by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of the first in a brand new series from Laura Jensen Walker, along with an interesting interview with Laura. 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 and an indie bookstore.
Hope, Faith, and a Corpse: A Faith Chapel Mystery By Laura Jensen Walker
Review by Sandra Murphy
Hope Taylor is the new pastor, make that new female pastor, at Faith Chapel Episcopal Church. It’s a smaller town than she’s used to, and except for the warp speed of gossip, she likes it.
It’s too bad that on her first day, she’s the topic of that gossip. Finding a wealthy parishioner dead in the columbarium will do that, especially if you’re holding the murder weapon when the senior pastor and the church ladies find you.
On the plus side, if you can call it that, Stanley was not well-liked and had a number of enemies. He treated his adult children horribly. He ruined his business partner, personally and professionally. The question really was who didn’t want him dead.
Hope has a black Labrador. On their daily walks, she’s able to hear the latest and put together bits and pieces that gradually build into clues.
Hope is likable, easy to talk to, able to walk away when some of the members resent the fact she’s female, and a widow learning life goes on. As in most churches, members have their own jealously guarded niches, whether flower arrangements, choir, or special events. Trying to stay on the good side of everyone is a tightrope walk.
Bogie, her Labrador, is a great addition to the story, as is Virginia, Hope’s sister-in-law. I vote for Virginia to move to be near Hope and her escapades. Besides, Virginia is a fabulous cook and Hope lives on peanut butter and banana sandwiches. The side characters are just that—characters who love Twinkies and garden gnomes for instance.
Walker has written a number of books, one bookish baker mystery, two Phoebe Grant books, three Getaway Girls, and two other books. This is her first book featuring Hope and Bogie. Readers will want more.
Hope loves old movies so in the back of the book, there’s a list of classics. Since one of the scenes is an English tea, recipes for cucumber sandwiches, ham and apricot cream cheese sandwiches, classic English scones, lemon bars, and triple chocolate brownies are included. (A proper English tea requires three tiers—savory sandwiches on the bottom, scones with jam, clotted cream, or curd in the middle, and sweets on the top tier.)
Interview with Laura Jensen Walker:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Laura: Since high school (many, many years ago) when I was the editor of the school paper.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Laura: My first novel was Dreaming in Black & White, a chick-lit novel which came out in 2005. It featured journalist and movie geek Phoebe Grant who thought she was a shoo-in for the job of her dreams–movie reviewer at the big-city newspaper where she works. Instead, she gets laid off by the new owners and has to return to the last place on earth she wants to be, her boring small town.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not what else have you written?
Laura: No. Mysteries are a whole new genre for me. I started out writing humorous non-fiction a lifetime ago – my first book, Date Jekyll, Married Hyde, released in 1997. That was followed by 9 other funny non-fiction books, including Thanks For the Mammogram!, which was rereleased last year. I’ve also written 7 chick-lit novels. (Hope, Faith, & A Corpse is my 19th book.)
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Laura: When I decided to try my hand at writing a cozy about 3 years ago, as I began writing, one of the minor characters in the book – a woman Episcopal priest – made it quite clear that she was a major character deserving of her own story. So, I started writing two cozies at the same time. After I had a couple chapters finished, I sent both ideas to my agent, since cozy mysteries were a whole new genre for me. He fell in love with Pastor Hope, the first woman priest at an Episcopal Church in a small town in Northern California and told me to keep writing that one, so I did.
Although I’m not a member of the clergy, I am an Episcopalian and sing in my church choir, so am familiar with an Episcopal church setting. Since writing humor comes naturally to me and I love character-driven fiction, I knew I wanted to people the small town of Apple Springs, California, with a cast of quirky, fun characters. I don’t want to give anything away but let me just say that I had a blast writing those first few pages of Hope, Faith, & A Corpse and am gratified when people tell me the first page made them laugh out loud.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Laura: My chick lit and cozy mysteries are definitely written to entertain, to give readers a fun escape and make people laugh, as are several of my humorous non-fiction books. However, a couple of my non-fiction books, including Thanks For the Mammogram (and a yet-to-be published memoir, the book of my soul) are written to also provide hope and healing and to show others they’re not alone when going through times of fear and trauma (e.g., breast cancer.)
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Laura: I don’t have a strict hourly schedule, but in general try to start writing between before 8 a.m. each day and write until 3 or 4 p.m., unless I have appointments or other commitments in the afternoon. When I’m nearing deadlines, however, I’ll write 10-11 hours a day.
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?
Laura: No. I HATE outlines. I’m a total seat-of-the-pants writer. I have to know the beginning and have a general idea of the ending (although sometimes that changes) before I begin writing, but usually everything in between is a mystery that unfolds as I go along, which is fun and a delightful surprise.
I never used to keep a timeline while writing, but that created a mess during editing, so now as I write, I keep a timeline: “On Day 1, this happened, on Day 2, this happened, etc. (including names and places). As far as “what needs to happen” that’s more organic. I know I need to include red herrings to keep the reader from guessing the identity of the murderer, for instance, but I may not put all those in until the second or third draft.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Laura: First thing in the morning. Definitely. My brain is mush at night.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Laura: Actually, no. I was lucky. I attended my first writer’s conference in 1995 and met an editor who liked my work. Although my first book idea was rejected, shortly after my second conference in 1996,I received my first book contract. Back in the day, however (pre-cozies) I was fortunate to sell all my books based on a synopsis and two-three sample chapters.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Laura: My third book, Thanks For the Mammogram, was rejected 14 times over a two-year period by multiple conservative male editors who were uncomfortable with the idea of cancer – especially b-b-b-breast cancer – and humor. They all said, “You can’t have cancer and humor.” Really? Because that’s what helped me get through my cancer journey. Happily, I met a fabulous female editor at a writing conference who loved the idea.
However, she knew that in order to sell it to her team, she needed to see more than the usual couple chapters to show them I could sustain the humor. I gave her 5 chapters and it was published the next year by this 15th publisher who wound up sending me on a 6-city book tour in 2000 to promote the book. One of the highlights of the tour was being a guest on the ABC Weekend News. (We got some interest from a low-level producer on The View but it didn’t pan out.)
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Laura: Sorry to say I can’t think of any interesting book signing stories. Unless you count the small bookstore outside of Chicago on my Thanks For the Mammogram tour mentioned above where the store owner set me up at a table in a corner near the music CDs and made a half-hearted announcement over the loudspeaker that “Author Laura Jensen Walker” (whom no one had ever heard of) was signing books. Not one person showed up. Except to buy CDs. I learned my lesson – always make a book signing an event (with treats and a talk that gets the crowd laughing.)
KRL: Future writing goals?
Laura: I hope to continue both my Bookish Baker Mystery series (Murder Most Sweet released last fall, and Book 2, Deadly Delights, comes out in June) and my Faith Chapel series with more stories about Pastor Hope. I also have a passion project I’ve been wanting to write for years (historical fiction) that I finally started writing during the pandemic; but I don’t want to say much about that yet as it’s still early days.
I want to see my memoir, the book of my soul, published too. My agent first started trying to sell the memoir a few years ago, but at that point, I’d been out of the publishing world awhile and had no “platform”, which is essential in non-fiction, so it got rejected again and again. Editors told my agent they loved the writing, but because I didn’t have a platform (large social media following, active on the speaker’s circuit, or a built-in readership) they had to turn it down. Now that I’m building a readership and growing my social media following, fingers crossed.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Laura: That’s a tricky one! There are comic heroes like Nora Ephron, Erma Bombeck, Anne Lamott, Bill Bryson, and Emma Thompson. (Her Oscar-winning screenplay for Sense and Sensibility was brilliant.) In “classic” mysteries: Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie, and Mary Higgins Clark who paved the way for so many of us. Then there’s authors whose works I love and devour, like Sue Grafton, Louise Penny, Laurie R. King, Susan Elia MacNeal, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Deborah Crombie, Jacqueline Winspear, Anne Perry, Catriona McPherson, Kate Morton, Rosamunde Pilcher, and Maeve Binchy. (I’m a rabid Anglophile after having lived in England years ago.)
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Laura: Depends on the book I’m writing. For HOPE, FAITH, & A CORPSE, I interviewed a few Episcopal priests, both women and men. For stories that include visits to other countries (like a couple of my chick lits) I’ve made the supreme sacrifice of traveling to England and France to do research. In the historical fiction I’ve just begun since we’ve been in lockdown, I’ve been all over the Internet looking up makes of cars, kinds of foods, currency, songs and movies of the day, etc. I’ve also ordered a few books from that time period.
KRL: What do you read?
Laura: It might be easier to say what I don’t read: horror or anything too creepy and violent. I’m also not a fan of sci-fi. Not too big on fantasy either. Mysteries and historical fiction are my favorites. I also love a good memoir.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Laura: Foyle’s War, Miranda, All Creatures Great and Small, Vera, As Time Goes By, The Vicar of Dibley, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, The Derry Girls, Doctor Who (with David Tennant. Best. Doctor. Ever.)
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Laura: Sit butt in chair and write. MAKE the time. Don’t let fear stop you. Also, read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Laura: Thanks for interviewing me for KRL! I’m delighted to be back writing again and love hearing from readers. Without you, I couldn’t do what I do.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Laura: I can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious backwards. I hate coffee.
To enter to win a copy of Hope, Faith, and a Corpse, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “corpse,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 20, 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 MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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