Guest Author Interview – Rachel Howzell Hall

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Title: City of Saviors (Lou Norton Series Book 4)

Genre: African American Mystery/Thriller/Suspense

Synopsis: Los Angeles Homicide Detective Elouise Norton encounters her toughest case yet in City of Saviors, the fourth installment in the critically acclaimed mystery series from author Rachel Howzell Hall.

After a long Labor Day weekend, seventy-three-year-old Eugene Washington is found dead in his Leimert Park home. At first blush, his death seems unremarkable―heatwave combined with food poisoning from a holiday barbecue. But something in the way Washington died doesn’t make sense. LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) Homicide Detective Elouise ‘Lou’ Norton is called to investigate the death and learns that the only family Washington had was the 6,000-member congregation of Blessed Mission Ministries, led by Bishop Solomon Tate.

But something wicked is lurking among the congregants of this church.

Lou’s partner, Detective Colin Taggert, thinks her focus on the congregation comes from her distrust of organized religion. But Lou is convinced that the murderer is sitting in one of those red velvet pews―and that Bishop Tate may be protecting the wolf in the flock. Lou must force the truth into the light and confront her own demons in order to save another soul before it’s too late.

Rachel Howzell Hall, Author

CH: Today’s Guest Author is Rachel Howzell Hall. She is a writer of things and an observer of life. Welcome to my blog, Rachel.

CH: Can you sum up your new book in 20 words or less?

RHH: Detective Lou Norton investigates the death of a man found in his hoarded house. Looks like an easy case—nope.

CH: How did you come up with the premise for this series?

RHH: I loved reading mysteries—especially Los Angeles stories. But only Paula L. Wood had written a series with a Black woman detective in LA. I wanted to see more of that, especially since I grew up in the Crenshaw District. You don’t get to see it much in novels or on TV, but it’s a place rich with history, complications—good and bad. So, I created a character that is part me, and part friends of mine. A woman connected to the community, but sometimes an outsider. I wanted to create a series that celebrated women, black women who thrive—and die—in the City of Angels.

CH: Since Eugene Washington is found dead and has no family other than his church, was it hard creating believable situations and issues or did you take them from real life and elaborate?

RHH: Unfortunately, with crime stories, you don’t have to make up much except for the name and the events sequencing. When creating this story, I thought about churches that take advantage of their congregants, so-called spiritual leaders, who juice these believers for all they have, which may not be much, and they buy Bentleys and airplanes. I thought of neighborhoods that have gentrified and the elderly still living in those homes, who can no longer afford property taxes, and so, the houses fall into disrepair. I thought of those hot days in LA, in those old and broken homes with no air conditioner, and how the old folks in those hot houses succumb to the heat. Then, I combined all that with an interesting way to murder someone. You know how crime writers do…J

CH: Since you have created L.A. Homicide tough Detective Elouise (Lou) Norton, can you describe your writing style for this mystery/thriller series? 

RHH: I’ve been described as ‘noir’—my stories fall on the gritty side, both in language and in subject matter. There are no crime-solving cats in my stories. Stylistically, I’ve been compared to Raymond Chandler. The rhythm of my sentences is hard combined with humorous. There are no fussy sentences or word gymnastics in the pages of my books. I’m interested in telling readers a story, not showing off my ten-cent words.

CH: What is different and exciting that you bring to your readers through your writing style?

RHH: What’s different and exciting? I think my setting in Los Angeles that isn’t Hollywood or Beverly Hills. My depiction of the life of regular people caught in awful situations. Lou is strong, but she’s vulnerable. She makes mistakes. She has a mouth, but she shows restraint. She’s ‘us.’ And in City of Saviors, she’s having a hard time being physically weak—again, just like us, sometimes.

CH: Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole concept?

RHH: I prefer ideas, especially ideas or situations that bother me or scare me. Ideas that I don’t understand and so, I will write about them to better understand them. I have to be passionate enough about whatever that idea is, if I’m to write 80,000 words about it. But I do keep an Evernote file of weird stories that can help fill out that idea. For City of Saviors, I’d been reading a lot about Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. I’d been struggling with the gentrification of my neighborhood, happy that my house is worth more, but also knowing that I couldn’t afford to buy my house now, if I wanted.

CH: Why did you decide to write this book to end the series?

RHH: Because faith and weakness are two goal posts in my own life. When I started the series, I’d personally been overcoming my own health issues. While I’m stronger now, I was weaker then. Lou starts out strong in the series, and so, she’s weaker in some ways with City of Saviors. She’s always been my counter. I wanted to also leave this open-ended in some ways, so that she can return invigorated, the phoenix, ready to avenge for the folks in her neighborhood.

CH: Did you have to do any special research to write this book?

RHH: Yes! Hoarding and post-traumatic stress disorder were two issues I had to research. I knew about them, but I needed to know the ‘why.’

CH: Who was your favorite character to write?

RHH: Of course, Lou—I absolutely love that woman. In each book, I had the opportunity to fill her out, to discover what she believes, to hear what she’d say. In City of Saviors, I also loved writing about the three prophetesses and Bernice. They’re funny. They’re easily dismissed, until much of what they’ve said is true.

CH: Which character was hardest to write?

RHH: I would say…Colin—a white male. Although, their viewpoint is most represented in much of everything we see and hear, to get into his head and have it ring true was the hardest.

CH: When you wrote the first book in the series, did you realize it would be a series then?

RHH: I didn’t—of course, I had hopes that it would be. But just one had been my original prayer. The stories struck a nerve—with my publisher and with readers—and even other writers. I’m thrilled I had a chance to share Lou’s journey through the four.

CH: Since this is the final book in the series, which book was hardest to write?

RHH: City of Saviors was the hardest to write—I knew I had to wrap it up some, but leave open the chance of returning. Also, as I wrote, I was changing jobs (I still work full-time), so my writing schedule also shifted.

CH: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

RHH: I want readers to see that there are dedicated and compassionate civil servants and cops out there. I want them to give writers of color an opportunity to share their stories, and that ultimately, we all want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I want readers to see that there are stories everywhere.

CH: Who are some of your mystery/thriller/suspense writing influences?

RHH: I love Raymond Chandler’s works, as well as Dennis Lehane (voice and place are so important to me, and these two writers are IT in that). I also count Agatha Christie and James Patterson, as influences.

CH: What has been the most exciting thing to happen on your publishing journey?

RHH: A few things—meeting readers that are thrilled to meet someone like Lou. Also, having the opportunity to co-author The Good Sister: A BookShot (Bookshots) with James Patterson.

CH: How to Find Rachel Howzell Hall:

CH: For my audience, where is your book sold?

RHH: My stories are in bookstores around the country, as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

CH: Any closing remarks?

RHH: Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk about my stories!

CH: Thank you so much, Rachel Howzell Hall, for taking time out of your very busy writing schedule to join me and my blog followers.  It has been a real pleasure discussing your book with my audience.  And readers, if you’re like me and would enjoy this book.  I suggest you pick up a copy at your earliest convenience. 

Note: Photos/Clip art are compliments of the Internet, Rachel Howzell Hall and Cheryl Holloway.

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On this blog, I “Pay it Forward” to other authors by spotlighting them with a Guest Author Interview. I only ask that they too “Pay It Forward” to any other author.                                              ~ Cheryl Holloway

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2 thoughts on “Guest Author Interview – Rachel Howzell Hall

  1. Wow. This book sounds so interesting. I love thrillers with lot of suspense. Cheryl I don’t know where you find these authors, but keep on presenting them to your audience. Thanks.

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