BLOG TOUR – Mr. Mottley & the Dying Fall – REVIEW & INTERVIEW

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4 out of 5 stars.

Greetings! Today I’m hosting a stop on the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour for Mister Mottley & the Dying Fall by Ellen Seltz. I enjoyed this book quite a bit! Below my review, you will also find an interview with the author.

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Synopsis

Edmund Mottley, Specialist in Discreet Enquiries, is in a precarious position: his old flame Susan needs his help. Her new fiance is accused of murder, and she wants Mottley to clear his name.

Mottley would rather jump off a cliff than get involved, but when Susan is threatened by a shadowy crime syndicate, Mottley leaps to her aid.

Mottley and Baker, his intrepid valet, pursue the case to an island of otherworldly beauty. But the island is haunted by secrets, treachery, madness, and … something more.

Every clue crumbles under their feet, pushing Mottley’s powers of deduction — and Baker’s loyalty — to the limit. With his own life on the line, can Mottley save Susan before time runs out?

The Mottley & Baker Mysteries are classic whodunnits set in the Golden Age of 1930’s traditional detectives. If you like Miss Marple’s pastoral puzzles or Albert Campion’s rollicking adventures, you’ll fall hard for this cozy historical mystery adventure.

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Review

This was a fun book to read.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t totally sure about it when I picked it up. I’ve read a LOT of cozy mysteries this year and I wanted on one hand to hope that this one would be different, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, lest the book not live up to it. I need not have worried. Mr. Mottley & the Dying Fall was a great book and really fun to read.

This book reminded me a lot of an Agatha Christie novel in its styling and I liked that. Everyone had secrets they didn’t wish to tell, not just one or two people. It made the suspect field very broad and I never did figure it out until it was revealed at the end!

I like the characters. Mr. Mottley and Baker have gotten under my skin and I will definitely be reading more of the series! I highly recommend this to those who enjoy Agatha Christie’s style of writing. It was great!

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Author Interview

ELLEN 2Before I get started with the interview, I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to Ms. Seltz for being willing to answer my questions today!

  1. Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day? Do you enjoy your day job?

Yes, I’m a freelance copywriter and nonfiction ghostwriter. When I wrote my first book, I worked as a legal secretary. In the year after Mister Mottley Gets His Man came out, our family situation changed and I was able to work from home to be present for my children, which was a wonderful privilege! Sometimes I do miss the external structure of an office with scheduled start and end times. But I love the work of writing – even when it makes me crazy. Separating fiction from nonfiction uses different parts of my brain and helps keep me from burning out.


  1. Do you set aside time to write every day or do you write more sporadically? When you write, do you aim to complete a set # of pages or words? How does music/other noise affect your concentration when you’re writing?

My goal is to write every weekday during designated time slots. For me, the most fruitful time for fiction is early in the morning, between 5:00 and 6:30 AM. I usually have several projects going at once, so my specific daily goals depend on what deadlines I have to meet – a manuscript due to my editor or beta readers, a short story for a contest, a contribution to a group promotion or anthology, and so forth. It’s easier for me to follow through on commitments to other people than ones I make privately in my head, so I network and make those commitments to keep myself on track.


  1. When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reins” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?

Both! I outline a story as part of the brainstorming process. I’m a huge believer in the power of story structure. Creating the outline forces me to ask myself questions about the characters, the conflict, the setting, the timeline, the pace and tension, the emotional arc, and so forth.

Then I use the outline as a set of writing prompts so I always have an assignment and never have to wonder what to write next. Sometimes when a story is flowing well, scenes will pop into my head and I just scribble them down. Those don’t happen in any kind of order, but the outline tells me where they belong in the finished structure.

My detective, Mister Mottley, is an incorrigible gadabout with a raging case of adult ADHD (which of course, had not been invented yet.) So he never does as he’s told. I always have to keep my outline flexible to accommodate his impulsive behavior or flashes of insight.

In this new book, Mister Mottley and the Dying Fall, my very steady and practical leading lady also went off the reservation a bit. I struggled mightily over the last third of the book, and finally realized the problem. I’d put her in a situation where she needed to be awesome, but I was holding her back for fear of overshadowing the main character. Finally I realized that she would not be stifled. I had to let her be amazing, and just trust that the main character could live up to her. I think it worked out fine.

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  1. How did you break into the publishing world? How many rejections did you go through before finding a publisher? Did you ever think about quitting? If so, what did you do to keep yourself hopeful?

I am an independent author, so Incorrigible Publishing belongs to my husband and me.  I did a lot of research and consideration before making that decision, because it’s not something to undertake lightly. It was partly a business decision and partly an emotional one.

The marketplace of publishing is wide-open now, just as the film, music and theater industries have opened up and become more accessible to independent producers. Traditional publishing, like film, TV and Broadway, is an industry based on very high capital investment. It has to mitigate risk by placing a lot of gatekeepers between the talent and the audience.

The economic landscape of traditional publishing is also heavily weighted against first-time authors and against genre fiction (what used to be called “pulp” – science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thrillers, and romance). That risk-averse system prefers books with a very broad commercial appeal (the “Oprah Effect”) or highbrow literary fiction that attracts critical acclaim.

There are voracious readers in every genre, but the big publishing houses don’t spend much money on them – not in author advances, and not in marketing. As an unknown genre fiction author, it made more economic and artistic sense for me to write, finish, publish, and write some more, than to pursue a traditional contract.

I also have the emotional impact of my experience as an actress and producer. I spent 15 years working in theater, film, and TV. Most of my time and energy went into trying to get past those gatekeepers and win approval from the industry “machine.”

Then I had an opportunity to produce a couple of shows for a small theater company in New York, and it was a revelation. It was like that moment in The Matrix where the bald child is bending spoons: “Realize the truth about the Spoon…there is no Spoon.”

For the first time, I didn’t have to please anyone except the audience. The whole risk-averse giant industrial business model was just irrelevant. I liked that feeling. I liked it a lot. I no longer see the need to please six layers of people between me and the audience, if I can reach them directly. A writer, and readers – No Spoon.


  1. In general, how many revisions do you go through before a book is published? Do you have beta readers or is it just your editing team and their suggestions? Do you set your books aside for a period of time and then pick them up and edit them?

It really depends on the book! My first book took three drafts, though now I’d probably call them revisions rather than redrafts. Dying Fall went through a complete rewrite where the structure and plot changed significantly, then a couple of further revisions before detailed editing. The book did go in “time-out” for a couple of months in that process, to make sure I was bringing fresh eyes to it.

I have a team of beta readers who know and love classic mysteries, and who are able to give honest, useful feedback. I let them read the manuscript when I can’t get it any further by myself.

After I work through beta feedback, I send the book off to a professional editor. I’ve been fortunate to find some excellent British editors who help me localize my language to UK terms (there are always some I miss), and even help with fact-checking and making sure I don’t have any glaring anachronisms.


  1. A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?

Oooooh, I can’t answer that without spoilers! The main thing is to look at it from the villain’s point of view and keep them making active, logical choices to pursue their goal. Unraveling a puzzle mystery is one thing, but having the villain stay in conflict with the detective keeps tension going up, up, up.

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  1. Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional?

I have a very lame visual imagination. I can describe anything I can see, but I don’t see imaginary people or places in my head. So I often give characters the physicality of someone I know in real life, but not the personalities. Not directly. My characters’ personalities are a mix of traits I’ve known and observed in others, and ones I find in myself.


  1. If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?

Well, I’ve got seven Mottley books in various stages of outline, so I expect to be writing about him for quite some time. I have more ideas than I’ll ever be able to finish, and I’m always snatching ideas from things I read or see.
I recently read an article in Smithsonian magazine about Benjamin Franklin’s relationship with his wife, and how the death of his son seems to have driven a terrible wedge between them. He spent nearly the rest of her life abroad in France and England. She wrote him so many letters full of longing, and he would continually promise to return, but then put it off another year. That would make a great epic romance, I think.


  1. What are some great books you’ve read recently?

I picked up an anthology last month of five Hercule Poirot novels. I wanted to re-read Murder on the Orient Express in advance of the movie coming out. I went right ahead and devoured the others as well. I’m in the middle of Death on the Nile right now, and loving it even more than ever. I started reading Agatha Christie as a pre-teen, and it’s just thrilling to re-read them at different stages of life. It’s amazing how they hold up. I always see something new.

Earlier this year I really enjoyed Alan Bradley’s Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. It was my first Flavia de Luce mystery, and it turned me into an instant fan.

I also got about two-thirds through Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, but I had to put it down because I was so attached to the characters and I could tell something horrible was about to happen. I just knew it would gut me, and I couldn’t handle it. A friend assured me it wasn’t as bad as I feared, so I’ll probably try to finish it over Christmas break. It’s a beautiful book. Her prose is hypnotic and immersive, and it hooks you hard.

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  1. What books have influenced your life the most?

Probably The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. It prompted a real epiphany for me. I wrote it about it on my blog.


  1. If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day? 

I would really like the female lead, Susan, to take me shopping in London. She has exquisite taste, and she’d be the sort of friend who can tell you something looks awful without making you feel bad about yourself. She’s also filthy rich, so she can pay for it, too!


  1. Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Have you ever learned anything from a bad review and incorporated it into your future work?

I do read them as a business exercise. There are so many different kinds of tastes and readers, there is something for everybody. I think if a book is written to basic standards of competence and decently edited, then bad reviews usually reveal a marketing problem rather than an artistic problem. You have to make sure your covers, description, and marketing efforts are reaching the sort of readers who will enjoy what you do.

On the other hand, sometimes bad reviews can be a valuable heads-up. The first Christmas after my first book came out, I released a Christmas short story to flesh out the series. I was hard at work on Book 2, and really didn’t give the story the time and attention it deserved. It was a fine basic idea, but I just didn’t flesh it out enough and it didn’t work.

The readers told me so. It got terrible reviews, including one particularly pithy one that said “THIS SUCKED,” in all-caps. Ouch.

But they were absolutely right. I pulled it down and put it aside. This year I totally reworked it, and I’m very proud of the result. It develops an interesting part of Mottley’s backstory, and connects to some overarching themes in his development and his relationships to other characters in his world. It’s also a lot of fun.

The new version is called “Mister Mottley Pulls a Cracker,” and it’s coming out soon in a holiday-themed collection titled Happy Bloody Christmas.

Thanks for hosting me, Valerie. I always look forward to getting to know more mystery readers!  I’m happy to answer questions anytime on Facebook or by email at ellen@ellenseltz.com.

Mister Mottley and the Dying Fall is available now in ebook and in paperback. Find it at your favorite retailer via www.books2read.com/DyingFall. You can also receive a free Mottley book by joining my Reader’s Circle at www.ellenseltz.com/meet!

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Thanks for joining me today! If you wish to visit other stops on the tour, please click on the banner below!

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BLOG TOUR – Much Ado About Murder – INTERVIEW

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Welcome to today’s stop on the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour for Much Ado About Murder by Elizabeth J. Duncan! Today I’m featuring an interview with Ms. Duncan and I’d like to say a big “thank you” to her for being willing to answer my questions! All of the pertinent information about the book, including Goodreads, purchase links, and a link to the Rafflecopter Giveaway.

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Interview with Elizabeth J. Duncan

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Q1: Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?  Do you enjoy your day job?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: Not any more. I stepped down as a professor at Humber College, Toronto, in December, 2013, to write full time. I enjoyed teaching, but it felt like the right time to move on. I use the extra time to add a second book a year to my growing list of titles.


Q2: Do you set aside time to write every day or do you write more sporadically? When you write, do you aim to complete a set # of pages or words? How does music/other noise affect your concentration when you’re writing?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: I don’t have a specific time to write, and to be honest, I’m not as disciplined as I should be, or would like to be. I do set quotas. When I’m writing, it’s 1,000 words a day. When I’m editing, I’ll set a page count. I don’t often have radio or television playing while I work, but now that you suggested it, I’ve just tuned in to a music channel for some soft instrumental background music.


Q3: When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reigns” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: I know the basics of the story before I type the words Chapter 1. I know quite a bit about the victim, something about the killer, and a lot about the sleuth. I know why the murder was committed and have a pretty good idea how. I wish I could outline, but I just can’t see that far ahead. An author I admire (thriller writer Barry Lancet) described that part of the process as like driving from LA to San Francisco at night. You know your destination, but can’t see much beyond the headlights. A lot of my best ideas don’t surface until I’m at the point in the story where I need them. And I love when the characters take over and do the heavy lifting. Then the story starts to make sense in way that’s right for their world.

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Q4: How did you break into the publishing world? How many rejections did you go through before finding a publisher? Did you ever think about quitting? If so, what did you do to keep yourself hopeful?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: My path to publication was unusually, exceptionally smooth. In 2008 I won the St. Martin’s Press, Malice Domestic competition, with included a one-book contract with St. Martin’s. The Cold Light of Mourning, first in the Penny Brannigan mystery series set in North Wales, was published the following year. That was my first attempt at fiction writing so I had no rejections, and no reason to think about quitting. I was, and am, fortunate in the way my publishing journey began and has continued.


Q5: In general, how many revisions do you go through before a book is published? Do you have beta readers or is it just your editing team and their suggestions? Do you set your books aside for a period of time and then pick them up and edit them?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: It’s hard to say how many revisions, because I revise as I go. I don’t blaze through one draft, then start over at the beginning and revise everything. But a good guess would be five or six, including rewrites based on the editor’s and copy editor’s suggestions. There will always be words, sentences, and paragraphs to improve. I keep revising until I run out of time. Everything would be better if you had more time.

I have a few people who read early drafts and make helpful suggestions, and I’m grateful for their input and willingness to help.

Q6: A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: I’m afraid if I answer the question I’ll give too much away! So I’ll just say I can’t think of anyone who was a real life inspiration for this particular villain.

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rupert in glassesQ7: Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: No one I know has ever ended up in one of my books as a fully developed, recognizable character, but I met someone this summer who very well might! However, bits and pieces of people I know show up all the time. Something I find interesting that someone said, or a situation they described, could very well end up in a book.


Q8: If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: Lady Macbeth. She’s one of the most intriguing and least explored characters in literature. I’d love to have a chat with her over a nice cup of tea and a Scottish shortbread.


Q9: What are some great books you’ve read recently?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: While I still love books, and have what I call ‘ book greed’ – I want to own them and read them — I don’t read as much as I used to. There just seem to be too many other demands on my time and my attention span seems shorter. And this at a time when there are more wonderful books available than ever before! I can’t remember the last book I read that I would describe as “great”. So may I tell you what’s coming up on my To Be Read list that I’m really excited about? The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware,  Japantown by Barry Lancet, and The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.

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Q10: What books have influenced your life the most?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: The summer I was 13 my father gave me a boxed set of three books that were an odd combination to be bundled together: Black Beauty, Anna Karenina, and a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories. These were the first adult books I read, long days lying in a shaded hammock at the cottage … a horse, a married Russian aristocrat, and a detective. I chose the detective.


Q11: If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: I would spend the day with Rupert the corgi, who lives with my amateur sleuth costume designer Charlotte Fairfax. Rupert and I would enjoy several long walks, and a short nap. And there would be treats! The best days are the ones you spend with a lovely dog.


Q12: Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Have you ever learned anything from a bad review and incorporated it into your future work?

Ms. Duncan’s Answer: There are two kinds of reviews: reader reviews and professional reviews, like those that appear in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and newspapers.  Occasionally I brace myself to read a few. I appreciate and enjoy good reviews from readers but professional reviews tend to carry more weight.  For some reason, a negative review, no matter the source, stings more than a positive review makes me feel good. I don’t respond to reviews, even when they are factually wrong. I have incorporated suggestions into future work. If someone tells me they like something, I try to deliver more of that. If they don’t like something, I’ll leave that out the next time.

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Thank you again to Ms. Duncan for being willing to answer my questions today! Here’s other information about the book! Below that is a banner with a link to the main tour page if you wish to visit other sites on the tour!

Much Ado About Murder: A Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery
by Elizabeth J. Duncan


Much Ado About Murder: A Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery
Cozy Mystery
3rd in Series
Crooked Lane Books (November 7, 2017)
Hardcover 265 Pages
ISBN-13: 978-1683313250
E-Book ASIN: B071RR32NZ

Purchase Links: Amazon – Amazon.caB&N

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Synopsis

Costume designer Charlotte Fairfax has another murder on her hands as she prepares for the latest performance of the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company, Much Ado About Nothing. The company’s steady growth enables them to cast star British actress Audrey Ashley, who arrives on scene to play the lead role of Beatrice. But things immediately get more complicated when Audrey insists the company replace the current director with new, up and coming British director Edmund Albright.

Edmund plans to change the popular romantic comedy, which alienates several people associated with the production. And the list of people he upsets only grows: the laid off former director, the hotel owner’s secretary, and even Audrey herself. Just as Edmund’s plans are about to come to fruition, his body is discovered on his sofa, holding a gun in his hand. His death is quickly ruled a suicide but Charlotte thinks otherwise. Why would Edmund, on the brink of greatness, kill himself? And in such an American way?

With a whole cast of characters to investigate, Charlotte is determined to unmask each one before it’s final curtain call on the whole production in award-winning author Elizabeth J. Duncan’s third Shakespeare in the Catskills mystery, Much Ado About Murder.

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Author Links

Website: www.elizabethjduncan.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/elizabethjduncan

Twitter: @elizabethduncan

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BLOG TOUR – Dressed to Kill – INTERVIEW

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Welcome! Today I’m featuring an interview with author Vicki Vass as part of the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour for Dressed to KillDressed to Kill is the 5th book in the Antique Hunters Mystery series. A synopsis, purchase links, and Rafflecopter giveaway links will be below the interview!

Thank you to Ms. Vass for being willing to answer my questions and complete the interview!

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Author Interview

VICKI VASSQ1: Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?  Do you enjoy your day job?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: Yes, I have a day job. I am the managing editor of a peer-reviewed medical journal. I actually hate my job currently and am actively seeking a new one.

Q2: Do you set aside time to write every day or do you write more sporadically? When you write, do you aim to complete a set # of pages or words? How does music/other noise affect your concentration when you’re writing?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: Yes, I set the evening aside during the week. I strive to write 2 pages every weekday and 10 pages each weekend day. I love to write when listening to music or other things. I am watching the Cubs right now as I type.


Q3: When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reins” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: I do not outline. I rather write and try to figure things out as it goes. Sometimes the characters have their own ideas of what should happen. My books combine history and fiction so it can be challenging keeping it real.

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Q4: How did you break into the publishing world? How many rejections did you go through before finding a publisher? Did you ever think about quitting? If so, what did you do to keep yourself hopeful?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: I’ve been in the publishing field for a long time writing nonfiction for a variety of publications. I was very lucky when I submitted my first cozy that I did not have any rejections. It was accepted by the first publisher I submitted to. I’ve never thought of quitting as rejection is very common in my field. I’ve received so many rejections for nonfiction that I once thought about papering my wall with them.


Q5: In general, how many revisions do you go through before a book is published? Do you have beta readers or is it just your editing team and their suggestions? Do you set your books aside for a period of time and then pick them up and edit them?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: I generally write three to four drafts. The first version tends to be more of an outline and then I flesh it out. I have a few beta readers and also an editor who I rely on to read and check for plot and characterization. I do not set the books aside for a time other than when my beta readers are reading and I’m waiting for their feedback.


Q6: A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: Writing evil can sometimes be so much more fun than writing good. It allows me to get rid of my own inner demons. I work with some pretty demanding people and often picture them when I am crafting my villains.

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Q7: Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional? 

Ms. Vass’s Answer: My antique hunter series is based on my two real-life best friends. They’ve evolved since the first book so it is not quite based so much on reality but I still stay true to their personalities though greatly exaggerated.


Q8: If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: This is a very difficult question. I have a deep love for history. I would probably choose Anastasia Romanov. I find the whole period of history and the loss of the Romanov dynasty intriguing. I also love looking at the crown jewels.


Q9: What are some great books you’ve read recently?

I recently finished Radium Girls, a book about the women who worked in the radium factories back in the 1930s, and their fight for justice. I could not put the book down. I found it so horrifying, fascinating and heartbreaking. I also recently finished Fortune’s Children, the fall of the House of Vanderbilt. The book details the lavish spending by the heirs of the Vanderbilt fortune. It is amazing the extremes that individuals spent and I found the story fascinating.

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Q10: What books have influenced your life the most?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: This is also a hard question. I have always been a reader. I was influenced very early on by the Nancy Drew series and the complete Wizard of Oz collection. These works made me realize early on that I wanted to write, and I’ve always wanted to write mysteries.


Q11: If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: I would love to and have spent the day shopping with Anne, the heroine in the Antique Hunters Mysteries. We both share similar tastes for fine things particularly antique jewelry, and it would be a fun relaxing way to spend the day.


Q12: Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Have you ever learned anything from a bad review and incorporated it into your future work?

Ms. Vass’s Answer: When I first started, I read every review on Amazon and often thought of responding. I haven’t responded to them and won’t. I did have a reviewer on Amazon comment on editing on one of the books so since then I have hired an editor.

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Thank you again to Ms. Vass for being willing to answer my questions! It’s always a pleasure to read the author’s answers! Below you will find a synopsis of the book, purchase links, Rafflecopter giveaway link, and the author’s bio. If you wish to visit other stops on the tour, please click on the banner at the bottom and visit the main tour page. You’ll find a list of tour participants there. Thanks for joining me today!

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Purchase Link: Amazon

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Synopsis

In 1865, Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker, conspired to change the course of the Civil War. Crossing lines between North and South, the band of conspirators wove a plan that remained undiscovered for more than 150 years until Antique Hunter Anne Hillstrom finds one of Keckley’s gowns. She and fellow Antique Hunter CC Muller unravel the mystery that has left a trail of dead bodies, leading to the doorstep of their antique store, Great-Aunt Sybil’s Attic.

Dressed to Kill is the fifth book in the Antique Hunters Mystery Series. Rooted in history, the series reimagines real-life events blurring the line between fact and fiction.

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About the Author

With a passion for shopping and antiques, Vicki Vass turned in her reporter’s notebook to chronicle the adventures of Anne and CC, two antique hunters who use their skills to solve a murder case.

Vicki has written more than 1,400 stories for the Chicago Tribune as well as other commercial publications including Home & Away, the Lutheran and Woman’s World. Her science fiction novel, The Lexicon, draws on her experience in Sudan while writing about the ongoing civil war for World Relief.

She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, writer and musician Brian Tedeschi, son Tony, Australian shepherd Bandit, kittens Terra and Pixel, seven koi and Gary the turtle.

Author Links –

Website – Blog – Facebook 

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BLOG TOUR – Sleuthing Women II – INTERVIEW

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Welcome! Today I’m featuring a stop on the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour for Sleuthing Women II, which is an anthology of 10 novellas by various authors. Today’s post is an interview with Judy Alter, one of the authors of the novellas.  Purchase links, a link to Goodreads, etc. will be below the interview!

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Interview with Judy Alter

First let me say a huge “thank you” to Ms. Alter for being willing to answer my questions for this interview!

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Q1: Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?  Do you enjoy your day job?

Ms. Alter’s Response: No day job any more. I retired seven years ago as director of a small academic press. I loved my job and retirement was hard at first. My work at the press dovetailed beautifully with my writing career—I learned things from work and met a broad range of people who helped my own writing, and I like to think my success at the press was enhanced by my personal knowledge of the writing world.


Q2: Do you set aside time to write every day or do you write more sporadically? When you write, do you aim to complete a set # of pages or words? How does music/other noise affect your concentration when you’re writing?

Ms. Alter’s Response: I try to write every morning. Afternoons are for those pesky, odd business chores associated with writing—marketing, finances, etc. And evenings are for reading. Life gets in the way of this ideal schedule a whole lot of the time. My daily goal when things are going well is a thousand words a day. A consistent pace like that keeps my mind engaged in the work and the ideas flowing—well, usually. I keep the TV on, muted, and rarely glance at it. Music is a distraction.


Q3: When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reins” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?

Ms. Alter’s Response: I’m a pantser, and my characters tell me where my story is going. Sometimes they do and say outrageous things that lead me to wonder how I’m going to get out of this or that corner, but they usually lead the way. Listening to my characters is one of the first pieces of advice I got when I was a newbie, all those years ago, and I’ve always found it valuable. I don’t outline, but I have rough notes on where the story is going when I sit down to write.

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Q4: How did you break into the publishing world? How many rejections did you go through before finding a publisher? Did you ever think about quitting? If so, what did you do to keep yourself hopeful?

Ms. Alter’s Response: My break into publishing came at a convention of Western Writers of America. My then-husband struck up a conversation with a California agent and said, “Let me tell you about my wife.” The agent sent me to a NY agent, and my first book was published by Wm. Morrow & Co. But that NY agent robbed me of about $1,000 in royalties—I was dumb and green and didn’t know better. After that I got many rejections, but I never thought about quitting. I thought about quitting the agent merry-go-round and did. After stints with a major New York publisher and then a small press, I am happily now indie published.


Q5: In general, how many revisions do you go through before a book is published? Do you have beta readers or is it just your editing team and their suggestions? Do you set your books aside for a period of time and then pick them up and edit them?

Ms. Alter’s Response: My books generally go through only two or three revisions. Because I edit as I go, they are fairly clean when I reach the end of the first draft. I do a major edit, with beta reader suggestions at my elbow, and then I go back and do kind of a polish edit. I have a beta reader I’ve relied on for forty years. Occasionally circumstances have forced me to set a manuscript aside, and then I must re-read to pick up the reins. But I never deliberately set one aside until I’m satisfied with it.


Q6: A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?

Ms. Alter’s Response: My villains are all products of my imagination, because I like to think in life I know very few if any villains. But sometimes I’m afraid my fictional creations are a bit stereotyped because they are drawn from villains I read about. I think the televangelist in my novella may be that way—he made his first appearance in Deception in Strange Places and reappeared in The Color of Fear.

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Q7: Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional?

Ms. Alter’s Response: I don’t think friends or family members show up per se in my work, but certainly some characters have traits of people I’ve known show up in my characters. One of my daughters claims my Kelly O’Connell protagonist is highly autobiographical and she’s probably right—a single mom who loves old houses and established neighborhoods.


Q8: If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?

Ms. Alter’s Response: I’ve written several historical novels about real people—Libby Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall, Etta Place, Cissy Palmer—and maybe I’ve run out of subjects that intrigue me. I’d love to do another historical novel, but after investigating several women I’ve yet to find another who captures my interest enough to devote at least a year of my life to her story.


Q9: What are some great books you’ve read recently?

Ms. Alter’s Response: Any list of books I think are great reflects two areas of interest—mysteries and food—rather than books that I think will be great as lasting literature, books that will be read a hundred years from now. I’d choose two by Ruth Reichl: My Kitchen Year and the novel, Delicious; two by Susan Wittig Albert—Loving Eleanor and The General’s Women; An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, from Terry Shames Craddock series, one of those break-the-stereotype mystery series; Connie Spitzer’s The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies, and Polly Iyer’s spell-binding Indiscretion. I have a whole long list of more titles.

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Q10: What books have influenced your life the most?

Ms. Alter’s Response: Books that have influenced my life go back to childhood—The Wind in the Willows, The Bobbsey Twins, The Little Colonel Stories, and on up to Nancy Drew books and Francis Parkinson Keye’s steamboat books. Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose gave me sort of a writer’s goal (I’ve never reached that height), and Mary Stuart held me spellbound. In recent years I’ve been influenced by several cozy series—Albert’s China Bayles herbal mysteries, Ellery Adams’ Books by the Bay series, Deborah Crombie’s Scotland Yard mysteries, Cleo Coyle’s Coffee house series, Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand mysteries. I could go on, but my list must stop somewhere.


Q11: If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?

I’d spend a day with Kelly O’Connell of my first mystery series. We have a lot of interests in common—kids, old houses, city life, etc., but I’d teach her to cook. Can’t imagine I created such a non-cooking heroine.


Q12: Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Have you ever learned anything from a bad review and incorporated it into your future work?

Ms. Alter’s Response: I do read my reviews, and I’m learning how important it is to respond to them (unless they’re nasty). I only respond if I can do so in a pleasant tone.

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About the Author

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of seven books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, Desperate for Death, and the novella, The Color of Fear. .

She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and Murder at Peacock Mansion. With the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries, followed by the 2017 title, Pigface and the Perfect Dog. In 2016, she returned to her Chicago roots to write the historical novel, The Gilded Cage, which uses one unusual woman’s life to examine social structure and labor relations in the late 19th Century.

Judy’s historical fiction, stories of women of the 19th-century American West, and her mysteries are available in print and ebook on Amazon, B&N and other platforms. Retired after twenty years as director of a small academic press, Judy is single parent of four and grandparent of seven. She lives in Texas, sharing her cozy cottage with her Bordoodle, Sophie.

Follow Judy at her blog, “Judy’s Stew,” http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com or on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/judy.alter and https://www.facebook.com/Judy-Alter-Author-366948676705857/, or on Twitter, where she is @JudyAlter.

 

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Thank you again to Ms. Alter for being willing to answer my questions today! Below you’ll find the purchase links, Goodreads link, and a link to the Rafflecopter giveaway. Finally, if you wish to visit other sites on the tour, click on the banner at the bottom. That will take you to the main tour page where there is a list of tour participants! Thanks for joining me today!

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Purchase Link: Amazon

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BLOG TOUR – Murder on the Toy Train Express – REVIEW, INTERVIEW

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4 out of 5 stars.

Welcome! Today, I’m hosting a stop on another Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour. Today’s tour is for Murder on the Toy Town Express, the 2nd in the Vintage Toyshop Mystery series by Barbara Early. I found it to be a delightfully fun read! Stay tuned after my review for an interview with the author!

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Synopsis

Liz McCall has come to love running her father’s vintage toyshop back home in East Aurora, NY, so when the Train and Toy Show comes to town, she’s all aboard for a fun toy-filled weekend. The only hitch is that her childhood bully Craig McFadden, now local business rival, has set up a booth next to hers. But the fun and games are over when Craig falls from the ceiling in a publicity stunt gone wrong.

What was initially thought to be a fatal accident proves much more sinister. Pulled into the case by her feelings for both Ken, the police chief, and Jack, her high school sweetheart whose brother is one the prime suspects, Liz dives headfirst into the investigation. But as she digs deeper, she’s shocked to learn her father may have been the intended target.

The trouble train is barreling down and Liz may have just bought herself a first class ticket in Murder on the Toy Town Express, Barbara Early’s delightful second installment in her Vintage Toyshop mysteries.

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Review

This was a delightful Christmas read! I love model trains to begin with, so I was looking forward to reading this one. I was not disappointed. 🙂 I have not read the first book in the series, but I did not have any trouble following the story line or knowing who each of the characters were.

I enjoyed our main characters. Liz is a great heroine. She does take some risks, but they’re calculated and she at least attempts to take someone with her to help with safety, even if that doesn’t always work as well as she hopes. I like both Ken and Jack. We’ll see down the line who ends up being the winner of Liz’s affections.

I enjoyed the setting and the descriptions very much. My best friend lives in Buffalo, NY, so I’m somewhat familiar with the area. It was nice to visit the area in the book and know about some of the places and things they were talking about.

The plot line moved along at a steady pace and while I wondered about the villain, I wasn’t positive about them until just before it was revealed.

All in all, it was a fun book to read and I’m looking forward to reading more in the series!

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Author Interview

BARBARA EARLYFirst, I’d like to say thank you to Ms. Early for being willing to answer my questions!

Q1: Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?  Do you enjoy your day job?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I’m happy to saw I don’t have a day job, which is good because I’ve grown accustomed to working in my pajamas, and some employers frown on that. I do, however have four cats who think I’m their bondservant, so…


Q2: Do you set aside time to write every day or do you write more sporadically? When you write, do you aim to complete a set # of pages or words? How does music/other noise affect your concentration when you’re writing?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I tend to write in 1000 word spurts. By the end of 1000 words, my brain needs a break. Depending on how close I am to a deadline, I might repeat that process one, two, or more times. I can have music in the background, as long as it’s soft and instrumental, but I don’t need it to write. As to whether I write every day, ideally I would, but real life has a nasty habit of intervening.


Q3: When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reins” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I like to think I use a mix of the two. I definitely outline the mystery plot carefully. I can’t imagine making sure all the clues were buried and all the elements in place—and in the proper order—without one. There’s a certain cadence I want to achieve, and a balance of mystery, excitement, and humor that I feel help keep a story moving along.

I do, on the other hand, leave certain elements open for the characters to “decide” on their own. Any romantic subplots, for instance. In those cases, my outline might tell me who’s in a scene, but instead of trying to cram words into their mouths, I try to predict how they would respond and what they would say when put into that situation. They’ve surprised me more than once!

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Q4: How did you break into the publishing world? How many rejections did you go through before finding a publisher? Did you ever think about quitting? If so, what did you do to keep yourself hopeful?

Ms. Early’s Answer: My journey may be a little different from many other writers. I didn’t initially set out to be a writer. It started out as a fun diversion for me, but the more I did it, the more interested (and maybe a little obsessed) I became in the process and in finding ways to improve my writing. I’d heard, of course, that it can be incredibly hard to be published, so instead of making that my goal, I decided just to keep working, keep improving, and see how far it would take me. I learned something through every setback, though honestly, I didn’t have a lot of rejections.

There’s not anything about the writing process that made me want to give up before I got published. The business aspects of being a professional writer, however, are a whole different set of skills and provide a new set of frustrations, and I will admit being tempted to quit since I’ve been published. Not sure those characters in my head will let me, though, and usually a box of shiny new books, a letter from a reader, or a kind review will shake me out of the idea.


Q5: In general, how many revisions do you go through before a book is published? Do you have beta readers or is it just your editing team and their suggestions? Do you set your books aside for a period of time and then pick them up and edit them?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I go through so many revisions, I’m not sure I can count them all. Before the book gets to editors, I have a critique group that works through some chapters, although there’s never enough time to finish the whole book. (Which is my sneaky way of ensuring at least six sales, since they all want to know how it ends!) I have a few beta readers I can call on, and my husband is kind enough to go through my books several times as well, at various stages of the process.

Ideally, I do like to let a manuscript rest after finishing the draft. Deadlines don’t always allow for that.


Q6: A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?

Ms. Early’s Answer: This might sound unsettling, but I don’t know that killers are all that much different from any other character—or from you and me.  An example I like to use is Sheriff Andy Taylor—from the old television show. One could hardly find a more friendly and innocuous fellow. When I teach a workshop on creating villains, I ask the class if they can imagine any situation in which he would become a killer. They think for a good while, then hands start going up. Yes, if anyone touched Opie or Aunt Bee, he’d be on them in a shot.

So in creating a villain, I create a character, then imagine what back story or pressing circumstance would lend a strong enough motive to this—otherwise normal—person to kill. I actually think cozy mysteries lend themselves to the most chilling villains, in that they’re not some predictable psycho stalker with pictures all over his wall, but a neighbor or colleague. They’re, as Mr. Rogers would say, the people in your neighborhood.

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Q7: Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional?

Ms. Early’s Answer: It’s almost impossible to create a fictional character out of thin air. What we know about people is all derived from those we meet. That being said, I try to borrow elements of different people and mix and match them to create something new. (Kind of like those old books with the cut pages, where you could get the head of one character, the torso of another, and the legs of a third.)  I’ll also sometimes name a character after someone, especially if they ask nicely and it seems to fit the character, but that’s not to imply it is that person. Just namesakes.


Q8: If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?

Ms. Early’s Answer: That’s a tough one. I don’t know if I have an answer to that one. I started out writing fan fiction for Monk, and he was a lot of fun to write. Would I go back? Not sure. I think I’m having too much fun creating new people.


Q9: What are some great books you’ve read recently?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I recently finished Rhys Bowen’s On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service. Up next is Laura Levine’s newest Jaine Austen book.

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Q10: What books have influenced your life the most?

Ms. Early’s Answer: In my entire life? I’d probably say the Bible and Nancy Drew.


Q11: If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?

Ms. Early’s Answer: I’d be playing board games with Liz McCall. Seems she and I share that common interest. (Valerie’s Note: Me too!!!)


Q12: Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Have you ever learned anything from a bad review and incorporated it into your future work?

I peek at reviews. I don’t always read them. I generally don’t respond, and NEVER to a bad review. I’ve made tweaks based on well-thought-out critical reviews—for example, someone said they loved the two older ladies in Death of a Toy Soldier and hoped they would be back. I hadn’t intended to return them, but I added them into a short scene in the second book, and brought them back into the third.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a truly negative review that held anything learnable. Much of what they say is subjective. What one reader hated, others loved, so you can’t please everyone.

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Thank you again, Ms. Early, for agreeing to answer my questions today! Thank you to my wonderful readers for stopping by today and reading today’s review and post! If you wish to visit other stops on the tour, please click on the banner below to visit the main tour page with a list of tour participants!

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