PARIS, Pa. - "Circle of Influence" author Annette Dashofy spoke to her hometown crowd during a recent Coffee With the Author event at Paris Presbyterian Church's The Gathering Place Coffee Shop.
"I want to thank the whole gang here for having me," she said. "There's nothing like coming to your hometown and being completely embarrassed."
She lives "two doors down" from when she grew up on the old family farm.
AUTHOR — Annette Dashofy, Burgettstown native and “Circle of Influence” author, reads from her book during a recent Coffee With the Author event at Paris Presbyterian Church’s The Gathering Place Coffee Shop. -- Summer Wallace-Minger
Dashofy spoke about the first novel in her Zoe Chambers series. "Circle of Influence" follows small-town paramedic and deputy coroner Zoe Chambers as she is drawn into the mystery surrounding the death of an old friend and former lover. Zoe unravels the mystery with the assistance of Township Police Chief Pete Adams.
"It's set locally," Dashofy said of the series. "It's fictionalized - I've drawn from Hanover Township, Smith Township, Robinson Township. You might not recognize names, but I take pieces from all over, so if I get something wrong, I can't get called out on it by locals. That why, if I get police procedure wrong, I can say, 'well, that's how it's done there.'"
Her character, Zoe, is a paramedic, and Dashofy also was a paramedic several years ago.
"She is a paramedic and a deputy corner, so she deals in life and in death," said Dashofy.
Dashofy drew on her experiences to flesh out the camaraderie and every-day experiences, but, when things got technical, she called on current paramedics to help.
"I'm very serious about my research," she said, noting she has attended two different citizen police academies. "I try very hard to get it right."
"Circle of Influence" is the first of three Zoe Chambers mysteries Dashofy has been contracted to write for Henery Press. The second, "Lost Legacy," will be available in Sept. 16, with a third becoming available in April.
Dashofy had completed the first book and was approximately three-quarters of the way finished with the second when she signed her contract.
"I had to write the third book, and I didn't have an idea of what it was about," she said.
Three books in a year span is unusual, and Dashofy anticipates averaging a book a year in the future.
"I've been been writing since I was young," she said, noting she once published her own "children's magazine," along the lines of "Jack and Jill" using crayons and paper. "But, trying to get published? It took about 11 years, so I have some time in it."
In high school, she wrote serial stories longhand in notebooks and passed each chapter around among friends.
"Today, it would be called fan fiction," she said. "I'd take episodes of 'Star Trek' and put myself in them, but when I started writing to be published, it was a whole different ball game. I was lucky I landed at a small press. I have the support of editors and the entire press, but I also have more control than I would if I was with one of the big presses in New York."
Dashofy went through two agents - with both of whom she amicably parted ways - before landing at Henery Press, a small press that specializes in cozy mysteries.
"It ('Circle of Influence') is not truly a cozy (mystery). It's been referred to as a gritty cozy, but it's as dark as (Henery Press) gets. There's one other author who writes darker stuff. It's Henery Press, so we (the authors) like to call ourselves 'the Hen House,' and I got to meet this other author. We like to say we're the dark meat."
Dashofy encouraged aspiring writers to work on their craft by setting aside time to write regularly and to improve their writing and network with other writers by joining writing groups and attending conventions. She signed a contract with Henery Press after a writer friend, already with the publisher, asked if a particular editor had seen Dashofy's completed novel. Dashofy sent the editor a sample, and, shortly afterwards, had a three-book contract.
Dashofy's next book, "Lost Legacy," will be released and available both as a tradition and e-book Sept. 16.
"This is the story of my heart," Dashofy said. "A character - Pete's father - has Alzheimer's, and so did my dad."
In "Lost Legacy," an apparent suicide turns sinister and Zoe has to dig up some cold cases that have heated up and hit close to home.
"I really love the title," she said. "The working title was 'Sins of the Fathers,' and I really liked it, except there's about 2,000 other books with that same title."
The book was inspired by a family legend that turned out to be incorrect when Dashofy started researching it.
"There was this old family legend about two uncles who had died under suspicious circumstances," she said. "It was very intriguing, but when I started to do research, there was nothing suspicious about it - they died 10 years apart. But I could still get a story out of it."
Dashofy counts Julia Spencer Flemming, Craig Johnson and Nancy Martin among her favorite authors and influences.
She wrote for Pennsylvania Magazine and was an author liaison for Mystery Lovers Book Shop in Oakmont. Dashofy was nominated for a Derringer Award for short fiction in 2007 for "A Signature in Blood." It was published in the e-magazine Mysterical-E, available at www.mystericale.com.
She also was published in two anthologies, including "A Murder Runs Through It" in "Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology" and "Sweet Deadly Lies" in "Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales," and Spinetingler Magazine.
Dashofy is a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime and is Pennwriters vice president. For information on Dashofy and her books, visit her website at www.annettedashofy.com.
Susan M. Guy will speak at the Coffee With the Author program at noon Sept. 24. For information on the event, call the church at (724) 729-3450 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.