Cover Art (A Charley Scott Mystery)
by Vanessa Westermann
I am delighted to welcome Vanessa Westermann to Escape With Dollycas today!
On Writing Strong Heroines
When readers meet Charley Scott in Cover Art, she’s just taken the biggest risk of her life. On the verge of giving up on her art, she quit her marketing job to open a summer pop-up gallery in Canada’s cottage country. But when a man is found dead by chocolate, she has to uncover the killer’s identity before murder spreads its poison through the lakeside village…
My writing process has always been character-based. I’ll know who I want to write about before I know what adventures they’ll have. However, for Cover Art, my character development was more intentional than it had been before.
I started my writing career as a pantser, not a plotter, but over the years I have come to love and appreciate a good outline. In fact, because I teach creative writing, I find that, through the lesson prep and class discussions, I’m constantly learning new ways to improve my own craft.
While planning Cover Art, I tried and loved James N. Frey’s method for character development, described in his book How to Write a D*** Good Mystery. Everybody’s imagination works differently — a resource one writer finds useful may not work for another. Frey’s technique requires a fair amount of pre-writing, but his approach was a more efficient version of what I was already doing and it just clicked.
Based on the qualities of mythic heroes, Frey’s approach uses brainstorming and journaling techniques to create a hero/detective who has a ruling passion and a psychology that develops from her/his background and physiology. His method prompted me to explore my character’s backstory in much more detail than I normally would have, and still gave my imagination free rein.
I chose to make my amateur sleuth a struggling artist who is running a pop-up gallery because both art and mysteries are about perspective. To understand an artwork, you have to pull it apart and figure out how the pieces fit together to make a whole, the same way you do when solving a mystery. When we look at a painting, we’re trying to uncover the artist’s truth. When a sleuth gathers clues, she is trying to uncover the criminal’s truth. All it takes is a shift in perspective, to empathize with a murderer, to understand the motives, the mistakes, that lead someone to take another person’s life.
Charley Scott’s ruling passion is that she wants to be able to earn a living from her art. She has a keen sense of observation and is very perceptive. Her paintings look like pulp fiction covers, featuring female heroines and the everyday acts of kindness and courage that so often go unnoticed.
Charley has courage. She will act in the face of danger to bring a murderer to justice and will venture into the darkness, despite her fear of the dark. I couldn’t resist giving a character, who values her sense of sight so much, nyctophobia. Writers are cruel, aren’t they?
Like most amateur sleuths, Charley is loyal to old friends and lost causes. She’s quick to help those in need and happy to reconnect with her childhood friend, Kayla, when she joins the exhibit.
I tried to weave a sense of yearning and wish fulfillment through the story. Charley and her sister Meghan both inherited the 1950s cottage, with the gabled roof, red shutters, and lake view. But Meghan is the one who has been able to build a life in Oakcrest, as the editor of the local newspaper. Charley desperately wants to call it home, too. All of her best memories are there.
In the heart of the Kawartha countryside, the little village nestles on the shores of Blue Heron Lake, at a crossroads between barns and laneways, ploughed fields, and sugar bush. Oakcrest has the pace of a country village, but the quaint specialty shops and vibrant arts community of a city. Only a two-hour drive from Toronto, the waterfront cottages, Adirondack chairs, and boats cruising by attract weekenders to the peaceful getaway. The constant influx of visitors—arriving with the black flies and staying until the first red leaves fall from the trees—provide locals with fertile ground for gossip.
To top it off, Oakcrest has an artisan chocolate shop, run by a handsome chocolatier. Charley is a self-confessed chocoholic. She believes a car trip isn’t complete without a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, and her chocolate Labrador retriever is called Cocoa. Need I say more?
When Kayla’s husband is found dead, the result of eating boutique chocolates, the homicide investigation threatens to make Charley’s pop-up gallery a failure before it even begins.
In order to prove Kayla’s innocence and save the gallery, it’s up to Charley to see past the obvious and find the killer…
I enjoy every minute I get to spend in Charley’s company, and I hope readers will too!
Thank you Vanessa for visiting today!
Now keep reading for my thoughts about Vanessa’s book Cover Art!
About Cover Art
Cover Art (A Charley Scott Mystery)
1st in Series
Setting – Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada
Cormorant Books (May 17, 2022)
Paperback : 440 pages
ISBN-10 : 1770866426
ISBN-13 : 978-1770866423
Kindle Cormorant Books (May 28, 2022)
ASIN : B0B1H89KC1
Charley Scott is thrilled to be running a summer pop-up gallery in cottage country. Returning to the lakeside village, not on vacation but as an artist, she’s determined to turn her hobby into a career.
But, beneath the surface of this peaceful town, darkness lurks. There’s a history.
Local chocolatier, Matt Thorn, is struggling with his father’s death and his legacy of deception. As Matt plans to expose his father’s secrets, a local is found dead, the result of eating Matt’s chocolates.
Luckily, art is all about perspective and Charley’s always had a keen eye. Can she see past the obvious and find the killer?
Charley and Meghan have inherited their grandparent’s cottage by the lake. Meghan moved in with her cop boyfriend right away but Charley took some time. Now she has made the huge decision to quit her job and try to make a career out of what she loves, being an artist. That means she and her dog Cocoa coming to the cottage and Oakcrest where she and two other artists are setting up a pop-up gallery for the summer. Her life now hinges on the success of that gallery. Can she make a living selling her unique Cover Art?
Matt Thorne has returned to Oakcrest and moved into the house his father left him. His father is still intimidating Matt from the grave, he can feel his presence in the house surrounded by all his father’s things. His father had many secrets, secrets that Matt just has to delve into and reveal along with trying to make his new chocolate business a success.
Andrew Clarkston was a domineering man in business and at home. His wife Kayla is one of the artists working with Charley but she will not be participating in it at all if he has anything to say about it.
Thomas Kelley is the third artist participating in the pop-up gallery. Now retired there is something shady in his past. He definitely has a problem with Andrew.
So when Andrew Clarkson is found dead and some of Matt’s chocolates appear to be the murder weapon almost everyone connected to Charley becomes a suspect and Alex goes into full cop mode. Charley has some unique talents that can help him but some threats lead him to tell her to back off. But that is not happening!
Ms. Westermann has introduced a strong cast of characters in the first Charley Scott mystery. They already have some depth to draw readers in but there is plenty of room for growth as the series continues. I admire Charley for chasing her dreams and giving them a chance. She also has a great bond with her sister that can flourish now that are actually spending some real time together. I did enjoy the way Charley’s relationship with Matt is in constant flux. It keeps things interesting. Alex and Meghan’s relationship has a few growing pains but they know they are strong together.
The mystery that these characters are placed in is very complex with a lot of moving parts. There are many secrets that need to be revealed and some promises that may need to be broken to find the truth. I had a few suspects on my personal list that stayed there for quite a while but all at once the actual killer rose to the top of my list and stayed there. I can’t say one clue put everything into place for me, the author plotted out the story too well for that and there was still plenty of room for more twists. The character was well-liked but he gave me a little twitch that made me know it was them.
The author’s descriptive detailed writing style lends itself well to all the facets of the story. Whether it be the artwork the artists have created, the squirrel on the top floor of the gallery, Charley and Meghan’s cottage by the lake, the chocolate shop and all its wares, or the place where the exciting ending takes place, everything is easily captured and visualized. I was very entertained throughout the whole book by everything she presented.
I did enjoy the small-town setting of the story. Not far from Ontario Oakcrest is trying to find its place as the world changes. I think the residents are all on the right track. I loved the shop names and what they had to offer. I hope to return as soon as Ms. Westermann finishes the next book in this series for another great escape.
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About Vanessa Westermann
An avid reader of mysteries, Vanessa Westermann is a former Arthur Ellis Awards judge, holds an M.A. in English Literature, as well as a Bachelor of Education, and has taught creative writing. Her debut mystery, An Excuse for Murder, was published in 2019. At the heart of all of Westermann’s stories are strong female protagonists inspired by the heroines in her own life. She currently lives in Ontario.
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