Please welcome Lena Gregory to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Death at First Sight was published on November 1st by Berkley.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Lena: Hi, and thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here. I first started writing when my youngest, who is now six, was an infant. I’ve always loved reading, but I hadn’t done any writing since I was a kid. My son didn’t sleep through the night, and I’m a bit of an insomniac anyway, so I figured I’d try my hand at writing. I loved it!
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Lena: I started out as a pantser. I’d just sit down and write whatever came to mind. I loved the twists and turns in the plot and the surprises that would inevitably pop up. The only problem was, I sometimes wrote myself into a corner that way. And forget word count. My first book came in at almost a hundred thousand words! When I was about halfway through Death at First Sight, I had to give in and plot the rest. Although, the killer did come as a surprise at the end.
Now, I’d have to say I’m a hybrid. I do still enjoy writing whatever comes to mind, but now I have at least a rough outline of the basic story.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Lena: The first draft! I’m just not disciplined enough to sit down and write that first draft. I end up procrastinating in every way possible, often on social media, before I’ll actually sit down and start writing. Once I have that first draft down, the edits go fairly quickly.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Lena: I think the biggest influence on my writing has been reading. I read as much as I can, in all different genres, not only the genre I’m writing in. Getting lost in a good story motivates me to create my own stories, my own worlds and my own characters.
TQ: Describe Death at First Sight in 140 characters or less.
Lena: With Bee & Stephanie's help, Cass must prove her innocence & save her client from the fate in her vision.
TQ: Tell us something about Death at First Sight that is not found in the book description.
Lena: Well, she doesn’t share with too many people, but Cass doesn’t actually believe she’s psychic in any traditional sense. Years of psychiatric training and strong observation skills allow Cass to interpret the small tells and gestures that often give away a client’s moods and thoughts, resulting in fairly accurate “readings.”
TQ: What inspired you to write Death at First Sight? What appeals to you about writing what your publisher calls a cozy mysteries?
Lena: My agent, Dawn Dowdle, first introduced me to cozy mysteries, and I was hooked after reading my first one. I love creating a small community and developing the characters throughout the series. Each time I sit down to start a new book in the series, I feel like I’m getting together with old friends.
The initial idea for Death at First Sight came from an ongoing debate in my house over whether or not ghosts are real. My daughter and I firmly believe in ghosts and in some other existence beyond our own. My husband and older son do not. I visited a psychic I found to be remarkably accurate, yet my husband still wasn’t swayed.
So, I thought it would be fun to bring that debate to my characters. Stephanie believes very strongly in ghosts and fully believes Cass is psychic. Bee, on the other hand, swears he doesn’t believe in anything otherworldly. Cass doesn’t know what she believes, though she’s forced to examine it more closely as the series progresses. Initially, though, she does not believe she’s psychic. She’s just extremely intuitive, and she enjoys helping people. Working as a psychic allows her to use her talents to help her clients.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Death at First Sight?
Lena: The setting came easy, since I live on Long Island, but because Bay Island is its own small island, nestled between the north and south forks of Long Island, I did have to do some research, mostly regarding when ferry service would be suspended (for took two) and which police force would have jurisdiction over the island, the state police, a local police force or a sheriff’s office.
Once that was done, I got to start on the fun stuff! I researched every kind of psychic reading I could find, thinking it would be interesting to have Cass offer all different types of readings. Then, since Cass also sells healing crystals at Mystical Musings, I did extensive research on crystals and their healing properties, which I found fascinating.
TQ: In Death at First Sight who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Lena: I think Cass was probably the easiest character to write, because I got to know her best. Being that the story is told from her point of view, I was really able to get into her head throughout the series. I could predict how she’d react to any given circumstances, and I knew her back story right from the beginning.
Bee was the hardest, because he developed over time. His back story didn’t emerge until later in the book, so I wasn’t always sure how he’d react, or what he’d think in any given situation. But, I do have to say, as the story progressed, I really came to love Bee.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Death at First Sight?
Lena: Even though cozy mysteries are murder mysteries, in general, they tend to be kind of light and fun. There is usually very little violence on the page. Although, Death at First Sight is mostly light, and often fun, I did end up including the suggestion of an abused woman in the story, although it’s more alluded to than actually shown. Domestic violence is a difficult subject, and mental abuse can be as bad as physical abuse. Unfortunately, many women suffer in silence, as Ellie does in Death at First Sight, and there doesn’t seem to be as much awareness of it as there could be.
TQ: Which question about Death at First Sight do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Lena: How did Beast come to be? I love Beast, a Leonberger puppy who manages to get into all sorts of trouble. I love big dogs, and have had at least one, and as many as three at time, for about thirty years. Beast is a combination of all of those dogs, and some of the mischief he gets into is based on true stories.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Death at First Sight.
“What? The world would be a better place without that woman, anyway.”
And my personal favorite: “Her six-year-old saw two ladies, a dog, and a bear on stilts.”
TQ: What's next?
Lena: The first three books in the Bay Island Psychic Mysteries series are completed, though I still have to do edits on the third book. The second book in the series, Occult and Battery, is due to release on April 4, 2017, and the third book is due to release in October of 2017. I would love the opportunity to continue the series with a fourth book, and I am currently writing a new cozy series.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Lena: I’ve really enjoyed visiting. Thank you so much for having me.
Death at First Sight
A Bay Island Psychic Mystery 1
Berkley, November 1, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
FIRST IN A VISIONARY NEW MYSTERY SERIES.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that something’s not right on Bay Island…
Since she left her psychiatric practice in New York City to open up a psychic shop in her hometown on Bay Island, Cass Donovan has given her fair share of readings to conflicted customers. But what she sees in Ellie Callahan’s future doesn’t bode well.
When Ellie’s mother, Marge, publicly confronts Cass about the reading, the embarrassment makes her want to curl up and die. And when she later stumbles across Marge’s body—and is a suspect in her murder—Cass is suddenly the star of Bay Island’s rumor mill.
Cass is determined to prove her innocence and save Ellie from meeting the fate in her unfortunate vision. But even with the help of her friends Bee and Stephanie, Cass will have to channel some serious sleuthing instincts to find the real killer…
Occult and Battery
A Bay Island Psychic Mystery 2
Berkley, April 4, 2017
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
A murder mystery weekend becomes a little too real in the latest Bay Island Psychic Mystery from the author of Death at First Sight—
Cass Donovan uses her skills as a former psychiatrist to get away with pretending to be psychic, but she’s not about to let anyone get away with murder…
The outlook is not so good for Cass’s psychic shop, Mystical Musings. With winter winds discouraging tourists from riding the ferry from Long Island to Bay Island, Cass hopes to draw in more customers by hosting a murder mystery weekend, complete with a séance, in a supposedly haunted mansion.
But Cass begins to lose her spirit when her ex-husband shows up, along with his fiancée—Cass’s ex-best friend. Then, after one of the guests is found dead, a blizzard blows in, trapping everyone inside with a murderer. Now Cass must divine who did the deed before her reputation and her livelihood fade away.
Lena lives in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island with her husband and three children.
When she was growing up, she spent many lazy afternoons on the beach, in the yard, anywhere she could find to curl up with a good book. She loves reading as much now as she did then, but she now enjoys the added pleasure of creating her own stories.