Greetings, my friends! I hope you have been enjoying this series of interviews with mystery writers: Carole Price, Ann Parker, Staci McLaughlin and Penny Warner as much as I have. Hopefully, your desk has a stack of their fun books on it, all from your local independent bookstore (I love our own Towne Center Books in Pleasanton). Or perhaps you’ve got your Kindle or Nook filled from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Either way, these ladies of mystery have been delight, both to read and to meet. I’m going to be sad when we finish off next week with our final author, the fabulous Penny Warner, author of “How to Dine on Killer Wine.”
The Murder in the Valley Book Signing Tour is also drawing to a close, but it’s not too late to get up close and personal with these amazing writers!
October 18th, 7:30pm
Lafayette Library and Learning Center
3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, CA
November 11th at 2pm, Carole Price and Staci McLaughlin will be speaking at the Livermore Library, located at 1188 South Livermore Avenue in Livermore.
This week I am excited to introduce Livermore author, Staci McLaughlin. Her first book, “Going Organic Can Kill You” is part of three book deal of cozy mysteries featuring marketing gal gone Jill-of-all-trades, Dana Lewis. In addition to the Blossom Valley series, Staci maintains an active blog and website at:
You can keep tabs on when her next book, “All Natural Murder” is due to shelves near you and even gain a few organic tips!
First, a huge thank you to the author herself for taking the time to share her experiences and insights with us. Staci, I really enjoyed your first book, “Going Organic Can Kill You” and I am looking forward to reading your forthcoming sequel.
- How did you choose your pen name? Are you writing under your real or an altered name? Why so? What happens if Julia Roberts stars in a movie from one of your books and you become a household name?
I currently write under my own name. I’m so excited to finally have my book published that I want everyone in the world to know that I wrote it! If I were to write another mystery series that is completely different from the Blossom Valley series, then I would definitely consider a pen name. I would want readers to approach the book with fresh eyes and know that it was something totally new. And if, by some miracle, I become a household name, I could always move to a nice rural area in Maine like Stephen King. Oh, to dream…
- Wilbur seems to an ode to the childhood classic, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White. What are some of your favorite childhood books? Which books do you feel your own children should read, whether these books were your personal favorites or not?
I loved “Charlotte’s Web,” along with “Black Beauty,” “Island of a Blue Dolphin,” and the entire Three Investigators series. I would like my kids to read all sorts of books, from Twain’s classics to “The Wind in the Willows.” It’s interesting because I have two boys, so the books that I loved as a child, such as “Little House on the Prairie,” may not generate the same level of interest for them. But as long as they read something, even comic books or the back of the shampoo bottle, I’ll be happy.
- You just brought back a childhood memory, I loved “The Three Investigators,” too! It seems like perhaps you, like Dana, are not completely convinced that the path to organic is necessarily the path to happiness. Has there been anything that you tried in your research that you enjoyed? On the other side, what was the worst tasting thing you tried?
I’ve tried quite a few organic chocolates that were very tasty. You can’t go wrong with chocolate. On the flip side, I think the worst thing I’ve tried is wheat grass. The taste was surprisingly mild, much like green tea, but I don’t even like pulp in my orange juice, so the little bits of grass that got stuck in my throat really didn’t go down easily. Literally!
- Someone, please cover Wilbur’s ears… my own writing critique group is named the Beer and Bacon Babes… bacon is kind of a thing for us. How do you like you bacon best? More than one way is fine :-)
I can’t think of any way that I don’t like my bacon (sorry, Wilbur). Bacon cheese dogs, bacon burgers, BLTs, breakfast sandwiches–you name it, I like it. I made this thing called pig candy once that was so delicious. You roll the bacon in brown sugar and then cook it in the oven. All this bacon talk makes me want to go cook some right now.
- Wait a second, you can’t bring up something as delish-sounding as Pig Candy and not tell us how to make it! Details, Staci, we need details! Can you share the recipe?
Absolutely! The Pig Candy recipe comes from The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Cookbook, and it’s ridiculously easy. You take however many strips of bacon you want and and roll them in dark brown sugar until they’re coated. Then you put all the slices on a rack on a cookie sheet and place the cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes or until the bacon is as crispy as you like it. That’s it!
- Note to self, make Pig Candy as soon as humanly possible. Back to your book, it sounds like Blossom Valley would be somewhere outside of Ukiah. I love that area, my family and I vacationed every year at La Trianon on Blue Lakes, about six miles outside Ukiah. Did you have any special memories of the area that let you to set your books there? Memories of Mendocino or Lake Counties?
Even though it’s grown quite a bit, Ukiah still has a great small-town feel to it. Growing up, I’d roller skate all around our neighborhood or walk to the corner store for candy. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but looking back, it was a wonderful place to grow up and seemed like a good spot to set a murder. You don’t typically see that type of violence in a small community, so it’s a nice contrast. Also, my grandmother had a small pear orchard in Lake County, where I spent a lot of time. She also grew her own corn, tomatoes, and zucchini, and that might be where the farm element in my books came from.
- Are there any elements to your characters that are drawn from your real life, people you know? Any harmless anecdotes you can share?
None of my characters are based on one specific person. Instead, each character is a combination of several people. I might take certain mannerisms from one family member and physical attributes from another. Still, my mom’s friend got quite upset when she discovered that Dana’s father had died before the book even opens. She felt horrible for my own dad, even though he’s alive and well.
- What was the moment? When did you decide, hey, I can write a story? When did you believe and how can others believe in themselves?
I worked for a number of years as a technical writer, and one of my coworkers was always working on one fiction project or another. He’d helped run a short story magazine and was writing a horror trilogy and working on short stories, and he spoke with such passion that it got me thinking about writing fiction myself. I started with a short story, and when that got published, I moved up to National Novel Writing Month. When I looked back at what I’d written, I realized it wasn’t half bad and that maybe I had a future with fiction writing. I think anyone who has a passion for writing should believe in themselves. The publishing world has a high rate of rejection (something I have a lot of experience with), but that doesn’t mean the person isn’t a good writer. It simply means that the editor or agent wasn’t looking for that particular thing at that particular moment. It’s important to keep trying.
- While, you are certainly not the same, everyone wonders: how much of you is in Dana? Better yet, how much of your ideal man is in Jason?
I’m fairly similar to Dana. Since I’m writing in the first person, my beliefs and viewpoints kind of leak into my writing. Jason definitely has some traits that he shares with my ideal man. He’s smart, dependable, and supportive. I ended up writing him as a guy that I could bring home to Mom – Dana’s and my own. Oh, and he’s cute!
- I love that you use everyday California need-to-knows to help solve your mystery. Your writing certainly displays a love of California. There are so many stereotypes of our state… what would Dana, as a marketing person, love to tell people about California that they might not know?
California has a lot more to offer than Hollywood and the beach (although those are definitely fun places). The Sierras are a beautiful place to visit, particularly this time of year when the leaves change color. You can visit former gold mines and old railroad towns. Dana would also be sure to tell people about the vast agricultural regions in California, especially in the Central Valley, and suggest everyone stop by the orchards that allow you to pick your own fruit.
- Dana seems to just be getting her legs under her at O’Connell Organic Farm and Spa, how will things change, or NOT change in the next book… or two?
Conditions on the farm definitely reflect the current economy. Even though parts of the town are showing signs of recovery, reservation rates at the farm are still inconsistent in the second book, and Dana and the rest of the staff are trying to think up ways to boost business. To add to the mix, Dana is trying to clear her sister of a potential murder charge, and she spends so much time on solving the murder that it impacts her job performance. Let’s see if she still has a job in the third book…
- Will Ashlee ever find true love? (C’mon, I had to ask!) Or, will she be on Jerry Springer?
Ha! You know, that could be a great plot for one of my books. Ashlee could get pregnant and go on a talk show for one of those paternity tests but then her baby’s daddy gets murdered. Hmm…
Seriously, though, it might be a while before Ashlee finds true love. She’s young and independent but still likes to be taken out on a date and treated like a princess. For her, it’s fun to meet new guys and go on adventures. Some day, I’m sure she’ll be ready to settle down.
- In your path to becoming a published author: what was the best move you made? What is the one thing you wish you could do differently? How so?
Hands down, my best move was joining a critique group. It’s hard to keep perspective when you’re writing for only yourself. It’s so easy to start adding in too many metaphors and flowery language or trying out a new plot twist that makes no sense. My critique group does a great job of pinpointing awkward phrases or letting me know when something isn’t working. They’re also quick to point out things they like. As for what I would have done differently, I was going to say that I wouldn’t have been in such a rush to submit my book to those early agents before it was ready or maybe joined a critique group sooner, but I think those things were all part of the journey to publication. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I hope that’s made me a better writer.
Staci, if this book is any indication, then mission accomplished. Your writing reads like a movie playing in my head, I can see it all. Here’s to many more entertaining tales for you to tell, starting with your forthcoming “All Natural Murder.”
Thank you, thank you for taking the time today!