I'm pleased to welcome Lorie Lewis Ham to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Lorie writes the Tower District Mystery series. ONE OF US is the first book in the series and was released last month.
Kathy: In ONE OF US we meet Roxi Carlucci. Roxi is a children’s book author whose publisher just dropped her. Was there a particular reason to have her write this genre? Do you periodically read children's books?
LLH: When I first created Roxi, I was going to have her run a small animal rescue and write children’s books featuring a pet rat, instead that ended up being in her past. The reason for the children’s books is it was another way to introduce the idea of how awesome pet rats are. I do also collect children’s picture books featuring rats.
Kathy: In ONE OF US Roxi gets talked into helping with a community theatre production. I have an undergraduate degree in theatre and have done some community theatre many moons ago. Have you ever been involved in theatre?
LLH: Yes in many different ways. I am a big fan of live theatre. My children were involved in theatre in high school and I was the theatre mom—I helped with props, marketing, you name it. I also publish an online magazine called Kings River Life and we review local community theatre productions. I also produce and direct a podcast called Mysteryrat’s Maze where we feature mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors.
As for being in a production, I was once talked into a very tiny role of the pastor performing a wedding in one of my kid’s high school productions. Both of my kids are still involved in local theatre as well.
I love that the threatre production is a fundraiser for a local animal rescue. Do you help out with any rescue organizations yourself?
I ran a small pet rescue for about ten years (mostly pet rats, but some hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits too). Also, back to Kings River Life, we publish monthly columns for several local animal rescues to help spread the word on what they do and help get pets adopted.
Kathy: I was so thrilled to see that your protagonist has a pet rat! I love rats and had pet rats for many years, even showing them. How did you get into pet rats and what led you to choose this wonderful pet for Roxi?
LLH: How fun! My oldest son’s fourth grade class had a pet rat and then he begged to get one. At that time, I was scared of them and said only if I never have to take care of it. Well, she got sick and I ended up being the one to take care of her, and I fell in love. As I mentioned above, I went on to do rat rescue for several years. I wanted Roxi to have one because I wanted to show people how awesome they are.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
LLH: I actually didn’t set out to write a cozy, I just set out to write a mystery. Being someone who isn’t big on graphic violence, and I don’t feel a need for sex scenes in my books, it just naturally ended up that way lol. I also really like the small town cozy feel—even though mine isn’t “technically” a small town, focusing on this particular area of the town it has a similar feel.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
LLH: My books have always been mysteries—I had a writing teacher who kept wanting me to write romances, but it never worked because I always ended up killing someone lol. I do write a lot of non-fiction though for Kings River Life, and in magazines and for our local newspaper in the past.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
LLH: I think my elevator pitch says it best for a short description-
A woman starting over. A gossip website. A handsome playwright with a dark side. A director with an explosive temper. And a murder without a motive. It’s a mystery set in the historic Tower District—Fresno's dining, arts, and entertainment hub.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
LLH: I like all of my characters, but Roxi’s cousin Stephen is a favorite, largely because he has been with me a long time. I created him in my late teens when my brother and I wrote several mystery parties for our friends. He then followed me to my past series which features a gospel singing amateur sleuth, and then into the new one. He is charming, sweet, smart, a musician, and has a bit of darkness in him due to his family connections to the Mafia.
If you mean a favorite character to read, Sherlock Holmes will always be my number one! I just love everything about him.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
LLH: I think I would have to say that the setting was my inspiration. The Tower District in Fresno is a real place (even though it is somewhat fictionalized in the book for the sake of the story). It is a cultural oasis where the majority of theatre and art take place, along with some music and great food. It is also a very inclusive and safe place.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
LLH: I have always wanted to be a published author for as long as I can remember. I want to share my stories with others, and hopefully bring some joy to their lives, and an escape. We all need that. Entertainment has always sustained me through difficult times, I like giving that back to others. I have been publishing since I was 13 so I guess if I write something my goal is always to publish it and share it with others if possible.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
LLH: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anthony Horowitz, Agatha Christie, and C.S. Lewis.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
LLH: A lot of my reading is for reviewing in Kings River Life, but I always choose books to review that I would want to read anyway. I usually have a couple books going that I’m not reviewing as well.
GATED PREY by Lee Goldberg
THE ANTHROPOCENE Reviewed by John Green
THE LOST BOOK OF THE WHILE by Cassandra Clare
ARSENIC AND ADOBO by Mia P. Manansala
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
LLH: Reading, watching TV, and listening to podcasts. I have always been a huge TV fan. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Star Trek, and mysteries of all kinds. During the pandemic, I discovered anime and manga—there is some amazing storytelling there that I never knew about before. I also love animals as you may have guessed, and spending time with my kids.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
LLH: Pepsi, cheese, bread, and milk.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
LLH: I hope to write many more books in the Tower District Mystery series. I have the settings for the next two already picked out. The next one will be at a book festival, and the third one at a fringe festival that takes place every year in the Tower.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
LLH: I love creating the story, and being able to share that with others.
The First Tower District Mystery
At 35, Roxi Carlucci is forced to start over. Her publisher dropped her and her roommate got married leaving her unable to afford the mortgage on her coastal home. She's moved to Fresno to live with her cousin, Steven, while she considers her options. He's made her an offer to join the family business, though not the Family business; rejecting the Mafia life, Stephen runs a private investigations agency. While not immediately taking him up on his job offer, she does agree to get involved in the theatre he supports. When the mousy stage manager is murdered, however, Roxie's curiosity is piqued and she joins Stephen's investigation.
Animal rescue, a pet rat, and theatre! That's a combination I can't resist. Three things dear to my heart combine in a smart and fun mystery. I was so thrilled to finally discover a mystery whose protagonist had a pet rat. Rats are wonderful companions, although generally best kept with other rattie buddies not alone, and I hope we see even more of Merlin in future books. I love that often maligned animals such as rats, black cats, and pit bulls are showed in a positive light, hopefully changing perceptions of some readers. The same goes for mental illness which is also touched on and is another topic dear to my heart. I also love that so many of the characters' interests are aligned with mine (can we say Camelot and Star Trek, and although I dislike Rent, like Stephen, love opera!).
I love that fact that while Roxi is technically an amateur sleuth, she has a savvy background, being the daughter of a Mafia Don, and is working in conjunction with a legitimate PI business. She's not your typical shop owner who inserts herself in a murder investigation. There's also a positive working relationship with the local police, which is nice to see. The mystery itself is complex. A mousy stage manager is a bit of an oxymoron (I know, I was one.) but vital since no one can imagine a motive. Why kill an invisible person? There are also plenty of surprises.
An utter delight, ONE OF US captures a unique neighborhood and introduces us to interesting well developed characters while providing an eminently intelligent and enjoyable mystery.
One of Us: A Tower District Mystery by Lorie Lewis Ham
About One of Us
One of Us: A Tower District Mystery
Mystery 1st in Series
Publisher: King's River Life (August 1, 2021)
Paperback : 306 pages
At 35, children’s book author Roxi Carlucci finds herself starting over again after her publisher drops her book series. With no income, she has to pack up her life on the California Coast, along with her pet rat Merlin, and move in with her cousin, P.I. Stephen Carlucci, who lives in Fresno, CA. The one redeeming factor is that Stephen lives in the Tower District—the cultural oasis of Fresno.
Stephen talks Roxi into helping out with a community theatre production, which is also a fundraiser for a local animal rescue. Little did she know that someone would be murdered during a rehearsal, and that she and Stephen would be hired to find the killer. The killer has to be one of Roxi’s new acquaintances since the theatre was locked at the time of the murder, but no one seems to have a motive. How can they solve a murder without a motive? Could the local gossip website hold any clues? Can they stop the killer before they strike again?
About Lorie Lewis Ham
Lorie Lewis Ham lives in Reedley, California and has been writing ever since she was a child—her first stories were about her stuffed animals. Her first song and poem were published when she was 13, and she has gone on to publish many articles, short stories, and poems throughout the years, as well as write for a local newspaper. Four out of 5 of her previously published mystery novels feature gospel singer Alexandra Walters and are set in the San Joaquin Valley. Those books were inspired by the many years she spent traveling and singing gospel music with her family. One Of Us is the first in a brand new mystery series set in the Tower District of Fresno, California featuring podcaster and part-time detective Roxi Carlucci. Lorie has also been the publisher of the online magazine Kings River Life for the past 11 years (kingsriverlife.com), and of its sister website KRL News & Reviews (krlnews.com). She also launched a mystery podcast called Mysteryrat’s Maze (mysteryratsmaze.podbean.com) 3 years ago which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors, including the first chapter of this book. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, and all of the other usual places. You can learn more about Lorie on her website mysteryrat.com and find her on Twitter @mysteryrat and Facebook. Another way to keep up with Lorie’s writing is to subscribe to her newsletter—you can find info on doing that on her website.
Lorie has been married to Larry for 30 years and they have 2 grown children—Jayce and Joseph Ham. She currently has 5 cats (Merlin, Sam, Dean, Sidney, and Willow), 4 dogs (Lestat, Huey, Xander, and Phoebe), and a pet dwarf rabbit (Sherlock). For many years, she worked in pet rat rescue and has had many pet rats of her own over the years.
Website - https://www.mysteryrat.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/lorie.ham/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/mysteryrat
The author has graciously offered an e-book of ONE OF USE to one of my readers. Simply leaving a comment on this blog post no later than Monday, September 27th at 11:59pm telling us what most interests you about this book along with your e-mail.