C. C. Harrison has won national recognition for her suspense novels. Her most recent book, “Death by G-String,” a Coyote Canyon Ladies Ukulele Club mystery, is set in the Rocky Mountains in a town inspired by Crested Butte. The book is a 2019 Colorado Independent Publishers Association EVVY Award finalist, an American Fiction Award finalist, and was shortlisted for the Mystery and Mayhem Award. Harrison is also a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books. A long-time resident of Colorado, she now lives in Arizona.
The following is an interview with C.C. Harrison.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
After I’d had four books published one right after the other, I thought I’d take a short break from writing.
But three things happened.
One day, I saw actress Zoey Deschanel on television playing the ukulele. She looked so cute and I got so caught up in it, I stopped what I was doing to watch and listen.
A few weeks later, I saw someone’s ninety-year-old grandmother on television, and she was playing the ukulele. Now I was really intrigued.
Not long after that, I read in my local paper that Heidi Swedberg of the fabulous Sukey Jump Band (Heidi was George’s girlfriend on the Seinfeld Show, remember?) would be coming to a local library to give a ukulele lesson, and she was bringing ukuleles for the class to use. I decided to check it out.
Heidi came in the room with a cart full of ukuleles, and the minute she put one in my hand, I didn’t want to give it back. By the end of the lesson, I could play a simple two chord song. I was absolutely thrilled. And hooked. The next day, I went out and bought a soprano ukulele, a chord chart and a book of easy beginner songs.
That ukulele was never out of my sight or my hand’s reach. I played and practiced every day, joined the Phoenix Ukulele Club, and began playing with a small group, The Wednesday Girls. Along the way, I made my solo coffeehouse debut, so I now can say that I WAS BORN TO BE A ROCK STAR, BUT I WRITE BOOKS INSTEAD.
However, this book almost didn’t get written.
After I bought that first ukulele (then another and another and another—no one told me how addictive this ukulele thing was) I turned my attention to music in addition to writing. It wasn’t long before a ukulele themed mystery series began swirling in my mind, but I repeatedly batted the idea away so I could focus on improving my playing and learning new songs.
A few months later I attended a writers conference where I met the talented author Catriona McPherson. We chatted and she asked me what I was working on, and just about jumped out of her chair when I mentioned the ukulele book idea that wouldn’t let go of me. I hadn’t yet written a word, didn’t even have a character or a fully developed plot in mind. It was Catriona’s enthusiastic encouragement that shot me like a rocket back to the computer to write “Death by G-String, a Coyote Canyon Ladies Ukulele Club mystery.”
Now I write and play. I have a Luna soprano ukulele, a Kohala tenor ukulele, a Fender tenor ukulele, a Makala baritone ukulele, a Lanikai baritone ukulele, two Martin acoustic guitars, a handmade Black Mountain Appalachian dulcimer, and a McNally minstrel dulcimer. I tend to play American folk and country music on the ukuleles, traditional and classical Old English folk music on the dulcimers, and a little (very little) classic rock in the Eagles, Marshall Tucker Band, Doobie Brothers leitmotif on the guitars.
I play a song or two at every book signing. I came to ukulele later in life, and I’m very much an amateur player, and I’m under no illusions about my singing. But I do it to encourage others to try out new things no matter where they are on their journey, not in order to escape life, but so life doesn’t escape them.
“Remember,” I tell them, “whatever you want to do in life, you can totally do it.”
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
My favorite fictional character is Scarlett O’Hara. I think of her as inspiration for all my fictional female main characters. Remember Scarlett standing in that devastated potato field saying, “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again.” She was a survivor!
I’d like to think my female characters are positive role models for young women readers. I try to show them as intelligent, self-confident, kind, and courageous despite their personal flaws. They don’t turn away at the first sign of trouble, instead they look for a way to help. If they see a wrong, they try to make it right. They don’t scream and run away from creepy sounds in the attic, they go up and check it out. They may be afraid, but they do it anyway. That’s courage.
In “Death by G-String,” Viva Winter is an investigative journalist who went to jail rather than reveal her confidential sources to a grand jury. Later she tries to right a wrong by finding a way to help pay back the investors her father bilked. After her friend and neighbor is murdered, and the investigation appears to be at a standstill, she sets out on her own to find the murderer. She’s not a Pollyanna by any means. She carries plenty of baggage. I also like my female characters to have secrets and “a past.”
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
I’d have to say the very most fun part of writing this book has been meeting all the talented, creative people along the way. Not just the ukulele players who are a very special and unique breed on their own, but musicians in general are such fun to hang out with.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
The most difficult sections to write in any book for me are the crimes and law enforcement procedures. I do try to get the cop stuff right. Fortunately, details of just about any crime you can think of are on the Internet. Also, I have law enforcement contacts who are willing and available to answer any crime related questions I have, including a fabulous FBI contact in Washington, DC whose help has been invaluable.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
Can I tell you about the funniest thing that happened instead?
Well, my book is obviously a ukulele themed mystery. Right on the front cover it says Coyote Canyon Ladies Ukulele Club mystery. There is also a picture of a ukulele, and a sign announcing the time of the next ukulele practice. On the back cover is a brief summary of the book that talks about the ukulele club and the star player club member who was strangled with a ukulele G-string. So, clearly it’s a ukulele themed book. All that information was sent to Amazon by my publisher.
However, Amazon thought it would be a good idea to put my book in the same category as underwear! Yes, that’s right. Pull it up on Amazon and take a look. Right there with the under pants, the tighty whities, the bikinis, and the thongs is my book!
At first I was quite miffed, but then I laughed. And so does everyone else. Someone at a conference was very upset about it, though, and told me how I could force Amazon to fix it. But I don’t want to fix it! I’d lose a good story to tell at book signings. And I want people to go look for themselves.
What project are you working on next?
I currently have two books in development: “Death of a Two-Timing Man,” and book two of the ukulele mystery series, “Don’t Fret the Small Stuff” in which Viva and some of the club members find the misbehavior of their teenage years coming back to haunt them.
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