Hi, Marlene! I’m so glad you made it here to chat today! Love the location you chose. Here, take a fresh chocolate-chip cookie from the bag.
MB: They’re sinful— lots of chips in them. Mmm. Thank you.
What a great idea to meet up at the beach! Is that white tarp bobbing on the water a gift for me? Can I see what’s hidden underneath that huge red bow now?
MB: Certainly, Annie. I’ve looked everywhere for something that spoke “Greece.” And here it is. The perfect match to the Zavos’s toy in Stolen Obsession.
I’m uncovering just the stern (that’s the back,) to give you a taste of this thirty-nine-foot beauty. She’s a magnificent sailing yacht but small enough for you and your family to cruise the ocean without crew. Who needs more expense when you can have all the fun and sail her yourselves? Take her up to forty-five knots and experience the wind pucker your skin. Smell the briny air? Ah. She’s a real speed demon on the waves. Hope you like her!
I’m speechless. This is stunning – and all mine? Since people like to name their boats and yachts, I’ll be thinking of a good one. Maybe readers will leave a few ideas in the comments section below! This deserves another cookie to celebrate. What kind of cookies does Annalisse like?
MB: Annalisse shies away from cookies since Greece. Alec spoiled her forever when he bought pans of baklava while they were in Crete last year. Flaky little diamonds of scrumptious honey, nuts and phyllo dough. Helga, Alec’s German housekeeper makes them for Annalisse whenever she visits the estate. Although chocolate chip cookies are her favored close second. I brought you some baklava to christen your new vessel with the taste of Sitia. You must have noticed the cinnamon and cloves…
Umf, delish. Tell me, how is it that you come up with such intricate characters and stories?
MB: Promise you won’t laugh? Stolen Obsession had eight drafts. Yes, you heard that right. Eight drafts over eight years to its conclusion. The story made so many flips, turns and title changes that I lost track of them all. I had tons of subplots going on, so my developmental editor told me to pick one and save the rest for future books. Annalisse’s love interest in Stolen Obsession, Alec, used to be a bad guy in the first draft of the novel. His name wasn’t Alec Zavos back then either. Stefan Collier was a nasty fellow with a name that had to change if he was going to morph from an egotistical killer into a hunky, kind Greek-Italian.
I changed the genre of Stolen Obsession about the same time I changed the authors I read. At the time, I was a heavy fan of Karen Rose who writes complicated romantic suspense with lots of characters. I’m sure she influenced Stolen Obsession’s multiple situations and personas. What began as women’s fiction ended up as an international romantic mystery in the final version.
Where do you like to do most of your writing?
MB: I bang away on a keyboard in front of my personal computer ninety-five percent of the time. When I’m away from my office, I take a journal with me to catch people’s reactions and situations that may help develop a character I’m working on or create new ones. Have you ever sat in a restaurant and watched patrons eat and talk? Journals are ideal for making notes on unusual gestures, facial tics, and any tidbits of quirky dialogue one might overhear, without being obviously nosy, of course.
Where do you find your inspiration for each mystery?
MB: I put my thoughts in places I’d most like to visit and start a research folder. Since we raise sheep, farming and ranching usually finds its way into a few scenes. Livestock and the outdoors are what I know, so it’s what I’m most comfortable writing about. Raising Horned Dorset sheep is one subject I don’t have to research since I write on the subject often and help others raise their project sheep. Heart wrenching things have happened to us and our flock over many years. It’s easy to imagine situations where characters deal with unbearable tests of will. I’m also a big fan of history and antiques, so writing about an antiquities appraiser like Annalisse comes naturally as enjoyable research.
I have a wee stuffed Nessie toy on my desk. What’s the oddest item right now on your desk?
MB: I have a vintage bread box with spice drawers sitting on one end of the desk. I keep it there to remind me to fill it with ideas for bestselling novels. Yep. I checked. Contents are sparse, so not there yet! Here’s the box looking mighty lonesome.
Ah, the secrets that box could tell… How’s the coffee? Need a refill or more cookies?
MB: All coffee’d out. I could eat the whole bag of cookies, but better stop with one to save room for a piece of baklava if you care to share.
Oh please – have two! So who inspired Annalisse? Do you see yourself in her?
MB: It was difficult to keep myself out of the Annalisse character. I looked at this book series as an opportunity to overcome some of my childhood fears. She’s written a lot like me but dares to enter situations that I couldn’t imagine diving into. Annalisse holds the same value system and beliefs as I do, and has a mentor in her life much like the favorite aunt I have. People who know me may spy sections in this series that are similar to my own personality.
Annalisse certainly copes with a lot while navigating the complexities of sleuthing and romance. What trait in Annalisse do you admire most?
MB: That’s easy. Her bravery in life-threatening circumstances. Especially where she’s the most tested at gunpoint, kidnapped, or restrained. She looks the villain in the face and dares to stand her ground knowing she’s the underdog. I like an underdog who wins the day.
Stolen Obsession is infused with Greek lore. What inspired you to write about ancient Greece?
MB: I’m intrigued by the huge numbers of migrants who make their way from Africa into the Mediterranean countries. Historical objects and artifacts that carry legends are extremely interesting to me. Having Annalisse interested in old objects drove me toward that region since many migrants to the United States came mostly from Europe and the southern regions in the early twentieth century. An idea for Stolen Obsession in early drafts was to have the story begin in the late 1800s United States and travel Down Under. A time-travel piece. I see at least one book in my future where I dabble with time travel. Another character unrelated to Annalisse though.
Do have a personal connection to Ancient Greece?
MB: Close. My grandfather came to the United States via Ellis Island entry from Bari, Italy. He was born in 1896. Back then Bari was a small fishing village. At least that’s how grandpa recalled it when he told me about his home he left behind. I am the oldest granddaughter and listened with the greatest interest to his stories while he taught me to play cards. He was a bit of a gambler. I think back— me on one side of the TV tray and Grandpa Virgilio in his rocker, playing Casino. That image is as clear a memory as yesterday.
In Stolen Obsession, Alec’s mother is from this town of Bari and she carries some of my grandfather’s and grandmother’s behavioral attributes. Alec Zavos is half Greek and half Italian.
I know you have Texas roots. How does this influence your writing?
MB: My deeper roots are farther west. California. The state established radical laws that we didn’t agree with so we made Texas our home in 2012. A hard move with 120 head of sheep, but we were driven to freedom and keeping more of our money. We are Texans through and through now and Gregg and I haven’t looked back. I do miss family and friends who have decided to weather the California turmoil, but East Texas best suits our rural lifestyle. Our friends and neighbors are of like mind to us and they are friendly. The best way to describe a native-born Texan is, neighborly like neighborhoods used to be in the 1950s and ’60s. If someone needs anything, they ask and receive. If there’s a project to build, we all pitch in and help.
As far as Texas affecting my writing, I hadn’t thought about it, but I’m sure a weight has lifted from my words by changing the atmosphere we live in. Now, I’m freer to express my character’s wants and needs in narrative and dialog. Writing my first book Among the Sheep in 2009 while living in California had a detrimental effect on what made the pages of that book. I didn’t see the constriction then, but I do now. That’s one of the reasons I took it out of print. Living in the Piney Woods in Texas with its colorful seasons has much to do with the relaxation in my writing style.
Why did you choose Manhattan as the setting for Stolen Obsession?
MB: Annalisse began her character as a magazine editor in the first and second drafts. It seemed logical to have her reside in the hub for anything literary. I’ll tell you a little secret. I have never been to New York state and it showed in my writing. In those early drafts, I made so many mistakes with cab driver fares and general City life, that my editors hammered me hard. One even called me on it and asked, “You’ve never lived in New York, have you?” Busted. I didn’t think to move the setting even after I’d changed Annalisse’s vocation to antique appraiser— I had already tackled so much research into upstate New York and Alec’s Brookehaven estate. I knew that the story would not remain in New York that long before heading across the Atlantic, so I’d deal with any reader blowback if it happened. So far, I’m good. Once my writing steered its way to exotic places on the Aegean Sea I relaxed and forgot all about my early critiques of Stolen Obsession.
Annalisse certainly is well traveled as she has to go all around the world to try and solve the mystery of who killed her friend. If you could travel anywhere, where would you want to go?
MB: On top of the travel bucket list for me is New Zealand. We almost honeymooned in NZ and considered staying and working at a few sheep stations down there. Unfortunately, we never made it. Too cost prohibitive and lengthy a getaway, so we opted for a Hawaiian honeymoon instead. One of Annalisse’s future books will travel to the South Island of En Zed. (That’s what the locals call New Zealand.) There will be plenty of sheep and rural life to go around in that book. And secrets… lots of them that lead to a murder that needs solving. I’m researching sheep stations currently and plan to introduce this setting in book four of the Annalisse Series. I’m still working on the hubby for a trip to New Zealand. Book research, of course!
Any hints as to Annalisse’s next adventure?
MB: In the next book, Spent Identity, here is a taste of what’s to come:
“A seedy corpse is dumped inside a barn in upstate New York and Annalisse’s aunt vanishes from the property. Annalisse rushes to expose the murderer and find her family before her aunt’s heart condition turns fatal.”
The underlying relationship with Alec will roil in the background as Annalisse weaves the threads between the killing of a homeless man and her aunt’s disappearance. Lots of surprises await!
Thanks so much, Marlene, for visiting ePen and sharing your tales. And for the yacht. Now to look for a parking place…
Friends, visit Marlene here: https://www.marlenembell.com/ and say hello!
Purchase your copy of Stolen Obsession: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0794B81QG
Video trailer for Stolen Obsession: https://youtu.be/NLepdvswnTk
Manhattan antiquities appraiser Annalisse Drury dreams of a quiet life on the family farm among the sheep she loves, when her best friend is murdered. The police assume robbery is the motive because her friend’s expensive bracelet is missing. But the 500-year-old artifact is rumored to carry an ancient curse, one that unleashes evil upon any who dare wear the jewelry created for the Persian royal family—and Annalise believes her friend is the latest victim.
Weeks later, Annalisse sees a necklace matching the stolen bracelet at a gallery opening. Convinced the necklace is part of the deadly collection, Annalisse begs the gallery’s owner to destroy the piece, but her pleas are ignored— despite the unnatural death that occurs during the opening. With two victims linked to the jewelry, Annalisse is certain she must act. Desperate to keep the gallery owner safe, Annalisse reluctantly enlists the owner’s son to help—even though she’s afraid he’ll break her heart. Wealthy and devastatingly handsome, with a string of bereft women in his wake, Greek playboy Alec Zavos dismisses Annalisse’s concerns— until his parents are ripped from the Zavos family yacht during their ocean voyage near Crete.
Annalisse and Alec race across two oceans to save his mother, feared dead or kidnapped. As time lapses, the killer switches mode and closes in on the man who’s meant for Annalisse with the lifestyle she wants most. But when it’s her turn as the hunted, will she choose to save Alec and his mother or sacrifice everything to save herself?
About the Author:
Marlene M. Bell is an acclaimed artist and photographer as well as a writer.
Her previous book, a journal-style memoir entitled Among the Sheep offers a look into her life history, along with a selection of written works on the subject of care and breeding of sheep. She and her husband, Gregg, have raised breeding stock of nationally renowned, purebred Horned Dorset sheep for nearly forty years. Marlene is considered one of the foremost experts in this field of livestock and writes on the subject often.Marlene’s art photographs of sheep landscapes grace the covers of publications such as, Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living and Sheep Industry News. Ewephoric, her mail-order venture, began in 1985 out of a desire for realistic sheep stationery. Her mail-order catalog may be obtained by visiting http://www.TexasSheep.com.
Marlene and her husband reside on a wooded ranch in East Texas with their Dorset flock, a lovable Maremma guard dog named Tia, and three spoiled cats who rule the household. The second installment in her book series, Spent Identity, is slated for release in 2019. Watch for news on her new book!