Murder at Cuyamaca

Murder at Cuyamaca
by Sue McGinty

Bella Kowalski, former nun, now dirt-digging obituary editor, gets an urgent call from Magda Sereno regarding her sister's murder. Magda suspects Loreli's former fiancĂ©, a maverick rancher who takes in the homeless on an ad hoc basis. Then Magda, a surfer, is brutally murdered on New Year’s Day at Cuyamaca Beach's annual Polar Bear dip.

This second book in the Bella Kowalski series leads readers through the dark underbelly of California's scenic Central Coast, where the homeless gather under bridges while the wealthy slumber beneath satin sheets, and where a crowded, sunny beach offers no guarantee of safety.

About Sue McGinty:

With little more than a dream, a few story ideas and a cat who’d never ridden in a car before, Sue McGinty left behind the corporate world of Los Angeles and escaped two hundred miles north to the Central Coast hamlet of Los Osos. Not the Cabot Cove of “Murder She Wrote,” but close.

Before the boxes were unpacked, Sue, also an inveterate Nancy Drew fan, began writing mysteries and biking around town in the best Jessica Fletcher tradition. Her award winning short fiction has been featured in three Central Coast Mystery Writer anthologies and she has served as both president and treasurer of the local chapter of Sisters in Crime. She also heads up the Lillian Dean Writing Competition held in conjunction with the annual Central Coast Writer’s Conference.

“Murder in Los Lobos”
(2008) introduces readers to former Detroit nun, Bella Kowalski, an obituary writer with a nose for murder. “Murder at Cuyamaca Beach” (2010) continues the saga of Bella, her ex-cop husband Mike, and Sam, their senior citizen Golden Lab. Sue's website

Interview of Sue:

Marilyn: Where did the idea for this book come from?

Sue: This book is about murder and exploitation among the homeless and addicted. The idea came to me one night when I was staying with the homeless at Grace Church, where my son and daughter-in-law are members. San Luis Obispo County churches have a wonderful program where churches take keeping any overflow from the Main Shelter, women with and without children, and intact families, in their facilities, usually gyms or rec. rooms. Since then, I’ve done several stints at different churches and I find it an amazingly rich experience.

Marilyn: Like me, you change the names of the settings though it is actually based on a real place. Tell me why you do it? And where is Cuyamaca Beach?

Sue: I change the names mostly for the fun of making up names, but also to add locations that aren’t necessarily there but suit the story, such as the graveyard on the hill in Los Lobos (aka Osos) and the ranch that takes in homeless people on an ad hoc basis (driving local officials crazy) south of Cuyamaca (aka Cayucos) Beach.

Marilyn: I know there’s a story about the covers of both your books, will you share with my readers?

Sue: The covers have grown into something of a family affair. My granddaughter Katie, then a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student, now a teacher in Bakersfield, posed for the cover of “Murder in Los Lobos” on a cold windy February day at Escarpa el Dorado (Montana de Oro). My job was to rescue her if a big wave knocked her off the rock, a job that would have been neigh impossible now that I think about it. The photo shoot took three hours and Katie, the photographer and I were frozen stiff by the time we finished. Katie had to change her clothes three times because she kept getting soaked.

My son Pat and daughter-in-law Diane, the same ones who attend Grace Church, posed for the cover of “Murder at Cuyamaca Beach.” Once again it was a cold, and this time, gray, day, and the waves disappeared before photographer Lynda Roeller arrived. Pat, an ardent surfer, was upset because there were no waves in the picture, and Diane, a lovely girl when she’s not soaking wet, thought her image was unflattering. I assured her, “Diane, it doesn’t matter. You’re dead.”

Marilyn: Sue lives in my favorite part of California. Tell us a bit about your home and what brought you to the area.

Sue: The Central Coast which comprises the area north of Santa Barbara to the Monterey Peninsula is not utopia, but close enough, an area known for windswept beaches, Monterey pines, towering oceanside cliffs and San Francisco fog, even tho’ it’s only halfway between Los Angeles and “The City”, as residents are fond of calling it. You have to love soupy weather to live here and I do—a great reading, writing and tea-making climate.

The cool weather brought me to the Central Coast when I’d had enough of the heat of Southern California, also the corporate environment where I worked for a couple of years after McGraw-Hill closed their LA office. Again Diane, (she and Pat weren’t married at the time), lived in funky little Los Osos, and I just fell in love with the place. I sold my house and a lot of stuff, packed up the rest and my cat, who’d never been in a car before, and moved up here the same day in 1994 that OJ made his famous escape through LA. I wondered at the time why traffic was so backed up, but had to keep a Mozart tape playing so the cat wouldn’t be upset, so I never turned on the radio.

Marilyn: We often do the same events, partly because I’ll jump on any chance to go over to the Central Coast. What are your favorite events, Sue, and why?

Sue: I love almost any event where I can meet the public and sell books. My favorite events are Central Coast Writers Conference, now in it’s 26th year, where for the last two years I’ve been the writing competition coordinator. I love presenting the awards to winners and seeing their faces when their names are called, probably the closest I’ll ever get to the Academy Awards. The same weekend is the San Luis Obispo Book and Author Festival at Mission Plaza, where it’s fun to meet the hometown readers and kibbutz with fellow Sisters in Crime buddies and other writer friends, especially those in NightWriters, an all-genre group I’ve belong to for 15 years.

I also enjoy our Central Coast Sister in Crime events at Coalesce Bookstore (805-772-2880) in Morro Bay and other Sister-attended events like the book fairs in Hanford and at the Nipomo Library. And of course, the LA Times Book Festival in April, which I understand is moving from UCLA to USC next year.

Marilyn: Is there anything else about the writing of this book you’d like to tell me and my readers?

Sue: Both of my books deal with social justice issues, and I try to make the case through stories that decisions made by both individuals and local governments have real consequences that affect real lives.

Marilyn: Where can we get a copy?

Sue: The easiest way is through Amazon, or it can be ordered from your local bookseller. If you want a personally inscribed copy (a great holiday gift) e-mail me:

Marilyn: Anything you’d like us to know?

Sue: I’m busy working on the third book, “Murder at the Naked Nun,” and there’s a big surprise for readers, and Bella, in this one.

Marilyn: Thank you, Sue, I learned a few things I didn't know about you and can hardly wait to read Murder at Cuyamaca.


M.M. Gornell said…
Oh Sue and Marilyn, what a great interview. I've liked Sue and her writing from the moment I met her in Hanford and started reading Murder in Los Lobos. Learned more about you Sue, and your helping at the homeless centers sounds just like you. “Diane, it doesn’t matter. You’re dead,” also sounds just like you!

Marilyn, I was smiling at the end of your interview, a good thing for early in the morning.

Continued success Sue, and Murder at the Naked Nun! WOW, what a title! Love it...
Sue McGinty said…
Hi Marilyn,

Good interview, thanks so much. You know how to ask all the right questions. Having a great time in Michigan, my cousins keep my dance card full, this is my first look-see at the interview.
Anne R. Allen said…
Wonderful interview. I never knew that story about Sue's cat and the Mozart tapes that kept her from finding out about OJ. Fun story. Sue is a great role model for how to find your niche and market to it.
Sue is a special friend. I'm probably as happy as she is that she is now a published fiction author.


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