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Mystery and other plans with Judy Alter

judyLike many American girls, I grew up devouring Nancy Drew mysteries and always thought I wanted to write mysteries. Life had other plans however. I earned a Ph.D. in English because I loved to read—no idea of what I was going to do with it. I married, had four children, divorced, and found myself working to support a busy household of children and animals. Fortunately for me, I found a career in academic publishing so I was always involved with words and writing and books. My childhood ambition to write fiction lingered, and finally in 1984 my first novel, After Pa Was Shot, was published by a New York house.

Western American literature had been my area of specialization in graduate school, but there lingered in me a hankering to write mysteries, to recreate Nancy Drew. Because I was academically trained, I never thought I could write fiction, let alone mysteries. So I began with novels about the American West, and it was some thirty years later that I thought to myself, “If others can write mysteries, so can I.” My first attempt was a manuscript I called “The Perfect Coed.” I sent it to agents, I rewrote—nothing. In 2014 I indie published it, and I still think it’s a good book.

But I came up with two series ideas: one was modeled on a café in a small East Texas town. We had friends who had a ranch nearby, and we visited often, giving my children some of the richest memories of their childhoods. The café was The Shed in Edom. I changed the name to Blue Plate Café Mystery Series, thinking partly of café’s “blue plate specials” and partly of the Blue Willow china I had inherited from my mom. The first book, Murder at the Blue Plate Café, opens with what I think is one of the best first lines I’ve ever done: “Gram’s dead.”

The people of Wheeler (my fictional town) were ordinary, everyday people like you and me. I wanted them that way. After her grandmother died, Kate, one of twins raised by Gram, came home from Dallas to run the café. And ran into all kind of problems—including murder. A friend who lives in a small town told me I “get” small towns, which was golden praise.

Years ago a local friend told me the story of a recluse who lived in a mansion in our city. Her husband was shot and killed years earlier; she was accused but acquitted and granted the right to stay in the mansion as long as she lived. Thus the two stories—the café and the recluse—came together in Murder at Peacock Mansion. I just moved the mansion to East Texas and added the peacocks. It’s the fun part of writing mysteries that makes it such a pleasure.

Arson, a bad beating, and a recluse who claims someone is trying to kill her all collide in this third Blue Plate Café Mystery with Kate Chambers. Torn between trying to save David Clinkscales, her old boss and new lover, and curiosity about Edith Aldridge’s story of an attempt on her life, Kate has to remind herself she has a café to run. She nurses a morose David, whose spirit has been hurt as badly as his body, and tries to placate Mrs. Aldridge, who was once accused of murdering her husband but acquitted. One by one, Mrs. Aldridge’s stepchildren enter the picture. Is it coincidence that David is Edith Aldridge’s lawyer? Or that she seems to rely heavily on the private investigator David hires? First the peacocks die…and then the people. Everyone is in danger, and no one knows who to suspect.


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