Today the Miss Demeanors welcome Carrie Stuart Parks. Carrie is an award-winning, internationally known forensic artist. Over the past thirty-six years, she has worked on major criminal cases for the FBI and ATF as well as numerous police and sheriff’s departments throughout the US. She is the author of over twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction. Along with her artist-husband Rick, a former visual information specialist for the FBI in Washington, DC, Carrie travels across the US and Canada, teaching forensic art courses. She lives on the same ranch she grew up on in northern Idaho. Her most recent novel, Fragments of Fear, was published in 2019 by Thomas Nelson.
Stolen art. A New Mexico archaeological dig. An abandoned dog. And a secret that’s worth killing for.
Evelyn McTavish’s world came crashing down with the suicide of her fiancé. As she struggles to put her life back together and make a living from her art, she receives a call that her dog is about to be destroyed at the pound. Except she doesn’t own a dog. The shelter is adamant that the microchip embedded in the canine with her name and address makes it hers.
Evelyn recognizes the dog as one owned by archaeologist John Coyote because she was commissioned to draw the two of them. The simple solution is to return the dog to his owner—but she arrives only to discover John’s murdered body.
As Evelyn herself becomes a target, she crosses paths with undercover FBI agent Sawyer Price. The more he gets to know her, the more personally invested he becomes in keeping her safe. Together, they’re desperate to find the links between so many disparate pieces.
And the clock is ticking.
Connie: Welcome, Carrie!
Carrie: Aaah, thank you, Connie. I’m thrilled to be here.
Connie: Some readers have called Fragments of Fear a thriller. Others put it in the category of romantic suspense. I found lots of humor as well. How would you categorize the book?
Carrie: I guess in a classic sense, it’s a mystery with a romantic thread, a fast-paced plot, and an assembly of dead bodies (!). Although I’m a forensic artist, the main character is a civilian, thrust into an unusual situation. It contains elements of a police procedural because Evelyn’s love interest is in the FBI, but it’s probably a bit of a cross-over.
Connie: I’d love to know about your process as a writer. Are you a plotter or a pantser–or somewhere in between? In either case, how do you keep the pace zinging along?
Carrie: I’m a plotter. I have to know where to hid the clues (I play fair), how the protagonist will face off with the antagonist, what will be the darkest moments, and other information. I storyboard the plot with images, then create flow charts. And, bottom line, when the pace lags, I just kill off another character.
Connie: Ha! That reminds me of Raymond Chandler’s famous advice: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” Seriously, though, your protagonist, Evelyn McTavish (Tavish, as she prefers to be called) is an artist, a skill that plays an integral role in the plot. How much of your own experience as an artist did you put into the book?
Carrie: I’ve been a professional artist and instructor since 1970–which is amazing as I wasn’t even born for another…um…ten years? I used the theme of negative space–an art term–to describe people, places, and objects. I’ve had numerous gallery openings, fortunately not as awful as Tavish’s experience.
Connie: In the Author’s Note at the end, you say Evelyn McTavish was named after your mother, Evelyn McCandless Stuart. Do they share anything in common?
Carrie: Mom was awesome! She was a teacher and went back to college when I was in junior high to get her Master’s Degree in guidance and counseling. She loved dogs, which Tavish comes to do as well. A columnist for Dog World Magazine, my mom was also an accomplished horsewoman. She unfortunately passed away before she could read any of my novels. I was seeking a name for my character and remembered mom had been called “Mac” (for McCandless) in high school. I decided to do the reverse and dropped the Mac for Tavish.
Connie: In addition to the solving of a crime, Fragments of Fear is the story of a young woman coming to grips with a less-than-perfect past and the unhealthy choices she made. Without giving away any spoilers, how does the Bible verse on her grandmother’s grace provide a way forward for Tavish?
Carrie: At first, Tavish doesn’t even know what it means–Proverbs 3:5: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Tavish trusts in everything and anything–except in Him who created her and the wisdom of her grandmother. She has to learn where to place her trust, who to listen to, and what really matters in life.
Connie: Despite Tavish’s insecurity and poor self-image, I fell in love with her right away. How do you explain that? What admirable qualities does she possess?
Carrie: That’s a hard one. I wanted to write a huge character arc, which means she had to be deeply flawed in the beginning. I think her shock at the funeral, plus the dog, made her weirdness more understandable.
Connie: The dog, an adorable Puli named Marley, is one of my very favorite characters in the book. What part does Marley play in Tavish’s life?
Carrie: Because of Marley, Tavish begins to think outside her small world and herself. When Marley needs Tavish most, she finds the strength to save her. It’s a back-and-forth dance–first Marley, then Tavish, then Marley, then back again to Tavish. They need each other.
Connie: For much of the book, Tavish and FBI agent Sawyer are working along separate but parallel tracks. How does Sawyer give Tavish a new sense of herself?
Carrie: He believes in her when she can’t believe in herself. He purchases her first work of art, not because he needs it for decoration, but because he sees something in the art that touches him. He wants to connect with this woman, though he has no idea how or when–or even if.
Connie: Fragments of Fear is your sixth book. Is there a common theme that runs thought them all?
Carrie: Dogs, forensic art or art, interesting locations, historical content, humor, a strong female lead (even if they don’t start off strong). Also in many a faith thread and a theme of forgiveness. Lots of research. Hopefully plot twists you don’t see coming.
Connie: What’s next for you, Carrie?
Carrie: I’m working on the edits for my next book, Relative Silence, set on fictional Curlew Island in South Carolina The main character, Sandpiper (Piper) Boone, has been in a holding pattern on life since she lost her three-year-old daughter. Now someone is trying to kill her. To save herself and her family, she has to untangle the hidden truth, secrets, and lies of her life.
Connie: Thanks for visiting Miss Demeanors today, Carrie. Congratulations on Fragments of Fear, and best of luck with your next book!
To purchase Fragments of Fear, click here.