Livia J. Washburn likes to keep it close to home. Living in a small town slightly northwest of Fort Worth, she sets her Fresh-Baked Mysteries in the nearby town of Weatherford. Newest in the series is Never Trifle with Murder, which finds amateur sleuth Phyllis Newsom and her fellow retiree Carolyn Wilbarger taking a cooking class with British Chef Alfred Dorrington. But in the final class, the trifle is poisoned and Phyllis finds herself once again dealing with murder. Other books in the series include The Coconut Bunny Butt Caper, Death Bakes a Pecan Pie, Baker’s Deadly Dozen, and Peach of a Murder.
It’s hard to talk about Livia as an author without talking about her husband, James Reasoner, the prolific author of over 350 books and countless short stories under many pseudonyms, including house names. (When a publishing house establishes a series, it chooses a name for the author and hires various writers to create individual books in the series, all under the chosen name.) James is best known as a western author, specializing in tales of the Old West, though he has written books about the American Revolution and a series about the fictional Bannon family during the Civil War. Livia has written westerns, collaborated with James, and finally returned, she says, to her first love—cozy mysteries. The two are stay-at-home, full-time professional writers whose careers date back to the 1980s.
Livia says she stumbled into writing early in their marriage when she was typing manuscripts for James, way back before we all had computers. She would see a way the story could go and suggest it to him. Her first short story, “The Lord Will Provide,” was published in 1978 under the name Livia James, followed by her first novel in 1983. She moved on to write mysteries under her maiden name, Washburn.
The two writers seemed to have it made. They built their house themselves and, by the time they had two daughters, their careers were strong enough that they could work at home full-time. In January 2009, fire, sparked by a neighbor’s trash fire on a windy day, destroyed their home and studio. They not only lost their home, household furnishings, and clothes, but also manuscripts, files, books, and photographs - the tools of their trade. Friends and family pitched in with everything from supplies to books, while Western Writers of America took up a collection for books and their literary agent sent more. They were eventually able to continue their writing.
K. P. Gresham is a Chicago-born baseball fan, but she says that she “got to Texas as soon as she could.” She is the author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mysteries, in which Mike Hogan, a former cop, “is a good cop until he meets a bad one,” the Miami Chief of Police who killed his father and brother. Hogan goes into the Federal Witness Protection Program and becomes Matt Hayden, pastor of a small church in rural Texas. Newest in the series, due out this month, is Four Reasons to Die, in which the religious controversy currently so prominent in Texas takes front and center. Matt is asked to deliver the benediction at the governor’s inaugural ceremony because the scheduled minister has disappeared. Matt is reluctant but the governor is a friend, and he wants to support him. What he finds is that a benediction can spark a lot of hate.
The missing minister’s assistant is found dead, and Matt is determined to locate the man. What he learns is that the progressive minister has angered the far-right pastor of a mega church. The drama plays out with Matt’s family and the pastor in danger, and the nation in turmoil because of a political power grab. Talk about ripped from the headlines!
Gresham, who lives in Austin, has been a media librarian, a middle school literature teacher, and a playwright. But much as she loves Texas, she didn’t totally leave Chicago behind. She is the author of the stand-alone Three Days at Wrigley Field, in which a woman who “has the pitch” puts the Cubs team to the test: do they have the guts to hire her and introduce a woman to professional baseball? There’s a nice touch of romance in that the only man she’s ever loved is the Cubs’ pitcher who is losing his pitch. The two love each other and love the game of baseball—which one wins out? Must be Gresham is a Cubs fan.
Judy Alter, former director of TCU Press, is the prolific author of books, both historical and mysterious, mostly about Texas women. Her most recent book, Saving Irene, was published in September. Follow Judy at http://www.judyalter.com.