Local author announces release of new mystery book

NEW IN A SERIES — Local author Annette Dashofy discussed her Zoe Chambers Mystery series, including the impeding release “No Way Home” at a Gathering Place Book Club meeting Friday. -- Summer Wallace-Minger

PARIS — Burgettstown-based Annette Dashofy, a USA Today-bestselling author, announced the release of the next book in her Zoe Chambers Mysteries, “No Way Home,” the fifth in her six-book contract with Texas-based small press Henery Press during a Gathering Place Book Club meeting, where the first book in the series, “Circle of Influence” was the December read.

Dashofy covered a variety of topics during her presentation, ranging from her writing process and her favorite of the series to the research trips she took to New Mexico while preparing for “No Way Home.”

The book features series regulars Zoe Chambers, a rural Pennsylvania paramedic and deputy coroner, and Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams. “No Way Home” sees the duo, whose partnership is both professional and romantic, splitting up. Zoe travels to New Mexico at the behest of a friend to find her missing son, while Pete remains in Vance Township — a fictionalized version of the greater Burgettstown area — to investigate the death of a county commissioner and combat the growing drug problem.

Dashofy spent time with friends in New Mexico, including a sheriff’s deputy who gave her a driving tour of areas that would be featured in the book.

“If he didn’t spend his life going out and saving the world, I think he’d be a writer,” she said.

In contrast to Vance Township, where much of the Burgettstown landscape has been altered, but is still recognizable, the New Mexico-based settings in “No Way Home” are real.

“I took pages and pages of notes,” she said.

Dashofy’s favorite book in the series is “Lost Legacy,” which features a character with Alzheimer’s Disease, something her father endured. She donates her royalties from that book to the Alzheimer’s Association. Characterization is something Dashofy prioritizes, and she used those skills recently while holding workshops for Burgettstown Middle/High School students, noting that characterization is important regardless of the genre.

“It’s important to me as a reader that (the characters’) first day they have lived isn’t page one,” she said.

She also works to keep the reveal of the who and why of a murder until the end of the book, but to ensure that the reveal is “fair” and consistent with the book.

“There used to be a trend, on page 295 of a 300-page book, a new character would drop in from out of the blue,” she said. “No wonder people couldn’t figure it out.”

She acknowledged that, in order to foreshadow the killer’s identity, readers may figure it out before the end of the book.

“I’m not upset if a reader figures out who did it, if they aren’t upset,” she said. “As long as it’s not every book — then I have a problem. And, if they figure out who did it, they don’t always figure out why.”

Dashofy discussed various concerns in writing the series in order to keep the books consistent and avoid dating them. To that effect, she avoids technology, especially identifying electronic devices by name, and has a “book bible,” in which she keeps details about characters both living and dead, noting she had one character driving three different cars in the course of one book. Internal consistency is some times a constraint, because the published books have established a character, relationship or history that an author may later regret.

“A few books in, you wish you hadn’t set that up in book one,” she said “You don’t think about it.”

Although the time between releasing her books has ranged from six months to a year, the timeline of the series is considerably shorter, Dashofy said. Over the course of the five books, approximately a year has passed. While each book has a self-contained mystery, the personal relationships between the characters evolve over the course of the series.

“Zoe and Pete do age, but they age slowly,” she said. “There are only a couple months between books.”

She also spoke about the difference in genre and how books are marketed by genre. Henery Press markets the Zoe Chamber Mystery series as cozy mysteries, which feature amateur sleuths and no profane language or on-stage violence. Series often have a hobby as an over-arcing theme. Dashofy considers her books to be in more of the classic mystery vein, but is happy to let Henery Press take the marketing reins.

“They know what they are doing,” she said.

She shared the cover of the book with the group, noting it featured a twist on a run-down trailer home that features prominently in the book.

“No Way Home” will be released in March, and Dashofy is writing the next book in the series. For information, visit her website at annettedashofy.com.