A Haunted Salon with Penny Burwell Ewing

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:

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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?

Amazon 

Barnes & Noble 

BAM (booksamillion.com)   

The Wild Rose Press 

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.

Tea with Eileen O'Finlan

Know what's amazing in the authoring world? The people you meet! Though Eileen and I have only had virtual tea, we live a few towns apart and have been supporting each other since a mutual friend connected us. It's like finding a kindred spirit when you "meet" another author (be it in person, on Facebook or Twitter, or somewhere in cyber space).

When I heard about Eileen's book, Kelegeen, the premise captured me so I ordered it and read it right away! Disclaimer: You will need tissues. What a heart-wrenching, amazingly-researched tale of the Irish potato blight. I fell in love with the priest (not too many books are told from that POV and I loved that element), as well as the young, strong Meg.

Okay, enough of the preamble; here is a chat with author Eileen O'Finlan:

 Eileen can be found on her  website  or on  Facebook . 

Eileen can be found on her website or on Facebook

Where does your heart fall in the writing world?

I write novels. On rare occasions I’ve written short stories and prose poems.  I find, though, that I really need the big canvas of the novel.  I need to take time to develop my characters and let a story unfold over a few hundred pages.

When did your writing journey begin? What drew you to writing?

Even as a young child, I’d look at a picture, say in a magazine or catalog, and if something about it grabbed my attention, I’d start making up a story in my head to go with it.  It wasn’t something I did consciously.  It just happened.  The same is true if I was bored.  I’d just start imagining stories which would play themselves out in my mind.  I guess I was drawn to writing in order to get the stories out of my head and onto paper.

What was your inspiration for Kelegeen?

I was taking a course in Irish history for my undergraduate degree (BA in History).  While studying the Potato Famine, my professor suggested that, as a creative exercise, I keep a diary as if I were a parish priest in Ireland at the time of the Famine.  I really enjoyed writing that diary.  After the course ended, I thought it would make a great basis for a novel.

Do you find inspiration in your own life for your writing?

Quite often, yes.  I’m a New Englander to my core so most of my writing is set in New England.  Obviously, that’s not the case with Kelegeen which is set in Ireland, but it is with most of my writing.  Also, since I write mainly historical fiction, coming across some interesting historical event or tidbit often triggers the idea for a story.

Tell us about Kelegeen.

Kelegeen is the fictionalized story of what brought countless Irish immigrants to the North American shores.  The little village of Kelegeen is going about its day-to-day life when the potatoes - the only food available to the Irish peasants - is suddenly struck by a horrible blight wiping out the entire potato crop across all of Ireland.  In what would become known as An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) over one million Irish would die and another million would emigrate.

Meg O’Connor, a bright, resilient, resourceful, and compassionate young woman must find a way to prevail while keeping alive her relationship with Rory, the young man to whom she is engaged.  Each time a survival tactic fails, she’s forced into a new one.  At the same time, she is beset by worry about Rory who’s own survival strategy is gravely dangerous, her mother whose frightening but vague premonitions bode an unknown evil, and the loss of beloved family and friends.

Father Brian O’Malley is the parish priest of Kelegeen and a dear friend of the O’Connor family.  He becomes unlikely allies with an English doctor.  Together they make the rounds of the countryside to offer what spiritual and physical help they can to the villagers.  It is to the two of them that Meg will turn for help with her final, most desperate plan for survival.

Though told from the points of view of both Meg and Father O’Malley, Kelegeen is really Meg’s story, which, in turn, is a story of what led to the Irish diaspora.

 Kelegeen can be found on  Amazon .

Kelegeen can be found on Amazon.

Did you go traditional route (agent/publisher), small press, or self-publish? 

I am published by BWL Publishing, Inc. a small publisher based in Canada.  I was extremely fortunate in that Eileen Charbonneau, who did the editing on Kelegeen, thought it would be a good fit with her publisher.  Eileen’s two most recent books, I’ll Be Seeing You and Watch Over Me, were published by BWL.  So she contacted the publisher, told her about Kelegeen and got her to agree to read it.  Within an amazingly short time, BWL offered me a contract.

Any new projects on the horizon?

Yes.  I am in the research phase for the sequel to Kelegeen.  I also have several other ideas for novels floating around in my head.  In fact, I was planning on writing a novel set in 1830s Vermont, but I’ve had so many requests for a sequel that I decided I’d better do that next so the Vermont novel will have to wait.

Words of advice for fellow writers in the trenches:

Once your novel is completed to what you think is the best of your ability, hire a top-notch editor.  I don’t mean someone who will simply look for type-o’s, grammatical errors and the like.  I mean someone who does all that, but more importantly reads for and comments on content, story and character arc, continuity and everything else that makes a novel sing.  Then take that person’s advice to heart.  Put in the time and effort of revising even if it means a complete rewrite.  Most of all, make yourself a student of writing.  Absorb like a sponge everything you can about writing.

I wrote the first few drafts of Kelegeen over a six year period more than twenty years ago.  After making the rounds of agents and, with one brief exception, being turned down by all, I gave up.  It was only a few years ago that I found Eileen Charbonneau, took the novel out of mothballs and sent it to her.  Her editing and advice was invaluable.  I had to do a complete rewrite which took a year to complete but it was well worth it.  I learned a tremendous amount from Eileen including why I garnered so many rejections twenty years ago.  The novel is so much better after her input and I am a much better writer.  Hiring her was the smartest and best move I’ve ever made with my writing.

What was the hardest/most unusual/interesting part of the story to write/research?

For me the hardest part was understanding the workings of the mid-19th century Irish economy, which was firmly wrapped up with the British economy.  Economics and political maneuvering are not my strong suits so I had to work hard to get a handle on them.  Though, I didn’t write about them much in the story, I had to understand them enough for what happens in the story to make sense and be historically accurate.  With historical fiction, learning far more about the subject than will ever make it overtly into the story is always part of the process.

Now for some fun questions! 

Oxford comma, yes or no? (Be careful how you answer this! Ha)

Yes, yes, and yes!

Ice cream: vanilla or chocolate?

Vanilla. I love vanilla!  (also love chocolate, but not in ice cream)

What does your desk look like?

My desk is usually a complete mess, but that’s not where I write.  I write on my laptop which is currently on, well, my lap.

What is your writing vice or must-haves (e.g. for me it's post-its, red pen, and coffee)?

I must have my laptop.  I only write longhand in my writing workshop.  What I must NOT have is vocal noise.  I can write with silence, white noise, or instrumental music, but not with the TV on or music with lyrics.

Describe a perfect writing day.

I’m a night owl, so it would actually be a perfect writing night.  I’d sit at the computer merrily transcribing whatever story was playing itself out in my head well into the wee hours of the morning.  I do my best writing at night.  Often I’ll think I’ve only been writing for about an hour or so, but when I look at the clock I realize it’s 2:00 a.m.  How did that happen?!  Considering I’m still working a M-F 9-5 job, this can be a real problem.  I’m living on a huge sleep debt!

In an alternate reality, what would be your dream job (besides author)?

Rock star guitar goddess!

Since I'm a hiker/travel-lover, what's your favorite place you've visited?

Vermont.  It’s my home away from home.  Since you’re a hiker, you’ve probably already been to Quechee Gorge, but if not, give it a try.  I also fell in love with Bermuda when I went there on a cruise several years ago.

What do you like to do when not writing?

My favorite thing to do is read.  I’m a voracious reader.  Not surprising, is it?  Probably most writers would say the same.  Besides reading, I like to spend time with family and friends, hang out with my two adorable cats, listen to classic rock, make beaded jewelry, shop, and entertain at home.  I also love visiting museums and botanical gardens.

Where can we find your book?

Buy links: 

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Kobo 

Smashwords

Thank you, Eileen! I look forward to reading more from you!

Meet Author Ralph Walker

It’s March, there’s still a foot of hardened icy snow on the ground in New England, and it’s time to shake up my blog! Today I am chatting with Ralph Walker, fellow author, parent, and early morning coffee drinker. The writing community prides itself on perseverance, patience, and pal-making…we love to support each other in our endeavors. So today I’m highlighting one of my talented friends.

Thanks for visiting, Ralph.

Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog. For readers who don’t know me, I’m Ralph Walker. I am an architect in New Jersey and I write speculative fiction, particularly near future science fiction.

Let’s start out with a hard question. Oxford comma yes or no?

Hard hitting out of the gate! I don’t want to lose readers over the controversy, so I am going to defer to my editor for political statements on punctuation. 

Fair enough. (“Go Oxford!” I say, waving a flag with commas on it). Ahem, tell us about what you write.

I’m really interested in stories about people doing extraordinary things because the world has changed in unexpected ways. Accelerating technologies and climate change both feature heavily in my work, but at their heart all my stories are about relationships and the lengths people go to save their loved ones.

Most of my stories are near future science fiction. I try to peek around the corner to see what might be coming. I’ve always loved techno-thrillers, cyberpunk, and solarpunk. I try to write with optimism and hope even when I explore my character’s darkest hours.

When did your writing journey begin? What drew you to writing?

I am a late bloomer when it comes to writing. I wrote some nonfiction and journaled over the years, but focused on my primary profession, architecture. I started writing more seriously after my daughter was born. I was traveling a lot then and was stuck in hotel rooms by myself. Being away from my family was incredibly stressful and I used storytelling as a way to escape. Early morning writing sessions quickly became a hobby, and now six years later, it is my habit.

That explains #5amwritersclub on Twitter.

What was your inspiration for the Rising Waters series, specifically Grief Protocols?

I see the world changing under our feet, both with technology and nature. Climate change, population growth, the rise of social technology, an evolving utility grid, even the legal constructs of land ownership are all influencing individual wealth, power, and happiness. I am interested in finding the sharp edges of those issues and understanding how they might impact an individual or a family.

One of my first stories, Gators In Kansas, was an exploration about underwater farming through the eyes of a migrant farmer. While that story is part of the UnCommon Lands anthology it set a tone for the stories I have written for Rising Waters.

I also love the anthology form. I am really interested in painting a picture of what the world might become through a series of stories and characters who live in the same world, but may or may not be connected. Grief Protocols, Gators In Kansas, Stealing Air and other stories are all in the same world in my mind.

Grief Protocols is a sibling bond story. I was exploring the distance a family might get stretched and how elastic those relationships may or may not be. That story is more tech-focused, but again, lives in a time and place that is easily within reach today. 

Was any of the story for Grief Protocols inspired by real life events?

Happily no, but the relationships are personal and familiar. I have a younger sister whom I am very close with and we definitely have a “country mouse – city mouse” type relationship. She has always been a rock for me and was an inspiration as I explored characters.

Elaborate upon the theme of your short story series.

Rising waters is a speculative series about what could happen. I love to mess with the question What If? What if invasive crocodiles moved into the great plains? What if we embedded social media into our vision? What if we added growth hormones to the air? There are so many wonderful what if questions that grab my attention and the stories grow out of them.

I’m a fan of Black Mirror, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Ex Machina and so many other great science fiction stories that take an extreme look at how our world is changing under our feet. Rising Waters aims to accomplish that.

Since I am a hiker / traveler, tell me about your favorite place to visit.

I am obsessed with the shoreline. I love to visit the ocean. Every summer I take my family down to the Jersey shore for at least a week at a time. When I lived in Los Angeles I would go to the ocean as often as I could. There is something really special about the edges where water meets land. There is this constant pushing and pulling, the violence of waves, the movement of sand or rock. It is constantly changing. I get lost in it.

Tell us about your next project – Stealing Air

Stealing Air is, as you might imagine, a heist story. It follows a band of thieves as they attempt to covertly steal a very expensive drug that makes it easier to breath. Nora, our heroine, needs the drug not only to make money, but also for her ailing husband. In this adventure she is taken from the woods of Appalachia to a craft air manufacturer in the sky where she discovers a real treasure.

This is a story about unintended consequences of messing with nature. It was inspired by the debate about putting fluoride in drinking water and more recent events in Flint, Michigan. 

I hope you’ll check it out, and if you like it share it with your friends.

 Ralph's latest work can be found on  Amazon .

Ralph's latest work can be found on Amazon.

Describe a perfect writing day:

I’m not sure that there is one. A good writing day for me is when I have the time and space to get lost in a story. Since I work full-time as an architect and am a parent and husband those days never really happen. I am lucky to grab a few hours in the morning and work on something fun and creative. Maybe someday in the future I can achieve a ‘perfect’ writing day.

What does your desk look like?

I work at a converted dining room table that is piled high with books and files. I keep a set of notecards and Post-it notes close by and often scrawl out a few words as reminders for one project or another. It is really a bit of a mess, but those scraps of paper are bits of inspiration.

I also have a litter of mementos scattered on my desk. There is a steel bolt from the first building I designed, shells from my visits to the beach, a bit of petrified wood another writer gave me, and a variety of colored drawings from my kids. Sometimes when I get stuck on a passage I’ll pick one of those objects and turn it over in my hands. They help ground me.

Last tough question: vanilla or chocolate?

Doesn’t matter to me if it’s ice cream or cake. I’ll take vanilla with coffee or chocolate with wine.

Words of advice for fellow writers in the trenches:

A writer friend of mine likes to say, “I’m years deep into my process of becoming an overnight success.” Don’t give up on your dream. Keep writing.

Where can we find you or your work?

You can find my stories at Amazon.com.

Or if you are in New Jersey you can pick up the UnCommon Lands Anthology at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, NJ.

I am very active on Twitter. Come say hi at @RW_Igloo.

My website is www.ralphwalkerauthor.com.