Today Annette Dashofy is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about her latest novel in the Zoe Chambers Mystery series.
Welcome, Annette. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
AD: FAIR GAME is the eighth in the Zoe Chambers Mystery Series. Zoe is a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural southwestern Pennsylvania’s Monongahela County. Throughout the series, she stubbornly fights for her friends, both new and old, seeking justice for those whose lives she can’t save. This leads her to assist and often hinder local Chief of Police Pete Adams, with whom she’s fallen in love. In FAIR GAME, she has escaped to the county fair with her horse to work through some personal issues but finds herself bonding with a troubled teen and a grieving father. Meanwhile, back in Vance Township, Pete investigates a dead woman’s mysterious final hours. Was her homicide a tragic accident? Or something much more sinister?
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
AD: I was a 4-Her as a kid, just like Zoe, and am still friends with many of my fellow 4-Hers and former leaders, so I knew I wanted to set a story at the county fair as a treat for them. A school bus demolition derby has long been a staple of the weeklong fair. When I realized that most people had never heard of school bus demo derby, let alone seen one, I knew it had to be central to the story. Besides, a crashed bus seemed like the perfect location to find a dead body!
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
AD: The theme of what makes a family runs through all the books in my series. Although I come from a solid and boringly normal family, Zoe does not and has longed for that stability most of her life. It started as a simple character trait back in the first book, but I’ve loved exploring the different familial relationships of the different characters: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, siblings, and mostly, Zoe’s effort to create a family, even if it’s bound by heart instead of blood.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
AD: It’s hard for me to think of it as “creating” a character. I start out with a rough idea of who this person is, but they often take over as I write the story, teaching me about their lives and their motivations as I go. Of course, I have favourites. The regulars feel like old and dear friends. Harry Adams, Pete’s dad, who appears in three books of the series (but not FAIR GAME, darn it), is a reader favourite and reminds me of my own dad, so I adore him. Surprisingly though, I frequently fall in love with my villains, because of their complexity. I don’t enjoy writing bad guys with no good in them. I often make that sympathetic part of them so strong that I hate to see them go at the end. Or they’re so wickedly bad that I love to hate them.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
AD: Setting is very important to me. My series is located in a fictionalized version of where I’ve lived all my life, so research often involves simply stepping outside. I try to include a lot of touches about the season in which the current book is set, which means if a story is taking place in the spring, I make notes during that season of what tangibly stands out. The earthy aroma of approaching rain. The buzz of a weed-whacker. The ticking sound of rain turning to sleet against a window. And then I work those into the narrative. For FAIR GAME, I take my characters to the county fair, and while I spent a week there every year when I was a kid, I hadn’t paid attention back then. So last fall, I bought a weekly pass and attended almost every day, taking photos and notes of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Yes, I had to eat fair food. It’s a hard job but needs to be done!
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
AD: Beyond the location research I’ve already mentioned, I do a lot of research into law enforcement. Zoe’s a paramedic, and I used to work on an ambulance, so my knowledge of that world is fairly solid. However, having never been a cop or a coroner, I need to do research to make those characters as authentic as possible. I’ve taken citizens’ academies for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the Pennsylvania State Police. I’ve twice attended Writer’s Police Academy, an annual conference which is exactly what the title implies. Writers go through classes at a police training facility taught by the same instructors who teach real cops. I’ve also cultivated relationships with law enforcement, attorneys, and coroners who answer my questions as they arise.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
AD: I think the opening page and the closing chapter will make my long-time readers squeal in delight. I hope the pages in between please both my old and new readers as well.
Thanks for answering my questions, Annette, and good luck with your latest book in the Zoe Chambers Mystery series.
Fair Game is available at the following online retailers:
About Annette Dashofy: She is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2014 and BRIDGES BURNEDwas nominated for the 2015 Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel.