Saturday, April 27, 2013

Featured Author: Mitzi Kelly

I'm happy to have another fellow cozy mystery writer, Mitzi Kelly, here today on her Cozy Mystery Book Review tour for her novel, Deadly Policy. She also brought along her main character, Trish Anderson, and she's giving us a sneak peek. Grab your sweet tea and settle in!

About the book:

When a sudden rash of stolen cars brings Millie Morrow’s daughter under suspicion for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, Millie convinces her two best friends, Trish Anderson and Edna Radcliff, to help her find out who is trying to frame Michelle. Knowing the odds are against them in discovering the thugs, Trish and Edna nevertheless go through the motions of investigating, hoping Millie will feel productive in helping her daughter while the police do the real detective work.

But the situation becomes much more serious when a body is found in front of the insurance office Michelle works for. And even though the evidence pointing to an inside job is purely circumstantial, it could still destroy Michelle, something the ladies are determined to prevent. They’re going to have to work fast to present a different theory for the police to consider, though, since Millie has once again alienated Henry Espinoza, the chief of police.  And she’s alienated someone else, too, if the suspicious incidents suddenly plaguing her are anything to go by.

Keeping Millie out of trouble while attempting to clear her daughter’s name will take every ounce of skill . . . or luck . . . the amateur sleuths possess.

Interview with Mitzi Kelly    

How did you create the plot for this book?

This idea literally just popped into my head one day when I was in the middle of the first book in the series. The main characters are such characters, that I could see them delving into the mystery of the stolen cars with determination, and maybe a little too much confidence.   

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

When I first start a novel, I spend a lot of time outlining. I do a quick synopsis of the overall story, then I break down the details chapter by chapter. Finally, I anxiously sit down to write, expecting the process to flow smoothly since I already know the story.  Silly me. Inevitably, the characters take over somewhere in the second or third chapter and they take me on twists and turns I wasn’t expecting. At this point, the shredder gets a good workout as I destroy what I thought the novel was going to be and start over. This happens several times before the novel is complete and it’s really quite fun . . . albeit frustrating, as well.   

How do you get to know your characters?

In this particular series, I knew the characters before I ever started writing. They were as real to me as my real friends, and I knew their personality quirks and their physical traits. Character development is usually pretty easy for me, but I’ve never known characters so well before starting to write as I did these three ladies. What never fails to thrill me is when readers comment that they know people in their own life who are similar to the Silver Sleuths!

When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?

This is another case of the characters taking over the story. I always think I have the entire cast laid out, but always—always—someone pops into the story who I didn’t know.  It’s not a big problem because when they do appear, it’s a natural flow to the plot, and I know why they are there.

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

I hate to choose favorites, but I have to admit Millie is the most fun to write.  Because of her age—82 and counting!—she can do and say anything, unapologetically. It doesn’t matter how bizarre the situation, when you have someone as spunky as Millie is to work with, and you see the scene through her eyes, it adds an element of fun that I don’t think would be possible with a younger protagonist. 

I’m constantly on the lookout for new names. How do you name your characters?

When I’m stuck trying to find a name, I use the phone book. I close my eyes, flip open the massive white pages, and point my finger. If I land on a name like “Magillacuddy,” I repeat the process . . .  

Are any of your characters inspired by real people?

Each of the main characters in the Silver Sleuths Series have combined traits from people I dearly love. Friends, family, casual acquaintances, they have all contributed to the creation of the characters. I have been blessed with a family that has the ability to see the humor in any situation while simultaneously having great compassion and an abundance of love. My friends are so eclectic; they come from all walks of life and backgrounds, but with a common thread running through them—-a deep sense of loyalty. It was an honor to ‘steal’ these traits to develop my characters and to be able to use the good—-and the not-so-good—stuff to round them out as realistic people.   

I like writing characters who do and say things I never would, as well as characters who do and say things I wish I could. Do you have characters who fit into one of those categories? Who, and in what category do they fall?

Oh, yeah . . . once again, it’s Millie. She falls into both categories as she is always saying and doing things I wish I could, and never would. She doesn’t worry about what anybody thinks—-ever! And, given the benefit of her age, there are seldom any consequences to pay. She’s obnoxious, and you can take her or leave her . . . she doesn’t care. But if you do ‘take’ her, she’ll enrich your friendship with love and loyalty. She’ll also add excitement to your life. I mean, how often can you say you dodged going to jail??

Not often, hopefully. Who are your favorite authors?

Since I enjoy reading anything and everything, I have many favorite authors. I have to say, though, that I will rush to read anything by James Patterson and Sue Grafton. It’s not often that I pick up a book and just can’t get into it. If the story grabs me, I always admire the talent of the writer and look forward to reading more of their work, regardless of the genre.

What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

I’m just finishing up James Patterson’s 10th Anniversary in the Women’s Murder Club series. I know it’s been out for a while, but I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like. I love this series! And, everything I read right now is in paperback or hardcover.  I’ve been collecting hardcover books for quite a while now—-you should see my bookcases!  So many books, so little time . . . 

How do you handle criticism of your work?

I actually appreciate any thoughtful criticism of my work. I always learn something from both good and bad comments. I know that what I write is not going to appeal to everybody, but when someone takes the time to explain why they did or didn’t care for one of my books, I listen carefully to what they are saying because their input is valuable.  

Do you have a routine for writing? Do you work better at night, in the afternoon, or in the morning?

In a perfect world, I would get up each morning, dress, down a pot of coffee, and write for 8 hours straight. Unfortunately, my world isn’t perfect! I don’t have a set routine right now because my life is so crazy. I write when I can, as often as I can, and sometimes that means jotting down a few sentences while the roast is in the oven!   

Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?

I have a wonderful environment to do my writing. My husband built our home a few years ago, and he included a private office that holds all of my ‘dreams and desires.’ I even have a small frig and microwave for those infrequent times when I can spend hours working. I have tons of windows, room to stretch, and complete privacy. The only thing missing is a bed . . .

Sounds wonderful. Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when it happens?

I don’t really get writer’s block, per se. But my mind does get bogged down in thinking of other stuff that needs to get done. I have a lot of trouble writing fiction when reality refuses to leave me alone for a while. When this happens, I’ve found that the best thing for me is to go outside and work in the yard for a little while. We have several acres, so there is always something that needs to be done, and it’s amazing how pulling a few weeds will get you motivated to write!   

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

My very favorite is “The only way to learn the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” We too often think we can’t accomplish something before we even try. I find this quote inspiring.  

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up the third book in the Silver Sleuths Mystery Series, and I’m also working on the second book in a romance trilogy. I have to be careful when working on both that I don’t let the heroine in the romance novel fall in love with the bad guy in the mystery series!

That could be a problem! Stop back in when your next book is out.

Interview with Trish Anderson from Deadly Policy    

About Trish: 

Trish Anderson is in her mid-forties, divorced, and starting to put on some pounds. She’s a contract bookkeeper, which forces her to sit for many hours working on her computer, but she has a phobia about physical activity. She does consider house cleaning exercise, though. She also has no self-discipline when it comes to satisfying the munchies. She’s lived in Grand River for several years now and loves the small community.    

Trish, I'm so glad Mitzi let you talk to me. How did you first meet her?

I was minding my own business, just getting ready to enjoy a cup of coffee with some cookies, when Mitzi Kelly plucked me up and dumped me in the middle of a murder mystery.  I wasn’t very happy about it, but I have to admit I have been having fun. I just don’t appreciate having all my secrets revealed . . .  

Can't blame you there. Want to get even and dish about Mitzi?

Well, now that you mention it, I am a little upset that she has to tell everybody about my battle with the bulge. I mean, really, I wonder if she’s looked in a mirror recently!

Did you ever think that your life would end up being in a book?

Never in a million years. If I had known, I would have worked hard to make sure my life would be described as glamorous and exciting, with men fighting for my attention and all my friends envious of my success. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. 

Always. Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

Actually, there are several adrenaline-pumping moments in the book, but I have to say when Millie’s property was vandalized, it was actually a rather fun scene. It was late, and I had just prepared a hot bubble bath to relax in when I heard this horrible crash. I ran to my front window, but it was dark and overcast and I couldn’t see a thing.  Still, I knew I had heard something. So, dressed in my robe and shower cap, I quietly opened my front door and peeked outside. That’s when I noticed that across the street, Millie Morrow’s trashcan had been rammed into her mailbox, effectively destroying both. It didn’t seem like the noise had awakened any of the other neighbors, so the task fell on my shoulders to gather the trash that had been strewn across the street and in Millie’s yard. I could have waited until morning, but the thought of stray animals making the mess worse had me hurrying across the street.

I had almost finished when I had the daylights scared out of me. Out of nowhere this deep, raspy voice demanded that I stand still because the police were on their way. It took a moment for me to realize that the voice was Millie’s. Her attempt at disguising it had only worked long enough for my heart to settle back down to a regular beat. When I turned, though, I received another jolt. Believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen tiny Millie, wearing a purple robe and yellow “bear” slippers, standing with a shotgun almost as big as she is. I tried hard not to laugh, I really did. In the end, we figured it was just kids out on a joyride, having fun at someone else’s expense.  At the time, there was no way we could have known how wrong we were . . .

Did you have a hard time convincing your author to write any particular scenes for you?

As a matter of fact, I did. Originally, Mitzi wanted my other best friend, Edna Radcliff, to be the one who was driving the car when we followed the bad guys into Mexico. It took a while for me to convince her that sweet Edna would have been scared silly, making the situation much more dangerous than it already was. It made much more sense for me to do the driving. After a while, Mitzi capitulated and, thankfully, we survived the ordeal...barely. 
What do you like to do when you are not being actively read somewhere?

I really enjoy working in my yard. Unfortunately, between my bookkeeping work and trying to keep Millie out of trouble, I don’t get to do it often. In our first book, Classic Revenge, Millie hired a yard man for me, but that was only due to the fact that we thought he was a suspect. I had to let him go once the case was solved because a yard man was definitely not in my budget. If I don’t find some free time to start doing it myself, though, I’m going to have to call him back. And then I’ll send the bill to Millie for babysitting services.

If you could rewrite anything in your book, what would it be?

I’d definitely rewrite the scene where I fell while walking around the block with Millie and Edna. That wasn’t one of my finer moments. It might not have been so embarrassing if that wasn’t the precise moment I met my single and attractive new neighbor, Pat. I still turn red when I think about it.
I'll bet. Tell the truth. What do you think of your fellow characters?
I am blessed beyond belief to have friends like Millie and Edna. I know that they would have my back in any situation, and I hope they know the same about me. There is a certain security going through life knowing there are people who you can count on, regardless. You can say and do anything without having to worry if you’ve offended them because there is a special trust forming the foundation of the friendship. Millie and Edna have such different personalities that it often amazes me that we all get along so well, but maybe being different is what keeps the friendship strong. I can certainly say that life with them is never dull . . . ever!

Do have any secret aspirations Mitzi doesn’t know about?

Yes, there is one, and I’m going to be bringing it up to Mitzi soon. I want to take a course in self-defense. I’ve been thinking of karate, and I’d like to be good enough to reach a black belt status. I think Millie and Edna would benefit from this, too, especially if we’re going to continue to hunt down bad guys. Scratch that. On second thought, Millie already thinks she’s invincible. Knowing karate would only make her attitude more dangerous.

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

I would close my blinds, turn out all the lights and just sleep!!  Lame, I know, but being friends with Millie is not conducive to many restful nights.

Oh my. What's the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it?
Oh, most definitely, it was my divorce. It was horrible. I really thought I was madly in love. Wow, was I an idiot. Looking back, I know that there had been signs of my husband’s infidelity, but I had either been too afraid of Ed leaving me, or my self-confidence had been so low that I ignored the situation. When we bought the new house in Grand River, I thought that would bring us closer again. Ed had definitely grown closer, just not with me. I caught him in bed—-our bed!—-with another woman. I was happy with the way I handled the situation, though. Very calmly, I got two gallons of the bottled water Ed insisted we keep on hand, and a packet of matches. I set the water by the bedroom door, and then walked straight up to the bed where I lit the bedspread on fire.  Ed found the water before too much damage had been done.

From that experience, I regained the stubborn, independent streak I had lost somewhere along the way. I also learned the old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is very true. Ed had a wonderful covering, but he was full of blank pages inside. I’m happy living alone, I’m perfectly capable of supporting myself, and I have strong, important relationships that my previous marriage can’t begin to compare with. Life is good!

Good for you, Trish! You're a strong, independent woman. Now, tell me what you're most afraid of.

Until recently, I would have said I’m really not afraid of anything. However, now I’m starting to worry daily about protecting my friends—especially Millie. Millie is intent on searching out crimes to solve. It’s like a game to her, and I’m not sure she realizes there are some seriously dangerous criminals out there. But my dear friend is fearless, and she charges in without any thought to the consequences. I’m worried I won’t be able to save her from herself, and I’m worried I could go crazy by even trying!

What’s the best trait your author has given you? What’s the worst?

I’m really grateful Mitzi has shown what a loyal friend I am. With my personality, it’s not always easy for people to understand how much I value my friends. I think Mitzi’s done a good job, though. I’m not quite as thrilled, however, that she felt the need to reveal my weakness for junk food. I mean, why is that even important to the story?  

I think I'd better let you and Mitzi work that one out. What aspect of her writing style do you like best?

I really like the casualness of Mitzi’s writing. It fits perfectly with the peculiarities of the main characters. I’m glad our story is not written with what some would describe as formal and proper. That just wouldn’t be real, as we are definitely not formal and proper!     

Will you encourage your author to write a sequel?

At first, I argued against it because, as I mentioned before, I’m worried about keeping my friends safe. But Millie and Edna are 100% for a sequel, so I’ll have to participate just to make sure things don’t spin out of control . . .

Excerpt from Deadly Policy

Yawning, Trish checked for incoming messages one last time, thankfully noting that Millie must have finally called it a night. Twenty-five test messages from mmorrow007 had been more than a little frustrating. She had just slipped into her robe, pulled her hair up under a shower cap and added fragrant bubble bath to the water when she heard a loud crash followed by the sound of squealing tires. What in the world?

She rushed down the hallway and hurried to the large window in the living room, pulling the curtains back just enough to peer outside. The streetlight at the corner cast just enough light to make out the road and the edges of several yards in front of dark, quiet homes. The moon peeked out occasionally through floating clouds, its light forcing the shadows from huge oak trees and mature shrubs to dance erratically for a few moments before softly disappearing into thick darkness.

Trish shivered. This was a quiet street, the residents retiring early behind the solace of their doors, comfortable in their belief that this was a secure, safe neighborhood, untouched by the perils and unrest of the big city. Nothing ever happened here.
Except that one of their neighbors had recently been murdered in her own home in broad daylight.

The smart thing to do would be to call the police and let them make a quick run down the street to ensure everything was as it should be. But then she would probably have to wait for them to arrive, and then wait for them to report they hadn’t seen anything amiss. She was much too tired to do all that waiting. She decided to take a quick look outside, just for her peace of mind. Otherwise, she wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight. There had been a definite crash, but she couldn’t really swear the sound had come from her own street. She’d verify everything was okay in her immediate world and then put the incident out of her mind.

Trish squinted through the darkness from the safety of her porch. All was quiet except the gentle sound of branches thick with leaves swaying in the mild breeze. She couldn’t see a thing outside the circle of light from her porch. But then the clouds parted, allowing the moonlight to reveal what had obviously caused the commotion.

“Oh, for goodness sake!” Trish exclaimed. Across the street, she could see that Millie’s garbage can had been crushed and pushed into her mailbox, which was now leaning sideways at an awkward angle. Trash had spewed out in the yard and in the street.

Terrific. Millie would be furious when she saw the damage to her trashcan and mailbox. Trish debated whether she should go pick up the trash. It didn’t appear as if anyone else had heard the crash, though, and if it stayed out all night, every stray dog within a mile would be parked out in front of Millie’s house having a picnic.

With a loud sigh, she pulled her robe tight and hurried across the street. She yanked at the ruined garbage can until it pulled away from the mailbox. It made a loud scraping noise but she wasn’t worried. If the original crash hadn’t awakened the neighbors, then the ruckus she was making certainly wouldn’t. Muttering under her breath, Trish started picking up the trash, at least what she could see of it.

Millie certainly ate a lot of fruit, Trish thought with a grimace as her bare hand closed around a banana peel for the third time. The thought had no sooner left her mind when she froze.  The unmistakable sound of a shotgun being cocked right behind her was immediately followed by a beam of light.

“Hold it right there, buster!” a deep, gruff voice commanded. “The police are on the way.”

Trish instantly recognized the camouflaged voice. She turned and faced the miniature Rambo. “Millie!  For God’s sake, put that gun down! And lower that flashlight!”

“Trish?” The voice was normal now, and deeply surprised. “What are you doing digging in my trash?”

Trish couldn’t see a thing with the light blinding her. “If you’ve still got that gun aimed at me I’m going to kick your tail end!”

“Oh,” Millie said, as if she were holding nothing more than a squirt gun. Abruptly, the light shining from the flashlight veered up and down and sideways in a spasmodic dance of fitfulness as Millie struggled to heft the shotgun over her shoulder. “Don’t worry. It’s not loaded,” she grunted.

“You just about gave me a heart attack!” Trish said, and she wasn’t exaggerating. She could actually count the rapid beats of her heart pounding against her chest. “What are you doing carrying a shotgun?”

“Protecting my property, that’s what! And, by the way, that’s not much of a disguise you’re wearing. I’ve seen that shower cap before. I knew it was you the minute you turned around.”  

Trish prayed for patience. “I am not wearing a disguise, you crazy old bat! I was doing you a favor. I heard a loud crash, and when I looked outside, your trash was all over the place. So I came over here–concerned friend that I am–and tried to pick it up so you wouldn’t have to deal with it. I certainly didn’t expect to get shot for my efforts, though!”

“I told you it wasn’t loaded,” Millie said. “Besides, I saw what happened.”

“You did?” Trish dropped the banana peel in the can.

“Yep,” Millie nodded. “I had just turned off the computer and happened to look outside when I saw headlights veering straight for my driveway. I thought it was a runaway car,” she said, her eyes getting big, “but after it hit my trashcan, it backed up and rammed it again right into my mailbox!”

Trish was stunned. “Are you sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure! That’s why I got my gun. I figured if the car came back, I was going to shoot out the tires. But when I got back to the window I saw someone going through my trash. I thought you were the car–er, I mean, I thought you were the driver of the car.”

“Thanks for clarifying,” Trish said wryly. “Wait a minute! I thought you said the gun wasn’t loaded.”

“It’s not,” Millie grinned sheepishly. “I forgot to grab the shells.”

About the author:

I started writing way back in middle school. I loved creating short stories for assignments, and my teacher at the time encouraged me to keep it up. When I was older, I started writing feature articles for a couple of magazines, but I never really enjoyed it. I wanted to create – not report on what someone else was doing. It was at that point that I started working seriously on novels. In the middle of re-working a romance novel, I came up with the idea for the Silver Sleuths. Pushing the romance novel aside, I immediately began to work on Classic Revenge, which became my first published book, and is the first book in the Silver Sleuths Mystery Series. Deadly Policy followed a year later.

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