This month I interviewed Lolli Powell (Laurel Heidtman), the writer of The Body on the Barstool. Ricki runs a bar, and one morning as she walks in, she finds a dead body—murdered—sitting at the bar… The book is a fast-paced cozy mystery, with funny dialogues, and good plot twists. If you like cozy mysteries, you won’t be disappointed.
Welcome Laurel. You have written quite a number of books. You have published mysteries/thrillers under the name Laurel Heidtman, and a few cozy mystery/romance novels as Lolli Powell. Can you introduce some of your work?
As Laurel Heidtman, I have three books published in my Eden mystery series: Catch A Falling Star, Bad Girls, and A Convenient Death. Each novel can stand alone, although the characters’ personal stories continue to evolve in each new book. The Eden series is set in the fictitious college town of Eden, Kentucky, near Daniel Boone National Forest. I also have a thriller, Whiteout, that takes place in Daniel Boone National Forest (with a few scenes in Lexington).
As Lolli Powell, I have a contemporary romance, The Boy Next Door, set in Kentucky, and a romantic suspense, The Wrong Kind of Man, set in Indiana. I also have two books, The Body on the Barstool and Whiskey Kills, in the Top Shelf cozy mystery series. This series is set in a fictitious Ohio River town in southern Ohio about halfway between West Virginia and Indiana. I write the Top Shelf books in first person, while all the others are in third person.
Some of your books are set in Kentucky, where you live. The Body on the Barstool is set in Ohio, and I thought your descriptions were wonderful. How do you go about writing about the setting of a book?
I’m from Ohio originally—although farther west than the setting of the Top Shelf mysteries—so I’m familiar with both states. To get some details right about the geography of an area, I use the Internet. I also use that to verify details about plants, sunset/sunrise times in a particular month, the way locals speak (for example, pop versus soda), common surnames, etc. I think that descriptions of settings should be painted in broad strokes—just enough detail to give the reader a feel for the place, but not so much that it bogs down the story.
Is there a genre you like writing more than others, or do you enjoy mixing them up?
I’ve enjoyed doing all of the genres I’ve tried so far, and I’d like to try other genres. I’ve probably enjoyed doing the cozy mysteries most, though. I do them in first person and find I prefer that, plus I do my best to make them funny (sarcastic humor). I wasn’t sure I could write humor, but readers seem to be “getting it,” so I guess I’m succeeding.
How do you typically get your ideas for a book and does the story change much during writing?
I honestly don’t know how I get most of the ideas. My latest one, A Convenient Death, was sparked by two murders that happened while I was a police officer. A convenience store clerk and a customer were murdered one night, and the case was never solved. I started with this, but I made up everything else about the victims and the crime. Sometimes news stories provide the germ of an idea, such as stories about human trafficking and the Dark Web (both of which play a part in my book, Bad Girls).
However, most of the time, a story just seems to pop into my mind, which means, I suppose, that my subconscious is busy working while I’m not aware of it. I call my subconscious “the boys in the basement.” When I hit a stumbling block during the course of writing a book, I don’t worry too much about it, and sure enough, a few days later “the boys” present a solution.
And, yes, the story sometimes changes during writing. Any fiction writer will tell you that characters seem to take on a mind of their own once they’re on the page. I often say it’s as if I’m channeling the characters and just writing what they tell me.
Your bio describes a very interesting range of careers. A dancer, a bartender, a police officer, a registered nurse and a technical writer. Not to mention two English degrees? How did you end up doing so many different things? And where did you find the time?
I had plenty of time to do all these things because I’m old now! 🙂 I spent my twenties working as a dancer and sometimes bartender, as well as attending college part-time (I started at age twenty-two and graduated with a B.A. in English with a Creative Writing emphasis six months before my thirtieth birthday). The dancing and bartending jobs supported me and paid for college. This was in the late sixties/early seventies, and those jobs paid better than most jobs for women.
I was close to graduation when the police officer husband of a fellow student told me his department had to hire their first female patrol officers or lose federal funding. I took the civil service exam, did well, passed all the other tests (background, psychological, etc.) and was hired. The department ran their own recruit school to train their new hires. I spent my thirties as a police officer.
I finally burned out on police work and decided to go to graduate school for a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree (fancy way of saying technical writing). I got a paid internship that turned into a job with what was then Armco Steel. I was never so bored in my life and was not unhappy when the duties of the department I was in were transferred to another state and I was laid off.
My husband was three years away from retirement by then. We decided we’d buy a motorhome and travel, but I was too young to retire. Travel nurses were in demand at the time, so I decided quite logically that nursing would be the perfect career. Back to school again, this time for an associate degree. Before my husband retired and we bought an RV, we fell over a gorgeous home overlooking a lake in Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, and there went the motorhome/travel dream. I got a job on the mental health unit at the Lexington V.A. and worked as a nurse there and later at another hospital for the next four years.
I always read the Sunday classifieds and happened to see a job posting for a technical writing job for a Lexington company that wrote software for large court systems. Thanks to the combination of my police background and my master’s degree, I got the job to write manuals and online help. That technical writing job was more interesting than my first one, the pay was good, and the sweetener was they let me work at home most of the time. I stayed with them until I was eligible for early social security, at which point I retired. Now I’m finally writing fiction, which is what I should have been doing all along. I’m not sorry my life played out this way, though, because the different experiences help with writing, I think.
By the way, those aren’t the only jobs I’ve had. They’re just the ones that have lasted the longest. I always say I have a short attention span. 🙂
What made you want to write novels?
I was an only child, we lived in the country, and we didn’t get a television until I was 13. I had other children to play with sometimes, but not every day, so books became my daily “playmates.” I loved reading, and as far back as I can remember, I wanted to write fiction. For too many years, I allowed life to get in the way of that.
What do you like best about being an indie author?
I’m a control freak when it comes to my own life, so I like the ability to publish what and when I want.
Are you working on something right now?
I published A Convenient Death, the third book in my Eden mystery series, at the end of January, and I’ve started on Name Your Poison, the third book in my Top Shelf cozy mystery series. I hope to release it no later than April.