Saturday, February 22, 2014

Featured Author: Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Pamela Fagan Hutchins was here in January of last year to talk about Saving Grace, book #1 in her Katie & Annalise series. She's back today to talk about her newest release, Finding Harmony, book #3 in her romantic mystery series, published by SkipJack Publishing.

About the book:

Katie’s already on edge when a dead guy shows up at Annalise and shady locals claim there are slave remains in the foundation, but when Nick doesn’t come home to her and the kids, she’s ready to lose it. A frantic Katie launches a Caribbean-wide manhunt, calling on Kurt, her stoic, steady father-in-law, and Collin, her badass big brother, to help her search air, land, and sea for her husband, who may be in very big trouble indeed.

Other books in the Katie & Annalise series:
Saving Grace, Book #1 
Leaving Annalise, Book #2

Interview with Pamela Fagan Hutchins

What’s the story behind the title of your book?

Dang, this was a hard book to name. I used a different working title, but ultimately stole that one for the first book in the series, which left me flummoxed. My husband, my editor, and I spent about two months brainstorming, arguing good naturedly, and shopping out titles. We knew we wanted a gerund phrase (-ing verb and female proper name) as we used with the other books in the series. We wanted a positive connotation for the verb, and a veiled story association for the proper name. We narrowed it down to two and let the beta readers and blog followers vote. There were very strong, impassioned opinions flying around, but Finding Harmony won. Phew!

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I have a kick ass day job. I’m a workplace investigator -- and as a result I do a fun speech called “Colonel Mustard in the Conference Room With His Pants Down” relating workplace law, criminal law, and mystery writing -- a former human resources executive, a coach, an employment attorney, and president of the Houston Writers Guild. And I write funny romantic mysteries. Seriously, does it get any better than this?

How did you create the plot for Finding Harmony?

My husband is a native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where I lived for nearly ten years. A man was found near our rainforest house, Estate Annaly, dead by what appeared to be a self-administered gunshot wound to the head. From there, a universe of what ifs rocketed through my brain until Finding Harmony emerged. I wanted to create a sense of how close together the Caribbean islands are, and yet how isolated each is. There’s a helpless feeling of imprisonment by water at times, and of the immensity and ruthless power of the ocean. And, simultaneously, there’s its indescribable beauty. That same dichotomy exists between the kindness and savagery of the people you meet. The Caribbean is not for the faint of heart, and I think readers will really feel that in Finding Harmony.

Tell us a book by an indie author for which you’re an evangelist.

It comes out later this spring: The Closing by Ken Oder. Romantic, atmospheric, historical legal thriller set in West Virginia. I can’t wait for him to share it with the world!

What song would you pick to go with Finding Harmony?

"Underneath it All," by No Doubt.

Who are your favorite authors?

I love the larger-than-life characters of Larry McMurtry, the emotion and descriptive excess of Pat Conroy, the psychological intensity of Ruth Rendell, and the hilarity of Janet Evanovich. And then there is just this incredible list of mystery/thriller authors that’s too long for publication, but let me give it a shot: P.D. James, Elizabeth George, Sara Paretsky, John Sanford, Tami Hoag, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, etc.etc. etc. My goodness. I love them all.

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

Secret Sex Lives, paperback, by my friend and NY Times-bestselling author, Suzy Spencer.

I don’t claim to be an expert on writing, but there are some writing techniques (or mistakes) that stand out to me when I read (e.g. when an author switches POV mid-scene). What’s one pet peeve you have when you read?

Poorly executed and inconsistent dialect/accent. Gack!

Do you have a routine for writing?

Don my sleepy sheep flannel pajamas, sit down with my laptop, and grind until my husband and kids revolt. Notice my hands are swollen, groan, pop four ibuprofen, ice, and elevate. Overcompensate with the family for ignoring them. Repeat.

What would your dream office look like?

My dream office would have a second story wall of windows onto a balcony overlooking our gorgeous wooded property in Nowheresville, TX, especially the three massive pines that drop a thick bed of needles at their feet. I would have a salt lick and deer feeder right in the middle of them, with bird feeders closer in and my husband’s garden off to the side, but in view. There would be a fireplace and a dumb waiter. It would have what my mother calls a “shake and bake” recliner (heater and massager), a bed for my one-eyed Boston terrier Petey, a Keurig coffee maker, and my husband at his desk next to me. I would have a basket of fuzzy socks beside the recliner. One wall would be filled with pictures of our family, one with book shelves, and the one behind me would have my supplies. I’d have dedicated chargers always plugged in that no one else was allowed to use.(ahemmmm, my children, are you reading this???)

What are you working on now?

Mostly right now I am battling for time to write so I can get my next book out on time (October 2014)!! It’s called Going for Kona. It’s a romantic mystery, and it’s a bridge from the Katie & Annalise books into the next series, which will start in 2015. In other words, I will have characters popping up from both series in Kona. Kona is the favorite of all my novels so far of both my mother and my husband. I hope that’s not the kiss of death! It’s very special to all of us, and, like the Katie & Annalise books, it pairs deep pain over life’s casual brutality with surprising hilarity. Because that’s what real life feels like to me, laughing in the face of the devil. The “working blurb” is “Adrian Hanson brings tightly-wound Charlotte to life and the Triathlon World Championships, but his suspicious hit and run death leaves her with an empty heart and a full plate. Charlotte must convince the police her teenage son Sam did not kill Adrian and identify the killer before she or Sam meet the same fate, while completing her Ironman tribute to the husband whose devotion to her seems ever more questionable as her investigation unfolds.”

Excerpt from Finding Harmony:

Chapter One

One hundred pounds of squealing pig juked left and went right, and my husband fell for the fake. Mud splashed over his head and splattered our three-year-old on the other side of the fence. A coconut palm did the wave in the distance, lending support to the swine, one island local to another.

“More, Daddy, more!”

Taylor hopped up and down, his hands gripping the middle rail above his head. He looked like the 102nd Dalmatian in his muddy white shirt, a poor choice in retrospect. Even a year after Nick’s sister’s death had left Taylor in our care, I still wasn’t quite up to speed on motherhood.

A loud chuptz sounded behind me as the pig’s owner sucked his teeth derisively. The Pig Man shaded his eyes from the sun and peered over at Nick past a rusted-out Buick and some wandering chickens. His voice belied faith in the pig-catching abilities of a mere continental.

“You got to get your arms around the neck and behind the shoulder, meh son. Lock your hands around your wrists. Like this.” He demonstrated with his hands clasped over his head. “Then you slip the rope over he head.” Then he turned his back and went about his business of doing nothing—limin’, as they say on St. Marcos. Strains of Jimmy Cliff singing “The Harder They Come” spilled from his radio. Nick caught my eye and rolled his.

“Yes, sir. I think I’ve got him this time.” My husband stuffed the length of twine back into his waistband, smearing what may not have been mud on himself in the process. Luckily, we had driven separate cars.

Not for the first time, I wondered how I had gotten from there to here so quickly. “There” was my old life in Dallas as a single attorney with a penchant for Bloody Marys; “here” was my new one as a mother of three, married to Nick Kovacs on a Caribbean island.

I looked back at Nick. The pig still had the upper hand. Maybe he knew his fate; tomorrow he would be the main course at a christening party for our three-month-old twins, Jessica and Olivia. On St. Marcos, it wasn’t a party without a roasted pig. That meant a visit to the Pig Man to buy one—but first, you had to catch it.

Nick appeared closer to doing just that. Taylor, the little traitor, was cheering on the pig, which looked like it was getting tired. Nick lunged like the Pig Man told him to and finally slipped the halter over our swine’s head.

“One hour and seven minutes,” I called out.

“I spotted him the first half hour,” Nick replied.

I stifled the smirk tickling the edges of my mouth. The alternative to Nick catching the pig was me in that pen—supportive, appreciative, and awestruck seemed the way to go. “Woo hoo, Nick, I am so impressed. You caught the baby pig. We’re roasting Wilbur!”

“Daddy caught Wilburn,” Taylor announced. He turned to me. “Can we keep Wilburn?”

I wondered what Charlotte would have spun in her web if she’d heard that. “Wilburn” had a nice ring to it.

“Now you’ve started it, Katie,” Nick said as he moved in for a kiss. Despite the pig muck smeared on his shirt and caked on his pants, I let him. I patted him on the behind, too.
The Pig Man nursed a rum and Coke and continued limin’ while Nick wrestled the pig into the small trailer we had borrowed for the day. I applied some spit and elbow grease to Taylor’s smelly spots. When Nick closed the trailer’s door with a clang, the Pig Man roused himself. “That be one hundred and fifty dollar.” He held out his hand. Nick filled it and we bid him good day.

The Pig Man lived even farther up in the rainforest than we did. We pointed our SUVs back down the one-lane dirt road that ran the ridge over the island’s northwestern shore. The cliffs fell away to crashing blue waves below, where the sea was whipped into a meringue against the rocks. Home, rugged home.

Nick’s banged-up maroon Montero pulled to a stop before a small wooden barricade that hadn’t been there earlier. Neither had the wild-eyed man who appeared from the bush, a Heineken in one hand and a machete in the other. His hair stood away from his head in a patchy Afro and his camouflage pants and ragged jam-band t-shirt hung on his bony frame. This should be good. I rolled down my window.

“Dan-Dan, how are you doing?” Nick said.

“You got to pay the toll to pass,” Dan-Dan answered.

“No problem. I’m paying for the lady in the next vehicle, too.”

“That two beers. One for each. You got to pay me two beers.”

Nick pulled out two of the four beers he had stashed in his console for just this reason. Dan-Dan must have been sleeping off yesterday’s collections earlier; we had made the round trip for half price today. “Here you go.” Nick handed him the beers and the sack lunch of fry chicken and johnnycake we had picked up earlier at the Pig Bar. As a recovering whatever-I-was (I refused to say alcoholic), I insisted we give him food, too, even though I honored the requirement of beer. Hopefully Dan-Dan would eat it. “You take care of yourself, now,” Nick said.

Dan-Dan pulled the barricade aside just long enough for our vehicles to pass and then hustled it back into place. I waved at him as I drove by, but he gave no sign that he had seen my gesture.

Taylor waved and shouted, “Hi, Dan-Dan!”

This brought the man’s head up. He smiled, showing his snaggly teeth, and motioned me to stop. I did; Nick kept going. Dan-Dan ran into the bush, then back to my truck. He was not one to waste effort on the niceties of small talk.

“Who that man in the bush at your house?” he asked.

“You mean my husband Nick? Or maybe my father-in-law, Kurt? Kurt is older but he looks like Nick, and you know Nick, right? The one who just drove off, Taylor’s dad.”

He shook his head. “Not dem men. A man like me, a local man. A man who talk about dead people dem.” Pluralization, West Indian-style: them, after a noun, pronounced “dem.”

I swallowed. “Well, I don’t know, but if you see him, tell him to go away.” I tried a laugh. It came out flat.

He pulled a wooden figure out of his pocket and handed it to me. A pig. “For the boy.”

How in the world had this man carved the perfect gift on the perfect day for Taylor?

Taylor strained against his seat belt. “He made Wilburn for me. I want Wilburn.”

I handed it to him. “What do you say, Taylor?”

“Thanks, Dan-Dan!”

I turned to thank Dan-Dan myself, but he was gone, back from where he’d come. Some people feared the old guy, but he was all bluster and had never harmed anyone. He was just one of the ragtag personalities that made St. Marcos unique—and one of the reasons that tourists and snowbirds avoided this part of the island. I considered that a good thing.

My phone rang: Nick calling, although we had caught back up to him. “I’m headed into town to the abattoir,” he said.

“I’m so glad it’s you and not me,” I replied.

“I have my uses.”

“Yes, you certainly do.” The tone of my voice left no doubt as to his other uses.

“Hold that thought for later,” he said, and clicked off.

Nick turned left at the next fork and Taylor and I stayed to the right to head back to Annalise. We bounced down the dirt road under a canopy of green vines and pink flowers, past the ruins of an old sugar plantation and up to her gate. A wild tropical orchard lined her drive, and I often slowed down here and rolled down the windows to breathe them in. When the trees parted to reveal her, Annalise stood tall and proud on the crest of a hill, overlooking a forest of mango trees on the valley floor.

We lived in—I might as well just say it and get it out there—a jumbie house in the rainforest. Jumbie as in voodoo spirit.

Yeah, right. I know. I didn’t believe it either at first. I promise I’m not some crazy woman who needs her head shrunk. Living at Annalise just showed me there’s more out there than our first five senses can detect. On St. Marcos, I’d discovered a sort of sixth sense that made me aware of things. Things that were almost undetectable back in Dallas, like someone had hit the mute button. But on St. Marcos, by the sea, I could feel them. I could feel her. Annalise.

The crazed barking of our pack of dogs broke my reverie. We had started with six of them but were down to five after one succumbed to a swarm of bees; the rainforest could be as brutal as it was lovely. Our dogs served us well as security force and welcome committee, and they did both jobs well. Today they alerted my live-in in-laws to our presence, and Julie met us at the door.

“Hi, ’Lise. Hi, Gramma,” Taylor said to the house and Julie before showering our German shepherd with the full force of his attention. Poco Oso and Taylor were best pals.

“Shhh, Kurt is putting the girls down for their nap,” Julie said. “Did you get a pig?”

“Wilbur is on his way to slaughter. And I’m a recently converted vegan.”

Julie and I shared a grimace. No matter how abhorrent the thought of cooking Wilbur was to me, the girls came into this world on St. Marcos, and their christening deserved the full island wingding. Except for the roasted pig, all the food would come from Miss B’s Catering, which we had ordered for delivery two hours earlier than we needed it, in the hope that it would then be on time. Life ran at a slower pace here.

 I tiptoed into my daughters’ room. If you closed your eyes and sniffed, you’d know you were in a baby girl’s room: powder, lotion, baby wipes and new diapers. I loved the scent. Not that it always smelled this sweet; with twins, there’s double the diaper issue, but I’m slightly OCD and we took care of stinkers fast. Kurt was rocking Liv in our yellow and blue plaid glider; Jess was already sleeping in her crib. Soft mewling sounds slipped from her lips as I kissed my fingertip and placed it on her cheek. She’d better hope those dainty mewls didn’t become the growly snores of her father someday. I stroked her head, enthralled by the fuzz of the hair she almost had.

Kurt, Julie, and I spent the next few hours preparing Annalise for the party while Taylor had lunch and a nap. Annalise loved a good party, and we could feel her energy level throttle up, but mine began to throttle down as the hours passed and Nick didn’t return. How long could a butcher take, anyway? Maybe it was delayed postpartum depression talking, but it occurred to me that whatever was in town must be a lot more appealing than a wife who still needed to lose ten pounds of pregnancy weight. But I pushed the thought out of my mind. Not my Nick.

At dusk, he drove up to the house, pulling the trailer behind the truck. Kurt, Julie, and I each grabbed a child and ran out to greet him. It’s not every day Daddy brings home a big dead pig.

“Hi, Daddy,” Taylor yelled.

Nick grinned at us and turned off the ignition. He stuck his head out the window. “Who wants to help me bring in Wilbur?”

“Wilburn!” Taylor said as he hopped from one foot to the other.

“Nick . . .” I pleaded, but he ignored my hint to ix-nay the ilburn-way. OK, I’d started it, but ewww.

Kurt handed Liv to Julie and helped Nick carry the dressed pig—swathed in innumerable layers of plastic wrap—to the dining room.

“Oh, no, fellas. Not my dining room table. No way,” I said.

“It’s here or the coffee table,” Nick replied.

“Neither! How about the garage floor?”

“You really want to leave a slaughtered pig on the floor of the garage overnight, up in the rainforest? Really?”

I thought of the traps we kept baited for the rodents of all sizes that ventured in looking for food. The monthly visits from the exterminator. The mahogany birds known in the states as roaches. “Maybe not such a good idea,” I admitted.

“Ya think?” Nick said.

Before I could think of a snappy comeback, someone knocked on the kitchen door. I answered it with Liv poised on one hip. We didn’t get many visitors up here. I opened the door onto a complete stranger who was standing outside the span of light in total silence. No sound or sign of our dogs. Weird.

“Good evening,” I said.

Nick appeared and stepped in front of Liv and me. “Good evening to you. May I help you?” Nick said.

The scruffy local stepped forward and looked around Nick to the baby and me. “I here to see the missus.”

“Go ahead,” Nick said.

“It private business.” He ducked his head forward in an attempt to indicate respect.
Private business? What in Hades could anyone want to talk to me about that Nick couldn’t hear? How odd, I thought, but I wanted to know what the man had to say.

“No offense, but—” Nick started to say.

Uh oh. Nothing good ever came out of Nick’s mouth after “No offense, but.” I interrupted. “It’s OK, Nick. You’ll just be a few feet away in the kitchen. I’ll call you if I need you.”

I immediately regretted my words. This man had an unsettling vibe. I didn’t want to talk to him alone, but it was too late. The look my husband gave me would freeze the blood in the veins of a lesser redhead. He stalked to the kitchen, his footsteps drumming his displeasure in a deep bass tone. I suspected I would have some making up to do later. I almost called out for him to come back, but I pushed my nerves aside. Don’t be a wuss.
He’s only twenty feet away.

“You Ms. Katie that buy this house?”

“I am.”

“I here about the dead.”

“The dead pig?”

“I don’t know nothing ’bout no pig. I here about all the dead people dem under the house.”
Liv whimpered. “Shush, love.” I bounced her lightly. She was falling asleep; not me. This man had shocked my system like a triple espresso. I wasn’t the only one wide awake, either; I could feel Annalise rise up. She didn’t like this man any more than I did. The dogs reappeared in the yard. Where the hell had they been? They kept their distance but formed a rough perimeter around the stranger.

“Excuse me?” I spoke loudly, hoping to draw Nick back to me without scaring my visitor away until I’d heard him out.

“All the dead men and women dem buried under this house,” he said. “I work here, long time ago, building the house. I see skeletons dem with my own two eyes. The boss man—the bad man—he try to cover it up so nobody know. But I know. He put this house on sacred ground. He disrespect the dead.”

Eerie night music filled my ears as thousands of bats’ wings beat the air, vacating Annalise’s eaves to begin their evening hunt. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” I said to him.

“This house built on a slave graveyard. The law say you can’t go digging up the dead.”
Was it built on a graveyard? Against the law? I had no idea about either point. He went on.

“Maybe I think you don’t want me talking to the government about this. Give me a little something for disrespecting my people dem, and I won’t say nothing. I going now for a time, but when I reach back, maybe you have something you want to give me and my family.”
He turned on his heel and walked off toward the bush, but as he crossed the yard, the light above the door exploded, showering glass in a wide arc that left Liv and me untouched. Glass flew at him and the sound chased his back, but if he was hit, he didn’t flinch.

Only I could see the tall black woman with the knotted headscarf standing two steps away from the porch. A scowl puckered her young face, and her calf-length plaid skirt whipped around her bare legs as she slowly disappeared. Well done, Annalise! I could have told him not to piss off my house.

The dogs gave way to him, growling low and I felt an urge to whisper, “I see dead people dem,” in my best local accent. This guy was spooky. What if he was telling the truth? My mind reeled from the possibility. It was highly unlikely, though. I felt Nick’s hand on my shoulder and relief surged through me.

“I’m sorry, sir, what did you say your name was?” I called after the old man as his black skin disappeared into the black night. He didn’t answer.

About the author:

Once Upon A Romance Calls Hutchins an "up and coming powerhouse writer." If you like Josie Brown or Janet Evanovich, you will love Pamela Fagan Hutchins. A former attorney and native Texan, Pamela lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands for nearly ten years. She refuses to admit to taking notes for this series during that time.

Connect with Pamela:
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads 

Buy the book:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Kobo | Smashwords