About the book:
A funeral, a ghost, a murder . . . it’s all in a day’s work for Emma Lee Raines.
Bopped on the head from a falling plastic Santa, local undertaker Emma Lee Raines is told she’s suffering from “funeral trauma.” It’s trauma all right, because the not so dearly departed keep talking to her. Take Ruthie Sue Payne--innkeeper, gossip queen, and arch-nemesis of Emma Lee’s granny-she’s adamant that she didn’t just fall down those stairs. She was pushed.
Ruthie has no idea who wanted her pushing up daisies. All she knows is that she can’t cross over until the matter is laid to eternal rest. In the land of the living, Emma Lee’s high-school crush, Sheriff Jack Henry Ross, isn’t ready to rule out foul play. Granny Raines, the widow of Ruthie’s ex-husband and co-owner of the Sleepy Hollow Inn, is the prime suspect. Now Emma Lee is stuck playing detective or risk being haunted forever.
Interview with Tonya KappesTonya, what’s the story behind the title A Ghostly Undertaking?
About five years ago I toyed with a paranormal young adult where the girl is growing up in a funeral home. Over time, the plot turned into an adult being the undertaker. At that point, I play the “what if” game. The crazier the situations, the better for me since I write humor.
Undertaker is pretty morbid, but what if one of the clients really didn’t die of natural causes like the coroner thought. What if they were murdered and can’t cross over to the other side until their killer is brought to justice? What if the undertaker is the only one who can see the ghost? How did the undertaker get the ability to see the ghost? What if the ghost gets in the way? What if the ghost is lazy? What if the ghost decides to haunt people of the town while the undertaker is trying to figure out the murder? What if the . . .and it just keeps going.
Tell us about your series. Is this book a standalone, or do readers need to read the series in order?
A Ghostly Southern Mystery series is in the mystery genre with an amateur sleuth, so reading the first book in the series first really sets up the sleuth’s background and why she is thrown into solving the mystery. Since it’s a series, the characters of the small town develop over time and different things happen to them in each book that will have repercussions for the next book. I’m sure you could read them as stand alones, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Where’s home for you?
I live in Northern Kentucky. The very tippy top from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Cool! I live just a little over an hour away in Louisville. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small central Kentucky town, Nicholasville. It was great and happened to give me a good backdrop for all of my fiction small towns in my novels.
What’s your favorite memory?
Growing up in a small town.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
You have to hustle in life to get what you want. You can’t write a story and hope for the best. Hustle.
Who would you pick to write your biography?
My husband. He knows me better than I know myself.
What dumb things did you do during your college years?
That is under lock and key!
What do you love about where you live?
I love my neighborhood. We have a few lakes that make a great backdrop for my daily walk with my dogs. We also live a street over from my kids' high school, so no more car pooling!!!!
Have you been in any natural disasters?
I have. I was in a tornado while driving. My dog was in the car with me, and it took everything I had to grab my dog and push the car door open so we could get out. I jumped out and into a truck with a stranger. I told the guy that if we were going to die, we were dying together. Yeah . . . he probably thought I was nuts.
What is the most daring thing you've done?
Be a mother.
What’s one thing that you wish you knew as a teenager that you know now?
I have four boys (21, 17, 17, and 15). When I was a teenager, a boy I was crushing on would look at me or talk to me and I’d obsess over it for days, even weeks. Now that I have boys . . . I totally understand the teenage boy mind. Now I know the boy I crushed on was just looking and just talking. Nothing more. If I only knew . . . it would have saved me a whole lot of heartache as a teenage girl.
What choices in life would you like to have a redo on?
None. I have no regrets.
What makes you nervous?
What makes you happy?
What makes you scared?
What makes you excited?
Do you have another job outside of writing?
I do not. I did. In fact I have two college bachelors. Yeah . . . not in English either!
Who are you?
I’m simple. I’m straightforward. I don’t play games, and I don’t believe in being mean. I believe there is room for everyone in the world and KINDNESS goes a long way. I don’t believe in jealousy. I believe we are on our own path and you control your destiny.
How did you meet your husband?
I love my story! I was the director of a private school and his children were in my son’s class. He became a very good friend before we dated.
What are your most cherished mementoes?
My kiddos made me a bracelet out of old scrabble tiles. I love it!
If you could only save one thing from your house, what would it be?
I hear you! What brings you sheer delight?
Coffee. Coffee. And coffee.
Would you rather be a lonely genius, or a sociable idiot?
Sociable idiot! What good is being a genius if you are lonely?
What’s one of your favorite quotes?
"Thoughts become things, choose the good ones." -Mike Dooley
If you could live anywhere in the world, where in the world would it be?
Somewhere hot and tropical! Anywhere hot and tropical!
What would you like people to say about you after you die?
What would your main character say about you?
Tonya will take a normal situation and twist it. Then twist it some more. Adding a little more twist. And a few more twists to make sure it’s all messed up.
Are any of your characters inspired by real people?
My small town of Sleepy Hollow, Kentucky is definitely a character. It is inspired from my growing up in a small town. I also can’t help but take a name or two and tweak it a bit. A lot of fun names hail from the South and are too good not to use. I can not name them . . . I might get burned at the stake and I’m not fond of fire.
I agree--Southern names are the best. Do you have a routine for writing?
I do. I get up at 5:30 am and begin. I would rather get up in the morning and get my word count. I’m big on routines, and if I get off of my routine, my day is going up in flames!
Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?
I like to write by my pool during the warm months. When it’s winter, I follow the sunspot through my windows in my house. It starts out in my kitchen, then my sitting room, finishing off in the family room. I know . . . weird! It’s kinda comical because my dogs and I fight for the sunspot.
Not weird at all. I need sunlight too. What’s the worst thing someone has said about your writing?
I don’t know. I do not read reviews.
What would your dream office look like?
A hot tropical beach!
Why did you decide to publish with HarperCollins?
I self-published first. I had a job as a child therapist and loved it. I was not a writer. When I went through a divorce with my first marriage, I found comfort in books. When I got remarried, my husband encouraged me to write my first novel. In short, I asked him if he thought I could help someone escape from his or her everyday life with my stories, he encouraged me more. My goal to publishing was that. HELP ONE READER MAKE THEIR DAY BETTER. That is still my goal today.
I self-published over 15 novels, but A Ghostly Undertaking and the rest of the series is published with HarperCollins Publisher. I’m hybrid. I believe in all roads to publishing, and I’m fortunate that HarperCollins has really embraced my self publishing side. They even have my self published titles printed in the front of my traditionally published novels.
Are you happy with your decision to publish with a publisher vs. self-publish?
I will always self-publish. I love that I have toes in both worlds of publishing. It’s a perfect situation.
How did you find HarperCollins, and how long did your query process take? A Ghostly Undertaking was originally self-published and sold well over 80,000 copies in a couple of months. It was pretty successful with readers. My agent asked me if he could shop it around to traditional publishers, which was a big step for me since I really didn’t need a traditional publisher. I had my agent for foreign rights and other contractual things. I gave him the green light on Ghostly and he sold it to HarperCollins right off the bat. In a couple weeks we had a four book deal.
I was pretty lucky. I’m very grateful for my agent. He rocks!
What does HarperCollins do for you that you couldn't do as a self-publisher?
There comes a time in self publishing where the author just can't reach as many readers as a large publisher. Bookstores are not dead, and while they are still up and running, readers are going there to buy books. If only ONE reader buys my book from a store, it was worth it. HarperCollins and traditional publishers in general have gotten a lot smarter! They are pricing ebooks comparable to the self-published books, they are starting their own advertising platforms like Bookbub, they are holding Facebook parties for their authors to connect with their readers, and hosting reader oriented events. I'm fortunate enough that I will be doing self-publishing and traditional publishing in my career. I have the best of both worlds, and it's exactly where I want to be.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new series for the traditional world and the third novel in my self published Laurel London Mystery series. I’m always working, and I love it!
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