by Diana Hockley
This week we have another mystery with a touch of paranormal–Murder, My Mother, And Me by Sandra Gardner. We also get to chat with Sandra and at the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of this book.
Murder, My Mother, And Me by Sandra Gardner
Not being a fan of paranormal plots, I was pleasantly surprised by this one! Marabella Vinegar–was there ever a girl blessed with a worse name?–has had “mother” issues for all her life and eight years of group therapy to overcome them.
When Marabella finally plants her mother, there is none more surprised than she when her mother turns up in her living room attired in the finery she was buried in. Having offered a warning of future trouble, mum settles in for what appears to be a long stay. Shocked and disbelieving, Marabella leaves to keep her appointment with her therapist, arriving in her office just in time to discover the therapist’s still-warm body.
Things go downhill from there. NYPD’s finest have no better suspect than Our Girl, who realizes that, with the exception of her mother, there is no help in sight. All is not as it seems. People whom Marabella thinks she has known well for years turn out to have “hidden depths” and one of these is her therapist. Disillusioned, Marabella struggles to free herself from suspicion to no avail, but just when all seems lost…!
Part of the charm of this “cozy” is the rapport which author Sandra Gardner establishes between her characters and the reader. Smart quips, clever writing and good imagery make this well-written novel a real hoot. I thoroughly enjoyed it and unusually for me, didn’t pick the murderer. I highly recommend Mother, Murder, and Me to everyone with a rainy day to spare and chocolate to keep their strength up whilst belly laughing.
Interview With Sandra Gardner
Interview with Sandra Gardner
by Diana H.
Diana: Did you start writing from a young age and are you a dedicated reader?
Sandra: I started reading at age six, which is also when I got my first library card. Have never been without at least one book to read, emergency book in the car for trips to the dentist, etc. Have to read in bed before I can fall asleep.
Diana: What or where did you find your inspiration for the plot?
Sandra: When I was sick with bronchitis, lying on the living room couch, I had a sense of my mother standing over me. I dragged myself to my computer and typed about 20 pages, dealing with a complicated relationship between a recently deceased woman about 70 years old and her daughter, in her late 30s. A few days later, I realized that this wouldn’t hold up for a whole book. So I added a body, a group of characters who were not what they seemed, a few red herrings, another body, and I was on my way to a mystery novel, featuring the daughter as accidental detective and her sidekick, her ghost mother.
Diana: How do you plan your books and for how long before you actually start writing?
Sandra: For my first book in the series, Mother, Murder And Me, I kept writing down things about the characters and plot that came to me–sometimes in strange places: the shower, the grocery store, when half-asleep, etc. They became the stimulus for moving the story along. I also had to do a lot of filling in, in places where more need to be said or explained. While I was writing the first book, I would keep thinking of things relating to the characters that didn’t belong in the first story. The more things that came to mind, the more I got more of an idea as to how the second book would go. I’m now working on the second book, Mother And Murder–Again.
Diana: What research do you do for your novels?
Sandra: For the first book, I went to Riker’s Island Correctional Facility in NYC. One of the characters spends time in jail and I needed to research the setting. I also did some research about legal matters, especially relating to New York State laws, online. I’ll have to do more legal research and some medical research for my second book.
Diana: Do you have a schedule for writing?
Sandra: I made a New Year’s resolution last December 31 to start work on the second book in the series right away. I scheduled an hour a day, five days a week, inviolate, as if it were a job and sometimes, it really is! I often think I should do more than that, but more seemed a little overwhelming, and I want to be able to stick with it. So far, I have more than 40,000 words of first draft done.
Diana: Do you set yourself a goal of so many words per day?
Sandra: Not so much words, though I do try to do about 500 or so—but I like to plan to work on a scene a day. That seems to work for me.
Diana: How do you go about planning your novels?
Sandra: With a mystery, you really have to know where you’re headed, who the characters will be and, of course, whodunit, right away. But when your characters start to do things and act in ways that you never expected, that’s the fun part! Also—you can find yourself with new characters that just seem to appear. So I basically sketch out what I want to happen, and then let the characters loose!
Diana: How do you cope with writer’s block?
Sandra: A writer friend of mine once said, about writer’s block: DO IT ANYWAY! That’s the advice I try to follow, religiously, Monday through Friday. If I don’t feel “inspired” that day, I go back and see what needs filling in, etc.
Diana: Do you have a mentor–someone you can ring up and bleat too if necessary?
Sandra: My husband is a writer, too. And, like me, he’s a great editor. So–he’s my bleat to.
Diana: Does someone else check your plot as you go along, or do you keep it a secret until you have finished the first draft? Or finished altogether?
Sandra: With my first book, I was pretty insecure. I’d never written a mystery before, though I’d been a journalist, editor and writing teacher for years, and had four non-fiction books and a chapbook of poetry published. So the book went through a lot of critique groups, etc. Especially helpful was a friend in Texas I’d met at a writers’ conference, who’d had a couple of mysteries published and had a legal background. We exchanged pages of manuscript online for critiquing. Kate Flora’s critique of my first 15 pages or so at the New England Crime Bake last November was very helpful. In fact, I even sent rewrites to my publisher because of her critique! This time, I’m really working on my own. If I had a local mystery critique group, that would be helpful.
Diana: How do you keep track of the characters and what is happening at any given time in the story?
Sandra: They tell me what they’re doing! Though I do make notes when any action, etc., occurs to me when I’m not actually at my computer.
Diana: If you had a choice–and you may well have–what time of the day do you like to write?
Sandra: Has to be afternoon. I’m not really conscious until about noon, meaning not alert, so I go to various exercise classes in the mornings. At 3 p.m., I sit down at the piano and practice for about an hour. At 4 p.m., I’m at my computer. I’ve also been trying to include an hour of meditation at 2 p.m.
Diana: What are the titles of your other books?
Sandra: Six Who Dared (Simon & Schuster); Street Gangs (Franklin Watts); Teenage Suicide (Simon & Schuster); and Street Gangs in America (Franklin Watts). Street Gangs in America received an award from the National Federation of Press Women. A collection of my poetry, Mythmaking, was published in a chapbook by Word Journal Press in 2004.
Diana: Do you have a favorite book-signing or fan mail story which you would like to share?
Sandra: I’m just started my book signing “tour” at the end of June at my local Barnes & Noble, in Kingston, NY. Then I’ll be at two local bookstores and a library in July, a coffee house in October and another library in November. I’m really excited about all this! As for fan mail: have gotten some nice emails from people I know–and don’t know–and even a couple of reviews on Amazon.com.
Diana: Future books?
Sandra: I’m planning (hoping) to do more in my Mother series. I already have ideas for the third and fourth book in the series.
Diana: What do you like to read? And do you read your own books after some time has passed and think “Oh no, I could have done that better!!!” and gnash your teeth?
Sandra: Mysteries (of course!). I’ve read just about every Agatha Christie, Kate Flora, Karin Slaughter. Loved Caleb Carr’s Victorian mysteries–and love most Victorian London and turn-of-the-last century New York City mysteries. Enjoyed Stephanie Barron’s The White Garden and A Flaw in the Blood, the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries of Christopher Fowler. And I could go on and on. As for my own books–don’t think I’ve ever reread any of them. That probably was a habit I developed as a journalist, as a contributing writer and columnist for The New York Times. Researched, interviewed, written, edited, printed and– next day tossed. Since I couldn’t ever “go back” with the articles, I guess I just try to learn from mistakes and go forward.
Diana: When did you start seriously writing and what did or do you do other than writing?
Sandra: I started writing poetry in junior high, then wrote articles for the high school magazine and was lucky enough to have a great English teacher in my senior year. She had us write a “theme” every week. I’d lock myself in the bathroom and write till I was done. She really encouraged my writing. As for writing seriously, that didn’t happen till I’d married, had two children, divorced and remarried, had another child. I went back to college (English major), loved writing term papers in Shakespeare and Chaucer classes, won a poetry award from the English Department, and started writing articles on youth and family issues for various Scholastic magazines and editing an in-house newsletter.
Play classical pieces on the piano, read, meditate, dance aerobics, yoga, knit, watch true crime on TV, go to concerts with my husband, visit with my three adult children, hang out with friends.
Diana: Any advice for new writers?
Sandra: Keep at it! You’ll get better and better. Join writing/critiquing groups, but make sure the other people are constructive, not destructive, or who are people who tell you how to write or what your story is. Go to writers’ conferences. You’ll meet other writers at all levels and feel part of that community.
Diana: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years?
Sandra: Hopefully, there will still be brick-and-mortar stores and hard and soft cover books. Other than that? Don’t have a clue.
Diana: Anything you would like to add?
Sandra: These were great questions! You really know how to get a lot out of an interview! And I know, since I’ve been on the other end many, many times! Thank you so much!
You can find Sandra on Facebook.
To enter to win a copy of Murder, My Mother, And Me, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Mother”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 21, 2012. U.S. residents only.