Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Conversation with Mystery Author Elena Hartwell

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Elena Hartwell

We are delighted to welcome author Elena Hartwell 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.

Elena's second mystery in her Eddie Shoes series is Two Heads Are Deader Than One (Camel Press; March 2017 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we had a chance to catch up with her to talk more about it.

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Omnimystery News: Into which genre would your place the Eddie Shoes series?

Elena Hartwell
Photo provided courtesy of
Elena Hartwell

Elena Hartwell: The series is technically Private Eye, but the series also crosses over into other subgenres. For example, while not a true Cozy, they share some similarities. No graphic violence, no graphic sex, no profanity (or at least very little profanity). The books are humorous and can be read by teenagers, though they are intended for adult readers. My protagonist, Eddie Shoes, is a private investigator, so she’s a professional. Her sidekick, however, is her mother Chava, a card-counting poker player recently kicked out of Las Vegas, so she’s an amateur sleuth. While Chava occasionally gets Eddie into trouble, she also helps solve the crimes. I would never label the series a police procedural, but Eddie does interact with the police, and I work very hard to get my police detectives and other professionals accurate in their behavior. It’s important to me that I get the police procedures correct. And while Eddie has been known to bend the law, especially when someone’s life is at stake, she knows when she’s doing it, and does her best to keep from getting caught.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

EH: I am a very organic writer. My writing career started out in the theater, where I worked as a playwright for over twenty years. Shifting over to writing novels, I had to learn a lot about the specific craft of writing a mystery, but my process remained much the same. I start with a character. Then I mull over what’s going on in that character’s life. Then I think about who else is in their life, and how those relationships impact the characters. Then I figure out who was murdered and who killed them. Once I have a sense of those things, I start to write the first draft. I typically write the opening chapters, then the final chapter, before I go back and write the middle.

While I’m working, I rewrite the material I’ve already written, and continue to add on until I have a first full draft. At that point, I start to assess what scenes might be missing, what scenes might be out of order, and where I need to delve deeper into either plot or character. Then I start rewriting. I rewrite until I can’t find any other changes, then I send it out to a few trusted beta readers. This also gives me a break away from the material, so I can come back to it fresh. I take in their feedback, make the changes, then send it to my editor (she has already approved the first 50-100 pages, so she’s not surprised by the full manuscript). At that point, I work with my developmental editor until we’re satisfied, then it goes to the line editor for a final sweep. That might take more than one pass, but very minor rewrites at that point.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories.

EH: Research is one of my favorite parts about being a writer. I LOVE all kinds of research and I do a multi-part process for my books and plays. First, I do some basic research into the areas I know in advance I’ll be writing about where I have little/no knowledge. This may be a combination of reading non-fiction, checking on trusted sources on the Internet, and meeting with experts. For location information, I like to go to the places where the book is set. My series is set in Bellingham, Washington, not far from where I live, but Eddie Shoes also travels, so that allows me to explore other places as well.

An example of this kind of research is fighting wild land fires. The third book, Three Strikes, You’re Dead, incorporates that information, so I read some firsthand accounts, visited websites of fire departments, and met with fire fighters at the Issaquah Fire Department.

Next, I write my first draft, keeping a list of questions and marking in the text where I need to fact check. During rewrites, I do my fact checking, revisit the experts or confirm through non-fiction sources. Lastly, I make whatever changes I need to do to fit the new information. Sometimes a rewrite will bring up a new question, so this last part of the process may take more than one interview with an expert.

Researching police procedures is something I continue to do with every book. I have a police detective with the Issaquah Police Department who has been my expert through all three books. He’s invaluable. First, in helping me be accurate, but also in suggesting things I might not think of or know about. He’s very generous with his time and has a great imagination as well, so his suggestions invariably improve my books.

The most exciting experience I have had doing research was doing a couple ride-alongs with the Fire Department. I may have to do more research so I can ride in the big trucks with the sirens and lights going again.

OMN: How true are you to the settings in your books?

EH: I set my series in real places, so I have a couple rules. If a crime takes place, I fictionalize the specifics of the location. I might change a street name, or create a building that doesn’t exist. If a scene takes place where nothing criminal happens, chances are it’s located in a real place. For example, Eddie’s favorite coffee shop in Bellingham, Rustic Coffee, is real. Pure Bliss, her favorite dessert shop is also real. The places where bodies are found, however, are only based on real places. When I fictionalize the location, I stay as accurate as I can with what’s around it. So the location will be accurate in the general sense, but fictional in the specifics.

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

EH: Animals are a big part of my life. Currently, I have a dog, three cats, and two horses. They definitely find their way into my books. For example, I have a character based on one of my horses. So while he’s human, he has some behaviors that are just like my horse. His hair color and eye color are also taken from my horse. Eddie Shoes becomes a dog owner, something she’s never done before, so it’s been fun watching her learn how to live with a pet. I love the T-Shirt, “I don’t care who gets it in the movie, as long as the dog lives.” I feel very much that way.

OMN: How did you come up with the naming convention for your titles?

EH: I knew I was writing a series, so I wanted something that would be consistent from book to book. I love Sue Grafton, and started out thinking about alphabetical, but that leads towards twenty-six books in a series and I wasn’t sure I wanted that expectation, so I started thinking about numbers. That led me to thinking about taking a familiar saying and changing a word. One down, two to go felt right, so I changed it to One Dead, Two to Go. For book two, I originally went from two heads are better than one, to Two Dead are Better Than One — but my editor feared that was a little confusing, so I went to Two Heads are Deader Than One, which is a much better title. Book three is Three Strikes, You’re Dead. In addition to being in numerical order, they do relate to the story. So in One Dead, Two to Go — two other people are in danger of being killed. Book two Eddie has some added help in her investigation. And baseball plays a role in Eddie’s history with her mentor, so that’s a connection for book three. I’m working that more into the draft right now. Plus, I think they show potential readers these books are funny, not gritty.

OMN: What kinds of books do you read for pleasure?

EH: I read a lot of different genres, but primarily mysteries. Both because I love mysteries and because I want to know what other writers in my genre are up to. I love the Bosch series by Michael Connelly, and anything by Allen Eskens. I love Bosch because he continues to develop as a character over the arc of the series. He’s not static. He ages, he learns, he changes, plus Michael Connelly is a fantastic writer. Allen Eskens does interesting things, because his books are interconnected, but change protagonists. I can’t wait for his fourth book, to see what happens next. I owe the most to Sue Grafton and her protagonist Kinsey Millhone. She’s funny, feisty, and female, everything I wanted in my own protagonist. When a reviewer wrote “avid alphabet series lovers should flock” to my series, it took several days for my feet to come back to the ground.

OMN: What's next for you?

EH: I’m currently finishing up the first solid draft of Three Strikes, You’re Dead. It’s been out to my beta readers and I’m getting ready to send it to my developmental editor. I’ve also got the first chapter of book four written (I’m still solidifying the title), so I’m thinking about that as well. I’m doing as much PR as I can for the series, a lot of conferences and other book events. I’m thrilled to be doing this blog tour. I’m also the Debut Author Program Chair for the International Thriller Writers, so we’re getting ready for ThrillerFest in July, where the Debuts get to do a big breakfast event. I’m hosting all of them on my blog, so that’s a lot of interviews. Lastly, I still teach playwriting once a year at Bellevue College in Washington. Spring quarter will be busy hanging out with my students and soaking up their enthusiasm. I always learn something when I spend time with them.

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Elena Hartwell Book Tour

After twenty years in the theater, Elena Hartwell turned her dramatic skills to fiction. She lives in North Bend, Washington with her husband and their assortment of animals. Known to David Lynch fans as Twin Peaks in the real world, North Bend is the perfect place for a writer to live, especially one who kills people for a living.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Two Heads Are Deader Than One by Elena Hartwell

Two Heads Are Deader Than One by Elena Hartwell

An Eddie Shoes Mystery

Publisher: Camel Press Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

Private Investigator Eddie Shoes is enjoying a rare period of calm. She’s less lonely now that Chava, her card-counting mom from Vegas, is sharing her home. She also has a new companion, Franklin, a giant dog of curious ancestry. Hoping for a lucrative new case, Eddie instead finds herself taking on a less promising client: her best friend from her childhood in Spokane.

Dakota has turned up in Bellingham in jail, where she is being held on a weapons charge. Eddie reluctantly agrees not only to lend her friend money for bail but to also investigate who is stalking her. Soon after Dakota is freed, she disappears again, leaving Eddie to answer to the local cops, including her ex-boyfriend Chance Parker. Has Dakota been kidnapped? If not, why did she jump bail? What are Eddie’s business cards doing on the bodies of two murder victims?

The key to these mysteries lies in Dakota and Eddie’s shared history, which ended when Eddie left home after high school. As a person of interest in both murder cases, Eddie is forced to go in search of the truth, digging into the past and facing her own demons.

Two Heads Are Deader Than One by Elena Hartwell


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