Sandra Balzo is an award-winning author of crime fiction, including nine books in two different mystery series from Severn House–the Wisconsin-based Maggy Thorsen Mysteries and Main Street Murders, set in the High Country of North Carolina and featuring journalist AnnaLise Griggs. Balzo’s books have garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, while being recommended to readers of Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, Harlan Coben, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron. A Wisconsin native, Sandy now splits her time between South Florida and North Carolina.
1. Where do you do your best thinking?
When I’m running and swimming. I go out early in the morning and there’s a lot to be said for being trapped inside your own head with no electronic devices to distract. The downside is trying to remember those great thoughts until I can write them down.
2. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I spent most of my life in Wisconsin, which I loved—except for long months of cold and snow. I think I have it about right now, climate-wise. Summers in the mountains of North Carolina and the rest of the year in South Florida.
3. What are you most scared of?
Heights. I’ve tried to make the best of it by giving AnnaLise Griggs, my protagonist in my High Country series, Main Street Murders, the same fear. Both of us are white-knuckled driving the Blue Ridge Parkway.
4. Which book do you wish you’d written?
Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Mertz). It’s the book that made me want to write. She’s a master of combining “scary” and comforting.
5. How did you find your first agent?
She sat next to me in the audience of a panel at my first Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. That particular woman is no longer my agent, but I met my current wonderful agent at a Bouchercon as well.
6. What is your “guilty pleasure” reading?
When my mom was still alive, I’d “borrow” her National Enquirers for poolside reading. Shh.
7. What are you most proud of?
My kids. I never considered myself the Kool-Aid Mom of the neighborhood, so I’m not sure it’s because of me or despite me, but they both turned out to be great human beings.
8. What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Working in the dish room of a nursing home when I was 16, scraping the plates before they were loaded into the dishwasher. Yuck. Once I found someone’s teeth on the tray. I had a crush on the boy who loaded the dishwasher, though, so it had its charms.
Maggy Thorsen, the owner of my fictional coffeehouse, Uncommon Grounds. After seven books in the series, I still love writing her because she’s not your typical amateur sleuth. She’s quirky and cynical and funny and…well, I just plain like spending time with her.
10. Which character of someone else’s would you most like to have a pint with, and why?
John Francis Cuddy, Jeremiah Healy’s private investigator. Jerry and I are engaged, and I think it would be great fun to chat with John Cuddy and maybe get some dirt on his creator.
11. Who was your first literary crush (author or character) and why?
Jim, who was Honey Wheeler’s adopted brother in the Trixie Belden mystery series. Trixie and I were both secretly in love with him.
12. Which literary romance/friendship do you most wish you were a part of, and why?
The “family” that comes together to save Sara in Ammie, Come Home. Why is too long to go into here, but I talked about it in my essay for Jim Huang’s great book, Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today’s Mystery Writers.
13. What is the first thing you remember writing, and how old were you?
I wrote a book about a bunch of kids on a cattle drive following Route 66. Since I was about nine at the time, I have no idea if the so-called “book” was more than twenty pages, nor if I knew where “Route 66” ran other than on CBS Television every Friday night. Which is fitting, since my information on cattle drives came from “Rawhide,” another CBS show.
14. If people like your writing, what other writers would you recommend to them?
Hmm, it depends on which of my two series we’re talking about. Librarians and reviewers recommend my Main Street Murders series to readers of Margaret Maron, G.A. McEvett and Joan Hess. The Maggy books are most often compared to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. I see the words “witty” and “quirky” a lot in reviews for both series.
15. What do you hate most about the writing process?
I procrastinate, so put myself under unnecessary pressure.
16. What do you love most about the writing process?
It’s like running in that it’s often tough to get started but at a certain point you enter “the zone” and it becomes effortless. LOVE that zone!
17. Popcorn: salty or sweet?
Both. Kettle corn made fresh at High Country festivals is the absolute best.
18. Do your books share your personality? If they’re different, what’s the difference?
The do share my personality. Poor things.
19. What do you do when you have writer’s block?
Push on. Mediocre words can be fixed. An empty page can’t be.
20. What are you working on now?
The eighth book in the Maggy Thorsen Coffeehouse Mysteries, tentatively entitled Murder on the Orient Espresso. Maggy’s love interest, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, is invited to speak at a mystery conference and she goes along for the ride. As you might imagine, things get messy.