This week, I’m hosting, Cassie Page, author of The Darling Valley Cozy Mystery Series.
I was born, Helen Cassidy Page, in the Bronx in New York and after graduating from high school my older brother invited me to live with him and his family in San Mateo in California to go to college. The move changed my life in many ways. I settled in the bay area permanently, where I raised my daughter. A love of cooking led to a cooking school which led to a cookbook with a cardiologist at Stanford University where I was working at the time, and that’s how my writing career began.
Over the years I’ve published over 34 books, including a serious novel about Ireland in the 1800’s. I trace the roots of that book to my family’s history in Ireland, but my cozy mysteries are more light-hearted and fun.
I’ve traveled to all continents but Australia, including Antarctica, which was a life long dream. You’ll find some of my experiences popping up in my books, which helps me relive some happy moments.
I’m currently working on a time travel series with my daughter which we hope to publish later this year.
Armoires and Arsenic, which I publish under my pen name, Cassie Page, takes place in a fictional town called Darling Valley, named after a town I visited in South Africa. I place Darling Valley in Marin County near my home in San Francisco and Olivia, my heroine enjoys many of the things I do, including decorating and fine food.
Where Do I get My Ideas?
People are often curious about where I get ideas for stories. The answer is I don’t really know. They just appear in my head. I think the process is different for every writer. I know writers who say they hear their stories, while others see them. I knew a writer once who needed quiet because otherwise he couldn’t hear the story in his head. I belong to the latter group I think. I see images, the scenes and just write down what I see. Sometimes my story starts with an interesting first line. My next cozy started with a cover. A Second Coat Murder came to me when I saw blood dripping down the side of a paint can. But because it’s a cozy that’s as gory as it can get. Now I’m in the middle of figuring out who the victim is and how he died. That was fairly easy. I’m still not quite sure who did it. Writers have to solve the puzzle along with their readers. Well, we do it first and then write it. But at some point it is a mystery to us, too.
I always like to put a subtext in my stories, something interesting in addition to the whodunit. I’ve had bodies buried on ancient burial sites that allowed me to do anthropological research on California. One of my characters loves rebuilding old trailers so I had to find the first vacation trailer ever built. But my favorite research came when I found the title for Dying for Diamonds and immersed myself in the jewels of India. I let my imagination go wild in that book. It was hard to come back to reality; the story was more fun.
Armoires and Arsenic
What Olivia liked best about moving to sleepy Darling Valley from LA was the absence of crime. No worrying about parking her car on a side street because it might get stolen. Nobody slipping sticky fingers into her purse and lifting her wallet while an accomplice distracted her at the sale rack at Neiman’s. Not having to trip over a dead body blocking the doorway of her office building while the LAPD took their sweet time locking down the crime scene. But the best part of living in Darling Valley was never having to find herself sitting across from Brooks Baker at a dinner party while he romanced his new girlfriend and referred to Olivia as a client.
What she hated about Darling Valley was the 400 miles between its pristine mansions and gritty but happening LA.
Here’s an excerpt:
Olivia sat in her office in the immaculately restored Queen Anne Victorian that housed her two bedroom loft, her design and antique business, and a possibly illegal mother-in-law in the basement. The dream house compensated for leaving what she considered the center of the universe, Los Angeles, California.
The mother-in-law housed a regal, but reclusive little old lady who barely gave Olivia the time of day but paid her rent on time. Wait a minute. If the apartment was not up to code, did that qualify as crime? Why didn’t she ask the previous owners when she signed the loan documents containing a contingency that Mrs. Harmon remain ensconced down there for life at the same ridiculous rent? When she thought about it, which she did now over coffee gone cold, that low rent was definitely criminal. And her own fault for overlooking the code issue when renovation was her stock in trade.
Olivia studied her dismal P&L statement that stared back at her from the Excel file on her laptop. Darling Valley was breaking her bank. But enough S&M. She needed to finish up her impossibly long to-do list for the weekend sale before Cody arrived with the armoire. The success of the sale would determine her future, and the armoire would be the centerpiece of the well-publicized event.
The French boudoir phone rang, startling her out of her catastrophic ruminations. Her arm shot sideways into her coffee mug, splashing her favorite Jamaica Blue Mountain over her desk. This was becoming a cartoon of a morning going very wrong.
She barked, “Cody, you’re late,” while she sopped up the coffee with the sleeve of her hoodie.
“Only by an hour,” Cody replied in an offended tone that Olivia knew masked a grin spreading across his apple cheeks. “How’d you know it was me?”
“Cody, no customers call about a furniture order at 7:00 in the morning. So it was either you or Elgin Fastner from the bank harassing me about my about to be late mortgage payment if we don’t get to work.”
Cody was her twenty-one year old delivery guy and right hand everything. They both knew he got away with murder, but he was Olivia’s only true friend in this strange, new town. As Cody apologized for his tardiness in a nasal but passable Wolf Blitzer imitation, she fingered one of the three antique netsuke she had unpacked earlier, another source of disappointment. Because of her connection to Brooks, Edward de Waal, the famed ceramicist, had appraised them for her. After ignoring them in his studio for over a month, he finally returned the pieces yesterday with a note saying the inch-long, carved ivory toggles for a Japanese gentleman’s purse were indeed late seventeenth century, but would only command $1,500 each, tops. The shunga, an erotic figure with the iconic nine-tentacled octopus embracing the naked woman, might fetch $2,000. But only from a serious collector. Her dashed hopes for a number three times that raised the stakes on the sale.
“When are you getting here, Cody?” A committed multi-tasker, she checked the time on her laptop while she playfully harassed Cody and winced. Where did two hours go? “There’s work to do. I’m in big trouble if this sale isn’t a blowout. So get cracking, my friend.”
“Are you going to have the cat and nine tails waiting for me?”
She laughed. If she were fifteen years younger she could have a thing for Cody. But she wasn’t into boy toys.
“You’ll wish that’s all I have waiting for you if you don’t get those beauties over here. Like yesterday!”
She meant the French armoire, library steps and bergère chairs Cody had picked up from Blackman Furniture Restoration and Imports.
“Seriously, we need to get set up to push merchandise this weekend. Unless you’ve been doubling down on your Wheaties, it’s going to take us the rest of the day to sling everything around and make the showroom pretty.”
“OMG! What are you worried about?”
Olivia could hear the wind whistling in the open driver side window over Cody’s voice.
“I can rearrange the goods in the showroom with one hand tied behind me. You gotta believe, woman. Believe!”
He spoke like a preacher at a prayer meeting, a place Cody had never frequented in his life. Then he added in all seriousness, “Of course, there is that one armoire that almost broke my back getting it into the truck. What do you have in there, O? Boulders?”
At first, Olivia winced at Cody referring to her stock and collateral, her beloved treasures, as mere goods, as though she sold discount plastic patio furniture. Hers was an enviable collection of mostly seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century French and English antiques she had transported up from Los Angeles earlier this year.
Cody racked up his share of screw-ups on the job, but he was her first friend in Darling Valley. His loyalty to her soon convinced her to cut him some slack. Sure he marched to his own drummer. But so did she.
“What’s your ETA?” she asked.
“I’d say fifteen, maybe twenty minutes.”
“Does that include stopping for coffee at the shop with the cute new barista? Or is that why you’re already an hour late?”
“Coffee and donuts,” Cody said, slapping his head so Olivia could hear. “I knew I forgot the most important thing. See you in less than an hour, O.”
Cody called her O or OMG most of the time, and ma’am when he was innocently flirting with her—neither of them was interested in bridging the age gap, so the occasional sexy teasing was just fun. Cody reserved her full name, Olivia, though, for those serious times when he had gotten himself into trouble. Like spilling his coffee on the Aubusson carpet in the front of the showroom when he was gesturing about how he had maneuvered into Mrs. Gotrock’s driveway without hitting her prize peacocks who had suddenly decided to display right in front of his truck. Gotrocks. That’s how he referred to her few wealthy clients. If only she had more of them. Naturally, he had nicked a lawn ornament when he swerved to avoid the birds, and Olivia had to replace it.
He said, “I’ll pick up the usual for you,” and before Olivia could object, the line went dead.
She knew he wouldn’t answer if she called back to remind him to hustle. Oh well. It would give her time to get dressed, a ritual that could extend beyond Cody’s arrival if she wasn’t paying attention to the clock.
Wait a minute, she thought as she shut down her computer. What was that about boulders in the armoire? And he never explained why he was so late. They had agreed on 6 a.m.
Here’s my website: http://www.cassiepage.com
My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/
Contact me on Twitter: @bulkarn
Ms. Page and I would love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave a comment.