by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Death by Committee, an Abby McCree mystery by Alexis Morgan. We also have an interesting interview with Alexis. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Death by Committee, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Death by Committee: An Abby McCree Mystery by Alexis Morgan
Review by Cynthia Chow
After ending a marriage that proved to be more successful as a business partnership than a personal relationship, Abby McCree moved into her late Aunt Sybil’s home in Snowberry Creek, Washington. Abby inherits more than just a sporadically-maintained estate though, as she finds herself now saddled with an exuberant Mastiff mix dog, a cranky but hunky tenant, and more than one position on a town committee. There’s soon one more committee vacancy available, as when rented goats clear out overgrown blackberry thorns they discover the body of snowbird resident Dolly Cayhill wrapped in a quilt. Known as Sybil’s arch rival since childhood, gossip and the women’s very public last argument have Abby’s aunt as the primary suspect. Unable to allow her beloved aunt’s reputation be sullied – and feeling guilty for the moment of suspicion she felt herself – Abby begins to investigate whom the perfectionist Dolly may have irritated to the point of murder.
It’s not as though Abby doesn’t have a lot already on her plate, as she soon finds herself chairing the Committee on Senior Affairs, hosting the garage sale benefiting the quilting club, and manning a table for the town’s cleanup day. What’s so refreshing is that while chief of police Gage Logan decidedly does not want Abby sticking her nose in his investigation, it’s not out of egotistical territorialism or arrogance. Gage is genuinely concerned about Abby’s welfare, as is military veteran Tripp Blackston, whose shirtless gardening attracts the attention of more than one member of the senior affairs committee. The new college student balances studying with protecting his landlord from a sundry of threats and attacks, with mastiff Zeke doing more than his share of guard duty.
This first in a series introduces an undeniably likable and entertaining heroine, one who never allows her pursuit of justice to outweigh her common sense. Abby is reluctant to place another suspect in the line of fire of police without proof to clear her aunt’s reputation, as in addition to being unable to say “no” to committee requests Abby’s also unwilling to make an unfounded accusation. Abby came to Snowberry Creek in search of a new direction for her life, and she seems to be finding it in the tiny town of nosy neighbors who ultimately unite for local causes. Abby is a vastly entertaining character whose intelligence makes her a capable and worthy investigator, and it’s impossible to resist a woman whose greeting to the crack of dawn morning is, “Screw you, Day.” A morning person she is not. The mystery plot is intricate and leads in an unexpected directions, with quilting, land development, and crab dip all playing a role. This is a fun start of a series that promises even more romance and humor for Abby’s next adventure.
Interview with Alexis Morgan:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Alexis: I started my first attempts at writing a book around 1990. That was shortly after I met my first published author, Janice Kay Johnson, who is a romance writer. As we got to be friends, I became fascinated by what she was doing. She encouraged me to try writing my own book and mentored me through the whole process. After all these years, we’re still brainstorming partners and meet regularly to bounce ideas around when one of us needs to work on a new plot.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Alexis: My first book was a short contemporary romance called Rough Edges, which came out in 1992. It was about a woman who had just taken custody of her troubled teenage nephew. The hero was the social worker she reached out to for help.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not, what else have you written?
Alexis: Although I’ve had elements of suspense in some of my other books, Death by Committee is my first cozy mystery. All of my previous stories have been romances of different kinds. I’ve written contemporary romances, fantasy and paranormal romances, and American West historicals.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Alexis: I wanted to write about someone who stood at a major turning point in her life. I also thought the readers should learn about the town at the same time as that character. With that in mind, I decided that Abby McCree had gone through a tough divorce right before her favorite aunt passed away and left her a house in a small town. The story begins not long after Abby moved to Snowberry Creek and is still trying to get her bearings.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Alexis: I’m a storyteller at heart and write to entertain my readers rather than to deliver an underlying message with the story. However, creating a world where readers can enjoy getting lost for a few hours is important in itself.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Alexis: I set a deadline for a new book based on writing 25-40 pages a week and then add extra time for revising and other writing-related activities such as doing promotion. I also add additional time for family stuff. Although I do try to write every day, that isn’t always possible, which is why I aim for a weekly total. Some days I might write five pages and eight on others in order to reach my goal. It’s easier to maintain a steady schedule now than when I worked outside the home and my kids were young. Back in the day, I did an awful lot of editing at Little League games and violin lessons.
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?
Alexis: I write an eight- to 10-page synopsis of the book starting with brief descriptions of the main characters and the setting. Those are followed by a summary of the plot that just hits the high points of the story arc. The story unfolds like a movie playing in my head as I write, so I never do a very detailed outline ahead of time. I then fill out a worksheet which lists the action scene by scene as I write. That helps me make keep track of pacing and the various threads of the story.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Alexis: I prefer to write in the morning, but I can work at any time if necessary to reach my quota for the day.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Alexis: Although my first complete manuscript never sold, my next one did. I actually sold two books on that one phone call. Unfortunately, the publisher went out of business before the second book came out. It was almost seven years before I sold again. I’ve been fortunate enough, though, to have one or more books published every year since 2000.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Alexis: Back in 2004, I met my agent for lunch near Seattle when she flew into town for a conference. We hadn’t been working together very long, and I was a little nervous about the prospect of telling her that I wanted to switch from writing American West historical romances to writing a paranormal series. My new idea was that there was a barrier between our world and another one that went down every time there was an earthquake or volcanic eruption. The heroes in the series would be called the Paladins, who fought to protect our world from invaders who came pouring across the barrier whenever it failed. As we were talking, the televisions in the restaurant suddenly started showing coverage of a huge plume of ash rising from nearby Mount St. Helens. Evidently, the eruption had happened shortly after my agent’s plane had flown right by the mountain. I teased her that I had arranged it all as a visual aid for my presentation. She laughed and the said it would be my breakout book. I’ve since published eleven stories in that series.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
Alexis: I love meeting readers who tell me that one of my books has meant something extra special to them, that reading one of my books has given them a chance to step back from whatever life was throwing at them. My favorite time was meeting a mother and daughter who told me they’d read my Paladin series together as the mother was receiving chemotherapy for cancer. That was one of the most memorable moments of my writing career.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Alexis: I hope to continue the Abby McCree Mysteries beyond the first three books that I’ve already written. The second one will be released at the end of August, and the third will be out next year.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Alexis: I really admire writers who create complex and vivid worlds to serve as the backdrop of their stories. Some of my favorites are fantasy writer Anne Bishop; paranormal romance/urban fantasy writers Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, and Jennifer Ashley; contemporary romance writers Susan Mallery and Janice Kay Johnson; and finally, Karen White who wrote the Tradd Street Mysteries.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Alexis: specialized military units and also books on geology/volcanology. For the Abby McCree books, I studied quilt patterns, small town police forces, and mastiffs. I also spent time driving around the area where I put my fictional town of Snowberry Creek, making note of the types of businesses in the area as well as the scenery. You can see Mount Rainier, one of Washington State’s five volcanoes, in the distance. Lately, I’ve also been reading up on poisons.
KRL: What do you read?
Alexis: I mostly read genre fiction—a lot of different kinds of romances, fantasies, mysteries, and urban fantasies.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Alexis: My taste in both TV and movies pretty much mirrors my taste in books with the addition of animated films. A particular favorite is The Penguins of Madagascar, which always cheers me up and makes me laugh.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Alexis: You can learn an awful lot of helpful information by listening to how other authors work. However, it’s important to remember that no two writers work in exactly the same way. Always listen to what someone has to say about what has helped them perfect their craft through the filter of what you know about your own process. Take what makes sense to you and ignore the rest. For example, I’m never going to be a hardcore plotter. Instead, I write a relatively short synopsis and work from that. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust my own process.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Alexis: I love learning about geology and paleontology, especially dinosaurs. When my kids were young, I once took my family to Bozeman, Montana, so I could visit the Museum of the Rockies. From there we went to Yellowstone so I could see geysers and bubbling mud.
To enter to win a copy of Death by Committee, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “committee,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 9, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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