(What Doesn't Kill You, #7)
An Emily Romantic Mystery
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
Genre: Romantic Mystery
Publisher: SkipJack Publishing
Date of Publication: March 26, 2016
# of pages: 383
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Big-haired paralegal and former rodeo queen Emily has her life back on track. Her adoption of Betsy seems like a done deal, her parents have reunited, and she’s engaged to her sexy boss Jack. Then client Phil Escalante’s childhood buddy Dennis drops dead, face first into a penis cake at the adult novelty store Phil owns with his fiancée Nadine, one of Emily’s best friends. The cops charge Phil with murder right on the heels of his acquittal in a trial for burglarizing the Mighty is His Word church offices. Emily’s nemesis ADA Melinda Stafford claims a witness overheard Phil fighting with Dennis over a woman. Before he can mount a defense, Phil falls into a diabetic coma, leaving Nadine shaken and terrified. Meanwhile Betsy’s ultra-religious foster parents apply to adopt her, and Jack starts acting weird and evasive. Emily feels like a calf out of a chute, pulled between the ropes of the header and the heeler, as she fights to help Phil and Nadine without losing Betsy and Jack.
Authors largely write what they know. Certainly I do. When I started the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, I had four vivid female protagonists in mind. The first was comically insecure Katie. She introduced us to my “inner world,” the dramas and mysteries and tragi-comedies that for years have looped through my mind as I walked, ran, hiked, day-dreamed, bicycled, swam, drove, slept, and everything in between. By her side was her paralegal: big-haired former rodeo queen (and star) Emily. Quickly on their heels we met Katie’s island BFF, the sexy and talented Ava, and Katie’s uptight but witty law school roommate Michele. We romped through Katie’s adventures in the first three books in the series, then took a detour to meet Michele, then we dived into Emily’s world headfirst.
While I already knew Emily well, what I didn’t know until I started planning her role in the series was which stories I would tell about her. When you pin a character down into a romantic mystery, you’re including only a brief time period of her life. Emily was near and dear to me, a hybrid of several beloved friends from my hometown of Amarillo. But at the time I planned her books, I was impacted by current events, namely immigration issues (Heaven to Betsy), race and law enforcement (Earth to Emily), and, finally, terrorism in the name of religion became the driving force behind Hell to Pay.
If you follow my novels, you’ll see some common elements:
- a female protagonist with both strengths and vulnerabilities
- deep dives into setting and point of view (I favor first person for this reason)
- a fast-paced, three-dimensional life with romance, family, work, and mystery
- a mystery only the protagonist can solve, as an amateur
- an exploration of historical/cultural religious beliefs (sometimes viewed as mythology) that plays out in something that must be taken on faith (can’t be touched or objectively proven to exist)
- a novel—ultimately—with heart, humor, suspense, romance, and (I hope) intelligence.
As I consider plots/mysteries for each, I want them to be:
- unique from my other novels
- unique to the setting of the mystery
- interact with the historical/cultural religion/mythology element
- call on the “super powers” of my protagonist (her special skills and abilities).
In the Emily protagonist books of the series, I used West Texas and Southern New New Mexico as settings. I tapped into the beliefs of the Mescalero Apaches for Heaven to Betsy (Mountain Spirit Dancers/coyotes) and Earth to Emily (the Owl man, harbinger of evil) and the Hopis of the Texas Panhandle (you’ll have to read to see for yourself) for Hell to Pay. But in all three I also used as contrast conservative Christianity. And in Hell to Pay, I had a particular reason for doing so: religious terrorism.
I hate when people kill other people. I also hate it when people terrorize other people, whether they kill them or not. We live in a world full of terrorism—of late, especially by radical Muslim groups. But terrorism isn’t unique to radical Islam, by any stretch of the imagination. Militant Christian groups commit terrorism all the time. Ku Klux Klan and Westboro Baptist Church ring any bells? And having been raised in the Bible Belt of the U.S. to do unto others as I would have done unto me, domestic Christian terrorists upset me greatly; I feel like they’re betraying my faith. I can only speak as a Christian, but I would imagine this is how people of other religions also feel about terrorism in the name of their faith.
Anyway, I became aware of some of these types of groups operating in and around the geographic locations I had chosen for Emily’s novels in the What Doesn’t Kill You series. Every single thing I wrote in Emily's novels is complete fiction, but inspired by learning these groups exist and terrorize their own communities. They made me angry, and, well, don’t make a writer mad or she’ll put you in her book, right?
The challenge became keeping the pace, romance, and humor I try to achieve while tackling a serious topic like religious terrorism. But I’d tried, and—I think—succeeded at some level in my previous novels with drug cartels, custody battles, obsession, human trafficking/immigration, bad cops/interstate fencing, and adultery/corporate greed, so maybe it wasn’t such a stretch. I’ll let you be the judge of Emily, Jack, and the gang in Hell to Pay. Let me know what you think.
Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes overly long emails, best-selling, award-winning mysteries (WINNER USA Best Book Award, Fiction: Cross Genre, Finalist) and hilarious nonfiction. The Houston Press named her as one of Houston's Top 10 Authors (2014). She is a recovering attorney and investigator who resides deep in the heart of Nowheresville, Texas and in the frozen north of Wyoming. Pamela has a passion for great writing and smart authorpreneurship as well as long hikes with her hunky husband and pack of rescue dogs, traveling in the Bookmobile, and her Keurig. Download her mystery Saving Grace, free everywhere, and visit her website or drop her a note pamela at pamelahutchins dot com. And if you would like her to visit your book club, women’s group, writer’s group, or library, all you have to do is ask.
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ALL 3 EMILY ROMANTIC MYSTERIES!
April 11 - 20, 2016
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