About the book:Rennie Harlow is having a bad year. She had a handsome husband, a good job, and a renovated condo in Chicago. Now, thanks to one "exotically beautiful" paralegal, she’s divorced, faking her way through a writing career, and living above her hypochondriac mother's garage back in Morrisville, the small town she couldn't leave fast enough at eighteen. On top of all of that, she just found Doc Hallacy, the local pharmacist, dead behind his counter. And the worst part is, he's the third body she’s stumbled across this year. Jake Bristol has lived in Morrisville his whole life. A former bad boy turned sheriff, he doesn’t believe it’s just Rennie’s luck or timing that’s the problem. He thinks she’s too nosy for her own good. The last thing he needs is her messing around with his murder investigation so that she can freelance for the Morrisville Gazette. But as they both delve deeper into Doc's death, they find that things don't add up. This isn't a robbery gone wrong or the work of a desperate junkie. Someone has a secret they're killing to keep. The only question is—who's next?
Interview with Stacey KadeHow long have you been writing, and how did you start?
I’ve been writing for publication for about seventeen years now. Now, mind you, I haven’t actually been published for that many years! :) That was just when I started with the intention of completing a book and querying for an agent.
I started writing seriously once I graduated from college. I’d taken a job as a copywriter and project manager and figured out that it was an entirely different kind of writing that I wanted to do.
Do you have another job outside of writing?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a full-time writer for the last three years or so.
How did you create the plot for this book?
Trial and error? :) I was actually working on revising another book in a totally different genre when this idea came to me and would not leave me alone. Normally, I limit myself to one book at a time so I don’t get too distracted. But I was frustrated with my attempts to revise the other book and this story was calling to me, so I gave in.
It was the first mystery I’d ever attempted writing. The first draft was only 80 pages long, and that was mainly because I let Rennie and Bristol go straight to the correct suspect. Ha! It was only after I sat down and studied the mysteries that I’d read and loved for so many years that I figured out what I was doing wrong. Which was a lot, in that initial draft.
How do you get to know your characters?
Honestly, I don’t feel like I really know them until after I’ve written a draft of the book. But I always start with writing down everything I know about them—-including the facts I know will never make it into the finished book. And even then, things change as I get a better sense for who they are during the writing process.
I also “cast” all of my characters. I find actors who represent the character in my mind, and that always helps a great deal.
When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?
Ha! Nope. New people crop up all the time and surprise me. Sometimes they’re just passing through, a secondary or tertiary character; other times, the entire plot changes around that person. I’ve learned not to ignore anyone who drops in unexpectedly. ;)
Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
I love the scene where Rennie goes inside the Parkmueller house for the first time. It’s played for humor obviously, but her surprise at finding all of that junk crammed into every inch of the house works on another level as well. Rennie believes that she knows everything that goes on in this tiny town. The fact that Mrs. Parkmueller had this secret that Rennie knew nothing about means that maybe other people have secrets as well.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
For whatever reason, there was a LOT of Bruce Springsteen on my playlist for this book ("Glory Days," "Tunnel of Love," etc.) The one song I’d pick for this book, for Rennie and Bristol in particular, is “I’m On Fire.”
Tell us one weird thing, one nice thing, and one fact about where you live.
Fact: I live in a subdivision that was abandoned by the builder during the real estate crash in 2008 or so.
Weird thing: Because of the fact above, there are empty houses, ranging from completely finished to just giant holes in the ground, all throughout our tiny neighborhood.
Nice thing: The few of us who do live here know each other pretty well. It’s like a small community inside of a much larger one!
Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when it happens?
I have kind of a controversial take on writer’s block. :) I don’t believe it exists, at least not in the way people usually think of it. Writer’s block, or being stuck, as I prefer to think of it, is a signal, a symptom rather than the disease.
It can mean a couple of different things. 1) You’ve run out of conflict or tension in your story. In other words, the main story problem may not have been solved yet, but the urgency behind solving it has gone flat. Or 2) you’re trying to make your character behave in a way that is out of character in order to suit the story.
Most of the time, it’s that last one that gets me!
To fix it, I go back to the last scene or chapter where it felt like the story was really flowing and try to find where it went off the rails and then send it in a new direction.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love story in all forms, so I’m a huge movie and television buff. If I’m not writing or reading, I’m at the theater or trying to catch up on my recorded shows.
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
England! I’d love to see all the historical sites and museums. Especially anything and everything related to Jane Austen. I love her books.
I do too! Can I go with you?! Tell us what you're working on now.
I just turned in a first draft of the final book in my young adult Project Paper Doll series. Which is both thrilling and a little sad too. When you live with characters in your head for years, it’s amazing to see them finally reach the end of their journey but there’s also a small sense of loss. They don’t need me anymore, you know?
Of course, I’m not quite finished with that book yet! Revisions are coming…
Guest post by Stacey Kade
Breaking The Rules
I cheated. I'm a cheater. I two-timed a book. More than once now, actually.
The standard wisdom, which I happen to agree with, is that a writer should focus on one book at a time. Otherwise, you end up with a bunch of started manuscripts and nothing finished. The new shiny idea calls to you, and you abandon your work-in-progress, over and over again. Because even the most enjoyable story turns into work at some point, and it becomes difficult to keep going.
I was in the middle of revising another book when Bitter Pill showed up in my brain. It was completely the opposite of the book I was supposed to be working on: contemporary, non-paranormal, and a mystery, for heaven's sake.
I tried to ignore it. I really did. I eventually jotted down notes for it (which I highly recommend, by the way, to help you remember the ideas when you need them) and attempted to set it aside.
But one night, after a long evening of revising that seemed to be going nowhere, I couldn't fall asleep. I found myself getting out of bed and grabbing my AlphaSmart. I climbed back under the covers and wrote the first chapter of Bitter Pill that night by the glow of a book light. (I didn't want to wake my husband.)
That chapter flowed out of me with a smoothness and ease that was such a relief and a delight compared to the frustration I was experiencing on my official project. I was hooked, then and there.
So, I struck myself a little deal. I'd work on my revisions and make real, definable progress earlier in the day. And if I did, I could "sneak out" at night and work on this new fledgling story. (I was also still working full-time as a copywriter during this time. I wasn't sleeping much!)
The entire first draft of Bitter Pill was written between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. with that book light illuminating the screen of my AlphaSmart and HGTV on in the background to drown out the sound of my typing (my poor husband).
And what I discovered was that the revising on my "real" project started going a lot faster and more smoothly. Was it the bribe of being able to work on a passion project at night if I did well? Sure, maybe that was some of it. But looking back on it now, I think it was more that I was putting too much pressure on myself with those revisions. I was questioning every decision, every change. I had paralyzed myself with self-doubt and the desire for perfection. Working on a fun project, one without a contract or any associated expectations, helped rebuild my confidence, helped me break free. It reminded me that writing was fun and that I just needed to let go a little.
Now I know that focusing on two projects in two different stages (drafting and revising, for example) can actually help me when I get stuck. I still have to be careful, of course, to make sure I'm staying on track for deadlines and not letting my extra-curricular project get too much attention.
But when that impulse comes to jot notes on another project, I don't ignore it. I don't even try. :) I open my notebook to a fresh page and start writing. If it becomes my fun, secret project, so be it. If not, those ideas will be there waiting for me when I'm done with my current book. Either way, it's the right (write?) thing for me to do. :)
Every book writes a little differently. Sometimes you have to make adjustments to your process. Sometimes you have to break the rules and find what works for you.
Excerpt from Bitter PillBristol rubbed his face wearily, then stared at me, his warm brown eyes too intense. “How do you get yourself into this? The first person found on the scene is usually a viable suspect for the murder. But not in this town, not with you.”
“I can’t help it, it just happens.” I tried not to sound too plaintive.
“No, Rennie, lightning strikes just happen.” He shook his head with a tight smile. “You are a walking disaster.”
Stung, I shoved the thermos lid back at him, sloshing coffee onto the leather interior, and jabbed my car keys into the ignition. “Screw you, Bristol.”
He sighed. “Rennie…”
“What?” I jerked the gearshift into reverse.
He started to say something then shook his head. “I’m going to need you to come in to make an official statement.”
“Not till this afternoon.” I lifted my chin defiantly, daring him to challenge me. “I have to get home to explain to my mother that she’ll have to wait for her prescription and then I’ve got an interview with Gloria Lottich.”
“Fine. We’ve already got your prints on file, so we can rule out anything you touched.”
His mouth tightened and he hesitated for the slightest of seconds. “We’re going to need your shirt.”
“What? Why?” I looked down at myself and saw, for the first time, a splotch of blood shaped like a tear drop on the stomach of my pale blue t-shirt.
“Crime lab will want to make sure that’s Doc’s blood and not the killer’s.”
I swallowed hard, struggling against the urge to pluck the fabric away from my skin. “So, I’m just supposed to drive home topless? This is Morrisville. There are laws about how long Christmas decorations can stay up. You’re telling me there are no ordinances about half-naked driving?” I asked, discomfort setting my tone a little too close to rude.
He walked back to his squad car, tossing out the remains of the coffee in the thermos lid on the way. He returned with a paper bag and a bright blue bundle of fabric. The fabric, a t-shirt, he handed to me, while he held onto the bag.
I put the car back into park and unfolded the t-shirt. The front had a small patch of writing over the left side in the shape of star. Morrisville Sheriff’s Office, it read. Interdepartmental Softball League. I flipped it over to look at the back. Bristol 17.
“Your softball shirt?” I asked. God help me, despite the circumstances, I loved the idea of his name on my back, his shirt against my skin. Bad, Rennie. Bad, bad.
He shrugged. “Unless you have a better idea.”
I shook my head. He stood and turned his back toward the window, blocking the view from the side of the car. That helped, but it didn’t keep anyone from looking through the windshield. I sighed. Oh, well, what little I had, they were welcome to see. Besides, Deputy Sheffey appeared to be occupied with taking notes anyway, and the first curiosity-seekers on the scene had their attention focused on the pharmacy door, now blocked off with crime tape.
I yanked the bloodied shirt off over my head, silently thanking whatever voice of caution in my brain had urged me to wear proper undergarments this morning. Much to my chagrin, bras were more wishful thinking on my part than a strict necessity. However, it would have been nice if the voice of caution had also recommended a little more time on my hair this morning—-I could feel it standing up in messy spikes, like a blonde tumbleweed on top of my head. Very attractive.
I thrust my arms through Bristol’s t-shirt. The familiar smell of him, the clean scent of his clothing, surrounded me. I tugged the rest of the shirt down into place, loving the feel of it against my skin even as I knew it was wrong. After all, Bristol’s shirt smelled good, like him, because it had been recently laundered…by his wife, Margene.
Without thinking, I bumped his arm with the back of my hand to let him know I’d completed my wardrobe change. As usual, he’d rolled his shirt sleeves up, revealing tanned and strong forearms. I jolted slightly at the warmth of his skin against mine, and my heart flipped up and twisted in my chest, like a paper cutout on a string in the breeze.
Bristol turned around and opened the paper bag. I dropped my bloodied shirt inside.
“So, how’s Margene?” I asked Bristol, as I always did when I started having trouble remembering he was married.
His face closed down, like he’d shut some internal door against me. “Fine.” He didn’t really sound surprised at the strange conversation twist I’d thrown him. “Getting ready for the Garden Show.” He closed up the top of the bag with precise, crisp folds in the paper.
“Right,” I said. Margene had been more than happy to settle into her role of Mrs. Sheriff, second only to Mrs. Mayor, Gloria Lottich. Margene and I’d also gone to school together, although she was a couple years younger than me. She’d moved to town in the seventh grade when her father took a job at the propane factory. By her junior year in high school, she’d worked her way up from trailer trash to co-captain of the varsity cheerleading team, second only to Laura Brown. Apparently, Margene’s ambition had limits. Word was, she’d caught wind of Jake’s upwardly mobile plans as soon as he’d returned to town from the Army and she’d trapped him with her reportedly magnificent thighs. Chelsea was born barely inside of wedlock, and then all Margene had to do was sit back and wait while Jake’s star kept rising.
“And Chelsea?” I asked.
“Finishing fifth grade in a couple weeks.” He frowned at me, highlighting those marvelous wrinkles near his eyes.
Time to change the subject again. “What about Max?” I asked.
“Max,” he repeated with a frown.
“Yeah. Editor of the Gazette, nosiest human being alive?” I waited for some flicker of recognition from Bristol and got a grim nod. “He’s going to want details for a story. Time of death, potential motives, the weapon…”
Bristol frowned. “I don’t want to share any of that information with the public just yet. Incidentally, I think you’re right about the cane being the murder weapon.” His eyes dropped to the phone in my lap. “I don’t want that part in the paper, got it?” He rubbed his face, the stubble on his chin making a rasping sound against his hand. “I’d rather not have anything in the paper just yet.”
I shook my head. “Max is sitting right over there.” I pointed at the Gazette office. “It’s not like he can’t see it for himself. You know him, he’ll print something. Better he get most of the facts from a reliable source.”
“You run all of it past me before anything hits the printer,” he said.
I made an exasperated sound. “We’ve been through this before. I get the lecture from you about responsible media. Then I turn around and get the freedom of the press speech from Max.” I glowered at him. “I should put the two of you in a room together and let you duke it out.”
Bristol’s mouth twitched upward in a smile. “Wouldn’t be fair.”
“Max could convince a snake to go vegetarian. I just have a gun.”
I pretended to consider his words. “True enough. I guess my money’s still safe on Max.”
“Oh, ha, ha.”
I smiled at him reluctantly. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”
About the author:
Stacey lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, Greg, and their two retired racing greyhounds, Tall Walker (Walker) and SheWearsThePants (Pansy).
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