Monday, November 28, 2022

Interview with Morgan St. James

A CORPSE IN THE SOUP is the first book in the zany Silver Sisters Mystery series. It took six years for my sister and I to write it as we were published writers but had not written fiction. The result was worth it. USA Book News named the book Best Mystery Audio Book for the year it was submitted. The series has special meaning to me and my sister Phyllice Bradner, because writing the SILVER SISTERS brought us together as sisters and let us reminisce about some of the wacky characters among our family and friends...and yes, composites of them appear as characters in our books. The book I’m holding in the photo is my mother’s memoir.” –Morgan St. James

This month, we profile Las Vegas-based author Morgan St. James. In retirement, Morgan’s been an amazingly prolific author, penning 20 novels and nonfiction books and over 600 articles mostly on the craft of writing.


1) Morgan, your Amazon author profile states that you were an interior designer in your former vocation. Had that career helped you write your mysteries?

I have had a lot of careers through the years, including interior design. Besides being a partner in a design studio, I was also Director of Design for two residential developers. I often draw upon experiences in my former careers in my mysteries. When I was involved in design related marketing I also traveled a great deal throughout the eleven Western states. I was a marketing rep and design liaison for fast food chain restaurant interiors and also had a job as a marketing rep for furniture manufactured in Federal prisons. That job inspired my book RIPOFF and the Revenge is Fun series.

2) When you were growing up, who were some of your favorite authors and had any of them gone on to influence your literary work?

I read a lot while growing up. I actually read at an eighth-grade level in the third grade. But authors who influenced my writing were discovered when I was an adult. For example, I love Robert Crais, Lee Child and Michael Connelly. They not only create great plots, but their descriptions make you feel like you are there with the characters. Then there is Stephen King, who in my opinion is the consummate storyteller. Even if you don’t like horror, his writing is so compelling you just keep reading. I would definitely say these authors influenced my writing. There was also the lightness and humor of the late Mary Daheim along with good mystery plots.

3) Let’s talk about the culinary-themed Silver Sisters mysteries. In your own synopsis of the inaugural entry, you said you’d written it with your sister and that two of the main characters are based on both of you. Does your sister still collaborate with you in the series?

Yes, we co-author the Silver Sisters Mysteries. My sister is very much the Goldie Silver character who is a gentle soul, an over the hill flower child with a keen sense of detail and owns an antique store in Juneau, Alaska. Phyllis was pretty much a flower child, lived in Alaska for 30 years, and owned an antique store at one time. Goldie’s identical twin sister is Godiva Olivia DuBois, a somewhat selfish wealthy widow who writes the syndicated Ask G.O.D. column (her initials) from her Beverly Hills estate. As for me, I don’t write an advice column, but people always ask my advice. I confess to being a “fashionista,” but far from a millionaire living on a Beverly Hills estate. However, I did live a few houses outside of Beverly Hills twice. Oh, and I am definitely not as selfish as Godiva Olivia DuBois. The benefit is we know exactly how each of the sisters thinks. Basically, we are the country mouse and the city mouse.

The first book in the five-book series, A CORPSE IN THE SOUP, was conceived because Phyllice’s late husband and my ex-husband both loved watching over-the-top cooking shows like the Iron Chef. Godiva does wind up with Chef Caesar Romano as a boyfriend in the first book, but that was actually the only book in the series with a culinary theme until the fifth book. In MURDER ON THE MENU Goldie Silver’s daughter, Chili Pepper, becomes executive chef at a new up and coming restaurant in Portland, Oregon. True to the series, murders begin to happen, and the Silver Sisters become involved.

4) Were you involved in the culinary arts in the past? If not, what led you to write a series of mysteries involving it?

Like I said above, it was the husbands. LOL. Other than acting as design liaison for restaurant interiors for five years, I was not personally involved in culinary arts. However, two of my three children are. My daughter manages the dining room and teaches at a culinary college in England. My youngest son has done everything from working in coffee houses and managing restaurants to being named National Employee of the Year twice by the fine dining chain Capital Grille.

5) You’ve said that some of the characters in the Silver Sisters series are based on real-life people you’d known. Who stands out to you the most and why?

It is hard to pick one. We grew up in a fun-loving zany family and that spirit has carried through for many of our characters. Our father loved to dress in costumes and had a high-octane sense of humor. Sterling and Flossie Silver, the twins’ mother and uncle, are former vaudeville magicians who love to dress in disguise and go under cover.  Every book in the series has characters reminiscent of family members, friends or a combination thereof. It is one of the things my sister and I love about writing together.

6) One of your first published works was an Amazon Short about a one-armed equestrian coach in the two-armed sport of vaulting. You also wrote stories about him and the horses that are published in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Can you give us some background as to why you wrote those stories?

Rick Hawthorne of Valley View Vaulters is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Knowing him and his late wife Virginia changed my outlook on so many things. They exuded love and kindness, and it was contagious. I became more caring and more aware of the needs of others. It was as though they gave me a gift. Throughout his career, Rick has literally created miracles for thousands of handicapped students, like some rising from wheelchairs and walking. Rick lost his left arm and shoulder to cancer when only eleven years old. That never stopped him. He became a medalist in equestrian vaulting and went on to become one of the best vaulting coaches in the American Vaulting Association. I was so proud to tell his story in that first Chicken Soup book—Miracles Happen on Horseback.

7) You’re also known for the Revenge is Fun series. The first book, RIPOFF, was co-written with Caroline Rowe. BUMPING OFF FAT VINNY was co-authored with the late Dennis N. Griffin. That series involves a somewhat younger cast of characters. What provided you with the inspiration to write it?

RIPOFF, the first book in the series, was inspired by what Carolyn and I experienced while representing furniture manufactured in Federal prisons. We worked for a marketing contractor to the government, and so many dodgy and under the radar things happened with that contractor we saw the meat for a story. After nearly four years I quit and Carolyn subsequently was fired by voice mail. We used that in RIPOFF. Our amateur sleuths are three thirtyish savvy women who lost executive jobs and are now underemployed by the Federal Association of Correctional Reform.

Every book in the series was inspired by some real incident that could have fostered a desire to get even. New characters were introduced in BUMPING OFF FAT VINNY and it incorporates various real occurrences as a template. Denny and I had a very bad experience with a publisher we were doing a book for and we created Fat Vinny as the publisher who can’t die. Some of the other factors in that book were inspired by my experiences in Mexico and knowledge of the basis for barter agreements. SCAMMED highlights disputes with an HOA president. All of the series characters come together in that book. I owned a condo that was involved in an HOA lawsuit and the president was so obnoxious (plus costing us $40,000 in attorney’s fees) that I wanted to kill him in print. He had the nerve to die before I could, but he made a perfect character and basis for the SCAMMED plot.

8) Describe for us your happy writing place. Where is it and how does it inspire you?

I have always been lucky to have a dedicated writing space in my homes. Much of my writing was done in Marina Del Rey, California, a place that inspires creativity. Then in 2012 the home in Las Vegas was purchased as a second home, and that became my go-to happy writing place. I could write uninterrupted, the area is serene, and my writing seemed to flow so easily. There is a very active writer’s community in Las Vegas. People would say, “What? You find Las Vegas serene?” My answer always was that Las Vegas is much more than the Strip. We have neighborhoods. Mine happens to be in a master-planned community in the foothills, high above the Strip. So, I would come to the Las Vegas home at least once a month and stay about ten days. Then in 2013, I moved to Las Vegas full time.

9) You said Ripoff in the Revenge is Fun series was inspired by real-life events at the same government contractor that employed both you and your co-author Caroline Rowe. What agency was that and what were some of the actual events that inspired the story?

OMG, where do I begin? UNICOR is a government corporation/rehabilitation program owned by Federal Prisons Industries. They manufactured about 150 types of products in 97 prison factories nationwide. There are currently 83 factories. I toured the factories in Lompoc, California and Coleman, Florida.

The furniture division included various lines of cubicles and was the highest earning part of nearly a billion dollar a year business—the furniture accounted for about $600 million. My biggest project was over $3 million.

Before contracting with the private sector company we worked for, marketing was handled by corrections officers—not the best scenario. We were all seasoned marketing reps with furniture backgrounds. As time went on, we learned of various financial scams that later were attributed to our employer. That was the inspiration for the humorous crime caper we conceived after we both left the company. The government later investigated our former employer and shut them down, which included some litigation. Our scenario is not what actually happened, but according to a former undercover FBI agent who gave us a blurb, “It was a good thing the authors weren’t crooks. It could have happened.”

10) Describe your typical writing day. Do you draft in a journal, a laptop or both? Do you set word goals and, if so, what are they?

I actually don’t have a typical writing day, although I generally write every day. I have done everything from humorous mysteries to true crime memoirs, from a book for writers to my latest book which is the thriller you asked about below. I have also written over 600 published articles about the craft and business of writing. I began by writing magazine and newspaper articles back in the 70s. Now I mostly write books. I’ve written solo, with partners who are writers and also helped two abuse survivors write their memoirs. So, every project is different. Even writing with partners, each one is different depending upon our styles and strengths. The important thing is to identify that right away. It has not been unusual for me to work on more than one book at a time.

I don’t set daily word goals because I don’t believe in forcing myself to write to a target that way. However, I do set total word goals for a book, then literally back into that goal. In other words, if I have set 70,000 words and I am at the 25,000 word point, I know I have approximately 50,000 words left to finish the story. I keep tabs on the word count throughout the process. For example, I am a fast writer sometimes clicking into what has been called automatic writing which greatly helps with pacing. When I’m in that mode, I may churn out 5,000 words or more effortlessly, but that often comes from my subconscious. On other days, maybe it is 1500 or so. My sister is the consummate editor and a slow writer. So, I write our chapters initially and send them to her. It might take her a few days to edit a chapter or add her bits, but she massages every word, and it comes back to me polished. However, if there are any disagreements about what I wrote or she edited, we talk them out and the one who feels the most committed to a plot point prevails. When I wrote with Denny, our styles were very much the same and seamless. Either one crafted a chapter and the other reviewed it.

I don’t outline, but I do identify plot points and a timeline. Unlike many writers, I also read “cold” chapters before continuing and do a basic edit as I go along. That way I don’t have any conflicting incidents, names or other “out of whack” problems to deal with later. I also do at least two read-throughs and edits when the manuscript is finished.

11) Tell us about Mack Peters, who debuted with Watson Falls, edited by your sister. This appears to be an outlier that stands apart from the lighter fare of the cozies. You said in the introduction it was based on a “heinous crime”. What crime was that?

I can’t actually tell you that without giving away the surprise twist in the plot. However, I wanted an action character who could easily move from place to place while enjoying financial security. A character who could launch another series. Incidentally, I am working on the second book for Mack Peters.

His character is a former LAPD cop who left the force after his father, the Beverly Hills police chief, was gunned down in a drive by shooting. Many years ago I met an interesting man who had lots of money but barely worked. When I asked him what he did, he said “I go to my mailbox and collect checks.” I later learned he had copywritten and trademarked an unclaimed popular phrase and licensed it to novelty companies worldwide, so that’s what Mack does. His business basically runs itself, leaving him free to investigate and do whatever he wants to.

What he discovers in the remote town of Watson Falls is a horrible crime that has become more and more frequent, resulting in huge dollars for black-market operators. The book is available in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, ePub and audio. I have a few free audio codes available that I would be happy to provide in exchange for honest reviews.

12) You’ve written mysteries, how to writing books and an autobiography. Is there another genre you’re planning on tackling in the future?

I have also written award-winning short stories and assembled some of them into the one author anthology THE MAFIA FUNERAL and Other Short Stories. I think that about covers it, although I have toyed with the idea of writing more short stories. You know, the quick gratification of having a finished product in days or weeks instead of months or years.

13) Do you see yourself as exclusively a storyteller or do you wish to impart a deeper message or elevate awareness of something specific in your work?

I think I am a little more than a storyteller. I have done a lot to elevate awareness of child and adult abuse after working with Bella Capo and Cheryl and Rob Cuccio. I was an advocate for the equestrian vaulting programs via Rick Hawthorne. I am also fairly outspoken in the political arena, primarily on social media. Dennis Griffin and I had a podcast for over a year where we interviewed writers and people in the industry. Those links can still be found on my website.

14) How does a girl from Chicago find herself in the Nevada desert and how does it facilitate your writing?

When I was 9 my family made a disastrous move to Miami, and we were back in Chicago within 10 months. Three years later, due to my father’s heart condition, we moved to L.A., and over the years I lived in L.A., the Valley, Mar Vista and Marina del Rey until December, 2002 when my ex-husband and I bought the Las Vegas house as a second home. I had done business in Las Vegas since the mid-80s and loved it while having multiple careers. As VP of Marketing for a Travel and Tour company in 1984-85 I was responsible for securing over 20,000 hotel room blocks a year for the tour division. When I worked with restaurant interiors, I had several clients in Las Vegas. With the prison manufactured furniture I did millions of dollars of business with Nellis Air Force base.

From the time back in the 80s when I dealt with the hotels I wanted a house in Las Vegas. That finally happened in 2002 and from 2003 until 2013 I had one foot in Marina del Rey and one in Las Vegas going back and forth every few weeks. I joked that I lived on the 405 freeway. In 2013 I moved here full time. This has always been my most productive writing place. I actually have two offices in my house. One for writing and one for other things.

15) So, what’s next for Morgan St. James?

I have heard it said that life is what happens while you are waiting for it to be the way you planned it. Robert, I truly have no idea what is next. My life has taken so many unplanned twists and turns very little of it was ever pre-planned. If someone had told me years ago that I would be an author with 20 books in publication living in Las Vegas, I probably would have asked them what they were smoking. There are always forks in our road. What happens next depends upon which fork you take.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ms. Morgan and her work, please make use of the links below:

Amazon author page 


Facebook author page 

Morgan St James (general) 

Silver Sisters mysteries

WATSON FALLS (audiobook)




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