Friday, October 3, 2014

Featured Author: Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Pamela Fagan Hutchins was here last year with her novel, Saving Grace, and I'm happy to have her back with her newest book, Going for Kona, a romantic mystery published by SkipJack Publishing. She's here today for an interview, and she brought an excerpt from the book.

About the book:

When her husband is killed in a hit-and-run bicycling accident, it takes all of Michele Lopez Hanson’s strength not to burrow into their bed for the rest of her life. But their kids need her, and she promised herself she’d do the Kona Ironman Triathlon in Adrian’s honor, and someone seems to be stalking her family, so she slogs through the pain to keep herself on track. Her dangerously delirious training sessions become a link between her and Adrian, and she discovers that if she keeps moving fast enough to fly, she can hold onto her husband — even as she loses her grip on herself and faces her biggest threat yet.

Interview with Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Pamela, I've lost count of how many books you've written. How long have you been writing, and how did you start?
My third grade teacher told my parents I would be a writer, and I told them all how wrong they were. I liked to READ, but I wanted to be a veterinarian. I stubbornly insisted I had no interest in writing throughout high school, where I went on to become a UIL “Ready Writing” Champ, and into college, where I had placed out of all my English courses and left writing behind. In my third year of law school, I was hired to teach writing to the first year students. Throughout my legal and human resources careers, I wrote my fingers off, but only motions, briefs, and reports. But in my early thirties, without meaning to do it, I started writing. It was the little things at first: Christmas letters, family updates, then, when we moved to the Caribbean, weekly missives telling anecdotes about our whacky life. By my mid-thirties, I had started working in secret on my first novel. At forty, I came out of the closet. So, I guess I knew when I turned forty . . . but inside I had always known.

Tell us about your series. Is this book a standalone, or do readers need to read the series in order?
Is this a trick question?  OK, let’s see if this makes sense: Going for Kona is part of a series of series. The first series, Katie & Annalise, introduces us to Katie and some of her friends in three books. Going for Kona introduces us to another of Katie’s friends and brings Katie back for a visit. Going for Kona will become book 1 in the Michele series, and there will be two more Michele books. However, first there will be three books in the Emily series, which brings back Katie’s friend Emily from the Katie & Annalise series, as well as several other characters from those books. After the Emily series, the second book in the Michele series will be released. Then there will be another three-book series about one of Katie’s friends (I can’t decide which one will come next!!), and then we’ll get the third and final book in the Michele series. So there will be many interrelated series creating one overall series which I haven’t thought of the perfect name for yet, but at home am calling “FOK” for Friends of Katie but which sounds like a Scottish expletive if you say it like a word instead of using the letters.

With which of your characters would you most like to be stuck in a bookstore?
I’d like to spend a few days in a bookstore with Michele Lopez Hanson, my protagonist in Going for Kona. She is an editor and an author, and I think we’d have a lot to talk about it, and her accomplishments are very inspiring. Plus, I could maybe get her to edit one of my upcoming Emily series books.

Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
Well, I can’t tell you about my very favorite scene in the book. It’s too big of a spoiler. Instead, I’ll tell you about my second favorite, although I’ll still have to be fairly circumspect. First, I need to tell you about my protagonist, Michele: Michele has lost her husband Adrian and has been the subject of a lot of negative press. She is having trouble with her teenage kids. Her mother is driving her crazy. When she was a feisty and beautiful little girl, her Mexican-American father nicknamed her Itzpa after Itzapapotl, a Aztec warrior goddess in the form of a clawed butterfly with knife-tipped wings who protects and avenges children. Adrian called her Little Butterfly, which he derived from Itza. Michele finds herself identifying more and more Itzpa.

OK, so Michele is late for an interview with ESPN about the Kona world championship triathlon and the triathlon/relationships humor book she co-wrote with Adrian. She rushes in and catches one of her nemeses unaware. This nemesis is talking to the ESPN producer, and spills the beans about a horrible thing the nemesis leaked to the press that hurt her and her whole family. Michele, who finds that her imagination has been growing wilder and more vivid with all the pressure and grief she is under, imagines her nemesis bursting into flames. Here’s the rest of this excerpt:

The fire reached for me now, and I wanted to fly away, far away, away from her and the fire and this office. That or stay and claw the bitch’s eyes out.
“What’s going on here?” Brian asked, walking up behind me.
I turned to him with my claws unsheathed. “Ask her, and find my replacement.”
My feet retraced their earlier path. I gathered speed down the hall of pain, flames chasing me faster, faster, until the edges blurred as my dark wings beat the air and my feet lifted from the ground.

You get to decide who would read your audiobook. Who would you choose?
Eva Longoria, Michele’s celebrity lookalike.

Does your family get involved with your books?
It’s a love-hate relationship for them, and by them I mean my husband, two kids and three step-kids. They enjoy the fact that I’m an author. Occasionally they’re mildly impressed when I’m on TV or when someone they know gets excited they’re related to me. I already mentioned they take turns with me on the road, including my mother, who is a voracious reader and begs to read my early first drafts (I now make her wait until I send a book in for copyediting). My college-age son likes updates on my sales numbers, and my husband reads my reviews obsessively. Not only that, but my husband helps me plot my books. He’s a chemical engineer and has a great mind for detail, what works, and what can’t work. But when I’m writing a book, I’m just the crazy lady in her pink flannel sleepy sheep PJs who hasn’t brushed her hair in days and doesn’t react to the sound of gunfire at close range. My husband can take my writing binges for only about 3-4 weeks at a time. The teenagers kind of like it that I’m less observant, but life falls apart a little without me so they’re glad when I return to normal and patch everything up.

What word best describes you, and are you an introvert or extrovert?
My friends know I am an social-introvert. People that meet me in public think I’m an extrovert, because I am outgoing and, after years of public speaking and appearances, I project confidence and a comfort with visibility. What only my friends know is that the public me drains the private me, and I need a sensory-deprivation chamber to recharge myself. I prefer to spend time with my family (and the smaller that group is, the better) or a friend rather than with a crowd. I draw energy from privacy. Public settings drain the energy back off. In the summer of 2013 I did a 60-cities-in-60-days nationwide RV book tour, where I appeared in public 3-4 hours every day. I spent the rest of the time hanging out in my RV with one of my kids (they took turns with my mother and husband escorting me around the country) and my one-eyed Boston terrier, Petey, mostly silent, mostly working, marshaling my reserves so I’d have the energy to go out and do it again. And again. And again. Times 60!

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.

I hear you. What do you love most about being an author?
I love feeling the rightness of words flowing one into another, of perfect images that bring a secret smile to a reader’s face, of crying and laughing out loud as I write a story. I love living it. I become my protagonist. My entire family prays for me to finish the book so we can all quit living out the drama of the scenes, one by one, over and over.
My second favorite thing about writing is when I anticipate writing a scene, and I experience the emotions before I can get the words out. Sometimes I sit at my laptop messy-crying, and that’s when I know it’s going to be really good.

My least favorite thing about writing is second drafts. I love first drafts and final drafts. I despise the let down of discovering how much work is ahead of me during a second draft.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I love to travel with my husband. In the summer of 2014, we took our RV—dubbed the Bookmobile—on a book tour in 17 states. We took a month to do it, and we picked the prettiest places we could drive to in that time frame, staying as close to state and national parks as we could, so that we had easy access to hiking and mountain biking. Our route covered the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Crater Lake, Astoria, Mount Ranier, Mount Hood, Bellingham, Couer d’Alene, Buffalo Wyoming, Grand Rapids, and Otter Tail Lake, Minnesota. Wow. And for a complete change of pace we are going to Bora Bora for our anniversary!

Wow! You do get around. What are you working on now?
I am so excited to be working on the Emily series right now. Emily is the big-haired rodeo queen-turned-paralegal from the Katie & Annalise series. The first book in the series is called Heaven to Betsy. In Heaven, we rejoin Emily as her life implodes and she is forced to move in with her mother back in her hometown in the Panhandle of Texas. Sparks fly with her new boss, an eccentric criminal defense attorney named Jack, a name Emily suspects is short for Jack . . . well, you know. Emily is drawn to eight-year-old Elizabeth, the daughter of a doomed client, and signs on as a foster parent. When the mother’s suspicious death in prison leaves the girl an orphan, Jack calls the case closed, but Emily can’t leave it alone. Her quest for answers leads her to New Mexico — and old crush Collin Connell — but the cast of shady characters she encounters may prove to be much more than she bargained for.

The second book in the series will be Earth to Emily, and the third will be called Hell to Pay. They will come out in mid-to-late 2015.

Excerpt from Going for Kona

By Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Chapter One:
The best-looking man in the River Oaks Barnes and Noble had his hand on my thigh, and with the weight of hundreds of eyes on us, I snaked my hand under the table, laced our fingers, and slid mine up and down the length of his, enjoying the contrast of rough against soft. My index finger bumped into the warm band on his ring finger, and I let it stay there, worrying it in semicircles, first one way and then the other.

A Barbie-doll lookalike in form-fitting hot pink strutted into the spot vacated moments before by a tittering fifty-something woman. The bleach blonde brandished a plastic glass of champagne in one hand and held out a copy of our book, My Pace or Yours? Triathlon Training for Couples, in the other. Without letting go of my leg, Adrian took it from her and opened it to the title page, where a yellow sticky bore her name.

“Hi, Rhonda. I’m Adrian, and this is my wife, co-author, and editor, Michele.” He scribbled his signature and scooted the book over to me.

“I know that, silly.” Her little-girl drawl burrowed under my skin like a chigger.
I released Adrian’s fingers to sign, then held the book back out to the woman. “Hello, Rhonda. Nice to meet you.”

“I loved your talk, Adrian,” she said, ignoring me. I bristled. We had opened that night with a reading and Q&A. The book gets a little steamy at times, which is easier to write than to read aloud, so Adrian read those parts. “It’s wonderful to see you again.”

He studied her, eyes narrowed a fraction. “Thanks. Have we met?”

Maybe he didn’t remember her, but I was sure I had seen her recently. She didn’t exactly blend in here with Khaled Hosseini on her left and John Irving on her right. I set the book on the table and fought the urge to chew a fingernail. I was well trained by my mother, the one woman in Texas who could give Ms. Manners a run for her money, and Southern Women Do Not Bite Their Nails.

A slim man with a strained, too-cheerful smile stepped forward. He held up $3500 worth of Minolta. “Miss, around here for your photo.”

Rhonda swooped around the edge of the table and leaned over Adrian with her hand on the back of his neck, gripping the slice of shoulder that showed above his round-necked shirt.
The photographer held up his hand. “Look this way, please.” Adrian and I dutifully swung our faces in his direction and smiled. The flash blinded me for a few seconds, but as my vision cleared I got an eyeful of expensive cleavage. Rhonda Dale remained draped over my husband.

She dropped her voice, but I was six inches from Adrian and could hear her and smell her. I live with a teenage girl, and I’d recognize Urban Outfitters’ roll-on Skank perfume anywhere. “Of course we’ve met, Adrian, and I’ll never forget it.”

Where hot pink was before, I now saw red. Time to assert matrimonial authority. “Rhonda?”
She glanced at me, barely, and her mouth tightened. I inclined my head toward the double-door exit and smiled as big as I could.

Rhonda released Adrian’s shoulder, leaving crimson fingerprints behind, and took one step back. She bit her lip. She ran her fingers through one side of her bleached hair. She shifted her weight, cocked her right hip, and reached into the white pleather bag slung over her shoulder. I tensed. This woman tripped my switch.

“You’ll be wanting this, Adrian.” She flipped a pink business card onto the table. If Adrian were a rock star, she’d have thrown her panties and bra instead. The card sucked less. A little, anyway. She turned and walked, hips slinging and champagne sloshing, toward the ubiquitous Barnes and Noble Café and the aroma of Starbucks coffee. I could hear her heels clicking across the floor even after she disappeared from view.
Adrian turned to me and shrugged his eyebrows.

I drew mine together in return. “What just happened here?”

“No comprendo.” He drew circles with an index finger beside his temple. “La señorita está loca en la cabeza.” He took a sip of his Kona coffee—cup number six of the day, no doubt—a nod to his quest for the triathlon world championships in Hawaii.

My eyebrows lifted. “Was that even Spanish?” I reached for his hand under the dark green tablecloth again and squeezed hard enough to do minor damage. I whispered sotto voce so the next customer in line couldn’t hear, “If you promise not to talk in that horrible accent, you’ll get a nice reward later.”

He shot me a grin. “Maybe you can show me what’s under that necklace, Itzpa.” Sometimes he used my papa’s nickname for me, which was short for Itzpapalotl, a clawed butterfly with knife-tipped wings, and an Aztec goddess of war. Usually he just called me Butterfly.
I reached up to the locket suspended from a long gold chain around my neck. Adrian had given me the brilliant enameled monarch at our second “wedding,” the secret B&B family affair he threw in La Grange on our first anniversary to make up for the original quickie at city hall without our kids. When we were pronounced “still man and wife,” Adrian put the locket around my neck and told me I was his butterfly. I’d stashed a picture of us taken on that perfect day in the locket and had never changed it since.

I scrutinized it. “This old thing?” I dropped it and stretched my shoulders, catlike. Or rather, like a cat would. There is no feline quality to my short frame. At best I am probably a Pomeranian; at worst, a Pekingese.

He laughed and mouthed, “Thanks a lot, baby,” and held his hand out toward the customer at the front of the line.

I signed the next few books on autopilot, trying not to grind my teeth over Miss Boob Job In Hot Pink strutting her stuff for my husband. I could take the Rhonda Dales of the world in stride, mostly. I’d known ever since I was assigned to edit his column for Multisport Magazine that Adrian attracted groupies. His following, and the fact that we were working together, were the reasons I’d resisted him at first. He tricked me into going out with him, though—research over a cup of Kona, my ass—and I melted like a butterscotch chip into a warm, sweet cookie.

Soon after, Adrian coaxed me to “just try” triathlon, something I had never aspired to do. Never, meaning no effing way, ever. Swim, then bike, then run? I didn’t think so. I’d rather curl up with a novel, when I had any free time at all as the single parent of a tween. Still, I was that butterscotch chip, and it turned out that I was made for triathlon, like I was made for Adrian. It spoke to the parts of me that like rigor and suffering. I signed up for one, and then another, until here we were at Barnes and Noble, at our book launch.

“I’m Connor Dunn,” a man’s voice said. Something about it made me flinch and brought me back with a bumpy reentry. A certain pitch. A heaviness of import. My gaze lifted to his face and I read the creases around his eyes like rings on a tree: forty-five-ish. Dark hair, freckled, light skin. Toned, as was to be expected at a triathlon book launch. Pressed Dockers and a collared shirt: earnestly conservative. No champagne cup.

Connor Dunn was still speaking to Adrian. “We haven’t met in person, but—”

My husband interrupted him, brightening. “Sure, I know who you are.” Adrian turned to me. “Allow me to introduce my wife, Michele. Michele, this is Connor Dunn.”

“A name I know well from Adrian’s column,” he said to me. “Nice to meet you.”


“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Eva Longoria?”

I nodded. “Nearsighted people.” Eva Longoria doesn’t have the butt I got from the short, curvy Mexican women on my dad’s side. My blonde, Caucasian mother has no butt, but her genes passed me by in the looks department.

Adrian shook his head. “Not a chance. You look better à la natural on your worst day.”

“My husband is biased,” I explained to Connor.

He laughed and nodded at Adrian. “Hey, congratulations on your Kona qualification.”

“Thanks. There’s nothing like aging up to give you a boost.” Adrian was playing it cool, but he was over the moon about the Kona Ironman world championships. At forty-five, he had qualified by winning his first race as a forty-five to forty-nine age grouper, at the Longhorn Half Ironman in Austin last fall. “Will Angela be racing?”

“Yes. She qualified in thirty-five to forty.”

“That’s great.” Adrian turned to me. “Connor’s new bride is a tri-beast like us.”

Connor broke in. “I think we saw you guys last weekend at the Goatneck ride in Cleburne. I was going to introduce myself, but things got crazy.”

My skin went cold. A hit-and-run driver had killed one of the cyclists during the race.

Adrian put down his black Sharpie and sighed, sagging like a deflating balloon. “Yeah, that was horrible. Michele and I were one Brahman away from it.”

Connor’s voice and eyebrows went up. “Brahman?”

“Adrian hit a cow. It knocked him off his bike and left him with a flat tire.” I sucked in a quick breath. “I think it slowed us down just enough that we weren’t the ones hit by the car, you know?”

“Yeah, I do. It’s scarier and scarier out there on the road.”

“We were the first ones to get to him after he was hit.” Adrian’s voice grew raspy. “I ended up doing CPR on him while Michele called 911.”

It was a surreal picture: Adrian and the fallen cyclist were mirror images of each other, one upright and one prone, both covered in blood. They were dressed alike and had similar blue bikes. It freaked me out, big time. I couldn’t keep their images from returning to me over and over.

Adrian continued. “This guy had been riding maybe a quarter mile behind the leaders—he passed us when I hit the cow—and then this car just came out of nowhere off a little dirt road and smashed into him.”

“You saw it happen?” Connor leaned in, his voice a mix of dread and morbid curiosity.
I started to speak but realized both of my hands were over my mouth. I pressed my palms together and lowered them. “We heard it.”

“Oh my God,” Connor breathed.

It was a sound I would know anywhere. Adrian had hit a car head-on two years ago. I still don’t understand how he walked away from the wreck—his bike didn’t—and I will never, ever forget the sound. A thud, a wrenching of metal, a thump, then a crack as driver and bike hit the road separately. Groans. And in Adrian’s case, the squealing of brakes as the driver came to a stop. Not that time, though. Not that time. That time there was silence, except for Adrian screaming “Rider down, rider down” at the top of his lungs.

I forced myself to keep talking, to expunge the rest of the memory. “We saw the car driving away. White, a small sedan, like a Taurus or a Camry or something.” I shook my head. “We couldn’t get the license plate number, though, and we didn’t see the driver, so we were practically no help at all to the police.”

Just then, our publicist put a manicured brown hand on the table in front of Adrian. It startled me. I had forgotten we were in a bookstore, that there were other people around—worse, in line watching us, listening to us, waiting for us. Scarlett—that was both her name and her nail color—said, “Only thirty minutes to go, and you’ve still got a line out the door. I hate to break in, but we need to keep it moving.” She’d coached us on this earlier. The line must move no matter what. A moving line means book sales.

We nodded, and she backed away with her smile pointed toward the queue, a “Nothing wrong here, folks, nothing to see” smile.

To Connor, Adrian said, “Sorry, man.”

Connor pulled at his collar. “Absolutely. I understand. Um, I’m going to hang around and do some shopping. Could you spare five minutes when you’re done? I have something I need to talk to you about. It’s the reason I came, actually.”

There. That was what I’d heard in his voice. A purpose for his presence, and a threat to our plans for the evening. A post-signing tête-à-tête wasn’t on the schedule. My throat tightened. “Wound so tight, she springs when I touch her,” my ex-husband Robert had said about me. Well, not tonight. I breathed in and held it. I would not be rigid. I would roll with it and everything would be okay. I exhaled.

“Sure. I’ll meet you in the café when we’re done.”

Bam. I saw spots in front of my eyes. My internal tension meter was only about a 6 out of 10. Really, it’s no big deal, I told myself. Just five or ten minutes. We probably wouldn’t even be late for the eight thirty reservation at Oxheart I’d made two months before. My fingernail ended up in my mouth, but I snatched it away before I could bite it. This wasn’t exactly unprecedented. Adrian was a constant challenge to my need for order on his best days, just as I was to his need for flexibility. I called these opposing traits our growth opportunities when I was feeling Zen.

“Perfect. Michele, a pleasure.” Connor extended his hand to me.

I shook it, and his touch jarred my nerves. We posed for the obligatory picture and he walked off toward the biographies. Nice guy, even if he was a plan-buster and a bringer of bad memories, but something else was wrong with him. I could feel it. “Do you know what he wants to talk to you about?”

“No idea.” Adrian pursed his lips for just a moment. Then his expression shifted. Big smile, maybe a little less big than before, but big enough. He greeted the next person. “Sorry about the wait. I hope you’re having a good time.”

About the author:

Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes award-winning and bestselling romantic mysteries and hilarious nonfiction, and moonlights as a workplace investigator and employment attorney. She is passionate about great writing, smart authorpreneurship, and her two household hunks, husband Eric and one-eyed Boston terrier Petey. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound, if she gets a good running start.

Connect with Pamela:
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Buy Pamela's books:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble 
Going for Kona:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Other books by Pamela:

Saving Grace (Katie & Annalise #1)
Leaving Annalise (Katie & Annalise #2) 
Finding Harmony (Katie &Annalise #3)
The Katie & Annalise Series Box Set (All three full length novels) 
Hot Flashes and Half Ironmans
How to Screw Up Your Kids
And more!