Hope Clark, author of The Carolina Slade Mysteries, has a new release and a new series. MURDER ON EDISTO is book one of The Edisto Island Mysteries from BellBooks. When her husband is murdered by the Russian mob, Boston detective Callie Jean Morgan suffers a mental break and relinquishes her badge to return home to South Carolina. She has no idea how to proceed with her life, but her son deserves to move on with his, so she relocates them to the family vacation home.
But the day they arrive on Edisto Beach, Callie finds her childhood mentor and elderly neighbor murdered. Her fragile sanity is threatened when the murderer taunts her, and the home that was to be her sanctuary is repeatedly violated. Callie loses her fight to walk away from law enforcement as she becomes the only person able to pursue the culprit who’s turned the coastal paradise into a paranoid patch of sand where nobody’s safe. But what will it cost her?
MURDER ON EDISTO is a new series for you. What made you decide to change venues and characters instead of continuing your Carolina Slade series?
Actually, my publisher strong-armed, um, suggested that I create a new series to more clearly demonstrate the depth of my talent. I was flattered and scared to death at the same time, because I adored Carolina Slade. I had envisioned myself writing her stories like Sue Grafton and her alphabet mysteries, until I ran out of little communities in South Carolina to set each Slade escapade. My editor gave me sort of a full rein on the direction of the series but asked that I design the second series at least around three issues: (1) the protagonist could not be an amateur sleuth (she had to be law enforcement), (2) the story had to include a heavy-handed dose of family drama like any good Southern family, and (3) the series had to take place in one locale in South Carolina. The Carolina Slade series took place all over the state. So I set the Edisto Island Mysteries completely on Edisto Beach, a place I’ve escaped to many times. I went into the project begrudgingly, just ask my editor.
Tell us something about MURDER ON EDISTO that isn’t mentioned in the publisher’s synopsis.
What isn’t mentioned in the synopsis is that the protagonist, Callie Jean Morgan, returns to her Southern roots quite damaged by the death of her husband. Previously a sharp professional at the peak of her game as a detective, she can no longer focus, suffers anxiety attacks, and has taken to the bottle. There’s an unspoken knowledge on Edisto that people who move there permanently leave another life behind to find a more soothing one at the beach. So, broken and lost, Callie winds up on Edisto. But of course I could not let her find peace.
I have a dear friend on Edisto who is a yoga instructor, a positive, marvelous woman, and with her permission, I modeled a secondary character after her. Secondary characters are a joy to create for me, and creating this one in the image and style of a friend was enjoyable indeed. She’s having a ball telling people, with many Edistonians asking if she indeed has a history like Sophie. The book is dedicated to her. She is the epitome of finding one’s self and redefining life.
MURDER ON EDISTO opens with a dramatic scene, which results in Callie Jean leaving the police force. Do you still consider the novel a police procedural? Or do you think the traditional mystery subgenre classifications have become so blurred that it’s difficult to distinguish them?
All of my stories open with drama . . . which is how I prefer my stories as a reader. When I contracted with my publisher, I begged them not to give me a female cover because a female mystery author is perceived as a cozy writer until she proves otherwise. So I asked that the covers appear edgy, without people, with an emphasis on the ominous and on locale. I’m in love with my covers, and Bell Bridge Books did a fabulous job with all of them.
I don’t think subgenre when writing my mysteries. I just think mystery. For instance, Carolina Slade was an amateur sleuth, falling back on the assistance of a federal agent. Callie Jean Morgan, however, is a former detective, more skilled than the Edisto PD guys. But I consider both series written similarly. The level of violence, complexity, story development are the same. So, because Slade was not a cop, yet Callie was, doesn’t make this story a police procedural. Neither does it make the Slade series a cozy. I just like to think of them as traditional mysteries.
As I mentioned, the opening scene is very explosive. Do you think the Russian mob is becoming the next “Big Bad,” replacing the serial killer as a key antagonist?
The Russian mob has been around for years, and I needed a group that represented Boston without falling back on the stereotypically Irish thug. However, I don’t think the Russian mob is replacing the serial killer any more than any other ethnic, gang, or geographically organized crime group. But they sure can be colorful, which makes for great story telling. It’s amazing the impact they have on this story when you never actually see them!
You drew on your experience with the Department of Agriculture to create the heroine of the Carolina Slade series. With Callie Jean Morgan, you’ve developed a Southern woman who moved to Boston and is now back in the South, wrestling with the aftermath of her husband’s murder. Can you tell us a bit about Callie’s life, how you came up with her and perhaps give us a hint where you see her going in the future?
I write about Southern women who are strong, flawed, and loyal. To create the family angst, I took a Southern girl and had her do the ultimate slap-in-the-face to her parents by moving up north and, gasp, marrying a Yankee. For fifteen years Callie works crime in Boston until the very person who drew her up north was murdered because of one of her cases. The guilt weighs huge and heavy on her, but her son outweighs her personal concerns as she takes him home to South Carolina to lean on her parents during a time of recovery. She’s a mess, but all too soon she remembers why she chose to leave home before—the conflict with her parents. Her father is mayor of a small town, her mother a socialite—the opposite of Callie. I designed her life then had fate snatch it away and step on her harder and harder. I loved throwing her back into a world she ran from. Wonderful drama opportunity there.
Callie’s future represents healing, physically, mentally, and emotionally. She must face the fact she is good at crime solving, regardless at how hard she runs from it. Her husband died due to her detective work. Her son doesn’t want her back in law enforcement. Her mother doesn’t respect her prowess at the job. Yet law enforcement is where she excels, so Callie has all these obstacles to cope with as she redefines herself and decide whether she is or isn’t a cop. And how can she be good at something her loved ones hate her working? Placing her in Edisto is another subtheme. She and Edisto come together more and more in each book, each contrary to the other, but in the end, each needing the other. I’m in love with the depth of meaning in these stories. They didn’t start that way, but as I came to know Callie, I saw the potential.
You have a strong personal connection to Edisto Island, which shows in the details of island life present in the novel. Do you turn to your real life hero, Senior Special Agent husband, for the law enforcement perspective?
I’ve visited Edisto many times. I have friends down there. When I worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I oversaw many farmers across the island. I’ve studied its history which is quite grand and glorious. Its Civil War and Reconstruction history is Gone with the Wind times ten. Its beauty and richness compares to few places in the South.
Without question I turn to my husband for the technical aspects of my stories. As a retired Senior Special Agent with the federal government, he keeps the weaponry, fight scenes, and case-solving logic on track for me. Granted, he’d prefer the law enforcement gentlemen in my books take a firmer hand in managing my protagonists, but I keep reminding him that the main female character is up front and center, not the guy. We have fun banter when these plots are stumbling along. We met on an investigation when we were both in the federal government, so I understand the Alpha Male and the strong protagonist butting heads on how things should be done.
What’s the best—and worst—advice you received as an author? Do you have any advice for new or aspiring authors?
The best advice I ever received came from a published mystery author in New Mexico. At the request of a bookstore owner, I served as the author’s escort to a book signing one evening. She asked what I wrote, and I mentioned all my freelance work with magazines and FundsforWriters.com, my nonfiction outlets and the only thing I wrote at the time. She reworded herself and asked, “No, what do you write for you? What is your dream project?”
I mentioned Lowcountry Bribe, which was rough, unsellable, and unpublished at the time. She told me to go home and pull it back out, because if I did not pour myself into it and attempt to make it happen, I would regret neglecting my dream. She also assured me that since I wrote all the time, that my writing had probably improved. That night I opened the manuscript box where I stored that first draft, all 400 pages of it. It sucked! I threw it away, keeping an outline, and rewrote it, amazed at how much better I’d become. That’s when I learned that each and every word written is advancement toward being a better-honed professional.
The worst advice I received came from a friend and critique partner who advised me that putting children in my books would alienate readers and reduce its marketability. He said mysteries had no place for kids without running the risk of a story becoming a cozy. Having worked in investigations when employed with the federal government, and having dealt with carrying the stress of the day job home at night, I refused to edit out minors because they were inconvenient. Female law enforcement types work day in and day out on cases and still go home to baths, homework, and tucking the kids into bed at night. Sorry. I wanted families in my stories to be realistic. Procreating does not rob you of brain cells or ambition.
The advice I give new and aspiring writers is always this: write daily. Even if it’s not on the novel, face that keyboard with purpose on a regular basis. If you get out of bed to remember to brush your teeth, then why not learn to pen a few words just as religiously? Some days the writing will feel like running through mud. On other days, the words flow like water downhill. However, when you go back and reread the work several weeks later, you will not be able to tell the difference between the hard and easy days. There is no muse. And you don’t write better by thinking about it, researching, or devouring how-to books. You never get better until you make yourself write when you don’t want to and make it such a habit you cannot imagine a day without it.
Okay…enough with the business questions! How about some fun stuff? You know, just between the two of us. The opportunity to go on a surprise vacation arises. You have 90 minutes to pack and get to the airport. Where will you go and what will you pack?
Honestly, I’m a homebody. I live on the banks of Lake Murray in SC, my study facing the water. It’s a retreat in itself. And when I get away from Lake Murray, I go to Edisto.
However, using your scenario, I’d want to visit the UK for several reasons. First, I’m a fan of British mysteries. Second, the dry humor. Third, the countryside. Finally, I’m a member of an international critique group, and a strong member of that group lives in Sussex. Each summer he secludes himself for two weeks at a small B&B in the English countryside and writes, going completely offline. I joke with him that my husband and I would love to come share that time, talking law enforcement, mysteries and crime while sharing drinks and whatever it is that Brits eat. He was also in law enforcement, and he’s chatted with my husband long distance before. We laugh about how in the UK they are toy police compared to the U.S. badges since they can’t carry firearms. But dissecting each other’s stories without responsibilities, without the Internet and without interruption, except for food, drink and countryside walks, would be a pure thrill to me.
C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mysteries and the newly released Murder on Edisto, book one of The Edisto Island Mysteries. She’s published The Shy Writer and The Shy Writers Reborn, nonfiction motivational books, and is editor of FundsforWriters.com, chosen Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers for 14 years. She lives on Lake Murray in central South Carolina when she’s not strolling Edisto Beach.
To learn more about C. Hope Clark, please visit her website.