Up Close: Annette Dashofy

Consequences of Bullying Explored
in New Series Installment

By Wendy Tyson

USA Today bestselling author Annette Dashofy is back with her latest Zoe Chambers mystery, UNDER THE RADAR. This time, deputy coroner Chambers and police chief/fiancé Pete Adams are investigating a friend who seems to be at the center of two suspicious deaths—a friend who was bullied by the very people who were killed.

Dashofy is a skilled storyteller, and UNDER THE RADAR, the ninth book in this series, doesn’t disappoint. The Big Thrill recently had the chance to sit down with Dashofy, who shared some insight into her new mystery.

What inspired this storyline? Did you have to do any special research to write this novel?

As is often the case with my story ideas, this one was inspired by a local news story about a case of bullying that ended tragically—for those doing the bullying. The real case brought our state’s adherence to the Castle Doctrine into the headlines. [Ed. note: Similar to stand-your-ground laws, the Castle Doctrine is a legal doctrine allowing for the use of force, possibly including deadly force, to defend oneself against an intruder when attacked in one’s home.] Originally, that was to be a bigger part of this book. I did a lot of research on the topic. But as I wrote, the plot went in a different direction. (I’ll have to write another mystery to explore all the good stuff I learned!) Still, I stayed in close touch with my local legal advisor about all the ramifications of a shooting in self defense, as well as what charges might be facing the rest of the gang who tormented this character.

Annette Dashofy

Some would call your Zoe Chambers series “cozy,” and others “cozy with an edge”—or even traditional mystery.  Indeed, UNDER THE RADAR is a suspenseful novel that tackles some difficult topics, including bullying. Without spoilers, were there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book? 

I remember being told once that a novel couldn’t be both mystery and suspense, that I had to choose one. That irked me and, if it really is a rule, I’ve chosen to break it every chance I’ve been given. In UNDER THE RADAR, I chose to take merging those two genres to a new level.

UNDER THE RADAR features paramedic and deputy coroner Zoe Chambers and police chief Pete Adams. What can you tell us about Chambers and Adams that isn’t on the back cover? What elements of their past have shaped the people they are today?

Zoe and Pete come at their careers on the front lines from different perspectives. Zoe lost her dad at a young age and had a rocky relationship with her mother. She was a “wild child” in her teens and made a lot of bad choices regarding men. Through it all, she’s been a caregiver at heart, which led her to emergency medical services and her career as a paramedic. Pete’s been through a divorce, so he had his own trust issues where relationships were concerned. But as a cop, he’s very protective of the people under his jurisdiction. These two became good friends over their desire to care for and protect the vulnerable. And years of friendship gradually taught them to grow beyond their distrust of romantic relationships. It’s been a long road to this point where they can now work together as a true team.

Dashofy (center) at the 2019 Allegheny Festival of Books in Somerset, Pa., with festival organizer Denise Weaver and author Liz Milliron.

New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline has said the following about Bridges Burned, the third book in the Zoe Chambers series: “The action starts off with a bang and never lets up. Zoe’s on the case, and she’s a heroine you’ll root for through the mystery’s twists and turns—strong and bold, but vulnerable and relatable. I adore her, and you will, too!” UNDER THE RADAR is the ninth book in the Zoe Chambers series, and yet Chambers and Adams continue to captivate readers. How do you keep your characters, their relationships, and their situations fresh across a long-running series?

I like to think it’s because I’ve kept them “real.” They both care about their friends and family, are loyal, and put others above themselves when the going gets dicey. But they’re also human with human flaws and weaknesses. Over the course of nine books, their romantic relationship has grown from “just friends,” to a stuttering start of something more, to now being engaged. I think my readers have been impatient for them to reach this point, but I didn’t want to rush it. They are both in careers that can be dangerous physically and very hazardous to a relationship. They’ve both made bad choices at times. But one thing that’s never been in question is how much they respect and like each other.

Dashofy (right) and Lisa Scottoline at Bouchercon 2018 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

What did your path to publication look like? 

Ha! Do you know that Family Circus cartoon with Little Billy’s routes from here to there looping all over the neighborhood? Yeah. Something like that. I got serious about writing fiction for publication back in 2003 or so. My first attempt, which I thought was fabulous, was shredded during a critique by those who knew much more than I about what a good story should be. I moved on and wrote two books in a different series. I had two agents for those and neither had any success placing them. I moved on to Circle of Influence, the first of the Zoe Chambers series, but had no luck querying agents for it. By now, I’d been working at this for 10 years and was feeling disheartened, to say the least. I started querying small presses that didn’t require an agent. The first one never got back to me. The second one was Henery Press. Ten days after submitting the full manuscript, they offered me a three-book contract. So I like to say it took me 10 years and 10 days to get published!

You’re a leader or an active member in a number of writers’ industry groups, including Pennwriters and Sisters in Crime. How important has community involvement been to your writing career? Would you recommend new or aspiring authors get involved in the writing community—and, if so, any tips for getting started?

My writing communities were vital to me getting published. I honestly believe it wouldn’t have happened without them. As a new writer, you don’t know what you don’t know. Plus, there are so many scams and pitfalls out there. You need the guidance and support of others in the business to help find your way.

Dashofy’s novel Cry Wolf was a finalist in the Best Contemporary category of the 2018 Malice Domestic Agatha Awards. Dashofy (seated, right) is pictured here with fellow nominees Ellen Byron, Bruce Robert Coffin, and Hank Phillippi Ryan at the Simply the Best panel, moderated by Kristopher Zgorski (standing, left) of BOLO Books.

As for getting started, every genre has writing organizations specifically for them. Mystery has Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and—of course—ITW! Check out their websites to see what they’re about and if they have chapters near you. If they don’t, you can still take part in their online communities. Pennwriters is multi-genre and isn’t limited to just Pennsylvania. We have members all across the country. Currently, we have an annual three-day conference that alternates between Lancaster and Pittsburgh, but there is also a one-day conference in Erie as well as one in Virginia. All provide outstanding workshops and networking opportunities.

What’s next for you, Annette? 

The 10th Zoe Chambers Mystery, tentatively titled Til Death, is in the pipeline, although I don’t have a release date for it yet.

 

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