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When Jenny McCleary leases her property to be ravaged by the annual mud bog races, the small rural town of Sabal Bay, Florida, is divided into warring camps: environmental activists versus monster truck fans. Jenny, who frequents the consignment store owned by Eve Appel and her friend Madeleine, doesn’t seem to mind when Eve and Madeleine join the protesters the day of the races.
During the race, Eve catches Jenny’s airborne head after it is tossed into the air by the wheels of a truck. Now every protester is a suspect in Jenny’s murder. What’s left of her alligator-gnawed body is found near the airboat business of Eve’s Miccosukee Indian friends, Sammy Egret and his grandfather. When more evidence turns up nearby, Grandfather is arrested.
Even without the disembodied head, Eve has her hands full. The town resents her role in the protests and is boycotting the consignment shop on wheels. She is torn between two men–GQ-handsome, devoted PI Alex and tall, dark, and exotic Sammy. Jenny’s sweet and needy teenage daughter is dating a petty criminal. Will Eve and Madeleine ever be able to move into their new digs? Not unless the town forgives them. And not if whoever decapitated Jenny gets to Eve before she and her sleuthing buddies solve the mystery.
Q: Aloha Lesley, and welcome back to Island Confidential. Can you tell us a little bit about Eve Appel?
A: The protagonist of the Eve Appel mystery series and the newest book in it, Mud Bog Murder, is Eve Appel, a woman who has spent her life in the Northeast and has now moved to rural Florida to open a consignment shop there with her best friend, Madeleine Boudreaux Wilson. These two friends couldn’t be any different in appearance. Eve is tall, willow thin with spiky blonde hair (with dark roots, her fashion statement) while Madeleine is short, round and has red curly hair. They are different in personality also. Eve is an in-your-face gal and Madeleine, although a bit physically clumsy, is polite and always knows the right thing to say. Eve may know what is socially appropriate, but she seldom feels compelled to say or do it. The two have been friends since childhood, sharing a commitment to righting wrongs and a loyalty to friends and family. Eve loves designer fashions as long as she doesn’t have to pay full price, so she’s addicted to consignment shopping, and she’s determined to bring the opportunity to dress for less to rural Florida. And, oh yes. Eve is as snoopy as can be especially when it comes to murder.
Q: How much of you is in Eve? How would you feel about her if you met her in real life?
A: There is little of me in Eve except that we both probably share the need to find answers to questions. My questions involve more mundane issues such as where did I leave my glasses while her questions are both mundane (what should I wear today?) and significant to her life and her community (who killed my friend?). In Mud Bog Murder, that means Eve not only catches the severed head of the victim, but she searches for the killer. There’s no question that if I had caught that head, I would have dropped it and run like crazy. I admire her and Madeleine for different reasons. I can certainly relate to Eve’s search for secondhand merchandise. I’m addicted to yard sales, consignment shops and bargains in general. There is nothing that Eve won’t take on when it comes to social injustice—insults to the environment, family upheavals, as well as theft and murder. Who wouldn’t want a friend with the attitude of can do, or as they say, in the South a get ‘er done approach to problems? Madeleine’s warm, friendly, ladylike exterior hides a streak of real spunkiness. Madeleine is the lady my mom raised me to be. I guess it didn’t take. But, for Madeleine, lady combined with spunk really works.
Q: Do your characters change and evolve throughout consecutive books in the series? I imagine catching a severed head (!) would be a transformational experience, no?
A: Yes, they do. I think it’s necessary for characters to face challenges and change to handle these in each book, but I think a writer must take series characters through life journeys especially if the writer decides to age the characters which is what I do. Throwing murder at a character necessitates adjustment and self-exploration especially if solving the crime means the character confronts situations she fears and people she doesn’t like. In a mystery series, writers do this again and again, so the reader has a right to see a character altered by so many encounters with death. Subplots that involve the character’s personal life and development entail the same consideration: what does love, family, friendship and the absence, presence or alteration in all these mean for the character. How is she different at the end of the series from what she was in the beginning? Eve has certainly confronted some interesting issues, and she has been changed by them. Love is one of these, and what happens to Eve’s love life in Mud Bog Murder may surprise the reader. It certainly surprised Eve.
Q: So just between you, me, and the millions of people with internet access: Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean?
A: Sure, and I did it in an early manuscript in which I also made the murderer someone I knew and disliked. It was quite cathartic, and some really bad writing on my part. I radically altered that story and it later was a book in which the story is nothing like the original version. However, I have to thank the people I disliked for helping presenting me with characters I could enhance and recreate. It sure was fun!
Q: How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?
A: The setting for Mud Bog Murder is rural Florida a place few tourists are familiar with or visit and where few Floridians live. The county I live in has more cattle than people and probably more alligators too. This is really “old Florida”, the Florida before interstates, sugar fields and runaway development. I try to stay true to the setting and what it means to its people although I do alter names of towns and streets sometimes. I want the story to not only be about murder, but I want the impact of that to be imbedded in the setting such that to move the story away from that setting would change the tone and the significance of it. Because I’m not a Florida native, neither is my protagonist. She’s an outsider, someone who can see what is happening with new eyes, but who becomes more and more a part of the community in each book.
Q: When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?
A: I’m not much of a moviegoer. My husband and I prefer watching British comedies and mysteries on Netflix. I’m not good at knowing actors, but there is the short, shapely blonde on Big Bang Theory who, with a red wig could play Madeleine. She seems to have the bubbly persona of Madeleine. As for Eve, she is physically like Angeline Jolie but with short, blond hair. Since the mystery is humorous, it’s always difficult to find comic actors who can carry the parts.
Q: What’s the worst and best advice you’ve heard or received as an author?
A: In the writing world, we’re always told to write what we know, but sometimes it’s important to understand what it is we know, and it’s not always what we have spent our lives doing. My first manuscript featured a college psychology professor. That’s what I did, so I figured I was on safe ground writing about it. I was so close to the college world that my manuscript lacked sizzle. It was boring. Once I used what I knew to create, not copy the world in the story, the manuscript improved. Writing is all about imagination and the creation and crafting of the work. Sometimes we leave that out when we tell beginning writers to write what they know. Most important is to learn your craft. You can only break the rules when you understand what they mean to your story. As for what you know, you can always learn what you don’t know. Research is important—interviews, experience, involvement in new endeavors as well as research on line and in libraries. It can open a world of writing opportunities.
About the Author
Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work.
She is the author of a number of mystery series (Microbrewing Series, Big Lake Mystery Series, Eve Appel Mystery Series and the Laura Murphy Mysteries), a standalone mystery (Angel Sleuth) and numerous short stories.
Visit her on her website: http://www.lesleyadiehl.com
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