Annette Dashofy is a USA Today Bestselling Author and three time Agatha Award Nominee including a 2018 best Contemporary Novel nod for No Way Home. She was born and raised in Burgettstown in Southwestern Pennsylvania where she worked as an EMT for five years helping to start the Northwest Washington County EMS Service. She and her husband Ray make their home on land that was once part of Annette’s grandfather’s dairy farm.
Dashofy writes the popular Zoe Chambers Mystery series for Henery Press. Her heroine, Zoe is a paramedic who assumes the duties of deputy coroner in fictitious Vance Township in Monongahela County in Pennsylvania. The 7th book in the series, Cry Wolf is set to be released on September 18th of this year.
Annette has agreed to answer a few questions about her life and her work.
1. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
At some level I did. I started writing with a crayon and made my own version of Jack and Jill the popular children’s magazine. It had a circulation of two – my mom and dad. As I got older, I started writing fan fiction before it had a name. My stories were based on old westerns. I inserted a thinly veiled version of myself into those settings and created a story. I passed them around during study hall. My friends read them and asked me to write more.
2. How did you make the transition from paramedic to writer?
I Left the ambulance service in 1983 after I got married. I did a little bit of everything… studying photography and working in retail; I’m a Jill of all trades. In 1999 I was taking and teaching Yoga. For 15 years, I taught Yoga classes and gave private instruction in Yoga. My experiences were fodder for so many interesting story ideas.
3. How long did it take you to get published?
It took 10 years.
4. What are the similarities between you and your lead character Zoe?
Zoe had a much rougher childhood than me and we’ve had different life experiences, but we share a love of animals (especially horses and cats) and our careers as paramedics. We both love living in the country. Also, we’re both naturally curious…good for me from the safety of my writer’s chair, but sometimes dangerous for Zoe.
5. Is Zoe’s love interest, Pete Adams modeled after anyone?
He’s a conglomeration of many men. The name, “Pete” was taken from Pete Secco, a police chief in the area who was friends with my dad. People called him“Pistol Pete.” Since my character is a rural police chief, it felt right to honor dad’s old friend. A year ago “Pistol Pete’s” daughter reached out to me and asked about the name. She was excited to learn Pete Adams was named for her dad. I borrowed Pete’s hobbies from my husband.
6. How did you come up with the plot for your first Zoe Chambers mystery, Circle of Influence?
Politics were headlining the local news, and I overheard this conversation about local politics “I wish someone would just kill him and put me out of my misery,” the speaker said. That comment started me off… BTW never say anything like that with a mystery writer in ear shot.
7. How different was your first draft from the finished product?
I tinker and change a lot as I go, so it was more finessing than rewriting. I wrote Circle of Influence during 2007-2008. It was picked up by Henery Press in 2013. You have all the time in the world to fix things on your first book. I work from a general outline which holds up under even the most rigorous rewrite.
8. Are you a Plotter or Panster?
I’m a little of both. I’ve written books both ways and the Panster takes much longer than the Plotter. Revisions are murder for the Panster in me. The phrase “kill your darlings” really does apply. I might have been inspired to write a scene, but knowing when it needs to be shortened or cut completely is a job for my more disciplined Plotter self. Also, with a deadline and a contract for future books, I have to stay organized, so the Plotter has to remain in charge. I adjust my outline as I go, but I know who did it and why before I put anything down on page one.
9. Have you had the same editor for all seven books?
No, my editors have changed over the years. These editors brought specific talents to each project, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from such talented individuals.
10. How has the editing process influenced your writing?
The first two books I wrote for myself. Once I had an editor and a publisher, I altered my style to match what I knew they wanted. For example, in Lost Legacy there’s a dead body in the barn. I researched it and ended up with TMI. My editor said, “Tone it down. Be accurate but don’t freak out your readers with all the gory details. My publisher does a lot of “cozies,” but I don’t think of my books as traditional cozy mysteries because I go a bit darker and Zoe and Pete get a bit more than cozy. However, many of my readers fall into that category, so I am respectful of their sensibilities.
11. No Way Home, your 5th novel in the series is set in New Mexico where Zoe comes to the aid of a friend whose son is a suspect in a murder. You have Zoe discover a body while riding her horse, then leaves the investigation in Vance to help her best friend in New Mexico. She and Pete touch base by phone to bounce ideas off each other in their respective investigations and you throw in some drug trafficking in Vance. How did you keep your story together?
For this book, I wrote mostly by the seat of my pants [Panster]. I tried to stay on track with revisions to keep it all in balance. I went to New Mexico to stay with my best friend, Leta Burns. Leta created the character, Billy Yellow Horse Morales, the deputy sheriff in New Mexico. Unlike Vance Township, the locations were real, so I had to be careful to be accurate. I changed the names of a couple of restaurants, but KNDN radio station is a real station on the reservation.
12. How did your audience respond to the change? Will Zoe go crime solving again or stay in Vance? Will she have Pete with her?
I don’t have plans to take her anywhere else, but I want to write a short story about the New Mexico characters. I have an outline, but the story is not written yet. I hope to have it available for my newsletter people at Christmas time, but if other people want to read it, they will have to go to my website, annettedashofy.com, and subscribe to my newsletter.
13. Uneasy Prey your 6th novel in the series was based upon something that happened to your mother who passed away in January 2017. What made you decide to turn her experience into a cautionary tale within this novel?
Con men who prey on the elderly knocked on my mother’s door pretending to be from a local utility company, and she let them into her house. Luckily they didn’t harm her or take anything of value. These things happen all over the country, but she was mortified that she was almost a victim. Courtesy and politeness are so ingrained in our elderly population. They don’t want to be impolite and con men will always be nice, so they can get in the door I felt her experience needed to be told, but she was too embarrassed at the time. I started plotting the story after she slipped into dementia. Writing the story after she passed away was cathartic. I want this version of my mother’s story to serve as a warning for my elder readers and help them to be cautious and always ask to see proper identification before letting strangers into their homes.
14. Readers seem to find out something new about Zoe’s life in each novel. You even give Pete and Vance Township a few secrets.How do you resist the temptation to “blurt out” her secrets?
I want the reader to keep reading. New authors tend to give away too much too soon. In Cry Wolf a lot about Zoe’s past and her heart come out. The next book deals with the fallout.
15. In a related question, some characters by other authors keep acquiring background until they become total Renaissance Men/Women, but the likelihood of their being able to accomplish/experience this much at their age becomes improbable. How do you keep her character in balance?
I haven’t changed her back story which I set at the first novel. I haven’t added anything except an unknown older brother whom I introduce in Cry Wolf.
16. You have at least three more books in the series. Do you have a finite number of books in mind for the series, like Sue Grafton and her Kinsey Milhone series which was tied to the alphabet?
My contract takes me through 10 books. I know what events I need to include in Book 10 to satisfy my readers, but I will leave way for more books. I have a new series in mind for life after Zoe or in addition to Zoe.
17. Speaking of Grafton, we lost an important mystery writer when she passed away last December. How did her work influence your choice to become a mystery writer and what other writers have influenced you?
I haven’t read Sue Grafton extensively. I started reading Craig Johnson’s Longmire mystery series 4 years before it appeared as a television series on A&E Network. I also enjoy reading Julia Spencer-Fleming. Her books are set in a small town in upstate New York and feature Clare Ferguson, a female Episcopalian priest who is a retired helicopter pilot, and Russ Van Alstyne, a police chief.
18. There has been interest from a Hollywood producer about developing the Zoe Chambers Mystery series for film. Anything we should know?
There was interest, but I have haven’t heard anything more about it. It’s exciting, but I’m in no hurry. I’m very protective of Zoe and don’t want her changed.
19. How do you think Zoe would fair in an urban setting? Could she ever go undercover?
I don’t think Zoe would be comfortable in a big city, and I prefer a rural setting, so she probably won’t. I intentionally made Zoe a deputy coroner so she would have a reason to be involved in each case. Curiosity isn’t a good enough reason for her to have access to the same information as the police.
Zoe undercover is an interesting idea, but she is so well known in her community it would be hard to do in Vance Township.
20. You use social media to promote your work and stay in touch with your fans. Tell us about Zoe Chambers Mysteries & Friends on Facebook. You mention the group in your dedication for Cry Wolf. What has surprised you most about your fan base?
They are so creative and so much fun. Facebook is constantly changing which friends see your posts. I decided to form a group so my fans can actually see my posts and communicate with each other. My fans are funny, smart and creative men and women who enjoy reading (especially mysteries).
“Don’t trash the clubhouse while I’m gone, “I teased before one of my trips, and they took it as a challenge. There were posts about a naughty squirrel, wine, and my fans getting together via Facebook to party in my absence. Now, when I go away their posts are hysterical. I’m traveling a lot in September, so I’m sure the squirrel and the wine will be out to play again. I love my fans.
21. You try to write everyday and you admit that your characters come to mind when you see or hear about events (their reactions or opinions). How do you keep work and your personal life in balance?
It’s a work in progress. Thankfully my husband is tolerant of my career. I try to write every day to stay connected with Zoe. It’s always in my head. Sometimes me working looks a lot like me staring into space. Everything around me is fodder.
22. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
1. Learn your craft… study, take writing workshops and write.
2. Join writing groups. It does take a village. Writing groups offer some incredible workshops plus helpful feedback and support from your peers.
3. Don’t give up!