1. What was you inspiration for this book? Grilled, Chilled and Killed is the second in my Big Lake murder mystery series. Each year there is a barbeque festival in this area, and I thought that might make a great setting for a murder, one where Emily again finds the body, this time in a beer cooler truck. This poor gal has developed a knack for locating murder victims and not one she wants to cultivate. I’ve promised her I won’t have her find another one in the third book, although I’m thinking part of a body would be good.
2. Would you classify your writing as plot driven of character driven? Someone said I plotted like P. D. James and I think she meant it as a compliment. I balance intricate plots with interesting characters, but I have to admit I love my characters. I enjoy creating them. One character named Toby Sands was a bad guy in my first book, but I considered him to be too pathetic and funny to let go of, so I kept him in this second one. I just made him more unkempt. I’ll probably bring him back for the third since everyone seems to like to hate him so much.
3. Can you tell us a little about your main character? Emily Rhodes is what we call in this part of Florida a “winter visitor” meaning she comes here only for several months each year. She is a retired preschool teacher, in her fifties, but she has taken up a career as a bartender at the Big Lake Country Club because her life partner, Fred, has died and left her nothing. In fact, the will found leaves his entire estate to his ex-wife.
Emily is a tiny person, about five feet tall standing on her tiptoes, blonde and attractive. Don’t let the preschool teacher image fool you. This woman has attitude because, as she says “separating battling preschoolers makes you strong in ways only parents can correctly imagine,” and she has to fight to get a job, keep it and track down the killer to get her best friend who has been arrested for the murder released from jail. Emily has a past she’s kept hidden all these years (I won’t tell you what it is or I’d spoil part of the story), so she understands how family secrets can come home to make trouble.
4. Which of your supporting characters was the most challenging to write? I’ve never been in law enforcement, so writing about a dirty cop, Toby Sands, meant I had to do some research. I interviewed several police officers, the head of a small police department and a state trooper. The character of Toby and his physical being are of my own making. Giving him the gross habit of chewing tobacco sealed his fate as an unpleasant guy, but adding in Toby’s desire to better himself by devising schemes not quite legal, all of which fail, has created a character that people find pathetically fascinating.
5. Without giving away too much, tell us a little about the main conflict in this book. Someone hated Everett Pratt enough to kill him, slather him with barbeque sauce, stick an apple in his mouth and shove him into a beer cooler truck which is where Emily finds him. Emily’s detective friend believes Pratt was killed by one of the barbeque contestants because Pratt kept winning all the contests. Emily, however, argues that the motive is more personal and closer to home. An exciting pursuit through the wilderness of rural Florida, a brush with men distilling white lightning and the help of a feral pig bring this mystery to its close with Emily and the detective both claiming victory.
6. Why did you choose this genre? I have read mysteries since I was a kid, beginning as many girls of my generation did with Nancy Drew and graduating to Agatha Christie. How could I not love murder and the impact it makes upon those it touches? Of course, I like to add in a little humor to lighten the chase.
7. What do you hope readers take away from this book? I meant this book to give readers a sense of rural Florida, old Florida, a place few tourists visiting the Sunshine State never experience as well as a good old run at getting to know characters within their family settings. I always write about some aspect of family and, despite the humor, there’s always a message about how secrets can destroy family bonds.
8. Who are your favorite authors? Elizabeth George is my favorite. I love most of the English mystery writers also. I miss Robert Parker and respected him for his finely honed ability to tuck more into a single paragraph than most writers put into an entire book. He was the master of sarcastic, snappy and witty dialogue. I read Janet Evanovich because I love her humor, Nevada Barr for the physicality of her protagonist, and fun cozies by Susan Wittig Albert and Mary Daheim.
9. Do you have any interesting rituals or habits when you write? If a plot is going astray, I usually back off from the computer, do laundry, clean a closet or do yard work, anything that organizes in a physical way. That seems to help my mind organize mentally.
10. Can you tell us about any future projects? Of course there will be a third book after Grilled, Chilled and Killed. This one I’ve tentatively entitled Scream Muddy Murder. Mud racing is big in the south including here in Florida so I think Emily should take in one of these events. Since I promised her I wouldn’t deliver her a dead body, I’ll just toss some body part out of the bog onto the hood of her car!