Welcome to An Indie Adventure, M. S. Tell us, what inspired you to write your book The Penhallow Train Incident?
Hi, L.A., thanks for hosting me on your blog.
The first year my family vacationed in the town on which Penhallow is modeled, we took a ride on the Belfast & Moosehead Lake train, which had been built to connect to the Maine Central Railroad. Now reduced to excursions, it traveled alongside the Passagassawaukeag River, ending at the tiny Brooks station. There we were treated to a mock train robbery, complete with cowboys and a sheriff. The kids loved it. I took it as the starting point of my novel but thoughtfully added a dead body. Were the fake cowboys the culprits? You’d have to read the book to find out.
How do you use setting to further your story?
Actually, the setting is usually the catalyst for my stories. I have books set in Old Town Alexandria, Sarasota, Maine and the Middle East. I’ll want to set a story in a place, then wait for something—an event or fact—to trigger the plot.
Penhallow is based on a town where my family spent its summers. Due to its being off the tourist routes, it has maintained an old Maine feel, mixed rather ingeniously with a large contingent of recovering hippies. The term “laid-back” fits it perfectly. We like it.
A small town can be a microcosm of life. So it is with Penhallow. Most people have lived there for generations, and refer to anyone who moves to Maine from elsewhere as “from away.” Our heroine Rachel Tinker and her hero Griffin Tate are both “from away,” and are unprepared for the complexities of village gossip and scandal.
How do you construct your characters?
Most of the time they don’t let me. As I said, I start with a setting, and the characters tend to arise naturally from that setting. After the first few drafts, they settle down and start to define themselves and their relationships. They don’t even let me name them, preferring to choose their own and then forcing my unwilling fingers to tap out the keys.
In my current WIP Flotsam & Jetsam: the Amelia Island Affair, for the first time the hero took over as protagonist. Despite my best efforts, he stuck to his guns and I had to learn to write romance and mystery from a male POV.
How is your main character completely different than you?
She isn’t really. Perhaps a little softer around the edges, but she is an academic like me, a no-nonsense romantic like me, a listener like me. Of course, she has a completely different name.
Tell us something about yourself we might not expect!
I have horrible stage fright. I was asked to do a radio show (I have the face for it) and was too terrified even to let my voice be public. In my undergraduate and even graduate career I deftly managed to choose courses that didn’t require an oral presentation, which is a pretty remarkable achievement if I may say so. Others may disagree.
Also, I have studied but not mastered eight languages, including English.
Give us a brief summary of the Penhallow Train Incident:
The Wild Rose Press
Murder Mystery/Romantic Suspense
In the sleepy coastal Maine town of Penhallow, a stranger dies on a train, drawing Historical Society Director, Rachel Tinker, and curmudgeonly retired professor, Griffin Tate, into a spider’s web of archaeological obsession and greed.
With the help of the victim’s rival, they set out to locate the Queen of Sheba’s tomb. Their plans are stymied when a war erupts between the sheriff and a state police detective who want to arrest the same man for different crimes. It’s up to Rachel to solve a mystery that includes two more murders before she can unlock the soft heart that beats under Griffin’s hard crust.
Although M. S. Spencer has lived or traveled in five of the seven continents, the last thirty years were spent mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, U. S. Senate committee staff member, speechwriter, Dept. of the Interior staff, copy editor, birdwatcher, non-profit director, and parent. She holds a BA from Vassar College, a diploma in Arabic Studies from the American University in Cairo, and Masters in Anthropology and in Library Science from the University of Chicago.
All of this tends to insinuate itself into her works.
Ms. Spencer has published eleven romantic suspense or murder mystery novels. She has two fabulous grown children and an incredible granddaughter. She divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.