The Mystical Mystery Sisters

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Guest Post by Amber Foxx

Marion Eaton and Virginia King and I have three different takes on the mystery genre, all of them unconventional. Our protagonists, in various ways, pass through the barrier between ordinary reality and something else—another time, or perception and knowledge not accessible by the everyday mind. We’ve come to appreciate each other not only as writers but as friends. Virginia and Marion have actually met—Marion, from England, happened to have already planned a trip to Australia, where Virginia lives, shortly after we started communicating. I haven’t been so lucky yet, but I feel fortunate in their long-distance friendship. To introduce my Mystical Mystery Sisters, I thought it would be fun for each of us to answer the same questions.

When you started writing the first book in your series, did you know where it was going or did it surprise you?

Virginia: I’m a “how would I know what’s going to happen, I’m only the author” kind of writer. The First Lie started with one sentence: All she had to do was jump. This applied to my main character, Selkie Moon, and also to me. I wrote that sentence with no plot and no plan. Selkie is named after the Celtic seal people—the ones who peel off their skins and dance in the moonlight on human legs—but The First Lie is not a retelling of the selkie myth. Selkie Moon is a Sydney girl who’s run off to Hawaii and got tangled up in the mythological layers of a deep mystery. The mythical elements that popped into the story as I wrote it became complex threads that converge in a stunning conclusion – because it certainly stunned me. It still makes me cry whenever I read it.

Amber: I knew what The Calling was about, but not how it would end. When I put the prologue up for my online critique group, one member mentioned that it was clear that Mae’s missing father was going to be a key mystery. Oh? I’d thought he was backstory. Mae’s struggle with her psychic gift was to be the main plot—but then I realized that her search for her father would be the unifying thread, in the background behind the family struggles and the mystery of what Dr. Tann can do with his own strange gift. Already the book was on a new track based on that observation. I didn’t know how any of the relationships would work out—or not work out. The characters had to go through all of it for me to know.

Marion: It surprised me. I had a rough idea of what I was going to write – a memoir of a special time in my life when I was young and the world was rosy. I started writing and came upon something mysterious to which I had never found the answer, and suddenly, the book took a completely different direction. From a rather boring factual account I suddenly found myself writing a fictional mystery thriller complete with ghosts and a time-slip.

Which of the mysterious phenomena in your book comes closest to something that has really happened to you?

Virginia: I’ve mostly taken true things and let my imagination make them bigger than my own experience. But there is one scene where Selkie has an out-of-body experience and heightened perception of her surroundings. This has happened to me several times—once for an hour in a garden where I felt completely connected to one rose, to every curve and tint of its petals, to every tiny flaw, to every drop of dew. I’ve also had amazing insights into my own mind through psychotherapy and there’s a scene where Selkie has to dive into the murky depths of her mind and discover a dark secret. I couldn’t have imagined the mystical layers of that scene if I hadn’t experienced the process myself.

Amber: Two come very close—one creepy, one beautiful. The creepy one is the wolf spirit. It would be a spoiler to say any more. Some of the visionary and energetic experiences Mae has when she starts practicing as a healer are similar to some things I felt when I had a little training in that field.

Marion: Actually, many of them are close to my personal experience. Perhaps the most unnerving was the sound of a horse being ridden fast up a deserted High Street late at night — when there was nothing to be seen. The experience was even more unnerving because it was so close and so real that my husband pushed me out of the way, and he was not normally given to flights of fancy. The most mysterious was when all the clocks stopped— the incident which provided the title of the book. But that was not my personal experience: I overheard the conversation between two of my friends.

What do you do to refresh your creative source—to water your inner garden?

Virginia: Writing itself refreshes me. I’ve almost finished Selkie’s next mystery, The Second Path, and as my imagination puts surprising things into the evolving story, I get energized to follow them. This is my idea of fun. Then in the middle of the night, connections emerge from that day’s writing, so I keep a note book by the bed and decipher my scribbles in the morning. The moments when I’ve not quite woken up often produce pages of notes and these subconscious connections inspire me back to the keyboard. I live in a valley full of birds in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, so I also carry my notebook when I walk.

Amber: My daily yoga practice smooths out my energy and helps me focus; it’s good for me that I forget about writing while I’m doing it (although I do get ideas for teaching yoga classes). I occasionally incubate dreams to get an answer to a plot problem. I dreamed one of the scenes in The Calling when I was stuck—a new minor character showed up. My best flow happens when I’m running, though. Something gets knocked loose; some little dam in my mind crumbles and ideas move. Often, I get back from a run and have to take notes before I lose track of all the inspirations. And I need to be around people, too. Go out dancing, do something social. Unlike many writers, I’m an extrovert. People give me energy—and they inspire characters, of course.

Marion: I love that you called it an inner garden, because my garden is the source of much delight and renewal. Spending time working or dreaming there, or walking in nature, always calms, refreshes and fulfils me. For many years I have had a daily practice that makes my day go swimmingly. In the morning, I do a little yoga or tai chi, followed by a dancing or breathing meditation, then I take my dog for a walk through the beautiful Sussex countryside. By the time I come back, I am full of ideas and itching to get on with the day, and particularly to write. I also meditate for 10 minutes before I fall asleep at night, so I wake refreshed and happy. If I find myself stuck when writing, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and call on my Muse for help. She never fails me.

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The Mystical Mystery Sisters have teamed up for a giveaway. Enter the drawing to win a paperback copy of the first book in each author’s series. To enter, click here:

The drawing will be held midnight, Sunday April 26.

The Calling

The first Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Amber Foxx, author of The Mae Martin mysteries

Amber Foxx,
author of
The Mae Martin mysteries

Obeying her mother’s warning, Mae Martin-Ridley has spent years hiding her gift of “the sight.” When concern for a missing hunter compels her to use it again, her peaceful life in a small Southern town begins to fall apart. New friends push her to explore her unusual talents, but as she does, she discovers the shadow side of her visions— access to secrets she could regret uncovering.

Gift or curse? When an extraordinary ability intrudes on an ordinary life, nothing can be the same again.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

Amber has worked professionally in theater and dance, fitness, and academia. In her free time she enjoys music, dancing, art, running and yoga. She divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, living in Truth or Consequences during her New Mexico months.

When the Clocks Stopped

The Mysterious Marsh Series, Book One

Marion Eaton author of The Mysterious Marsh Series

Marion Eaton
author of
The Mysterious Marsh Series

When lawyer Hazel Dawkins decides to write some wills while she waits for the birth of her first child, she unwittingly triggers dramatic consequences. Mysteriously, she encounters Annie, a woman whose tempestuous life took place more than two centuries earlier when Romney Marsh was a violent place, dominated by smugglers.

Soon that past collides with the present, and Hazel finds herself pitted against an evil that has stalked the marsh for centuries. As her destiny intertwines with Annie’s in the shifting time-scape, Hazel confronts a terrifying challenge that parallels history—and could even change it. If she survives.

Retired from legal practice, Marion lives near the sea in the beautiful Sussex countryside with a long-suffering husband, a lazy Saluki, a wild garden and an urge to write into the small hours—all of which she attempts to keep in some sort of order. 

The First Lie

Selkie Moon Mysteries, Book One

Virginia King author of The Selkie Moon Mysteries

Virginia King
author of
The Selkie Moon Mysteries

Selkie Moon is a woman on the run. In a mad dash for freedom she’s escaped her life in Sydney to start over again in Hawaii. But her refuge begins to unravel and she’s running from something else entirely. A voice in a dream says that someone is trying to kill her. Not that she’s psychic, no way. But the messages and threats escalate until she’s locked in a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious stalker. Entangled in Celtic and Hawaiian mythologies, the events become so bizarre and terrifying that her instinct is to keep running. But is she running from her past? Or her future?

Virginia has lived most of her life in Sydney, but has travelled to many places. She’s been a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, a producer of audio-books, a writer of fifty-plus children’s books, and an award-winning publisher. These days she’s a full-time writer who paints a bit, living in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband.

From April 21 – 30, each e-book will be on sale for $1.99 US.

To learn more about the authors and their series:

Favorite Books from 2014

This past year introduced me to some outstanding books by authors new to me as well as great reads from authors who are already favorites. Here they are, more or less in the order read:

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery Coming in 2014

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery
Coming in 2014

Shaman’s Blues (published February, 2014) and Snake Face (published November, 2014) are the second and third novels in Amber Foxx‘s Mae Martin series. Great books that are impossible to classify, having elements of mystery, romance, and women’s fiction. Mae, the series character, is a psychic, but the books will appeal even to readers who aren’t big fans of the paranormal in fiction. Mae is a very real, very grounded character, and her journey makes for compelling page-turners that will keep you surprised. Be sure to start with the very first book in the series, The Calling. For more information, see my interviews with Amber here and here.

the apartmentThe Apartment by Greg Baxter was a find from the local library’s New Book shelf. The unnamed narrator of this book is an American man who has left his desert home in the States because he “wanted to live in a cold city.” The city is never named, but it sounds very much like a place in Eastern Europe or northern Germany.  The author, Greg Baxter, hails from Texas and currently lives in Berlin, but this is a novel, not a memoir. What appealed to me most in this novel was the way in which the small, everyday details of life in this unnamed city are savored and the way the book’s leisurely pace shows an appreciation for the little things that make up life. I loved the European setting and the way the narrator’s past gradually unfolds in the telling.

rhetoric of deathHistorical mysteries are one of my favorite genres, and I found a new favorite series in Judith Rock‘s Charles Le Duc books, which feature an engaging young Jesuit sleuth and are set during the latter years of Louis XIV’s reign, the first, The Rhetoric of Death, taking place in 1686. Charles is an engaging character, the writing just flows, and the setting and plots are always intriguing. Alas, there are only four titles (short-sighted publishers, sigh!), but I was pleased to discover that Ms. Rock is working on further novels, and will certainly keep attuned to her progress. I’ve read the first three so far, all equally excellent, keeping the fourth one in reserve as a special treat. For more information, see my interview with the author here.

What were your favorite books from the past year?

Interview with author Amber Foxx

Amber Foxx 2014Please welcome guest Amber Foxx to this week’s Saints and Trees. Amber writes the mystery series featuring healer and psychic Mae Martin. Amber’s professional training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, as well as her personal experience and travels, bring authenticity to her work. She divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, but Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is HOME.

SAT: Although part of the Mae Martin series, your new release differs from its predecessors in some noticeable ways. For me, the biggest change was the pace. While still character driven, Snake Face reads like a heart-stopping thriller, whereas the first two books, though certainly page turners, didn’t have me figuratively biting my nails throughout. Given the plot premise, the pace and anxiety level had naturally to follow, but I’m curious to know if you were consciously aware of that when you were writing.

AF: I like to vary the genre blend, and change the mood and the pace from book to book. If I’m going to be realistic with a series that’s not about murder or law enforcement, my protagonist’s life is going to vary that way. Each book will have a different feel. The Calling is more of a “paranormal realism” novel, with the mystery secondary to the development of Mae’s gift and her personal struggles in her family and her town. It’s been reviewed as literary fiction—with some disagreement also—but the pace is more like a literary novel than a conventional mystery. In Shaman’s Blues the mystery of Jamie’s layers of secrets is as important Muffie’s disappearance. I thought of it as an un-romance, with that genre turned upside down in many ways, as well as a mystery. As far as intending to write a nail-biter for the third book, I was very much aware that Snake Face was a departure from the previous books. I knew it would be as soon as I decided to write almost half the chapters in Jamie’s point of view. His emotional life tends to go over the speed limit, so that, as well as the plot, affected the feel of the book.

snake face man littleSAT: You state on your blog that the title, Snake Face, comes from a folk art statue you purchased in New Mexico. Did this statue spark the idea for the book, or did the connection occur to you later?

AF: The book was well along when I found the little snake face man in Mesilla. I have a few Oaxaca nightmare-art figurines, such as the two-headed winged deer that’s briefly mentioned in the book. (It is really evil-looking, but also beautiful.) The snake-face statuette intrigued me. Instead of portraying the creatures of the nightmare, it’s an image of the man who’s having the terrible dream. He has a snake crawling down his nose while he’s waving a useless little stick at it. The woman who sold it to me said, with a kind of empathy, “He’s fighting them off as best he can.” I gave Jamie that line, when he admires the figurine as part of the décor in a bar in Mesilla. The snake-face image was a perfect fit for the way Jamie often feels in this book.

snake face man closeup

SAT: So where did the idea for this particular book in the series come from?

AF: Before writing Snake Face, I’d written a scene that I never used in which a fortune teller in Santa Fe does Tarot readings for Mae and Jamie. (I recycle my works in progress into many forms before they finally come out.) Anyway, I drew cards for them and studied the meanings, and came up with a plot for book three from that. The suggestions from the cards became the plot when I interpreted them in terms of challenges that would disrupt their lives.

Given Mae’s marital history, starting a new relationship is a huge step, and then running into Jamie again adds another difficulty to that situation—one she isn’t prepared for. For Jamie, going on tour is progress for his career, but it’s also incredibly hard for him in many ways, above and beyond the road warrior aspect of it, due to—well, Jamie being Jamie. From the Tarot reading, I started with an image of him at a rest stop halfway across the country, where he realizes something awful has happened, and I worked forward and backward from there. The antagonist character showed up for me the way Jamie showed up, fully formed. I revised the book for two years, changed almost everything about it—but that turning point disaster never changed.

SAT: Jamie’s background is training in opera and his current career showcases his musical talents as a “world music” performer. You mention elsewhere that Jamie simply “came” to you, one of those wonderful gifts any writer would be grateful for. When describing his musical performances, did you have any particular artist or style in mind?

AF: When Jamie showed up, he showed up as a tenor. In my never-written backstory, Jamie’s parents took him and his older sister to the Sydney Opera House to see The Magic Flute when he was a musically gifted child of around eight years old, and he fell in love with opera. Whether it’s comic or tragic, it’s larger than life, and so is he. Before his family settled in Santa Fe (which has its own amazing opera house), he grew up off and on in Australia and also all around the world. With his father being an anthropologist studying shamanic cultures, he had contact with ceremonies like the Korean mudang’s ritual described in Shaman’s Blues. Such ceremonies have a lot of wild color and sound, music and dance.

In addition to these influences I had some elements of Robert Mirabal’s shows in mind, though I was not directly modeling on Mirabal. He’s a singer, dancer, composer and flute maker from Taos Pueblo. He plays, as one might expect, the Native American cedar flute, and he also plays didgeridoo and drums, and he dances. I’ve seen him leave the stage at Santa Fe Bandstand and dance with his audience. Mirabal’s eclecticism, his warmth and audience rapport, and his choice of instruments are part of Jamie’s music, but I added more and flipped it culturally, so I have an Aboriginal Australian who plays didgeridoo but also plays Native flute, and other flutes. I heard a collaboration that Carlos Nakai did with a musician who plays shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, and the mix of ethnic flavors fascinated me. The music scene in Santa Fe is full of performers who do some original, out-of-the mainstream things. So I’d say Jamie’s music emerged from the nature of music in Santa Fe—opera, blues, indigenous music, jazz, folk—everything. I should add that Santa Fe has some great alternative country bands, but as you can see in Snake Face, Jamie is not influenced by them.

SAT: I know that you’re working on Book 4 of the series. How many more are planned? Do you have a fixed end point in mind for the end of the series, or will Mae continue indefinitely?

AF: I enjoy series that take the protagonists through major life changes. Hillerman’s Chee and Leaphorn, and Barr’s Anna Pigeon, are good examples. They grow older and wiser, go through relationships, losses, and renewals, and stay interesting. Book four is with its third round of beta readers right now. Book five is well along, book six is up to chapter twelve in the first draft, and I have ideas for at least the initial disturbance that starts the plot spinning for several others. I don’t have a fixed endpoint in mind, but I do want to wrap it up and give it an end when I get close to my own, if I get some forewarning.

This is something I thought about when James D. Doss died. I could tell from his final book that he knew it was the last, and he wrapped up Charlie Moon’s ever-struggling love life finally, though not Sarah Frank’s training as Daisy Perika’s shaman’s apprentice. Over the course of the seventeen-book series, Sarah grows up from a spiritually gifted child to a college student. I wanted one more book—no, a lot more—in which Sarah would come into her power as shaman. I admire that kind of story line. Mae is twenty-six at the start of my series and I like to picture what she’ll be like in her thirties and forties. As she becomes a more established and experienced healer and psychic, the kinds of mysteries will change. I have a sense of what she’ll be doing as her life moves forward, and it looks so interesting I don’t think I’ll run out of plots or characters. I may take occasional breaks and work on some stand-alone books, but Mae should be around for decades.

SAT: That’s good news for readers! Thank you, Amber, for sharing your thoughts.

To learn more about Amber and her books, visit her website at: Face, the third Mae Martin Psychic Mystery, has just been released. Shaman’s Blues, the second in the series, is the deserving recipient of a B.R.A.G. Medallion award.

snake face

Snake Face
The third Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Trying to revive his career, singer Jamie Ellerbee is on his first tour. Mae Martin is venturing into her first relationship since her divorce. Bad judgment and worse luck force Jamie to ask for Mae’s psychic aid. His unrequited love for her makes it an awkward request, but she can’t refuse to help a friend. The more she looks into the problem, the more frightening it becomes and the wider its web expands—not only into Jamie’s past, but also a bad-boy celebrity’s private life, and even her new boyfriend’s history.



Cats in Fiction

First in the Dulcie Schwarz series

First in the Dulcie Schwarz series

I like cats and I like reading novels. Judging by the number of cats I see on book covers, I’m not alone. Here are some of my current favorite series where cats are among the continuing characters.

Clea Simon has to be the queen of mysteries that include cats. Her Dulcie Schwartz series is an academic semi-cozy that features the ghost of Dulcie’s recently departed and much-loved pet, Mr. Grey. Dulcie isn’t sure at first of what’s going on, and Mr. Grey’s appearances are deftly handled, with a nice degree of subtlety. As the series progresses, Dulcie becomes the unwilling custodian of a new kitten, but by the end of the third book, Dulcie and the new kit are beginning to forge a bond, even as Mr. Grey continues to grace her (and the kit?) with his ghostly wisdom. Fans of academic mysteries in particular will enjoy this series, which features graduate student Dulcie wrestling with her Harvard dissertation as she navigates the sometimes politically charged waters of the University’s English department. Ms. Simon’s knowledge of the Boston/Cambridge area gives us a good taste of local color in this most prestigious college town.

dogs don't lie

First in the Pru Marlowe series

Ms. Simon’s new series features a very different sort of heroine and a different twist on the paranormal slant. Where Dulcie is often full of hesitancy and self-doubt, Pru Marlowe is often surly and seldom out to please her fellow humans, as befits the heroine of this self-titled “pet noir” series who name cleverly echoes that of Raymond Chandler’s famous gumshoe. While Dulcie sees her cat’s ghost, Pru can hear animals’ thoughts. Though some of these thoughts drive her crazy (especially the inane twitterings of birds), she’s far more sympathetic to the four-footed among us, and her urgency to fight for the lives of animals who have been wrongly accused of murder gives readers a heroine to root for and a cause to celebrate.

Like Dulcie’s ghostly sightings, Pru’s talent is handled with surety and flair. The animals’ thoughts feel authentically animal-like, far removed from any suggestion of sentimentality, cutesiness, or anthropomorphism. One of the best realized characters in this series is Pru’s wonderfully grumpy cat, whose personality in some ways reflects Pru’s own.

No murders, just mysteries. Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery. Every life hides a secret. The first Mae Martin psychic mystery Published December, 2013

A recent voice on the cats-in-mysteries scene belongs to Amber Foxx, author of the new series of “murderless mysteries” featuring psychic and healer Mae Martin. In THE CALLING, the first book in Ms. Foxx’s series, Mae’s very first intuition of her psychic stirrings occurs at a young age when she sets out to find her mother’s cat, which has escaped their house on the very first day of their move to a new neighborhood. Unlike Pru, Mae doesn’t hear the cat’s voice in her head, but she can see in her mind a cat’s-eye view of the discombobulated feline’s hiding place and is able to figure out where the cat has gone. Later in the book, a grown-up Mae reluctantly exercises her psychic gift to locate her neighbor’s injured cat—an act that turns out to have far-reaching ramifications for her reputation in the small-town, small-minded community.

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery Coming in 2014

The second book in the series, SHAMAN’S BLUES, features yet another cat, this time one who has been traumatized. This time, Mae doesn’t have any success, but a new friend in her life, the frustrating and often enigmatic Jamie, turns out to have a natural gift for healing this particular soul-injured pet. It’s a nice way of showing Jamie’s personality and talents on multiple levels, handled with great subtlety and sensitivity.

Here’s hoping to read many more in all three of these series. Brava to both authors!

How about you? What are some of your favorite novels with cats?

Book Review: The Calling by Amber Foxx

“Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery. Every life hides a secret.” So reads the tagline for Amber Foxx’s new Mae Martin psychic series, which further advertises, “No murders, just mysteries.” These books don’t fit neatly into any genre, a plus in my opinion. Ms. Foxx writes about deep things in life—love, vocation, where each of us fits here on the earth—but she writes about them in page-turning prose that involves us deeply with each of her full-realized characters. These stories are hard to put down, engaging the reader at multiple levels. On the most mundane, we want to know what happens next; the narrative is unusual and gripping, not in the sense of a “thriller” with car chases and life-threatening scenes, but in a deeper sense, as Mae struggles with life-defining decisions as her reawakened psychic abilities conflict with the safe, comfortable life she has established with her loving family in small-town North Carolina.

No murders, just mysteries. Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery. Every life hides a secret. The first Mae Martin psychic mystery Published December, 2013

In this first book of the series, aptly titled THE CALLING, Mae’s psychic gifts refuse to stay hidden as she feels repeatedly called to exercise them in the service of saving lives, both human and feline. Initially, Mae feels a calling to simply become more than a mother and housewife; a chance opening for a physical trainer at the local gym prompts her to apply, but the job requires a short course taught at a nearby college followed by an exam for certification. Another seeming chance has Mae catching a ride to the college with a woman whose studies include a course in psychic phenomena. Mae’s ride encourages her to sit in on the course, and suddenly Mae is finding interest and encouragement for an ability she has previously been taught to keep hidden.

As events unfold, Mae finds her life spinning out of control, decisions escalating until they’re out of her hands. Lost in new territory, suddenly danger looms on every side. THE CALLING is a book you don’t want to miss and that you will be unable to put down.

Amber Foxx

If you didn’t catch my interview with THE CALLING’s author, Amber Foxx, you can read it here. And if you’d like to read yet another review, here is an excellent one from Goodreads. Amber’s website and blog may be visited at:

Interview with author Amber Foxx

Please welcome guest Amber Foxx to this week’s Saints and Trees. Amber writes the mystery series featuring healer and psychic Mae Martin. Amber’s professional training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, as well as her personal experience and travels, bring authenticity to her work. She divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, but Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is HOME.

No murders, just mysteries. Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery. Every life hides a secret. The first Mae Martin psychic mystery Published December, 2013

No murders, just mysteries.
Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery. Every life hides a secret.
The first Mae Martin psychic mystery
Published December, 2013

It is my great pleasure to interview Amber today:

SAT: THE CALLING, the first book in your Mae Martin series, is such an original and fresh story. What sparked the idea for the series? Did it start with the character of Mae or something else?

 AF: The idea started in several different ways. The part of me that that loves mysteries created a red-haired heroine named Mae Martin back when I was a kid reading Nancy Drew books. I wrote a little mystery book when I was eight or so and sent it to my grandfather. He was a poet and English professor, and he encouraged me to keep writing. I don’t remember the plot but I remember Mae’s name and hair color, and that she lived in a trailer.

The part of me that likes to explore mysterious phenomena taught a course like the one Bernadette and Charlie teach in The Calling. The more I read in the research literature on psi or parapsychological events, even though they are subtle and undramatic when described in scholarly journals, the more I was intrigued by the way reality isn’t what our practical everyday minds take it to be.

The spark to start writing The Calling came from my frustration over the unprofessional behavior of a colleague at a college where I was teaching. He seemed immune to getting into trouble over it. The character of Charlie gradually formed from this. I didn’t know what to do with him, though. For a long time all I could see was an image of his office door. I finally opened that door and went in and started writing to see what was inside. Result: the long-discarded opening scene of the first version of the book. The other two parts of my writer-mind showed up and brought in Mae and the mysterious phenomena, though in that scene Mae was nothing but a phone number on a scrap of paper on Charlie’s desk.

As for writing murder-less mysteries, that idea had been on my inner back burner for maybe a decade. Life is full of mysteries, but most of us, if we’re lucky, will never encounter murder. It’s hard to justify an amateur sleuth’s involvement in murder after murder. Some authors succeed with it, but I’ve read others who don’t.

After the first version of what became The Calling I set it aside and experimented with a sequel that involved murder and embezzlement and all sorts of crimes, because that’s what mysteries are supposed to be about, but I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t want Mae to be around a lot of violence and crime. It would change her in ways that I feel would hurt her. That’s not to say there may not be some darker books in the series, but no murder mysteries. Life is tough enough without finding bodies all the time.

Amber FoxxSAT: Where do the various spiritual and psychic practices and experiences in the book come from?

AF: A combination of research and personal experience. Santa Fe and Truth or Consequences attract a lot of alternative healers. I also met quite a few people who did this kind of work when I lived in Norfolk. I participated in an exploratory group of women healers there. A crystal healer I met in that group intrigued me, so I read about the uses of crystals and started collecting and using them. Virginia Beach has the Edgar Cayce Center, and that attracts a number of psychics and healers, some questionable and some genuine, to that part of the world.

An authentically gifted seer who had the specific variant of the psychic gift that I gave Mae is described in my blog post Are you Psychic.

I’m a yoga therapist, and part of my training with Integrative Yoga therapy involved energy work with the chakra system, as well as Ayurveda, anatomy, psychology, mudras, meditation, pranayama, and adaptive yoga practice. A fellow yoga therapy trainee and I had profound psychic exchanges while practicing energy work on each other. Each of us saw images in the other person’s body that reflected psychological issues neither of us had shared yet.

The Apache material is mostly from personal contacts. I had a friend who was an Apache medicine woman. She shared as much as she might with an outsider to the tribe. I’ve also done some reading. T or C being former Apache land, our Geronimo Springs Museum sells a great selection of books on Apache culture and spirituality.

The Psychic Science post on my blog lists a number of books and journals on psychic phenomena and healing. I didn’t mention Shaman’s Drum in that, though it’s in the works-cited page for The Calling. Sad to say it’s gone out of print. Shaman’s Drum, the Journal of Experiential Shamanism, was fascinating. I’ve kept all the back issues and use them for reference for various practices that come up.

For some of the more off-beat things, I like to walk around Santa Fe and pick up flyers and brochures for various practitioners, the stranger the better. Don’t take me wrong. I love the alternative healing culture of Santa Fe. I just get a kick out of how truly remarkable a few parts of it are. I marvel at what’s out there. Muffie in Shaman’s Blues was inspired by an encounter I had in a restaurant in Santa Fe many years ago.

SAT: Where did Mae come from? In what ways does she resemble you? In what ways is she different?

 AF: She is based mostly on a close friend from the mountains of North Carolina who disliked living in Northeastern North Carolina. An odd coincidence is that after I wrote certain things, my friend would have those things happen in her life without knowing I’d written anything. She wasn’t a healer when I first wrote the book, but then studied Reiki. Other events in her life have followed events in the series in progress, too. After I wrote them. I didn’t tell her she’d inspired my protagonist until the book was published, so it’s truly coincidence. She took it as the compliment it was meant to be. Mae is my only character who I could say is that close to a single individual, and even then, there are a number of differences.

The only way Mae resembles me is her love for running and her work as a personal trainer, something I did for many years. Otherwise, we’re different. Mae loves being a mama. I never wanted children. Mae has little education. I have four college degrees. Even my psychic abilities are entirely unlike hers. (See Are You Psychic.) It works for me to have my protagonist inspired by someone I know well and think the world of, someone I hold in unconditional positive regard through all her life’s journeys.

SAT: During the course of the first book, Mae has to make some difficult choices. As someone who read an early draft, I know that some of these choices and situations changed as you continued to revise. Without giving away too much, can you tell us how you wrestled with that as a writer?

 AF: Once I decided to tell the whole story in her point of view rather than use Bernadette, Randi and Dana as POV characters, the conflict and loss and growth had to take place centrally in Mae’s life, and secondarily in the others’ lives. In the first version, Mae’s role was a psychic tracking down a missing person. Mae’s personal growth took place as part of the story but at very little cost to her, overall, while Bernadette and Dana had big life changes. I had to raise the stakes for Mae in the revised version. I wanted her to be a character readers would follow for a series, which meant they had to be rooting for her through some major struggles. I had to make her life more complicated and challenging.

One way I did that was to change Mae’s stage of progress as a psychic and healer. In the first version she was well established and comfortable with her abilities. She’s a beginner in the final version. Instead of being exclusively a mystery, it also became, as one reviewer put it, Mae’s “psychic coming-out story.” I added a mystery in her own life as well, about her family. Her mother had always been in the back of my mind, the way an actor creates a biography for a character she’ll play without that story ever being in the script. Bringing Rhoda-Rae onstage, rather than storing her in the unspoken offstage space, was a key part of setting up the central conflict about Mae’s gift. The original missing person plot became a subplot in the story of Mae’s calling.

My critique partners deserve credit for helping me see my way through all these changes.

Amber Foxx 2SAT: One of the things that appeals most to me on a personal level is the mixture of acceptance and skepticism that Mae brings to her gift and to her encounters with the new world of spiritual reality that gift opens for her. I like the fact that Mae is a strong and independent person who isn’t easily taken in by spiritual charlatans, a type that can be found in any setting from the most traditional church to the most New Age sort of movement. At the same time, she is eager to learn from those who demonstrate wisdom. How much of that reflects your own personal beliefs and approach to spiritual matters?

AF: That does reflect my beliefs and approaches to spiritual matters, but there is a big difference. I had that outlook delivered the easy way, though positive role models. Mae learns it the hard way, through seeing negative role models.

My father attended the Episcopal church, and my mother usually slept in. Neither said the other was wrong. They were open-minded about spirituality, and shared a sense of humor about it.

My non-Catholic parents sent me to a Catholic school for the education, and my older sister and I came home from first grade and kindergarten delighted with all the stories we’d heard. One day we were lying on the floor of the playroom drawing cartoons of God and the angels as a kind of comic strip and my mother walked through.  She looked at what we’d done and said, “Don’t believe everything they tell you at school, and please don’t talk about it to the neighbors.”

When I was in my teens and exploring yoga and Buddhism, my father told me about his journey of choosing a church by going to every Christian denomination he could think of before settling on the one where he felt at home. He had faith, but it wasn’t solemn or dogmatic.

I remember driving somewhere with him and laughing together at a radio evangelist who was selling “prayer cloths,” pieces of fabric this man had prayed over that were supposed to work miracles if you put them on your body. This preacher, who presented himself seriously to his followers, was one of my father’s comedy favorites.

In my early teens I worked on a community theater production of The King and I that had a huge papier mache gold Buddha as a prop. I can’t remember if this was my idea or someone else’s, but I think it was mine since it went in my classroom. My father helped me, my sister, and a friend from her class to get the Buddha after the play closed. We strapped it on the back of my father’s red convertible and set it up on the teacher’s desk before religion class first thing in the morning. Weirdly, one of my best friends happened to have an incense burner with her—I have no idea why. We lit the incense in front of the Buddha and waited for the nun to arrive to teach. Would she laugh? Be angry? She walked in. Stopped. Took a beat, and then said, “My, aren’t we getting ecumenical.”

Later that year she kicked me out of religion class for asking what would be left of the church if you took away all the rituals. I never got the answer, but I got an extra study hall for the rest of my years at that school, and never had to go back to religion class. My parents didn’t mind.

I’ve been lucky to find real spiritual teachers—an Apache medicine woman, Micmac and Cree elders, some of my yoga and meditation teachers, and a Taoist-inspired Episcopal priest. What they all have—or had—in common (one of these teachers has passed on) is the same thing my parents had: a sense of humor, and acceptance of other traditions.

Over the years I’ve met people who were convinced of things I found hard to swallow. I’ve tried respond to their unusual beliefs with an open mind that looked very carefully at what comes into it. After all, people don’t always believe that some of my experiences could be real, either.

Mae comes to her approach to spirituality through struggle and opposition. I had it handed to me

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery Coming in 2014

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery
Coming in 2014

SAT: The second book in the series, Shaman’s Blues, is dominated by the character of Jamie, surely one of the most memorable creations I have encountered between the pages of a book. Where did he come from?

 AF: I don’t know. He showed up. I didn’t invite him. He has a life of his own. It even surprised me that he was Australian. I had to do a lot of research to understand him so he could come through authentically, but I didn’t consciously invent him. Even people from his past seem to have showed up whole.

He first popped up as a minor supporting character about five chapters into the first version of Soul Loss, which is now in major revision as book four in the series. It was going to be book two or three, but he began to take up too much room. It took me a few messy, unfinished books to realize what I needed to do with him.

Strangely, since his character was so intense, I didn’t have a clear idea what he looked like at first. Then when I was reading a book about Australian life and culture I found a picture of this extraordinary face. It was as if I recognized him, not just his features and his hair, but his expression, his smile, and the way he was looking up at the camera. That’s Jamie.

Everyone who’s read the book pre-release has had a strong response to him. One of my beta readers called him “the loveliest, most frustrating, and most complex character” she’d ever read. If there really are characters in search of an author, I’m grateful he chose me. I think of him as a gift I’ve been honored with the care of.

Thank you so much, Amber! This is fascinating stuff.

Read more about Amber and her books at:

Amber Foxx’s first book in the Mae Martin series is available in both e-book and print (follow the links in the image):

No murders, just mysteries. Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery. Every life hides a secret. The first Mae Martin psychic mystery Published December, 2013

No murders, just mysteries.
Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery. Every life hides a secret.
The first Mae Martin psychic mystery
Published December, 2013

The Calling 
The first Mae Martin psychic mystery (
Published December, 2013)

 When an extraordinary ability intrudes on an ordinary life, ready or not, everything changes.

A down-to-earth North Carolina country girl, Mae Martin-Ridley is a former high school athlete whose interests run to sports and fitness, not spirituality or mysticism. The last thing she ever expected to be was a psychic or a spiritual healer. Obeying her mother’s warning, Mae has been hiding her gift of “the sight” for years. When events compel her to use it again, the unforeseen consequences spread to affect every aspect of her life—work, marriage, and family. To qualify for a new job Mae takes a class in Norfolk, Virginia, where she meets people who not only accept her abilities but push her to explore them further. She struggles with the shadow side of her gift. Though she wants to use “the sight” to help people, it gives her access to secrets she could regret uncovering. Torn between those around her who encourage her and those who condemn or doubt, Mae has to find her own path.

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery Coming in 2014

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery
Coming in 2014

Shaman’s Blues
The second Mae Martin psychic mystery
Coming in 2014

 Mae Martin gets a double-edged going-away gift from her job as a psychic and healer: beautiful music by a man who’s gone missing, and a request to find him. When she arrives in her new home in New Mexico, aiming to start life over as she comes to terms with her second divorce, she faces a new challenge in the use of
her gift.

Her new neighbors are under the influence of an apparently fake psychic who runs the health food restaurant where they work. When Mae questions the skills of the peculiar restaurateur, the woman disappears—either to Santa Fe, or another dimension. The restaurant’s manager asks Mae to discover which it is. Finding two missing people proves easier than finding out the truth about either of them, or getting one of them, once found, to go away again.

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