Sunday, April 2, 2017
Carolyn Mulford: Interview re Show Me the Sinister Snowman
Show Me the Sinister Snowman, by Carolyn Mulford, Cave Hollow Press, March 2017, 290 pp.; trade paperback, $14.95; Kindle, $3.99; ISBN: 978-0-9713497-9-7; Library of Congress Control Number: 2016960483; paperback edition available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, cavehollowpress.com, and Ingram.
Carolyn, you had a long career as a magazine editor and freelancer. When and why did you decide to switch to writing mysteries?
I wanted to write fiction from the time I learned to read, but journalism offered a much better way to make a living. Besides, I enjoy coming up with ideas, researching them, analyzing information, and finding the right words and structure to share that information. Don’t let anyone tell you writing good nonfiction doesn’t require creativity.
When a new generation of women mystery writers gained attention in the 1980s, I became a serious mystery reader for the first time. Early in the 21st century, I decided that what I wanted to do most was write mysteries, novels that focus on how everyday people deal with crisis, stimulate and entertain intelligent readers, and assure justice wins. I came up with an idea for a series, took courses on writing mysteries, and became part of a critique group. I was committed.
By the way, my sleuths often use reporters’ techniques in their investigations.
Explain the basic idea for the series, including the ongoing characters and the setting. Have you stuck to that idea through your new fifth book?
Two strands of my life came together as I was searching for an idea big enough for a series. One strand sprang from the outing of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame, endangering her and even casual friends and ending her career. I related to the situation. While working in Vienna, Austria, during the Cold War, I’d discovered that a good friend led an operative’s dangerous double life. The other strand grew from interacting with high school classmates at reunions and planning to move back to my home state, Missouri.
I wove these strands together to create the economically depressed town of Laycock and three ongoing characters: Phoenix Smith, a wounded former CIA covert operative; Annalynn Carr Keyser, a just-widowed civic leader; and Connie Diamante, a struggling singer/music teacher. These three women grew up together, lived very different lives for more than 30 years, and reunite in their hometown as each faces a major life crisis.
In the first book, Show Me the Murder, Phoenix reluctantly agrees to help Annalynn find out the truth about her husband’s violent death. Conventional law-and-order Annalynn wangles a temporary appointment as sheriff to get access to the evidence and police resources. Armed and dangerous, Phoenix disregards laws and applies her tradecraft to a parallel investigation. Connie insists on using her theatrical talent to assist them. The three form a good crime-fighting team because of their varied skills, conflicting attitudes, and common goals.
Phoenix rescues and adopts another valuable team member, a Belgian Malinois and K-9 dropout named Achilles.
The old friends and their relationships change slightly from book to book as they continue to investigate murders and rebuild their lives. By the fifth book, Show Me the Sinister Snowman, Annalynn has completed her term as sheriff. Each woman is moving on with her life, but they continue to answer requests to help individuals and the police with unusual cases.
I’m puzzled by the mixture of cynicism and compassion in Phoenix Smith, the former covert operative. What prompted you to give her these contrasting characteristics?
Exploring the inner life of this daring, action-addicted woman fascinates me. (I’m more an observer than a doer.) Returning to her insular hometown after spending many years in Europe forces her to deal with her internal conflicts as well as with her differences with old friends.
Phoenix grew up in a financially strapped but loving family that stressed personal loyalty and community service. She joined the CIA after her cheating husband shook her assumptions about people. For years she led two lives, with her work as an expert on Eastern European economies as a cover for her CIA assignments. Her dual career required great intelligence, courage, energy, and self-confidence. And it complicated her relationships. Survival required her to deceive friends, colleagues, and sources.
As a covert operative, she saw greed, incompetence, and treason much more often than idealism. She dealt with scum and accepted that the ends justify the means. Coming home, she regards almost everyone except Annalynn, her lifelong friend, with distrust and skepticism, but compassion kicks in as Phoenix sees innocent individuals being hurt. These include a woman enduring elder abuse in Show Me the Gold, a little girl whose mother is imprisoned in Show Me the Ashes, and a teenager fleeing a violent husband in Show Me the Sinister Snowman.
I love the dog, Achilles, and how he and Phoenix relate to and rely on each other. Have other readers responded the same way?
Yes, many readers tell me how much they like Achilles. He functions not only as a pet but as a comforter and sidekick. He brings out her softer side, and she encourages him to use his skills. He becomes secure enough to dispute her judgment. For example, he pulls her back when she’s rushing into danger, and he barks his disapproval when she’s impatient with her friends.
Tell us about the road to publication for this series.
I sold the first book after pitching it to a Five Star editor at Killer Nashville in 2011. The first and second books, Show Me the Murder and Show Me the Deadly Deer, came out at the beginning and end of 2013 in hardback and e-book. Five Star released the third book, Show Me the Gold, in December 2015. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery has published paperback editions of all three.
Then came a bump in the road. Five Star delayed the publication of all its mysteries in late 2015 and then announced it was phasing out its mystery line. (That kind of thing happens much more often than readers realize.) Show Me the Ashes didn’t come out until March 2016, by which time I was looking for a publisher for Show Me the Sinister Snowman. Cave Hollow Press released that book March 31 as a trade paperback and an e-book.
What other books have you published?
Before I switched to fiction, I wrote five nonfiction books (all out of print), including a travel book, a biography, and a how-to book on financial fitness for teens.
My first published novel, a YA historical called The Feedsack Dress, came out almost 10 years ago. Last year marked the publication of another YA historical, Thunder Beneath My Feet. It takes place during the devastating New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812. Many people outside the states most afflicted (Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana) don’t know about the quakes, but online reports show tremors still occur almost daily.
What are you writing now?
I’m rewriting the first book of a series with a less lethal protagonist than my ex-spy. I may write some short stories featuring Phoenix and Achilles.
Former CIA operative Phoenix Smith must play detective again when her K-9 dropout sniffs out a murder weapon at the scene of a congressman’s “accidental” death. Who tried to hide a homicide? She suspects either a corrupt political insider or an enraged abusive husband. Determined to prevent more murders. Phoenix goes with her friend Annalynn, an aspiring candidate, to a political gathering at the late congressman’s isolated antebellum mansion. A blizzard traps them there with three suspects dissembling inside and the sinister snowman lurking outside.
Carolyn Mulford set out to be a writer shortly after becoming a reader in a one-room school in Missouri. She postponed her writing career to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. That experience fostered a fascination with other cultures that led her to work as a nonfiction writer and editor on four continents. She moved from nonfiction to fiction and from Washington, D.C., to Columbia, Missouri, in 2007, the year her first published novel, The Feedsack Dress, came out. Show Me the Sinister Snowman is her seventh novel and twelfth book. To read the first chapters of her novels, go to http://carolynmulford.com.
News Flash: Five Star put her first four e-books on Overdrive. You can download them.