Thursday, February 17, 2022

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Sally Carpenter

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Sally Carpenter

Linda: Welcome to my blog. Congratulations on your most recent release, The Notorious Noel Caper, part of the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol Mystery Series. Tell us your inspiration for the plot. 

Sally: Thank you. I write cozy mysteries, and most cozy series have a Christmas book. Many cozy readers love Christmas stories, especially those set in the American northeast with lots of snow, a chill in the air and heavy sweaters. Since my protagonist lives in Los Angeles, my story has sand, not snow, and 75-degree temperatures. 

Southern California is known for its theme parks, and a Christmas-oriented amusement park seemed a logical setting. My protagonist, Sandy Fairfax, is a 38-year-old former pop star making a comeback. He’s hired to emcee the Miss North Pole scholarship pageant, set at the Santa’s Magic theme park. Former teen idol Donny Osmond has hosted the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants, so it seemed like a good job for Sandy. However, Sandy gets in trouble when his girlfriend, Cinnamon Lovette, is jealous of him working near so many beautiful women—but he stays faithful. People begin dying at the theme park and one of Sandy’s friends, who is later charged with the killings, asks Sandy to investigate the suspicious deaths. 

LM: You’ve written most of your books as part of the Teen Idol and Psychedelic Spy series, each with very unique protagonists. Where did you get your idea for the two series/characters? 

Photo: WikiImages
Sally: The Monkees inspired the Teen Idol books. In the 1990s, VH1 began running The Monkees TV show daily and I was hooked. Somehow the guys struck a chord with me at that time. I became interested in the teen idol phenomena. After some research, I discovered that teen idols from the 1950s-1970s followed an almost identical career path: explosive, sudden and intense fame for two to four years followed by a crash and long-term rejection by the industry. Teen idols married young, had kids and, with the exception of Donny Osmond, divorced and drank heavily. Then in their mid-to-late 40s the idols staged a comeback and achieved new success when their grown-up fans searched for nostalgia and the younger generation found them. 

I wanted to explore this type of character and created Sandy Fairfax to follow this trajectory. In the first book of the series, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, Sandy recently quit drinking and is just getting back in the public eye after several fallow years. Over the series arc, he reconnects with his estranged family and children. The series follows his journey from a self-centered has-been to a more open, loving human being. 

The Psychedelic Spy series, set in 1967, was inspired for my love of the 1960s: the colors, music, media, fashions, mindset. It was a heady period that preached “love and peace” but was filled with conflict: the Vietnam War, generation gap, civil rights, women’s rights, the rise of Eastern religions, the New Age moment, Vatican II for Catholics and contemporary worship/the Jesus movement for Protestants. 

The popularity of the James Bond books and movies launched the ‘60s spy craze, inspiring many spy-related moves and TV shows. I created Noelle McNabb, an actress and a Christian who is recruited by a spy agency. Her morals and values often conflict with the ends-justify-the-means approach of the agency. 

LM: You’ve been an actress, college writing instructor, jail chaplain, and tour guide for Paramount pictures. How did those jobs impact your writing/story ideas? 
Sally: Both of my protagonists are actors LOL. I used my experience at Paramount Pictures for my Sandy
Fairfax books, since he works in TV and films. His second book, The Sinister Sitcom Caper, is an accurate description of the five-day rehearsal and shooting schedule of a typical Hollywood sitcom. The fictional setting, Mammoth Picture Studio, was modeled after Paramount. 
LM: How do you decide where to set your stories, and have you visited the places in your books? 

Sally: The Noelle McNabb books are set in Southern Indiana, where I grew up in the 1960s. The cities are fictional but based on my hometown and the nearby “big city,” Evansville. 

Since 2000 I’ve lived in Southern California, the setting for Sandy Fairfax, who works in the entertainment industry. I use a few real places, such as Cantors Deli and Hamburger Hamlet, but I mostly use fictitious stores and places so I don’t have to worry about accuracy. 

The Santa’s Magic theme park in my new book was, of course, inspired by the famous Mouse Park in Anaheim, including the underground tunnels for the staff to move about. I’ve been to Disneyland twice, but only because a friend gave me free guest passes; it’s far too expensive. 

LM: Are you an outliner/plotter or “discovery” writer (i.e., just sit down and start writing)? 

Sally: I outline, although it’s a rough list of scenes I scribble on paper. I don’t use software programs or index cards or color-coded markers. Generally, I often write the opening and closing scenes, then I plan the middle part with the mystery. In the second draft I add more red herrings, suspects and description. In my new book, I had a character, Doug Shaw, who was only mentioned briefly. I expanded his role in later drafts. The outline isn’t set in stone, but I do need to know where I’m going. 
In my fourth book, The Quirky Quiz Show Caper, I tried “pantsing.” After 50 pages I was stuck and threw out most of what I’d written. Chapter two became chapter one. I shifted the focus from Sandy and his father to Sandy to his brother, which made a more interesting story. 

LM: What sort of advice can you give to fledgling writers? 

Sally: Finish what you start. Too many “writers” talk about writing but never do it. You can’t publish what isn’t written. And if you want a long-term writing career, you need perseverance and dedication. Many writers publish one or two books, sell a few copies to friends and family, and that’s the end of that. For the career author, the writing and marketing are ongoing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

LM: What is your next project? 

Photo: Pixabay/
Sally: I’ve started book six of the Sandy Fairfax series. Working title is The Highland Havoc Caper; the story centers on the Scottish Highland Games. Sandy’s 13-year-old son plays a principal role. After that is book three to wrap up the Noelle McNabb series. I’d like to start a third cozy series if I can figure how to use an angel with a human sleuth. So many ideas, so little time. 

LM: Where can folks find you on the web? 

Sally: My website is You can friend me on Facebook at

The Notorious Noel Caper

Nothing brings a couple together like murder. Former pop star Sandy Fairfax gets sleuthing help from his friend, Cinnamon, when bodies start dropping like snowflakes at the soon-to-open Santa’s Magic theme park in Southern California. The deadly Christmas season kicks off at a celebrity bowling tournament when a pinsetter drops a body in place of the pins. Sandy’s also dealing with a difficult director while he’s the emcee on the televised Miss North Pole pageant. Along with surfing Santas, a seductive executive’s wife and a movie rival, it’s truly the most wonderful time of the year.

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  1. Sally, what fun! I remember the Monkees. The show was better than the sum of its parts -- it was like French New Wave cinema. As long as we don't expect more from them, we and they are fine.
    It's true about the teen idols. Most of them were young men who had not been trained to handle fame.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Kathy Bailey
    Can relate to the 1960s stuff. Ought to, I lived it.