[NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the authors interviewed on this blog are not Charade Media authors. We might or might not have read the books we discuss, and in no way endorse them or their contents. We'll let the readers decide for themselves which books they would like to sample based on the interviews themselves. That is, after all, what these blog interviews are all about. Introducing you to new writers you might never have heard of before.]
Charade Media is proud to introduce our inaugural blog interview. The first of many in our series featuring some of the best mystery authors around. With that being said, we're going to start out with indie cozy mystery author Sally Carpenter. One look at her website and a quick read through of her website will tell you she's quite a character in her own right with a very creative and innovate imagination. Her two main series, as you'll see for yourself as you read this interview, are dichotomous in their overall story arcs, but you quickly begin to see patterns in her tales that make her rather unique. And I believe, someone to watch out for.
Here is Sally's official bio:
Sally Carpenter is native Hoosier 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. “Star Collector” was produced in New York City and served as the inspiration for her first mystery series.
Carpenter also has a Master of Divinity and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s worked as an actress, college writing instructor, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for Paramount Pictures.
Her Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol cozy mystery series has six books, including The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel. The Psychedelic Spy cozy series has Flower Power Fatality and Hippie Haven Homicide. She has short stories in three anthologies: “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in” in Last Exit to Murder; “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” in Plan B: Omnibus and a Sandy Fairfax adventure, “The Puzzling Puppet Show Caper,” in Cozy Cat Shorts. She penned chapter three of the CCP group mystery Chasing the Codex.
Okay. So now that you know a little about Sally, let's begin. Shall we?
Hey Sally! Thanks for agreeing to be with us today. When I was researching your books, I noticed that one of your series, Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol Mysteries, has an intriguing premise with a former teen star thrust into a murder investigation while attending a Beatles convention. Tell us a little about Sandy and how he starts his life as an amateur sleuth? What are the inspirations for this character?
Sandy Fairfax (his stage name; his real name is Ernest Farmington) was top of the pop charts in the late 1970s, with ten gold records and swarms of devoted fans. From 1975 to 1979 he starred in the wildly successful TV show Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth. But after his show was cancelled and his fans grew up and moved into album rock, his popularity plummeted, along with his job opportunities and self-confidence. The first book of series, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, begins around Labor Day weekend, 1993. Sandy’s now a 38-year-old divorcee and alcoholic. His ex refuses to let him see his kids again until he sobers up and starts working again.
Eager to restart his life, he grabs the only job offered to him: a guest speaking spot at a (slightly disorganized) Beatles fan convention in Indiana. When a member of the tribute band is shot and killed, the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect. Eager to clear his name and return home, Sandy sets out to find the killer. Life imitates art as he draws on his Buddy Brave skills to find clues.
Sandy’s life parallels that of real teen idols of the 1960s-70s, who all starred in TV shows. An idol’s career is short—two to four years—followed by years of unemployment and shunning by the industry. Every idol married young and had kids. Everyone, except for Donny Osmond, divorced and drank heavily. Then when the idol hits his 30s and 40s, nostalgia kicks in. The originals fans re-visit their past, and the young generation discover the idols. The pop stars enjoy a mid-life career comeback.
The inspiration came in the mid-1990s when VH-1 ran repeats of The Monkees. I knew about The Monkees when I was a kid, but didn’t go gaga over them. This time I did. I collected records, VHS tapes, merchandise and attended concerts. I began researching teen idols in general.
In 2008 I was working at a newspaper and a press release crossed my desk about a panel discussion of mystery writers at a library. At the time I didn’t read mysteries, but something inside me said, “you need to go to this.” I went, and felt that a teen idol who had starred in a TV show about a detective would make a great sleuth. Having attended Beatles fan conventions in the past, I felt this would make a terrific and unusual setting for my character (besides the fact of “write what you know”).
Can you give us some insight into the crazy cases Sandy has had to investigate so far? Care to share what we can expect from Sandy in the future?
In The Sinister Sitcom Caper, he has a guest spot on the worst-rated TV sitcom of the season in a desperate attempt to boost ratings. While Sandy is walking across the lot with one of the actors, she collapses and dies. Sandy also takes an interest in Cinnamon Lovett, the choreographer on the show.
In The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper, Sandy reunited with his estranged sister, Celeste, who is blind, for a week of concerts on board the SS Zodiac to Nassau. (The research came from a real cruise I was on with other Monkees fans and Peter Tork). When Sandy goes backstage for a costume change mid-show, a body is slumped in his dressing room chair. A former girlfriend is also on board. She wants to rekindle the flame, while Sandy tries to heat up a relationship with Cinnamon, who’s a passenger, along with her boyfriend.
In The Quirky Quiz Show Caper, Sandy’s estranged brother, Warren, is framed for the murder of one of his college students. While trying to clear his brother’s name, Sandy convinces his family to let him be the talent in a black tie benefit dinner to save his father’s orchestra. He’s also a contestant on a rigged TV quiz show that threatens to kill Sandy’s career if he doesn’t play by the crooked rules.
The Notorious Noel Caper is my Christmas cozy. Sandy’s the emcee of The Miss North Pole pageant, one of the soft opening events for the new Santa’s Magic theme park in Southern California. During the park’s charity bowling tournament, a pinsetter drops a body onto the lane where Sandy’s bowling. Next, one of the pageant contestants drops dead during rehearsal while Sandy’s standing beside her. And when he takes his kids along on the park’s press tour, a third body is found floating in the channel of one of the dark rides. Cinnamon volunteers to pose as a pageant contestant to help Sandy track down the murderer. The book ends with Sandy proposing to Cinnamon.
The new book is The Highland Havoc Caper. This time Sandy’s teenaged son, Chip, becomes his sleuthing partner. During the annual Seaside Highland Games in SoCal (based on the real Seaside games in Ventura, California), Sandy and Chip visit an authentic Scottish castle (transported from Scotland and rebuilt on the Pacific Coast). During the tour, Chip sneaks into an off-limits cellar and finds a corpse. But when Sandy and Chip fetch help and return, the body is gone. On the second day of the games, Sandy and Chip witness a piper falling from the castle tower. Sandy takes a guest spot on a TV show he hates because it’ll give him a chance to sleuth inside the castle. Sandy and Cinnamon are now engaged, but they’re facing obstacles on their way to the altar.
The next book will be The Deadly Disco Caper, with Sandy on a TV special honoring the ‘70s. A washed-up disco diva is electrocuted on the set’s lighted dance floor. If the killer has his/her own way, Sandy won’t live long enough to get to his wedding.
Followed by The Haunted Honeymoon Caper, where the newlyweds find active poltergeists in their hotel suite. The ninth mystery will have Sandy starring in a big, lavish Vegas-style stage show (like FX).
Your other series is equally intriguing and is called The Psychedelic Spy series. Tell us a little bit about that? Do you consider it a cozy mystery or something else? Who is the main character and how did she get into the psychedelic spy business?
The series is a spy caper/cozy mystery hybrid. Spies are involved, but there’s also a murder that the amateur sleuth solves. I wanted to see if I could write something other than the Sandy books. I’m fascinated by the 1960s and the music, art, clothing, etc. It was also a tumultuous time not only with the Vietnam War but civil rights, women’s rights, the generation gap, etc. The James Bond movies had a major impact on the films and TV of the era, and I felt that spies would be a good “hook” for the series.
Noelle McNabb is an actress in a silly musical revue at the Cozy Christmas Family Fun theme park in Yuletide, Indiana. This is based on the real Santa Claus Land theme park, now called Holiday World/Splashin’ Safari, in the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, about an hour’s drive of where I grew up. For the record, Holiday World is the oldest theme park, having opened some years before Disneyland, and is still family owned and operated.
In Flower Power Fatality, Noelle dreams of leaving small town Yuletide for the bright lights of Hollywood. However, one night a stranger shows up on her doorstep with a fatal bullet wound. The man was a courier for the super-secret spy agency SIAMESE (Special Intelligence Apparatus for Midwest Enemy Surveillance and Espionage). SIAMESE enlists Noelle’s help to find the item that the courier was attempting to deliver. With her acting skills, Noelle works undercover with Destiny King, a street-wise black woman from inner-city Chicago.
Care to talk about some of her adventures?
Noelle has only one other case, Hippie Haven Homicide. The 1960s saw a rise of the influence of Eastern culture and religion, especially the Hari Khrisnas. I created my own counter-culture group, SPARK (Spiritually Pure And Radiant Kin). A small group of devotees, under the strict supervision of First Sage, arrive in Yuletide, much to the consternation of the conservative townsfolk. One of the devotees is found dead, with needle marks in her arm and a syringe nearby. The local police chief chalks it up to an overdose, but Noelle knows that the young woman didn’t use drugs. Meanwhile, SIAMSESE enlists Noelle’s cat to help catch an enemy agent called Old Scratch. This is based on a real-life CIA project from the 1960s called Acoustic Kitty, where scientists placed a microphone and transmitter in a collar so the cat could wander close to where spies where talking.
The next book, which I’ll be starting soon, is A Groovy Kind of Death. Yuletide is the setting for a Woodstock-like rock concert (minus the mud, rain and drugs). It will be the first cozy ever to feature the theremin, a musical instrument unique to the 1950s-60s.
Your website (which will be available at the bottom of this post) has very detailed biographies of your two main characters. I find it interesting that that both of them were born in Christmas Day. Furthermore, Noelle, from the Psychedelic Spy, was named precisely because of being a Christmas baby. So, the question on everyone’s mind is, what’s the story with Christmas being so integral in your mysteries?
What can I say, I’m a Christmas junkie. I love the season: the music, decorations, festivities, food. I still send out printed Christmas cards. I celebrate the religious aspects as well, and I was born in December. I needed birthdates for my characters, and figure Christmas day was as good as any, especially for anyone living in a town called Yuletide.
Who are some of your big influences? Favorite books? Favorite authors? Who has inspired your style of storytelling most? And why?
I hate to say it, but my writing idols were TV writers: Rod Serling and Richard Levinson/William Link. I envy Serling’s productivity and admire the moral lessons he presented in The Twilight Zone. Levison and Link created Columbo, my favorite TV detective, as well as other series. They wrote many Movies of the Week, some of which I have on VHS/DVD. I like the Sherlock Holmes stories; never got into Agatha Christie. I read a lot as a kid, but as an adult my main entertainment comprised movies and TV, so I have a visual, cinematic quality of writing. I like unique, spectacular settings. I don’t write long speeches, and there’s plenty of action. My characters don’t hang out in coffee houses (boring!), unless my sleuth is grilling a suspect.
I had the pleasure of meeting William Link in 2018 at a book signing for his new book of Columbo short stories. He was friendly and gracious, and impressed by my knowledge of Columbo.
If you were to write in any genre other than mystery, what would it be and why?
When I started writing, I was into science fiction, mainly because of Star Trek and other sci-fi of the 1970s. As a kid, I read a lot of SF. I wrote a YA sci-fi book that nobody wanted to publish. Now that I’m older and (slightly) wiser, I might try a SF or fantasy mystery.
Finally, if you were to give just one piece of advice to aspiring writers out there, what would it be?
Finish what you start and don’t stick it in a drawer. Let a teacher at a class or convention give you feedback. Get it polished at a writers’ group. Rewrite until it’s good. Send it to publishers. I know people who call themselves “writers,” but they write nothing but Facebook posts or blogs. You can’t publish if it isn’t on the page (or screen).
Once again Sally, thank you for being here and kicking off Charade Media's inaugural blog interview!