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A Crime Writers Interview: The Fascinating Peggy Townsend

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We are pleased to bring you another crime writers interview, this time with the fascinating Peggy Townsend, who has just released her very first mystery novel.

Why do I say fascinating? Read on!

An award-winning newspaper journalist, Peggy Townsend has reported stories that ranged from the trial of a murdering mortician to an Auschwitz survivor’s fight to get back the portraits she’d painted in the death camp. When Peggy isn’t writing, she loves to run and ski and she has rafted wild rivers, twice lived for seven weeks in her van, and has come face-to-face with both a mountain lion and a grizzly bear, which proves she probably spends a little too much time outdoors. Her first mystery novel, SEE HER RUN, published by Thomas & Mercer, just released on June 1.

Kass Lamb (on behalf of misterio press) To start things off, tell us one or two interesting things that will help folks understand who you are?

Peggy Townsend

Peggy in her running shoes!

Peggy Townsend:  I guess the first thing you might want to know about me is that, one dark October night, I chased an escaped serial killer through the woods. I was working the crime beat for my newspaper at the time and just happened to be riding along with this tough, street-smart cop when his radio squawked awake. A serial killer named Billy Mansfield had escaped from County Jail and a witness had seen a man in an orange jail jumpsuit headed downtown.

Most of the searchers went that way. But the officer I was with turned his patrol car in the opposite direction, almost as if he knew exactly where Mansfield would be.

We parked outside a cemetery that bordered a river east of the jail and hurried through the graveyard, flashlights sweeping over headstones and places a prisoner might hide. Then, we plunged into the brush and woods along the river following a faint trail for about a mile until a search dog arrived. The disheveled killer, later found guilty of murdering five women, was found a few hours later hiding on the same trail the officer and I had been following

All of which leads to the second thing you should know about me, which is that, in my regular life, I would have run in the opposite direction of an escaped serial killer.

Also, because I’m a reporter, I’m really, really good at deadlines.

Why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you, rather than say romance or science fiction?

I’ve spent a lot of time in courtrooms and in the investigation bureau as a newspaper reporter. I covered the trial of a mortician and casket salesman who tried to disguise his murder of a young male prostitute by refrigerating the body and then dumping it later so it appeared the boy had died when the guy had an alibi. The mortician was foiled, however, by a small blotch of decomposition on the boy’s body, which was spotted by a sharp-eyed medical examiner.

I wrote stories about rapes, gang shootings and about the investigation and arrest of David Carpenter, the so-called Trailside Killer. I attended parole hearings for serial killers John Linley Frazier and Herbert Mullins and got to see the inner workings of the justice system from both the prosecution and defense sides.

So, when I decided I wanted to write a novel, I turned to crime fiction because not only did I know it best, but I loved the whole cat-and-mouse idea of how you catch a killer or a rapist. Plus, as a writer, putting myself in the minds of both the criminal and detective, figuring out plot twists, and dropping clues that may or may not be important, is not only challenging but super fun and creative.

Kass:  Wow, you have had a really exciting career as a journalist. So where are you with your fiction writing now? Tell us a little about your stories.

book coverPeggy:  After spending decades writing non-fiction, I decided to give fiction a try and, let me tell you, it’s a lot harder than it looks. But thanks to my smart writing groups, a talented developmental editor named Heather Lazare, and my wise and wonderful agent, Heather Jackson, I got my first two-book deal last year with Thomas & Mercer publishing. I have an amazing editor at T&M, along with a super-talented team of publicists, road-smoothers, artists and editors so when SEE HER RUN was given an early release in the U.K. and Australia, it hit the bestseller list: No. 4 overall in paid Kindle sales, which made me realize that I can actually call myself an author. I’m finishing up my second novel as we speak.

Kass:  What’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?

Peggy:  I spent an entire day researching chemical castration (I know, I know) which led me to the discovery that a widely used pesticide not only chemically castrates three-quarters of male frogs exposed to it but also turns one in ten male frogs into females. Scary and weird stuff.

On the lighter side, I now know how to make really good French-press coffee after researching it for my book.

Kass:  In your story, what changed the most from the first draft to the last?

Peggy:  I had to cut a character I loved because my very wise and talented agent said he was a distraction. I protested. I argued. But, deep down, I knew she was right. The character (and his dog) now resides on a lonely Word doc titled simply, “Noah.” Maybe he’ll come back some day, but probably not.

Kass:  Aww, Now I want to meet Noah. I hope you get to write him into a future story. Last of all, what question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they usually don’t? What is your answer to that question?

Peggy:  This is funny because this is often the last question I ask when I’m writing a profile about someone. So, I would like an interviewer to ask me: What is my hidden talent?

The answer would be that I am a whiz at mirror writing, which is writing backward so the message can only be read in a mirror.

I learned to mirror write in fifth-grade after I read a story about Leonardo da Vinci and how he hid all his discoveries and thoughts in his journal using mirror writing.  Because I was a weird kid, I’d do my homework every night and then turn the paper over and trace the backward sentences until I got the hang of it. Now, I’m a master mirror writer. Unfortunately, my penmanship still looks like a fifth-grader’s.

Kass:  And there you have it, folks, an award-winning journalist with lots of real-life stories under her belt and some new make-believe ones she’s eager to tell, and she can mirror-write them for you if you wish…LOL

Thanks so much for joining us today, Peggy, and please stick around for a bit in case our readers have any questions for you in the comments.

You can connect with Peggy on Facebook and Twitter @peggytownsend, and here is her new release:

SEE HER RUN, An Aloa Snow Mystery

book cover

A former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Aloa Snow knows what it means to be down and out. Once highly respected, she’s now blackballed, in debt, and dealing with the echoes of an eating disorder. Until she gets one more shot to prove that she has what it takes—with a story some would die for…

After the body of a promising young athlete, Hayley Poole, is recovered in the Nevada desert, authorities rule it a suicide. But when Aloa discovers that the girl’s boyfriend died in a similar accident only months before, her investigative instincts are on high alert. It turns out the girl was on the run from secrets that could kill.

This case is murder for Aloa, and Hayley won’t be the last one to suffer. Someone very powerful forced Hayley to run for her life. Now Aloa must do the same.

Available now on AMAZON

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