Veronica: Today’s guest is my friend, author Cathy Pegau, talking about a change in her writing choices, moving from science fiction to murder mystery. We have an excerpt and a giveaway for her new book: Murder on the Last Frontier. Take it away, Cathy!
Cathy: Change is good.
Variety is the spice of life.
Try the goat now and again (I’ll explain in a bit…).
For years, I considered myself a speculative fiction writer and that alone. Everything I wrote, every plot bunny that leaped out and attacked, had some sort of fantasy, science fiction, or paranormal bend to it. I love that stuff. Love reading it, love writing it.
I enjoy reading other genres as well, but had never considered writing in them. Tackling a mystery or historical was intimidating, knowing they took a lot more research, organization, and plotting than I thought I had in me. I wrote my science fiction romances, worked on sword and sorcery fantasies, and sketched out plots and characters for paranormals.
Then something happened.
While researching local history for a post-apocalyptic story set in the not-so far future (it makes sense, trust me, but I won’t go into it here) I became completely caught up. The changes in my community from Native village to booming railroad terminus for the copper industry and fish canneries to its current small town vibe intrigued me. There was a colorful past that was ripe with potential, including the death of a “sporting woman” that triggered my imagination. As I listened to that particular tale, my brain came up with a story behind the murder and wouldn’t let it go. Would. Not.
But I was a science fiction author! I was planning a post-apocalyptic book or two or three! I had half-finished manuscripts with demon hunters and sword-swingers and starship captains! Why was my muse suddenly pushing a story set in the early 1900s? Why was the protagonist who drove the story a suffragette and journalist? Why couldn’t I set this thing aside, as I’d been able to do with other plot bunnies?
I have no idea. So I ran with it.
I dove deeper into the history of my town. And I fell in love. With Cordova, with the people who had been here for ages, with those who had come up to find a new start. I fell in love with Charlotte, my main character, who follows her brother to Alaska under the justification of writing a series of articles about women who set out for the Last Frontier, and has her own reasons for fleeing “civilization.” Man, talk about changes. And nary a woo-woo aspect to be found.
What prompted this shift in genre?
Maybe I was getting a little burned out on speculative fiction. I love it, always have and always will, but it was time to try something new. Like checking out a new restaurant, or at least trying a different dish at your favorite place. There’s an Indian restaurant we frequent when we go to The Big City. Most of the time, we order the lamb or one of a few other items from their vast menu. Then one day, they had goat on the specials menu. I’d never had goat. What the heck? When would I get the chance to try goat again? So I ordered it. Was it the best thing I’d ever had? Well, it was the best goat I’d ever had, and not bad at all. Plus, it got me out of my restaurant “rut.”
I felt a similarly about my writing, I wasn’t in a rut, exactly, just feeling the need for…different.
I wrote different, at least as far as genre was concerned. No gadgets, no swords. No space ships, no dragons. For these books, there’s steamships and Linotypes. Coal stoves and pocket watches. The research has been intense and frustrating, and I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of it. I haven’t stopped writing speculative fiction, by the way; I’m just expanding my repertoire.
No matter what the sales figures or reviews end up for this series, I’m glad I took the chance in trying something new and thrilled that I was given the opportunity to get it out there. Because as much as you love your favorites, you should check out the rest of the menu now and again.
GIVEAWAY TIME!!! Tell me a little something about changes you’ve made and a random commentor will win a signed copy of Murder on the Last Frontier! I’ll choose a winner sometime after Sunday 1/24 and let you know, so have a valid email handy : )
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About the Author: Cathy Pegau lives in Alaska with her husband, kids, critters and the occasional black bear that roams through the neighborhood. She has three science fiction romances out through Carina Press. Her latest, a historical mystery and book one of the Charlotte Brody series, Murder on the Last Frontier (Kensington, Dec 2015) is available in paperback and ebook http://tinyurl.com/pb8p5x7 . Borrowing Death (Book Two) hits the shelves in late June 2016.
Find Cathy at http://cathypegau.com , on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Cathy-Pegau-184452628282206/ ) , or on Twitter (@CathyPegau).
Blurb for Murder on the Last Frontier:
There’s many who feel the Alaska Territory is no place for a woman on her own. But Charlotte Brody, suffragette and journalist, has never let public opinion dictate her life choices. She’s come to the frontier town of Cordova, where her brother Michael practices medicine, for the same reason many come to Alaska—to start over.
Cordova is gradually getting civilized, but the town is still rougher than Charlotte imagined. And when a local prostitute—one of the working girls her brother has been treating—is found brutally murdered, Charlotte learns firsthand how rough the frontier can be. Although the town may not consider the murder of a prostitute worthy of investigation, Charlotte’s feminist beliefs motivate her to seek justice for the woman. And there’s something else—the woman was hiding a secret, one that reminds Charlotte of her own painful past.
As Charlotte searches for answers, she soon finds her own life in danger from a cold-blooded killer desperate to keep dark secrets from seeing the light of day…
Excerpt, Chapter One of Murder on the Last Frontier:
Cordova, Alaska Territory, 1919
The stench of rotting fish, salt, and tar rose from the dock and the water surrounding the S.S. Snow Queen, nearly making Charlotte Brody gag. Even if she’d had a free hand, she would have refused to press her handkerchief to her nose. She was in Alaska now, and Alaskan women were made of sterner stuff. They also probably breathed through their mouths to preserve their senses.
The midnight arrival had infused the steamship with bustling energy. The crew dashed about, doing whatever tasks were necessary when they made port. Disembarking passengers followed the signs and lanterns on the deck to the gangplank.
Clutching her satchel against her side to keep thieving hands from its contents, Charlotte grasped the rain-slick rail and made her way down the incline. The chest-to-back press of her fellow travelers was a situation calling for the protection of a scented handkerchief if there ever was one. Most of the passengers, herself included, hadn’t seen a real tub in the seven days since leaving Seattle. There had been facilities for a washup each morning, but a long soak in a hot bath was definitely in order, and soon.
A gust of icy, wet wind blew in from the bay, plastering stray hairs to her cheek and sending a chill through her. Three weeks ago, Charlotte had been wilting in the heat and humidity of Yonkers. Now, she was shivering. Late August in Alaska was nothing like the summer days back East.
The Snow Queen bobbed against the pier, rocking the gangplank. Charlotte tightened her grip on the rail, taking care not to run into the sack slung over the shoulder of the man in front of her. If it weren’t for the rain, the angle wouldn’t have been nearly so treacherous. She shuffled along, grateful that current fashion put the hem of her skirt well above her ankles so it wouldn’t catch on the rough planks or under her heels.
Michael was down there somewhere. The Snow Queen’s late arrival due to storm delays wasn’t unusual, and the good-sized crowd on the dock attested to Cordovans’ patience.
“Alaskans are used to things getting here when they get here,” the captain had said during dinner one night.
Well, I’m here now.
A shimmer of anticipation skittered across Charlotte’s skin and tickled her stomach. Her parents had tried to talk her out of going, but she was determined. Sidestepping the real reason she needed a change, she’d barely managed to keep her argument even-toned under their disapproval.
Eventually, they’d conceded, but only because Michael would be there. Not that their parents could have stopped her. At least the dark cloud of discontent had been lifted between the three of them.
Just a week’s travel by train from Yonkers to Seattle, then the steamer to Alaska, and here she was. The Last Frontier.
The scenery on the way up the coast had been breathtaking. Glorious mountains, stretches of blue-white glaciers, even a number of small icebergs that made a few passengers fret. The Titanic disaster was still quite fresh in people’s minds.
Charlotte hadn’t been concerned. The extended daylight hours so far north meant hazards were easier to avoid. She often stayed out on deck, bundled against the chill and unaware of the time, watching porpoises swimming in front of the bow, sea otters floating on their backs as they bobbed on the waves, and large brown bears ambling along the not-so-distant beaches. She was familiar with the gulls that followed the boat, but the sight of bald eagles soaring overhead was a first for her. One time, a great leviathan had breached off the port side, close enough to see barnacles clinging to its lower jaw. Charlotte thought her heart had stopped as the beast threw itself up into the air and crashed to the surface, spraying water onto the lower deck.
“Charlotte, over here!” Michael’s familiar voice called up to her over the crowd.
Her gaze darted among the upturned faces illuminated by the pier lights. Michael waved his fur cap, his blond hair fluttering in the sea breeze and a grand smile on his moustached lip.
A moustache? Her brother sporting a moustache? Mother would have had a say about that.
But Mother and Father were thousands of miles away.
Charlotte smiled, as happy to see Michael as she was relieved to leave the past back East, and released the rail to wave back. Her boot caught on the edge of the next plank, and she stumbled. Strong hands grabbed her long, wool coat from behind to keep her from falling into the man in front of her.
“Easy, miss,” the gravelly voice behind her said, not unkindly, as she was set back on her feet. “No call for ye flyin’ into the drink.”
She glanced over her shoulder at the burly man who had saved her. “Thank you, no.”
He touched his hand to his wide-brimmed hat and grinned. Or she assumed he grinned. The corners of his blue eyes creased and the tangle of graying brown facial hair moved in that manner.
Charlotte resumed her grip on the rail and safely made it to the bottom of the gangplank. Passengers veered off into the crowd waiting beyond the low wooden safety barrier. Michael shouldered his way to the front. The green mackinaw over his black suit was dotted with rain. She hurried over, dropped her bag, and threw herself into his arms.
Michael laughed and lifted her off her feet in a tight hug. He might have swung her around, but there were too many people within kicking range for such a thing. The town doctor shouldn’t create patients.
“God, I’ve missed you, Charlie,” he said, setting her on her feet.
Charlotte slapped his chest playfully. “I’ve missed you too, but not so much that you can call me by that nickname.”
She was an adult now. Charlotte Mae Brody had made it to Alaska on her own and could take care of herself.
Michael rubbed his chest, still chuckling. “Fair enough.” He hefted her satchel and gave an exaggerated grunt. “Goodness, what do you have in here? Bricks?”
Charlotte slipped her hand around his other arm. “Books. Be glad I packed my typewriter in my trunk.”
They both glanced up at the block-and-tackle winch conveying pallets of cargo from the ship’s hold. Longshoremen swung the heavy load expertly to the dock where workers sorted passenger bags onto open horse-drawn carts.
“Sullivan’s rooming house has a storage shed,” Michael said. “Your things should be there later. They’ll be safe until morning when we can get them to your room.”
Michael had told Charlotte he’d secure her a room as soon as she announced her intention to come to Alaska. Living at Sullivan’s, he’d explained, would be more comfortable, as his own home, with its attached office and exam room, would be too small for the two of them.
“That’s fine. I packed the necessities in my satchel.”
“Yes, along with the bricks.” They laughed again, and Michael guided her away from the ship. “There isn’t much in the way of transportation to town. You up for a midnight stroll?”
A lone motorcar idled in front of the steamship company’s office. Several people argued or haggled with the driver—and each other—for a ride in the six-passenger Model T. Even if there had been plenty of taxicabs, Charlotte would have refused a ride, as she felt quite awake and energized.
“I’m not in the least tired.” She started toward the road, following the majority of folks who had disembarked. If Alaskans walked to town at midnight in the rain, so would she. “How far is it?”
“Half a mile or so.”
The packed-dirt road was slick with mud. Michael drew his flashlight from the deep pocket of his coat to navigate around puddles. Walkers ahead and behind them had kerosene lanterns or flashlights as well. The chatter of conversation and the occasional burst of laughter accompanied them as Charlotte brought Michael up-to-date on family and friends.
The road followed the shoreline, curving in and out of patches of spruce trees to provide glimpses of the town ahead. Vague outlines of buildings and several streets lit with electric or gas lamps indicated it was larger than she had assumed.
“How many people live here?”
“One thousand or so, including the Natives who mostly live along the lake and homesteaders who live outside of town but use its services.” He narrowed his gaze as if evaluating Cordova from a distance. “Things are a little different in these parts, Sis. It takes some getting used to.”
“You know I’ve never been afraid of a challenge, Michael. I want to know what it’s really like.” She pulled him closer. “Not what you prettied up for Mother and Father, or what you glossed over for me. I want the real story of living here.”