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Some fun for you all today!  I present to you an interactive character interview with my heroine from the Ellie Gooden mysteries, conducted by amazing author and interviewer extraordinaire, Kelly Blanchard.  If you like what you see here, make sure you check out her website, Meeting With The Muse  where you can find both Author Interviews and Character Interviews in this unique and entertaining interactive style.  Shameless plug:  an interview with moi is there, along with an interview with one of my favorite villains too!

Now, without further ado, I give you Ellie Gooden.  This conversation actually takes place right smack dab in the middle of Office Heretics, the NEW Ellie Gooden mystery, coming to bookshelves everywhere in April!

Ellie paced behind the counter of her coffee shop, brimming with frustration. She didn’t understand why the Author wanted her to speak with this “interviewer”, especially when it meant calling her back to Horizon while she was in the middle of dealing with Lacey’s death in Chicago. Maybe the Author thought it would get her some free publicity for her shop, but even though Ellie knew that was a good thing, she didn’t like people asking her questions. Invariably the topic of her parents’ unsolved murders came up, no matter how off-topic she declared the subject to be. And those were questions she just wouldn’t answer.

She could tell her anxiety was ratcheting up when she found herself polishing the stainless steel espresso machine for the fourth time. Everything in the shop gleamed – Marg hadn’t started baking for the day, so even the kitchen was spic and span. Ellie couldn’t – nor wouldn’t – hide a smile of pride as she looked around her at the place she had created. The Sacred Caff was more than she had ever hoped it would be. And now, after almost a year after opening her doors, she was finally in the black too.

The red and black lacquered ice cream tables, with matching wrought iron chairs, the tessellated tile floor, and of course the various black and white cow=themed knick-knacks gave the place warmth and charm. Her eyes flicked up to the kitschy cow-shaped clock over the swinging doors to the kitchen. Five minutes to go until this woman the Author had mentioned would be coming by. What did she want? Why was it so important to speak to her? And just how uncomfortable would she make Ellie feel?

She blew out a breath as she waited. She hated waiting.

Kelly stepped through the front door of the coffee shop and looked around, taking in her surroundings. She noted the woman behind the counter and nodded to her as she continued to glimpse around while approaching the counter. Finally, Kelly came to the counter and smiled at Ellie. “Hi, I’m Kelly Blanchard–here to interview Ellie Gooden. Is that you?”

Ellie put on her best corporate smile and stretched out a hand. “Hi yes, I’m Ellie. So nice to meet you.” She gestured at the menu board behind her. “May I get you something? Coffee? Tea? We’ve got some amazing Cranberry maple orange scones leftover from yesterday.”

“Do you have hot chocolate by any chance? And thank you for meeting me. I love this place. Very lovely.” Kelly glanced around once more before setting her gaze on Ellie again, smiling. “What made you come here and open this shop?”

“One hot chocolate coming up. It’s made with fresh milk from our very own organic dairy. You should take a tour up there while you’re in town.” Ellie busied herself getting the milk chocolate ready, then returned with one of her signature cow-shaped mugs. “As for here…” she smiled. “I got sick and tired of the corporate rat race. I used to be in marketing, in Chicago. I looked at a lot of places but Horizon has a certain charm. The people are great, the scenery is beautiful, and I’ve always liked the idea of running something. Calling something my own. Being able to call the shots, and do something that makes people happy too.” She frowned briefly. Why had she said all that? She hadn’t meant to. No one had ever called Ellie a chatter box and here she was babbling away. She shook her head, smiled another corporate smile at the woman again.

Kelly accepted the hot chocolate with a thanks and listened as Ellie spoke. “Well, I like it. It suits you, and I’m sure things are quiet here in Horizon.” Then Kelly paused, pondering her next question before speaking again, “You said you came from Chicago, marketing. Were you born and raised in Chicago? And did you go into marketing because that was your dream, or because you were just good at it?”

Ellie leaned against the counter. “I’m from the Chicago area. I was born and raised in a small suburb northwest of the city called Crystal Lake. I’m sure you wouldn’t have heard of it. A nice place to grow up. My dad was a college professor – economics, and my mom did… well, all kinds of stuff. Real estate, managed the offices of a friend who was a doctor… she liked to change things up, I guess.” She wiped at a spot on the counter. “As for marketing – I don’t really know. I guess because I was good at it. I knew I needed to earn a living and after college, I was having trouble finding a job and a friend of mine got me a position at a marketing firm in the city. Things just kind of rolled on from there.” She looked out the front window, at the sparse foot traffic. It was too cold for tourists today. “I guess it was just easier to stay than to try to leave.”

“What would you have done if you left?” Kelly wrapped her hands around the warm mug and sipped on her drink.

“Well my degree was in art history.” She gave a chuckle. “Yeah, I know, whatever possessed me, right?” Clasping her hands together, she studied her nails. “I thought about applying at the Art Institute a couple of times, but early on I just didn’t have the confidence. I just didn’t believe I could beat out other candidates. No one who knows me know believes how insecure I was then – I’ve grown a lot and being in marketing helped me do that. It might have been nice to have a job where all I had to do was immerse myself in a bunch of old paintings.” She inhaled, gave a little shrug. “But that was a million years ago. I’m really happy now, with this. My dad would be…” Her voice caught and she swallowed quickly, cleared her throat. “Can I get you a refill?”

“Oh, I’m good, thank you.” Kelly shook her head, but she had caught what Ellie almost said and decided to press it a bit. “Was your dad an artist or marketer as well?”

Ellie glanced up sharply. “My dad? No. He taught economics at the local college. Almost every dinner included some discussion about so-and-so’s new theory of the free market or the rise of Chinese capitalism or what the Fed was doing wrong. Most of it went over my head. If he had an artistic bone in his body, I never saw it.” She stopped abruptly. She hadn’t meant to sound critical. She’d loved her father dearly. “Not that he was a bore. He was a great guy. Just not an artist.”

Right. Kelly had forgotten what Ellie said earlier about her father working with economics. However, Kelly also saw how defensive Ellie got when speaking about her dad, and she assumed it was because of what happened to her parents. Kelly wasn’t ready to bring that up yet. “Then I assume you weren’t close to your father. What about your mother?”

“My mom?” In her mind’s eye, she could see her mother’s smile, the way her whole face lit up and the corners of her eyes crinkled. “Mom was a force of nature. If you wanted something done, something organized, mom was the person you got on board. She would have made Alexander the Great look like a slacker. But she wasn’t overbearing or bossy. Just knew how to motivate folks towards a cause.” Ellie chuckled. “Even cleaning a messy room.” She looked down at her short nails. She’d finally stopped biting them, after almost a year and a half. Now, answering these questions, the urge to start chewing at a rough edge was almost overwhelming. Instead, she picked up her cleaning cloth and brushed at the counter. “So would you like a tour of the shop?”

“Sure thing.” Kelly nodded, stepping away from the counter. “So what happened to your parents? You speak of them in past tense.”

Ellie guided Kelly behind the counter and into the kitchen. “This is where the real magic happens. I have a woman, Marg, who does our baking. She is a genius with dough, despite being the messiest cook I’ve ever seen.” She leaned back against one of the spotless counters. “But she can also clean like the devil when the day is done, to keep the health inspectors happy. I’ll pack you up a selection of treats before you leave, so you can sample the wares. They’re definitely worth a mention in your write-up.”

She glanced at the woman, who was watching her intently. Ellie knew, with that sixth sense, that she was waiting for an answer to her question. “My parents are dead. An… accident.” There. Please, let it end there.

Kelly stopped and stared at Ellie. “You hesitated. It wasn’t an accident, was it? Were you there?” She asked softly because she could sense Ellie’s guard being very tense.

Ellie took a ragged breath. Why? Why did this woman have to dig? Why was this always what people wanted to know about? People were such ghouls. “No, it wasn’t an accident. They were killed by an intruder. No, I wasn’t there, but I was the one who found them, afterwards.” if it wasn’t for the Author, Ellie would have ended the interview there and escorted the woman to the door. But she knew she had no choice. The Author had said to answer all questions put to her.

“I’m sorry to bring up such painful memories.” At least Ellie had acknowledged what had happened, so Kelly decided to change the subject a bit. “What’s your favorite memory of your dad?”

Ellie relaxed a little. She didn’t like to talk about herself, but at least this was something happy. “I think that would have to be the time he and I went backpacking through the Smokies. Mom didn’t want to go – she liked her nature all neat and confined to garden beds. It was the summer of my sophomore year of high school and dad was itching to show me part of what he called his stomping grounds – the backwoods where he’d spent most of his childhood summers. We had the most amazing week together.” She smiled. “Amazingly dirty, smelly and sweaty. But amazing nonetheless. Hiking during the day where we saw all kinds of wildlife and then sitting around the campfire at night, watching the stars. And he told me so much about his growing up, things he’d never shared before.” Tears sprang to her eyes and she hurriedly wiped them away. She didn’t cry anymore. And especially not in front of strangers.

Kelly smiled softly at the memory and looked back down at the mug in her hand as Ellie wiped away her tears. Glancing back up, Kelly then asked, “And what’s your favorite memory of your mother?”

“Mom? Gosh… I don’t know. I guess if I had to choose, I think it would be the Christmas me and Dad got her the army of garden gnomes for her garden. I think I was 13 or so. Dad woke me up at four in the morning and we hauled 15 garden gnomes, all different, out of where he’d hidden them in the shed.  We tramped through a foot of snow in the back yard and positioned them all around her garden beds. In the dark! When we led her out later that morning to show her, it was like the sun had come out from behind the clouds. She was so happy. She grinned for days. She even named them all – and whenever I’d help her weed, she’d make me talk to them and address them by name when I had to pick them up to dig out something underneath them.” She laughed. “It was ridiculous. But that was mom.”

“That’s pretty awesome, and I’m sorry for your loss. Nothing can replace your parents.” Kelly began meandering around the shop now, looking at different things as she considered her next question. It might be hard for Ellie to talk about, but Kelly needed to ask, so she looked up at Ellie. “I hear you also lost your friend Lacey recently–killed, and you’re trying to figure out who killed her.” Kelly set the mug on the counter and turned to face Ellie once more. “How is that coming along?”

A shock ran through her, almost like a physical blow. How had she.. and then she remembered. The Author. She clenched her jaw, as she thought about the cops. “It’s… it’s a mess. The cops, in typical cop fashion, are convinced it was nothing more than a mugging. They’re useless. They were useless when my parents were killed and they’re useless now, no matter what Charlie thinks. They won’t even consider another solution – and clearly it was no random mugging.” She glanced up at the woman, daring her to contradict her. “Lacey told me someone was trying to kill her. She knew.”

As if on cue, she felt the air grow chill around her, as though Lacey’s spirit intruded onto the physical plane. The angry, biting force of the woman’s personality swirled around Ellie, goading her on. Ellie pulled her energy in around herself and pushed Lacey back. Not now, she thought at the ghost.

“I know it sounds like an episode of Murder She Wrote, but Lacey asked me for help, and the cops won’t do anything, so it’s up to me to figure it out.”

“So what have you learned? I’m with you. If Lacey knew someone was trying to kill her and then she shows up dead…I don’t get what it looks like, it’s likely a murder with someone covering their tracks. So…what do you have?” Kelly lifted her brows as she turned completely to face Ellie and watch her.

“Other than one very pissed off Lacey? Not much. Kate and I talked to her co-workers. I guess it wasn’t surprising that folks didn’t like Lacey much. She was ambitious, manipulative, and not above stepping on others to get what she wanted, like that promotion she just earned. But none of that seems like something someone would kill over. Still, I won’t give up. I’m going to keep digging. I need to search her condo – maybe there’s something there.” She sighed. “Something has to turn up.”

“It takes a lot to want to kill someone–more than simple dislike of someone. There has to be motive. The same thing with your parents’ murder. Personally, I can’t help but wonder if there’s some kind of connection there, but…that’s just me being a Muse.” Kelly shrugged “Now, you mentioned Charlie. Is he helping you with this case?”

Ellie rolled her eyes. “Charlie. Gods above. Yes, he’s helping. He actually got us a copy of the coroner’’s report, which I know was breaking a few rules. We’d never have gotten it otherwise and I’m very grateful…” She trailed off. Indebted more like and she so didn’t want to be indebted to Charlie McCallum.

“But there’s something more there….between you and Charlie.” A small smile wiggled across Kelly’s face. At the look Ellie gave her, Kelly laughed, and then she shrugged. “You ask so…loathsome of him, but usually that just means the reverse is true.” Kelly sat at a table and set her chin in her palm as she looked up at Ellie and smiled. “So tell me about Charlie. What’s he like?”

“He’s infuriating, that’s what he’s like. He’s a know-it-all, and smug about it. Plus… plus he’s just so… bouncy. The eternal optimist. It grates on the nerves, that perpetual Peter Pan grin. Everyone thinks he’s cute, like a little puppy dog. They’d pat him on the head and scratch behind his ears if they could. He never plays by the rules, he can’t hold down a job, he mooches off Kate without a second thought. Like, right now, he got evicted from his apartment because he couldn’t pay the rent, so he’s living in Kate’s basement. Rent free!” She gritted her teeth. “I never thought I’d agree with Kate’s husband, Dan, about anything, but when Dan says his little brother needs to grow up, he’s right!”

“Oh, he sounds like a typical guy, but due to his ‘never plays by the rules’ attitude, I think he’s just the guy you need working with you because, as you said, he already got you a report you wouldn’t have otherwise,” Kelly pointed out then folded her arms on the table and drummed her fingers. “Okay, so you grew up with Lacey and Kate, right? And Kate’s Charlie’s sister, so you’ve known Charlie for a long time too. Why is Charlie helping you with this though?” She furrowed her brows. “Out of everyone, why do you allow him to help you?”

She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it. Why, indeed? “I guess the truth is, because I need him. Because he believes that Lacey’s death was a deliberate murder. And because…” She looked behind her aggravation, behind the way he made her want to choke him. “Oh fine. He’s got my back. He has this way of worming his way into things. He saved my life last spring so I guess, despite the fact that he drives me crazy, I trust him. I can’t say that about too many people.”

“Okay, so…do you ever suspect though there’s a tie-in with your parents unsolved murder and now Lacey’s murder?” Kelly glanced up at Ellie. “I mean, most people may experience the violent death of a loved one at least *only* once–ever! But with you, it’s two separate occasions but three people. Have you ever thought about that?”

Ellie frowned, then shook her head. “As much as I hate to admit it, I think the cops were right about my folks. There were at least assailants, possibly three. The cops think they were drug addicts, looking for money. They may even have been acquainted with my dad from the college. They cleaned out everything of value in the house after… after they killed my parents. And the…the way the killed them. Only someone strung out on drugs could have done what they did. No normal person could have…” She shook her head again, wishing the image of her parent’s bodies could be erased from her mind. “Death just seems to follow me around. You might have read about it already, but last spring, just before the grand opening of the shop, I discovered the former owner of the building dead in my kitchen.” She shivered. “He’d been murdered too.” She looked up at Kelly. “Maybe I AM Jessica Fletcher! Horizon’s very own harbinger of murder!” She gave a nervous laugh.

“Have you ever looked into your own contacts and people you’ve worked with or anything? Because, I mean all of this could be totally random, and Death could just follow you as you say, or maybe someone’s targeting you…to hurt you or to scare you.” Kelly shrugged. She was certain she was way off base with this one, but if it had been her, she’d do that research just to be safe. “As for Lacey’s murder, do you have any suspects or anything to work with?”

Why hadn’t she thought of that? “I guess maybe I’ve been trying so hard not to think about what happened with my folks that that never occurred to me. Maybe that’s something Charlie could help with.” She shrugged. Defintely something to think about – especially once the thing with Lacey was put to bed. “As for Lacey, I’m not sure. I keep getting a feeling about her boss. But other than that, I really don’t know. He just gave her a big promotion – why would he want to kill her? There’s a big piece missing,, I just need to keep digging until I find it. I’m hoping searching Lacey’s condo will give me some answers. She took all the time to call me, to tell me someone was targeting her. Maybe she left me some other clues. A nice big letter laying out everything in detail would be nice.” She looked atKelly and grinned. “But something tells me it won’t be that easy. Lacey had a bit of a paranoid streak. And she liked to play games.”

“I can see this being another game…even if she didn’t invent her own murder. Whoever killed her may not even be aware it’s all part of a game. She’s still playing, and the good news is she thinks you can win.” Kelly smiled at Ellie. “If she didn’t think that, she wouldn’t have called you mentioning the threat to her life. If I were you, I’d dig more into your past with her, and yes, dig into her work, people there, and everything. If she liked to play games, she likely played the wrong person once, and you need to figure out who that is.” Then Kelly glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed as she rose to her feet. “It’s about time for me to leave though, but thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Remember though, with Lacey, I bet it’s someone who also plays games and didn’t like being played by Lacey. And I hope you the best in regards to solving it.”

Ellie stood. “Um.. thanks. That’s good advice. But here, before you go, let me get you some treats for the road.” This was certainly the strangest interview she’d ever been part of, she thought, as she packaged up some scones and other pastries into a box. Handing the goodies to Kelly, she met the woman’s eyes. “I guessing this interview won’t be appearing in any newspapers, will it?”

“No, it won’t.” Kelly shook her head. “I’m not *that* kind of interview, so everything you said to me will remain between us. Don’t worry. But hey, I’m more than willing to promote your shop and send people your way. It’s quite a lovely place!” Kelly grinned. “And thanks for the treats. You have a good day, Ellie. And don’t give Charlie too difficult of a time.” With a wink, Kelly left the shop.

Hope you enjoyed that!  Character Interviews with Kelly are wicked fun!  And be sure to check out Restless Natives – An Ellie Gooden Mystery on Amazon.  Plus… coming soon (end of May) will be Book 2 in the series, the book who’s events are described in this interview!  Be on the look out for Office Heretics soon!  Thanks!

Illegitimi noncarborundum!