Friday, May 17, 2013

Featured author: P.J. Morse

P.J. Morse is on tour with Cozy Mystery Book Tours, and she's here today with her novel, Heavy Mental. Reviewers have described main character Clancy Parker as a rock 'n roll detective. P.J. Morse says this is definitely not your nana's cozy mystery.

About the book:

A musician’s gotta eat, which is why rock guitarist Clancy Parker takes on side gigs as a private eye. When she gets a new case involving a stolen necklace, Clancy's thrilled at the prospect of easy money.

The job turns out to be anything but. Soon enough, Clancy must dodge threats from disgruntled secretaries, unhinged society matrons and rampaging ice cream trucks. The only person who can provide answers about the necklace is her client’s sexy psychiatrist, but Clancy’s budding crush on him only leads to more trouble.

Eventually, Clancy must rely on all of her contacts— her stoner bandmates, her Socialist landlord, and her yoga-loving, flask-toting mother—to stop the thief from turning into a killer.

Interview with P.J. Morse:

How long have you been writing, and how did you start?

I was an editor and sometimes blogger for a news web site. One of my jobs was pulling out weird stuff from the local police blotter, which was fun, but it wasn’t creative beyond making jokes about stupid criminals. So, one day I’m riding with my husband in California. We have “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys blasting in the car, and I’m looking at all the palm trees and I decide that I’m going to use some of the crazy stuff I read in the blotter and start writing mysteries.

I started an outline, and I started talking to my brother, who used to play keyboards for a funk band in Northern California, and the next thing you know I’ve churned out a rock ‘n’ roll mystery!

How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

Ever wondered what would happen if Jessica Fletcher entered a mosh pit? Find out in the rock ‘n’ roll mystery “Heavy Mental.”

How did you create the plot for this book?

I made myself a “book map.” I assembled all the main traits for the characters, and then I figured out where each character would be and what each character would do in the chapter. It’s all really uptight and not rock ‘n’ roll at all, but it helped me see where I was going, and I felt like I understood the characters and their motivations before I got started.

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?

All of them! I am usually reserved and quiet, but the Marquee Idols all say what they are thinking, probably too much. I admire Clancy's bravery. She might do stupid things, but she's not a chicken. And Clancy's best friend, Muriel, is the queen of trash talk. She has so much to say that she's getting her own series, too!

Are any of your characters inspired by real people? Who?

None of the characters are inspired by real people, but my brother did tell me plenty of stories about band auditions gone wrong. There is nothing worse than losing a band member because it is hard to find someone else who plays well and who isn’t crazy! His band's bassist really did quit, and it took them forever to figure out what to do next.
Out of respect for my brother, I tried not to make any characters exactly like him because that would make Thanksgiving hell, and he asked me not to use any real names, but the band “Black Ice” is definitely a shout-out to his old band!

What song would you pick to go with your book?

“Pictures of Matchstick Men” by Camper Van Beethoven. The band got its start in Santa Cruz, which is where Clancy Parker started her career as a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist. The song title is appropriate – here’s Clancy, and she’s surrounded by all these people who might be fakers, and she needs to find out who’s real and who’s not.

Who are your favorite authors?

Carl Hiaasen is the man. My favorite is Basket Case, which is about an obituary writer who investigates the death of a rock star, is the ultimate in rock ‘n’ roll mysteries. Florida mysteries are the greatest because the characters are out of control. I like to think I write Florida mysteries that just happen to take place in California.

Tell us a book you’re an evangelist for.

If you are looking for another rock ‘n’ roll mystery, check out Anne Marie Stoddard. She just released Murder at Castle Rock, about a concert booker who must solve a death at an Atlanta concert venue. We didn’t know each other until meeting on Goodreads, and then I read the book and thought – wow, here’s two different people who are trying to push the limits of the cozy mystery a little and give it some rock ‘n’ roll edge.

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

My favorite is from Joan Jett: “Girls got balls. They're just a little higher up, that's all.”

What are you working on now?

Exile on Slain Street, which is the second book in the Clancy Parker series. As usual, Clancy needs some money for the band's upcoming tour, so she takes a job as a bodyguard on a reality TV dating show that stars a past-his-prime grunge musician. Needless to say, Clancy does not get along with the women who would compete on a dating show!

Excerpt from Heavy Mental:

Chapter 1 — The Woman in Yellow

The lady didn’t see Anmol’s ice-cream truck coming. She didn’t even flinch at his rumbling sound system, which was blasting rap music that could be heard all over South Park, if not all over San Francisco’s South of Market District. She didn’t hear him yell as she crossed his path, “Ice cream! Fruit cream! Soy cream! Yo!”

Nor did she listen when Harold and I put down our beer bottles and shouted, in unison, “Look out!”

“Baby!” Anmol yelled. “Get a move on!”

The woman held herself in tight, as if she were in a bubble. She didn’t seem to know how to act in our neighborhood, so she froze up. For starters, she was driving a Jag, and her bob haircut was almost as black and as sleek as her car. Tailored and tidy, this classy sister was unlike the rainbow-haired tech geeks who dominated our part of San Francisco. She was one of those people who looked intelligent without seeming to have any skills whatsoever, except maybe on the tennis court.

She was clad in a beautiful, light, lemony-shaded shift and matching short jacket that just barely prevented her from breaking the cardinal fashion rule that one does not wear white after Labor Day. She had on glimmering black Olsen Twin sunglasses that blocked a third of her face, but the skin that was visible was creamy and perfect, even if it did seem just a shade too taut. I thought of how my mother’s face looked after she had her first face lift and wondered if they went to the same doctor.

Harold leaned over and whispered, “Oooh! Oooh! I'll be your backup. I'll pretend to read." He stuck his hand in his cheese nibbles, and then he stuck his nose in the Adlai Stevenson biography was reading. He got so excited when I got new clients that I wondered what he'd do during retirement without me.

Anmol leaned his turbaned head out of his truck to get a better look at the woman in yellow. “Damn!” he yelled, “If you weren’t so fine, I would be mad right about now!” Then he backed up and parked the truck as hipster computer programmers promptly sprang out of South Park’s live-work spaces, ready to relive their youth through Drumsticks and popsicles.

When Anmol's ice-cream truck paused for customers, the woman in yellow continued to float across the narrow street toward me and Harold. Although she never once acknowledged Anmol, she raised an eyebrow at the sight of the two of us. You don’t see teams like me and Harold all that often: a young redhead like me and an old man lounging in lawn chairs on the sidewalk, both of us drinking Heinekens in the early afternoon. Neither one of us liked to wait until happy hour.

“I’m looking for Ms. Parker,” the woman said.

“You’re looking at her,” I replied. I finished what was left of my beer and smiled.

Pulling her chin in ever so slightly, the woman stammered, “I thought you would be...older.”

I figured what she really wanted to say was “cleaner,” but I wasn’t exactly dressed professionally. No private investigator dresses well. The other ones I knew were schleppy dudes who favored Hawaiian shirts. However, that day was one of my good ones, as I was wearing a polka-dot secretary shirt and jeans I picked up at a thrift store in Berkeley.
As she was sizing me up, I was already returning the favor. I quickly processed the woman's car, outfit, and manner of walking. Although you wouldn’t have known it to look at me, I grew up with money, thanks to my father’s incredible knack for convincing people to pay big money for organic produce and imported European sweets. I didn’t fit in Dad’s world, though. I played music on the side, and I snooped on people for a living, so I had minimal access to Daddy's pocketbook. I knew how the higher rungs of society worked, but it didn’t belong to me, even if I was related to it. I liked to say that I could read the language of rich, but I preferred not to speak it.

Now, this woman spoke the language of rich fluently. She might have known some words I didn’t. Watching her impeccable posture, I imagined the woman floating through the world on a cushion of inherited wealth. Maybe she got dirty once or twice if she had a pony, like a lot of those girls I grew up with back on Cape Cod. But the woman in yellow sure didn’t look like the type to muck a stall.

Harold, my landlord and spiritual advisor, tried valiantly to be more interested in his thick volume about the life of a perennial presidential candidate. But he was already radiating dislike toward my potential client. I knew he couldn't help it. He'd been raised not to trust anyone who looked like they never had a real job. One time, when I confessed to Harold that my own family had been in the Social Register, Harold begged me not to repeat it again because he might have to lecture me for it. He went as far as to clap his hands over his ears.

The woman in yellow summoned the courage to approach me, held out her right hand, and declared, "Hello, Miss Parker. My name is Sabrina Norton Buckner." Sabrina darted a quick, dismissive glance at Harold, who responded by swigging from his Heineken. "I need to speak with you -" she tossed a second pointed glance at Harold "-privately."

I did not like the way Sabrina looked at Harold and had half a mind to tell her to take her business elsewhere. You work with me, and you have to deal with Harold. He sits out in his lawn chair every day, and he sees all my clients coming and going. On numerous occasions, he has steered me away from those who look like trouble or won’t pay up.

Then again, someone like Sabrina was bound to pay well. Women who dressed like that and who sported good face lifts were often involved in divorce cases, and they could always afford my rate because they were using their ex-husband’s money. I decided to take a chance. "Well,” I told her, “Let's head upstairs so my good friend Harold—this is Harold Cho, by the way, my landlord—can read in peace."

Harold stood and extended a damp, cheesy hand toward Sabrina, saying, "Pleasure to have your formal introduction." Sabrina, who possessed a perfect boarding-school sheen of manners, had no choice but to accept the handshake, but, when it was over, she held her hand out to her side as if she might catch plague. Harold grinned as he sat down.

As we headed for my door, Anmol finished his sales and rang his bell, advising Sabrina, “Open your eyes, baby! Next truck might not stop!” Then he threw the rap music on full blast, tossed me a free Drumstick, winked, and rolled on.

“Is your neighborhood always like this?” she asked.

“Yes,” I told her, taking out my keys. “But you know what they say: Try it, you might like it.”

She looked nervous, but she still followed me through the entrance and up to my office.

About the author:

I write cozies your nana might not like. Then again, that depends on your nana.

I have two mystery series in the works -- one featuring the rock 'n' roll detective Clancy Parker and the other starring the erotic bakery entrepreneur Muriel Kovacs. The first novel in the Clancy Parker series, Heavy Mental, is out now. The first novel in the Muriel Kovacs series, Missionary Position, made me a quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. It will be out soon.

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