Connie Shelton - When a Relaxing Vacation Turns into a Murder Mystery

Connie Shelton - When a Relaxing Vacation Turns into a Murder Mystery

Besides writing the Charlie Parker, Samantha Sweet, and Heist Ladies mysteries, Connie is an award-winning essayist. Her work has been published in both small and major anthologies, including Chicken Soup For the Writer's Soul, and her short stories have won several prizes. She has also been a commercial hot-air balloon pilot and holds the women's world altitude record for size AX-4 balloons. She has been featured in Who's Who and The World Who's Who of Women. She and her husband live in northern New Mexico with their two dogs, Daisy and Missy, who became stars of their own series of children's books.

Please give us a short introduction to what Vacations can be Murder is about.

Charlotte "Charlie" Parker is an accountant and partner in her brother's private investigation firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although she doesn't really want to be the investigator--that's Ron's job--somehow Charlie seems to get pulled into some of their cases. In Vacations Can Be Murder, Charlie is off for a well-deserved vacation to the garden island of Kauai. During a helicopter tour of the island, she and the pilot, Drake Langston, spot a dead body lying on the rocks below. After the flight, they report it to the police and figure that their part is done. But when Drake's friend is accused of the murder, Charlie is pressed into service to look into it. The police chief is no friend of Mack's, and Drake really wants her help. It doesn't hurt that his winning smile is also winning her heart.

What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?

I was living on Kauai at the time, my husband was a pilot doing tours there.... What can I say? Write what you know! I loved capturing the beauty of the island and weaving a story around a flight I'd taken many times. Fortunately, we never did encounter any dead bodies.

You are an award-winning essayist. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us more about your journey.

I started young as an avid reader and gravitated toward mysteries from the beginning. By the time I'd made my way through Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, and Sherlock Holmes ... well, I think my career and genre were pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

Secret skills .... Hmmm. Well, I can fly a hot air balloon, used to sew my own clothes in high school, and I make a pretty fabulous Bakewell Tart.

What did you have the most fun with when creating "Vacations can be Murder"?

No doubt--the research. Who wouldn't love to live on a tropical island for two years, just so they could use it as a story location!

Tell us more about Charlie. What makes her tick?

Charlie has a soft spot for the underdog. In the first book in the series (Deadly Gamble) that person is her former best friend who comes to her with a simple investigation that turns into something serious and deadly. In Vacations Can Be Murder, she finds herself falling for the handsome helicopter pilot so, by extension, she feels sorry for the spot his friend finds himself in.

This is book 2 of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How does it tie in with the other books in the series?

Yes, this one can definitely be read as a standalone. Charlie is there because her previous case left her a bit drained, but readers don't really need to know much about that in order for this one to make sense. I would definitely encourage everyone to keep going with the series, though, because as you'll see in this one. There's a budding romance between Charlie and Drake, the pilot, and that continues in future books as well. They are a great couple, deeply in love and working together to solve mysteries.

Readers say your book is fast-paced. How did you pull this off?

In all my books, I look for ways to throw in unexpected turns and give the characters a little bit more than they can deal with, up until the moment they do manage to deal with it and wrap up their cases.

Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?

Occasionally. I'm pretty much a plotter, so I usually have a plan. But yeah, sometimes things just happen. I love it when my characters' actions suggest something unexpected to throw into the mix.

When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?

I start with a situation (e.g. there's a dead body on the rocks in an inaccessible location), then I have to figure out which of my sleuths fits that situation best. I write three series and am considering a fourth, so one of them will surely be a fit for the situation I have in mind. Charlie Parker gets cases a private investigator might handle. Samantha Sweet is a baker with a magical touch, so if there's a paranormal element at all, those plots will work for that series. And my third series, The Heist Ladies, features five women who work together to take down the bad guys, so if there's a con man element, they'll jump all over that.

After I've got the situation and which series fits it, I work out the other characters--who they are, what motivates them, how they got into this situation and what they will do about it. Then I work out the timeline and the sequence in which I'll be revealing each new development. Before I can begin the actual writing, I need the opening scene to be very clear in my mind. I also usually know the killer and their motive, but that's one of those ways in which characters can surprise me. Sometimes things change at the last minute.

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

I learned long ago that the only way to write a lot of books (I have published more than 50 now) is to sit myself in the chair and just do it. So, once I have a plot outline and begin the writing, my daily goal is 10 pages and I'm pretty strict with myself on that. I may finish the 10 pages in a couple hours, or it may take all day, but I do my best to stick with it. That produces a first draft in 4-6 weeks. I let the first draft 'rest' for a few weeks, then go back and do my own set of edits. After that, it goes to my editor and her team so they can catch all the things I missed. I'm not sure if all this qualifies as 'interesting' but it's the process that works for me.

What are you working on right now?

I'm doing the final-final edits on my newest Samantha Sweet book, Haunted Sweets (#17). It comes out October 12th. I'm already plotting the next Charlie Parker, which, if all goes well, should be on the spring 2024 publishing list.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

Visit my website From there you can sign up for my newsletter, get a free book, contact me by email, and find all my social media links. I love hearing from readers!

Vacations Can Be Murder
Connie Shelton

Off to Kauai for a much-needed vacation, Charlie takes a helicopter tour with a gorgeous and fascinating pilot, Drake Langston. But partway through the tour they spot a body lying on the rocks below. When Drake's boss, Mack, is accused of murdering the victim, Charlie finds herself with another mystery to solve. Romance is in the air, too, as Charlie and Drake work together to find the answers.