by Cynthia Chow
This week we have review of Twice the Crime This Time by Maggie Pill, along with an interesting interview with Maggie aka Peg Herring. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win either a print or ebook copy of Twice the Crime This Time and a link to order it from Amazon.
Twice the Crime This Time (Trailer Park Tales) by Maggie Pill
Review by Cynthia Chow
In the Beautiful Bird Over-55 RV Park, known to the trailer park residents as the B-Bird, the seniors of this Florida closed community are very aware of one another’s going ons and quickly take notice of anything unusual. The conclusions they make may often be a little questionable, but their innate nosiness has very recently even enabled them to solve a murder. It’s why Detective O’Connor asks Julie and Ron on Egret Street to look into a murder that took place in 1967, as the buffer of 40 years should eliminate any risk of their being put in jeopardy. A letter left to a surviving daughter has authorities believing that a (now-geriatric) murderer may have moved back into the park, and Detective O’Connor is asking Julie and Ron to do a little light questioning. With one of the few clues being that the possible killer drove a semi as he passed through town, they and their friends will have to be both subtle and intrusive as they engage in their normal neighborly meddling.
As viewpoints switch between married partners and the different couples residing in the B-Bird, readers are treated to a delightful glimpse into a variety of marriages. While recovering from knee surgery, Ron is “helping” out with chores and driving his wife insane, as he has more good intentions than actual follow-through. Other struggling relationships are often troubled more by miscommunication than lack of love, and there will be genuine relief in seeing them slowly be resolved. Julie herself isn’t above a little matchmaking when it comes to the dating-inept but otherwise observant Detective, bringing in an element of good-natured fun and wry asides.
Readers of a certain age will, of course, revel in this mystery series that showcases senior amateur detectives, but all mystery fans will appreciate the compelling puzzle that comes together from two different time periods. The trailer park is a natural setting for good-natured neighborly prying, especially amongst these friends and neighbors who have known one another for years. Their investigations are never too outrageous or over-the-top, making this a realistic and often compassionate novel. Humor and fun dialogue are still the standouts of this series, and this second in the series by the Sleuth Sisters author, will appeal to those looking for a charming, well-written, very entertaining mystery.
Interview with Maggie Pill aka Peg Herring:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Maggie: When I think about it, all my life. Even as a kid, I wrote to entertain my friends and family. I recall sharing one of my stories with my sister’s boyfriend, (If she was 16, I was 11) and he said it was “Really good.” I was thrilled that an “older man” liked my work. Of course, the fact that he was hoping my sister would go to Prom with him might have had something to do with it.
My first attempt at “public” writing was a play for my drama students in the 1990s, which I did because we couldn’t find one with “good” parts for a few dozen girls and four boys. Four Chicks, Three Hunks, and a Frog was so well received that I sent it in for publication. Two of the three publishers I submitted to wanted it, and that’s where my addiction started. I began my career as Peg Herring, and I continue to publish under that name, but I write cozy mysteries as Maggie Pill, which is where Twice the Crime This Time, the 2nd of the Trailer Park Tales, comes in.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Maggie: I started with historical romance, since I’d been told those were in demand and I love history. I’d taught Macbeth for years, so I wrote Macbeth’s Niece about a fictional girl living at the thane’s castle when the momentous events that led to his downfall began. The book was published in 2008, and it got good reviews, though one critic said it was more adventure than love story. Oops! I thought. Maybe I’m not a romance writer after all!
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not what else have you written?
Maggie: After Macbeth’s Niece I went to my favorite genre, mysteries, though I stayed with “historicals” for a while. For the same publisher, I did a series with Elizabeth Tudor as half of a sleuthing partnership. The Simon & Elizabeth Mysteries did well and helped establish my reputation as a mystery writer.
Lately some of my series, like the Kidnap Capers, are more suspense than whodunit, and I played around with mixed genres in the Dead Detective Mysteries. In that series, paranormal elements make the crime-solving unusual and fun, but the rules of mystery are still obeyed. No demons, monsters, or axe-wielding ghosts wreaking vengeance from the grave.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Maggie: Funny you should ask! We bought a place in a Florida RV park, and we now live five months of the year with people from all over the U.S. It’s always entertaining, though sometimes irritating. The gossip. The disagreements. The small spaces. My experiences led to Trailer Park Tales, starting with Once Upon a Trailer Park, now followed by Twice the Crime This Time. The humor comes from two sources: the mix of people in the park, and the interaction between spouses squished into a small rectangle for months. Nobody’s wrong and everybody’s wrong, but it’s all hilarious–at least, when it’s in a book. People in our park ask me who is who in the story, but honestly, every character is a mix of personalities we might meet anywhere.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Maggie: I write mainly to entertain, and to be honest, mostly to entertain myself. I had an agent once upon a time, and she often suggested I write whatever trend was current: Amish mysteries, for example. Um…no. I don’t write for money. I write because I love it, and I’m always thrilled when someone else likes it too. I did have a fan contact me recently to say that she likes how I deal with sensitive topics, so I suppose my ideas of fairness and goodness creep into the stories. Though I try not to preach, writers can’t help revealing their views in how they portray people and situations.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Maggie: Being retired, I can write every day if I want to, and I usually do. I’m a morning person, so I start early, between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., and stop at lunchtime. Though I sometimes edit or revise later in the day, my creativity wanes after noon.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Maggie: I used to teach my students the trick of midpoint outlining, and that’s generally what I do with a book. I start with an idea and write until the bare bones are there. Then I print it and outline what I’ve got. That helps me see if the flow is right, if there are repetitive segments, if the plot develops nicely, and which questions remain to be answered. Once the story is straight, I go back several more times, adding character detail, subplots, and description, so the reader “sees” what I had in mind when I started.
Often my books, like the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries, are told from multiple viewpoints. Middle-aged sisters Barb, Faye, and Retta run a detective agency together, but they aren’t always on the same wavelength. Outlining is required at some point, because I need to keep track of who knows what when and how they learn it—and in some cases, why they don’t. For instance, Barb might not tell Retta something because she’s prone to rash actions, while Retta doesn’t always tell Barb what she knows or does because Barb’s prone to frowning and lecturing. Poor Faye (still the middle child, even at fifty-plus), tries to be honest with everyone. As the writer/referee, I need to let these spots be funny, but the information has to come out eventually so the murder can be solved.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Maggie: It’s 6:45 a.m. as I write this. Any questions? ?
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Maggie: It took six years! Back then, it was all snail-mail submissions, and I sent out 10 query letters a week for two years. Finally, one day, I got my letter back with two words scrawled in the margin: “Too short.” It wasn’t much encouragement, but I added to the story and sent it back to that agent, who took it. It took her two years to find a publisher, and two more years to get the book ready for release.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Maggie: A story I submitted to a contest was rejected because a judge said the premise, a young woman being paid to travel to England with an old woman who needed her assistance, was too contrived. “In this day and age that doesn’t happen,” he commented. I would never argue with the man, but I knew someone who had done exactly that the year before.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Maggie: Most of them have been great, but the worst ever was a signing with a panel of authors that included one who shouted – literally – as people entered the store, “Come over here! Everyone loves my book, whether you’re eight or eighty!” He even had his wife stand by the door and escort customers past the rest of us to his table.
At one of my first signings, I was placed next to the sales counter, so I heard the clerks talking to customers. One woman said, “I’m looking for a new historical author to read, and I like books set in Britain.” The clerk led her past my twenty copies of Macbeth’s Niece and showed her all the other historical authors on their shelves. Chopped liver, anyone?
KRL: Future writing goals?
Maggie: Maggie Pill wants to write a third Trailer Park Tale mystery, and the bones are coming together in my head. She is also working on a new book called Cutest Little Killer, and as it plays out, I’m seeing a possible series there. In Chapter One, a nine-year-old girl visits a private investigator to ask him to help her hire a hitman. How’s that for fun?
As Peg, I just released a stand-alone in women’s fiction called Deceiving Elvera. Though I’m not fond of the term women’s fiction, I like the genre and have another idea in mind. Since I only work on one book at a time, it’s on the way-back burner. People sometimes ask what I’ll do if I run out of ideas, and I laugh. Are they kidding? I’ll die with books I want to write circling around in my head!
KRL: Writing heroes?
Maggie: Sara Paretsky for sure, because she led the way for female crime writers. Laura Lippman, because she takes risks as a writer, testing herself rather than simply adding another book to her Tess Monaghan series each year. And here’s an odd one: Charles Dickens, because I love how every single thing he tells you in A Tale of Two Cities is important to the story later on.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Maggie: When I write something historical, I like to start by reading widely on the era, to get a feel for it. If the location I’ll be using is unfamiliar to me, I do something similar, looking at maps and photos to orient my characters in the place they’re operating. If it’s a fictional place, I’ll draw a map of it (which is hilarious because I can’t draw).
Once I start writing, I research in different ways. If it’s something I know I can find out quickly, like what street the Louvre Museum is located on, I look it up as I need it. If the information will take time to read and absorb, like how hand gestures are interpreted differently in various cultures, I’ll put *** in the text to remind myself to spend some time reading on that topic. If I’m not sure about a fact or reference, I underline it so I’ll remember to check myself later or ask someone who knows more about it than I do.
I enjoy using “people experts” to add realism to a story. In the Sleuth Sisters Murder in the Boonies, I took a local couple out to lunch and asked them to tell me about their herd of reindeer. When I wrote Peril, Plots, and Puppies, I visited five local animal shelters and let the staff tell me about what they dealt with and how. Deceiving Elvera is partially set in Thailand in the 1970s, so I worked with a cousin who was there with the Peace Corps. For the other setting, Michigan’s Mackinac Island, I picked the brain of my husband’s friend, who worked there in the late 1960s.
My best research story comes from my plan to have a character in Dead for the Money be chased along the Mackinac Bridge and eventually climb its suspension cables. My husband and I visited the bridge several times, trying to figure out how she might do that. I had him drive across it very slowly to determine where she’d start her climb, and we stood on the shore, pointing and discussing how a pedestrian might get onto the bridge deck from below. After a while he commented that our actions had probably placed us on Homeland Security’s watchlist as possible terrorists.
In the end, Hubby recalled he’d gone to high school with the chief engineer for the bridge, so I asked for his help with the details. He offered to take me to the top of the support tower so I could see for myself what it’s like up there, but I said no thanks. Though I’ve met authors who climb mountains or sky-dive so they can accurately depict the experience, that ain’t me! If it’s dangerous, I’ll use my imagination.
KRL: What do you read?
Maggie: I like traditional mysteries, legal thrillers, police procedurals, and stories with either a unique (but not irritating) protagonist or a clever plot line. Tim Hallinan’s Junior Bender books come to mind, because a burglar who serves as P.I. for other criminals is unique and clever. I like historical fiction and am currently reading Ken Follett’s The Evening and the Morning. Favorites I’ll always buy: Michael Connelly, Charles Todd, Laura Lippman, Margaret Atwood, Kate Morton, and Kristin Hannah.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Maggie: I can’t tell you the last movie I saw. Mostly when I relax, I watch old crime dramas, and I particularly enjoy British settings. Loved New Tricks, Blue Murder, City Homicide, and Endeavour.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Maggie: It sounds trite, but my advice is to PERSIST. We all need to work to get noticed. We all need to make our writing the best it can be. We all need to keep working on both of those things forever.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Maggie: To continue advice for aspiring writers, some teaching anecdotes.
Lesson One: You’re never done. When I got my first bite on a mystery, the agent said, “Start writing Book 2, because once we sell this one, they’ll want to know you’ve got more coming.” I’d had my whole life to write Book 1, now she wanted Book 2 in a year. When the year was up and I had Book 2 well in hand, the agent wrote to say that though she still “loved” Book 1, she couldn’t sell it…so goodbye. No “What else have you got?” No “Let’s go in a different direction.” We were done, and I was back to being unrepresented.
Lesson Two: Success sometimes comes out of the blue.
On the other end of that, I wrote The Sleuth Sisters as an experiment. Cozy mysteries were selling well, and they seemed like fun, but I didn’t know if I could pull off a humorous whodunit. Rather than endanger the reputation I’d built as Peg Herring, I used my grandmother’s name (Margaret Pillsbury became Maggie Pill) and self-published an e-book. (Note: even then, I knew enough to pay for an editor and a cover artist.)
A few months later a fan wrote to ask when it would be out in print, so I learned to produce a print book. A while after that someone asked how long before the audio book would be out, so I contacted Audible and started that process. The Sleuth Sisters and the other six books in the series are by far my biggest sellers as an independent author, and it happened with no expectations, no begging for reviews, no backing from a big publisher, and, since I was writing two other series at the time, not much promotion. Sometimes you get lucky and tell the right story at the right time.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Maggie: I have a cat who rules the house, sleeping wherever she likes and complaining if we don’t jump to her command. That’s not surprising, but when I tell people she’s 26 years old, they’re amazed. I hope I look as good and get around as well she does when I’m over 100!
KRL: Website and social media?
To enter to win either a print or ebook copy of Twice the Crime This Time, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “twice,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 16, 2021. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS AND LET US KNOW WHETHER YOU WANT PRINT OR EBOOK.
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