1. Tell us about your current novel or project.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT ESPRESSO is my eighth Maggy Thorsen Mystery and will be released in the U.S. on December 1st by Severn House. I had great fun with this one because I took Maggy, who owns a coffeehouse in my home state of Wisconsin, on a road trip to my new stomping grounds--South Florida.
Maggy tags along vacation-style when her main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, is asked to speak at a mystery writers' conference. [Disclaimer: Any resemblance to Sleuthfest, a conference hosted by the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, is coincidental, if occasionally inspirational.]
The coffeehouse owner is hoping for a romantic long weekend, but upon arrival they're whisked away to the opening night's event, a reenactment of Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, staged onboard a chartered night train into the Everglades. As you might guess, the trip goes downhill from there.
Like I said, this book was a treat to write. Not only did I have the opportunity to involve the mystery-writing and publishing community and pay homage to Christie's classic, but I also was able to explore the eccentricities that are South Florida through a tourist's eyes.
> 2. Can you give us a sense of what you’re working on now?
I have two series published by Severn House, so next up is book three in my Main Street Murder series. Main Street features journalist AnnaLise Griggs, who has returned to Sutherton, a resort town in the North Carolina mountains, to deal with her mother's health problems.
This third installment in the series is tentatively entitled TO HEIR IS HUMAN and involves swinger and local real estate developer, Dickens Hart, who decades before had owned and operated the White Tail, a Playboy Club knockoff (think "Fawns" instead of "Bunnies").
In declining health, the wealthy Hart decides to invite his past lovers and possible heirs to his North Carolina estate en masse. When the man is found murdered the weekend of this awkward get-together, his daughter AnnaLise--with the most to lose if Hart had lived to recognize additional heirs--is the logical suspect.
> 3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
Being the master of my own real-life time and place, I think. My work can be performed whenever I please and from anywhere I can plug in a computer.
And I love, love, LOVE that moment when things seem to shift and focus, the plot pieces tumbling into place almost of their own volition. For example, a throw-away character I inserted in the first scene for some mundane purpose suddenly becomes central to the storyline in ways I didn't anticipate. It feels magical when that happens--like being "in the zone" while running five miles or playing three sets of tennis--but I prefer to think my subconscious knew where I was going the whole time.
> 4. The greatest displeasure?
I suppose no regular paycheck. Or vital insurance, like health and disability, being automatically provided. But these are trade-offs for being the aforementioned "master of my own time and place," so I'm not complaining.
> 5. Advice to the publishing world?
Social media is a wonderful way of staying in touch with readers and having human interaction--or at least human interaction, once removed--that we didn't always have as writers. Now someone is on the other side of the computer screen tweeting and posting, texting and emailing right back. And that's pretty cool.
If we're not careful, though, keeping up with the many social media opportunities can become a black hole--lots of time and effort sucked in without much of value being returned. There are countless things we COULD be doing online, so it's important to define where our readers are hanging out, virtually, and be available for them there.
Ultimately, though, I believe an author's first responsibility to his or her readers is to tell good stories and craft the best books possible.
> 6. Are there any forgotten writers you’d like to see in print again?
Well, I don't think he's forgotten, but I'm very excited that my fiancé, Jeremiah Healy, has seen his first nine John Francis Cuddy private investigator novels mounted as e-books, with seven scheduled for audio so far. Since Cuddy, Jerry has written the Mairead O'Clare legal thrillers (under the pseudonym "Terry Devane"), as well as screenplays, the "bible" for a proposed TV series called OFFICER INVOLVED, and various other projects, but I've missed Cuddy. Jerry has promised me to produce a new novel on his best-known character before the dawn of 2014, and I'm holding him to it!
Two other writer/protagonist duos I'd dearly love to see back are Neil Albert's private investigator, Dave Garrett, and Marissa Piesman's lawyer, Nina Fischman--both from the '90s.
> 7. Tell us about selling your first novel.
How long do you have? I was downsized from my corporate public relations job in 1996 and, like a lot of P.R. people and journalists, had always wanted to write a novel. I had nine months of severance, which I figured would be plenty of time.
Well, that book, UNCOMMON GROUNDS, was published eight years later. Two literary agents tried unsuccessfully to sell it and finally, un-agented, I sent the manuscript to Tekno Books for Five Star. Debbie Brod (writing her own fiction as "D.C. Brod") was the editor I drew, and she invested the time to identify what was wrong with my story (its ending, to be charitable, sucked).
UNCOMMON GROUNDS appeared from Five Star in 2004 to great reviews and even award nominations, prompting my current agent to contact me toward representation. We've been together ever since.
Sandra Balzo is an award-winning author of crime fiction, including nine books in two different mystery series from Severn House--the Wisconsin-based Maggy Thorsen Mysteries and Main Street Murders, set in the High Country of North Carolina and featuring journalist AnnaLise Griggs. Balzo's books have garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, while being recommended to readers of Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, Harlan Coben, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron. A Wisconsin native, Sandy and her fiancé, fellow crimewriter Jeremiah Healy, now split their time between South Florida and North Carolina.
Find Sandy online at www.SandraBalzo.com, Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/sandrabalzo), Facebook (www.facebook/SandraBalzoMysteries), Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/SandraBalzo) and Twitter (@SandraBalzo).