by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of the first in a brand new series by Valona Jones along with an interesting interview with Valona. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Snuffed Out: A Magic Candle Shop Mystery by Valona Jones
Review by Kathleen Costa
Making “Scents” of Murder!
Thirty-year-old Tabby Winslow and her twin “older” sister Sage inherited from their mother Marjoram The Book and Candle Shop in Savannah, Georgia, which had been in the family for three generations. They handcraft aromatic candles along with selling statues of mythical creatures, books on Savannah, lotions and soaps, and plants, as well as providing a quiet, restorative environment. The twins, as is true about their family, are special. They are energetics with a special ability to manipulate the energies around them, but each sister has an unique skill set unto themselves. Their late mother had shared that there were others like them, but warned to be cautious. Their shop clerk Gerard Smith tried to warn Tabby of the oncoming “storm” entering the shop, and even the shop cats, Harley and Luna, knew to flee the arriving customer.
Snuffed Out Earns 5/5 Aroma-Therapies…Compelling & Clever!
The negative energy permeating the shop is courtesy of the wealthy Blithe McAdam threatening to shut down the shop … “Charlatans!” It is hard for Tabby to manage the flurry especially since a past experience deflecting such energies led to terrible consequences resulting in an overly cautious nature. She calls in reinforcements in the form of her sister Sage whose calm manner and energetics ability diffused the situation, but Ms. McAdam was still angry the aromatherapy candles she’d been purchasing didn’t rid her of the headache that even doctors had no remedy. Tabby is sure she’d followed Auntie Oralee’s recipe for this particular candle, but could her capping her abilities be effecting her innate healing? Although a refund and free product was offered and accepted, Blithe was still bent on destroying The Book and Candle’s reputation. So, what happens now when two detectives arrive at the shop announcing they are investigating a homicide? Blithe McAdam is dead.
Brilliant! Valona Jones has “lit up” the cozy world with the first book in her Magic Candle Shop Mystery series with a close sister dynamic with a spark of competition, a karmic murder, social media attacks, and a unique magical element. Energetics. This ability creates an interesting advantage for the sisters when entangled in an investigation both from an offense and defensive position. Almost like a “lie detector,” they sense underlining “currents” of emotions. The victim had quite the acerbic tongue that cut more than just the sister’s patience, and it was engaging to see how other suspects were revealed: a half-brother, a local politician, victims of her verbal threats, and a developer. It gets complicated with planted evidence, a perilous hoax, and energies flying all around, but the final reveal was quite a surprising showdown. The lore behind the “energetics” was fascinating along with its use, secretive community, benefits, and dangers. Of course, along with candle talk, sweet treats, and family interactions, romance is always a favorite element. Tabby’s highlights the issues with keeping her ability secret especially to a close someone who doesn’t have the skill, but it was a fun to follow the changes.
A Magic Candle Shop Mystery
Snuffed Out (2023)
In the Wick of Time (Release late summer/early fall 2023)
Sage Winslow is implicated in the murder of the manager of a local nursery, and the only one she knows who can help her avoid jail is her sister Tabby.
Tallowed Ground (This one’s on deck!)
Be a Big Fan of Valona Jones!
“Cozy Paranormal Author” Valona Jones sets her work in Southern locales mingling traditional cozy mystery elements and the paranormal with a bit of romance. As a former scientist, Valona is intrigued by the concept of personal energies which spurred her series A Magic Candle Shop Mystery. She is also a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
Facebook: Valona Jones, Author
Website: Valona Jones
Interview with Valona Jones:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Valona: Longer than I should admit! I grew up in the days of letter writing, way before emails and text messages. From there I wrote short stories for my own pleasure and later some fairly bad attempts at turning our family history into a historical romance. Fortunately, that idea flamed out, and I landed on the mystery genre. Once I began seriously writing for publication (and I had a day job, a husband, two on-the-go kids, and a slew of pets), it took me ten years to “break in.”
Valona: My first novel released January 10, 2023, Snuffed Out. It’s a paranormal cozy mystery, so that means there’s a psychic element and an amateur sleuth. In Snuffed Out, thirty-year-old Tabby Winslow must solve a disgruntled customer’s murder to save her candle shop clerk from a life behind bars. Like her twin sister, Tabby is an energetic, which means she can see auras. and she can wield energy.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Valona: In another iteration of myself, I’ve published science fiction as Rigel Carson. I’ve also written sweet romance, romantic suspense, cozy mysteries, and paranormal cozies as Maggie Toussaint.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Valona: Snuffed Out is set in Savannah, Georgia, a town I am familiar with as a coastal Georgia native. I grew up 60 miles south of Savannah, and we went there for most of our medical and shopping needs. The Book and Candle Shop featured in the story is a figment of my imagination. It’s also an amalgamation of all the fun shops I’ve ever explored. Amateur sleuth and candle maker, Tabby Winslow, reached out to me across the story ether demanding a series of her own. She didn’t have to push too hard. She had me at hello.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Valona: I always have a reason for writing a book. Something in the real world seems broken, and I find a way to fix it in my fiction. Not as a crusader for justice, but as an alternative suggestion for a different ending. Themes aren’t intentional for me, but often I get pretty close to the end of a story, and I realize, “Oh, this book’s about “xyz.” Often that’s an eye-opener for me.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Valona: At the beginning of each week, I set word count goals, based on how much real life will intrude on writing time. My preference is to write a book in four months and take at least two months to edit it. I tend to max out at 5000 words a week, and most weeks are a tad short of that goal.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Valona: My best time to write is early morning, but by early I mean after breakfast and caffeination! This works best because I don’t have too much “day” in me yet, and the story comes out crisp. Sometimes my schedule dictates that mornings go for other activities. Then it is fairly hair-raising to get the afternoon words arranged into any semblance of pleasing order.
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?
Valona: Outlining gives me the largest sense of security that the book is well-plotted, but, and it’s a big BUT, the story feels less exciting to me as I write because all of the key discovery happens in the pre-writing phase. Since I am an intensive editor, the average reader can’t tell which books are more rigidly planned, but I know. For a few books, I tried a hybrid approach of writing to certain plot points. Ultimately that wasn’t fully satisfying either.
Now I’m back to creating a sketch of the book beforehand. By that I mean, I have a vague idea that the sleuth finds something or has a setback in a chapter, that sort of thing. The whole “outline” is a bit squishy, and is often reworked many times during writing, but that’s where I am now. Working with a lighter framework still ensures the plot is strong but keeping the plot elements vague ahead of time provides the discovery excitement while writing that I enjoy most as a writer.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Valona: When I first started querying agents and editors, it was a different era. I’m talking about the days of SASE and the dawning of computers. Breaking in was hard, and you needed to go to conferences to meet with industry professionals to have a chance of emerging from the slush pile. However, once my writing skill rose to market standards and I had those industry connections, the way became much easier.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Valona: Back in the day, there were a host of expectations an author had to meet. The submission package had to contain a query letter, a 50-page partial, the author bio, and a self-addressed return envelope. Everything had to be pristine in appearance and strictly formatted to the house’s requirements. Even one typo was seen as a sign of unprofessionalism.
Much to my surprise I got a submission back by return mail one day. With the quick turn-around time, I hoped the industry pro had sent a request for a full. I ripped open the envelope, and there was my entire submission package with the word “No” written in permanent marker in big letters. That was it. No other feedback, no professional response, just that “no.” It still rankles.
KRL: Ouch! I can imagine it would. Most interesting book signing-in a bookstore or other venue?
Valona: We don’t have a bookstore in our county, so my choice of signing locations is often creative. I’ve used restaurants, cafes, the library, my home, the art center, the ice cream shop, the general store, a Visitor’s Center, outdoor festivals, the golf shop, well, you get the picture. Any venue is fair game for me.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Valona: My plan is to keep writing as long as I enjoy crafting a story. It’s always my hope that my current series has a long run, but if that doesn’t happen, it’s always fun to create new story worlds.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Valona: The titans of the industry who can churn out high quality books time after time and on a strict deadline. The people who don’t give up when they get their twentieth rejection letter. The authors who make me literally hunger for their next book. If you’re actually asking for my auto-buy authors, those include all iterations of Jayne Ann Krentz, Carolyn Haines, Leigh Perry Charlaine Harris, Lindsay Buroker, Nancy J Cohen, Polly Iyer… and yes, I realize these are all females. I read male authors too, just none on my auto-buy list.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Valona: Most of my research is online these days. I even contact subject experts online. However, conferences are a great place to meet people who used to be in law enforcement or related occupations. As a mystery author, I highly recommend Writers Police Academy as a conference. Through time I’ve collected many nonfiction books on various topics, so sometimes I don’t need to go too far afield to research cops and robbers, poisons, and the like. The trick with research is to know when to stop.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Valona: I read widely across genres. Sometimes I’m in the mood for romantic suspense, sometimes for science fiction or fantasy. I love mysteries in most iterations. I prefer a faster paced story set, but I will read in any time period as long as the prose is fluid.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Valona: I’m a fan of offbeat shows (Santa Clarita Diet, Big Bang Theory, Good Doctor, Ghosts, Game of Thrones, Survivor, etc.). I also follow actors to various shows, for instance Nathan Fillion. He impressed me in Firefly and Castle and now I’m watching him in The Rookie.
KRL: I too am a Nathan Fillion fan. Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Valona: My answer to this interview question used to be “Improve your writing skills and believe in yourself.” That’s still true, however, I have recently seen a few beginning authors lose their way when they experienced a harsh critique. To me, the most important advice is to nurture and protect your creativity.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Valona: I enjoy painting. Not the artistic portrait and landscape kind but painting trim on walls, doors, and windows.
KRL: Do you have any pets?
Valona: None currently. However, in previous years I’ve had fish, hermit crabs, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and horses.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Valona: It’s been a real pleasure to be here today with you, Lorie. Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed at King’s River Life.
KRL: Thank you for joining us! Website? Twitter? Facebook? Instagram?
To enter to win a copy of Snuffed Out, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “snuffed,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 28, 2023. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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