‘A Legacy of Murder:’ An interview with Connie Berry

Connie Berry’s follow-up novel to the riveting A Dream of Death is coming out this month! A Legacy of Murder hits the shelves Oct. 8. Connie took a break from writing about Kate Hamilton to discuss the latest launch with BCW’s Jim Sabin.

Connie Berry
Connie Berry

JS: Congratulations on the publication of your second novel, A Legacy of Murder. How does it feel to have your first two books published in the same year?

CB: It feels really fast—and probably will never happen again. When Crooked Lane acquired the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, I had the first book, A Dream of Death, ready to go and the second, A Legacy of Murder, well under way. I know plenty of authors who write multiple series, and I give them credit. Writing two books a year is one thing. Publicizing and promoting them is another—and way harder.

JS: You’ve taken Kate Hamilton from the Hebrides in Scotland to the east coast of England. What prompted you to choose settings so far from home?

CB: Writers are often encouraged to write what they know, and I do know Britain quite well, having gone to college in Oxford and now traveling there a couple of times a year. My paternal grandparents were Scottish, so I grew up with the Scots’ accent and food. Today the cuisine in Scotland is marvelous, but back then, Scottish food meant oats porridge for breakfast, peas porridge for lunch, and lots of well-done roasts and overcooked veg for dinner. But there’s another reason I chose the UK for my setting. When I was in graduate school, my thesis advisor encouraged me to choose a topic I really loved because I’d be spending a lot of time there. I’m a card-carrying, died-in-the-wool Anglophile. Setting books in the UK means I ‘m able to spend lots of mental time there. And then there’s in-country research, which is the best.

JS: Kate Hamilton, your main character, is rather inquisitive, as you might expect from an antiques dealer. How does that help her solve mysteries in the present day?

CB: Like me, Kate can’t abide a mystery. My kids used to call me “Sherlock Holmes” because when something didn’t make sense, I would track it down until I learned the truth. Several years ago I solved a real mystery—finding a long-lost Scottish relative (then deceased) and learning what happened to her after she vanished. Kate’s desire to solve mysteries and her ability to discern patterns and connections, helpful in the antiques trade, give her an advantage as an amateur sleuth. But amateur sleuths need more than curiosity. They need a believable motivation for sleuthing. In A Dream of Death, Kate’s motivation was to save her husband’s best childhood friend from wrongful prosecution. In A Legacy of Murder, her motivation is even more compelling.

JS: You devote a lot of time to the craft of writing, including doing outlines for your books. How does that help you when it comes time to actually sit down and write?

CB: I’m proof of the old adage: If you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there. I know many wonderful authors who call themselves “pantsers” (writing by the seat of their pants), but I write better when I know where I’m going. However, planning doesn’t rule out the unexpected. Sometimes my characters say and do things I’d never planned, and I have to adjust my outline. Usually for the better.

JS: Your first book, A Dream of Death, seems to have opened up some opportunities for you to join panels and other activities. What has changed for you since it came out?

CB: First I had to learn to be a writer. Now I’m learning how to be an author. Today, being an author is a business that includes promotion, advertising, developing an audience, travel, speaking, expenses, attending conferences. Right now I’m blogging with two online groups: Miss Demeanors and Writers Who Kill. This year I will attend four conferences—in Dallas, Boston, San Diego, and Bethesda, MD—so I’ll be flying coast-to-coast twice. At the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in early November, I’ll be participating in a panel discussion, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Amateur.” In December, I’ll be speaking at libraries in Mayfield Village, Ohio, and Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Besides writing, what I love most is talking about the world of crime fiction.

JS: So, tell us a bit about A Legacy of Murder.

CB: What could be lovelier than Christmas in England? American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton arrives in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, dreaming of log fires, steaming wassail, and Tom Mallory, the detective inspector she met during a recent murder investigation in Scotland. Kate also looks forward to spending time with her daughter, Christine, an intern at Finchley Hall, famous for the unearthing in 1818 of a treasure trove known as The Finchley Hoard. When the body of a young woman, an intern planning an exhibition of the hoard, is found floating in Blackwater Lake, Kate is naturally concerned for her daughter’s safely. But when another murder and an attack on a second intern occur, Christine becomes the prime suspect. Determined to prove her daughter’s innocence, Kate launches her own investigation. What she finds are clues pointing backward four hundred years to a missing blood-red ruby ring and an infamous legacy of murder.

JS: And how can we get a copy?

CB: A Legacy of Murder, second in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, is available in hardcover and e-book at all outlets: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-million, Indiebound, Kobo, Target, Walmart. And discerning bookshops, of course!

Thanks for the great questions, Jim. If anyone lives in central Ohio, I hope they can attend the launch party for A Legacy of Murder — Saturday, October 12, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Fortin Ironworks, 944 W. 5th Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43212. Parking in the small Fortin lot for handicapped only. Parking for others in the lot across the street, in The View on the corner of W. 5th and Holly, or on the street. Besides champagne and a real English tea, there will be book signing and a drawing for prizes. Books available through The Book Loft.

‘A Legacy of Murder’ cover

BCW member talks writing, and her newest book

Buckeye Crime Member Eileen Curley Hammond just released the fourth book in her Merry March Mystery series, Murder So Deadly. Board member Kandy Williams chatted with her recently.

KW: You’ve released four books in just over a year. How did you do it?

ECH: It’s not quite as fast as it seems. I worked on the first one for over a year, and then started on the second one. As it turned out, I was editing the first one when the second one was nearly done. Although I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way, the advantage was that I could still change something in the first book when it made the second one better. I released Murder So Sinful in August of 2018 and Murder So Festive in October last year. In hindsight, that was too close, and I hindered my ability to launch my debut book. Unfortunately, the second book takes place at Christmas, so to capture those sales I needed to publish by October.

KW: You’re an independent author. Why did you decide to pursue that path versus traditional publishing?

ECH: Everyone’s path is different. I’m slightly north of 60 and a cancer survivor. I decided I would rather spend my time writing, than going through the long process associated with traditional publishing. I’m also a bit of a control freak, so being independent suits me.

KW: Have you had any surprises along the way?

ECH: I learn something new every day. Joining Buckeye Crime Writers was one of the smarter things I’ve done. This group continues to be an important touchstone in many ways, especially for a new writer. First, the speakers at the monthly meetings are great. I’m using what I learned from Franklin County Chief Toxicologist Dan Baker in my latest book. Second, the connections you make at the meetings with other members are invaluable. I always walk away with new ideas.

One big surprise (which shouldn’t have been) is how much work an independent author does that isn’t related to writing. I had to find someone to do my covers, contract with an editor, and design the inside of the book. The good news was that Amazon has a relatively good add on to Word, which makes the inside design work more manageable. It’s not perfect and has some hiccups, but I think the result is quite professional.

Marketing is always a challenge, but traditionally published authors have some of the same issues.

KW: Are you a planner, or a pantser?

ECH: I’m a pantser. I look at planners’ outlines and plans with envy. I never have any idea what’s going to happen. I follow Stephen King’s advice. I write at least 1,000 words a day Monday through Friday. Sometimes it’s agony, other times it’s quick. Before I adopted this habit, I had trouble balancing my life. When I was writing, I felt guilty for not doing other things. If I did the wash, I felt guilty for not writing. Now I know if I complete my 1,000 words I’m done with writing for the day.

KW: Tell us a little about your book.

ECH: The main character is Meredith March. She owns a property and casualty insurance operation in the small town of Hopeful. Merry is divorced and has custody of her 17-year-old daughter. Her ex ran a financial scam that duped many of the people living in town. He was convicted and served four years in jail. Merry now has a serious boyfriend and is working on getting an annulment.

In my latest book, Merry and her friend Patty go on a stakeout. Here’s an excerpt from Murder So Deadly:

“I shouldn’t have had that extra glass of water at dinner,” Patty said. “How much longer are we going to be here?”

“Wimp. There’s a bathroom past the front desk. I’m sure if you ask nicely, they’ll let you use it.”

Patty eased open the door while I covered the car light with my purse.

I hissed, “Hurry back.”

She scurried to the door, pushed it open, and passed the two men we were supposed to be following. Patty disappeared into the motel. The two men walked to a large black Lincoln and slid in. The car purred as it passed me moving toward the exit. I stared daggers at the motel door. “C’mon Patty. Where the heck are you?”

She darted out the door, running full tilt toward the car. I pulled up next to her. “Get in.” Patty jumped into the car, and I floored it. “Didn’t you see them come out?”

“Of course. They held the door for me.”

“I’m happy they still have their manners…”

KW: You sound busy. Is there anything else going on?

ECH: I’ve become an active member of Twitter’s Writing Community. One of the fun things to do is VSS365 (Very Short Story). The moderator sends out a daily word prompt, and the challenge is to write a 280-character poem or story that includes that word. A curated book of the best writings was just released called VSS365 Anthology, and I’m proud to say that one of my stories was chosen. All proceeds from the sale of the book benefit a children’s literacy charity called The Book Bus.

KW: How do we get Murder So Deadly?

ECH: Thanks for asking. Just click on the link: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-So-Deadly-Mystery-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B07WHT5PN9/.

An interview with Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Andrew Welsh-Huggins just released the sixth book in his Andy Hayes detective series, Fatal Judgment. He kindly agreed to a quick interview with BCW’s Jim Sabin to talk about it and his next project.

Your sixth Andy Hayes book, and eighth overall, Fatal Judgment, came out in April. Does that feeling of holding your own new book in your hands ever get old?

If it does, it’s probably time to hang it up. It’s a moment of accomplishment that I treasure and would hope never to take for granted.

Andy has taken on everything from fracking to human trafficking to Islamophobia to politics. What’s the general theme in Fatal Judgment?

The plot of Fatal Judgment revolves around Andy’s search for a local judge—who happens to be his ex-lover—who sought out his help and then promptly disappeared. The ensuing mystery focuses on themes of environmental destruction and the growing prevalence of artificial intelligence and the server farms needed to power it.

Readers of your books can legitimately say they know Columbus better after reading them – I know this reader does. What inspired you to make Columbus the setting, and essentially a character, in this series?

I always wanted to base a mystery series in a real locale, but it took me a while to figure out where because my wife and I moved around a lot early in our marriage. Once we arrived in Columbus in 1998 and burned our moving boxes, and I learned to appreciate the city and all it had to offer, I knew this was the place. The opportunity to give Andy an Ohio State football background cinched the deal. And as I like to say, you can kill a lot more than time in Columbus.

Andy is a character who never quite stops paying for his past. Do you envision a day when his good deeds ultimately outweigh his past mistakes in the public eye? I think there will always be people who can’t forgive Andy for his (fictional) football-related misdeeds, just as there are people today who still can’t forgive the Buckeyes for their real-life loss to Michigan State in 1998, thus ruining their national championship dreams that year. But as Andy ages and matures, and has more adventures under his belt, I think people recognize there’s more to him than just his wayward youth.

The Andy series isn’t your only project at the moment. Can you tell us a little more about Columbus Noir? I’ve long been a fan of the Akashic Books series of noir titles—books of mystery stories set in cities across the U.S. and around the world. I was also puzzled that Ohio wasn’t represented in that collection. I successfully pitched Columbus Noir in 2017 to Akashic, and three years later, in March 2020, the resulting book will be out. It includes 14 dark but wonderfully written stories set across the city, with neighborhoods including Olde Towne East, the South End, Clintonville, German Village and the Hilltop.

Now for the details: Where/when is your next event? My next local event is June 8, when I’ll lead a nature walk at Scioto Audubon Metro Park just south of downtown. We’ll start at the Grange Audubon Center at 505 W. Whittier St. at 11 a.m. with a few stops along the way while I read from some of the environmentally themed portions of the book. We’ll follow that with a book signing back at the center. It’s the same day as the Columbus Arts Festival, so a good opportunity to come downtown and appreciate the city.

BCW board member Connie Berry discusses first novel, ‘A Dream of Death’

Book launch party for Connie Berry's 'A Dream of Death,' to be held from 2-4 p.m. April 13 at Fortin Ironworks, 944 W. 5th Ave., Columbus.

Another one of our members, board member Connie Berry, has her first book, ‘A Dream of Death,’ publishing in April! Find out more in her interview with fellow board member Kandy Williams.

KW: Ms. Connie Berry has done the near-impossible–she’s gotten a book published! Not only that, she has a contract for the sequel and has signed an agent. This is a feat that many writers aspire to, so it makes sense to begin by asking, her: Could you please share the story of your journey? How long did it take you to write your book and find an agent?

CB: I know writers who claim to have dashed off their first novel in three months. My journey took a bit longer—ten years, as a matter of fact, from the moment I first typed Chapter One until the day I signed my publishing contract with Crooked Lane Books.

My initial problem was time. Lecturing on theology by day, writing was relegated to evenings, weekends, and summers. That in itself wasn’t insurmountable. Lots of successful writers have day jobs. My biggest problem (although I didn’t recognize it at the time) was impatience — or maybe stubbornness. I just wanted to write, and worrying about peripheral stuff like story structure and pacing slowed me down. Or so I thought.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

One thing I did know: my book wasn’t ready for submission. Once I realized that writing a good book required learning the craft, I began to educate myself. Little by little I learned. Around Christmas of 2017, after many rounds of revision, I decided I’d done everything I knew how to do. The following February I attended Sleuthfest, a writers’ conference in Florida, and met my editor, Faith Black Ross, from Crooked Lane Books. She read my manuscript and offered me a two-book contract. With contract in hand, I contacted my agent, Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary, and she took me on.

Book One in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series comes out in April. Book Two will be published the following October.

KW: Now that you’ve gone through the process of writing a book–from idea to finished product–what advice would you give to writers who are still working to make the dream come true?

CB: Learn from my mistakes. Take time to learn the craft of novel writing. Writing to please yourself is a wonderful thing, but if you want to actually sell that book, you must learn what today’s publishers, agents, and readers want. Breaking the rules is okay. Not knowing the rules isn’t. Fortunately this information is readily available. Attend writers’ conferences, take online classes through Sisters in Crime and other writers’ groups. Find out what story structure is all about. Join a critique group. Find a couple of beta readers (not your spouse or your mother) who will tell you the truth. And read, read, read. Notice how authors you admire use setting, character development, point-of-view, dialogue, and description. If you need somewhere to start, I recommend Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden, and Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot by Jane K. Cleland.

KW: What can readers expect from the Kate Hamilton Mystery Series?

Well, I hope readers will find an engaging protagonist and a mystery that keeps them guessing until the end. Since Kate is an antiques dealer, antiques will play a role in each book along with a sense of history. Readers who enjoy stories set in the UK will spend time in the Scottish Hebrides and a village in rural Suffolk, England.

KW: Can you share an excerpt from A DREAM OF DEATH?

BC: I never wanted to return to Glenroth.

Three years had passed since Bill’s death, and the veneer of coping I’d laid over my grief was as thin as eggshell porcelain and every bit as breakable. It didn’t take much — the smell of the sea, hearing a snatch of a Scots accent, finding one of Bill’s distinctive doodles on a scrap of paper — and there I was, back in the land of memories and regrets.

That was the problem. On the Isle of Glenroth, memories and regrets lay as thick on the ground as yellow gorse in autumn. Still, a promise was a promise. Even one I’d never intended to keep.

“Going somewhere fun?” my mother had asked.

“Scotland. Glenroth, actually.”

 There’d been a moment of tactful silence. “Sure that’s a good idea, Kate?”

Of course I wasn’t sure. Especially at the moment. Thick curtains of fog swirled across the deck of the car ferry, swallowing the landing ahead. I was the only passenger, and I’d been instructed to set my emergency brake and remain in the driver’s seat for the duration of the twenty-minute voyage. The boat lurched, and I gripped the wheel of the hatchback I’d hired at the train station in Fort William, grateful for the metal railing dividing the deck of the small craft from the icy depths of Cuillin Sound.

With a long blast of the ship’s horn, the fog parted and the Isle of Glenroth rose before me like Brigadoon materializing in the Highland mist. Trees lined the banks, their bare limbs dark and lined with snow. An old movie in black and white. The bell sounded, and I started my engine.

“Take care, lass,” the burly ferryman called through my partially open window. “Roads ’re slick.”

My second warning. The man at the car-hire desk had made a point of telling me about the “wee airly storm” that had blown through the Inner Hebrides the previous night, surprising the islanders with a layer of wet snow.

“Could I talk ye into waitin’ till mornin’?” he’d asked in a wheedling tone. When I explained that I’d learned to drive in snowy Wisconsin, he’d shrugged. “Whit’s fur ye will no go past ye.” What will be, will be.

I closed the window, tasting the salty tang of the sea on my lips. Ahead to the north, I could just make out the rocky peaks of Skye. Behind me, although I couldn’t see them, were the islands of Rúm and Eigg. The car bumped over the ramp onto solid ground.

Twenty-two hours after leaving Cleveland’s airport, I’d arrived—by plane, train, automobile, and ferryboat — on the small Hebridean island where my husband was born. And where he died.

KW: You’ve been hard at work on book 2 in the series. How different was the experience of writing that book compared to writing the first?

CB: Writing Book Two, A Legacy of Murder, took far less time because I didn’t make the mistakes I made with Book One. I plotted out the whole book in advance, so I knew where I was going and how each scene fit into the whole. Nevertheless, my characters sometimes said or did things that surprised me. That made writing an adventure.

KW: Fun question. You’re locked in a castle for an escape room-style adventure. What authors (living or deceased) would you want on your team?

CB: Obviously I’d enlist the help of John Dickson Carr, king of the locked room mystery. If he couldn’t get me out, no one could. And I’d invite Agatha Christie with her well-known eye for details and hidden clues. I’d include James W. Hall, author of the Thorn, P.I. books, would keep us all laughing. And Michael Crichton — just because he’s nice to look at.

BCW member Dan Stout talks first novel, ‘Titanshade’

Buckeye Crime Writers member Dan Stout’s first novel, ‘Titanshade,’ is slated for release on March 12. He answered a few questions from BCW in advance of the release.

Dan Stout
Dan Stout

You recently Tweeted out a photo of you holding a stack of copies of your first book, Titanshade. When they arrived, can you even begin to describe what that moment felt like?

It was a pretty great feeling! There’s something much more concrete about the final product, even after seeing ARCs and proofs. But if I’m being honest, the real thrill is when I know that someone else has a copy and is getting ready to start reading. Because love it or hate it, they’ll be engaging with it. And once it’s in their head, it’ll stay there as an influence, no matter how subtle.

For me, that bit of cultural engagement is the real magic in any art, from literature to film to sculpture and more.

You not only wrote a detective story, you set it in a different world, where sorcerers, eight-tracks and disco are all the rage. What prompted you to create that kind of setting?

When I was a kid reading Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, I used to wonder what someplace like Middle Earth would look like when the inhabitants began to develop technology. Eventually, they’d have their own industrial revolution, and then increased urbanization. And that in turn would require a centralized infrastructure and emergency services like fire and police departments. And of course, police departments mean police investigations. Add in the fact that fantastic creatures and magic are still around, and it’s a pretty fun sandbox to play in.

Tell us about your main character, Carter. How difficult was he to conceive, and then to let grow?

Carter’s voice came to me along with the core of the story. The trickier part was understanding the many ways in which he fails to understand the world around him. He’s a very observant person, but he has major blind spots. These are pointed out by those who support his case, and exploited by those who don’t.

Once I understood both his strengths and weaknesses, I was able to see the choices he’d make in a given situation. And from there, everything kind of fell into place.

How did you come up with the concept behind Titanshade?

I was a member of a writers’ website called Liberty Hall. There, once a week, a hidden prompt would be posted. If you viewed the post, a 90 minute timer would start to count down, and you’d have that long to write a story and post it to the site. All the stories were anonymized, and everyone who took part in that week’s challenge would give feedback. What was brilliant about the system was the time limit: you didn’t have time to second guess yourself, and the time frame meant that everyone understood that most of the submissions would be preliminary sketches at best. TITANSHADE came out of one of those challenges; I got the set-up and murder scene, along with a basic arc of the plot. 

How long did it take you to write it?

It was almost exactly two years from writing the first sentence to my agent going out on submission with it. Of course, there were more edits after that, and in some ways I continue to add layers to the world and its inhabitants, so I don’t know that I’ll ever really be done writing that book!

What advice do you have for other writers who are still working to get their first books published?

Be as honest as you possibly can. Talk about the world as you know it, and tell stories about characters who behave in the most authentic way possible. (Even if that’s being authentically dishonest.)

When you’re honest about the truths you believe, and your characters have their own worldview, your stories will resonate with readers. From there, it’s just a numbers game before you have the audience you need to keep on going.

When does the book come out, and where can people buy it?

It comes out March 12th, 2019. It will be available in most book stores and libraries, and if they don’t have it, they can order you a copy! If you prefer to get your books online, it will be available at all major online vendors. The audio version releases at the same time, and will be available at all those spots, as well as on Audible. Links to all those sellers can be found on my website (DanStout.com).

Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about my book and my publishing journey!