Interview with mystery author Winter Austin

Today’s special guest author is Winter Austin and we’re chatting about her new mystery novel, Hush, My Darling, the second book in the Benoit and Dayne Mystery series.

During her virtual book tour, Winter is giving away a copy of the first two books in the Benoit and Dayne series: The Killer in Me and Hush, My Darling. Click here to enter for a chance to win!

Winter Austin perpetually answers the question: “were you born in the winter?” with a flat “nope.” Having recently changed her address back near her hometown, Winter has stepped into the chaotic world of a full-time wife, mom, author, coach, and employee. With her ability to verbally spin a vivid and detailed story, Winter has translated that into writing deadly romantic thrillers. Combining her love of all things rural, agricultural, and military, she’s turned her small-town life upside down.

To keep up with Winter’s recent releases join her newsletter.

Welcome, Winter. Please tell us about your current release.
The back cover blurb says it best:

Sometimes, the past starts to bleed into the future…

Dark memories haunt Eckardt County Deputy Lila Dayne. Two years ago, she survived a serial killer’s attempt to add her to his growing list of victims in Chicagoland, but the fight cost her more than just time lost to surgeries and rehab. Now she’s finally beginning to connect with the people in this small section of southeast Iowa, even if she can still sense him watching her.

Sheriff Elizabeth Benoit has her sights on bringing down Eckardt County’s corruption when two bodies surface, both bearing striking similarities to the serial killer victims discovered along I-80—and one delivers a personal message for her department. Lila spirals out of control under the pressure, pushing everyone out of her life.

As Elizabeth and her deputies try to bring Lila back into the fold, the killer closes in, marking his next victim. Lila must shake free of her fears and trust those who have supported her—or the killer will finish what he started.

What inspired you to write this book?
Hush, My Darling came about with a tickling of an idea when I was writing The Killer in Me. Lila’s tragic past would come out and as I got to know her better and write more about her, the threads began to weave into the pattern I needed for the story. The hard part for me was not knowing who the actual attacker/killer was, I fought with this plot point until I was more than halfway through. I had hashed out ideas with Julie, my editor, when we had a Zoom meet going over editing details on The Killer in Me, and I had a general concept of what the antagonist was, but not who.

I also spend a lot of time listening to true crime podcasts, my two favorites being CrimeJunkie and Anatomy of Murder, both fed in for the filler points. I draw a lot of inspiration from something that has actually happened, or a little thread from something I’ve read, and I just roll with it, make it my own. But Hush was not an easy book to write, several times I had to stop and backtrack, remove huge chunks of the story and restart from another point because I was either forcing the characters to my will, or rushing ahead in the story. In the end, I really feared the editing process would take longer because we would have to rework the whole book. As it turned out, my editor assured me, I had it, and we just had minor tweaks to get to the final product.


Excerpt from Hush, My Darling:
Prelude: Saturday Night

Growing up in the Jackson Park neighborhood of Chicago, Lila Dayne didn’t have many good memories. The ones she did have were the nights when it rained. She’d open her curtains and watch the lightning ripple across the sky over Lake Michigan. If it was summer, she’d pry open her ancient bedroom window and let in the smell of electrified air. Storms hadn’t bothered her in those days. They were tame compared to her home life.

Years later, her love of rainstorms would forever be tainted.

A crack of thunder had jolted Lila from her nightmare. She slipped from the bed, careful not to disturb the lump next to her, and padded out of the bedroom into the kitchen. She would not sleep as long as it stormed. Hugging herself, Lila tiptoed up to the sliding glass door and peered outside.

Lightning lit up the backyard, creating eerie shadows from the trees and bushes. The momentary bright flash revealed the downpour. Thunder rumbled through the sky seconds later. Swallowing against the panic clawing at her throat, Lila turned from the sliding glass door. She headed toward the soft blue glow emitting from the living room.

Gerry, her pet beta fish, drifted aimlessly through his temperature-controlled waters. She bent over and peered into the tank. Seeming to sense her presence, he rotated and floated into her line of sight. They stared at each other for a moment, until Gerry got uppity and darted into his Easter Island statues.

“One day I’ll get you a woman and she’ll put you in your place,” Lila muttered at the taciturn fish.


What exciting story are you working on next?
Right now, I’m writing book 3 for the Benoit and Dayne Mystery series. This one is going to push my boundaries as a writer, because I plan to add elements that are out of my norm. This book will deal more with Elizabeth and her past, as well as her reasons for becoming sheriff. I’ve been building for a showdown between her and the ex-sheriff she usurped. This book will get more into the meat of the corruption that has been plaguing Eckardt County for decades.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think that came about as soon as I was able to write. I have always been a storyteller—my mother would have called it lying—but the truth was so boring, why not embellish it a bit. Storytelling is a family trait and I spent a lot of time listening to my relatives rehash our family history. I’m a daydreamer and I liked to pretend when I was younger, so I just meshed the two. Funny, I’m a horrible actor.

Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do not do this full time, I do have a day job that helps pay the bills, right along with the mom/wife hat. When I do write it’s usually weekends, most mornings before work, and some evenings after work, and if I’m really hot and heavy on the story, during my hour lunch breaks. If we’re traveling to cattle shows or now catching those college football or basketball games, I write while my husband drives. I spent a good deal of my time this past summer hanging out in the hotel instead of in the hot cattle barn getting work done on my book. I try to handwrite when I’m dealing with writer’s block, but for the most part, I’ve got to have all my toys that are on my laptop. That whole visual/audio thing is a must, I need my Pinterest board of character models, and my go-to music, YouTube music and Audiomachine albums do wonders for scene moods.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have found I’m not alone in this, but I do like to play out in my head future scenes in the book I’m writing on while I’m showering or driving to work and back. I will resay certain lines I want characters to say with the hopes that it’ll cement in my head until I can get it down on paper or computer screen.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a kid I had a lot of dreams, but the one constant never left me and that was to be an author. I can recall moments of wanting to be a horse trainer, or a police officer, maybe even be a vet. Thankfully those other ideas never panned out. Being a writer lets me pretend to be those things I only wished to be.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
If you want to see more about me, you can join me at any one of these social media outlets for news about my books and fun stuff, like seeing my daughter showing cattle.

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