By George Ebey
If you haven’t met Stella Hardesty yet, now is the perfect time. Stella is the tough and tenacious subject of a stunning new series of crime mysteries by author Sophie Littlefield.
And book four, A BAD DAY FOR MERCY, just may prove to be her toughest case yet.
This time out, a call from Stella’s little sister brings the news that Stella’s step-nephew, Chip, has been threatened with serious bodily harm if he doesn’t settle his unpaid gambling debts. So Stella makes the drive to Chip’s home in Wisconsin, only to walk in on a wee-hours dismemberment. Chip and his girlfriend, Natalya, insist the man was left, already dead, on their porch. Suspicious but compelled to help family, Stella tracks down other suspects, including the deceased’s business partner, a purveyor of black-market Botox, and a jilted violist. Matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of BJ Broderson, who has picked the worst possible time to pursue his amorous intentions toward Stella. Meanwhile, thoughts of Sheriff “Goat” Jones make her blush and wonder where, and with whom, Stella will spend her fifty-first birthday.
Sophie and I caught up recently to discuss the world of Stella Hardesty and what it takes to create an ongoing series.
A BAD DAY FOR MERCY is the fourth book in the Stella Hardesty mystery series. Can you tell us a little about who she is and what her road has been like?
Stella’s a fiftyish Midwestern woman who goes through the worst kind of mid-life crisis – she finally sends a message to her abusive husband after three decades of being smacked around, in the form of a wrench to the forehead. Once the judge lets her off, she sets up a business on the sly, “taking care of” other women’s abusers. She also juggles a sewing machine shop, her small-town circle of friends, and a bountiful love life.
When did the idea for your first Stella Hardesty story, A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, take shape and how long before you realized that you had a series on your hands?
I’d written eight books that had received no offers of publication. They were all “serious” novels that followed the rules of genre fiction as I understood them. I was fed up with being rejected, and I decided, on the cusp of middle age myself, to write a book just for me. When Barbara Poelle, who has been my agent ever since, expressed interest in the book, we were both gleeful at the prospect of giving this oddball character a series of adventures! It took a while to find an editor willing to take on the project, but when we did, we sold two books to kick off the series.
What do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of writing a crime / mystery story?
For me, the most rewarding aspect of writing any story is drawing the characters. I write thriller/horror in addition to crime, and I like these genres because the inciting incident is usually dramatic enough to force deep character work. When a character has committed or been the victim of a crime, you get to know her pretty quick, because she will not be able to disguise her true reactions.
Will Stella get to rest up for a while after this one or are there more bad days yet to come?
I’m already working on the fifth book! Titled A BAD DAY FOR ROMANCE, it will be out next spring from my new publishing team at Pocket Star. I probably shouldn’t share this, but the plot for that one got sketched out on a cocktail napkin a year ago at Thrillerfest when Barbara and I met for a drink or three…
A single mother is getting into her car in a grocery store parking lot when two punks surround her and demand her purse. Stella is sitting in her own car two lanes over and sees the whole thing. How would she handle it?
Oh lordy. My blood is boiling just thinking about it. Here’s the thing – when a middle-aged mother sees a couple of young punks acting up, she doesn’t see dangerous thugs, she sees a couple of boys her son’s age and she will smack them down without fear. I should know – I’ve done it myself. I reduced a couple of hooligans at the skate park practically to tears when they were scaring the younger kids. All it takes is judicious application of the “mom stare”…
Sophie Littlefield’s first novel, A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, won an Anthony Award and an RT Book Award for Best First Mystery. It was also shortlisted for Edgar, Barry, Crimespree, and Macavity Awards. She writes the post-apocalyptic AFTERTIME series for Harlequin Luna. She also writes paranormal fiction for young adults.
To learn more about Sophie, please visit her website.