by Diana Hockley
We have yet another fun mystery author interview this week, this one with author Nancy West, along with a review of her latest book, Fit To Be Dead, & at the end of this point details on how to win a copy of the e-book.
Fit To Be Dead by Nancy West
Aggie Mundine has retired from a banking career which she loathed, describing herself as a “squirrel counting nuts.” Having reached over thirty – it is hinted, not yet forty – she moves to Texas, where she plans to continue answering letters to her column, “Adventures in Staying Young” and contemplate what else to do. Realizing that she’d better look young in case someone sees her less than sylph-like self and discovers she is the author, Aggie joins a health club where she inadvertently stumbles across an attempted murder on her first visit.
This novel was a delight to read. Some readers would deem it a “cozy” but it goes much deeper. The reader gradually discovers that Aggie is hiding a heartbreaking secret, one which she would rather the man whom she hopes will eventually return her affection, Detective Sam Vanderhoven, would not find out.
In spite of Aggie’s confident exterior, she is lonely and looking for love. Her column keeps her motivated to attend Aspect of Aging at the University of The Holy Trinity, and exercising at the health club gives her a rather unfortunate glimpse of the singles scene. When her curiosity gets the better of her and sleuthing takes over, in Aggie’s words, “underneath this veneer of healthy living, repressed fury was biding its time.”
The characters are everyday and totally believable. Aggie comes across as a very attractive woman (the men address her chest), Sam is extremely likable with appalling fashion sense and the gym bunnies are right on target.
N.G West’s fine writing and clever plot reveal her mad sense of humor. I alternated between chuckling and sober reflection, but there is one place in this novel where I roared with laughter. I never give spoilers so you have to buy this book to learn why!
Ms West has produced a beautifully written book, brimming with wry humor, and a cleverly woven mystery in this perfectly-paced novel. Highly recommended!
I am very pleased to see there is a follow-up Aggie Mundine novel, Dang Near Dead, coming soon.
Interview With Nancy West
Diana: Did you start writing from a young age and are you a dedicated reader?
Nancy: My mother and I wrote poems to each other on Mother’s Day and birthdays when I was seven. My poetry was pretty awful, but I learned writing was a good way to express feelings. Another poem was published in the library journal Pegasus when I was in high school. After that, my writing went by the wayside except for assigned essays and “practical” college treatises on accounting and statistics. I finally wised up, attended grad school, studied English literature and read a jillion books on crafting fiction. Currently, I read all types of fiction, biographies, non-fiction if the subject intrigues me, newspapers, Writers Digest and Smithsonian magazine.
Diana: What or where did you find your inspiration for the plot?
Nancy: In grad school, I was working on a suspense novel, Nine Days To Evil, in which my 24-year-old protagonist, Meredith Laughlin, finds herself in a terrifying dilemma. By using what she learns in classes studying Othello and Abnormal Psychology, she figures out how to save herself. (E-book available).
While I was writing Nine Days To Evil (which won an award), Meredith’s graduate student friend, Aggie Mundeen, kept popping up in my head. Aggie—older, wiser and funnier—took over my consciousness to the point where I finally said, “Aggie, if you’ll just let me finish this book, I’ll write about you.” That’s how the Aggie Mundeen Mystery series was born.
Inspiration for the plot of Aggie’s first mystery came about because Aggie, who writes the syndicated column, “Adventures in Staying Young,” moves from Chicago to San Antonio and has to shape up before anybody discovers she’s the author. While she feverishly works out at the health club, mechanically inept and oblivious to Southern-style flirting, she interacts with a variety of characters. The setting provides ample opportunities for murder and a plethora of suspects—all of which stimulate Aggie’s curiosity. She’s seriously attracted to Detective Sam Vanderhoven who, unfortunately, is supremely irritated by Aggie’s creative, unrequested involvement in crime solving.
Diana: How do you plan your books and for how long before you actually start writing?
Nancy: I’ll soon start my fourth novel, the third Aggie Mundeen mystery. With each book, I’ve learned to do more advance planning. I try not to let my enthusiasm for writing Aggie’s chaotic, humorous scenes take over until I have an outline of the book pretty well in mind. I make myself write an outline, although I know it will undergo changes when research dictates a different path, or when I sense my characters should plunge in a different direction.
Diana: What research do you do for your novels?
Nancy: I do as much as I need to do to tell an accurate story. Character and story are the driving force; research is the necessary framework.
Diana: Do you have a schedule for writing?
Nancy: My preference is to write for two-to-three eight-hour days per week. Once I’m into the story, I don’t want to leave it. But that doesn’t always work out. Life intervenes.
Diana: Do you set yourself a goal of so many words per day?
Nancy: No, but when I finish a day’s work (sometimes with fewer pages than I’d hoped to write, sometimes with more), I have a plan for where the story will go in my next session and can’t wait to begin. I work to set up and write scenes rather than to write a certain number of words or pages.
Diana: How do you go about planning your novels?
Nancy: Aggie Mundeen is curious, intelligent, and has a distinctive, amusing view of the world. If I put her in situations with unique characters and in places with possibilities for disaster, she doesn’t disappoint me.
Fit To Be Dead takes place in a health club and in classes where Aggie and Meredith attend graduate school. Can you imagine finding distinctive characters in these places?
Aggie’s second mystery, Dang Near Dead, which should be out this summer, takes place at a Texas dude ranch with plenty of opportunity for shenanigans. Sam, incognito, accompanies Aggie and Meredith on vacation. In this idyllic but dangerous setting, he and Aggie confront crime and also have the opportunity to interact with their own brand of horseplay.
Aggie Mundeen’s third mystery will take place during fall semester at graduate school. She’ll study biomarkers, an aspect of the aging process that intrigues her. When an idiosyncratic professor is found dead, Aggie and Meredith will be suspects. When Detective Sam intervenes, his relationship with Aggie will develop further. Still wounded after the tragedy of his former marriage, Sam is afraid that, despite suffering from Aggie’s irritating high jinks, he’s falling in love with her.
Sam’s not ready to marry again, but in the fourth book, he’ll ask Aggie to go on a cruise. She’s had a love-related tragedy in her past as well, so her personal agony over the potential scope of their relationship on this cruise coupled with her off-beat preparations and precautions should be memorable. Their cruise experience (which includes a man overboard) should provide perilous, hilarious adventure on the high seas.
Diana: How do you cope with writer’s block?
Nancy: It’s on a par with eater’s block. I’ve never had either one.
Diana: Does someone else check your plot as you go along, or do you keep it a secret until you have finished the first draft? Or finished altogether?
Nancy: A professional editor checked my finished books for “lapses in logic,” and I found out the books weren’t finished. I’m considering letting my husband read the first finished version of Aggie’s third mystery set in graduate school. But it’s a conundrum. Since he’s a grammar Nazi, I don’t know if he can limit himself to mere questions of plot.
Diana: How do you keep track of the characters and what is happening at any given time in the story?
Nancy: I write separate pages on character development and separate pages listing time lines.
Diana: If you had a choice – and you may well have – what time of the day do you like to write?
Nancy: From nine a.m. to four or five p.m., three to four days per week. After that, I’m brain dead and have to exercise and party.
Diana: What are the titles of your other books?
Nancy: My suspense novel and the first two Aggie Mundeen mysteries are listed above. Before I fell in love with writing fiction, I wrote the biography of Texas artist, Jose Vives-Atsara and a booklet, Publishing in Texas. I spent seven years as Executive Director of the Texas Publishers Association, encouraging authors and helping to market their books. I’ve written numerous articles for magazines. A couple years ago, I wrote a humorous poem for Theme & Variations which was performed on NPR.
Diana: Do you have a favorite book-signing or fan mail story which you would like to share?
Nancy: I LOVE signing at San Antonio’s Twig Book Shop and Houston’s Murder by the Book. People there actually read my books and do great PR before the event. They make authors feel special. My other favorite store is BookPeople in Austin.
Diana: Do you read your own books after some time has passed and think “Oh no, I could have done that better!!!” and gnash your teeth? 🙂
Nancy: I wait quite a while before reading my own books, and yes, I always think I could have done better. Is a writer ever able to take what’s in her/his head and translate it as strongly and succinctly to paper as she/he wishes? It’s like extracting your brain and trying to insert it into somebody else’s head.
Diana: Any advice for new writers?
Nancy: Go to my website and read every book in my list of annotated Books for Writers. Find new books about writing and devour them. Devise a character who intrigues you. Decide what type events will disturb her/him the most and set your beloved character in the midst of that dilemma. Write, write, write. Read, read, read. NEVER give up. If you’re truly a writer, you’d rather write than do anything else. Excluding sex or an occasional chocolate binge.
Diana: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years?
Nancy: Everything will be digitally formatted for e-readers. Print publishers will do academic/demographic studies to search for readers who prefer to buy print versions of particular categories of books they like to read.
Nine Days To Evil and two new Aggie Mundeen mysteries are available for e-readers. They may subsequently be available in print.
Diana: Anything you would like to add?
Nancy: Aggie Mundeen blogs about aging, anti-aging products, and gives tips for staying youthful at stayyoungwithaggie.wordpress.com. Anybody who’s worried about aging, tried to get in shape or loved the wrong man should appreciate Aggie Mundeen.
Thanks for the good questions. They were fun to answer. Learn more on my website.
To enter to win an e-book copy of Fit To Be Dead, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Fit”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 14, 2012. U.S. residents only.