Guest Post by Karen McCullough
When I decided to write a mystery series set at a convention center/exhibition hall, I realized that one of the things I could really have fun with would be the secondary characters. The first book in my planned series is called A Gift for Murder. It was released in hardcover by Five Star in January, 2011, in mass market paperback by Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries in June, 2012, and is now available in most ebook formats.
As a former editor at several trade publications, I’ve attended a number of trade shows and talked to probably hundreds of people involved, from the staff of the centers where they're held to exhibitors, attendees, service people and other members of the press covering the event. Although most appear to be the standard, well-dressed business types, the personalities behind the designer suits are often much more colorful.
As anyone who has ever been to a trade show knows, they are a combination of circus show, street fair market, and high-stakes salesmanship. Exhibits are set up to attract and keep the attention of attending retail buyers and the people who work in them can be just as brazen, pushy, kind, irritating, sweet, smarmy, loud and overbearing as the gimmicks they use to gain notice.
With that, I'd like to introduce you to a few of the more interesting people who show up at the Washington, D.C. Gifts and Decorations Show, held at the Market and Convention Center. My protagonist, Heather McNeill, is the assistant to the Center's director, and part of her job is acting as the general troubleshooter for the event, which means she gets to deal with many of the personalities. These aren't the main players in the story. They're some of the more interesting secondary characters.
Sue Savotsky, owner of Trimstates, is one of the banes of Heather's existence. The woman is a persistent complainer, one who is never satisfied with anything and drives her neighboring exhibitors crazy with her accusations and generally unpleasant disposition. Heather bends over backwards to accommodate her and is stretched almost to the limit of her considerable patience. Sue gets a really painful lesson about treating others badly, but whether that will result in any changes to her is a separate question.
The vice president of sales for Sandorn & Ackles had what he thought was a great idea to promote a brand-new and extensive line of angel-themed merchandise. And it would have been, except that they failed to take a few things into account in setting up the display, including, the "fact that the wings were hanging over the aisle, a main traffic route, for one. And the pergola was only seven feet high, while the angel wings were almost three feet long and most people were somewhere above five feet tall. Put those three things together and you ended up with a de facto maze blocking the aisle. People struggled to maneuver among the hanging obstacles, slowing foot traffic through the area. The designers hadn’t planned for the ventilation system, either. Each time air blew from the ceiling vents, the wings fluttered. Wispy bits of cloth and clouds of glitter flew loose, blessing those nearby with showers of string-and-confetti glory." Heather manages to rescue him from the chaos that lovely display causes.
Then there's Heather's friend Lisa Willamont, an independent sales rep helping out at some of exhibiting companies. Here's how Heather describes her: "Nature or fate or God had blessed Lisa abundantly. Not only was she tall, blond, slender and gorgeous, she was one of the sharpest tacks on the wall. I could have hated her if she weren’t so damned nice. Still, I sometimes had to work to fend off the tweaks of jealousy, even though we were good friends." Lisa passes on some useful information and helps Heather sort out a few things through the course of the story.
And finally, there's Magda Crane, owner of a company called "Blue Hills." Before the show is over Heather is calling her "the Blue Hills dragon lady." You'll have to read the book to find out why, but here's a quick hint. It has to do with a drastically malfunctioning popcorn machine.
Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, three grandchildren and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.
About A Gift for Murder:
Greed, jealousy, and anger often lurk below the surface of trade shows and business exhibitions, but murder isn't usually on the program.
For fifty-one weeks of the year, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington DC Market Show Center. But the Gift and Home trade show, the biggest show of the year at the center, is a week-long nightmare. This year’s version is worse than usual. Misplaced shipments, feuding exhibitors, and malfunctioning popcorn machines are all in a day’s work. Finding the body of a murdered executive dumped in a trash bin during the show isn’t. The discovery tips Heather’s life into havoc.
The police have reason to suspect the victim’s wife killed him, but Heather doesn’t believe it. She’s gotten glimmers of an entirely different scenario and possible motive, but questioning exhibitors about the crime doesn’t make her popular with them or with her employers. Still, other lives might be at risk, and if she doesn’t identify the murderer before the show ends, the culprit could well remain free to kill again.
Her only help comes from a company executive with ulterior motives and the Market Center’s attractive new security officer, Scott Brandon. Despite opposition from some of the exhibitors, her employers, and the police, Heather seeks to expose the killer before the show ends. To solve the mystery she will have to risk what’s most important to her and be prepared to fight for answers, her job, and possibly her life.
Smashwords (Note: You can buy A Gift for Murder for 1/2 off at Smashwords during the month of July.)