On the ground between the far side of the bed and the windows, Maurice lay, face down on the tan carpet as though he’d collapsed forward, unable to brace for his fall. His killer must have struck him as he stood with his back turned between the executive chair and the bed. Her friend would have had no idea the blow was coming.
His white long-sleeved shirt was untucked. His feet were bare under the hem of his black pants. His shaggy, graying hair was matted at the crown of his head as though someone had continued to bludgeon him even after the first blow had rendered him unconscious and dropped him to the floor.
Mo, who hated you so much?
— Olivia Matthews, Mayhem and Mass
What a pleasure it was to chat with Olivia Matthews about her new Sister Lou Mystery series, which launches with Mayhem & Mass. Featuring a Catholic sister and a supporting cast of characters ranging from a grumpy fellow sister to an inquisitive reporter, to a protective nephew, the series weaves murder, faith, community and justice into a very satisfying whole.
Olivia writes romantic suspense under the name Patricia Sargeant and contemporary romance as Regina Hart. But you can find all of her multiple personalities right here: http://authoroliviamatthews.com/
Her protagonist in the new mystery series, Sister Lou, is a Catholic sister, not a nun – a distinction I was unaware of until Olivia set me straight. We give a shout-out to another series set in a religious community: the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. The books are fantastic, and I also want to recommend the television series starring the brilliant Derek Jacobi (and especially the first season, with Sean Pertwee as Hugh).
Sister Lou’s second adventure, Peril & Prayer, is due to drop on June 26, 2018, and if you can’t get enough of Olivia, that’s good — in addition to finishing off her Fire Trilogy (the first, On Fire, was re-released this September), she is part of a 12-book series, Decades: A Journey of African-American Romance. Her novel, Campaign for Her Heart, will finish off the series in December 2018, as each month tells a story from a different decade across more than a century. Intrigued? Check out their awesome Facebook page here.
As always, if you’d rather read than listen, the transcript is below. Enjoy!
Transcript of Interview with Olivia Matthews
Laura Brennan: As Olivia Matthews, my guest today has just published her first traditional mystery, but that doesn’t mean Olivia is a stranger to writing. She has a string of successful romances and romantic suspense behind her — and, I hope, in front of her as well. But her new series is a departure in many ways, not least of which is her unconventional heroine: Sister Louise (Lou) LaSalle.
Olivia, thank you for joining me.
Olivia Matthews: Oh, thank you so much for having me, Laura. I appreciate it.
LB: Before we get into the Sister Lou series, let’s talk a little bit about you. How did you get started writing?
OM: Oh, thank you for asking that great question! When I was in elementary school, my sister, who is a tremendous bookworm, we would go to the library every weekend. So we would pick up books on one Saturday and then return the next Saturday to bring those books back and get new ones. Well, that developed (very long story short) my love of reading and I started writing in elementary school. Just little stories, essays, poems. And then as I got older I thought, well, I’d like to tackle a book. And the rest is history. [Laughter]
LB: Now, your first book wasn’t a mystery though, was it?
OM: No, no, it was a romantic suspense written as Patricia Sargeant. “You Belong to Me.”
LB: I actually think romantic suspense squarely belongs in the mystery genre. What drew you to romantic suspense?
OM: I love romance. And I love suspense. So for me, it’s like a Reese’s peanut butter cup, where you have the best of both worlds. You’ve got your peanut butter and you’ve got your chocolate. Put it together and I think you have a really compelling story. You have the motivation of the love and you have the puzzle of the suspense. I love puzzles. So that’s what drew me to romantic suspense: the motivation, the character drive and the puzzle.
LB: No, I agree. In fact, I think the two genres have a lot in common, not least of which is they both have to have a very satisfying ending. I would even say a happily ever after.
OM: I would agree with you.
LB: It’s not necessarily romantic happily ever after in mysteries, but I think that catching the bad guy is essential to a good mystery and that is to me the same as a happily ever after in romance.
OM: I have to agree with you. You need that good versus evil, good triumphs.
LB: I was just talking the other day with some friends about mysteries that don’t do that, that don’t provide an ending where you actually find out who did it. I just, it’s actually one of the few books I really dislike, is a classic mystery that did that.
OM: I need to have things, not necessarily tied up with a bow. I don’t mind if every T isn’t crossed, every i isn’t dotted. But I do need the satisfaction of solving the mystery and bringing justice to the story.
LB: So tell me a little bit about the book. It’s called Mayhem & Mass.
OM: Yes, and my amateur sleuth is a Catholic sister. Which is different from a Catholic nun. Nuns are traditionally cloistered but sisters are out in the community. And one thing that I would like to stress is that I’m not hitting anyone over the head with a lot of religion. There is a background of religion, you do learn things about Catholic tradition and the faith in the story through one of Sister Lou’s amateur sleuth team members, who is the investigative reporter, Sharelle “Shari” Henson. But I’m not hitting anyone over the head with it, it’s not a preachy story.
LB: No, not at all.
OM: Oh, thank you! But my amateur sleuth goes quite reluctantly into the murder investigation. Her calling, she believes, is the congregation. But what she learns through this journey is that the congregation is her foundation, but she is driven to find the truth. And if that means finding who actually is the villain, then that is the truth that she is intended to discover.
LB: Okay, so Sister Lou is a Catholic sister — how did you go from fairly steamy romantic suspense —
LB: Right? To a Catholic sister?
OM: I had the absolute pleasure of working with the congregation of Catholic sisters. It’s the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Peace, which is based in Columbus Ohio. And by working with them, the Dominican model is to contemplate truth and to share the fruit of that contemplation. The way that they approach things is very interesting to me. Generally speaking, they’re not impulsive. And when you speak with them about current events, about things going on in the community, they make these connections that show a lot of thought has gone into the message that they’re sharing with us. And one day I was speaking with a dear friend of mine who is a member of the congregation, love her to death, and she said something that I thought was just so clearly thought out, I thought this lady can be an investigator. The way that she delves into things. And that is how Sister Lou was born.
LB: That is a terrific story.
OM: Oh, thank you! But the way that I want my amateur sleuth to come across, the way that I want Sister Lou to come across is, she’s very observant. And she files things away mentally. And when they come up later, she makes the connections that solve the mystery. So it’s not right in front of your face. Things that other people dismiss, are things that she makes connections with. Everything is important, everything comes together.
LB: Speaking of the congregation, one of the things I really liked about it was how complex relationships between the sisters are.
OM: Oh, thank you. I don’t want the sisters to be cookie cutters. Thank you for bringing that up, because one of the reasons that I was propelled to write the series is that I want to dispel some of the stereotypes that surround Catholic sisters and Catholic nuns. The women I know with the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Peace, they’re very warm and welcoming and very socially active. They’re committed to working toward social justice. They are not the dour, ruler wielding, one-dimensional figures that society tends to view them as. And I wanted this to come across in my series.
LB: Well, I think you did and in fact it reminded me very much of the community that was shown in the Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, where they all have the same faith — in that particular case, they are monks — they all have the same faith, but they don’t all like each other.
LB: And they have very different agendas, too.
OM: Oh, now that’s very interesting. That’s interesting. That must’ve been a very dynamic series then. A lot of tension there, and conflict. I love that.
LB: So, okay, so you have Sister Lou, who is the, I’m just going to call her the brains of the outfit, right? She’s the one who really puts everything together.
OM: Absolutely. Perfect.
LB: But you also two other characters who play a major role in the investigation, and that is her nephew, Chris, and then this investigative reporter, Shari, who comes in. How did that triangle develop?
OM: You know, they came to me. I didn’t come to them. They came to me. I knew that I needed a foil for Sister Lou in order to show her character development over, not just the story, but the series. Sister Lou, who was inspired by my dear friend, she comes across as more confident that she thinks she is. She tends to be more introverted, whereas Shari is in your face. So Sister Lou wants to be as extroverted as Shari is, but at the same time Shari wants the confidence that she sees in Sister Lou. So those are my mirror characters. Chris decided to come into the story because he is a protector. Sister Lou is the only living relative he has, and he doesn’t want anything to happen to her. She’s like his rock. So while Sister Lou is trying to investigate, and Shari’s trying to work with Sister Lou to investigate, at first Chris is like, no, no, no. Let the Sheriff’s deputies handle this. But because his aunt was so determined, Sister Lou was so determined to do these investigations, he joins the team ostensibly to keep them safe, but his social connections help them advance their investigations. He knows a lot of the suspects in the community.
LB: There’s a real sense of roots in this community. Everybody — Shari is your outsider character, but the other people really know each other and know each other’s pasts, for good and for ill.
OM: Right. With Shari, I’m also able to give, through her eyes, give the readers some of the history of the congregation, of Briar Coast, because as you said, Shari, she has just moved into the town when the story starts. And I’m also able to give the readers a little bit of Sister Lou’s faith base. Because Shari, having grown up in a series of unpleasant foster situations, she doesn’t have a faith base. But she’s open to it. And Sister Lou allows her to learn some of that.
LB: Well, I think she’s particularly open to it because she sees what you talked about, Sister Lou’s confidence. She sees that it’s the rock behind the Sister.
OM: Oh, my gosh, Laura! You’re so fabulous. Exactly! It is. The rock behind Sister Lou, and also behind Chris. So they’re able to dispel some of the Catholic stereotypes and they’re able to show the readers some of Catholic traditions without hitting readers over the head.
LB: You have more adventures on tap for this team.
OM: Oh, yes! So the first one, Mayhem & Mass, and in that story the platform is a saint’s feast day. Because the story opens up with a celebration of their patron saint. And that is a November 2017 release. The second story is Peril & Prayer, which I believe is a July 2018 release. And that, the background for that strangely enough is Christmas. In the dead heat of summer, I’m releasing a Christmas themed story.
LB: Well, that’s perfect talk about right now, because this will air the day after Christmas. This is when this goes live.
OM: Exactly, Laura. Good point.
LB: So what can you tell us about that without spoiling it, but getting our hopes up a bit.
OM: Oh, I’m so excited that you asked. Okay, so the set up for Peril & Prayer is that the congregation is preparing for an Advent retreat. And Advent is the Sunday after Thanksgiving through four weeks between the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Sunday before Christmas. And when they’re working on this retreat, Sister Marianna is the lead organizer. And she has a contentious relationship with the resort manager. When the resort manager is found strangled, Sister Marianna is one of the prime suspects because of their continually butting heads during the planning period. And once again, Sister Lou reluctantly is pulled into investigating a murder when she would really much rather be focusing on her responsibilities for the congregation. But she knows Sister Marianna isn’t responsible for this murder.
LB: No. Sister Marianna is a pain in the neck, but she’s not a killer.
OM: Oh, exactly! That is the perfect way of putting it, Laura. Thank you so much. Because in the first book, Sister Marianna is no, no, no. Sister Lou, you have to leave the investigation up to the detectives, and I’m tremendously opposed to your involvement in this investigation. It’s not your place. But then in the second book, she goes to Sister Lou, Sister Marianna goes to Sister Lou and she says, can you help me? They really think that I might have done this.
LB: That is great. That is such a great spin on their relationship, too.
OM: Oh, I had so much fun with that.
LB: Well now, two books coming out in a six month span, that’s a pretty demanding schedule. Are you going to be able to write other things? I’m thinking particularly of, you have a trilogy in the romantic suspense category that you working on?
OM: Yes, well, the trilogy isn’t going quite as quickly as I would like for it to, but it’s not only because of the Sister Lou Mystery series. I have some other commitments as well that are coming out. For example, I’m involved in an historical romance series with 11 other authors. So I’m working on that book once I turn in my third Sister Lou mystery, which is Angels & Alibis.
LB: I love the title. But wait, let’s go back to this romance, historical romance series that you’re writing with 11 other writers. I’m loving this idea.
OM: Oh, I am thrilled out of my mind about this. The series is called Decades: A Journey of African-American Romance. There are 12 of us, we’ve each taken a month and as usual I’m bringing up the rear with December 2018. Each month, an author will set their romance, historical romance, in one of the decades between 1900 and 2010. So we’re starting out with A Delicate Affair, that’s released January 2018, the author is Lindsay Evans. And she, her romance is set in the 1900s. And in February we have 1910. And it goes every decade after that until we get to my story, which is set in 2010. My historical line is Black Lives Matter, and it’s Campaign for Her Heart. So I’m doing a little historical, a little suspense, a little contemporary.
LB: Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing. You’ve essentially done what August Wilson did, where he had the play for every decade.
OM: Yes, you’re correct.
LB: That’s fantastic. Oh, I can’t wait. So this is a way for you to be slightly historical but still with your contemporary flair.
OM: Exactly. Because I don’t have the expertise in historical research that the other authors have, so I’m really glad that I’m bringing up the rear with 2010. I can research that fairly easily since we have the Internet. But the other authors have just done a really exciting job. We have a Facebook community that’s called Decades: A Journey of African-American Romance and on that community were sharing with readers some of the research that we’ve learned as we been writing the stories.
LB: That is such an amazing idea. I will link to that in the show notes.
OM: Oh, very kind!
LB: As of course I will link to your website, but for people who don’t run to the show notes, can you give us your website verbally so they can find you online?
OM: Absolutely. You can find me at AuthorOliviaMatthews.com; Matthews has two Ts.
LB: AuthorOliviaMatthews.com. And then you write books under two other names as well, you want to give them to us?
OM: Oh, thank you! I write romantic suspense as Patricia Sargeant, and that URL is PatriciaSargeant.com. I write contemporary romances also as Regina Hart and that URL is AuthorReginaHart.com. But the thing is, you could type in Patricia Sargeant, Author Regina Hart, or Author Olivia Matthews, and it takes you to the same platform.
LB: Right, so you are not that hard to find. No matter how many aliases you use.
OM: [Laughter.] Exactly. The witness protection program cannot block me.
LB: Olivia, thank you so much for joining me today.
OM: Oh, the pleasure has been mine, Laura. Thank you so much. And I love your Facebook page.
LB: Oh, thank you! [Laughter.]