I had the joy of chatting with Dorothy Featherling at a writers' event last month. Then I had the added joy of buying and reading one of her books, It Adds Up to Murder, first in the "It's Murder at the Office" series. Simply recapped, I wish I could write a tale like this. Envy aside, however, here's the story.
Recently laid off from her university job, middle-aged Abigail Newhouse now contracts out through the Evanston Agency as a temp. Anything to make ends meet. The story opens with her first day on the job as a bookkeeper at Holt, Inc., a high-powered accounting and property management firm. Abby's surprised--and little intimidated--to find herself assigned to the senior accountant, a shallow one step below the chief financial officer. Okay, no problem; she can do this.
In fact, she could probably do it very well, but for the mild distraction of people being murdered around her.
Enter distraction number two. Lt. Nick Vaughn, the investigating homicide detective, is an equally mature--and coincidentally equally available--Irishman with the looks to go with it: blue eyes, dark hair, trim physique, subtle Irish brogue that peaks with his dry humor. You know the kind. Abby, put off at first by the Lt's brusque manner, and Nick, equally standoffish by the more-than-level chance that this Ms. Newhouse may somehow be involved in the murders, raises barriers to any chance of a connection. As the investigation progresses, though, impressions and suspicions mellow, and chemistry takes over. Abby enlists herself in the effort to find the murderer as much for her own desire for justice as for her desire to keep as close to the good Lt, and as frequently, as possible.
Sometimes that self-enlistment works out; sometimes it doesn't. What it does do consistently, though, is provide a very entertaining story written in a very entertaining way. Ms Featherling's delightful writing voice had me chuckling aloud on more than one occasion, but not at the expense of her story's underlying tension. I see where Nick gets his dry wit.
If you want a good mystery tale that glides along on a well-lubricated path of accomplished storytelling, you really need to try this one. You really do.
Now having had my say, let me introduce you to the author of this most entertaining story: DA Featherling.
Dorothy, this was thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks for writing it, but especially, thanks for being willing to field a few questions about it.
Thanks for having me, Bruce. I love to talk about books and am always happy to answer questions. You’ll understand, of course, if I feel a need to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Hopefully, the pleading the Fifth won't be a issue--but maybe you better read the fine print in the questions really closely before answer. :-)
First, what inspired you to write a crime novel? Is this a favorite genre? And with that, you've introduced such a unique main character: a temporary office worker feeling a little out of her element. Is Ms Newhouse a vestige of something in Dorothy Featherling's background, or was Abby contrived on a whim?
Actually, mysteries and suspense are my two favorite genres to read. I didn’t really start out to write mysteries…my first book was a romance (well, everybody else was writing one and what did I know?). I write in multiple genres – mystery, romantic comedy, futuristic suspense, and romance – so I decided one day to see if I could write a mystery. Found out I could and there’s been no stopping me since.
There are so many mysteries on the market that I realized I needed to have something unique to offer readers. Having come from a ‘secure state job’ background, I thought…what if a woman who’d held that kind of job suddenly lost it and couldn’t find a similar replacement position? If she became a temporary…what possibilities did that open for her to get involved in a new crime every time she changes jobs?
The other unique aspect to the series is the fact that either an office machine or office procedure will be the means or reason for the crime in each book in the series.
Hopefully, this will give readers something new to enjoy that hasn’t been done to death (no pun intended).
Okay, well that tidbit about office machines cleared up a curiosity. :-) I've already alluded to your great writing voice. Although I didn't mention it in my review, you handled the first-person point of view really well. Why did you decide on this style and how did you develop it? Do you have a writing role model or two who influence you?
I’ve got seven (almost eight) books under my belt. Three of those are third person. But when I wrote my first 1st person novel, I felt like I’d come home. The new mystery series I’m working on (book 1 of “Staged for Murder” series’ first draft is complete) was a toss-up as to whether it would be first or third person. I actually wrote a couple of chapters both ways and queried some of my critique partners as to their preference. They were equally split. So I went with my own choice and went back to first person. It feels most comfortable for me.
There are so many great writers out there (you being one…seriously!) that I’m sure their writing has had an influence on me. As much as I’ve read over the years I suspect I may have picked up things from them without realizing it, but I can’t say I really have a writing role model.
It wouldn't surprise me if you *were* one, though, even unbeknown to you. You mentioned to me once that you read a book a day. (Wow!) How does this leave you time to write your own books? Do you have a set schedule, or write when you can? And do you have a consistent setting in which you write, or do you vary it; e.g., a quiet nook, a bustling Starbucks--sometimes both?
For one thing, I read very fast. Secondly, the books I read are fiction…for enjoyment…not weighty tomes I have to think about. They are an escape for me to relax for a bit and let my conscious mind rest.
I’ve actually had to recently develop a very set schedule…or timetable for my writing. Some of my health issues keep me from being able to stay on the computer for long stretches without intense pain (which I’d prefer not to have happen)…so I spend some time each day (and it varies a bit) writing a new book, other time editing one to be published, I’m also editing for another writer so that gets a segment, and then I need time to read a bit and relax. Mix that with time on social media and marketing stuff and it’s a pretty full day.
I have an extra bedroom that I use as an office, and I write there and only there. Sometimes if I get an idea while I’m elsewhere I may scribble a note or something, but basically, I sit down at the computer, pray, and get going. I write without music or other distractions…I don’t find silence at all intimidating.
Neither do I; I can't have distractions, either, when I'm trying to write. Okay, this question is more for me, probably, than most readers, but I'm curious (and, since it's my blog, I get to ask the questions), are you a seat-of-the-pants writer, or do you outline your stories?
LOL. Actually a bit of both. I’m a little weird (well, more than a little, probably). I begin with a premise…’what if….whatever’. Then…I HAVE to have a title. I cannot start a book without a title. Don’t know why. It’s just the way I’m wired. Once I have those two things, I’m ready to write.
The story may go along for several chapters, but at some point (and also depending on the complexity of the story – like my futuristic suspense) I have to come up with plot points for a few scenes or chapters ahead. Once I’ve used those, then it’s probably back to SOTP. So it’s kind of back and forth throughout.
We're on the same page (so to speak). I write SOTP too, but eventually I've got to scope out at least a timeline or I easily write myself into a corner. Let's switch gears now more to readers. Do you have a niche readership you specifically write to--or whom think of while you're designing a story? Or do you aim your appeal to a wide audience? What do you want your readers to walk away with after finishing one of your books?
I’d like to think anyone could read my books and enjoy them. So I guess that’s a wide appeal audience. I try to keep them contemporary for the younger set, but the mature reader will find things to like about them, too, I hope. I’d like to hope both men and women would read them.
When a reader finishes one of my books, closes the cover…if they’re smiling…then I’ve done a very good thing and that’s what motivates me to keep writing.
Well, It Adds Up to Murder certainly appealed to me--and I was definitely smiling at the end. So, let me pose the final two questions, and I'll let you get back to your writing. (1) What's next? Will we see more of Abby Newhouse in sequels, or do you have other plans for your writing? Will crime novels dominate the landscape, or are there other treats in store?
Oh, yes. You will see Abby in sequels. Second one is just barely started and I hope to begin working on it more when I get some of the editing on my other books done. I’m publishing four or five of the romantic comedies…haven’t yet decided whether to continue on with them or not, and the futuristic suspense novel (hopefully out the first of the year) was written as the first book in a series of four.
I had someone recently ask me after a talk I did if I planned to write any Westerns. I’m not planning it…but I love the genre…so who knows? Anything is possible. Plus I have couple of ideas for some fantasies….
Anything is indeed possible. :-) (2) Is there anything else you'd like to share with us? Words of wisdom or of wit--or both?
There is so much good fiction out there today. Plus a lot of poor fiction, as well. I hope both other writers and readers will produce and find the good stuff because reading is a key ingredient to learning and to enjoying life.
Amen! Thanks so much for your time, Dorothy. I've enjoyed prying...er, delving into your writing mind. I hope it's been fun for you too.
Thanks, Bruce. It’s been great!
Dorothy Featherling's work, and further thoughts on writing and life, appear here on her website. Drop by and visit, when you get a chance.
And thanks to everyone for dropping by here! If you leave a comment with a question for Dorothy--her writing, personality, anything (within reason, of course :-) )--you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of It Adds Up to Murder (Sorry, US- and Canada-based readers, please. Overseas postage is nasty. Thanks)