Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Sally Carpenter

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Sally Carpenter
with Sally Carpenter

We are delighted to welcome mystery author Sally Carpenter to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of Great Escapes Book Tours, which is coordinating her current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find her schedule here.

Sally's new mystery featuring former (and fictional) television teen sleuth Sandy Fairfax is The Sinister Sitcom Caper (Cozy Cat Press; December 2013 trade paperback and ebook formats) and was inspired by the author's experience working as a tour guide/page at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood.

We recently had the chance to talk with the author about her new book and the series in general.

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Omnimystery News: What is it about series mysteries that appeals to you as an author?

Sally Carpenter
Photo provided courtesy of
Sally Carpenter

Sally Carpenter: Writing a mystery series reminds me of a watching a favorite TV series: I like the characters so much I want to revisit them again and again. I have so much fun and enjoyment with the characters I want to find new adventures and secondary characters to challenge them.

In my series the protagonist, Sandy Fairfax, will change somewhat (hopefully into a better person) but not so drastically that the series shifts off its foundation. It's a balancing act to develop the character enough to keep him from being a cardboard pawn but not enough to take away the features that made the reader love him in the first place.

Sandy will only age a year or two over the series. I don't want to deal with the issues of old age. I want him young enough for physical action. And if I age Sandy I'll also have to make his children (now 10 and 13) older. I prefer to keep them young.

OMN: How would you categorize your book?

SC: My series is cozy mystery. I have no problem with labels because it's a shorthand, quick way to identify books. Someone who prefers a thriller or gritty police procedural will know not to spend their time and money on a book they may not enjoy. Likewise, the book will appeal to those who are looking for a lighthearted, funny mystery without graphic sex, violence or profanity.

OMN: Tell us something about The Sinister Sitcom Caper that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

SC: Although there's plenty of humor in the book, some serious issues are addressed as well. Sandy's a recovering alcoholic trying to stay sober. He's estranged from his family and struggling to reconnect with his kids and his parents. Some of the other characters have their own difficulties. The "dark" sides makes the characters more humorous and not just joke machines.

OMN: Describe your writing process.

SC: For Sandy I created a timeline. From high school to his current age (38) I wrote down the major career and life events of each year. I named of all his 10 record albums and singles as well as the TV shows in which he starred and guest starred. Whew! That was work but in the end I felt that Sandy was a real person. I didn't write down his personality traits but I had them in mind. His traits are revealed in his actions and dialogue.

I made a rough outline of the story. I knew who would be killed, the murderer, means and motives. The story takes place during a standard five-day sitcom rehearsal schedule. First I wrote down what events happen and when (table read on Monday, pre-shoot on Wednesday, camera blocking on Thursday, etc) and worked the mystery around those "pegs." I had the story structure already in place on which to hang the mystery, which made the writing easier.

I only made one change in the cast of characters. Originally I had an older man as one of the sitcom actors but after a while I realized he had nothing special to add to the story. He wasn't a viable suspect and didn't provide much tension. So I deleted him and gave some of his characteristics to one of the women actors on the show. As a result she turned out quite delightful.

OMN: How do you see Sandy Fairfax? And if the series were to be adapted for television, who do you see playing the part?

SC: I'm quite specific about his appearance because he's a teen idol and his career was largely based on his looks. Sandy is 38 years old, fair skinned, six-foot-two-inches tall, a bit overweight (he loses weight in the next book), has long fingers, is clean shaven, wears his long blond hair in a ponytail and has a cowlick that hangs in his big beautiful blue eyes (dreamy!). His face has that cute, boyish look typical of '70s teen idols. He's left-handed too. He sings, plays guitar and dances. I have no idea what actor would play him. All the "real" teen idols from the era are too old for the part and modern boy singers are too "scruffy."

OMN: We know that the series was inspired by your work at Paramount Pictures. How much more of your personal or professional experience have you included in the book?

SC: The setting — a movie studio in Hollywood — was inspired by my experience working as a page at Paramount Pictures. During the day the pages gave studio tours. In the evening we ushered the audiences for the sitcom shoots. We learned about the sitcom rehearsal schedule, saw most of the buildings on the lot as well as the backlot, and saw production upfront. This type of first-hand research was too good to pass up!

Some of the incidents in the book were based on things I saw on the lot. For example, during my tenure Bob Saget was shooting Raising Dad. He would let the tour groups come into the soundstage and watch rehearsals. A couple of time I took my groups into the bleacher seats and we watched the actors rehearsing. So I put a similar event in my book. I also added a ghost to my story — Paramount is one of the most haunted studios in LA.

The character of Sandy Fairfax is a composite of the teen idols from the '60s and '70s. I read as much as I could about teen idols including the autobiographies of Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, David Cassidy, Donny Osmond and Bobby Sherman. The guys have many similarities in their temperament, lives and career path that I incorporated into Sandy. I've also seen a number of Monkees concerts and met the other fans while helped my research.

OMN: How true are you to the setting of the book?

SC: The book is set in Los Angeles, naturally, and I use a couple of "real" places. I'm not a native of LA so I'm not familiar with most of the city; I limit the "real" places that I use. The movie studio is fictitious but is based on the real studios in town which all have pretty much the same facilities (backlot, commissary, hospital, etc.). A soundstage looks the same anywhere. I try to stay true to the area because someone who lives in LA will call me on mistakes. I mention some fictitious cities in Ventura County (west of LA) that are based on real cities. A fictitious city gives me freedom to design it the way I want and also I avoid complaints from someone who thinks I'm insulting their hometown.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?

SC: The best advice I got was "finish what you start." Many aspiring authors have dozens of great ideas but don't see the projects through after the initial excitement wears off. Pick one story and finish it. You can't publish a story until it's finished.

Another piece of advice is don't get carried away by the stories of unknown writers who throw a story up on Kindle and earn bazillion dollars in a month. Most authors will not earn huge sums of money or win numerous awards or get invited to the major talk shows. By all means pursue your craft but be realistic. Keep your day job and don't let the royalties disappoint you. Write for the love of storytelling and not for the glamour.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a mystery author and thus I am also …".

SC: Logical, observant, organized, crafty, sly and see every death as a murder.

OMN: Do you use a pen name?

SC: I use my real name because I wanted people to know that I wrote the book. However, after my first book was released I discovered several other published authors who have the same name. A friend of mine started reading one of those other books, thinking it was mine. Maybe I should have used a pen name!

OMN: Tell us more about the book's cover. Were you involved at all with its design?

SC: My series character starred on his own TV show. Some TV shows have a special way of naming the episodes. On The Man Form UNCLE the episodes are "The so-and-so Affair." The Wild Wild West episodes all begin with "The Night of the so-and-so." With this in mind I end all the book titles with "caper" so people will know it's a fun mystery. It's a way to identify the series brand. The other words in the title have alliteration.

The cover was my concept. My publisher hired the designer so I didn't have any direct contact with the artwork. Initially the designer came up with a cover that didn't fit my book so I made suggestions. The TV with the broken screen was my idea. The musical notes were from the designer. I'm thinking of using musical notes on all the series book covers as a visual connection.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

SC: Loved the Trixie Beldon girl detective series. I got the first two books for Christmas and collected the rest on my own. The high school library had the Tom Swift Jr. books and I read all of those. I read some Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews of course. As a kid I wasn't into mysteries. I didn't have the patience to wade through 300 pages to find out whodunnit. I mostly read science fiction, comic books, Mad magazine, books about TV shows and movies. I see my books as Hardy Boys for grown-ups. I do more character development, but my books have that some non-stop action and attempts on the hero's life,

OMN: And what do you read now for pleasure?

SC: I don't have much time to read for pleasure. I read and review a few mysteries for friends of mine. I read mostly cozies and religious works too. When my parish closed its library I grabbed about 20 books to read.

OMN: Of the mysteries you read, do you have any favorite series characters?

SC: The Amlingmeyer brothers of the "Holmes on the Range" series by Steve Hockensmith. Such a unique and clever concept (Wild West cowboy sleuths).

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

SC: Not much time for hobbies! Years ago I earned a black belt in tae kwon do, which I plan to incorporate into a future Sandy book. I was once active in community theater but that's too time consuming. I like going to the local museums and places of interests. For real relaxation I watch old TV shows and movies — obviously that shows up in my books!

OMN: Create a Top 5 list on any subject.

SC: My top 5 favorite animated films that I can watch repeatedly:

Yellow Submarine;
Who Framed Roger Rabbit;
Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles (tie);
Looney Toons: Back in Action; and
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

Honorable mention goes to Beauty and the Beast.

OMN: What's next for you?

SC: My first book, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, went out of print; I plan to re-issue it soon on Kindle along with a special bonus Buddy Brave story. Next is the third Sandy Fairfax book, The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper for an early 2015 release. And off to Sandy number four, The Bloody Black Tie Benefit Caper. I have a SF/action adventure/romance book that I wrote ages ago but was never published. I'd love to revise and publish it but my writing time is limited.

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Sally Carpenter Book Tour

Sally Carpenter is native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, California. She has a master's degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school her plays "Star Collector" and "Common Ground" were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. "Common Ground" also earned a college creative writing award and "Star Collector" was produced in New York City. Carpenter also has a master's degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She's worked as an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She's now employed at a community newspaper.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website at SandyFairfaxAuthor.com or find her on Facebook.

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The Sinister Sitcom Caper by Sally Carpenter

The Sinister Sitcom Caper
Sally Carpenter
A Sandy Fairfax, Teen Idol Mystery

Sandy Fairfax, former teen idol and star of the '70s hit TV show Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth, is now a middle-aged recovering alcoholic who realizes that making a comeback can be murder.

He's the guest star on Off-Kelter, a corny family situation comedy, and the lowest rated TV show of the 1993 fall season. Before rehearsals barely begin one of the actors drops dead at Sandy's feet. He investigates, enlisting the aid of two of his new cast mates: a dwarf and an animal actor.

During his snooping, we meet Sandy's ex, his parents and his teenage son, all with their own "situations" going on. During rehearsals Sandy also encounters a beautiful choreographer — could this be love?

Will Sandy solve the murder before the Friday night taping of Off-Kelter or will the elusive killer cancel our hero before the final credits?

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)  BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

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