Pamela Fagan Hutchins - A Tropical Island, High-Strung Attorney and a Romantic Mystery
When Pamela Fagan Hutchins isn't out riding draft horses with her hunky husband way up in the frozen north of Snowheresville, WY and deep in the heart of Nowheresville, TX, she is working on her bestselling What Doesn't Kill You romantic mysteries. The series has won multiple awards and as our Author of the Day, Hutchins tells us all about the latest book in the series, Saving Grace.
Please give us a short introduction to what Saving Grace is about.
Texas attorney and alcoholic Katie Connell’s career just melted down before her eyes. After very public failure during a doomed celebrity trial and a heart-wrenching breakup, she avoids rehab by retreating to the tropical island where her parents tragically died. But when she arrives, it becomes obvious that her parents’ supposed accident was cold and calculated. As Katie sorts through the clues, she gets help from an unexpected source: a spirited house named Annalise. Between the kindred ghost, a local singing sensation, and a handsome chef, Katie searches for redemption and tries to solve her parents’ murders.
What inspired you to write about a high-strung Texas attorney who flees to a tropical island?
I spent many years on the island of St. Croix and have always wanted to write novels that capture the exotic atmosphere of the tropics. I developed Saving Grace after coming up with the main character, Katie, a single attorney in love with an investigator. At the time I wrote Saving Grace, I was still working as an employment attorney and workplace investigator. But, of course, Saving Grace is fiction and any resemblance to actual people and events is purely coincidental (wink wink).
Your books have received multiple awards. What, would you say, is the secret to your success?
Yes, thank you! Saving Grace is the first book in the What Doesn’t Kill You world romantic mysteries. I’m currently working on the 16th book in the series. So I’d say one of the main ingredients to the secret sauce is to write, write, and write some more. Sixteen novels in four years requires a brutal schedule. But, I think the real key is that I’ve tried to write realistic and compelling characters. I’ve put my dynamic female protagonists into a variety of sensational problems, added a touch of practical magic, and forced them to confront their personal demons.
Tell us more about the "What Doesn't Kill You" series. Why did you title it this way?
The What Doesn’t Kill You series consists of fifteen (and counting) romantic mysteries. Each novel is independent but interwoven with the entire series. Most of the main characters appear in other novels and supporting characters make cameos all throughout the series. Within the whole series, each protagonist–Katie, Emily, Michele, Ava, Maggie and (coming soon) Laura–gets their own trilogy.
The second half of the statement “what doesn’t kill you” is “makes you stronger” and that really defines my protagonists. They are all women thrust into life-threatening danger, and they come out stronger in the end.
You describe St. Marcos in great detail, virtually transporting the readers to a tropical island. How did you pull this off?
My husband, Eric, is a Crucian, meaning he grew up on the island of St. Croix, and we lived there for many years. My descriptions are based on personal experience as are all my novels’ settings including Texas, New Mexico, and Wyoming. I’ve been blessed to live in some fantastic settings and I always strive to take my reader there with me.
Katie is a flawed character who struggles with a lot of issues and made a lot of bad choices. Why did you write her this way and how did you manage to make her so likeable?
First of all, thank you! Secondly, I really strive for authenticity. For a lot of women, Katie represents the mistakes we’ve all made. She’s got a lot of baggage, but the reader can’t help but cheer her on even when it seems like two steps forward, one step back. My hope is that the reader is compelled to find out if Katie’s got what it takes to overcome her problems and save the day. And she’s funny and insecure, which I think helps.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m not sure I have any secret skills, but I do wear a lot of hats. In my former life, I was an attorney. When I wrote Saving Grace, I still worked full-time as an attorney, was training for a triathlon, and had a houseful of teenagers. So those were some white-knuckled years. But lately, if I’m not writing, I can possibly be found singing karaoke at a nearby roadhouse or working on my weekly podcast, Wine, Women and Writing Radio.
What do you think is the most important part of creating seductive heroes readers can't get enough of?
Hmm, good question. What is seductive is different to every person, so I err on the side of authenticity—what is seductive to me? I am a sucker for mystery, emotional intensity/capacity for great passion, and humor. Now, it’s no secret that my husband is a good looking guy. I have nothing against good looks ;-) but I wouldn’t find him endlessly sexy if he wasn’t mysterious, passionate, and good to laugh with, even at the most intimate of times. I try to give my leading men a little of all three of those traits.
What did you have the most fun with when writing this book?
NBA star Zane McMillan!! I had no idea who the defendant in Katie’s doomed celebrity trial would be until I started giggling. When a writer starts to laugh before writing a scene and has no idea why, that doesn’t mean she’s crazy. It means a great idea is coming. I had a ball writing Zane and the whole courtroom sequence, and especially Katie’s meltdown. The meltdown scene is my very favorite part of the book.
Do you have a favorite line from the book, and can you explain what that line means to you?
My favorite line from Saving Grace is an excerpt really:
She was defiantly beautiful and strong, soaring over a sea of green treetops, and behind her, the ocean, which looked like the sky. A view of the world turned upside down. I shivered.
This is Katie’s view of her soon-to-be home, and the moment when she begins to see its magic, and the way in which it is a mirror of herself. I love it, and I loved the house—the house Annalise in the Saving Grace and the other Katie novels is based on my own house on St. Croix in the USVI.
Do you ever suffer from writer's block? What do you do to combat it?
Absolutely! I do get writer’s block. And the first thing I do is talk to my husband, Eric. He’s a huge part of my writing process. We plot the novels together and any time I hit a snag, he’s my “go-to”. We divide our time between Texas and Wyoming so I have the luxury of taking a break and walking around our beautiful property with my pack of rescue dogs or I go for a ride on my gigantic draft horse, Katniss. I also have a playlist of music for each character that puts me in the mood and mind of the main character. And I use clothing and jewelry to help me stay muse-based while I write. I discuss this in my blog post Touching Allowed.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Yes. My friend, Natalie, inspired the sensational Ava who is introduced in Saving Grace. Ava is a sexy and gorgeous island native. But she’s also sophisticated and talented. She’s the type of woman you really want to hate but you just can’t because she’s so awesome. Ava appears in multiple books in the What Doesn’t Kill You series and she was my most requested “write more” protagonist. Ava finally got her own books in the series and she’s showcased in Bombshell, Stunner and Knockout. In my blog post, How “made up” is Ava, Really? I talk about how my real life friends Natalie and Stephanie inspired my characters Ava and Emily.
I draw a lot of inspiration for characters and events from real life. In my recent blog post, Where Truth and Fiction Collide I give all the embarrassing details of going through a painful illness and hospitalization and explain how that ended up in Searching for Dime Box.
Can you give our readers a sneak peek of what is coming next from you?
I’d be delighted! Readers who subscribe to my monthly newsletter can get a copy of Act One, a prequel novella in the What Doesn’t Kill You series. It features all of the butt-kicking protagonists in the What Doesn’t Kill You world. I’m just wrapping up the Maggie series and I invite readers to come take a sneak peek of Live Wire. Maggie also appeared earlier in the series and my readers have been asking for her to take center stage. She has been a lot of fun to write. Like my other characters, Maggie has quite a bit of junk from her former life trailing after her, but readers can follow along as she solves crimes and pieces her life together. After a small and much needed break, I’ll begin the Laura trilogy. Laura is vastly different from Ava and Maggie, so I need a chance to decompress and switch gears.