Today Heather Haven is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Casting Call for a Corpse, the latest novel in the Alvarez Family Murder mystery series.
Welcome, Heather. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
Casting Call for a Corpse is Book 7 of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, but I like to think – and work at making – each book can function as a stand-a-lone. In fact, readers have often remarked they didn’t know a particular book was part of a series until they went to leave a review.
The story of Casting Call for a Corpse centers around a dead man wearing a tuxedo found in a clawfoot bathtub during a soiree for San Francisco VIPs. Home and tub belong to an internationally acclaimed actress who recently bought a famed Painted Lady on equally famous Alamo Square in San Francisco. The police believe the actress did the man in. One of her many romantic encounters, doncha know. She must be guilty. Or is she?
To the rescue is ace detective, Lee Alvarez, along with family, hubby, and Tugger the cat. Threatening letters, a sullen playwright, dead bodies, and a criminal web of jewel thieves all tread the boards of her friend’s latest musical. This is showbiz?
Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
Yes. The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries take place in California’s sparkling Bay Area, namely Silicon Valley. This fun detective series revolves around Lee Alvarez, a combination of Sue Graftonʼs Kinsey Millhone and Janet Evanovitchʼs Stephanie Plum. Completing the Alvarez Family is Leeʼs Never-Had-A-Bad-Hair-Day aristocratic mother; computer genius brother; gourmet chef and beloved uncle; and her energetic orange and white cat, Tugger. Oh, yes! And she sports a brand new husband, a former Navy SEAL. When the Alvarez clan is not solving murders, they run Discretionary Inquiries, a successful detective agency that normally deals with intellectual property and computer software thievery. With a recovery/prosecution rate of over ninety-four percent, Lee thinks the phrase We Are Smokin’ shouldbe their motto. But her blue-blooded CEO mother would never put that on a business card. These whodunits have a crackerjack mystery while exploring familial relationships — the good, the bad, and the amusing.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
The story started out as a homage to Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body? where the character of Lord Peter Wimsey is introduced. But I wanted to combine the ongoing characters from the series with a few characters from a play I penned some time ago about an actress, her loyal assistant, and an over-the-hill playwright. I added a Scottish character in honor of my heart sister, who was adopted at birth and recently found her Scottish birth family. Then I threw in my take on life backstage of a professional theater, which was a large part of my existence in my salad days. I mixed them all together and came out with an entertaining story with a few tender, loving moments and some laughs. Never forget to laugh. It will keep you sane.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
Yes, honor, family, and friends. It carries through in all my stories. Do the right thing, even when it’s not the easiest thing to do. Be proud of yourself, your heritage, and strive to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is even in the Declaration of Independence!
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
I often combine facets of people I know into a character I want to write about. A writer often has to be a psychologist. What makes a person tick? Do certain things? Are any traits in those near and dear to me what I need for one of my characters? For instance, Lee’s mother, Lila Hamilton Alvarez, is a Palo Alto blueblood. She’s based (loosely) on my boss at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, and my mother-in-law. Two strong, independent, single-minded women who are filled with courage and principles. But that can be a little hard for us poor mortals to live up to. Consequently, there is Lee Alvarez, trying to live up to the high standards of her mother. It creates a conflict, but one that can be warm, funny, and totally understandable by any woman who has admired her own mother.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
I try to paint a picture with my words. I always try to include something of the five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. That usually does it.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
I do tons of research. If one is creating a fictional world there has to be some anchor for the reader to hold onto. The characters and storyline are made up. Everything else should be based on facts, unless you’re writing SciFi or fantasy. Keep as much of it as real as you can. It’s called grounding the story. For instance, in this book a helicopter comes into play. I did enough research to make sure whatever the characters were doing with the helicopter was true to life. That’s something Thomas B. Costain would have approved of wholeheartedly. Growing up, Mr. Costain was my hero. He created characters who moved the world within the realities of their time. If you haven’t read The Silver Chalice, The Black Rose or The Tontine, you have a treat in store for you. Here was a writer who mastered research and what it could do for his central characters and stories.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
I don’t use vulgarity or racy scenes in my books. To my way of thinking, they aren’t necessary in the world I write about. Sure, the characters have their troubles and conflicts. It’s not a perfect world. But they learn, grow, work things out, and move on. They try to do the right thing. But in a very human, non-preachy way, because who needs that? Humor, love, with the occasional piece of chocolate. That’s the way to go.
Thank you for answering my questions, Heather, and good with Casting Call for a Corpse, the latest book in the Alvarez Family Murder mystery series.
The novel is available online at Amazon
About Heather Haven: Heather moved to the Bay Area and studied creative writing at Stanford University. Previously, several of her comedy acts and plays were performed in NYC. Her novels include the humorous Silicon Valley-based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Manhattan-based Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, Love Can Be Murder Novellas, Snow Lake Romantic Suspense Series and standalone mystery noir, Murder under the Big Top, based upon her mother’s stint as a performer with Ringling Brothers’ Circus. There is also her anthology, Corliss and Other Award-Winning Stories. Her favorite protagonist is in Corliss, one of the featured short stories, but don’t tell anyone!