LETHAL LILY by Joyce and Jim Lavene

LETHAL LILY is on tour with Great Escapes! Here is my interview with Joyce and Jim Lavene about this interesting series.

You co-write the Peggy Lee Garden Mystery series (and five others). What can you tell us about your writing process?

We start with an plot idea or a character, sometimes as we’re finishing a book. We add to that idea for a while until we can see that it has a form we can work with. If it does, we keep bringing it out and working on it for a few months until we’re ready to write a synopsis. We write a long synopsis on a yellow legal pad, usually while we drive around some back roads. Once that is in place, we’re ready to write the book.

We sit down across from each other at our desks and tell the story back and forth until we have a rough draft. (Peggy goes out to her car. No, she takes her bike. Her car is at the police station.) That kind of thing.

After that we revise a few times, and then send on to our editor a few times. By the time all of that is done, we’re already working on a new book and never want to see that one again.

Then suddenly, there it is in the mail one day – with a pretty cover on it – like a newborn baby. It’s so exciting! We touch it and count it’s fingers and toes, reading words we aren’t really sure we wrote.

Peggy Lee is a part-time forensic botanist. How difficult is it to write about this relatively new field?

We’ve written Peggy Lee since 2005 so she’s like a longtime friend who comes to visit for a few months every year. We started out blind with the idea of contract forensic botany, clued in by a local botanist who does this work for the state. Each county has one or two of their own botanists for local cases, and we’ve interviewed more than a few of them. Some we have on speed-dial where we can say, “Could THIS happen?”

Peggy also owns a garden shop called the Potting Shed. Do either of you garden?

Both of us garden. We became Master Gardeners years ago when hardly anyone even knew what that was. We don’t get outside as much as we would like, but we both love looking through catalogs every year and sighing over the plants.

Lethal Lily is a terrific title. Who or what inspired it?

Thanks! It was actually a catch-up title. The original was Deadly Dahlia. Then our son, who is a gardener, reminded us that dahlias wouldn’t fit into the book the way we wanted them to. We had to change a few things – including the title. But the title fits the cover beautifully. We’re very happy with both. You have to be flexible in this business.

Is there a scene in Lethal Lily that the two of you are particularly proud of?

We both cried through the last scene in the book when Mai (Peggy’s daughter-in-law) has her baby. We both felt stupid about it, but it was very emotional. We passed the tissues for a while.

Who is your favorite character from the book? And why?

Peggy is our favorite, of course! We love her for being so strong and wise but not overbearing. She’s willing to try anything, and always helps her friends. She’s always been a fun character fun to explore and expand. And we’re jealous of the blue spruce growing in her foyer, AND her garden shop!

Lethal Lily is the eighth novel in the Peggy Lee Garden Mystery series. Readers want to know: Will there be another?

As long as Peggy comes and whispers in our ears with new story ideas, and readers want them, we’ll write new books for her. It’s hard to give up a character you’ve come to know and love. It’s like saying you’ll never see a favorite aunt, or a child, again.

We think Peggy will be following up on her questions about her late husband’s death. And the Charlotte police will always find work for her. We’ll see what happens.

Do the two of you have plans to begin any new series? If so, can you give us a teaser?

Our new series for this year is the Retired Witches Mysteries coming in December 2014 from Berkley Prime Crime. The first title is Spell Booked. The story is about three witches who live in the old port of Wilmington, NC whose magic is waning as they get older. They want to retire to Boca Raton but they have to find three witches to replace them, and hand off their spell book. Things don’t always work out the way we plan, though. Think Bewitched meets Golden Girls.

Thanks for the interview!


Part-time garden shop owner/part-time forensic botanist, Peggy Lee is trying to discover if the death of Ann Fletcher 20 years ago was an accident – or foul play. In return, she hopes to receive more information about her first husband’s death. She knows John Lee was murdered, but questions have arisen as to why he was killed. She is working with a private detective who stumbles across his own feet, but her Internet friend, Nightflyer, says that Harry Fletcher has the answers. When Harry is murdered by convallatoxin, from the lily of the valley plant, Peggy begins to understand her role in everything. Now she has to stay alive long enough to prove her theories – and keep her son, Paul out of trouble too!


It was after midnight. Peggy Lee had been waiting in the dark parking lot of the Tri-State Mini Storage for more than an hour.

Since she was trying to keep a low profile, she hadn’t looked at her phone or listened to music. There was still a light in the mini storage office. She knew someone was working.

A sign flapped in the warm breeze that had blown up from a tropical storm churning at the Atlantic coast. She glanced at her watch again for the third time in as many minutes.

Where was Harry?

Peggy had only met Harry Fletcher a few days ago. They’d both received emails from her online friend, Nightflyer, suggesting they should work together.
A friend of mine is investigating an old murder in Charlotte, and might call on you for help. I sent him to you because he knows part of the puzzle surrounding John’s death. I’ll speak with you when I can. ~ Nightflyer

The note had caught her attention—and held it. It had only been a few months since she’d learned that her former husband, John Lee, may have been deliberately murdered. She still wasn’t sure it was true, but she decided it couldn’t hurt to check into it.

John had been a Charlotte, North Carolina police detective when he’d been killed more than a decade ago. He’d been called out on a domestic abuse situation that he shouldn’t even have responded to. But it was on his way home, and he’d gone willingly because he was needed.

The call went bad when the man, who’d been shooting at his wife’s boyfriend, decided to shoot at the police. He’d escaped in the gunfight that had ensued, but John had been killed. The shooter was never found. John’s partner had been at Peggy’s door a few minutes later with the news.

Peggy pushed the thoughts of that night out of her head. It was a long time ago, but it still haunted her. She couldn’t let herself get trapped in the past if she wanted to know what really happened to John.

Her phone rang—startling her. She almost dropped it. “Yes?”

“I found the storage unit,” Harry Fletcher whispered. “I forgot the bolt cutters on the floor of the car. Can you bring them? I’m at Unit 34.”

She agreed to do it, and sighed. The man was terminally careless. Just in the short time she’d known him, he was always dropping something, or forgetting something. She wondered how he’d managed to stay alive while he was working as a private detective.

Harry said he’d been working as an informant for the FBI when John was killed. They’d talked about it over tea in a sunlit atrium high above downtown Charlotte, with exotic lilies perfuming the air, and fleet-footed waiters continually checking their cups.

She hadn’t wanted to bring him to her house—it was better if she was the only one who knew about it. If her son, Paul, knew she was involved in anything like this, he’d be furious. Worse, it could ruin his life. His peace had been hard won after John’s death. He’d struggled with the knowledge that no one had been arrested in the case, eventually becoming a police officer himself.

Paul had always said there was something wrong about John’s shooting. It looked as though he might be right.


ABOUT Joyce and Jim Lavene

Joyce and Jim Lavene write award-winning, bestselling mystery fiction as themselves, J.J. Cook and Ellie Grant. They have written and published more than seventy novels for Harlequin, Berkley, Amazon, and Gallery Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. They live in rural North Carolina with their family.










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