The first in the Southern Beauty Shop mystery series, Tressed to Kill introduces readers to the women of Violetta’s Salon in fictional St. Elizabeth, Georgia. Violetta Terhune operates the salon out of the front of her Victorian home and her daughter Grace has returned home after a nasty divorce to work with her. Violetta’s best friend Althea is their aesthetician (the book contains some of the organic skin care recipes Althea uses), and the manicurist is forty-year-old Stella Michaelson. The Goth shampoo girl, Rachel Whitley, adds a younger element. I think of the series as “Steel Magnolias with dead bodies,” because, of course, a client gets murdered and Grace and her mom must track down the killer before the police throw Violetta in jail.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was born in Georgia and have lived in Alabama, Mississippi, and Virginia, so the Deep South was a natural setting for my series. I’ve never worked in a beauty shop, but I frequent salons and like to tell my stylist: “Surprise me.” I currently live west of the Mississippi with my husband, two daughters and dog, and I miss Southern cooking and friendliness, but not the humidity.
I have written all my life—I wrote my first book, a romance, in college—but I only got serious about doing it full time five years ago. It took two years to get an agent and another two to land a publishing deal, but now my writing career is taking off and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
Like many authors, I started writing as a child, making up stories and filling notebooks. Most of my stories involved horses, since I was horse-crazy. Now, most of my stories involve murders. Hmm . . . is that a sign of growth or psychosis? I’m attracted to mysteries because I like plotting and I like the sense of order inherent in mysteries, where a sleuth can make sense of the clues or a cop can analyze the evidence, track down the evil doer, and let the justice system have its way.
How do you do research for your books?
I know some people live for research, but I’m not one of them! I learned that a certain amount of research is mandatory, however, as a kid. I can remember writing a story as an eight- or nine-year-old in which my heroine was a Viking princess. I knew nothing about Vikings (or princesses, for that matter) and was crushed when the first critique I got was: “Vikings are blond; she can’t have long, black hair.” This was a real bummer because I’d already done my illustrations, all of them featuring a beautiful girl with flowing black locks.
I do only a sketchy amount of research before writing—say, interview someone in the field or spend a couple of days in the area if I’m not familiar with it—and then I draft the novel, putting questions in brackets so I know what I need to research when I’ve finished with the storyline. For Tressed to Kill, I spent a long weekend on the Georgia coast, talking with people, taking photos, and reacquainting myself with that part of the South. After drafting the novel, I had to do some research on plantation life, the Civil War, salon techniques, and the like.
What are you reading now?
I’m an eclectic reader. I just finished Pat Conroy’s (another Southern writer) South of Broad and found it genuinely moving. I’m currently reading Rhys Bowen’s Royal Flush and have a Tami Hoag thriller and Elizabeth Berg’s Home Safe in the queue on my bedside table.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I have completed three books in the Southern Beauty Parlor mystery series (Polished Off will be out Feb 2011 and A Deadly Shade in late 2011) and I’m currently working on the fourth in the adventures of Grace and Violetta and the women of Violetta’s Salon. I can tell you there’ll be more romance for Grace (and maybe a proposal for Violetta) and a murder involving treasure hunters and the sunken Spanish galleon the Santa Elisabeta. I don’t have a title yet, so if readers want to suggest one, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Persevere. Keep at it. Never, ever quit. “Keep at it” doesn’t mean keep doing the wrong things over and over; it means continue to learn the craft—take classes, join a critique group, attend a writing conference. When you get rejections from agents (and you will get dozens of them), learn from them if they offer any critique, revise your manuscript, and send it out again. And again. And again. I wrote for almost five years full time before I got a book contract and within the year I had multiple books contracts for a couple of different series.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Find the book on Amazon or at your local bookstore.