by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Final Cycle By Elaine L. Orr, and a fun interview with Elaine. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of Final Cycle, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Final Cycle Book 2 of the Logland Mystery Series by Elaine L. Orr
Review by Cynthia Chow
No one likes the food police, especially during the Christmas holiday season. Retired Logland High School teacher Louella Belle Simpson didn’t care, though, as she never hesitated to criticize everyone’s eating habits, health status, or weight. Not even children were saved from being a target of the former health and home-ec teacher, which helps to explain why very few residents in Logland, Illinois, mourned her death. It was the manner of her demise that rocks the town, though, as poor Bully Pulpit Diner co-owner Marti Kerkoff found Louella in the spin cycle of the Logland Laundromat dryer. It’s up to Police Chief Elizabeth Friedman to determine if Louella finally insulted or shamed someone to the point of murder. Elizabeth has the assistance of fellow newcomer Dr. Isaac “Skelly” Hutton, the medical examiner/coroner who never saw himself in that position but was responsible enough to help oust the previous negligent incumbent.
Elizabeth and her officers soon learn that their tight-fisted City Clerk had enlisted Louella’s help in spying out shenanigans within the laundry, meaning that Louella may have been murdered by those wanting to keep their criminal activities quiet. When a frequent laundry user is just days later killed in a senior living apartment, Elizabeth can’t help but think that two deaths occurring close together must be related.
The author of numerous cozy mystery series, this is the second installment of a thoroughly compelling police procedure. All is not cute and cozy in the small Illinois town, as its quirky residents engage in a fair share of larceny and Big City crime. Characters introduced in the first of the series are introduced again not just as witnesses, but as suspects and even victims whom Elizabeth compassionately questions and judges fairly. This intriguing method of expanding characters makes the setting feel real and the consequences more dire as the reader grows attached to the Loglanders. Elisabeth’s and Skelly’s relationship has never progressed past the platonic state due to Elizabeth’s previous involvement in a work romance, one that ended with her and not her male coworker suffering the negative reputation. That’s not to say that there isn’t an enormous amount of humor threaded throughout this novel, with a tone that feels reminiscent to the books by Craig Johnson and Bill Crider. This is a gem of a novel that deserves the upcoming third Logland Mystery, as the very confident Police Chief Elizabeth Friedman wittily puts together the numerous pieces of the puzzle to outsmart the criminals and brings home a very Merry Christmas.
Interview with Elaine L. Orr:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Elaine: I’ve been writing seriously since the mid-1980s–initially plays and novellas, then some short novels. A trip to Bath, England, a gorgeous architectural site, inspired me to write Secrets of the Gap. Most of the novels were learning tools. In the early 2000s I still had my day jobs, but I started writing the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series. I wrote the first two books in that decade as I took some more writing classes and lived a busy life. I finally was ready to publish them in 2011.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Elaine: The first version of Searching for Secrets came out in 2006 and was not as good as it should have been, despite me having worked on it for a couple of years. (It’s now available as the author preferred edition and I hope you can’t find the others. Too much romance mixed with the mystery.) An elementary teacher finds computers her class has just won have been tampered with, and she and a local police officer learn the crime is related to something more sinister. I learned my sleuths have to have flexible jobs. I had the teacher break her arm, so she had time to follow clues.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Elaine: A bunch of plays – you can tell my passion for dialogue–and novellas that I refer to as reflective fiction. I especially like Falling into Place about a World War II veteran whose secret is known only by his wife. Her death changes his role in the family. I refer to it as a story told with humor and grace.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Elaine: I’m writing a series set in an Illinois town, which I characterize as a police procedural with a cozy feel. The third book in the Logland series, Final Operation, came out in early June 2019. I wanted to experiment with a sleuth who was not an amateur but retain the small-town feel and mix of quirky characters. I was fairly new to Illinois and visited several small towns to get a feel for the area south of Springfield, where I live.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Elaine: My mysteries are largely to entertain, though Jolie (in the Jersey shore Jolie Gentil series) runs a food pantry and she and friends draw into their circle a veteran with a TBI. Each series has something similar, but I believe these scenes are simply seen as part of the story, not lessons. The real world is much more than solving mysteries.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Elaine: I seem to write best in late afternoon, but I park myself in a chair several times throughout the day. When I’m nearing the end of a book I go to Starbucks in the evening and write until closing time. In the daytime, I often write in a library. If I’m home I find other things to do.
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?
Elaine: I jot very few notes and then write the chapter or two in which the crime takes place and characters are established. I throw ideas to the bottom of the text. I sort of reverse outline by doing detailed chapter summaries as I go. I see the whole book in a few pages, and it helps me see holes or how I need to move things around. About halfway through the book I have something more like an outline, but it’s organized by book subplots, not chapters.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Elaine: Hmm. I wish I could make myself start writing immediately after breakfast, but I like to deal with life tasks and marketing then. I’m thinking of getting myself hypnotized.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Elaine: I initially self-published with the Jolie series because I was 59 and thought it could take a long time to find an agent and publisher and get the book out. The River’s Edge series (my second, set in Iowa) is with a supportive small publisher, Annie Acorn, LLC. I think she was receptive because I had a decent track record. I’m developing two new series and plan to approach some traditional mystery publishers. But I have two books to finish before I can do that. If no one is interested, I’ll do them myself, but I’d rather not.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Elaine: I didn’t submit a lot, but early on. With Secrets of the Gap, I sent it to Harlequin’s romantic suspense line in the UK (where the book was set). The rejection letter was a form one, but an editor took the time to write several encouraging sentences at the bottom. I would have kept writing no matter what, but that letter stayed on my home office bulletin board for years.
KRL Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Elaine: I chuckle at one not long after I moved to Illinois in 2014. I had books from my first two series, and a woman a few years older than I approached the table. She lectured me for several minutes about how I wouldn’t sell many books until I set some in the State I lived in. In the background I could see the store owner bury his head in his hands for a minute.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Elaine: I mentioned two new series. In each a hobby or profession of the sleuth will be more tightly woven into the plots. I tend to write series because I develop characters I like. When a see a story as a single title, those tend to be novellas.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Elaine: I’ve learned a lot from M.C. Beaton about how to write fallible protagonists, and Peter Lovesy’s droll humor cracks me up. I like Margaret Maron’s approach to the Deborah Knott series, and love Robert Harris’ complex plots.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Elaine: For some I do library research of a profession or time period. I like to browse the books. As I go, I tend to Google things I want to ‘get right.’ The book I just finished is set in a hospital, so as I describe a scene, I want to be accurate without dwelling on details. I do occasionally call someone, but not often.
KRL: What do you read?
Elaine: In addition to the four authors noted previously, I read a lot of Louise Penny, Michael Connolly, Daniel Silva, and more recently John Sanford. I tend to read grittier than I write. My favorite nonfiction author is Erik Larson. The research he does lets his historical nonfiction read like fiction. I’m in awe.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Elaine: Now that Big Bang Theory just ended, I’m not sure I’ll have any TV to look forward to. I know I should invest the time in learning some new characters. I spend most of my entertainment time listening to audiobooks. Fairly recent movies I loved are Book Thief, Finest Hours, and Black Klansman.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Elaine: I thought about this a lot as I recently wrote Writing When Time is Scarce, because that’s what I did for almost 20 years. I’d say two things. Try to think about your book as you do other things (not driving!) so when you have time to write you’re writing. I scribbled ideas constantly. Second, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Pay for an editor (even if you have to do a rummage sale) and don’t release that first book (to a publisher or the world) until it’s been revised a couple of times.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Elaine: Don’t talk to people about what you’re writing except maybe a critique group or your best friend. Hardly anyone is interested in your work until it’s done, so keep working.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Elaine: I’ve had a lot of ‘bone trouble’ the last few years and found it difficult to write happy stories when I was in a lot of pain. I was incredibly fortunate that a local doctor sent me to specialists until a doctor in Chicago found something ‘unusual’ and fixed it with another surgery. For the first time in years I can schedule an event, weeks in advance and know I’ll be able to make it. I’m very happy.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win an ebook copy of Final Cycle, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “cycle” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 8, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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