I am thrilled to have been invited to participate in the “Death & Damages” box set anthology with a stable of talented bestselling authors like the one you are about to meet.
These amazing writers have graciously agreed to let my blog readers share in an exclusive interview AND get a sneak peek at the book they have contributed to the Death & Damages box set – 25 stories for 99 cents!
Today, we sit down with Shereen Vedam, author of Missing You.
DAN: Tell me briefly about the story you are contributing to the Death and Damages anthology
SHEREEN VEDAM: My book in the Dead and Damages boxed set is Missing You, a travel mystery romance. It’s a cozy-type mystery that is partially set in a fictional small town called Harrington Bay along the US Oregon coast, and partially on the real tropical island country of Sri Lanka in the Southern Indian Ocean, just south of India.
People will love that. No one knows where Sri Lanka is, and everyone has heard about it and wants to go there.
What inspired this story?
I was born in Sri Lanka and hadn’t been back there since I was 5 years old, so I was intrigued enough to want to set a story there. I’ve since visited the country and it lived up to all my expectations and more. That trip also helped me add a few pertinent details to the story. I hope I’ve done Sri Lanka proud in Missing You.
How long of a piece is it?
This is a short novel, about 45,000 words, or 160 pages.
Tell me a little bit about you. Where do you do your writing?
These days, I write while on the bus to work. The first draft is hand-written in a notebook.
Old school. I like it!
What does writing success look like to you?
I’ll consider myself thoroughly successful once my writing income supports me writing full time.
Do you ever collaborate with others?
I’m collaborating with the other 24 authors in this boxed set. It’s my 5th set. A 6th is in the works.
“I love collaborating with other authors.
I learn so much about the business from them and hope I can contribute a little toward their path to achieving writing success.”
How do you develop characters?
I have a book called The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, Sue Viders. There’s probably a newer version but this old one is my bible for character development.
Tell me a little bit about your process. What is the path from idea to finished story? Do you use critique partners? Do you have a favorite editor?
I used to be a dedicated plotter.
USED to be? Uh oh.
I would outline a story from start to finish. Detail chapter by chapter, draw out plot lines and analyze characters arcs. I’ve written a dozen books that way. It was a fast and productive way of writing.
These days, I’m a full-on pantser (i.e. I write by the seat of my pants with minimal plotting).
Noooooo! You went to the dark side!
Yep. I choose the genre and come up with an idea, decide on the themes I wish to explore, choose character archetypes I want to work with and then start writing by hand and see where the story takes me. The process is way slower, labor intensive (have to read my scribbles!), and I have to find the time to do all that while working full time. That said, I find the stories I’m now telling are richer and more creative and the words flow out of me much easier. I’m never going back to the old way of plot-writing.
I have insightful, no-holds-barred, critique partners who go over everything, every other week, 10 pages at a time.
“I’ve cried after many of these sessions.”
Once a book’s finished the critiquing process, a friend does substantial edits, gives me honest, sometimes brutal, feedback and is great at catching continuity slip-ups. I also go over the entire book a handful of times myself (I enjoy reading my stuff while on the bus, I like sitting on double-deckers in the back). Sometimes I laugh to myself and I always carry spare Kleenex for when the waterworks begin.
After all the edits are completed, I use a final proofer who liberally quotes back to me from the Chicago Manual of Style as she scours the pages for typos, grammatical errors and sentence structure issues.
“By the time a book is finished and ready for publication, I and my book usually feel as if we’ve been put through a sausage maker.
But we taste so good!”
What do you do for your cover? It’s always hard to find a good cover. How do you find yours, or the artwork?
I’ve explored the whole spectrum of this work. I’ve done my own cover, bought premades and ordered custom covers. The best ones I have were the custom covers I purchased myself (not my publisher) where I gave the artist a few tips and let them create their own vision instead of being prescriptive about what I want. I’m going to keep doing that from now on.
What about your blurb and tagline? What is your process for arriving at a really killer tagline and then a blurb that makes readers want to buy the book?
This, too, will likely evolve over time. Currently I’m trying to write my own, learn how it should be done and keep improving my technique.
Do you have cats?
Yes. I read your interview instructions, so, enough said.
* EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PREVIEW *
Excerpt from Missing You / Chapter 1
Trust no one! Aunt Helen’s text read.
The humid heat of Sri Lanka had sweat trickling down twenty-two-year-old Phoebe Clay’s back but that text from her great aunt sent a shiver of icy fear scurrying up her spine. She immediately asked for details. Aunt Helen replied there was a family emergency and begged Phoebe to come home. NOW. Then she warned her not to mention her plea for help to anyone else, not even the family.
Her favorite aunt’s ominous silence after that exchange freaked Phoebe out. She should have called her dad right away, or one of her brothers. Perhaps even braved contacting her mother, but she had shuddered at taking such a dire action. Instead, knowing she and her partner were in a lull in their case, she notified him about a family emergency and hopped on the first plane out of Colombo.
Later that night, still a little bleary-eyed from her twenty-one-hour flight and the shift in time difference, Phoebe texted her aunt. “I’m home.”
She got out of the Uber, hoping Aunt Helen would come downstairs and let her in. It would save her waking up her parents or her great-grandfather Walter.
After a three-year absence, it felt odd to be back in Harrington Bay, or HB as it was known among the locals. HB was located south of Portland, Oregon, close to the coast. She stood partially shielded by the thick trunk of a white oak as she observed their closed front door. It was past midnight, so the porch light had been switched off. The moon, too, wisely hid on this cloudy spring night that vibrated with tension.
Her phone buzzed. Another text from her aunt. Finally.
Thank God you’re back, Phoebe! I’m already in. Hurry!
Phoebe ran toward her front door while thumbing back the obvious question, In where?
The next text flashed a different address than theirs. She stopped in her tracks, her astonished gaze swinging left, toward the large Victorian house next door.
She fished a flashlight from her travel duffle bag before tucking her kit behind a bush near her front door. She then cautiously headed to the neighboring property.
According to her aunt, Tucker Harrington, a retired army major, had recently returned to the town his ancestors helped build and then brought this house.
Over shoulder-high box hedges, the neighboring home’s exterior appeared to have been painted a new lighter shade. The garden had been tamed since Phoebe left home. It no longer grew wild, appearing tended and landscaped, with fresh dark mulch spread thickly on the beds.
Why was her septuagenarian aunt texting Phoebe from inside Tucker’s house? No porch lights on there either. Tucker was also in his seventies, so he could be asleep. Was her aunt in his bed? Phoebe shook off the unsettling image. Just how close was Aunt Helen to this old dude? Was his grandson home?
A light flickered in one of the downstairs windows. Her phone buzzed. Another text from her aunt. You coming? Head to the right of the front door. Don’t wake Tucker!
It was the longest note Phoebe had received since Aunt Helen first mentioned this family emergency. It set her alarm bells ringing. Was her aunt in trouble over there? If so, Phoebe had arrived in HB just in time.
She shut off the ringer and stuffed her phone into her pocket and headed toward the target location. Her pace automatically altered into a cat-like prowl.
She arrived as her aunt raised a window. With her pale face and neck greased black, Aunt Helen resembled a burglar more than a femme fatale. Tall, spry, with white hair in loose curls, glasses sliding down her greasy nose, and dressed in black fatigues, Aunt Helen could have been Phoebe’s double, except Phoebe’s hair hadn’t turned gray. The night was young.
“What’s going on?” Phoebe whispered, leaning in and scanning the room for threats.
“Tucker’s kidnapped my cat. I’m here to rescue her.”
“Cat?” Phoebe asked in shock. Had she just flown halfway across the world to help her dotty aunt rescue a cat? Her boss would murder her when he found out. Or at least fire her. She wasn’t ready to leave it. Not yet.
“You coming in?” Aunt Helen asked, holding out her hand as if to help Phoebe crawl in through the window.
“No!” Phoebe said, “but I’ll help you climb out.”
She reached in but her aunt backed away. “I’m not leaving without my Fur-Phoebe.”
She had named her two-year-old feline after Phoebe, saying the independent black and white cat reminded her of her great niece. A twinge of guilt swirled at the thought. She’d been gone a long time. Perhaps too long.
“If you won’t help me, I’ll find her on my own.” Aunt Helen’s defiant tone suggested she didn’t intend to stay out of trouble this night.
“You’re going to get caught,” Phoebe whispered.
The old lady ignored her and carried on searching the room. With a heavy sigh, Phoebe debated her options. She could wake Tucker and inform him that her aunt was in his house. What if he called the police? Or his grandson did?
What would her mother say if Phoebe allowed her aunt to get arrested? That didn’t bear thinking about. If she helped, her aunt was less likely to get caught. In seconds, Phoebe was in through the window.
“Oh, good,” her aunt said, “you’re going to help.”
Phoebe scanned the leather-and-cigar-scented study with her flashlight and asked, “Will the cat come if you call her?”
“’Course. Here, Fee…bee–”
Phoebe snaked her hand across her aunt’s mouth and checked to see if they’d been heard. The room remained silent and empty. “I’ll call.”
Although they resembled each other in stature and features, Phoebe had thankfully not inherited her aunt’s voice. Helen Clay, on her best day, sounded like a rusty hinge.
In comparison, Phoebe’s soft voice was a pliable tool she used to blend into the background and avoid detection. “Here, Phoebe, come here, kitty.”
“How do you expect her to hear that?” Her aunt slithered out of Phoebe’s hold. “I can barely hear you.”
“Any louder and Mom will hear us next door,” Phoebe whispered. She was only half kidding. Her mother had great hearing. Some might even say uncanny. Considering the noise her aunt was making, she wouldn’t be surprised if the police arrived soon, never mind her mother.
“You worry about every piddly detail. All that matters is that Tucker not hear us. He should be asleep. Also, he takes off his hearing aid when he turns in.”
“How do you know that?” Phoebe asked with suspicion.
“He told me.”
Something in her aunt’s tone further alerted Phoebe. “How close are you two?”
“Shhh. I think I hear my cat.”
She doubted her aunt heard a thing. It was an attempt to avoid answering her question.
“What about Morgan, his grandson? Does he take out his hearing aid, too?” she asked with layered sarcasm.
“He’s out on a hot date.”
That was a relief but her aunt sounded derisive. She thought the old lady was fond of her new young neighbor; she talked about him enough. A lawyer. A volunteer firefighter. An all-around good guy. So, not surprising he was taken. She shrugged off her aunt’s disdain toward her young neighbor having a night out on the town for a later conversation.
They quickly finished searching this room before going on to the dining and living rooms, a half bath, then finally the kitchen and pantry. There was no sign of any feline. Not even a can of cat food in the cupboards.
All the while, like a loud grandfather clock, time sped by. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
The only room left on this floor was the library. Phoebe eased opened the door and peered in. Empty. Her aunt pushed her aside and went in. She followed with resignation, pausing by an end table. Phoebe picked up a framed photograph there and shone her light on it.
“That’s Tucker and his boy,” Aunt Helen said, leaning over her shoulder.
Aunt Helen had said little about Tucker in her texts other than that the elderly man had retired from the army, was fastidious in his manners and took pains to annoy her.
The elder Harrington had a stern face, trim gray mustache and matching short-cropped hair. He had a certain remoteness about him. Not someone she easily pictured cozying up to her extroverted great aunt. Nor could she picture him stooping to steal a cat.
Poison it maybe, but why take it? For her aunt’s sake, she hoped little Phoebe was still alive. “You’re certain Tucker is a cat thief?”
“Yes!” Aunt Helen said with emphasis. “He’s never liked my baby. Said I paid too much attention to my sweet darling. Imagine that! Pay too much attention? He knows nothing of cats.” Her aunt pointed to the younger Harrington. “Told you he’d be worth your time.”
Morgan’s expression was softer. She put him in his late twenties. He had strong features, was clean shaven with dark hair. His troubled gaze was aimed toward the older man on his left rather than at the camera. In one glance, she guessed he was devoted to his grandfather.
Her aunt carried on checking the room and Phoebe reluctantly returned the frame to the table and got back to the job at hand. They looked into cupboards and inside cabinets but found nary a sign of an imprisoned or napping cat.
Though she was as diligent as her aunt in searching the room, Phoebe’s mind kept returning to the Harrington men, especially the younger one.
Her aunt had said that Morgan lost his parents in a car accident when he turned nine. An impressionable age for such a tragic loss. He’d been brought up by his grandfather ever since. What she’d learned about him had made her long to meet him one day. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be from behind bars. “Your cat’s not here, Aunt Helen. Let’s leave before Tucker wakes up.”
“Tucker might have locked up my baby in the basement. He’s allergic to cat hair.”
“What? Exactly how well do you know this man?”
“The worst of enemies are often the closest of friends.”
Her aunt hurried out of the room before Phoebe could question her further. She caught up to the cryptic old lady as she was heading down the stairs. The front door suddenly burst open and lights came on.
“This is the police,” a woman shouted. “Drop your weapons and put your hands up.”
Phoebe muttered an unladylike curse and complied. Her flashlight clanged as it thumped on the carpeted foyer and rolled against her boot. Aunt Helen, a step below, hesitated.
“Do it.” The last thing Phoebe needed was for her great aunt to get gunned down as she made a run for the basement.
Aunt Helen reluctantly came upstairs, arms also raised.
What a homecoming.
The plainclothes policewoman approached closer, holding out a badge and pointing her revolver. Phoebe could have plucked that gun from her hand but her aunt getting hurt in any ensuing struggle squashed the idea. A tall young man in a black leather coat came inside next, out of the darkness.
Phoebe’s eyes widened in appreciation of “Tucker’s boy.” Her aunt was correct about one thing. He was definitely worthy of a second glance.
* * *
Morgan watched in astonishment as the two intruders followed Janet’s order.
They’d been out clubbing and he was about to drive her home when his grandfather’s text came through.
Someone’s broken into the house. Hurry back.
Dread had resounded in Morgan’s heart as long-buried memories of overhearing the police informing his babysitter about his parents’ deaths returned with a fury. He’d jumped into his truck, and Janet joined him, slamming her door shut as he did a U-turn and headed home double quick.
Ignoring speed limits, he’d quietly prayed, Stay alive, Gramps. Please. I’m coming.
Janet had sat quietly beside him, reading the text on his phone. She hadn’t even complained about his driving. She had simply, calmly, called for backup to meet them at Tucker’s house. There were advantages to dating a cop. He planned to remind Tucker of that the next time his grandfather disparaged her.
She now efficiently frisked the two female culprits and read them their rights. Then astonishment struck him. Those white curls on one of them looked familiar. Could the elderly criminal be Helen Clay? No! Could it? Why would she break in here? She was welcome anytime. Was this some sort of joke? About to speak, he held his tongue. Frightening his grandfather wasn’t funny.
The younger thief was as tall and slender as Helen. Her movements were graceful and her shiny black hair was pulled into a long straight ponytail from the top of her head. Her black tee shirt hung over dark ripped jeans that molded over her muscled legs before disappearing into sturdy work boots.
Janet’s younger captive reminded Morgan of one of his father’s army cadets. No, she was more like a panther. She stood tensed, predatory, as if waiting for an opening to attack. The only incongruity were her glasses that sat over her straight nose, shading a pair of blue eyes.
Who was she and how was she connected with Helen? The only answer came bright and deadly as the firing of a gun.
Phoebe Clay. The estranged daughter of Brenda Clay.
“Is that necessary?” an elderly male voice asked from the top of the stairs.
Morgan’s gaze flicked up toward his grandfather who was descending the stairs. A wave of relief washed over him. Tonight, unlike before, his prayers had been answered. His grandfather wasn’t dead. In fact, Tucker looked better than okay. He didn’t seem shaken at all.
“I don’t think they’re carrying,” Tucker said as he reached the ground floor.
“This is police business, Major Harrington,” Janet said. “Let me handle it.”
Morgan hurried over to the poor old guy, wishing he could cuff the would-be thieves himself for frightening Tucker. He couldn’t believe Helen would take part in such a stupid prank. Her great niece must have talked her into it. As for Phoebe – he took a deep breath, reining in his temper.
When he and his grandfather first moved to town, the Clays had shown them nothing but kindness and watched over them. He would not stand still and allow Phoebe Clay to hurt Helen. He put a hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. “Let Janet handle this, Gramps. Did you get a fright when you heard them break in?”
“I’m fine.” Tucker turned to Janet. “Do you intend to book them for Break and Enter?”
“Will you press charges?” Janet asked.
“Definitely. If you hadn’t come, who knows what they might have done. I hear burglars beat up folks when they break in these days.”
As an army major, Tucker could handle any crisis. Yet, his grandfather wasn’t young anymore, and fears could grow in the strangest places.
“You two got here quickly,” Tucker said.
“Glad to help,” she said.
Sirens sounded outside suggesting police backup had arrived. In no time, Janet left with her prisoners. Over her shoulder, she instructed Morgan to drive Tucker in to the station so he could give his statement.
Once the front door slammed shut, Morgan asked, “Are you up to giving a statement tonight, or would you prefer to go in the morning?”
“Give me a few minutes to change and we can leave,” Tucker said with a grin. “I wouldn’t miss tonight for the world. This is more fun than all my tours in Vietnam rolled together.”
Morgan watched the old guy race up the stairs thinking, Vietnam had been fun?
They got into his Ford truck and drove to the police station. “Are you sure you’re okay, Gramps?”
“Yup. Helen looked good in black, didn’t you think?”
“You knew it was her?” he asked, surprised.
“Um…not right away, of course, but later, after Janet cuffed them both. I couldn’t miss Helen. Would I have called you if I’d known Helen had broken into my house?”
“Of course not,” Morgan said, suddenly uncertain. “Now you know, do you still intend to press charges?”
Tucker chuckled. “This is the most excitement that woman has had outside of her thrillers. Do her good to see there’s more to life than reading and cats.”
“I’m sure this break-in wasn’t Helen’s idea. The other woman is most likely her niece, Phoebe. She must have talked Helen into this crazy scheme.”
“Think so?” Tucker gave Morgan a wry side-glance.
“Yes. Helen would never try to scare you.”
“Guess you’ve never paid attention to the types of books she reads,” Tucker said. “Those serial killer tales would turn your hair white.”
Morgan sent him a frowning glance before pulling up to the station parking lot.
The large room where Tucker was to make out his report was eerily empty this late at night. Morgan checked his cell phone. Almost two in the morning.
Across the room, Phoebe Clay stood with one arm casually draped across her aunt’s shoulders. Her gaze zeroed in on him as if she sensed his scrutiny.
His pulse jerked to startled attention. He had an irresistible urge to smile back. He quickly sent his gaze on a desperate search for Janet. He’d almost made them official tonight, before his grandfather’s text derailed his plans.
About The Author
Once upon a time, USA Today bestselling author Shereen Vedam read fantasy and romance novels to entertain herself. Now she writes heartwarming tales braided with threads of magic and love and mystery elements woven in for good measure.
Shereen’s a fan of resourceful women, intriguing men, and happily-ever-after endings. If her stories whisk you away to a different realm for a few hours, then Shereen will have achieved one of her life goals.
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Gang, please join me in thanking Shereen for sharing these authorly insights with us.
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Danger lurks around every corner as these courageous cops, adventurous agents, and daring detectives hunt for the answers to stop the crimes by vicious killers.
But what if the damage is already done?
Inside these pages, you’ll find 25 adventures full of captivating conundrums, hair-raising homicides, and suspenseful secrets from today’s USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling and award-winning authors.
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Fans of Lee Child, James Patterson, Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, and John Grisham will devour these puzzling mysteries and gripping thrillers.
Including Stories From…
- New York Times bestselling author Patricia Loofbourrow
- USA Today bestselling author Pauline Creeden
- USA Today bestselling author John Ling
- Award-Winning author Alexa Padgett
- Siera London
- USA Today bestselling author Shereen Vedam
- Multi-Award-Winning author, Deborah Shlian
- USA Today bestselling author Kelly Hashway
- USA Today bestselling author JB Michaels
- Maggie Carpenter
- USA Today bestselling author Tiana Laveen
- Angela Sanders
- Award-Winning author Karen M. Bryson
- Aime Austin
- Lisa B. Thomas
- USA Today bestselling author Fiona Quinn
- Kerry J Donovan
- Jane Blythe
- Bestselling author Dan Alatorre
- USA Today bestselling authors Muffy Wilson and Dariel Raye
- Ja’Nese Dixon
- USA Today bestselling author Terry Keys
- Bill Hargenrader
- Wall Street Journal bestselling author Judith Lucci
- Award-Winning author Maria Grazia Swan