Murder in Los Lobos by Sue McGinty

Marilyn: Sue, I've known you for a long time and we're friends through Sisters in Crime Central Coast chapter. I know you've been writing short stories and children's books. I've read your new mystery, Murder in Los Lobos, and loved it.

Sue: Thanks, Marilyn. I really treasure our friendship and all the direction, guidance and inspiration you've given me over the years. You're definitely on my short-list of heroes. As you say, I've written short stories, mostly mysteries as well as a passel of freelance articles. I've also completed a middle-grade novel set in the WWII timeframe, SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR. It's kind of a cross between Nancy Drew and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. At this writing, it's still "pre-published" as they say.

Will you please tell me what inspired you to write this story?

Sue: A combination of several things. At the risk of betraying my technical-writer background, here's a numbered list.

1) After meeting an ex-nun married to an ex-priest (they were 60 when they married) and reading SPIRAL STAIRCASE (a true story about leaving religious life), I became fascinated with what a woman's life would be like after 25 in the convent. How would she adjust to the fast pace of secular society? What about making a living, dating, sex? What if she married an ex-cop, since law enforcement comes with its own set of baggage?

2) Most of my writing "situations" are based on their real-life counterparts. As you know, my town, Los Osos, California, is infamous for its wastewater crisis, which has gone on for 35 years. One day I thought, "Someone could get murdered over this," and that started a "What if?" train of thought, the genesis for all fiction.

3) The loony-tunes family, the Mercados, were a composite of several dysfunctional families I've read about and known over the years. Family dynamics fascinate me and at some point they became very important to the story. And I had fun with the Los Lobos Coast Region Utilities District (CRUD) and all its foibles, not to be confused with my own hometown's sewer politics, you understand. Actually I went out of my way for obvious reasons to invent original CRUD characters.

Marilyn: Describe your heroine. Is she like anyone you know? You, perhaps?

Sue: Well, like the Mercados, Bella Kowalski a composite character. Outwardly feisty and no-nonsense, she struggles with an undercurrent of nameless, formless anxiety due to the murder of her sister. She also struggles with her faith, and has real doubts about the role of God in her life. I see this as a series of three. I've almost finished the second book and I'm still not sure how her crisis of faith is going to be resolved, or if it is. Mike, her husband, is a complex character and I'm not sure what happens to them as a couple either.

She's like me I guess in her love of tea. Bella and I can out-tea-drink the English and that's saying a lot. She and I have many good conversations over a "cuppa" and we help each other a lot. I never thought of this before, but I suppose she's the sister I never had. Due to her time in religious life, Bella has the strongly developed sense of justice that in the best Nancy Drew fashion, gets her into all kinds of scrapes.

Marilyn: Is Los Lobos a real place?

Sue: Sort of. It's based on Los Osos, of course, but to drive the story I added things that don't exist, like a cemetery on a hill behind the Catholic church and Connie Mercado's thrift store and wedding chapel across from Volumes of Pleasure, a real bookstore. The wedding chapel looks suspiciously like the one at Coalesce Bookstore in nearby Morro Bay.

Marilyn: The cover is absolutely gorgeous. Do you want to tell me a bit about how it came about?

Sue: You bet. The cover was done by Terre Dunivant of Gaia Graphics in San Luis Obispo. The first murder takes place in Escarpa el Dorado, which is really supposed to be Montana de Oro, a drop-dead (no pun intended) state park just outside of town. I wanted the cover to depict the murder scene and Terre took my ideas and just ran with them. The "dead" body on the rocks is my 21-year-old granddaughter. Terre took 200+ shots to get that great cover photo. It took three hours on a cold and windy February afternoon. My granddaughter got so wet and cold she changed her clothes three times. We went out for menudo afterwards to warm up.

Marilyn: What are your writing habits? Where do you write?

Sue: I pretty much write first thing in the morning before my head gets jumbled up with other garbage. If I start writing, even if it's only for an hour, I'll come back to it later. But if I start something else first, I seem to end up not writing at all. Lately, it's been harder, because there are so many details to attend to with the book coming out. I guess that's not news to you. One thing I don't do—wait for inspiration to hit. It's been my experience that it almost never hits if I don't sit down at the computer. I guess that comes from making a living as a technical writer. Due dates didn't allow time to wait for inspiration.

Marilyn: What kind of things are you doing to promote Murder in Los Lobos? I know you have a book launch planned. Will you tell about that?

Sue: Of course, my dear. We're having a "Scene of the Clue" book launch at the previously-mentioned Coalesce Bookstore and Wedding Chapel, 845 Main Street, Morro Bay, info: 805-772-2880. The date is Sunday, November 9th, from 1-4 PM. Food and drink, readings, a signing, the whole thing.

The book is going to be carried county-wide in the SLO library system and I'm giving a book talk at the Los Osos library on December 4th, at 6:30 PM. I also plan other library appearances, as many as possible. I'm making a brief speech about how the book got published at the Central Coast Writers Conference at Cuesta College September 27th. I'm passing out author postcards everywhere including the Los Osos Chamber of Commerce. I also plan to contact various civic organizations about speaking engagements. I have a huge To-Do list at this point.

Marilyn: Do you have a webpage?

Sue: Is the Pope Catholic? It's done by Karen McCullough of Karen's Web Works and it's just beautiful. There's another Sue McGinty who's an Australian anthropologist and prolific author and that makes Googling my name difficult.

Marilyn: What plans do you have for the future? Is this book the first in a series?

Sue: As I said, I see the Bella Kowalski mysteries as a series of three. The second one, which I'm plugging along on, deals with murder and exploitation among the homeless, some of whom are sheltered in the churches in our area. It's working title is MURDER AT CAYAMACA BEACH. I'm also planning a prequel about what happens to Bella when she's still in the convent and her sister is murdered. Bella is from Detroit and her parents lived the whole immigrant experience and this in turn has shaped her worldview, which I think is pretty much the same as mine.

Thanks for the opportunity to do this, Marilyn. Some surprising things just kind of popped out.


Anonymous said…
Oh, you gals are making me "homesick" for Central Calif. Sue's book sounds wonderful. Next best thing to a trip to the Central Coast. Best of luck with it, Sue.

Pat Browning

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