Mystery author Maggie King, who writes the Hazel Rose Book Group Mysteries, sits down for an interview today. Learn more about Maggie and her books at her website.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
As a devotee of Nancy Drew, I wrote mysteries in grade school. Fast forward a few decades to 1995 in Los Angeles. When three of my co-workers took creative writing and screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension, I read their work and was impressed by their talent. My competitive side kicked in and I thought, “I could be doing this.” I belonged to a mystery book group (it became the model for the Murder on Tour group in the Hazel Rose Book Group series) and felt confident that I could turn out a mystery. When I moved to Virginia in 1996 I took a writing course at the University of Virginia and enjoyed it. I took more classes and started writing on a regular basis.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Many years. I first published in 2014. It turned out that writing, and publishing, were not so easy! And in the early years I treated writing as a hobby and didn’t make it a priority.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
Where do you write?
In the converted bedroom of a split level home, closely supervised by my two cats.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Usually I prefer to work in silence, but occasionally I listen to classical, easy listening, or classic rock. It all depends on my mood. I especially like Slow Dancing, a CD of nostalgic songs from the fifties.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
This is always an interesting question. Snippets of the experiences of the many “real” people I’ve known over the years wind up on my pages. And I’ve known women like my victim, Roxanne Howard, who lead turbulent lives and have little regard for others.
I think people expect similarities between myself and my sleuth, Hazel Rose. Like Hazel, I was born on the east coast, moved to Los Angeles in my twenties, and started my career as a software developer. Like Hazel, I had a calico cat named Shammy who accompanied me when I moved back east in 1996 and settled in Richmond, Virginia. Hazel and I share a commitment to the environment, we’re both frugal and unimpressed with the high life.
Hazel’s been married five times—divorced three times, widowed once, currently wed (the current union looks solid!). But divorce and widowhood have not touched my life—I just celebrated 27 years with my one and only husband.
One “real” person in my Hazel Rose Book Group series is a woman I used to see at a gym in Richmond. I never knew her name or even talked to her except for a hi and a wave. She was partial to leopard prints and chartreuse. The last time I saw her she sashayed into the gym sporting chartreuse stiletto boots and a leopard cowgirl hat, platinum blonde curls cascading down her back. I gave her a flamboyant personality, a job as a personal trainer at the gym, and the name Kat Berenger.
Three real events led me to create Murder at the Moonshine Inn. The first was when my husband researched his family tree and discovered many new-to-him relatives. He contacted them, and they remain in touch to this day. One family lives near us in Virginia and we often see them. We traveled to Montreal to visit another family. Only one relative refused to acknowledge my husband, suspecting that he wanted money.
The second event was when the mother of an acquaintance in California died and her widower lost no time remarrying a woman forty years his junior. His bride ran with a fast crowd who drank, took drugs, and engaged in casual sex. For added excitement, she frequented redneck bars. My friend’s father was enchanted with his beloved’s beauty. She was enchanted with his fortune. He figured that marriage would tame her. She would not be tamed and continued her decadent lifestyle post-marriage.
I combined the stories, adding a hefty dose of fiction, and came up with a Picasso-esque creation.
The third event is described in a sub-plot and concerns Hazel’s need to go through a breast biopsy for the second time in less than ten years. It pretty much mirrors my own experience, with a few embellishments.
Describe your process for naming your character?
Hazel Rose is a beautiful name with a retro sound. Hazel was a popular choice around the turn of the twentieth century, but its use waned over the years. It’s been experiencing a modest comeback. The rose is my favorite flower and I adore the scent.
Real settings or fictional towns?
My stories are set in the real city of Richmond, Virginia. I use real restaurants, I modify the names of organizations, and I’m vague about all but major street names.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Librarian and book group member Trudy Zimmerman has a rose tattooed on her neck. She covers it with her long hair when at work, as her library director is anti-tat.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I have a really loud sneeze.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Almost Paradise, by Susan Isaacs. I once spent two hours in the food court of a mall---not my favorite place to be---riveted to this witty and poignant story, populated with vivid and oh-so-flawed characters. The author is gifted with an eye for detail and an eloquent turn of phrase that I envy. Writing this makes me want to re-read Almost Paradise!
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I’d started my writing career earlier, at least with the advent of word processors (I am not nostalgic for typewriters). I fantasize that I’d have given Anne Tyler a run for her money. Ms. Tyler mined quirky families to great literary success, and I figure my own quirky family has given me story material for years to come.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Talking and texting at concerts, movies, plays, etc.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Husband, cats, books
What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
Working as an apparel sales manager in a big box store (before they were called that)
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Ocean or mountains?
Ocean. But mountains are a close second.
City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City, most definitely.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Currently, I’m working on #3 of the Hazel Rose Book Group series. The book group goes on hiatus to take a mystery writing class. But, wouldn’t you know it, a particularly obnoxious student winds up dead, and there are no dearth of suspects.
I contributed a short story, “Wine, Women, and Wrong,” to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology, due out March 1, 2017. Seventeen other great mystery authors join me with light-hearted tales of crime and Cabernet.
On the distant horizon, I’d like to try my hand at a historical mystery.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
Since childhood my sense of justice has been strong and I get enraged when justice is not served. That’s likely why mysteries appealed to me so early in life. I serve justice in my novels, but my short stories tend to be morally ambiguous and the justice may be of the vigilante variety.
I like to write about people at a crossroads, facing challenges. And also about their growth and successes.
On a long-ago job interview, my prospective employer asked me to describe myself using three words. I immediately rattled off “competent, conscientious, and courageous.” Now I would add another word that starts with c: compassionate. Writers need these qualities, and more, both for the craft and business aspects of writing.
Murder at the Moonshine Inn
When high-powered executive Roxanne Howard dies in a pool of blood outside the Moonshine Inn, Richmond, Virginia’s premiere redneck bar, the victim’s sister enlists Hazel Rose to ferret out the killer. At first Hazel balks—she’s a romance writer, not a detective. But Brad Jones, Rox’s husband, is the prime suspect. He’s also Hazel’s cousin, and Hazel believes in doing anything to help family. Never mind that Brad won’t give her the time of day—he’s still family.
Hazel recruits her book group members to help with the investigation. It’s not long before they discover any number of people who feel that a world without Rox Howard is just fine with them: Brad’s son believes that Rox and Brad were behind his mother’s death; Rox’s former young lover holds Rox responsible for a tragedy in his family; and one of Rox’s employees filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against her. The killer could be an angry regular from the Moonshine Inn—or just about anyone who ever crossed paths with the willful and manipulative Rox. When a second murder ups the ante Hazel must find out who is behind the killings. And fast. Or she may be victim #3.