Flowerbed of State by Dorothy St. James

by Terry DiDomenico

The White House is more than a hot bed of politics – seems its flowerbeds are full of intrigue. Just ask Dorothy St. James, author of Flowerbed of State.

The premier book in the White House Gardener Mysteries, Flowerbed of State introduces Casey Calhoun, a South Carolina native, who is employed as an assistant gardener with the task of developing an organic gardening program for the White House grounds at the request of the First Lady.

Sounds rather tame, doesn’t it?

As Casey puts it: “You’d think I’d lead a quiet life, but (sigh) trouble seems to find me.”

Arriving early at work and nervous about a meeting later that morning, Casey decides to rid one of the Lafayette Square’s blooming flowerbeds of sneaky, encroaching weeds. Minutes later she is face down in the wet blossoms with very little recollection of how she got that way. In short order she sprays homemade pepper spray in the face of a Secret Service agent and finds a dead body. And now she maybe the link between the killer and President John Bradley.

Of course Casey is going to try to find the killer, after all that’s what they do in all those murder mysteries she reads. She draws on the down home wisdom of her Grandmother Faye and her aunts Abla and Willow, the true Southern belles who raised her at their home in Charleston, South Carolina.

Being citizens of South Carolina is a shared trait between Casey and her creator Dorothy. Dorothy lives (and writes) on an island just outside of the historic city. A certified master gardener (who just days ago picked her first cucumber of the season), she endowed Casey with her love of growing things. They also share a love of mysteries.

A successful author in romance genres, Dorothy took this step into the world of thriller/mystery at the suggestion of her “wise and kind editor.” The move allows her offer fast paced action that can be found in the modern thriller.

Dorothy’s favorite part of writing Flowerbed of State was the research. She had fun scouring books, news reports, and the Internet for information about the White House and the horticulturalists who work there. She has interviewed and made friends with several people with insider connections. But the most fun was traveling to the nation’s capital, one of her favorite cities, and researching in person. One highlight was the White House garden tours.

After the research, it was time to get down to the writing. According to Dorothy, she wishes her “writing schedule was more disciplined. Unfortunately, I’m easily distracted by online research, Facebook, Headline News, Twitter, an interesting bird flying by the window, etc., etc. I start my day catching up on e-mails and handling any promotion work that needs my attention. After an early lunch, I get to my pages. I try to write five pages per day.”

From the description of where she does her writing, it is easy to understand why Dorothy can get so distracted. Her home is located on the beach and the windows of her office/guest room overlook the ocean on one side and the marsh on the other.

Five pages for her includes revising and rewriting as she goes. This means when she gets to the end of her book, it is pretty close to what she turns into her editor. Several times in the process, she does stop and goes back to the beginning, rewriting sections as she works back to the middle. This came in handy with Flowerbed of State as she changed the sex of the villain halfway through. One day though she would like to write the first draft of a book quickly and then dive into edits.

In the book she is writing now, the second White House Gardening Mystery tentatively titled the Scarlet Pepper, she is trying to just jot notes in the margins instead of stopping so often – she’ll let us know how that worked out.

In addition to a third book with Casey Calhoun, Dorothy says she has plot ideas for many more and hopes to add to her heroine’s continuing misadventures. She has “dipped” her toes in the indie e-book market with a mystery novella, Bird in Paradise, plus she keeps up with her backlist of romance novels published under the Dorothy McFalls brand (dorothymcfalls.com).

For Big Thrill readers, Dorothy says, “If you’re looking for a break from the partisan political bickering on the news, but would like to get an insider’s peek at how Washington works, I hope you grab a copy of Flowerbed of State. In the meantime, you can read more about the book and my life at my website, on Facebook , or Twitter. I will also be visiting several blogs in May and holding a bunch of contests giving away Presidential swag. To stay in the know of upcoming events or to get the latest gardening tips, sign up for my newsletter.”

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