By Wendy Tyson
Raised on a farm in southwest Pennsylvania, author Annette Dashofy has had a variety of careers, including emergency medical technician, groom at a racetrack, and yoga instructor, and she has drawn on her interesting and varied past to create the Zoe Chambers mystery series. In the first Chambers novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, Dashofy introduces us to EMT and deputy coroner Zoe Chambers and Police Chief Pete Adams. In the second book, LOST LEGACY (due September 16), we follow Chambers and Adams as they investigate an apparent suicide that may be linked to a pair of forty-five-year-old suspicious deaths.
John Lawton (producer, director and author of the Inspector Troy series) said, “New York has McBain, Boston has Parker, now Vance Township, PA (“pop. 5,000. Please Drive Carefully.”) has Annette Dashofy, and her rural world is just as vivid and compelling as their city noir.” I have had the pleasure of meeting Annette in person and she is as captivating as the colorful characters she creates. I am so pleased that Annette agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
LOST LEGACY is the second in the Zoe Chambers series. As with the first Chambers novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, the setting—a small town in rural western Pennsylvania—is a character in the story. You grew up in a similar environment. How did your own experiences in rural Pennsylvania influence your novel?
Southwestern Pennsylvania is very much my home and my heart. It’s second nature to add it to my books. Having grown up in a farm family, I was always keenly aware of the weather because a farmer’s livelihood depends on getting enough snow in the winter, having enough dry weather in the summer to get the crops in, but enough rain so everything doesn’t dry up. And goodness knows we have a wide variety of weather to work with here! It just makes sense to me to have the weather and my surroundings play a big part in the story.
Zoe is a paramedic—a job that demands quick wits, a strong stomach, and the ability to stay calm under pressure. Why did you choose this career path for your main character? What are some of the challenges of having an EMT as your detective?
I was an EMT for a number of years a long time ago, so like the farm, it was a world I had some knowledge of. I thought it was good fit for Zoe because it puts her in the thick of things and gives her a logical reason to be present at crime scenes, yet sometimes creates friction because she isn’t technically in law enforcement. She’s also a deputy coroner, which throws a slightly different light on things and forces her to deal with both life and death in her small community. The biggest challenge has been making sure the medical procedure stuff is current. It’s been a long time since I worked on an ambulance. Laws have changed, there have been huge medical advances. Sometimes what I think I know doesn’t really hold true anymore. Thank goodness I have some wonderful advisors!
What can you tell us about LOST LEGACY that’s not on the back cover?
LOST LEGACY is truly a story of my heart. While Zoe is dealing with family issues as indicated in the back cover copy, Pete has a challenge of his own. His sister who has been caregiver for their father, drops “Pop” off at Pete’s door in the midst of this murder investigation and announces she’s taking a break. Thus, we meet Harry Adams who suffers from Alzheimer’s. My dad had Alzheimer’s, too. Harry is something of a tribute to my dad and shares some of my father’s quirks and pet sayings. He was both a challenge and a joy to write.
Although your books certainly have an element of humor, they are surprisingly dark. What themes do you find yourself drawn to again and again?
Family. Not only blood relatives, but the kind of families we create for ourselves when we don’t have a supportive, “functional” family to lean on. And I must point out that none of this “dysfunctional” stuff is based on my own family, which is very supportive and extremely boring! I say that with much love. Zoe’s mother is not based on my own. Love you, Mom. As for the dark “edge” to my stories, I think that comes from a lesson I learned early on about torturing your characters. I try to delve into the psychology of my characters (not just Zoe) and try to find their weak spots and their secrets. And just when things seem like they can’t get worse, they do!
Can you share a little about your writing process?
I’m more of a plotter than a pantser, but I do a little of both. I start with a pretty rough outline of vital scenes. As I start drafting, there are still lots of holes to fill in as I go, but I know “whodunit” and I know why. I usually have some idea of the ending, although it often changes by the time I get there. As I’m writing this, I’m also finishing the third Zoe and Pete book and the ending took me completely by surprise. Not at all what I’d envisioned.
You write short stories as well as novels. Which do you prefer? Do you find writing one helps with the other?
I definitely prefer longer fiction so I can flesh out the characters more. But writing short fiction is a great lesson in writing tight. When I wrote “A Murder Runs Through It” for the first Guppy Anthology, the maximum word count was four thousand. When I finished the first draft and checked, my story clocked in at nine thousand words! I had to cut over half of it. But the result was a better, faster-paced tale.
You’re very involved with the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. How has your involvement with SinC influenced your publishing journey? Would you recommend membership in a writers’ group to new authors prior to publication? Any other advice for aspiring authors?
I definitely recommend joining a writing organization (or two or three). I can honestly say I would not be published if I didn’t have Sisters in Crime and Pennwriters in my life. The workshops, conferences, and retreats helped me learn the craft. And the friends and connections in the publishing world I’ve made through them have been vital to the entire process. You often don’t realize the importance of networking until years down the road. As for advice—learn your craft and write the best story you can, finish the book (don’t stop after chapter three and start a new one), and never give up.
And now for the big question: What’s next for Zoe and Pete?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently putting the finishing touches on the third Zoe Chambers Mystery, titled BRIDGES BURNED, scheduled for release in April 2015. In it, Zoe and Pete are faced with some tough choices, both in their careers and in their personal lives. It begins with a bang. Literally.
Annette Dashofy, a Pennsylvania farm gal born and bred, grew up with horses, cattle, and chickens. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT for the local ambulance service. Since then, she’s worked a variety of jobs, giving her plenty of fodder for her lifelong passion for writing. She, her husband, and their two spoiled cats live on property that was once part of her grandfather’s dairy. Her debut novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, was released in March. LOST LEGACY, the much anticipated second Zoe Chambers mystery, will be released in September.
To learn more about Annette, please visit her website.