Absolutely. Bella is both haunted and driven by the murder of her sister on Bella’s doorstep in Detroit years ago. Like many family tragedies, Bea’s murder destroyed her family. It led to the premature death of her father and Bella’s estrangement from her mother.
As “Murder in Mariposa Bay” opens, Bella’s terminally ill mother has moved in with Bella and Mike. She and Bella strive to repair their strained relationship. It’s tough going because of deeply embedded old wounds. The themes that propel the series forward are Bella’s need for reconciliation and her passion for justice.
I know your covers have become a family affair. Is there a story behind this one?
You bet. My granddaughter, Katherine McGinty Loughman, posed for the cover of “Murder in Los Lobos” when she was an undergrad at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.
Son Patrick and daughter-in-law Diane did the honors for “Murder at Cuyamaca Beach.” Granddaughter Julie, scheduled to pose as “the wandering nun,” a mythical character in “…Mariposa Bay,” moved to Portland for graduate school and became unavailable for the cover shoot. Fortunately, Victoria Heckman, fellow Sister-in-Crime member, actor and good friend stepped in and saved the day. She even provided the photographer, Pat Siemer. One more reason to love my Central Coast Sisters in Crime chapter members.
Tell us about the benefits and challenges of writing a series character.
With two successful series of your own, Rocky Bluff and Tempe Crabtree, there’s probably not much I can tell you, Marilyn. However, I find the main benefit is knowing the character so well. She’s become an alter ego, and I pretty much know how she’ll react in any given situation. Sometimes she surprises me and I love that. I welcome these moments as growth opportunities for Bella and for me as a writer.
The main challenge about writing a series character is to keep the situations and characters’ perspective fresh and exciting. That way I’m not telling the same story over and over.
The timeline at first presented another common challenge—how much to allow the characters to age between books. The series starts in 2007 to mirror events in Los Osos, the real town upon which “Murder in Los Lobos,” is based. “Murder at Cuyamaca Beach” takes place in 2008. “…Mariposa Bay” and the fourth book, now in development, take place in 2010, again to reflect events happening at that time. This has actually proved to be a benefit, as the characters age naturally, from a few months to a year in each book.
Some series characters don’t change from book to book, such as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, and of course, the redoubtable James Bond. Tell us how Bella has grown over the span of three books.
Bond, Reacher and their ilk don’t change because they’re larger than life, kick-butt kind of heroes. I always find a series where the protagonist grows as a result of life’s experiences more satisfying, and certainly more realistic, than one where the character remains static book after book.
Bella spent 25 years as a nun, putting her needs second to those of her church. She went directly from religious life to marriage under the thumb of Mike, her strong-willed detective husband. This left her no time to sort out life as a newly secular and single human being. Now they drift apart as Bella becomes more her own person and Mike resists her changing.
How about her sidekick, Chris? How has he changed?
Chris, her nephew and teen “Dr. Watson,” has grown and matured beyond my wildest expectations. When he first arrived on the scene, it was a challenge for Bella to keep him out of jail. Now in “Murder in Mariposa Bay”, he’s graduated from the Culinary Academy in Napa and working as a San Francisco sous chef. He even has a serious girlfriend whom Bella adores. (Though she does maintain, at least on the surface, a separate bedrooms policy when Chris and Milly spend the weekend.)
What are you working on now?
I’m in first draft agony on “Murder in a Safe Place,” which takes Bella back to Detroit her hometown, to sell the family home and obtain documents critical to Mike’s future—and the future of their marriage. But things happen to Bella that don’t happen to other people: soon she stumbles over a massive cover-up that extends to the highest reaches of Detroit government. She suspects the person at the heart of this conspiracy knows things about her sister’s unsolved murder.
The Central Coast settings are such an essential element in your books. What are the challenges of taking Bella out of her environment?
Many and varied, as I’m finding out. You’re right, Bella has lost her physical landmarks, and she finds Detroit has changed beyond her wildest dreams. Without Mike, her husband, Chris, her nephew, and her mom, who has just died, she finds herself rudderless in a dangerous and volatile setting. Bella’s tough, and in this story, she needs to be.
So, if Bella finds her sister’s killer in “Murder in a Safe Place,” is that the end of the series?
Absolutely not. Like life, one door closes, another opens. And don’t forget, she has the ongoing challenge of keeping Mike in line.
Where can we get copies of your books?
“Murder in Mariposa Bay” in print and e-book is available on Amazon at, not surprisingly, Murder-in-Mariposa-Bay I’m in the process of republishing “Murder in Los Lobos” and “Murder in Cuyamaca Beach” on Amazon. In the meantime, you can order copies from me at: email@example.com
All three books are also available at Volumes of Pleasure in Los Osos and Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay.
I also invite you visit my website: SueMcGinty.com and friend me on Facebook.
Murder in Mariposa Bay:
Seeking relief from the care of her ailing mother, Bella Kowalski, former nun, now Central Coast Chronicle obituary editor, and her husband Mike, spend a camping weekend in the Mariposa Bay State Park. They wind up their getaway with a romantic night at a local inn overlooking the bay. The next morning, looking for coffee in the lobby, they find the body of the desk clerk. Mike’s reaction puzzles and alarms Bella.
Things go from bad to worse when a Detroit mobster comes to town looking for more than drop-dead views of the ocean. Sensing there’s some connection between Mike and the mobster, Bella launches an investigation. The ill-considered caper soon lands her in a firestorm of malice and mayhem. Even more disturbing, Bella is forced to seek answers to deeper questions about her sister’s unsolved murder.
Sue McGinty has had a love affair with California’s Central Coast for more than twenty years. She has chosen to set her Bella Kowalski mystery series there, in the unique and funky towns that hug the shore of the Pacific Ocean. Books in the series include: “Murder in Los Lobos,” “Murder at Cuyamaca Beach,” and the latest, “Murder in Mariposa Bay.”
When not writing, she works at ticking items off her bucket list, including seeing Willie Nelson live. Sue and Willie share the same birthdate, April 30. Sue is quick to point out she is much younger.
Thank you, Sue, this was a fun interview! And I love the new photo!
Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith