Saturday, August 28, 2010
A Visit with Patricia Stoltey
Patricia, you have interesting titles for your books. How did you come up with them and in which areas are they located?
I thought hard about that first title, because I wanted a format and rhythm that would work for future books. My goal, if the characters succeeded as a series, was to tie each plot to a different part of the country and use that reference in the title. The first part of The Prairie Grass Murders is set in central Illinois, and the plot revolves around land use disputes. The debate about setting aside good farmland as prairie grass preserves is an element in the dispute.
The Desert Hedge Murders is set in Laughlin, Nevada, and Oatman, Arizona, so that’s the desert part of the title. In this case, a hedge fund scam is the crime that triggers the murders. Is that too sneaky?
If I decide to write more books in this series, I’m thinking of titles like The Banyon Tree Murders (set in South Florida) or The Cache la Poudre Murders (set in Colorado), etc.
Tell us about your latest mystery and your series protagonists.
There are two 60ish main protagonists in this series, retired circuit court judge Sylvia Thorn and her brother Willie Grisseljon, a Vietnam veteran. They dominated the first book in the series, but in The Desert Hedge Murders, they’re upstaged by their parents and Mom’s travel club, The Florida Flippers.
Sylvia agrees to escort the group on a long weekend trip to Laughlin for gambling and sightseeing. When they check into the hotel in Laughlin and find a body in the bathtub of one of the rooms, the stage is set for serious senior sleuthing.
How did you come up with the Florida Flippers, your madcap senior travel group?
The idea for Mom’s travel club came after I’d selected the Laughlin/Oatman location for the second novel. I was thinking of reasons why Sylvia and Willie would go there, and escorting the senior group seemed like a great idea. As I wrote each one of the characters, I imagined them as older versions of my three cousins and my sister-in-law. That helped me keep the characters from looking and acting too much alike.
One of my blogger friends described the book as “Golden Girls meet Murder She Wrote.” I think that’s a great logline.
When did you begin writing and when was your first novel published?
In my 20s, I wrote bad poetry and bad short stories, attended conferences and writing classes over the years, and knew I wanted to try a book someday. Working full time and raising kids interfered, until the mid-80s when I had a two year break (in France). I focused on the action/adventure novel my brother and I wanted to write about his experiences in the transportation industry in the 70s. We finally got that manuscript published in 1999, but only as an audio book. I also wrote the first draft of a romantic suspense novel during that break, but it still sits on the shelf, unloved and unpublished. I finally made it into print in 2007 with The Prairie Grass Murders.
You’ve lived in France as well as various areas in this country. What prompted the long distance moves?
A spirit of adventure, the desire to reinvent myself after major life changes including the death of a spouse, a longing to experience more before I get too old to travel—I think all those things played a part.
In 1998, just before my husband and I retired and moved from Florida to Colorado, I took a solo jaunt to Norway to check out my maternal grandfather’s birthplace and meet the Norwegian cousins. That was also an amazing experience.
What’s your writing schedule like? Do you outline your books or just have a vague idea of what’s going to happen when you sit down at the computer?
I’m a binge writer. I spend weeks and months thinking about a story while I’m working on other projects, pulling weeds, writing blog posts, etc. When I sit down to write, I write long and hard, for days at a time. I may have a few notes regarding timeline or plot twists, but I don’t outline until I’m several chapters into the story. Then I usually put together a chapter synopsis to keep the plot straight.
Do you have an agent?
I do not have an agent, and I didn’t spend much time looking for one. I found Five Star/Gage through a conference workshop moderated by an editor from Tekno Books, the group that acquires books for this publisher.
I plan to search for an agent again as I finish up the two projects I have in the works. Neither one is well-suited to Five Star’s mystery line, but if I write another Sylvia and Willie novel, I’ll submit to Five Star without hesitation.
What's your current project?
I’m fine-tuning a novel set in frontier Illinois, circa 1830. I think of it not as a “Who done it?” but as a “Who’s gonna do it?” although it will probably be classified as women’s fiction. The title is Wishing Caswell Dead. I’ve also completed the first draft of a contemporary suspense novel, tentatively called Dead Wrong.
Advice to fledgling mystery writers.
Attend mystery conventions as a fan while you learn the craft so you can meet published authors and network, network, network. Establish an online presence and learn about blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media long before you publish. Buy a copy of Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery and read it very carefully. Try your best to find a traditional publisher approved by Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. If you end up self-publishing or going with a small publisher that has no in-house editor, hire a topnotch editor to help you fine-tune your manuscript.
Patricia's website: http://www.patriciastoltey.com/.
Her blog site: http://patriciastoltey.blogspot.com/.