Date Published: 2/16/18
Publisher: Encircle Publications
It’s November in the Berkshires, a dreary time of dwindling light when the tourists have fled along with the last gasp of fall foliage. So when a stranger shows up in the sleepy hilltown of New Nottingham and starts asking questions, the locals don’t exactly roll out the welcome wagon.
Bostonian Kathryn Stinson is on a deeply personal quest to solve a family mystery: the identity of a nameless beauty in an old photograph an ancestor brought with him to California over a century ago. But, as Kathryn quickly discovers, the hills possess a host of dark secrets – both ancient and new – that can only be revealed at the price of danger and even death.
Her suspicious neighbors on Rattlesnake Hill become openly hostile when Kathryn starts seeking answers to a more recent mystery: the murder of Diana Farley, who once occupied the house Kathryn is now renting. Was it Diana’s husband, who killed her to keep her from divorcing him, or her lover, Earl Barker, a backwoods charmer and leading member of a wild clan known for their violent tempers?
When Kathryn plunges into a passionate affair with Earl, she puts herself on a collision course with past and present. She must find out if Earl killed Diana, or risk becoming a victim herself.
What is the hardest part of writing your books?
For me, it’s taking criticism, evaluating it, and then if I decide it’s valid, acting on it. I tend to resist criticism and have been known to argue with critiquers. I try to deal with this by keeping quiet, putting my work aside for a couple days, then looking at it again in a calmer frame of mind. Sometimes, I’ll think to myself, “Well, that wasn’t so bad after all.” Other times, I’ll reject the criticism outright, if I don’t find it helpful, or it doesn’t jibe with my vision of what I want my book to be. However, if more than one person tells me the same thing, I will take it seriously, even though it may require major changes and involve “killing some of my darlings”—deleting pieces of writing that I’ve fallen in love with, but that just don’t belong in the story I’m trying to tell.
What songs are most played on your Ipod?
If I had an Ipod, which I don’t, these would be the songs I’d put on it—an eclectic mix of folk, rock, pop, country and show tunes: “Cry Me a River,” sung by Julie London ( not the Justin Timberlake version);“Crazy,” as sung by Patsy Cline; “The Sounds of Silence,” Simon and Garfunkel, “Both Sides Now,” Joni Mitchell; “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Good-bye,” Leonard Cohen; “Fire and Rain,” James Taylor; “Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No),” The Rolling Stones; “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Elvis Presley (a song that’s featured in my current novel Rattlesnake Hill); “Yesterday,” the Beatles; “You Are not Alone,” from the Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into the Woods;” “The Last Thing on My Mind,” Tom Paxton; “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” the last five by Bob Dylan. (I do a mean rendition of the latter, which never fails to crack up my twenty-something son.)
Do you have critique partners or beta readers?
I belong to a critique group that grew out of a mystery writing class I took in the mid-nineties. Another author and I are the original members, while others (there are five of us currently) have come and gone over the years. Our goal is to meet once a week, but we don’t always stick to that, depending on people’s schedules and who has pages. Members are expected to read the pages beforehand, write down comments, and arrive, prepared to discuss. I’ve found this format works better for me than reading pages aloud during the meetings and commenting afterward. I’ve also used a former editor of mine as a beta reader, and worked with an independent editor on one of my novels.
What book are you reading now?
I’m almost finished with Louise Penny’s Glass Houses. I’m a big fan of hers for a number of reasons. I find the small-town setting of Three Pines very appealing with its cast of quirky characters, from the crazy, elderly poet, Ruth Zardo, to therapist turned bookstore owner, Myrna, to messy but talented artist, Clara, and finally to bistro and innkeepers, Gabri and Olivier, and the delicious meals they serve. And Armand Gamache makes a big-hearted, strong, and very human chief of police. I also like it that Penny’s books are usually about much more than just solving a particular mystery.
How did you start your writing career?
I got my start in non-fiction, writing in-depth profiles of colleges for an educational publisher. From there I moved on to writing books about American history and biographies for both the school and trade markets. One of my books, Loving Warriors, a biography in letters of the nineteenth feminist and abolitionist, Lucy Stone, and her husband, Henry Browne Blackwell, won the English-Speaking Union’s Ambassador of Honor Award as “an outstanding interpreter of American life and culture.”
But I’d always wanted to write fiction, and finally found my niche as the author of mysteries set in the present day but that manage to weave in a lot of history. I’ve published three books in my Living History Mystery series, and with my current novel, Rattlesnake Hill, I’m launching a new series of Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries.
Tell us about your next release.
My next release, tentatively titled, Shuntoll Road, picks up the story of Rattlesnake Hill’s main character, Kathryn Stinson, as she and Earl Barker, the love interest in the book, try to rebuild their damaged relationship. It’s June, a beautiful month in the Berkshires and she and Earl look forward to spending some relaxed, quality time together. But the sale of the house on Rattlesnake Hill that Kathryn has been renting to an unsavory real estate developer from New York not only puts the kibosh on those plans but creates conflict between the couple. For excavator Earl, the proposed development means much-needed work, while for Kathryn it means the destruction of land she’s come to love and wants to protect.
About the Author
An award-winning author of books about American history and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written three Miranda Lewis “living history” mysteries: Murder at Plimoth Plantation, Murder at Gettysburg, and Murder at Spouters Point. Her mystery short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies including Day of the Dark, Stories of Eclipse, and the Best New England Crime Stories series, published by Level Best Books, where she was a co-editor/publisher for six years. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, she is Speakers Bureau Coordinator for the New England Chapter of SinC. Leslie divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Berkshires, where she does much of her writing in a house overlooking a pond.
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