Mystery Writers Key West Fest: Murder and Mayhem in Paradise!

Interview with Author Sandra Balzo

Award-winning author Sandra Balzo will appear in Key West, Florida, as a Mystery Writers Key West Fest panelist, along with nearly two dozen cohorts in crime-fiction this coming June 10-12. One Fest guest will claim a walk-on cameo appearance in Balzo’s next Maggy Thorsen coffeehouse novel, ninth in the mystery series that has just been optioned for possible development as a television series.


Q&A with Author Sandra Balzo

Q: Maggy Thorson, starring character of your (now) eight-book series, is a fictitious character. From whence did she emerge?

A: Maggy was my first protagonist, so there’s a lot of me in her. Luckily, though, she turns out to be a whole lot funnier and gutsier.  Maggy does and says what I can, literally and literarily, only imagine.

Q: A blogger who posts as “Murder by Death” wrote of your 8th Maggy Thorsen mystery, “…Ms. Balzo should win some recognition for most creative method of body discovery/disposal.” That is quite a complimentand rather frightening. Do you stay up nights thinking of creative ways to dispose of inconvenient corpses?

A: I hadn’t read that—it’s so nice! (Now you really ARE scared, aren’t you?) But since Maggy is a coffeehouse owner, it does take some . . . let’s say, resourcefulness to come up with reasons for the bodies she keeps tripping over. So, yes—sometimes I do stay awake thinking up ways to kill fictitious people. Or I read an article in the newspaper or see something on the street that sparks an idea. I make notes of it all and stuff them into a file in my desk drawer. Then when it’s time to come up with a concept for a new book, I sift through the file looking for inspiration. I have to say, though, my best ideas seem to come to me when I’m out running or swimming. The tough part is trying to remember them until I get home.

Q: Your fiancé is Jeremiah Healy, creator of the John Francis Cuddy private-investigator series and author (aka Terry Devane) of the Mairead O'Clare legal thrillers. Do you help one another with character development? Do you communicate with one another in murder-mystery lingo?

A: Jerry and I did a talk at Broward County Library that we called, “You, Me and our Imaginary Friends,” which kind of sums it up. Most normal people don’t spend their working hours making things up and bouncing around inside their fictional characters’ heads.  After a day of it, sometimes it’s hard for me to put two coherent sentences together. It’s like my words are used up.

After writing eighteen novels of his own, Jerry understands that. While we haven’t collaborated on a novel yet, we do read and edit each other’s work. Jerry’s a genius at plotting and the forensic side, while I’m good at characters and dialogue. It’s a great balance. I do wonder, though, what our neighbors think when we’re having drinks on the lanai and I ask about Jerry’s “mafia enforcer” or advice on how to break a bad guy’s neck.

 Q: According to your readers and reviewers, you have a highly developed talent for the plot-twist. They just never seem to see it coming. Do you enter your plots with a clear vision of where you are heading, or do you surprise yourself along with everyone else?

A: I have a theory that the way a writer plots is a direct result of his or her non-writing life. Jerry was a trial attorney, so he starts with the desired result—guilty or innocent verdict in court, the denouement in a mystery novel—and then back-steps from there. Essentially, he plots the book in reverse.

My background, like Maggy’s, is in public relations, so I start with the “sizzle.” I write the cover copy--what makes somebody want to read the book—before I start writing the book itself. By doing it that way, I keep front-and-center what the plot is really about—the larger themes—even as I go about assembling the nuts and bolts.

The only problem is that the cover copy never says “whodunit,” a fact that got me into real trouble in one of my early books.  I realized three quarters of the way through that my killer couldn’t have “dunit.” (Believe me, if I hadn’t made some major changes, readers would have been even more surprised.)

Q:  Maggy Thorsen is star of your Coffeehouse Mysteries. You also have another series, the Main Street Mysteries, starring journalist AnnaLise Griggs. Will the two heroines ever meet on the streets on one of their fictitious towns?

A: That’s a wonderful question. I’ve honestly considered having their paths cross in a novella or short story, but without Maggy and AnnaLise ever realizing it. I have to admit, the thought of them actually speaking to each other feels odd, like a dimensional rift in my fictional universe. Hmm…

DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Key Resort is the main venue for the Mystery Writers Key West Fest, which is produced by Key West Writers Bloc and sponsored by the Key West Citizen, Mystery Writers of America, and the Florida Keys Council of the Arts. Every fan of mystery fiction that has registered for the Fest by midnight May 10 will be eligible to win the walk-on role in Balzo’s next story of suspense.
To Contact Mystery Writers Key West Fest

Please write to: Mystery Writers Key West Fest,
926 Truman Avenue,
Key West, Florida 33040
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