Today, we are pleased to have with us author Morgan St. James. Morgan and her sister, Phyllice Bradner, write the Silver Sisters Mysteries. Their first book, A Corpse in the Soup, is a hilarious cook’s tour through the world of celebrity TV chefs as the two sisters search for a killer. Morgan writes short stories, magazine articles and other books on her own.
Morgan, tell us a little bit about the plot of your most recent book, “Seven Deadly Samovars”.
It starts with Goldie in a state of total frustration because some Russian samovars she ordered haven’t shown up at her antique store in Juneau, Alaska. The ladies at the Russian Orthodox Church want to give one to their beloved priest who is retiring. When the fancy Russian teapots finally arrive, Godiva has come to Juneau with her boyfriend, TV Chef Caesar Romano to attend a birthday party. The samovars arrive the evening of the party, and Goldie quickly realizes she’s gotten the wrong shipment. These are far more beautiful and valuable than the ones she ordered. But Goldie can’t reach the exporter in Vladivostok. When she sells them, people who have the fancy teapots start to die. What makes them worth killing for? The Silver Sister twins and their eighty year old mother and uncle, former vaudeville magicians, have a merry chase trailing the bumbling Russian killers, the Dumkovsky brothers, from Juneau to Seattle to Los Angeles. It’s murder and mayhem all along the way!
Your sleuths are two very different sisters. Goldie Silver is an aging hippie, and Godiva Olivia DuBois writes an advice column called “Ask G.O.D.”. Do these sisters represent you and your co-author and sister, Phyllice Bradner? And which character are you?
We intentionally modeled Goldie and Godiva loosely after ourselves, so we would know how they thought and what they would do. Phyllice actually was just past the hippie stage when she moved to Alaska at age twenty, did dress in vintage clothes and did own an antique shop at one time. Oh yeah, she is also the “salt of the earth” like our character Goldie. She would give someone the shirt off her back as the saying goes, and then ask if she could get them a coat from Goodwill.
That means I’m the model for Godiva…a very loosely drawn model, I must say. The similarities are that I’m more or less a “fashionista,” have lived in Beverly Hills (although not on a fancy estate like Godiva) and, oh yes, I admit to being manipulative. But, I’m not as selfish as Godiva, my wonderful husband will attest that I’m not a widow, and I don’t write an advice column, although Phyllice and I have talked about launching one in conjunction with our novels.
You’re writing partner lives in Oregon. Can you tell us about how this process works? How do you keep the flow? Do you each write different characters or alternating chapters? Also, are there added difficulties writing with a partner?
Besides being writing partners, Phyllice and I are real life sisters. Since we’ve been writing the Silver Sisters Mysteries, when we’re together, we’re often asked if we’re twins. In reality, we are five-and-a-half years apart. She lived in Alaska when we first started writing together, and in place of difficulties that other writing partners might have, our collaboration has brought us very close together as sisters. Before we started the Silver Sisters, we barely knew each other, because she moved to Alaska when she was only twenty. We have become best friends through our writing.
We decided early on that if one of us didn’t feel strongly about something, and the other did, the one with the passion ruled. If we both have differing opinions, we talk it out and make the decision that’s best for the story…not us personally. We also discovered our strengths early on. I am a very fast, prolific writer and she is the consummate editor. We work out the plot and timeline together. Then I draft the chapters and send them to her to edit and add her special comedic touches. If I agree, it’s on to the next chapter. If not, we e-mail back and forth until we’re both satisfied. We also have marathon editing sessions on the phone. Sometimes as long as four hours. And, we try to meet for retreats once or twice a year.
What do you come up with first: a fantastic crime, a brilliant solution, or the wicked bad guy that readers will love to hate?
Since we are both pretty zany, like our characters, I guess we come up with the story line first. Sometimes we have a fantastic character in mind, so we make sure that character has a role. The twists and turns are part of the way we write. In each of the published books, “A Corpse in the Soup,” and “Seven Deadly Samovars,” we thought we knew exactly where we were going—until some great twists occurred to us after the manuscript was finished. We will make changes, if warranted, right up to the last minute. And we make absolutely certain to drop clues along the way. Sometimes they’re very subtle, but they are always there. We think we have the entire plot of our next book nailed, but only time will tell.
You have several Amazon Shorts—short stories available on Amazon.com. Do you write shorts as a release from the novel writing? And are there other types of writing that you enjoy?
You’ve got that one right. I’m a fast track person, and novels take time. I love writing short stories for the instant gratification. Sometimes they’re fiction, like “Saying Goodbye to Miss Molly,” in the anthology, “The World Outside the Window,” and sometimes they are true or based upon truth. Two of my favorites are a story about my mother, “Shopping for Dancing Shoes,” the first story in Chicken Soup for the Shopper’s Soul, and my Amazon Short, “The Second Time Around.” How much stranger than fiction can it be when your mother-in-law remarries her first husband after not seeing him for over thirty years, and it all takes place in a pouring rainstorm at a Mexican wedding storefront chapel called the Casa de Novios? To add to the bizarre situation, my then-husband had been told his father was dead from the time he was a tot. After reconnecting with her first love, one day without warning, his mother handed him a telephone and said, “Say hello to your father.” It was a funny story that begged to be told.
You also co-edit “On the Prowl”, the Nevada Sisters in Crime newsletter, and you pen a column with Mike Dennis, “You Don’t Say”, which tackles misused words. What’s the most common mistake you run into?
People using the wrong spelling of a word, and when that happens it completely changes the meaning of the sentence. We play around with mistakes like that, redundancies, oxymorons, nonsense phrases and more. We have actually just completed a proposal for a full length book of the same title. We think “You Don’t Say” could be to murdering the English language what “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” is to felonious punctuation. Keep your fingers crossed that we get a publisher.
What’s next for the Silver Sisters?
Fun, fun, fun! We are about sixty percent finished with the first draft of “Vanishing Act in Vegas.” What secret is Mara the Magnificent, the beautiful headliner magician at the Glitz Palace on the Las Vegas Strip, who happens to be Godiva’s son Torch’s new girlfriend, hiding? Be prepared to laugh your way through our trademark twists and turns to a very surprising ending.