How is it that February is already in the books? 2023 is moving right along and we shared last month that we kicked off the new year by beginning to write a new mystery series. We also shared that the new series is not set in California like our Pampered Pets books, but since we both love the beach, we’re hanging onto the beachy theme.
And that’s where this research adventure begins…
After attending the NINC (Novelists, Inc.) conference in St. Pete last September we decided to research some Gulf Coast retirement communities as that is where we planned to set the new series. We’d already had great fun fleshing out characters, coming up with titles, and plotting murders on the drive down. (Side note: From Des Moines, IA to St. Pete Beach, FL is 1,380 miles or about 21 hours. A few more hours if you take time to track down a fabulous lobster food truck in Nashville, but that’s a story for a different day.)
We’d researched several possibilities that based on their online descriptions seemed to match what we had in mind. For the drive back we’d planned to visit our top four or five and check out some details. Now the books will be set in a fictional 55+ community but we’ve found we really need to have a feel for our setting as it plays such a strong role in a story – especially in mysteries.
- Stop 1 – Too fancy and almost hotel like. Not the right vibe.
- Stop 2 – More reasonable but surrounded by a residential neighborhood. Not the close-knit community feel we were looking for.
- Stop 3 – Almost there. Nice community feel, but no people out and about doing things.
- Stop 4 – Bingo. There it was. A great gated 55+ village with a community center, indoor pool, golf, shuffleboard, walking trails. There were people out walking their pets and a wonderful friendly feel as the walkers waved at us. And there were plenty of places to hide a dead body. A very important detail.
Success! We found our fictional Shady Palms and were able to take some photos, research details, pick up some materials on the floor plans, download the layout of the neighborhoods, learn the flora and fawn, and so much more. Feeling good that our mission was accomplished we decided to backtrack and have lunch at a Greek restaurant we’d passed a few miles back. What a great choice. (Well, it wasn’t a lobster food truck but it looked promising and also seemed very busy which is always a good sign, right?) It was amazing. We highly recommend Mr. Souvlaki’s. If you ever get the chance to dine there, you are in for a treat. And no matter how full you are, you must finish up with the Loukoumades – fluffy clouds of pastry with honey & cinnamon. They are to die for! Definitely worth a thousand-mile road trip and we’re trying to figure out if we use them in the books if they can be considered a tax write off. All in the name of research, of course.
At this point, we’re feeling great, though a bit overstuffed. It’s time to head north and so we leave the more scenic itinerary and move to Interstate travel. But first we need to stop for gas so we can get back on schedule and make some time. Our first stop was a Starbucks (big surprise) with a nice gas station nearby. But wait, they are out of gas.
But what’s an adventure without a little conflict?
Oh, did we mention that there was a hurricane by the name of Ian bearing down on the Gulf Coast? No problem, we’ll navigate to the next nearest option. It’s not far. But all the pumps are bagged. You guessed it – out of gas! It took three more stops and finally following a fuel truck back to our first gas station, but we finally got a full tank of gas and we were back on the road. Heading north and praying for everyone in the path of the hurricane.
We are continuing to research and build the story lines as we work on this new series. We’re loving the new characters who continue to evolve and make us laugh. We hope our reader enjoy the fictional Shady Palms and the new stories as much as we’re enjoying writing them!
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Sparkle Abbey is actually two people: Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mysteries series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.)
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In Downton Tabby, Caro Lamont, amateur sleuth and well-respected animal therapist to Laguna Beach’s pampered pets, works with office mate and tech wizard, Graham Cash, whose beloved Scottish Fold tabby cat, Toria, is purported to have anger management issues. But when Caro drops by the charming Brit’s Tudor-inspired mansion to return Toria, she finds his business partner dead and Cash missing.
Caro is left with the cuddly cat and a lot of unanswered questions. Is Cash the killer, or has he been kidnapped? What’s up with the angry next door neighbor? And what about Cash’s girlfriend, Heidi, who isn’t sharing everything she knows with homicide detective Judd Malone?
Suddenly there are more secrets and intrigues than there are titles in England. Add in a stranger in a dark SUV stalking Caro, feisty senior sidekick, Betty, hiding in restaurant shrubbery, and wannabe investigative reporter Callum MacAvoy who seems to be constantly underfoot, and you’ve got a cat and mouse mystery of the first order.