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Interview with Sally Carpenter

I’m excited to introduce Sally Carpenter and her latest cozy mystery, The Highland Havoc Caper. Her website is so fun, and there’s even a free story to be found. I encourage you to check it out.

What inspired you to write for your audience/in your genre? How did you know this genre would be right for you?
I didn’t read mysteries, except for the Sherlock Holmes stories and the Columbo TV show, until I started writing them. In 2008 I was working at a newspaper and a press release came across my desk about a panel of mystery writers at a local library. Something inside me (the Holy Spirit?) said, “You need to go to this.” I went, and from there started writing mysteries for adults. I had already developed a character in a college playwrighting class that I wanted to use, and found mysteries to be the perfect vehicle for him.

What life experiences have gone into your research?
My first cozy mystery series stars a 38-year-old former teen idol, Sandy Fairfax, who is trying to make a career comeback, reconnect with his estranged family, and stay sober. The first book, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, is set at a Beatles fan convention. As a fan myself, I’ve attended three such conventions, so I knew the setting well.

The second book, The Sinister Sitcom Caper, is set at a movie lot. When I moved to Los Angeles, I worked as a page at Paramount Studios. Pages led the guest tours, seated the audiences for the sitcom shoots, and worked various odd jobs. It was a terrific learning experience. I saw the rehearsal and filming process for shows, so writing about it was a natural.

The third book, The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper, was based on a real cruise I’d taken, three days to Nassau and back. My Christmas cozy, The Notorious Noel Caper, takes place at a theme park somewhat based on Disneyland, which I visited when I had free guest passes.

How have you discovered your story ideas and characters?
Sandy Fairfax was a result of my love for The Monkees and the teen idol music of the 1970s. I researched the idols and found many similarities in their career and life arcs. Sandy is a mash-up of various real-life teen idols.

My second series features Noelle McNabb, an actress working at a Christmas-type theme park in Yuletide, Indiana, based on the real Holiday World/Splashin’ Safari (formerly known as Santa Claus Land) in the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, not far from where I grew up. The series is set in 1967. I love the music, culture, art, clothing, etc. of the 1960s.

What makes your characters unique or interesting? How did you come up with those traits?
As far as I know, I’m the only mystery writer with a former teen idol as a main character (except for a series featuring a young Elvis Presley; those books are not clean reads). It’s interesting to see how Sandy juggles his work and craving for adulation with his home life and need for privacy, how he maneuvers from being a celebrity to just one of the family—his siblings know how to prick his ego balloon.

Sandy’s divorced, and his ex has custody of their two children. He’s striving to spend more time with his kids and not infuriate his ex while doing so. Every teen idol I researched except for Donny Osmond is divorced; usually their kids are with the ex.

Noelle is one of the few amateur sleuths who’s also a Christian. She attends church, prays, and finds her morals conflicting with her undercover work. When I started reading mysteries, I found far too many had a person of faith as the villain. Any time a preacher or nun showed up in the story, he/she was the killer. I created Noelle in retaliation to show that Christians are good, sensible, and normal people.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
My decision to write “clean reads.” I should have done it from the outset. Baffled Beatlemaniac went out of print, and some years later my current publisher agreed to re-release it (hence the “revised second edition” tag). Fortunately, I re-read the book before I sent in the manuscript. I was taken back by some of the language I’d used. In my spiritual walk at the time, I decided that wasn’t right. From then on, I only write clean reads. I revised my previous books and removed the language (along with various typos). I discovered that without the language, the story reads just as well and is, in fact, stronger and the characters are more likable. So don’t read used editions of the first four Sandy Fairfax books; new copies should have the changes.

How do you discipline your time to write (schedule, etc.)?
I work a full-time day job, so my writing is limited to evenings and weekends. In 2021, I chose to start working remotely permanently for my job, which was a blessing. I have an extra hour each day for writing and reading, not wasting time stressing out in traffic.

How does your day job feed into your writing?
I work at a family-owned and -operated community newspaper, one of the few papers left in America that isn’t part of a chain or syndicate. Maybe that’s encouraged my own independent/rebel nature. I’ve learned about grammar (never one of my strong points), improved my writing overall, and become more diligent in proofreading, which has helped with my fiction writing.

I’ve also written an inspiration column for the paper, Roots of Faith, which I regard as mini-Bible studies. This happened some years ago when the regular faith columnist, a New Age minister, moved away and ended his column. At the time, the papers were regularly running a Faith section, and I offered to write a column. I regard this as my ministry. I’ve learned much about the Bible, and readers have expressed appreciation for my work.

Do you have any quirky habits or special snacks that help you focus?
I can’t have noise while I’m writing, but when I’m thinking up plots I like to play music: ‘60s-‘70s rock and of course teen idol music. I still handwrite first drafts. I can’t compose fiction staring at a computer; it feels too much like a day job.

What hobbies do you have besides writing?
Last year my local library started a Genre Book Club for adults. We read mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance and other non-literary works. It’s a lively group with good discussions. Last year we read one of my books and will tackle another one this summer. The members take turns leading the discussions. I’ll be heading up the session on “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” by Douglas Adams, one of my favorite humorous sci-fi authors. I joined the group to expand my reading and see what’s out in the world. I’d read a lot of science fiction as a kid and may want to write in the genre. The club books are not Christian, but one can learn from any successful author.

Finish this sentence: “Every author should___________________.”
Connect with other authors (especially with those in ACFW). I enjoy spending time with my characters, but after so much time alone at the computer, I need human contact.

Please tell us about your new release?
The Highland Havoc Caper is book six in the Sandy Fairfax series, although readers should be able to hop in without reading the previous books. Some of the book takes place at the Highland Games, based on the real Seaside Highland Games in Ventura, California. Sandy spends a lot of time in the story with his teenage son, Chip. I didn't plan it that way--it just happened. His ex has custody, so Sandy spoils his kids so they like him--and he's shocked at Chip's sudden rebellion. At the games, Sandy and Chip tour an authentic Scottish castle transported from the home land. Bored, Chip ducks off into an off-limits cellar and finds a body. But when Sandy and Chip return with the security guards, the corpse has vanished. Likewise gone is the piper they witness falling out of the castle tower. Sandy values Chip's sleuthing help, but panics when his son falls for a 19-year-old, world-wise actress. Is dad too overprotective? Meanwhile, Sandy and Cinnamon are engaged, but face roadblocks on their way to the altar.
Terri Thompson is an author, foodie, nature lover and philanthropist. She loves walks along the beach at sunset, dancing in the living room with her grandchildren, the beauty of flavors expertly combined, and the joy of words creatively knit together to bring truth to life. She blogs about writing, life and inspiration at To learn about the non-profits supported by the H. G. Clay Foundation go to

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