Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Q&A with Elizabeth Perona

This week, we sat down with the father/daughter writing team behind Elizabeth Perona. Their series debut, Murder on the Bucket List, was released earlier this month.

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Elizabeth Perona (Tony): I remember the first time I got a good review for something I wrote. It was back in grade school at St. Christopher’s. The teacher—I think it was Mr. Click—asked us to write a fictional story where an inanimate object came to life. Mine was about the tree that gave its life to become the manger the Christ child slept in. I enjoyed writing the story, got really good feedback, and was hooked. I also remember writing tortured poetry in high school (I think it’s in the attic somewhere), co-writing a couple of musicals in graduate school that were produced, and how exciting it was when my first novel was published in 2002. So I feel like I’ve been writing for a very long time.

Elizabeth Perona: Tony and Liz

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
EP (Tony): I’m going to mention someone you wouldn’t think would influence a mystery writer, but Thornton Wilder is the author who has had the most influence on my writing. His body of work is limited, but what he accomplished in those works is not. His novels (I particularly like The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Theophilus North) and especially his plays (Our Town, The Skin of Our Teeth, and the Matchmaker) have universal themes that will always resonate with humanity. I aspire to write something that will endure and touch others. Haven’t gotten there yet and may never, but I think Murder on the Bucket List is a step in the right direction. I hope Thornton would approve.

MI: As a father/daughter writing team, what is the writing process like?
EP (Tony): The stuff we do together is scout out locations, talk about plot, and other general things like that. From that point on, I’m the straight-ahead, write-to-the-end-of-the-story guy, and Liz is the detail supplier. I hate details. But the process is evolving from book to book.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
EP (Tony): Probably the day job I have now! (see below)

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
EP (Tony): I’m currently serving as the Interim Town Manager for the Town of Plainfield. When they find a new Town Manager, I look forward to get back to being the Assistant Town Manager. It’s much less stressful and also conducive to my writing. :)

EP (Liz): I stay at home with my two kids, Lucy and Isaac.

MI: What are your favorite things to do when you’re not writing or working?
EP (Tony): I love to be active. My wife Debbie and I enjoy hiking and riding our bikes. I also like to run and work out.

EP (Liz): I love to sew. It is amazing to me that I can start with just some fabric laying on the cutting mat, and end up with an outfit for me or my kids.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
EP (Tony): Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. I love and admire the code of honor he works from. Also, he’s funny, tough, and very cool.

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
EP (Tony): Not really. I enjoy a lot of murders. <grin>

MI: What was your inspiration for this series?
EP (Tony): I heard about a bridge club made up of retired women who were doing adventurous things—not on a bucket list, but just things the members of the club had always wanted to do. It sounded like they were a fun group. I realized that even though they were getting older, their lives had never been richer. And I thought, why not write about this group?

They had the kind of outlook I aspired to have. Not just when I retired, but now. I view it as a mission now as I write to encourage people to keep looking ahead and be excited about life.

MI: Tell us about Charlotte, Francine, Joy, Alice, and Mary Ruth.
EP (Tony): Francine is a retired nurse who is the point of view character. We see the story unfold from Francine’s purview. Francine is a lot like my mom, Frances. She died from cancer when Liz was only 4 years old. Writing in her voice is a real joy for me because I get to remember her again. She always saw the best in people, which is how Francine is able to cope with Charlotte’s wilder side. Charlotte is Francine’s best friend. I based Charlotte somewhat on my Grandma Bonte, who was quite a character. She cheated at cards, for example. Playing euchre with her was hilarious. If she was partners with her sister, my great-Aunt Annie, there was a lot of table talk we couldn’t understand because they both spoke Slavish as well as English. They also had elaborate hand signals.

Joy is the go-getter in the group, a divorced woman who is still trying to prove her worth to her ex-husband. Alice comes from privilege, but there are things she wishes she had like a family of her own. She and her husband were older when they married and never had kids. Mary Ruth is a hard worker. At 70, she still has to work and is a caterer. Obviously she knows how to cook!

MI: Do you have a bucket list?
EP (Tony): Does making it onto the NY Times bestseller list count? <grin> Actually, I do have a bucket list, mostly places I want to travel to. My top destinations are New Zealand, Italy, and France.

EP (Liz): Not so much, I just in survival mode right now with two kids, two and under. If I had to choose something though, I’d like to travel to Italy with my husband.

MI: How does this series compare to your past works?
EP (Tony): This is very different from my past novels. I wrote a series about a stay-at-home dad/freelance reporter who has a knack for solving mysteries with a supernatural element. It was more detective-like than amateur sleuth. I also wrote a thriller. So this cozy series is a major departure.

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
EP (Tony): Yes! I have a cat. Her name is Ginny. She’s a six-year old red tabby. She became a lazy cat very quickly in life. She’s never really played with toys, she’s not a good jumper, and she doesn’t tolerate strangers. She constantly hisses at guests. Her two good points are that she’s very affectionate toward my wife and me, and she has beautiful markings. So there’s that. At any rate, she’s our cat and we love her.

Tony and Ginny
EP (Liz): Yep!  I have a cat named Gizmo. She’s also six years old, but is black and white.  She’s still pretty active, but isn’t so into kids. She hides upstairs most of the day, and comes down during naptime and after bedtime. We love her!

MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
EP (Tony): Coffee. I already do live off it, at least in the mornings. <grin> Actually, and this goes back to my Italian heritage, I could live off spaghetti the rest of my life. I never get tired of spaghetti.

EP (Liz): Can I pick two? Pizza and ice cream. I guess I’m a kid at heart. Both have so many flavor options, so I’d never get bored!

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
EP (Tony): Yes, my mom’s spaghetti sauce recipe. I make it all the time!

MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
EP (Tony): I love the support we get from the Midnight Ink team! They are awesome to work with!

EP (Liz): Getting to do it with my dad :)

Murder on the Bucket List is available online and in bookstores now!

Midnight Ink | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Your local bookstore

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Q&A with D.A. Keeley!

This week, we sat down with D.A. Keeley, author of the Peyton Cote Novels. His most recent, Fallen Sparrow, was released in early June.

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
D.A. Keeley: I wrote my first “book” when I was six. I wrote a story one weekend, bound it with string, and told the librarian at Readfield Elementary School I wanted her to put it on the shelf. She did, God bless her. I sold my first novel when I was 29. My first five were under my own name (John R Corrigan), my sixth was under KA Delaney, and now I’m DA Keeley writing about Peyton Cote, a US Border Patrol agent and a single mom.

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
DAK: As a dyslexic, reading never came easy. I had a great middle-school teacher who told me to read “something” every day. I read The Hockey News cover to cover every week. In high school, my mother handed me Robert B. Parker’s Ceremony. I remember hitting the passage “It’s a way to live. The rest is confusion” and thinking, What a great summary of detective fiction. I read everything Parker wrote, then moved to Chandler, and Connelly, and Hemingway, and—you get the idea. A highlight (along with being a finalist for a Maine Literary Award this year) was having Mr. Parker blurb my first novel Cut Shot. I learned so much about writing by reading the Spenser novels and listening to them on audio. It impacted not only what I write by how I write: I listen to every word I write using text-to-speech as part of my editing process.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toni Morrison, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Hemingway, and Philip Levine are all writers I adore.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
DAK: I turned down a minor league hockey tryout to go to grad school. Maybe I’d be kicking around a rink sharpening skates.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
DAK: I teach and chair the English department at Northfield Mount Hermon School, and I’m probably the only crime writer on the planet who is a dorm parent to 60 teenage girls.

MI: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing or working?
DAK: Anything with my three daughters and wife. We spend as much time as a family as we can at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, body surfing and playing on the beach.

D.A. Keeley's daughter Audrey with Schnoodle Edie

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
DAK: Spenser is probably tops. Although, that’s like asking a little kid what his favorite sport is—my answer changes depending on who I’m reading right now (which, by the way, is Naomi Hirahara).

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
DAK: I love true crimes. I was a newspaper reporter during and after college. I’m a news junky.  

MI: What was your inspiration for this series? Tell us about Peyton Cote.
DAK: When I lived in Presque Isle, Maine, I played hockey on Sunday nights with Customs and Border Protection agents. That led to ride-alongs with a CBP agent. I learned so much from those—details that I hope add authenticity to the novels. I got a call from the CBP last summer saying these ride-alongs were no longer allowed, so I am indeed lucky to have had the opportunity. At the same time, I was teaching at Northern Maine Community College. And I was blown away by the will and determination I saw in the single mothers who attended my classes. I tried to create, in Peyton Cote, a woman with these attributes. Peyton is an accomplished agent and a single mom who struggles to balance both of those worlds. She's got an ex-husband who drives us all crazy, and a highly traditional mother who thinks she failed because she raised a daughter who carries a gun. As the series progresses, Peyton's love life gets more interesting, and her homelife more complicated, two aspects of the series I love writing.

MI: How does this series compare to your past works?
DAK: The “procedural” qualities are similar to my Jack Austin PGA Tour novels, in that I research my butt off to make sure things are authentic. I am VERY lucky to have Kevin Steven, former deputy chief of the CBP, serve as something of a technical consultant. He has answered emails for three years, telling me everything from whether or not agents tuck their pants into their boots, to his philosophy on the Texas border crisis. I've always strived to make my books authentic, and Kevin (and his wife and daughter, who read them) have been great resources.

I love writing series, seeing how the characters grow and change or time. But Jack is a lot like me. Peyton Cote, for obvious reasons, is not. But the books are similar in that I like to deal with the human condition. For instance, Fallen Sparrow is—to me—much more a book about lost friendship than a thriller.

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
DAK: Edie (like the ice cream) is a two-year-old Schnoodle. I got her in Pennsylvania. Left a 2 a.m., arrived at an Amish farm a 9 a.m., paid, stayed 30 minutes, and drove home. Got back at 2:30 that afternoon and had her at the bus stop to surprise my daughters by 3. I highly recommend the book The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skeet. This book makes me look like a much better dog trainer than I am.


MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
DAK: Sandwiches. Red Hook beer.

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
DAK: Garlic steak.

MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?

DAK: I LOVE working with Nicole and Terri. I’ve been on this treadmill for nearing 20 years, so I know how lucky I am to work with an editor and publisher who treats my books as if they were their own.

Fallen Sparrow is available online and in bookstores now!

Midnight Ink | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Your local bookstore