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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Spotlight on Virginia Smith and Murder by Mushroom

I'm a little late posting today, but that's because I lost this author's interview and had to ask for it again. *blushes* Blame it on being a newlywed. :) Better late than never, right?


Virginia Smith is a writer of humorous novels, a speaker, singer, snow skier, motorcycle enthusiast, and an avid scuba diver. Someday she insists she's going to find a way to do all those things at once without killing herself or her long-suffering husband. She launched her career as a novelist with the release of her debut, Just As I Am in March of 2006, and has been cranking out God-honoring fiction ever since. An energetic speaker, she loves to exemplify God's truth by comparing real-life situations to well-known works of fiction, such as her popular talk, "Biblical Truth in Star Trek." She attributes the popularity of that talk primarily to the Star Trek uniform.

By Virginia Smith


1. This is your first book with Love Inspired Suspense, and it's already won 4 stars from Romantic Times. What gave you the inspiration for this story?

I was sitting at dinner at the 2005 ACFW conference beside Krista Stroever, a senior editor at Steeple Hill. She mentioned that she had just given a contract to someone for a cozy mystery series, and was interested in seeing more. Well, several years before, I'd considered writing a mystery set in a small church but hadn’t done much beyond thinking about the setting and a couple of characters. As I ate dinner, I wracked my brain and came up with the idea of using a potluck casserole to kill someone. And it just so happens I was eating chicken in mushroom sauce. One of my friends is a wild mushroom hunter, and a couple of weeks before had been called to the hospital ER to consult when someone had gotten hold of poisonous mushrooms. By the time dinner was over, I had the crime pretty much sketched out. I pitched it to Krista right then and received an invitation to send her a query.

2. How much of your own experiences influenced the characters of Jackie and Dennis? What aspects became traits that were theirs and theirs alone?

When I’m creating characters, I don't think in terms of, "Which of my experiences shall I use to make Jackie come alive?" In fact, unlike my first novel, the story of Murder by Mushroom started out with an idea, not with a character. I liked the idea of using poisonous mushrooms to kill someone (okay, that sounds really bad, but you know what I mean!), and then I tried to come up with a character whose reaction would be the funniest. So I created a socially inept girl who places a lot of emphasis on what others think of her. But as she developed, I realized I needed to understand why she felt that way. When I worked backward into her past, some of my own feelings of insecurity and separateness during my school years surfaced. I've reacted differently to them as I matured, though, so though Jackie and I share some of the same past experiences, our personalities are completely different.

Dennis is his own man entirely. The only characteristic I share with Dennis is ambition, the desire to move forward. Actually, I sort of think of Dennis as a son. I confess that I've occasionally tried my hand at matchmaking with my own son, though not nearly so blatantly as Dennis' mother. The loose role model for Dennis is my stepson, also named Dennis, who is a police officer in Lexington, Kentucky, where part of this story takes place.

3. What themes exist in Murder by Mushroom that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?

Well, the obvious one is that gossip hurts people. And that it can be disguised, but it's still gossip and it's still wrong. Nothing infuriates me more than gossip that is disguised in the form of prayer requests. 

Another message I hope people take away from Murder by Mushroom is that Christians don't always act in ways that honor Christ. We make mistakes. We hurt people. We are forgiven by our Lord, but we need to understand how those mistakes affect others. We're His body, His emissaries to the world. Our actions reflect on Him.

4. What were your most difficult parts to write? Your favorite?

The difficult part came after I'd turned in the first draft and my editor sent the revision letter. She told me that Jackie's character was not as likable as Margaret (the pastor's wife), and I needed to fix that. In the original version, about a third of the book was told from Margaret's viewpoint. The main relationship in the book was that of Jackie and Margaret, not Jackie and Dennis. And Margaret was such a great character in my mind, she had sort of hijacked the story. So I had to rewrite all but 3 scenes from Margaret's POV to Jackie's. My editor was totally right – the revised version worked much better. But it wasn't easy.

My favorite part had to be the confrontation scene in the restaurant at the end. I laughed out loud several times as I wrote. Jackie was so nervous, so bumbling! And Dennis was so irritated with her!

Another favorite was the restaurant scene at Shaker Village. That's a real place just outside of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and I've been there several times. As I was writing this book, my sisters and my mother went to lunch there, so that setting was really vivid in my mind.

Gosh, I like the restaurant scenes. And I poisoned someone with mushrooms in this book. What does that tell you about me?

5. When is your next book coming out and what is the story?

Bluegrass Peril will be released from Steeple Hill in December. That one isn't cozy. My editor says it reads like a Christian Dick Francis novel, which sounds good to me! Here's the back cover summary:

"When the director of a retirement farm for thoroughbred champions is murdered, Becky Dennison teams up with the handsome manager of a neighboring horse farm to find her boss's killer. The amateur sleuths uncover a trail of clues that lead them into the intricate society of Kentucky's elite thoroughbred breeding industry. They soon find themselves surrounded by the mint julep set - jealous southern belles and intensely competitive horse breeders - in a high-stakes game of danger, money, and that famous southern pride."

Here's an interesting side note about Bluegrass Peril. The heroine, Becky, is actually one of the suspects in Murder by Mushroom. My intention was to write a sequel using the same characters and setting, but a different hero and heroine. But my editor didn't like that idea, and asked me to change it to be completely stand-alone. I started by changing the characters' names, and I removed all reference to the name of the town. It's funny, but once the characters were given new names, their personalities started morphing, too.

By the way – Jackie and Dennis and even the annoying Detective Conner also put in appearances in Bluegrass Peril. When you get the book in December, you'll have to see if you recognize them.

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Thank you, Ginny, for being in the spotlight. Readers, feel free to leave a comment for your chance to be entered in the drawing for a FREE, autographed book. If you don't wish to be entered but only leave your comment, say so when you post. This week, the contest is open to US/Canada residents only.


tetewa said...

Enjoyed the spotlight and would like to be entered in the draw!

Cherie J said...

Enjoyed the spotlight and would like to be entered in the drawing.

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

Cherie, this one is all yours, since Teresa won last week's. :)

I've sent your information to Ginny, and she'll get your book right out to you.

Congratulations and thanks again for your continued support. Feel free to spread the word to your friends. Would love to share the fun with other fiction lovers.

Cherie J said...

Cool! Thanks Tiff! I told one of my friends about your site but she has been rather busy lately so she may have not had time to stop by. I will remind her again next time I talk to her.