Friday, June 12, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Deborah Garner, Mystery Author

Deborah Garner, Author
Paige MacKenzie Mysteries
I am excited to welcome back a favorite mystery author, Deborah Garner, who has just released her third Paige MacKenzie mystery, THREE SILVER DOVES. For this story, she takes us to New Mexico, where the New York reporter is visiting in order to produce an article on the healing springs, but becomes involved in a local jewelry artist’s one-of-a-kind designs.

Setting is particularly important in Garner’s books, possibly because she was a travel-writer by vocation and enjoys visiting and learning about out-of-the-way interesting places throughout the U.S. In addition to featuring Paige in three books, Garner has also written CRANBERRY BLUFF, a mystery about a bed and breakfast in a small town in California, which she discussed in an interview on this blog in November 2014. She claims her protagonists, especially Paige, “make her write it,” and she is busy with additional Paige MacKenzie books.  When she’s not writing, she commutes between Wyoming and California with her two dogs.

Q: Welcome back. And congratulations on your newest Paige MacKenzie mystery. I know setting plays an important role in your books. Where do you take us in THREE SILVER DOVES?

Deborah Garner: Thank you, Joyce. It’s always a pleasure to be on your wonderful blog! Yes, setting is very important to me. I always know the settings for my books long before knowing the story or characters. In THREE SILVER DOVES, we head to New Mexico. Though the town in the book, Tres Palomas, is fictional, it’s set in the spectacular area surrounding Taos and Santa Fe. Between history, legends, art and mouth-watering, southwestern cuisine, Paige has a whole new world to discover this time.

Q: How did you select the locations for THREE SILVER DOVES and for your other mysteries? Do you have a favorite setting? Do you travel to the locations that you write about?

Deborah Garner: I always choose locations for stories based upon areas I’ve visited. Many years of full-time travel writing – all domestic U.S. – allowed me to discover small towns and back roads. I always tried to linger a few days in each area – to talk to locals, listen to legends and enjoy regional cuisine. The United States is so vast and diverse that traveling within it is much like visiting different countries.  Though my schedule doesn’t allow me to return to each area when I write each of Paige’s books, I get to revisit these places through her adventures.

Q: Can you tell us the significance of the title THREE SILVER DOVES without spoiling the story? We mystery readers do not like the mystery spoiled, so don’t tell us the significance if it would do so.

Deborah Garner: The title can definitely be explained without giving away the mystery. Like many towns in the American Southwest, the name of the town Paige visits is in Spanish. “Tres Palomas” translates as “Three Doves” in English. Exquisite Native American art is one of the outstanding features of New Mexico. In THREE SILVER DOVES, one of the characters Paige meets is an artist who specializes in silver jewelry, including a signature design that represents the town. That’s where we have to stop to avoid spoilers, though. All I can say is that Paige senses something’s not right with a particular piece of jewelry she sees during her visit.  And we know Paige can’t resist following her nose when something seems amiss.

Q: A reviewer of THE MOONGLOW CAFÉ, the second Paige MacKenzie novel, appreciates the uniqueness of your plot and states it’s “not the same old formula mystery.” How do you keep the series “original and clever” in THREE SILVER DOVES? How helpful is humor?

Deborah Garner: I remember that reviewer’s comment and it’s one that made me smile. I know there are recommended formulas and plot arcs for most genres, but I can’t bring myself to follow them.  I tried – with this book, in fact – to make myself follow an outline. But that approach simply doesn’t work for me. I rarely know the full story before I start writing. And when I try to follow what I think will be an outline, it’s almost as if the characters jump off the pages and laugh at me. They then take the story any old direction they so choose. They’re stubborn that way. Paige, of course, is the most stubborn of all. I never know what she’s going to get herself into - or how she’ll get herself out, for that matter!

As for humor, I think it’s crucial. Not only is it a great way to lighten or balance tension in a story, it also allows for an enjoyable escape, which is why we read genre fiction. This is especially important in cozy mysteries, which are light reads, by nature.

Q: What makes Paige and Jake’s relationship unique? What makes us care about these two?

Deborah Garner: These are excellent questions and I’m not positive I have complete answers. Paige and Jake are both down-to-earth people. They’re independent, intelligent. They know “who they are.” They don’t play games or have heavy baggage from the past. I think it’s normal for us, as human beings, to want good people to find each other. That’s the ideal, romantic fairy tale. However, Paige and Jake come from different backgrounds and live in very different areas, so they have some logistics and lifestyle issues to face. Can they make this work as a relationship, given those challenges? Without giving too much away, it’s about time they took a look at all this.

Q: How do you create “credibility” for your readers to engage in your characters and their actions?

Deborah Garner: And here I thought those last questions were tricky! I really love my characters and even mourn them when I finish a book. They feel very real to me and perhaps that makes them, and their actions, credible to readers. I do tend to “see” them in my head while writing. Not their faces, but body movements, hand expressions, speech patterns, that sort of thing. I almost feel like I can step inside them and feel how they would be reacting to something.  Which makes me sound a little wacko, I’m sure, but that’s not a news flash to anyone who knows me.

Q: What inspires the mysteries in your books? Are they based on “true” stories? Or do you pull them from legends or do you imagine them?

Deborah Garner: Everything comes out of my imagination and I have no idea how it gets there. I rarely pull anything from true stories, at least not on purpose. There are a couple tales told within Paige’s new book that come from Native American legends, but they’re simply part of a scene involving the town storyteller. The mysteries in the books just evolve on their own from unanswered questions or inconsistencies that Paige sees while on her assignments.

Q: Your book-covers and posts on social media feature distinct and unique art. What can you tell us about the artist(s)? How do you select your cover art so that it supports your books? What do you intend for them to say about the genre, that is, cozy vs thriller?

Deborah Garner: In anticipation of this particular book release, I chose to post quite a few examples of New Mexico art on social media in order to give readers a feeling for the area.  As it happens, I came across some amazing pieces and made sure to credit the artist on each post. An online search of any of those names will bring up links with more information.

As for my cover art, I always have an idea about what I want on the cover. I often (though not always) use a photo that I’ve taken myself while traveling. But the true credit goes entirely to my cover artist, Keri Knutson of Alchemy Book Covers.  She does the real magic by taking the photo and turning it into the final product, which is a type of sketch effect within a branded look for the series.

Q: What’s next? Will we be reading about Paige and Jake again? Will there be another Molly Elliott book?

Deborah Garner: Ah, yes.  There’s definitely more in the works. Paige’s next book is moving along fairly quickly, as the events in THREE SILVER DOVES spurred the next Paige MacKenzie book (actually, the next two!) onward. I’m not giving anything away, other than to say she’ll be going to a state she hasn’t visited before and dealing with a different set of plot factors.

As for Molly Elliott, the protagonist from the one non-Paige book, CRANBERRY BLUFF, that is a “yes and no” answer. Though Molly was indeed the main character in CRANBERRY BLUFF, she was upstaged by a much stronger character, Sadie Kramer. (As I’ve said, these characters develop themselves and do whatever they want!) Sadie is very strong-willed and is insisting on having her own series.  Provided I can keep Paige and Sadie from fighting to steal each other’s time, there will be a new series starting up for Sadie late this year.

Q: Tell us something about Deborah Garner. Have you recently traveled or will you be traveling to any place new and interesting?

Deborah Garner: I wish I could say yes to traveling somewhere new and interesting, but I really can’t. I commute twice yearly between California and Wyoming and fit a few book festivals in when possible.  But I miss the travel writing days, when I could jump in the car and meander across the country. I hope to have that opportunity again sometime in the future.  For now, I’m at the mercy of Paige and Sadie. They have stories to tell!

About Deborah Garner

Deborah Garner is an accomplished travel writer with a passion for back roads and secret hideaways. Born and raised in California, she studied in France before returning to the U.S. to attend UCLA. After stints in graduate school and teaching, she attempted to clone herself for decades by founding and running a dance and performing arts center, designing and manufacturing clothing and accessories, and tackling both spreadsheets and display racks for corporate retail management. Her passions include photography, hiking and animal rescue. She speaks five languages, some substantially better than others. She now divides her time between California and Wyoming, dragging one human and two canines along whenever possible.

When New York reporter Paige MacKenzie heads to Tres Palomas, New Mexico, the resort of Agua Encantada seems a perfect destination to combine work with pleasure. A quick article on the healing mineral springs and a few leisurely soaking sessions in the resort's soothing waters promise well-deserved rest and relaxation. 

Paige is immediately intrigued with a local artist's one-of-a-kind jewelry designs, as well as weekly gatherings to hear legends from an elderly storyteller. But when identical jewelry shows up on another guest and the storyteller goes missing, Paige's R&R is soon redefined as restlessness and risk. Curious and persistent by nature, Paige is convinced there's a connection. Enlisting the help of a flirtatious resort worker seems like a good idea until it begins to test her loyalty to her favorite cowboy, Jake Norris. Will an unexpected overnight trip to Tierra Roja Casino lead her to the answers she seeks, or are darker secrets lurking along the way?


The sound of the window slamming again made Paige refocus. When she was a teen, chain-link fences were easy to scale. She grasped a section with both hands and inserted her foot into an opening, pulling herself up higher. A couple more upward grasps and toe insertions, and she was over the fence and on the other side, the howling wind drowning out the sound of her landing. Only a slight shortness of breath told her climbing fences had been easier fifteen years earlier.
Again she heard the slamming. Inside the fenced area now, Paige quickly found the window in question and reached up to press it closed, hoping a latch would catch. But, as she grasped the edge of the window, she suddenly heard rough, scraping sounds. A chair being moved? Drawers opening and closing? Though almost impossible to identify with the rush of wind around her ears, she was certain of one thing: someone was inside.
Instead of closing the window, Paige held it open and attempted to look inside, but even standing on tiptoe, she was not eye-level with the windowsill. She tried a quiet jump, light enough for the wind to cover the sound of her landing. It was no use, even when she repeated the process. She paused, hearing the same noises from within, then gave it one more try, pushing higher off the ground. Clumsily, she touched down on a rock just uneven enough to cause her to lose her balance. As she fell, her head tapped a vertical rain gutter with a dull, metal thud. She held her breath as the sounds inside ceased.
Frozen, Paige listened as footsteps filled the silence followed by the sound of a door opening and closing. She drew herself up off the ground and moved along the wall, crouching behind shrubbery as the footsteps resumed, this time outdoors, coming closer. They stopped near the fence she had scaled. A flashlight switched on and roamed the grounds, passing dangerously close to her hiding spot. A security guard? A burglar? She remained still, her heart pounding. You haven’t even been here twenty-four hours and you’re already in trouble.
Several minutes passed before the flashlight turned off and the steps faded, long enough for Paige to wrack her brain for excuses, should she be discovered. I was just trying to close the window. I didn’t want to disturb the office. Any way she looked at it, she was still guilty of entering a fenced-off area.
She waited long enough to be certain she was alone again and then quickly scaled the fence and returned to her casita. Once inside, she fell back against the door and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. In spite of feeling relieved, she couldn’t fend off a nagging thought, even as she finally undressed and slipped into bed. Who had been inside the spa building? And why?

New York reporter Paige MacKenzie has a hidden motive when she heads to the small town of Timberton, Montana. Assigned to research the area's unique Yogo sapphires for the Manhattan Post, she hopes to reconnect romantically with handsome cowboy Jake Norris. The local gem gallery offers the material needed for the article, but the discovery of an old diary, hidden inside the wall of a historic hotel, soon sends her on a detour into the underworld of art and deception. 

Each of the town's residents holds a key to untangling more than one long-buried secret, from the hippie chick owner of a new age café to the mute homeless man in the town park. As the worlds of western art and sapphire mining collide, Paige finds herself juggling research, romance and danger. With stolen sapphires and shady characters thrown into the mix, will Paige escape the consequences of her own curiosity?

When Paige MacKenzie arrives in Jackson Hole, her only goal is to complete a simple newspaper assignment about the Old West. However, it's not long before her instincts tell her there's more than a basic story to be found in the popular, northwestern Wyoming mountain area. A chance encounter with attractive cowboy Jake Norris soon has Paige chasing a legend of buried treasure, passed down through generations. 

From the torn edge of a water-damaged map to the mysterious glow of an antler arch, Paige will follow clues high into the mountainous terrain and deep into Jackson's history. Side-stepping a few shady characters who are also searching for the same hidden reward, she will have to decide who is trustworthy and who is not.

Molly Elliott's quiet life in Tallahassee, Florida, is disrupted when routine errands land her in the wrong place at the wrong time: the middle of a bank robbery. Accused and cleared of the crime, she flees both media attention and mysterious, threatening notes, to move across the country to Cranberry Cove, where she has inherited her Aunt Maggie's bed and breakfast on the Northern California coast. Her new beginning is peaceful - that is, until five guests show up at the inn for a weekend, each with a hidden agenda.

Mix together one blushing honeymoon couple, one flamboyant boutique owner, a deadpan traveling salesman, and a charmingly handsome novelist, and there’s more than scones cooking at Cranberry Cottage Bed and Breakfast. As true motives become apparent, will Molly's past come back to haunt her or will she finally be able to leave it behind?

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Twitter: @paigeandjake


  1. Joyce, Thank you so much for this wonderful blog interview. It's always such an honor to be here! xxoo, Debbie

  2. Love Deborah Garner's books. A gentle and pleasant escape.

  3. Love learning new things about authors! Thank you, what a great interview!