S.G. Tell us about Murder at the Book Group? How it came about?
M.K. I started with an idea for writing a mystery about a book group. I love book groups and have been in many—they have a special dynamic and the members can be fascinating to observe. I’ve known people outside of a book group who have shown very different aspects of themselves when talking about books—sometimes the aspects are good and sometimes they’re a bit, well … unsettling. These qualities of such groups provide the makings of a good mystery.
The Murder on Tour group in Murder at the Book Group is modeled after one I attended in Santa Clarita, California. This group picked books based on theme rather than specific titles; when we met each member discussed her selection—no spoilers allowed! The first year we read by setting location, the second year by the sleuth’s profession; one year we even read according to the first letter of the author’s last name.
In addition, I’m intrigued by choices and consequences and how so many of us don’t consider the full range of consequences of our decisions and actions. Sometimes the consequences create havoc in our lives and impact the lives of others as well.
Murder at the Book Group has an interesting history. It started out as Death in River City (River City is a moniker for Richmond, Virginia, referring to the James River). The original site of the murder was a book festival held at a hotel in downtown Richmond. Carlene (then named Deanna) was to be strangled in her hotel room. But an interview with a hotel manager convinced me that the hotel setting would be too complicated and this was, after all, my first mystery. So I simplified and changed the setting to Carlene’s home and renamed her Sharon. In the second version the murder takes place the morning after the book group meets. Hazel goes to Carlene’s home and finds her dead in her bathroom from cyanide-laced contact lens solution. The final version is the one you can read today. My agent picked the name Murder at the Book Group.
S.G. Hazel Rose is such a great character. How did she come to life?
M.K. I like to write and read about people who stand at a crossroads in their lives and must pick a path. In Murder at the Book Group Hazel is at loose ends, stuck in a rut. She isn’t unhappy but she isn’t fulfilled either. After four failed marriages, she’s reluctant to commit to her on-again, off-again lover. She’s making half-hearted attempts to write a romance, which is ridiculous because she has no romance in her life to draw on. She volunteers for non-profits but that’s ho-hum as well.
Hazel’s safe but unsatisfactory world is shaken when Carlene Arness dies after sipping poisoned tea at a meeting of the book group that she and Hazel founded. That galvanizes Hazel to investigate. She isn’t convinced that Carlene committed suicide despite the note found near her body. Hazel’s strong sense of justice won’t let her leave the matter alone until she runs Carlene’s killer to earth.
This is how Hazel gets out of her rut and moves forward with her life.
I love Hazel because she is caring and loves to help people, even if she doesn’t show her feelings in an effusive way. Her low key, non-threatening approach works to her advantage when she starts questioning the other members of the book group.
S.G. Can you give us a sneak peek into what is next for this series?
M.K. Hazel is asked to find out who killed a middle-aged drunken woman in the parking lot of a redneck bar.
S.G. Do you have plans for any other books besides this one? (other series)
M.K. If I write another series it will be a darker and edgier one, perhaps a hard-boiled detective series. I’m fond of that sub-genre as well.
I have a short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” published in the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology (Koehler Books, 2014). I just submitted a story to Virginia is for Mysteries II.
S.G. What book are you reading now?
M.K. The Blond Leading the Blond by Jayne Ormerod. Jayne is one of the authors featured in the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology.
S.G. What is your favorite thing about being an author?
M.K. Talking about books and writing with other authors and readers; learning how to grow as a writer.
S.G. What three things do you want your readers to know?
M.K. I wrote very bad poetry in high school as an outlet for my considerable adolescent angst;
My husband and I love to travel, especially by ship. Hazel Rose and the book group will take a cruise and, naturally, they will solve an onboard murder;
I collect Roseville pottery and Fostoria glassware
S.G. Do you have any hobbies when you are not writing?
M.K. Not hobbies per se, but lots of interests: walking, movies, cats, traveling, theatre, museums.
S.G. Who is your favorite author and why?
M.K. It’s tough to pick just one—but, if I must, I’d say John Steinbeck. His works are timeless and compelling, the original page turners. Read East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath and you’ll see why I selected this author who every writer should study.
S.G. If you could throw a dinner party and invite five authors, living or dead, who would you invite and what would be on the menu?
M.K. Fascinating question. The aforementioned John Steinbeck, of course; Joan Smith; Willa Cather; Robert Crais; Gillian Roberts. I could go on. And on.
I’d go all out with an authentic Cajun buffet: crawfish, fried catfish, jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee, potatoes, and corn. For drinks, I’d offer southern favorites like hurricanes, bloody marys, and mint juleps, along with plenty of cold beer, sweet tea and lemonade. Bananas Foster and a decadent chocolate cake would add a great finish to the feast.
Thank you for coming to visit my blog and answering these questions.
Shelley, it’s been a pleasure.
Maggie King is the author of Murder at the Book Group, published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster. She contributed the short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology. Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor.
Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive.
You can also get her book here on Amazon