Nancy A. Hughes, a
native and Key West graduate, writes character-driven crime-solving mysteries. She
followed her dream from journalistic business writing to a life of crime. When Penn State isn’t writing, she is devoted to shade gardening and to
volunteering at the Veteran’s Hospital and the Nancy . She is an active member of MWA, ITW, Sisters in Crime, and
Penn Writers. Visit Reading Hospital on her website at hughescribe.com, on facebook.com/hughescribe1
and twitter.com/hughescribe1. She lives in Nancy South-central Pennsylvania with her husband.
Question: What is the title and genre of your novel? Why did you select them?
Answer: The Innocent Hour is a cross between suspense and amateur sleuth, which is my signature approach—ordinary individuals, thrust into peril through no fault of their own, with no recourse but to solve the crime themselves. The protagonist wades into danger with no knowledge or experience in law enforcement, and is not a paid professional. The Innocent Hour’s cover captures a ping! in time and offers the reader a clue, as do all my book covers. This genre appeals to my journalistic background and love of sweating the details. We’re told to write about what we know, but I’d add “or what we are wiling to learn.”
Question: What inspired this novel? How did it come about?
Answer: Over the years ago, I’ve read newspaper accounts about people, accused of crimes they didn’t commit, with no recourse. Their situation, however heart renting, isn’t unique, as the Innocence Project is now exposing thousands of wrongful convictions. No innocent person should go to jail for lack of money, support, or knowledge of his rights. And our Supreme Court has ruled that it is all right for police to lie to a suspect. So what’s an 18-year-old high school student supposed to do? Take a plea? Accept a life of ruin and despair? Possible death at the hands of career inmates?
Question: Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?
veteran Charlie Alderfer, whom
readers met in my debut novel, The Dying Hour, finds one more battle to
fight—or rather, it finds him. Charlie hires Ben, an 18-year old high school
student as his handyman whom everybody loves. When mean-spirited accusers bring
false charges against Ben, Charlie learns that police terrorized him to confess
to something rather than risk
super-max prison. This infuriates Charlie, who wages battle to unravel their
motives and expose the truth. He confronts layers of incompetents and liars to
solve the case and exonerate Ben. Vietnam
Charlie is a strong moral man with clear guiding principles and a big empathetic heart. And he’s typical of many returning veterans we hear little about who resume civilian life, study and work, raise families, and lead quiet productive lives. He’s a mild-mannered grandfather who lives by the motto displayed at the VA, “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?
Answer: My publisher, Black Opal Books, released five mystery novels since 2016. The Dying Hour was intended to be a “stand alone.” As a volunteer at our local VA hospital, I understood why hospitals are vulnerable at night and was captivated by the stories the old vets in hospice and skilled nursing told me. Charlie Alderfer became my spokesperson. What started as a relationship story between Charlie and a mute little boy grew legs when a serial medical murderer invaded the ward and began killing Charlie’s roommates, one at a time.
My next novel, A Matter of Trust followed. A young widowed banker uncovers fraud and murder at her new job and is thrust into unraveling corporate, high level crime. Her story continues in Redeeming Trust with a new love and a determined killer swearing revenge for solving the bank crime. In Vanished, a sophisticated kidnapping ring steals her baby and leaves clues that implicate her, necessitating the parents to find him themselves while dodging the cops and the killers. Kirkus says that although Vanished is part of a series, it works just fine as a stand-alone.
The Innocent Hour came about when Charlie Alderfer begged to solve one more crime. I could not shut up his voice in my head! I never planned juggle two series at once, but write them one at a time. At book fairs, readers ask, “which one do I read first?” I try to explain one-and-five go together; two, three and four…They glaze over.
Question: What are you working on now?
Answer: I’m doubling back to the Trust characters because my readers insist. I’m superbly complimented when they ask, “What comes next in their lives? They seem so real to me; like family or friends.” That’s humbling. And that keeps me writing. I’d like to take a crack at humor—the hilarious consequences of multiple career changes while juggling family, friends and community. From millennials who change jobs frequently to advance their careers to re-entry women plunging into new opportunities, there’s a bit of Erma Bombeck-type fun as women particularly zigzag through opportunities.
Question: What made you start writing?
Answer: I was raised by avid readers, and have been putting stories together in my head since I was a little girl. My dream was to be a big-time advertising executive in a large city. But I married the man of my dreams—an agricultural banker. Folks, there are no more cows and plows in
! I started my own little business
and I wrote reams of business literature, handled media relations, and PR for
small to mid-size businesses and corporations. When it was obvious I needed to
get a lot bigger or get a real job, I joined a bank, which supplied a paycheck
and the background for the Trust series in the era of merger mania where
employees were as expendable as toilet paper and the environment, toxic. In
time, I put a big red lipstick kiss on the envelope with our son’s last tuition
check, quit my job, and turned me to a life of crime—fiction, that is. Manhattan
Question: What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?
Answer: There’s no right approach. Ignore authorities poking directives at you. Some writers prefer set schedules—write x-many hours or words a day—no excuses. I write in marathon sweeps, closed in my little home office, not days in a row necessarily. Do whenever you know works for you. Have confidence, persistence, endurance, and patience. Just never give up.
Figure out if you’re a “pantser” or an outliner, using whatever organizational tool suit your skill set. The split among well-known authors seems to be 50-50. I start with a one-sentence summary, and yes, you need that for focus and the prospective agent or editor who says, “What’s your book about?” For example (not mine) “In the post-Civil War south, a woman’s obsession with the wrong man blinds her to the love of the right one.” 1,000 pages later… My outlines start with about 10 key points that I expand later to make an outline—a couple pages max. Vanished came to me when I awoke in ten clear points, which I scurried to capture and let incubate while other books were in the works. Gold to spend later!
Question: Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?
Answer: All my novels are available in print and e-format. The first four can be found in the usual online bookstores or through your independents who will order for you. Amazon pounced immediately on The Innocent Hour in December. Others venues will follow. Googling Nancy A. Hughes should bring up my titles. That “A” is important or you’ll find the cookbook lady, who isn’t me. (Ask my family.) And please—support your local independent bookstores for whatever literature feeds your habit. We need them!