Critical praise for Christy!

For "Murder Hooks a Mermaid:"
"Author Christy Fifield creates the kind of characters that stay with you for a long time. Fifield’s new Haunted Souvenir Shop mystery, Murder Hooks a Mermaid has it all: a sunny, relaxed setting, captivating locals, delicious food, and—of course—murder! Delightful amateur sleuth Glory Martine is back with her wisecracking parrot and charming group of friends in this thoroughly entertaining adventure. Don’t miss it."—Julie Hyzy, National Bestselling author of the Manor House Mysteries and the White House Chef Mystery series
"A whodunit with a dose of the supernatural, "Murder Hooks a Mermaid" is a worthy successor to the series opener and showcases Fifield's talents for plotting, characterization and humor." - Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Quirky and unique, a heroine for whom you can't help but root. The story sucks you in." - The Maine Suspect
"With a lovable cast of characters, good conversations and a great setting, this well-written book is a terrific read." -- Dru's Book Musings

For "Murder Buys a T-Shirt:"
A refreshing new sleuth! - Lynne Maxwell, Mystery Scene Magazine
"A fun book that will make the dreariest of days a little brighter! Socrates' great Book Alert" - Socrates' Cozy Cafe
"An entertaining and clever Florida whodunit" - Harriet Klausner
"Hilarious! A great murder mystery with well-written characters" - Paranormal & Romantic Suspense Reviews
For the Georgiana Neverall Series:
"Christy Evans will find legions of fans with this new series" - Sheldon McArthur, Lincoln City News Guard
"Funny and entertaining -- a solid mystery filled with likable characters." - RT Book Reviews"
Cute cozy mystery debute -- wry humor -- adorable dogs" -Publisher's Weekly
"Will have you giggling out loud! Four Stars." - Kathy Fisher, The Romance Readers Connection"The Book is good! Keep them coming, Ms. Evans!" - Mystery Scene
"Evans delivers a fast-paced mystery with admirable finesse!" - Sharon Galligar Chance,
"Christy Evans has a hit on her hands" - Harriet Klausner,
"Christy Evans is aces. I'll be very suprised if Sink Trap isn't an instant hit with cozy readers!" -

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Panhandling Part 2: Christy and Steve Discuss Murder and Mayhem On the North Florida Coast

PART 2: Real Places and Imaginary Towns

STEVE: One thing our two mystery series (The Haunted Souvenir Shop, and Panorama Beach Mysteries) have in common, other than being set in the same region of north Florida, is that they're both set in fictional cities, mine in Panorama Beach itself, and the environs of fiction Pascua County, Florida, yours in the town of Keyhole Bay, just a bit further west on the coast.

There are a lot of reasons to write a fictional place, and I wonder if the reasons we did it were the same, or very different.

For my part, I'm writing about fairly recent history, and an area with a fairly small population.  I wasn't trying to write an expose or a literal history.  My initial intent was just to see all those crazy attractions, the fake volcanoes, the concrete dinosaurs, the space-age observation towers, the amusement park midways, and create a mythology of where they came from, and where they went.  But my myth kept trending back towards the truth.  Maybe a bigger, grander, more colorful version of the truth, but real things that happened in Florida and the south back in those days, some I experienced, some I only heard about later, but all, in spirit derived from some kind of truth.

There are even times when you can be more truthful in some way, because you don't have to worry about being sued by real people.  I'm careful to remind people that while sometimes the events I write about have truth to them, the people, relationships, and circumstances are completely fictional.

So, what's your reason for creating Keyhole Bay?

CHRISTY: My reasons and experience are both the same and different.  I do agree that it's nice not to worry about being sued, especially when you have dead bodies piling up!  But I had other reasons, as well.

In many of my previous books I have used real locations, especially in my two Alias novels where I had scenes in places as remote as the Blue Desert in the Sinai, a Russian apartment building, and Deadhorse, Alaska.  My gratitude for travelers who posted reports and photos on the net is extreme.  Doing that research, however, made me realize how complicated using a real setting can be.

The Haunted Gift Shop series, along with the previous Lady Plumber series, require an intimate connection with the location.  I have to know the location of each and every business, the streets and highways, the kinds of houses and neighborhoods, the population demographics - just tons of details.  Of course, every story requires at least some of that knowledge, but these stories are very localized, and the small towns where they are set are almost another character. 

In developing the fictional city of Keyhole Bay, I have control of all those elements, but I am still constrained by the limits of probability.  For instance, I can't have snow storms, but I can have hurricanes, and summer heat.

What restrictions have you discovered in creating your fictional setting?

STEVE:  Well, I think you've hit on something when you say the location is also a character.  I feel very much that way about Panorama Beach, and I think that for a smaller locale anyway, that works better when you fictionalize the place.  With a major city like New York or Chicago or Las Vegas it's fine, because nobody knows everything about them, or expects to.  There are a million untold stories there, and even a local can easily accept that the story you're telling about the city is just one of those.  But you could study a small place like Defuniak Springs or Panama City Beach and know, if not everything, then most of the major stuff about it, and I'm sure there are people with that level of knowledge.

It's also like writing a non-fiction novel about a real person.  You never really know what their most private experiences and inner thoughts are.  You can speculate.  You can go on what they're chosen to share of themselves.  But on some level you have to speculate, just start making things up, or simply have to string the facts of their life together without really being certain how or why those things happened.  But when you make up a fictional character based on a real person, for example the character Charles Foster Kane in the movie "Citizen Kane," who is clearly based on William Randolph Hearst, then the writer can know with great precision everything about them, every secret, every private thought, every hidden failing, and act on them without hesitation.  I never have to ask myself, "was the Chief of Police in Panama City Florida in 1967 a crook or a straight-shooter?  The Chief of Police in Panorama City is a corrupt bad guy, representative of other corrupt lawmen and politicians of the period, if not in that exact place and time.

But you mentioned restrictions in making my fictional setting.  I can't think of many.  In fact, it was very liberating in many ways.  Like you said, I want to know where everything in Panorama Beach is, to the extent that the reader should eventually feel like if they were there, they could get in a car and find their way around based on my descriptions.  I have a map, which continues to be refined as I advance the series, so I can keep it all straight.

If you look at a map of the Panama City/Panama City Beach area, you'll find a lot of similarities.  But for the sake of clarity, I simplified a lot of things, cleaned up coastlines, and the big change, Panama City Beach is on a spit of land that runs from the northwest diagonally to the southeast.  Just for clarity's sake, Panorama Beach in on a spit that runs east-west, with most of the major roads running the same direction, and cross streets are mostly north-south.  It saves confusion for both me and the reader.

How about Keyhole Bay.  Do you have any kind of map?  I know you've at least worked out some of the overall geography.  And it's interesting how the central body of water evolved from the inland, almost perfectly circular lake in Defuniak Springs to the keyhole shaped bay that the town is now named after.

CHRISTY:  I do have a map, although it isn't as well-developed (or attractive) as yours.  Mine is a just a pencil sketch, and you know I'm not an artist!  More important, for my stories, is to know where all the neighboring shops and things are.  A great deal of the map is devoted to laying out the main drag of Keyhole Bay, figuring out who Glory's neighbors are.  One of the other things I spent a lot of time on was the actual layout of Glory's apartment over the store.  A lot of scenes take place there, and I needed to know where everything is in her home.  The same goes for her friends' homes, and her shop.

Moving from DeFuniak Springs was an easy decision.  I still want to use DeFuniak someday as a setting for historical fiction (back to those ladies in hats!), but I also wanted a fictional town for my series, and wanted it to be reasonably close to a larger city.  I spent a lot of time looking at the map of the panhandle before I made my decision.

And while there are lots of limitations from the setting, it does allow me the freedom to create characters-some of them quite colorful-without inviting comparison to real people.

NEXT: Christy and Steve talk about the colorful characters, and where they come from.

Panorama Beach Mysteries: The Best Devil Money Can Buy
AMAZON - NOOK - SMASHWORDS (Also available through all major ebook outlets)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: A Breath Away From Dying
AMAZON - NOOK - SMASHWORDS (Also available through all major ebook outlets)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: Two Bad Days of Summer
(Print collection of both of the above, coming soon)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: The Beat of Angel's Wings
(Ebook coming soon)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Panhandling: Murder and Mayhem On the North Florida Coast

PART 1 - Southern Roots

Christy's Husband and Number 1 fan, Steve York here.  You know that Christy writes mystery, of course (thus the name of the site, duh!), but I've been writing professionally even longer than she has.  Even though my roots are in fantasy and science fiction, I've always enjoyed mystery.  Recently I've also taken to writing the stuff, with my Panorama Beach mystery series, and discovered to my surprise that I like it quite a lot.  Which brings me to today's subject...

I'd like to share with you one of those things that can only happen in a two-writer household.  Christy and I are not at all secretive about our work.  We talk about what we're doing all the time, have collaborated on several short stories and science fiction books, and even on our solo projects we often brainstorm together.  But that doesn't mean we always think about what the other person is doing in the context of what we're doing.  We just each write what we want to write, and stuff like this happens.

What this?  Well, Christy and I are now going to kind of interview each other and let you listen in...

STEVE: Seriously, I had no idea it was going on, and I can't even tell you for sure which one of us started first, but I can very distinctly remember the moment, and it was probably after I'd finished my first Panorama Beach installment and you'd finished "Murder Buys a T-Shirt," when I looked up and realized, "hey, both of us are writing mystery series set in the Florida panhandle, in fictional towns on the Gulf Coast."

In fact, if you tried to place our fictional places on a map, they'd probably only be about thirty miles apart, with Keyhole Bay being west of Panorama Beach.  Who did go first, and do you have an idea how this happened?

CHRISTY: Well, since I sold the Haunted Gift Shop series back in 2010, I think I actually started the North Florida mysteries, but it goes back a lot farther than that for both of us. I fell in love with the area the first time we went there, more than 25 years ago.

From that first time I visited North Florida I wanted to write about it.  You took me to see DeFuniak Springs, an incredibly photogenic small town which was an important part of the Chautauqua movement in Florida.  Situated on a perfectly-round lake, it is a beautiful small town, steeped in history.  I could imagine turn-of-the-century ladies in ornate hats and walking suits, being courted by gentlemen in starched collars and spats.

And you've got some deep roots in North Florida, correct?

STEVE: Well, I've always had a nostalgic connection to the place.  When I was a kid, Panama City Beach was the place to go in the summer.  It was a little bit of Disneyland, Oz, and paradise all rolled into one.  In retrospect it was all a bit tacky and cheap, but the beaches were breathtakingly beautiful, the water was warm, and I'll never forget the fun I had with my family there.

Now, I always knew there was some kind of family connection to the inland part of the Florida panhandle.  When I was young we visited a graveyard where some family was buried, extended relatives who lived back in the woods there, and an abandoned cabin where family once lived.  But none of it really sank in, and I didn't realize On a more recent visit we hit some of those places again, but the significance of it still escaped me.

It's only recently, as I've been researching the Panorama Beach Mysteries, that I've discovered how deep that connection was.  Turns out my mom's side of the family comes from Scottish settlers who arrived in the area in the 1820s.  But I've got even older roots than that.  One of the men in my line married a woman of the local Euchee (Yuchi) native tribe, who had befriended the Scots, and that area north of Panama City, along the banks of the Choctawhatchee, had been their home since well back into the 1700s.  So it's ironic that, well before figuring this out, I'd decided that my fictional Panorama Beach deputy would be from a place in the piney woods inspired by those childhood visits, and decided that he was going to have roots there going back into the 1700s.

Speaking of Florida history, you mentioned the Chautauqua circuit.  Most people probably don't know what it is.  Even being from the area, I'd never heard of it until we prowled around DeFuniak Springs together.  Care to explain?

CHRISTY: Chautauqua was an adult educational movement that started shortly after the Civil War.  They brought speakers, musicians, entertainers, and educators to rural communities across the country.  The first Chautauqua was located in New York, on the shores of Chautauqua Lake.  "Daughter" locations grew up around the country, following the pattern established in New York, and Florida was the first of those.

I was aware of the movement, though I didn't know a lot about it.  And now that you ask that question, I went searching for more information.  There's an overview of DeFuniak history at SouthernTravelNews, which includes information on the Chautauqua, and pictures of DeFuniak(such as this one of the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood).

You have to remember, this was at a time when many small, rural towns didn't have much in the way of entertainment - unless you count a saloon or pool hall - and there were no movie theaters, no radio, no television, no telephones.  The chance to hear a popular speaker (like William Jennings Bryan or "Fighting Bob" La Follette), see an opera singer, or listen to a traveling orchestra, was a real treat in these communities.

And DeFuniak was a popular tourist destination at the time.  It retains a lot of that 19th century charm.

But there are a lot of other places in North Florida.  You mentioned Panama City Beach, which shares a lot in common with your fictional Panorama Beach.  Care to elaborate?

STEVE: So Chautauqua was like the proto-internet, trying to bring information, education, culture to every part of the country?  Cool.

Anyway, there are a lot of reasons that what we're writing is similar, but there are just as many in which it is different.  One of the biggest differences is that what your Haunted Souvenir Shop mysteries are contemporary, and my Panorama Beach mysteries are historical (though I die a little inside every time I call something that happened in my lifetime "historical!").

They're currently set in 1967, which is the golden-age of my childhood, and pretty much the golden-age for Panama City Beach and that whole part of the coast.  The beaches were still beautiful and accessible, and the beach was experiencing a boom in the building of wild and colorful attractions to bring tourist families to town.  The first major roller-coaster in Florida was in PCB.  There were amazing miniature golf courses with folk-art concrete dragons, monsters, and dinosaurs, there was a Swiss sky-ride, there were two-different trains leading back to two-different old-west towns hidden back in the inland scrub-brush, there was a gigantic fake volcano that spit fire at night, and a knock-off of Seattle's Space Needle   To my memory, it was a shining age, and it was brief, probably only about ten years.

You go to Panama City Beach now, and almost all those attractions are gone, and so is the Gulf, screened off by a near-continuous wall of high-rise condos that blot out the view, and even the sun.  The other side of the beach road is shopping malls and tattoo parlors.  The family-vacation trade has largely been pushed out by a hard-drinking, hard partying, "Girls Gone Wild," spring-break culture.

So while Panorama Beach is a series of murder mystery stories, on the larger scale, it's my attempt to tell a mythological version of that transition on the Gulf Coast.  If you've ever read the work of Carl Hiaasen, he writes in the landscape of a corrupted and despoiled Florida.  I'm telling the story of how that corruption came to be.  It's fictional, but it's the essence of a lot of things that really happened, or at least, could have.  More than once already I've made something up out of whole cloth, and somebody, often my mom, will come along and say, "I've heard that's a lot closer to truth than you think."

NEXT: Christy and Steve talk about writing in real places vs. fictional towns.

Panorama Beach Mysteries: The Best Devil Money Can Buy
AMAZON - NOOK - SMASHWORDS (Also available through all major ebook outlets)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: A Breath Away From Dying
AMAZON - NOOK - SMASHWORDS (Also available through all major ebook outlets)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: Two Bad Days of Summer
(Print collection of both of the above, coming soon)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: The Beat of Angel's Wings
(Ebook coming soon)