Emilie Richards has worn many fascinating hats - VISTA volunteer in the Ozarks, where she learned to quilt; relationship counselor; minister's wife; devoted mother (raising one of Mother Theresa's children, as well as her own brood), award-winning author.
In December she dons a new hat, as the author of a delightful new mystery series. We introduce Emilie the mystery author, to you this month, with BLESSED IS THE BUSYBODY, her first mystery, scheduled for December release Berkley Books.
Readers love the authenticity and richness of backdrop in an author's stories when they spring from her personal life. Tell us what inspired your delightful Ministry is Murder Series and how much of you is in Aggie Sloan-Wilcox, the amateur minister's wife sleuth.
I find churches and the people who inhabit them delightfully optimistic and warm-hearted. But over the years I've had to develop a sense of humor about churches to fully appreciate them. People often use the insitutiton itself as a safe place to work out their own issues and struggles, and like Aggie I've had to learn to take that with a "grain of salt."
One day I realized that although no reader would believe some of the odder things I've seen, churches and the lives of clergy families would be great fodder for a mystery series. From that moment forward Agate Sloan-Wilcox popped into my life and refused to leave. "You think you've seen stuff," she said, "did you ever find a dead body on the parsonage front porch?" And, of course, I had to tell her--with true gratitude--no, only a bouquet of asters.
Aggie and I share a sense of humor and an occasional flash of rebellion at the way the church can quickly take over our lives. Among other things Aggie hyphenates her name to be certain she has at least a smidgen of identity outside her marriage and the church. Me? Well, I took up writing.
Right now small town USA is "hot" in terms of trends. Tell us about your series setting, "the cookie-cutter perfect" Emerald Springs, Ohio. Is this charming town real? How much is it based on the six churches your husband has served?
Emerald Springs isn't real, but one of our churches was located in a charming Pennsylvania town, and I've used that experience to help create Emerald Springs as well as all the "positives" about working with a small church. The murders come from my own imagination.
The importance of spirituality in one's life is also on the upswing. Please "place" BLESSED IS THE BUSYBODY for readers in terms of spirituality.
Aggie and her husband are deeply spiritual but not in the most traditional sense. BLESSED is not inspirational fiction but more a look at church politics--which is remarkably similar no matter what the religion or denomination--and at people who struggle with issues and living their values.
Within the mystery genre, there are all kinds of books. How would you classify BLESSED IS THE BUSYBODY, and why do you feel the mood of the country is perfect for this kind of story right now.
BLESSED is a traditional mystery, a cozy with no gratuitous violence. As a novelist I enjoy the creation of characters and community, the delving into relationships and secrets, the solving of crimes. From the beginning I wanted to provide humor with my homicide. And in the end I wanted to keep readers awake late at night trying to figure out who committed the crime and not because they were terrified to turn out the lights. The news is scary enough. I want to entertain.
What about Aggie's husband, Ed. How much does he resemble your minister husband?
I purposely gave Ed different strengths and a different personality. After all, I have to live with my minister, and I don't want him to think I'm making comparisons or taking notes.
Aggie's and Ed's "PK" (Pastor's Kids) children (and their pets, too!) seem too real to be fictional. Did your children inspire them?
We have four children, but I always thought we were missing a couple. Deena and Teddy were real to me from the moment they appeared on the page. I could swear I've seen them at our dinner table.
You have been writing award winning, bestselling romance and women's fiction novels for years. How long has the mystery series been percolating on a back burner in your author's mind? Have you been taking notes for years, or did the series suddenly spring to life for you?
I'm always skeptical when an author claims that an idea sprang to life fully formed, but this one really did. I started thinking about it several years ago and just couldn't let go of it despite having limited time to write something new. Finally I just gave up the battle and plunged in. And it's been such a joy. I'm as interested to find out what Aggie will do and discover as anyone else will be.
What does the series represent for you in terms of growth as an author?
My women's fiction novels are more serious in tone, and Ministry is Murder lets me cut loose a little, both in topic and humor. It's a wonderful balance and keeps my writing fresh.
Your Shenandoah Valley Series (the latest, July's ENDLESS CHAIN) about women who quilt has found an enthusiastic following within the quilting community, as well as with readers overall. What will fans of your quilting series find in your mystery series that will have them putting these new books on their must-buy lists?
Many quilters have told me that they love mysteries, particularly those with humor and minimum violence. So those readers will enjoy these books right away. But as for quilts and quilting? Do stay tuned. Aggie has a surprise in store in the second book, and so does the reader.
Can you give us a hint about the next Ministry is Murder title, and when is it scheduled?
The next book is LET THERE BE SUSPECTS, and although I haven't heard a firm release date, I'm assuming it will be out about the same time next year. Aggie's mother and sisters come for a Christmas reunion, and an unwelcome addition shows up to join them. You're invited to attend Aggie's first Christmas Open House, but afterward you may not want to attend another.
How can readers write you?
One of my wonderful sons is creating a website just for the mysteries. But for now www.emilierichards.com is the sure way to get all the latest information and when it's ready, the link to the new site.