Please welcome Elizabeth Eagan Cox, author of the Shannon Delaney cozy paranormal mystery novels. Haunt Jaunts is one of her stops as she makes her way around the blogosphere on a book tour to promote the recently released third book in her series, A Ghost Meets an Angel.
Her books caught my eye because they combine mystery, ghosts, and haunted locales. She took the time to answer my questions about the who, what, when, how and why that goes into her creations.
For those not familiar with your series, can you talk a little about who Shannon Delaney is and what she does?
Shanon Delaney is a young woman (mid-20s) who is a publicity writer. She writes brochures and corporate histories for the hospitality and entertainment industry. To date, her specialty is writing the commercial brochures for Bed and Breakfast inns and a few entertainment venues that feature dinner theater. Because she is a freelance writer, her assignments allow for travel throughout Southern California.
Shannon came to California by fate. She was employed in Chicago at a magazine publisher and after Shannon’s home burned to the ground, she decided she needed a change of pace. A family friend of her deceased parents asked her to travel to San Diego to help with the transformation of a classic Victorian mansion that was being renovated into a Bed and Breakfast Inn.
This opportunity was the portal for change in Shannon’s life. It not only opened doors for a new career, it opened the door for Shannon’s talent to “speak to the past.” In a paranormal incident on her first night in the Victorian mansion, Shannon discovered she has the intuitive intelligence to use ghostly clues to discover and solve cold case files from long ago, sometimes more than a century ago. Thus, Shannon becomes the central figure and the amateur sleuth that every cozy mystery must have.
I like it. But why the paranormal? What drew you to want to write about that in your novels?
Because there are ghost personalities in every novel in the series. And I treat the spectral characters as real characters, critical to every aspect of the story and plot. The ghosts are never novelties. They serve very real purposes for the plot and for Shannon’s ever evolving personal background.
I used to write non-fiction on California and American history. The non-fiction market went soft and I decided to switch to writing genre fiction. I knew that my passion in fiction was the classic cozy mystery and to tell the truth… the paranormal element of having a few ghosts as characters was not ever given so much as a second thought. I just new it would have to be.
I think the best way to answer this is to say, because of my expertise in researching, knowing and writing about some of the quirky aspects of history, I wanted to have ghosts as a way to segue that history into each contemporary plot. After all, each novel is written in present-day sense of lifestyle. So having a ghost or two pop up was a way to incorporate aspects of history that detail the cold case files and include real tidbits of history in the plot and sub plots.
Also… and here is the answer that is at the heart of the matter… It’s a very Celtic thing to do. Shannon’s ancestry is very much like my own. Except, because her parents died while she was still in college, Shannon really never knew much about her family background. How better than to (eventually) have Shannon discover her family background from ghosts of the same or like ancestry (Oops, I think I just let go of a little known aspect to Shannon’s story!) In the Celtic Culture…the journey of knowing and honoring the spirits of those who have passed on is called Blood Memory.
Now you’re really talking my language. I love anything Celtic-oriented. And speaking of “letting go of info,” when we first started corresponding you shared a tidbit with me that’s not widely known by many of yours fans: that you take your annual vacation at Halloween every year. This really intrigued me. And sparked a couple of questions: (1) Why at Halloween? Is that just when you can get away, or (2) is it a good excuse to seek out haunted vacation destinations at that time?
1. Why at Halloween? Is that just when you can get away?
Yes, because I actively write from March 1st to October 15th of each year. It is during that time span I write the next novel in the series. However, I am the one who arranged this calendar, so I guess it would be most accurate to say that I plan on a vacation over Halloween week.
Halloween is my favorite time of year. And next to the religious holidays of Easter and Christmas, Halloween is my favorite holiday. My dad was born on Halloween…that is very special to the Celts because All Hallows is the end and the beginning. It is the evening of the new year, when all things are possible… and the veil between this world and whatever exists on the other side is at its thinnest. I tend to celebrate it more in the Celtic tradition than the American tradition. For anyone wondering what I mean by that…well, I have an article on my Web site that explains it.
2. is it a good excuse to seek out haunted vacation destinations at that time?
Actually, I don’t seek out haunted places…I just happen upon them! I do like to lodge in places that have character and ambiance. I also like to have a full suite, so I often rent a home, cottage or… as for next Halloween…an historic jail! The properties are often historic or touch upon history in some way. Such as Quite the Stir bungalow in Gettysburg, PA (Halloween 2009), Cherry Street Victorian Cottage in Vicksburg, MS or the in-town plantation home that is Prytania Park boutique hotel in the Garden District of New Orleans. Halloween is a magical time to travel, people are in good spirits everywhere!
By the way, in booking reservations for the Jail for this coming Halloween, the owner assured me that it is not haunted. I said, not to worry, I bring my own ghosts along with me.
LOL. “Good spirits” and “BYOG.” Great! There’s another thing you also mentioned during our exchange that intrigued me. How your cover art is from some of your Haunt Jaunts.
For instance, the ‘pirate shadow’ on the cover of book 2: A Ghost From the Shadows is the larger than life statue of Major General Frederick Steele at the Civil War Battlefield in Vicksburg, MS. And on book 3: A Ghost Meets an Angel, the angel is the Turning Angel from the Natchez Cemetery in Natchez, MS. Will book 4 follow suit or are you at liberty to say?
I hope book 4 will follow in the same trend. A little known fact in this business is that it is the publisher, not the author, who decides on the cover art for a book’s cover. I am lucky to have a publisher (Write Words, Inc) that takes my ideas into consideration. I do have a photo in mind that will (in my opinion) be perfect for the cover of book 4. And the photo I have is from a Haunt Jaunt to Gettysburg. But in no way is it associated to the War Between the States… that of course is what Gettysburg in known for.
I do not go on Haunt Jaunt vacations looking for a Kodak moment to use as book cover art…it just happens.
Another thing I picked up on was something you said about how all of your novels are based in California but you often tie them in to your Southern ancestry. Where in the South do you hail from? And does where you hail from influence your writing at all? (Like did you grow up with a bunch of good ghost stories or something?)
My-Oh-My… do you suppose all my Southern ancestors are whisperin’ in my ears? Name a state below the Mason-Dixon Line and I have skeletons rattling around in it. My ancestry is documented (via membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, “D.A.R.”) to Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina during the 1600s and 1700s. After that, with the pioneering of the wilderness, every Southern State has my ancestors in it. I would say that the influence that seems to come to the surface most often is from the Deep South, specifically Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Now about those ghosts stories… One cannot possibly have the ghosts of the past whispering in one’s ears without a few ghost stories to substantiate the gossip! Though, I can’t say I ever really thought of the ramblings as ghost stories: Wasn’t that just Great-great Grandmother Malinda making sure I crimp the crust on the sweet potato pie the way it should be, which of course, is the way she did it. After all, I am using her 150-year old recipe. Too many cooks in the kitchen? Uh-uh, not in my kitchen… a little bit of spectral spice goes along way.
All joshin’ aside, Southerners and the Celts do have a deep and abiding respect for their dearly departed and tend to keep their memories (and their spirits) with them at all times…doing so is called living close to the bone. My heritage does influence my writing. Once some time ago, one of my sibs asked me why I am so passionate about writing. My answer: I write to quiet the voices of my ancestors. I write so they know we listen. Is this a Southern attitude of living close to the bone? Yes it is. It is also a Celtic homage to my ancestors.
I can appreciate that. I write to quiet the voices in my head too.
Now this next question is one I like to ask everyone I interview: What’s your dream Haunt Jaunt?
Well, now, wouldn’t it be lovely if the powers that be at Hearst Castle in California would renovate it into a grand lodging hotel. I’d book it in a heartbeat for any Halloween I could possibly reserve. Sadly, the powers that be are making a killing charging visitors to stroll through it as a house museum. It is highly unlikely Hearst Castle will ever become a hotel. Darn!
Let’s see… within the realm of real Haunt Juants, instead of wishful ones… I would love to spend a Halloween in Scotland at Loch Ness.
Any my final question: If you could pick a haunted location outside of California to base one of your Shannon Delaney mysteries, where might you consider?
Ooooh! I love this question! Shannon’s name is the clue. She is named for the female water spirit of the River Shannon in Ireland. I would love to have Shannon, (or maybe another female character?), be a sleuth along an historic waterway in the USA. My two favorite rivers are the Mississippi and the James River (in historic tidewater Virginia)…and I have ancestry in both of these areas.
So, let’s see, if it is the Missisppi River, it would have to be the Southern part of the river. A story location near Vicksburg, Natchez, or Baton Rouge would be good. And of course there is New Orleans, though New Orleans it seems is a tad over-used as a location for novels.
And if I were to use the James River? One of the lovely old colonial plantations would be perfect, or a little way from the riverbank at the historic St. Peter’s Parish Church in New Kent County. My Corley ancestors are listed on its parish records to the year it was built in 1700.
What wonderful and fun answers! (I really liked how you based it on your character’s name. Clever!)
Elizabeth, thank you so much stopping by and letting Haunt Jaunts be one of the stops on your busy book blog tour. It’s great to have you.
Be sure to stop back by the blog later today to find out how you can win the first Shannon Delaney book, A Ghost of a Chance, in another Haunt Jaunts Anniversary Bash Giveaway prize pack contest. Elizabeth generously agreed to donate it as one of the party favors for Haunt Jaunts Anniversary Bash celebration!