This week, we sat down with Loretta Ross, whose debut Death and the Redheaded Woman was released last month.
Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Loretta Ross: All my life. I made up my first poem when I was three and I think I started my first book when I was about seven. It never got off the ground, though. I wanted to write a story about a ghost called the Lady of the Evening but, for some reason, my mother wouldn't let me.
MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
LR: Gosh, that's hard to answer. I've always been fortunate to be rich in books. There are so many great teachers out there. I suppose, in terms of the craft of writing, I'd have to say that I've admired Tolkien and Kipling for their storytelling and the sheer beauty of the language they used, and Shirley Jackson and August Derleth (specifically, his short story Mr. George) for their story structure. I love Terry Pratchett's sense of humor and Brian Jacques was wonderful at creating rich, compelling characters. And then there are all the great mystery writers, who've taught me so much about how to structure a mystery: Sayers, Allingham, Stout, Queen, Doyle (of course!), Hillerman . . . . Really, I've probably learned something from every book I've ever read (even if, occasionally, what I've learned was "do NOT, under any circumstances, ever do THIS!").
MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
LR: Well, I have a bachelor's degree in archaeology, though I've never done anything with it. I suppose, if I hadn't felt pulled towards writing all my life, I might have pursued that further. I don't know, though. That would be a difficult profession for someone with the temperament of a hobbit, like me. (And not a Bilbo Baggins-type hobbit, either. More a Gaffer Gamgee-type hobbit!)
MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
LR: I work full-time in the produce department at the Warsaw, Missouri, Walmart. People call me the Banana Girl, which is ironic because I'm not fond of bananas. I am very good at choosing watermelon, though, if you ever need any help with that. I also make all the gift and liquor baskets we sell at Christmas.
MI: What are your favorite things to do when you’re not writing or working?
LR: I've been working on remodeling my house. I'm doing all the work myself, so it's been going veeeerrry slowly. I am hoping to get done some time before the next ice age, though. Other than that, not much. I read a lot, of course, and there are a handful of TV shows I enjoy. I like crafting, but I just haven't had the time.
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
LR: Wow! You like to ask really hard questions! There are so many, it's an almost impossible decision. If I have to pick just one, though, I'm going to go with Joe Hardy. The reason is, the first mystery I vividly remember reading, and therefore the one that introduced me to the genre, was The Cabin Island Mystery, from the Hardy Boys series. I was six, I think. I remember finding it on the bookshelf in the toy department at the old Walmart in Clinton, back before Walmart carried groceries or tires or stayed open all night.
As soon as I started reading I was hooked. I looked for new books each time we went to the store and memorized every detail of the ones I had. I can even describe the price stickers that were on them: they were little black ovals with gold trim and the price printed in gold. From that point on any book with "mystery" in the title became a must-read. In fact, the word "mystery" still makes my heart beat a little bit faster.
I'm choosing Joe because he was the youngest brother. I was also the youngest in my family, so I always identified with him.
MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
LR: I have a million of them. I love Dorothy Sayers' The Nine Tailors and Margery Allingham's The China Governess. Anything that has an eerie element to go with the mystery. Also, I've only just begun working on book three in the Auction Block Mysteries and that looks like it's going to be an awful lot of fun to write. (I'm not sure if that really counts, since it's not written yet. And, just for record, I'm not comparing myself to Sayers and Allingham!)
LR: Amazing. It's been the most positive experience of my life. I can't believe how enthusiastic and supportive my family and friends have been. And, as for me, I almost feel like a different person. I feel like a square peg that finally found a square hole.
MI: What was your inspiration for this series?
LR: To be honest, I wrote the first line as a joke. I was thinking I'd like to try my hand at writing a mystery-romance. With mysteries, you're always told to have a dead body on page one. I figured with a romance, you should have a naked man on page one. So I put them together and came up with a naked dead guy. Then I started thinking about what sort of situation would lead someone to finding a naked dead guy and the book pretty much just wrote itself from there.
MI: Tell us about Wren and Death.
LR: Wren Morgan is an auctioneer working for a small, family-owned company. She's quiet, respectful, a little old fashioned, but not afraid to stand up for herself or for those she cares about. A lot of times, in our society, there's this assumption that a woman can be either nice but flighty or tough but hard, a little bit mean, even. My goal for Wren is for her to be both kind and strong, a nice girl who's not necessarily fierce, but can be when she has to.
Death Bogart is a disabled Marine combat vet turned private investigator and part-time bounty hunter. Death's had a rough time. In addition to a career-ending combat injury, he's suffered personal tragedy and his trust has been badly abused. He's a strong person, but also wounded, and he's someone who doesn't know how to accept help. He was courageous in combat, but admitting that you have problems requires an entirely different kind of courage. He's also intelligent, which is a trait that I think we tend to undervalue in both men and women. He's got to adapt to his disability by being smart, and by being brave enough to allow Wren and his other friends to help him when he needs it.
MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
LR: I'm a crazy cat lady. I have more cats than is sane, but I love them all (even the strays who won't let me pet them). My babies are Julius (he's orange) and Fidget. My two oldest are a pair of enormous toms, Foggy and Bert, who are inseparable. They're practically a comedy team.
I also wind up feeding a lot of wild animals. The other night I stepped outside to check the weather before I went to bed and I startled a possum and a raccoon that were right by the door eating cat food. The raccoon jumped straight up about three feet, landed on the possum, and knocked it off the porch. The raccoon ran away and the poor possum rolled across the yard and then lay there looking bewildered.
MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
LR: Peanut butter fudge. It might not be a very long or healthy life, but it would certainly be a delicious one!
MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
LR: "Pull back film, heat for three minutes on high, let sit one minute before serving."
MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?LR: All the wonderful people I've met, both the staff at Midnight Ink and the other authors. They've all been just great!
Death and the Redheaded Woman is available online and in bookstores now!