Monday, March 29, 2010

Kathleen Delaney and Murder for Dessert

Kathleen Delaney stopped by to tell us about herself and her writing. Grab a cup of hot tea and a few cookies and enjoy the visit.

I lived the first seventy years of my life in California, married young and had five children. Somewhere in there I got my real estate brokers license and moved my one still-at-home child, my father and mother, five horses, three dogs and I no longer have any idea how many cats to Paso Robles on California’s central coast. It’s a beautiful little town and wonderful wine country. I stayed there for twenty-three years, working as a real estate broker, and watched it grow and change from cow/calf and barley farming to a major wine producing area. The growth of the town inspired my first mystery novel, Dying For A Change.

After retiring from real estate, I decided I wanted the experience of living in a very different part of the country and ended up in South Carolina, equally beautiful in a different kind of way and an equally delightful place to be. The south is just dripping with American history so, of course, I bought a 100 + year old house in the historic district of a town at the base of the Appalachians. I even have white wicker furniture on the front porch.

I came to writing somewhat late in life. I had always held writers up on some sort of pedestal, and assumed it was something I couldn’t do. Oh, I wrote. Little stories, essays, short sketches, but they all ended up in the cedar chest. I had no intention of letting anyone see them. I assumed they were awful, and, actually, they were. But several things happened that nudged me forward and finally, one day, I got out the article I’d started about my family’s adventures with 4H. I polished it up, and sold it. To Disney’s Family Fun. For money. I was a writer.

The next step was a novel. Picking my genre wasn’t hard. I loved mysteries and had read hundreds. I would write a mystery. This was more intimidating than you might imagine. I had no idea how those clever people thought up all those plot twists, invented those characters, or structured their stories. Most of the dust jackets said the authors had PhD’s in English, or were famous newspaper people, or had been writing best selling poetry since they were in kindergarten. All I’d ever done was read. And sell one article. I didn’t realize then that a lifetime of reading had introduced me to hundreds of experts who had already taught me how a novel should go together, that a story had rhythm, and that all action springs out of character. And that’s where I started. With a character.

Ellen McKenzie is a woman in her forties, freshly divorced, who returns to her home town of Santa Louisa on California’s central coast to see if she can put back the shattered pieces of her life. She is a fledgling real estate agent, and, of course, stumbles over a body in a new house while waiting for her very first real estate clients to show up. I knew something about all of that, so thought it would be an easy book to write. It wasn’t. But I kept at it, read “how to” books, took classes, woke up early in the morning and sat up in bed with a cup of coffee and a legal pad, trying to shape a book. It took over a year just to get something together that vaguely resembled a novel. But my mother liked it.

St. Martin’s Press holds an annual contest for the best new mystery novel by an unpublished author in the mystery field. I certainly qualified on that score, so polished up my effort as best I could, and off it went. Of course I was going to win. So, while I waited, I started the next novel in the Ellen McKenzie series. I wanted to be ready.

I didn’t win, but the judge did me an enormous favor. She sent back a letter saying the book was good, but not good enough and sent a short synopsis of where it failed. After stomping around, yelling and screaming, I went back and read it again. She was right. So, back to the computer, back to class, and I finally had something that I thought was pretty good. Dying For A Change was a finalist the next year. It was published a year later, and Give First Place to Murder came out a year after that. It takes Ellen into the world of Arabian horse shows and I still love the ending. Then Poisoned Pen Press accepted the third book in this series, And Murder For Dessert. Ellen gets herself mixed up with a murder at the Harvest Festival Dinner at the town’s most famous winery, and in order to find the murderer, almost ends up fricasseed in a bed and breakfast. It has been a Booksense Notable Mystery, has had really nice reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal and, from what people have told me, has given a lot of people many enjoyable hours. That is, I think, the nicest thing any one can say about my work and is my chief goal.

The fourth book in the Ellen McKenzie stories will hopefully be along soon.
In the meantime, I am starting a new series. There is a character in the Ellen books, her Aunt Mary, whom I just love. Smart, funny, takes no nonsense from anybody, and I have been told she needed her own series. I agreed. So, Aunt Mary is off to Colonial Williamsburg on the trail of a murderer (what else!) and we’ll see where that leads.

Best of all, I am learning with each book, drawing the characters a little tighter, letting them loose to be a little funnier or a little more clever in solving the mystery, and hopefully giving the reader even more hours of pleasure. I’m sure having a great time trying.

Kathleen, stop by for a visit any time and keep us posted on the new books.


L.C. Evans said...

Thanks for the nice interview. I love the part about the judge taking time to critique the book. Good constructive criticism is precious, especially to a novice writer.

Susan Whitfield said...

Kathleen, it's so nice to have you here. As members of the Carolina Conspiracy, we get to see each other occasionally even though we live in different Carolinas. I hope to reconnect with you soon at an event.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Susan, you might want to check my blog today at mentioned you!

Susan Whitfield said...

Thanks, Sylvia. I will. Your blog is always great.