Have you ever wondered if your favorite characters from books were based on real people?
Vicki and I also spend time talking about her latest mystery, Bloodline, a book that cozy mystery reviewer Karen Owen named the best mystery she’s read so far in 2017.
Links and resources mentioned in this episode
- Click on any of the book covers to go to Vicki’s books on Amazon
- A Cup of Tea and a Cozy Mystery book review site
You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcription of Interview with Vicki Vass
Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers, this is It’s a Mystery podcast. I’m your host, Alexandra Amor, and I’m here today with Vicki Vass. Hi, Vicki.
Vicki: Hi, Alexandra.
Alexandra: How are you doing?
Vicki: Good. How are you today?
Alexandra: I’m very well, thank you. So let me just introduce you to our our listeners.
After visiting Asheville, North Carolina, Vicki Vass found herself transfixed by the magic that surrounded this beautiful mountain town. She knew she wanted to capture that magic in her new “Witch Cat Mystery” series and live there so she bought a lot. “Bloodline” is the first novel in that series.
An avid reader, Vicki researched Appalachian folklore, Celtic legends, and the Biltmore Estate. All of these things play a role in “Bloodline.” Vicki has written over 1,400 stories for “The Chicago Tribune.” I want to ask you about that as well.
Let’s start out today talking about your “Antique Hunters Mysteries” because you’ve got four books in that series.
Vicki: Yes, and I’m working on book five. I used to spend my weekends antiquing with my two best friends, and that series grew out of those experiences. The characters are loosely based on my two friends.
Alexandra: Oh nice.
We’ve got Anne Hillstrom and CC Muller. Tell us about those ladies.
Vicki: Anne is very much in real life as she appears in the book. She is an avid collector and sometimes does not know when to get rid of things, and she’s never had a antique or a sale that she does not want to visit.
Whereas CC is very much like the practical German journalist and always keeping Anne on track. So it was just very fun to write about them and to share their story, though they’ve never encountered a real-life murder, but it’s just been fun to share their experiences and their characters.
I’m working on book five in this series right now, which has been a challenge but it’s a lot of fun. I think the readers who enjoy the series will enjoy it.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s great.
Anne and CC are both estate sale bloggers, is that right?
Vicki: Well CC’s the blogger because she’s a journalist. Anne is more the sale expert, the antique expert. She’s, like I said, she can find something, dig it out and find a treasure anywhere she goes, in the dustiest of places, but CC chronicles their adventures in her blog.
Alexandra: Oh okay, I get it.
One of the things I love about hosting this podcast is that the mystery authors that I interview have come up with such unique premises for mysteries, and I have to say this is one of the unique ones I’ve ever seen with “The Antique Hunters.” I just think it’s amazing.
You’ve based that on your friends, and they must be aware of that, are they?
Vicki: Yes, they’re very much aware. Actually they tell me now they don’t want to share stories with me because they’ll end up in the books, and some of their stories I can’t quite include because they end up being stranger than fiction.
You know, sometimes when people say reality is stranger than fiction, it’s definitely true in a couple of Anne’s instances. But they’ve literally told me, “Don’t put this in the book,” on certain things.
Alexandra: One of the things I noticed was that in book three, Anne has to actually sell all her antiques. Her identity has been stolen, all kinds of things have gone wrong, and someone described her in one of your reviews as maybe perhaps a bit of a hoarder.
So I just wondered, that must have been so hard for her then.
To put a character in that situation just seemed really interesting to me where she has to let go of the thing that matters the most to her.
She buys things, she intends to sell them at…on eBay or at auction, but she ends up waiting and holding onto things. And I think that’s one of the things about her characters.
As the series continues, I want the characters to evolve. So I really wanted to put her in a situation where she’d be in this uncomfortable position where she had to start letting go of the things that matter the most to her, which is this growing collection she has of antiques and collectibles or ‘needful things’ as her aunt used to call them.
Alexandra: Needful things?
Vicki: Needful things, yes.
Alexandra: There’s a book with that title isn’t there?
Alexandra: I’m trying to remember who it is. V.C Andrews maybe, or no, I haven’t got that right.
Vicki: No, I think it’s Stephen King.
Alexandra: Oh, yes, yes. Yeah, I think you’re right, exactly.
I mentioned all the articles that you’d written for “The Chicago Tribune.”
How different is it for you writing in long-form, like writing novels as opposed to writing short for newspapers?
Vicki: You know, it’s not that different. I actually have always wanted to write long-form, I always wanted to write novels. But writing journalism, I think that’s why “The Antique Hunters” has really been a good vehicle for me because it allows me to take my observational skills that I learned in my journalism career and really expand those through these characters.
I spent a summer or two when we bought our house with them every weekend, shopping at antique stores, estate sales, garage sales, flea markets. And I observed both of them as we were going through that and that’s how the characters developed. And even now if I’m out with them, I’m…or I talk to them on the phone, or…those end up…those experiences end up growing into part of the story.
Obviously it’s expanded on, it’s not quite real, but I think my journalism career has really found itself into that.
At other places where I worked, I was used to long-form. I did some articles that where 3,000, 5,000 words, especially I used to cover the steel industry, and so those were longer articles, but nothing like writing a 50,000 word book and having to extend it. But I think it was a great experience, I loved my days at “The Tribune” and I loved being able to report on various things. I had a very great career and I’m very grateful for it.
Alexandra: And it must have really taught you to work to a deadline, being a journalist?
Vicki: Yes. I can’t imagine not having a deadline. I have to, now that I’m working on books, that’s the challenge for me is starting deadline and sticking with it and really trying to meet those deadlines. Because as a journalist, if there’s a hole in the front page the next day you’ll be fired.
Alexandra: That’s great.
Let’s switch gears a little bit then and talk about your latest book, “Bloodline,” which just came out, like, recently?
Vicki: It came out in the beginning of May.
Alexandra: The beginning of May. Okay, 2017?
Alexandra: Yeah, okay. Terra Rowan is the main character, and you describe her as a witch trapped between worlds and lost in time. I love this so much.
Tell us a little bit about Terra.
Vicki: I think that description aptly describes her. She’s really this character who’s trapped between worlds and she’s trying to find herself and get back to who she was, and that’s been a challenge for her.
I don’t want to give away too much about her character, but she’s a very interesting character and I think she brings some of that past history with her, as we all do, we carry it through, as well as trying to discover who she is in the present.
I think that’s that dichotomy of trying to become those two different characters and come to grips with who she is now, as well as finding who she needs to be or who she wants to be.
Alexandra: Right, okay. And we mentioned in the intro at the beginning of the show that you were so inspired by Asheville, North Carolina and you said the town seems surrounded by magic.
Tell us a bit more about that, what did you feel there? What did you mean by that?
Vicki: There’s a special presence there. Asheville is surrounded by the Smoky Mountains, which is part of the Appalachians. So it’s got all that mysticism, that folklore with the Appalachian Mountains that’s just so rich, and that history between the Native American Indians and Appalachian people.
I’ve been reading this book about folk remedies and the Appalachia and all these crazy treatments they used to do, and some of those I pulled into the book, that it’s just so rich in all that. And the people I met there were very…still inspired by it.
There’s a lot of crystal shops, a lot of rock shops. The mountains there are really deep, they have a lot of…they have rubies, they have emeralds.
My husband and I went mining a couple of times too, but that’s another story. But they do have have witch circles there in the town. So there’s a lot of that magic.
I want to call it good magic, I feel very at home when I’m there, I’m very comfortable, so it’s just very inspiring to me and it really inspired the story. Originally when I envisioned witch…”Bloodline,” and the series, I was going to place Terra in Salem, and then I started thinking about it and I thought, “Oh, that’s just so obvious,” and I don’t know whether I wanna stay with Salem.
Then I was gonna move her to Nashville. And then I thought, “Oh, I don’t know that I want to do Nashville either.” And then we were in Asheville, and I was like, “This would be the perfect setting.” It’s just…there’s a lot of mystery to it.
Alexandra: How did you find Asheville? Did you know about it or did you go by accident?
Vicki: We went there the first time, it was funny, we were driving from Nashville to somewhere. There’s an emerald mine in Hiddenite, North Carolina, which is very small, small, small rural place.
We went to the emerald mine and then we were going from there to Nashville to go to the “Grand Ole Opry” for fun, and we drove this sign that said, “Area’s largest antique mall, tobacco barn,” and we had to stop there because we were doing research for the second book in the “Antique Hunters” series.
So we stopped there and we ended up going back to Asheville the next year because I’d seen the Biltmore Estate but we didn’t have time to visit on that trip, and I’m like, “I have to go there, I just…” I love history, and just the beauty of that estate and that building was so incredible that…And so we went back and we fell in love, and we’ve been back a few times since. And we bought a lot, we’re building a house and moving our lives there.
Alexandra: Wow, that’s amazing. So you mentioned the Biltmore Estate, and so tell us more about that. I don’t know anything about it, and then I’m going to ask you about sort of the interweaving of the Appalachian folklore, the Celtic legends, and the Biltmore Estate that all come to be in “Bloodline.”
Vicki: George Vanderbilt discovered Asheville back in around 1880. His mom needed to recuperate, she had some lung issues, and he discovered the air in Asheville was just so conducive because of the mountain air, the streams, everything was so conducive to her health that he brought her to Asheville and then he built this enormous estate.
It’s I think 400 rooms and it’s a thousand plus acres, and it’s just incredible. I mean, it’s the true example if you picture “Downton Abbey” in North Carolina, that would what the Biltmore is. It’s just a beautiful property, its setting is gorgeous, and it’s nestled in these Blue Ridge Mountains and then the town formed around.
There’s an area of the town, which I actually drawn for “Bloodline” called Biltmore Village, which is modeled after an English cobblestone village. And all the little cottages in there used to be like some of the workers or the people who supplied the Biltmore Estate, their homes, like the veterinarian, the local doctor, the seamstress, they all had their homes there, and now there have been turned into little shops and each of the shops has their historical plaque with what used to be housed in the building.
I love history, so I find that really interesting and it’s very charming, so. We were there just last week and I wandered around all the shops for a day and was just having a great time talking to people.
Alexandra: Oh, it must be amazing, yeah. Sounds like a beautiful place. I’ll have to put a link in the show to some of the Wikipedia pages or something about the Biltmore Estate and Asheville.
Vicki: The Wikipedia site’s pretty good. I picked up this book around here called “Lady on the Hill.”
Alexandra: Oh, nice.
Vicki: And it’s about the Biltmore Estate and how it became this American icon and how so many people travel there and how they went about restoring it, which was really interesting as well.
Alexandra: Tell us more about the Appalachian folklore then that also plays a part in “Bloodline.”
Vicki: I’ve always been interested. We used to spend our summers in Kentucky when I was little with my dad and my parents, and wander around and talk to people. And the folklore is so fascinating to me the way these people lived and the remedies they came up with, and I don’t know, I just think it’s really interesting.
That’s why I think Asheville played so well into “Bloodline,” was because you have that whole mysticism with the Appalachian folklore and the things that people believed and all these herbal remedies, the whole medicine women, the whole medicine part with, I wanted to bring in some of the Cherokee history as well because they were integral to the area and they have a whole rich history as well of, like I said, herbal remedies, all those things, I just find it so fascinating and so rich and I wanted to draw in both the Appalachian, the Cherokee history, and I hope I did it justice in the book because I find it really fascinating and I’m respectful of those cultures.
Alexandra: Oh that’s so neat. I just love the interweaving that’s taking place in the plot because of all that historical and cultural information that you’re interested in.
Vicki: My dad was a history teacher, so I would say I must’ve gained it from him because we used to go to the library together and read our way through the library.
Alexandra: Right. Yeah. Oh lovely, that’s great. And I asked you about the magic around the town. The thing I noticed was that “Bloodline” was described as a paranormal mystery crossed with a cozy mystery, and it’s sort of this cross genre blend.
Had you always been wanting to write something that had a little bit of a paranormal edge to it?
Vicki: I believe so. I used to write ghost stories when I was in second grade, so about haunted mansions and missing jewelry and secret walkways. So I think I did always wanna write…And the paranormal to me just seemed like it…there was no way to write this story without it either, it just really lends itself to that.
I toyed with the idea in “The Antique Hunters” of adding that paranormal twist, but then I don’t want to turn off the readers who are already engaged with the characters and may not enjoy that aspect. So this gives me another outlet, a different area to include those plot twists or the paranormal interests.
Alexandra: Yeah, yeah. Oh, that’s an amazing. You get to fulfill two parts of yourself in a way, the part that’s interested in the antique hunting and the part that’s interested in all the stuff that’s going on in Asheville and the magic that’s there.
Vicki: Right, exactly, and it’s been a lotta fun. I’ve enjoyed…I enjoy both series for different reasons.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah. Oh it must keep it fresh and interesting for you to go back and forth.
Vicki: Yes, exactly.
Alexandra: I want to mention to our listeners, if they don’t read Karen Owen’s blog, “A Cup of Tea and A Cozy Mystery,” they should check it out.
Karen recently said that “Bloodline” was the best cozy mystery she’s read this year. So I just wanted to mention that for everybody and say congratulations to you, Vicki, because that’s pretty high praise indeed.
Vicki: Well thank you. Over the past couple of years, I’ve really gotten to know Karen and I appreciate her insight and her judgement, and I really appreciate her saying that. I was very excited when she said that. I have a lot of respect for her and a lot of goodwill, so to speak, but that made me feel really good that she said that.
Alexandra: Oh yeah, it must’ve. And I mean, she knows her cozies. She reviews three or four books a week. So yeah, she’s a gal who knows what she’s talking about.
Vicki: I wish I could read as much as she did, but there’s never enough time.
Alexandra: I know, right? When you’re writing, it’s almost impossible to do as much reading as we used to do.
Thank you very much for being on the show, Vicki, it’s been great chatting with you. Why don’t you let all our listeners know where they can find your books and more about you.
Vicki: The books are available on amazon.com, and I have a website, it’s vickivass.com, and I’m also on Facebook sporadically. It’s been a challenge because we have two puppies and working and writing books, but I try to post at least once a week. And then I also have a newsletter that you can sign up that goes out periodically that people can sign up for on the website, and then I’ll share news of upcoming stories or promotions. We recently did a contest for some of our readers, so that’s a good way to stay in touch as well.
Alexandra: Oh perfect. Okay, so I’ll put some links in the show notes so that people can find that and where to sign up for your newsletter.
Vicki: Awesome, thank you.
Alexandra: You’re welcome. Well thank you so much again, Vicki, it’s been great chatting with you.
Vicki: It’s been great. Thank you, Alexandra.
Alexandra: My pleasure. Bye bye.