Gayle: Thanks for having me on your blog, Jennifer! In The Calamity Café, Amy Flowers is tired of waiting tables at Lou’s Joint. Lou Lou Holman inherited the café from her father and delights in bullying her staff. So Amy doesn’t just quit—she offers to buy the place. When Lou Lou refuses to sell, Amy informs her that she’ll be opening up a café of her own.
Later that evening, Amy gets a call from Lou Lou’s son Pete. Pete says he’s talked his mother into selling the café and asks Amy to come meet with them before she changes her mind. Naturally, when Amy shows up, she’s the only person there other than Lou Lou…who is slumped over her desk dead. [Cue the dramatic music!] 🙂
Jennifer: This is the first book in your Down South Café cozy murder mystery series. Can you tell us a little about the series?
Gayle: I wanted to set the series in a fictional town in Southwest Virginia; and although Winter Garden is fictional, it’s close to some real towns—Abingdon, Bristol, Meadowview—because I wanted to give readers a bit of SWVA flavor.
The series features a number of eclectic characters, including Amy’s great-aunt who has discovered Pinterest and made such boards as People I’ve Outlived and Lord, Have Mercy. One of my wacky characters—Dilly—came about because years ago our family stopped to see a woman who had a litter of cocker spaniel puppies. While conversing with the woman, she told us she had a raccoon who came to her back porch every evening for a biscuit. She’d give him one, and he’d waddle back up into the woods. I mean, that’s the kind of stuff you can’t make up.
I also wanted to feature a few SWVA traditions in the series. For example, in the second book—Silence of the Jams—Amy makes and cans strawberry jam to serve and to sell in the café; and the third book features beekeeping. That book is tentatively titled Honey, it’s Homicide.
Gayle: I like the small town settings. I enjoy letting readers get to know the characters and watch them grow over the course of several books. Exploring relationships between characters—how two characters can be friends but still argue or how a friendship can grow into a romantic relationship—is so much fun. And I think readers enjoy that too.
Captain Moe, of the embroidery series (more on that below), was introduced in book one—The Quick and the Thread—and Marcy wasn’t sure she could trust him. He was a supporting character in several of the books, and their friendship has grown to the point where he’s almost like an uncle to her. In book ten (Better Off Thread, which will be released on December 6, 2016), he’s at the center of the murder investigation.
Jennifer: What inspired you to write the Down South Café series?
Gayle: I thought it would be cool to write a series set basically in my own hometown. There are such beautiful places in SWVA and the surrounding region to explore and introduce to readers. Plus, I enjoy going back to some of those old tried-and-true recipes. My grandmother’s meatloaf recipe is included in The Calamity Café. And there’s an oatmeal pie recipe submitted by one of my readers. Naturally, I had to make and taste-test the pie before putting it into the book, and it was delicious!
Gayle: I write the Daphne Martin cake decorating series under the name Gayle Trent. That series series features a heroine who is starting her life over after a nasty divorce. The heroine, Daphne, has returned to her hometown of Brea Ridge to open a cake baking and decorating business and is wrestling with the question of whether or not one can go home again. She enjoys spending time with her sister, nephew, and niece, but she and her mother have a complicated relationship that isn’t always pleasant. Daphne has also reconnected with her high school sweetheart and is pursuing a rekindled romance while desperately trying to put her past behind her.
The embroidery mystery series, written as Amanda Lee, features a heroine who recently moved to the Oregon coast to open an embroidery specialty shop. Marcy Singer left her home in San Francisco, along with the humiliation of being left at the altar, in order to move to Tallulah Falls and realize her dream of owning her own shop. She takes along her faithful companion, a one-year-old Irish wolfhound named Angus O’Ruff. She makes many new friends in Tallulah Falls, but she also makes a few enemies. Thankfully, her best friend Sadie and her husband Blake run the coffeehouse right down the street from Marcy’s shop, the Seven-Year Stitch; and Detective Ted Nash always has her back.
Jennifer: What are some of your favorite mystery books/authors and why?
Gayle: I’ve always enjoyed Mary Higgins Clark—she was one of the first mystery authors I read as an adult. I started with the Nancy Drew books by Caroline Keene, graduated to Victoria Holt, and then read Mary Higgins Clark. She is so adept at plotting. Actually, I think every author I enjoy reading is a master of plot: Jeffrey Deaver, Harlan Coben, Dean Koontz—although Koontz is also a master of characterization. When I read Koontz’s book Watchers and wept for the villain, I realized I was in the presence of greatness! Lol!
Jennifer: Have you always wanted to be a writer? What got you started on your writing journey?
Gayle: I had a college professor tell me I really had a knack for writing. I’d always enjoyed it, but I never realized I was any good or that someone might actually want to read what I’d written. She encouraged me to keep at it, and I did. I can’t say I didn’t question that decision over and over throughout the years. I can’t even keep track of how many manuscripts I threw away after they were rejected!
Jennifer: What’s next for you? What are you working on?
Gayle: I’m currently working on the third book in the Down South Café series, and I’m exploring the possibility of doing a movie lovers’ mystery series wherein the heroine runs a movie memorabilia shop and works for the local theater production company. I think readers who love books, movies, and plays would enjoy having all those elements come together.
MORE ABOUT GAYLE
Gayle Trent lives in Virginia with her family, which includes her own “Angus” who is not an Irish wolfhound but a Great Pyrenees who provides plenty of inspiration for the character of Mr. O’Ruff (the dog featured in the embroidery mystery series). Gayle also writes as Amanda Lee and Gayle Leeson. Please visit her online at http://www.gayletrent.com. You can also follow Gayle on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.