Thriller writer Jeff Shelby debuts his cozy author alter-ego, Jeffrey Allen, with the release of this month's Stay at Home Dead. When stay-at-home dad Deuce Winters finds the dead body of a former high school rival in the back of his minivan, his life of folding laundry and caring for his daughter takes a turn as he tries to find the murderer. I asked the author about his own experience as a stay-at-home dad and how it influenced this fun mystery. Plus, Allen also shares his method for writing hilarious stories and tells us what's next for cozy hero Deuce!
While I assume you don't normally find dead bodies in your minivan or spend a whole lot of time clearing your name for murder, I am wondering if you have anything in common with your character Deuce?
I stayed at home with my daughter until she was seven. It was truly a privilege and the best decision I ever made. I was a Room Mom at her preschool and kindergarten and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had that time with her. I was minimally harassed by PTA moms.
Stay at Home Dead takes place in Rose Petal, Texas where everyone knows each other's business and the past is never dead. Do you live in a place like this?
I live in the suburbs of Dallas and while my town is much larger than Rose Petal, it has an insular feel and intimacy that I think you find in a lot of southern towns. People love to stick their noses in other people’s business and it seems as if everyone knows one another. There are benefits and drawbacks, but overall it’s a nice place to live.
Deuce takes a lot of flack in this small town for being a stay-at-home dad. Other characters assume that he can't get another job, but in reality, he really enjoys staying home with his three-year-old Carly. You write this father/daughter relationship with a lot of realism. Can you talk a bit more about being a stay-at-home father?
I stayed at home for about seven years. The day my daughter told me she didn’t need me to walk her to the door at her elementary school was the day I decided I had to go back to work. After about a month of crying and uncontrollable sobbing. But I think that time I spent with her created a bond that is unbelievably special. She’s a fantastic kid and I love the fact that I got to spend every day with her for the first seven years of her life.
Besides having a great kid, Deuce is also lucky in love. He has an ultra-smart wife who is successfully and funny and best of all, quite sassy. (Deuce compares her to Sandra Bullock with attitude). Is Julianne based on anyone you personally know (your wife perhaps)?
Julianne is a combination of all of the great women I know. But my real-life Julianne (her name is Beth) is prettier, smarter, funnier and sassier than any character I could ever come up with. Deuce isn’t nearly as lucky as I am. (And to be clear — I’m not contractually bound to say that.)
Julianne is not the only clever character. Deuce is also quick on the draw. In fact, a lot of what he thinks and says is pretty much what the rest of the world wishes we could come up with on the spot. In one scene, Deuce describes an old friends looks:
Darlene didn't just have big hair. She had monstrosity hair. Hair that could be skied upon. Hair that could be ascended. Hair that looked like waves off the North Shore.
How long does it take you to write up clever phrases like this? Do they just come to you like they do for your character, or is there some serious writing time involved?
I am blessed/cursed with a sharp tongue and the gift of sarcasm. So the one-liners and the snarky descriptions come fairly easily. The things that are more difficult for me are the nuts and bolts of a good novel — making sure the plot works, making sure the motivation is there for the actions of the characters, making sure everything fits together. Those are the things that I really have to work at.
What's up next for Deuce and his crew?
Popped Off is the second Deuce book and it’ll be out in September. This time he has to untangle a mess that involves youth soccer, a gigantic church, some gamblers and some very entrepreneurial smugglers. There will be lots of fun and shenanigans. And laundry.