Thank you, Rocco for having me as a guest on your blog. One of my favorite cats I’ve had looked a lot like you. He was a tuxedo cat, and I named him Fred Astaire, but called him Freddy. When I brought him home as a tiny kitten, Miss Molly, the collie I had at the time, instantly fell in love with him, but he wasn’t sure about her. Soon they became best friends, and he’d cuddle and sleep with her. Watching them play was funny and had everyone laughing. Freddy would sneak around corners and attack her. He’d ride on her back, wrestle with her ears, or hang from her front ruff while she walked. Sometimes Molly would have his whole head in her mouth. I now have two tabby house cats, Moggie and Brat Cat, a beautiful tri-color collie, Maggie, two totally useless ponies except that I love Puffy and Phoebe. Then there are the feathered critters; six hens, an old guinea fowl and inside Pavarotti, my canary, and two African ring-necked doves I got for my classroom more than fifteen years ago that live on and on and on.
Rocco: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
I kept a journal as a teenager and wrote poetry and short stories. I’ve always been an avid reader devouring books, especially horse books as a child, and when I’d read all those in our small rural school library, I found Albert Payson Terhune, who wrote books about collies. That’s when I fell in love with collies. Always liked cats, too, Rocco, but there weren’t as many books about them in those days. Raising four kids born less than five years apart from start to finish didn’t give me much time to write more than letters to my sisters away at college. Then when I started college as a nontraditional student in my early forties after the death of my oldest son from cancer, I was hooked on almost every class I took for my degree in elementary education. Literature and writing classes were the best. I graduated with lots of extra credits because I took an overload every semester. It was in college that I started seriously writing poetry and getting it published.
I taught third grade in the small college town of Hiram, Ohio and loved teaching this age. While teaching, I went on to get a masters in English, not because I wanted to do anything with it, but because I loved reading and writing research papers about different authors, books, and discussing ideas with adults. This background led me to writing. I’ve always been an avid reader and every room of my house has books in it overflowing the book shelves they’re on. Now I’m still writing poetry, my mystery series and short stories; I’ve had four appear in anthologies and several in e-zines and one in Crimespree Magazine.
Rocco: Tell us about your gardening mystery series. Where did that idea come from? Do you garden?
On, my do I garden! When I became newly single after many years of marriage, I bought a small farm with an old house badly in need of repair. Once the house was habitable I started on the lawn and gardens. Except for many trees, some ancient lilac bushes, an old rose bush and some peonies, it was in miserable shape. The problem with being on one’s own is that almost everything is done by just me. Another problem is that with no one to rein me in, I have a compulsion to buy every rose, daylily, shrub, tree and flower that attracts me. Also, on the yearly vacations I’ve gone on with my sisters, we often visit large public gardens which give me so many ideas. That means my gardens – and there are many of them since I have acreage - keep growing and growing and getting weedier and weedier, too, I might add. So my love of gardens, which all my siblings share, makes gardening a natural theme for my series. That old saying “write what you know” fits here.
Rocco: You’ve also written a middle-grade mystery. Do you find writing for the YA audience more challenging, and if so, why?
The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club is my only one so far. It was part of a writing activity I did with my students. I brought in an old suitcase and told my students I’d found it on my doorstep. The kids went through it looking for clues. We actually had a Sherlock Holmes Detective Club where my students read mysteries in pairs. I supposedly put an ad in the found section of the newspaper, and we got three responses; thanks to a friend, cousin and sister. From the letters it was obvious it could only be Alice Van Brocken. When the students got a thank you letter from her she told them she’d witnessed a jewel robbery and the police didn’t believe her because she was an elderly white-haired lady. She’d found a clue they might be in Columbus, Ohio. The students wrote back telling her about themselves and advising her to be careful. From October until May, Alice wrote my students from all over the country as she followed those thieves and getting into very dangerous situations. The letters came to my students postmarked and unopened from all the places she was supposed to have been thanks to family and friends all over the country. Two days before the end of the school year, Alice shows up in person (one of my sisters) and the kids were so excited. Instead of going out to recess they only wanted to listen to her and have her sign autographs. The book is almost all, either Alice’s letters to my students or letters from the students narrowed down to 6 girls and 6 boys, and edited only slightly for spelling and grammar with some narration in between chapters. Their names were slightly changed, too, but for the most part their letters are authentic third grader letters.
Rocco: Tell us about your latest release.
Ladies of the Garden Club is the third in my series. The Blue Rose was first and Daylilies for Emily’s Garden was second. My books follow the months; the first June, the 2nd July, and the 3rd in August. My protagonist is Catherine Jewell, who is part time botanist at Elmwood Gardens and owner of a small nursery – Roses in Thyme. The Portage Falls Police Chief is John MacDougal, who also owns a used bookstore with his mother. They meet in the first book and gradually they become friends with a beginning love interest. In Ladies of the Garden Club three women in the garden club are poisoned. Since Catherine recently presented a workshop on poisonous plants at Elmwood Gardens, she’s considered a suspect by Joe Salcone, an officer with the Portage Falls police force. Added to that, the first victim was found dead in one of her greenhouses at Roses in Thyme making her look even more suspicious. Many favorite characters return in this book as well as some new ones.
Rocco: What are you working on at the moment?
My next book in the series taking place in September is The Body in the Goldenrod. I’m hoping to have it out sometime in August. In this book a Civil War Re-enactment is going on at Elmwood Gardens and someone gets murdered. I also have a subplot going on with John MacDougal’s mother telling Catherine about a backpacking trip she took in July (Daylilies for Emily’s Garden) in which there was a murder. Since John was very upset about his mother taking off with a handsome environmentalist she’d just met, she can’t talk about it with him, but Catherine is a supportive and non-judgmental listener.
Rocco: Are you a plotter or pantser?
A little of both. I write a bio for my murderer in advance. I have a general plot idea, but from then on I let the chapters flow from some subconscious level that often surprises me when they’re done. I do keep a short synopsis of each chapter on a chart that lets me know what characters appear in it and a line or two of what happens as well as the day and time of day. Then I can see when it’s time to bring back certain characters.
Rocco: What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Some would say taking up backpacking at the age of sixty. Others might say buying an old house with a leaking roof and two collapsed basement walls and an ancient electrical wiring, and I’m sure others could think of many other things, too.
Rocco: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
I want them to fall in love with Portage Falls, a fictional little town in NE Ohio, and even more with my sometimes quirky characters. I love hearing that few readers actually solve the murders before the end even though I leave clues. I love knowing fans are asking when my next book is coming out.