Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sinister Sitcom - An Interview with Sally Carpenter

I'd like to welcome Sally Carpenter to the blog today. Sally writes the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol Mystery series.

Kathy: Sandy Fairfax is a former teen idol. Did you have a favorite teen idol when you were young? Was Sandy based on him?

SC: Sandy was inspired by The Monkees, specifically the Monkees TV show. I had watched the show in its initial run when I was a kid but didn’t fall for the guys until the late 1990s when Nickelodeon ran the episodes every night. Then I became a die-hard fan and started going to concerts. I read everything I could about The Monkees. I was intrigued by the whole teen idol mystique. When I started writing my series, I read up on other teen idols of the era—David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman and Donny Osmond. Sandy is a composite of all these guys.

Kathy: Sandy has some interesting sidekicks. Can you tell us about them? Is there any particular reason you chose an animal and a little person?

SC: I wanted to get away from every character being a healthy, average type of person. We live in such a diverse society but in cozies everyone tends to look alike. Joseph Graves is an actor who’s also a dwarf. Joseph is cocky and hard-nosed guy but that’s his defense against a hostile world. The character was inspired by two dwarf actors: Michael Dunn, who played Dr. Loveless on “The Wild Wild West,” and David Rappaport, who portrayed a lawyer on “LA Law.” Because of their size they stood out (pun intended) amid the other actors. Dunn stole every scene he was in.

Scruffy is an animal actor who plays the family pet on the sitcom “Off-Kelter,” the show on which Sandy is a guest star. Scuffy’s a terrier mix and he’s handled by his owner and trainer, Frances Fontenay. When I worked at Paramount Pictures we had two animals actors on the lot: Moose, who played Eddie on “Frasier,” and Salem, the cat on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Salem had his own dressing trailer. Two or three black cats were used in the scenes in which Salem moved and the animals were kept in the trailer when they were not in use.

I had the privilege of meeting Moose’s trainer, Mathilde DeCagny. I’d see her walking Moose around the lot. She was friendly and nice. I used her as the starting point for the character of Frances.

A few times I saw other animals on the lot, usually in trucks or a trailer outside the soundstage waiting to start work. A number of companies in Los Angeles handle animal actors (that’s the term). Providing animals for pictures is a big business.

Kathy: You've had a variety of interesting careers. Do you have a favorite job?

SC: Certain aspects in all of my jobs were enjoyable. Each job had its “season.” Some of the jobs would be too physically taxing for me now. My current job at a newspaper is probably the best fit for my temperament at this time. I learned about good writing techniques from the editors and copy editors. I write headlines and photo captions which sharpens my skills. Of course, I’ve always loved writing fiction. My life seems “settled” for now and I can focus on writing books without having to look for another job or think about moving.

Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?

SC: I never knew cozies existed until a few years ago. My hometown library didn’t stock many cozies, only the gory, graphic crime novels that I don’t find entertaining. I like cozies because they won’t offend me and sometimes they make me laugh. I write cozies because I don’t want to spend my time with gritty, coarse characters.   

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?

SC: I started out writing science fiction but couldn’t crack into the genre. I’ve also written plays for churches. In college I wrote two plays that were award finalists. But playwrighting is a tough field as most theaters won’t produce new plays. Producers are particular about how many and what type of characters they want in a play (so they can cast the show from their company), how much the setting will cost and if people will pay to see the show. I ended up in the mystery field because that’s where I found the most support and success.

Kathy: Tell us about your series.

SC: I have one series, the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series. Sandy’s a former ‘70s teen idol and TV star that discovers that making a comeback can be murder. When he performs at various venues he keeps stumbling over dead bodies, sometimes literally.

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

SC: I assume someone other than my own series character! My favorite fictional detectives are Sherlock Holmes (naturally), Lt. Columbo and Trixie Beldon. I like Columbo because he’s funny and down to earth but he’s brilliant. I love how the clues unravel on the show and how the characters interact. My parents gave me two Trixie books for Christmas and that started me reading that series. Trixie was much like me as a kid.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?

SC: Besides The Monkees TV show, the whole genre of ‘70s detective shows, including “The Hardy Boys,” with the “personality cop.” Those shows were short on accurate police reality but were family friend and highly entertaining. I liked the idea of a guy who played a kid cop on TV in the ‘70s and is now solving crimes, somewhat reluctantly, in real life.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

SC: I always write with an eye toward publication. I have a worthwhile message that I want to share with others. And I feel good when someone says they enjoyed my book. In my mind, providing wholesome entertainment to others is a worthy service.

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, whom would you invite?

SC: Rod Serling, William Link and Robert Levinson (do writing partners count as one or two?), Mildred Wirt Benson (she wrote the original Nancy Drews) and E.A. Poe because he needed a friend.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

SC: I’m finishing up “Schlock Homes: The Complete Bagel Street Sage” by Robert L. Fish and “A Deadly Justice” by Kate Bennet. Next up are “Burying Ben” by Ellen Kirschman and “The Accused Architect” by Christian Belz. Hope to squeeze in a re-reading of “The Parables of Peanuts” by Robert Short. I like to mix in religious reading when I can.

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

SC: Years ago I earned a black belt in tae kwon do which was hard work but great fun. I took part in a number of tournaments and brought home trophies. I plan to use martial arts in one of my books. I used to act in plays which I don’t do now because it would take time away from writing. I have black cats. I’m a lector (scripture reader) at my parish and involved in a Bible study. When I crash at the end of the day I like watching my favorite TV shows or old movies or listing to music from my record and CD collection.

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

SC: Milk, Hansens Diet Cherry Vanilla soft drink, Dark Chocolate Dreams (peanut butter with chocolate) and cheese slices for making grilled cheese sandwiches.

Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?

SC: The first Sandy Fairfax book, “The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper” is out of print but I will be re-releasing and self-publishing the ebook version on Kindle. I’m looking for an early 2015 release for the third Sandy mystery, “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper.” He’ll be performing on a cruise ship with his estranged sister. I have ideas for other series but my writing time is limited. Maybe after a few more Sandy books I’ll try to work in another series.  

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?

SC: Playing god (not The God of course) in that I can create a world, populate it how I wish, make everything work out in the end and bring the bad guy to justice. As Michael Nesmith would say, I have “total control.”

1 comment:

  1. Sally. You are a woman after my own heart and a fellow possee member. We share a love of black cats and dark chocolate (and other things too, I'm sure). Your series sounds like great fun and you've had great life experiences to draw on. Best luck with your series. Hope to meet you one day.