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Interview: July 2, 2009

July 2, 2009

With over 20 historical romances under her belt, Dorothy Howell's most recent novel HANDBAGS AND HOMICIDE --- now in paperback --- marks her first attempt at writing a mystery. In this interview with's Amie Taylor, Howell explains why she chose to try her hand at this new genre and describes what inspired the book's quirky plot and main character. She also confesses to a weakness for shopping --- one accessory in particular --- lists some of the many career hats she wore before turning to writing full time, and hints at what's in store for protagonist Haley Randolph in the next installment of the series. I absolutely loved HANDBAGS AND HOMICIDE. Where did you get the idea for a character like Haley Randolph with all of her quirks and her serious handbag habit?
Dorothy Howell: I’m so glad you liked the book. Thank you! 
I got the idea for Haley when my daughter, a college student, took a part-time job at a department store. She came home with stories about how terrible the customers were, how awful management treated employees, how bad employees treated each other. As a mom I thought, “How terrible for my daughter!” But as a writer I thought, “Wow, this is so awful it would make a great book!”
Making Haley a handbag nut was an easy decision because I’m a handbag nut. I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs --- handbags are my vice, although I think smoking, drinking and doing drugs might be cheaper!
BRC: Another thing I loved about Haley was the way she made the best of her drudge of a job at Holt's by doing as little real work as possible. Before you were an author, did you ever work in retail or have a job that you just couldn't wait to get out of?
DH: Many years ago I worked as a sales clerk at Sears. Unlike Haley, I only had to work 15 minutes in any one department to cover another employee’s break. I loved it! I sold everything from tractors to lingerie --- I even learned to mix paint.
I also did clerical work at a car dealership, sold Tupperware, processed mortgage loans, and worked as a bill collector, among other things. If I didn’t always love the job, I certainly enjoyed the people I worked with. Though I haven’t had a “real” job in about 15 years since I started writing full time, I still miss spending my days with co-workers who become like family.
BRC: In my opinion, Haley is someone to whom we can all relate. How did you manage to create a character who was so realistic on the one hand, yet so over-the-top on the other?
DH: Haley is a really fun character to write. Most of us can identify with her struggles and, I think, identify with her attitude, at times. Who wouldn’t want to say --- and do --- some of the outrageous things she says and does? Every now and then, at least. Haley always learns from her mistakes and tries to do better, which, I think, keeps her human.
BRC: Do you have any serious fashion habits? And how do you feel about shopping?
DH: Since I’ve already admitted to my handbag addiction, it probably comes as no surprise that I love to shop. Oddly enough, I’m terrible at picking out clothes, awful at color. Luckily, I have daughters who are great at it and make sure I’m dressed fashionably. 
BRC: I know you've written 23 historical romance novels under the name “Judith Stacy.” What do you enjoy most about writing romance, and what made you make the switch to writing this mystery? Will you continue to write both romance and mystery, or focus solely on one genre?
DH: The thing I enjoy about writing romance is the same thing I enjoy about writing mystery --- emotional involvement with the characters and a happy ending.
I decided to try my hand at mystery because, after writing so many romances, I was ready to do something different. Plus, the character of Haley was swirling around in my brain and I just had to bring her to life.
I’m still writing romance. In fact, I have a novella in STETSONS, SPRING, AND WEDDING RINGS from Harlequin Historicals that was released in June. 
BRC: We all know that writing is hard work. What motivates you to spend your days in solitude at the computer creating the characters we love to read about?
DH: I’m blessed with a brain and disposition that allow me to write. In fact, if I don’t write for a while I get kind of antsy. I call it “word build-up!”
Working all those jobs back in the day gave me the self-discipline I need to stay in my desk chair and write. I’m very goal-oriented with my writing. I usually write a chapter a day. If I’ve done that, I figure it’s okay to quit and do something else.

BRC: Give us a description of the area where you do your best work. Do you work in an office of your own, at the kitchen table, curled up in front of the television with a laptop, etc.?
DH: I was very fortunate to have an extra bedroom in our house to use as an office. I completely re-decorated it a couple of years ago --- new furniture, paint, pictures, curtains, everything. Then it was so different I couldn’t write a word! I finally got used to it, though.
Our family situation changed and I had to turn my office into a bedroom again. Now I write on a small desk beside my husband’s dirty clothes hamper, which just proves that if you want to write, you can do it anywhere.
BRC: How do you do your research?
DH: The series is set in the Los Angeles area where I live. I’m always on the lookout for a new shop, mall, beach, theater, park, or neighborhood that might work well in one of the books. 
Researching the handbags is tons of fun. I’m committed to looking at every purse in every store throughout Southern California, if need be, to find the latest bags --- and sometimes buy one or two for myself, of course.    
BRC: What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
DH: I wish I could say I’m a gourmet cook or salsa dancer. Those things sound so exciting! I do a lot of things with family like travel, hike and go to baseball games. I love the beach. One day I hope to get up enough nerve to parachute out of an airplane. 
BRC: What kind of adventures can we expect for Haley in the upcoming PURSES AND POISONS, and when will it be available in stores?
DH: In PURSES AND POISON Haley’s good intentions at a Holt’s luncheon and fashion show go horribly awry when a fashion model --- Ty’s ex-girlfriend --- is poisoned. Haley is suspected in the murder along with her mother. Things go from bad to worse when Haley becomes the focus of national media scrutiny and is targeted by a stalker. She gets a new man in her life, becomes involved with a porn star and a pet rescue, all while pursuing the purse of her dreams. 
PURSES AND POISON will hit stores on July 1st. To celebrate the launch I’m giving away a totally hot, absolutely gorgeous designer handbag on my website, I’m tempted to keep it for myself, but I promise to award it to the winner. Check it out!

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