by Grace Topping
Setting is often such an intricate part of a story it can almost be viewed as another character. Heather Weidner’s novels and short stories showcase charming Virginia settings and make them so appealing you’ll want to spend your next vacation there. In Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers, Heather introduces us to the world of glamping and campground resorts—in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery
There is nothing like finding a dead body, clad only in a red satin thong, on your property to jolt you from a quiet routine. Jules Keene, owner of the posh Fern Valley Camping Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is thrust into the world of the Dark Web when one of her guests, Ira Perkins, is found murdered in the woods near her vintage trailers. Jules quickly discovers that the man who claimed to be on a writing retreat was not what he seemed, and someone will go to any length to find what he left at her resort. Jules, along with her Jack Russell Terrier sidekick Bijou, has to put the rest of the missing pieces of a blackmailing scheme together before her business is ruined.
Jules’s resort, set in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville in the quaint town of Fern Valley, offers guests a unique vacation in refurbished and upcycled vintage trailers. Hoping to expand her offerings, she partners with her maintenance/security guy to create a village of tiny houses, the latest home DIY craze, but a second murder of a reporter interrupts Jules’s expansion plans. Curiosity gets the best of her, and she steps up her sleuthing to find out what Ira Perkins was really up to and what he was really hiding at her resort.
Welcome back to Writers Who Kill, Heather.
I found the mystery featured in Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers intriguing and a bit frightening, but at the same time, I was fascinated by the concept of glamping. Is that something new?
Glamping has been around a while. It’s “glamorous” camping, and it comes in all kinds of flavors. I’m not a roughing-it kind of gal, so luxury accommodations in the woods were appealing to me. I’ve seen upcycled trailers, posh yurts (large round tents), oversized tents, tree houses, and tiny houses. This site documents a variety of experiences with some really interesting photos. After being home so long during the pandemic, I can’t wait to go on an adventure.
The Fern Valley Camping Resort, tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, sounds like a terrific place for a short visit or an extended stay, especially in order to write a book. Do such resorts actually exist, or is it a product of your imagination?
They do. My husband does a lot of restoration projects (e.g. classic cars, campers, boats, houses…), and we watch a lot of DIY programs on TV and YouTube. I came across one a few years ago from California where a couple restored vintage trailers. They sold a lot of them to a resort in California’s wine country. I was doing some research this week for a book, and I found another resort like this in Oregon’s wine country. I made up Fern Valley. It’s based on a traditional campground that my aunt and uncle owned near Crabtree Falls in Virginia in the 1970s.
You mention just a few of the vintage trailers Jules Keene and her father refurbished and rent to resort guests. Have you always been interested in vintage trailers that you were able to incorporate your knowledge into the story, or did it take a lot of research? Is there a big market for refurbished trailers?
I fell in love with the idea that people save these campers and their history from the scrap heap. A lot of the post-WWII campers were part of the American driving and camping craze in the 1940s and 50s. These campers, especially the quirky ones with fins and rocket-like designs, spawn a lot of fond memories. I love stories, history, and pop culture, so they became a way for me to share some of these moments from our collective culture. It’s a lot of fun to research and theme Jules’s trailers and tiny houses. Besides the ones decked out in honor of Virginia’s flora and fauna and a fishing-themed one, Jules has themed campers for James Dean, Barbie, Elvis, Area 51, Robin Hood, and Lucille Ball.
Some of these trailers sound quite small and without a lot of conveniences that would make for a luxurious stay. Still, it sounds like guests would tolerate a lack of space and features for the opportunity to stay in one the trailers or in the tiny houses Jules and Jake are building. What is the draw?
I am fascinated with the tiny spaces. Jules and Jake did their best to modernize each of the campers with posh amenities like wine chillers, luxury linens, and lots of technology gadgets for the modern visitor. She also plans events and themed vacations at the resort like wine tastings, decadent dessert tastings, book events, nature hikes, and crafting weekends to attract visitors who want to have experiences as part of their get-away.
The tiny houses are TINY. They typically range from 400 to 1,100 square feet. The ones that are made to be portable have to fit within one car lane on the highway. The creators of these spaces do a fantastic job of building storage and useful space in some interesting places. A lot of furniture folds away, staircases often have storage under them, and the buildings are designed to maximize wall space for practical use and decoration. To live in one full-time, you definitely need to have a minimalistic lifestyle. I have too many books and collections right now, but I would love to have one as a writing space in my yard.
While trying to solve two murders, Jules still comes up with ways to attract tourists to the small town of Fern Valley. So much so, she’s encouraged to run for president of the town’s business council. Your ideas in this story and in your other books show a real talent for business. Are you a natural entrepreneur?
I’ve dabbled through the years. (And I think you have to be an entrepreneur to be a writer and marketer of your works.) I’ve been a technical writer, graphic designer, editor, college professor, software tester, special events coordinator, and IT manager through the years. A lot of my work life and experiences seep into my writing.
The motive for the murders in your mystery is so heinous it involves both the local police and the FBI. Without providing readers with spoilers, was the reason for the blackmailing something that could actually happen?
This one is scary, and it could very easily happen. I’ll put on my IT manager hat and remind people to be safe out there. There are a lot of bad actors who are looking to take advantage of folks. Make sure that you patch and update your computer regularly. Attacks, hacks, and malware are on the rise (exponentially) since folks started working at home. Don’t click on links. This makes it too easy for the bad guys to gain access to your system. Also, be careful who you friend (and give access to your information) on social media. Sometimes, they use this to gain information on you and your other friends. If something looks or smells fishy, it probably is.
I was at an IT conference in Florida a few years back (before the plague), and I attended several sessions on Bluetooth and other technologies. All of these IoT (Internet of Things) products are amazing because of the tasks they can do. We now have personal assistants, refrigerators that can tell you when you’re low on milk, smart cameras and thermostats, and medical devices that provide real-time data to your doctor. But unfortunately, there are bad actors out there who use this technology in ways for things it was not intended. Without protections, all of these devices can easily be hacked (and often controlled). I love technology, but the thought of the unintended consequences makes me want to hide under the bed. Be careful out there. It’s a dangerous world sometimes, but it provides material for all kinds of mysteries and thrillers.
Jules shares her life with Bijou, her Jack Russell Terrier. Dogs feature prominently in your books and short stories. Are dogs special in your life?
Our dogs have always been part of our family. We share our home with a brother-sister team of Jack Russell terriers, Disney and Riley. Disney’s the model for Bijou. They are spunky, adventurous dogs who love long walks around the lake, any kind of snack, and chasing the hundreds of squirrels that live in our yard. And they make great, fuzzy coworkers. They have beds in my office, and they help me plot and review dialog in my stories. They also photo-bomb Zoom meetings more frequently than I would like.
You’ve written a number of short stories featured in anthologies. Which do you find more challenging to write, short stories or novels?
I like writing both, but I think short stories are more challenging to create. You have a condensed amount of space and fewer characters. Every word counts. I like the challenge, and I tend to experiment more in the short story world. My short stories tend to be a little darker/edgier than my novels.
You set your novels and short stories in Virginia, where the settings almost become another character in your stories. How do the Virginia settings add to your stories?
I write where I know. I’ve lived in the Commonwealth my entire life. I grew up in Virginia Beach, and now we live outside of Richmond. Virginia has so much to offer – history, varied landscapes, cultural sites, and amazing restaurants. We’re centrally located on the East Coast, and you can get to the beach, mountains, or Washington, D.C. in a few hours.
I enjoyed your Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series, set in Richmond, Virginia. Will we be seeing more of those?
Thank you so much. I finished the fourth book, which will be out this summer. It’s called Male Revues and Subterfuge. I also have a short story in Virginia is for Mysteries III, where Delanie, Duncan, Chaz, and Margaret appear. It’s set near the great Church Hill Tunnel disaster in Richmond, and we finally find out the truth about sleazy strip club owner Chaz Smith’s face tattoo.
What’s next for Jules Keene and her resort?
In book two, Film Crews and Rendezvous, Hollywood comes to Fern Valley, and the one stoplight town may never be the same. It launches this October, and Christmas Lights and Cat Fights will be out in 2023.
Thank you, Heather.
Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She also writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia, and her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries launches January 2023.
Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Chesapeake, and Guppy chapters, International Thriller Writers, and James River Writers.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Website and Blog: http://www.heatherweidner.com
Amazon Authors: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HOYR0MQ
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