I'm pleased to welcome Leigh Hearon to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Leigh pens the Carson Stables Mystery series. Unbridled Murder, the third book in the series, was released December 26th.
Kathy: Many young girls dream about owning a horse. Did you? Did you ride when you were young?
LH: Absolutely! My first real horseback experience was at Camp Beaverbrook, a wonderful overnight camp in Lake Co., CA. Riding was strictly Western, and the instruction pretty much limited to “giddy-up and go.” This was before the days of helmets and other safety gear. We just climbed in the saddle and went along for the ride. It was tons of fun. As you can imagine, most of the horses seldom went beyond a trot.
As far as horse ownership, the official story is I begged and begged my parents to buy me a horse and when I turned 40, I gave up and acquired my own—a 20-something Tennessee Walker mare, blind in one eye, arthritic, and about to go to auction. Lady and I were together twelve years. Her ashes are scattered on our farm, and I still miss her.
Kathy: I was in my 30s when I bought Harley, an off track thoroughbred. We used to train Hunter/Jumper. Do you have any horses now? What style do you ride?
LH: My 14-hand Saddlebred mare, Jolie Jeune Femme, has been with me since she was a yearling. I’ve always ridden Western on both her and Rosie, a dignified Morgan, who was Jolie’s boon companion after Lady. In 2016, after Rosie passed on, I rescued my own off-track thoroughbred, Edward, who’s about Jolie’s age. Through his tat, I’ve been able to trace his history up until age five, but then it’s an unknown. Like you, we train hunter/jumper, which has been a real eye-opener for me, a gal who’s only known and ridden Western. Jolie and I have fallen completely in love with Edward, a very sensitive and gentle guy, which is comforting since he’s bigger and taller than both of us put together.
Kathy: Unbridled Murder deals with the subject of feedlots and horse slaughtering. How did you decide to write about this subject?
LH: Two very good friends of mine are deeply involved in the rescue of feedlot horses. I knew I wanted to write about the issue after visiting a feedlot myself (which is where Edward came from). Since the book is based on my own experiences, I thought the manuscript would essentially write itself. I didn’t anticipate how painful it was to recall certain scenarios, and the difficulty in describing them in terms that were honest but not too horrific.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
LH: I actually didn’t know I’d written a cozy mystery until my Kensington editor informed me of the fact. All I knew was I wanted to write a mystery that mirrored my own community, which is a rural county on the Olympic Peninsula, filled with horse people, ranchers, aging hippies, preppers and rednecks, retired academicians, and many eccentrics. You get to know quite a few of these people in the first book, and most of them reappear throughout the series. Annie Carson’s not your typical detective who methodically solves a murder; she’s a single, independent horse trainer who reluctantly evolves into a very good amateur sleuth. Consequently, my mysteries include many of the quotidian aspects of Annie’s life, which revolves around horses. Non-horsey people often tell me they learned more about horses in my books than they ever thought they’d know. I’d like to think they mean that in a good way.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
LH: I’ve just started a new book based on my experience as a private investigator for the past quarter-century. Like me, the protagonist is a female, but she’s had a far tougher life than I have. It primarily takes place in the Bay Area, where I spent my formative years. The prose is a lot edgier. I’m not sure exactly what genre this book will fall into. I guess I’ll let my agent, Paige Wheeler of Creative Media, tell me when I’ve finished the manuscript!
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
LH: Unbridled Murder is the third book in the Carson Stables Mystery series, which features amateur sleuth Annie Carson, a rancher and horse trainer who lives on the Olympic Peninsula. Annie’s real love is her herd of horses, but after she solves her first murder—that of an insufferably snobby hunter/jumper equestrian —murder keeps landing on her doorstep.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
LH: I like Annie a lot. People who know me think she’s my alter ego, but that’s really not the case. Annie’s a much better horsewoman and she likes single malt scotch, which I don’t. But I admire her resilience, tenacity, and fierce independence. I’ve also grown rather fond of her boyfriend, Marcus. My husband’s a bit jealous of him. If Marcus wasn’t a mere fictional character, he might have grounds for those feelings.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
LH: Not a specific person, no. But I’ve worked with many fine trainers over the years, and integrated the best parts of these women into my prototype for Annie Carson.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
LH: It wasn’t to become rich and famous. But I’d put a lot of effort into the first book, Reining In Murder, and I got a serendipitous leg up while working on a P.I. case that led me to Kensington Publishing. There is nothing quite so thrilling as seeing your words in print, or looking at your first book cover.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
LH: Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy Sayers, Mark Twain, and C.S. Lewis.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
LH: I’ve just begun Beyond the Homestretch by Lynn Reardon, a marvelous book about Reardon’s experiences starting a nonprofit racehorse adoption ranch in Texas. And I’m slowly but surely making my way through David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace. I’m a WWI nut, and will read any book that relates to the subject.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
LH: Classical music. I was raised on it and my husband was a founding member of the Philadelphia String Quartet. For 35 years, he held a summer-long chamber music concert series on our farm, and renovated the barn as the performance hall. It was heaven on earth.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
LH: Pellegrino, champagne, rich, runny cheese, and an apple. All four are essential parts of my food pyramid.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
LH: If readers want it, I’ll continue the Carson Stable series, but I am very much into my new series starring a roguish female P.I. as the protagonist. My new character has no pets. She doesn’t even have a spider fern to care for.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
LH: The rare opportunity just to write. When you’re working under contract, you must produce on time. Last year, I spent four solid months writing books 3 and 4 in the Carson Stable series. Nearly every one of those days, I would happily hole up in my writer’s cabin on the farm and spend my time making things up. What could possibly be more fun than that? I mean, except riding a horse?
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