that he plays the field a bit. I've got pictures of him with an awful lot of women.