What do you get when you cross ghostly mysteries with a sprinkle of romance and Southern humor? You get Penny Burwell Ewing's Haunted Salon series.
Penny is our guest today on Visiting Authors. She writes full-length paranormal mysteries with a dash of romance and smidgen of southern humor and hopes to spin out a couple of novellas in the future.
When did you first become interested in writing?
My interest in writing began in the early 70s after the publication of The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. After reading the mega-hit, I consumed every historical romance by the industry’s top authors. A couple of years later I decided to entertain myself, so I sat down and wrote a historical novel set during the American Civil War. After that, I was hooked, and have been writing ever since.
Where did you get the inspiration for Dixieland Dead?
The inspiration for Dixieland Dead came from my years as a cosmetologist. While practicing Aesthetics, a client had a severe reaction to a facial mask I’d whipped up in the facial room. The frightening incident stayed with me for days and left me asking a question: How easy would it be to kill or maim someone with a facial mask?
Love that! (as I chuckle to myself about a few villains I’ve concocted). Aren’t twisted plots inspired by our own lives (or daydreams) a joy to write?
Yes, indeed. I’ve added many kooky incidents behind the stylist chair to my Haunted Salon Series. You can’t imagine how many silly and interesting ‘accidents’ happen in a beauty salon every day.
Oh, I love romance (naturally) and magic!
How bumpy was the road to publication?
After many unsuccessful attempts to hire an agent, I submitted to small presses and contracted with The Wild Rose Press. My experience has been positive with each book in the series. My editor, Amanda Barnett, has become a good and close friend. She's offered excellent editing advice and has kept me from making wrong choices. I re-wrote the ending to Book Four, Bein' Dead Ain't No Excuse, upon her recommendation. Her expertise saved me from disappointing my readers.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I loved writing all the books in the Haunted Salon Series, but I’m taking a break to write the Casa de Bella Trilogy. Romantic suspense set against the lush backdrop of Florida's Lake Okeechobee, the century-old Spanish Hacienda has endured nature's finicky hand, an ancient curse, and most recently, two grisly murders. The land is steeped in history and dangerous secrets—but nothing good can come from unearthing secrets from the past. A story spanning three generations—One house, three strong, independent women woven together by tragedy and triumph.
Sounds intriguing! Curses and magic? You and I must be kindred spirits.
What would you tell a new author on this journey?
Never give up and never stop learning. Read, read, read, and then read some more. Listen and pay attention. Also, lastly, be true to yourself.
Dixieland Dead is a wonderful cozy that offers a little mystery, a little romance, and a lot of magic:
When the economy tanks in Whiskey Creek, Georgia, hairstylist, Jolene Claiborne expands her business to include skin care. A wise move until Scarlett Cantrell, a local celebrity, is murdered in the facial room. The police brush aside Jolene’s suspicions that the incident is tied to a recent break-in, and to complicate matters, the victim’s ghost threatens to make Dixieland Salon her permanent place of residence if Jolene fails to expose the killer.
Scarlett’s last words provide the only clue: “Find the jade elephant. Explains everything.” That is until a book of poetry turns up with a dangerous secret inside. Dealing with a diva ghost ain’t easy in the Bible belt. Throw in a sexy police detective, a crooked mayor with connections to the mob, a family cover-up, a mother who hasn’t cut the apron strings, and you get one stressed out middle-aged hairstylist with murder and mayhem on the brain.
Speed Dating questions!
Oxford comma, yes or no? Oxford commas are sexy.
Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate.
Coffee or Tea? Coffee.
Your desk: Organized. I can write blindfolded.
Writing vices: Visual boards and mood music.
Perfect writing day: No phone service or distractions. The dog would feed himself and leave the neighbor's cat alone. My computer wouldn't slow down, and I could stay off of Amazon. Oh, and my muse would show up when summoned.
Writing go-to method: A phone call with my best writing buddy, Darlene C. Hancock. Together, we discuss different methods of approach and hash out my problem areas. She motivates me.
Alternate reality job: Pastry Chef (seriously, are we twins separated at birth?)
Favorite place: The Texas Hill Country
What do you do when not writing? I enjoy fine needlecrafts and counted cross-stitch. I also love to tinker in the garden. (be still my heart – gardens…ahh, happy places, right?)
Where can we find your books?
Bonus…an excerpt from Dixieland Dead. Thanks again, Penny, for joining us!
The facial room pulled at me like a magnet. Where did the human life energy go after departing this life? Could Heaven and Hell truly be our last destination, or could we linger here trapped in the last peaceful or hellish moments of our life? Thoughts like these had troubled me since Daddy died. For years afterward, I’d studied books on the afterlife, religious teachings from various faiths, the great philosophers, and the occult, and even ancient alien theorists, always trying in vain to contact him.
This morning’s strange incident at the cemetery resurfaced. I removed the yellow-crime scene tape, the door vibrating under my hands. Call it déjà vu or precognition, but I suddenly knew something monumental waited on the other side. Slowly, I turned the knob. The hairs on my nape prickled as a voice whispered in my ear, “You can’t go in there.”
I snatched my hand from the doorknob. "Crap, Deena, you scared the hell outta me. Must you sneak around?"
“I never sneak. You simply weren’t listening.”
The kitchen door swung open. Mama stood in the doorway. “What’s going on out here? Stop horsing around. Go find Billie Jo. I’m ready to leave.”
“Jolene’s going in there.” Deena jerked her thumb toward the closed facial room door.
Billie Jo rounded the corner. “What’s all the commotion?”
“Jolene’s going in there,” Deena repeated.
“No, she’s not,” Mama said. “The police will accuse us of tampering with evidence. We’ll go in when Sam gives the okay.”
“We can’t leave before making sure that multi-function Skin Care Station is properly shut off,” I said. “It cost over fifteen hundred dollars.”
“No one’s going in there,” Mama huffed. “Got it?”
Billie Jo reached out and tested the knob. “It’s locked anyway.”
“That’s strange. It wasn’t a moment ago,” I said, twisting the knob and finding it locked. “Go get the key, Deena.”
“We lost the key years ago.”
“Wait,” I said excitedly. “I’ll get a butter knife from the kitchen.” I turned to leave, but Mama grabbed me by the arm, causing me to stumble against the door. With a thump, it flew open, propelling me into the room. As I stumbled for balance, something white fluttered in the semi-darkness. Regaining my balance, I quickly switched on the lights before Mama could protest.
"Ahhh," I said with vexation, my eyes taking in the discarded jars lining the countertop. A dusting of fine powder covered the floor. "This room's a mess. It'll take hours to clean."
"They must've taken a sample of everything," Deena piped up behind me. "What's on the floor?"
Billie Jo bent down and ran her finger over the floor, leaving a thin trail. “It looks like oatmeal. Carla said she mixed everything into that death mask.”
Mama stuck her head in the doorway. “Don’t touch anything and get out of there right now. We need to get over to the hospital. Jolene, if you don’t come out of there right this instant, I promise you that when the roll is called up yonder, you’ll be there!”
Deena backed out of the room. “She’s right; the hospital is expecting me.”
“I’m ready to leave, too,” Billie Jo said, joining Mama and Deena in the hallway.
There wasn’t any need to try and argue my point with them—my vote would be vetoed immediately. The facial equipment was unplugged, so I turned off the lights and shut the door. A loud crash sounded from inside the room. Quickly, I flung open the door, flipped on the overhead lights, and screamed with every ounce of my being—for there, on the facial bed, sat the faint, ghostly image of Scarlett Cantrell.