Interview With Randy Overbeck
Greetings, friends! There’s a pumpkin-spice-scented nip in the air, the trees are
changing color, and Halloween is just a week away. What better time to hunker down with a glass of apple cider and a ghostly tale of mystery and murder—namely, Crimson at Cape May, by Randy Overbeck. Crimson is the second book in Dr. Overbeck’s Haunted Shores Mystery series, and it has received high praise from reviewers. Dr. Overbeck joins me today to discuss a variety of topics, including his novel and its protagonist, his resolve to steer clear of Cabot Cove (Maine), and where his ghosts land on the spectrum between Casper-the-friendly and horror-ghoul. (Don’t miss the tantalizing book excerpt toward the bottom of the page!)
Welcome, Dr. Overbeck! Tell us a little bit about Crimson at Cape May.
Crimson, like the first novel in the series, can best be described as a cold case murder mystery wrapped in a ghost story served with a side of romance, all set in a beautiful location, in this case the remarkable resort town of Cape May, New Jersey. Having lost his job as a teacher and coach, Darrell heads to Cape May to help with a summer football camp. Little does he know that a resident ghost, the Haunted Bride, waits to plead for him to help her find justice. This time he has help from another paranormal sensitive, Cassie, a street-wise teen, and together they work to unravel the mystery. Only they find out the young woman’s death is tied to an even more horrendous crime.
How did you get interested in writing ghost fiction?
Actually, I don’t view my books strictly as “ghost fiction.” When most people think of ghost fiction, they think Casper-the-friendly-ghost type common in cozies or the terrifying type made famous in horror movies. I work hard to make my ghosts more realistic. I write amateur sleuth mystery with a touch of the paranormal. My readers have written that you really don’t need to believe in ghosts to enjoy my narratives—though you might by the time you finish. There is plenty of evidence of ghosts—both photographic and scientific—and I believe that ghosts are one of the unexplained aspects of our reality. By the way, I’m hardly alone. A little over half of Americans have said they believe in ghosts.
Unlike other mystery writers, you’ve chosen to set the books in your new series, the Haunted Shores Mysteries, each in a different resort location: the Eastern Shore for Blood on the Chesapeake and, of course, Cape May, New Jersey, for Crimson at Cape May. Would you share why you’ve taken this route?
I have to admit it certainly would be easier to find one location you love and set a series of stories there. But I’ve worked very hard on making my fiction credible—as long as you accept the possibility of ghosts. And it takes a good deal more research—geographic, cultural, historical, paranormal, criminal—to learn each place well enough to set a new story there. However, when I tried to envision a string of ghosts and a series of murders in any of the quaint towns I’ve chosen, I felt this simply stretched the credibility too much. I mean I’d never want to move to the beautiful small town of Cabot Cove, Maine (the setting of Murder She Wrote) since almost everyone there ends up getting killed! Also I’m hoping my choice of a new, interesting resort location for each title will be one more thing that will bring my readers back.
What made you choose Cape May as the setting for your new release?
We traveled to the beautiful resort town of Cape May a few years back, for a wedding in the family, actually. I was enthralled by the unusual, remarkable architectural display of the town, as it has an astounding number of perfectly restored Victorian homes, mansions, and B & B’s. Add to that an incredible beach and super friendly people and you have an alluring getaway. But when I found out that Cape May has the reputation as the most haunted seaport on the Eastern shoreline, I knew it would be a perfect match for the second entry in my Haunted Shores Mysteries series. I even included a few of the documented ghosts of Cape May in the narrative along with my fictional Haunted Bride.
Who is Darrell Henshaw? What makes him tick?
Darrell is a high school teacher and coach who also happens to have this gift—though he hardly looks at it that way. He had his first encounter with a ghost as a child, and it did not go well, leaving two of his friends dead and his brother maimed. As a result, he carries a great deal of baggage in the form of OCD. Since things spun out of control with his first ghost encounter, he’s seeking to control almost everything he can.
Aside from that, Darrell is a dedicated teacher who devotes himself to ensuring young people have the best opportunity for a great life and believe in themselves. His day begins and ends with meeting the needs of “his kids,” whether they be his American History students or his junior high football players. He only takes time out for his new love, Erin, and of course for his ghost hunting.
I notice each entry in your Haunted Shores Mysteries is focused on a different social issue. Tell us about why you chose to do that and what you hope to accomplish with this strategy.
As an author I think it’s important to tell the truth. (I know—strange coming from a ghost story writer.) A few years ago, I had the privilege to meet the best-selling mystery author S. J. Rosan at a writers’ conference, and something she said has stuck with me. “Nonfiction is about reality; fiction is about truth.”
If I’m going to ask readers to invest hours of their valuable time in perusing my writing, I want them to come out of it with new knowledge and perhaps even new understanding of some truth. So as I imagined each mystery/ghost story, I actually began with a pressing social issue. The cold case murder actually proceeds from this issue. For Blood, I chose racial injustice and white privilege. For Crimson, I selected the scourge of human trafficking.
I’m hoping my tales are not pedantic. Rather, I’ve tried to use the narrative to help the reader develop a broader understanding of the issue. Since the stories are set in the past (late 90’s), the theme can be viewed through a less partisan lens—I hope. When I first began each of these manuscripts, I of course had no idea how huge each social issue would become in 2020 and 2021. This year the nationwide and worldwide protests have focused on the precise issue Blood is devoted to. And the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein and the accusations against Harvey Weinstein are bringing the issue of sex trafficking to the fore.
Crimson at Cape May is the second book in your Haunted Shores Mysteries series. How many books will ultimately be in the series—and when can we expect to see the next one?
When I started the Haunted Shores Mysteries, I envisioned three novels in the series, at least at the start. Blood on the Chesapeake was the first, released in 2019. Crimson is the second, of course. And as we talk, I’m putting the finishing touches on the third entry in the series, which will feature another quaint resort town, this time on the gulf coast of Florida. But since I don’t do anything the simple way, I decided to challenge myself again with number three. In addition to the other pieces—a cold case murder mystery, an eerie ghost story, a bit of romance, another incredible location—the third entry in the series will also be an unconventional Christmas mystery. I expect that it will be out for next Christmas, probably October 2021. Where I go from there will depend on my readers. Of course, I have other ideas of where to take Darrell and his love, Erin, and what ghosts and murders they might encounter, but I haven’t yet committed to anything.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
I have very eclectic tastes in what I read. Of course, I love mystery and read a lot of great writers—William Kent Kreuger, Robert Parker, Michael Connelly, Michael Sears, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and James R. Benn, just to name a few. I especially enjoy discovering the works of some less known mystery writers like Larry Sweazy and C. L. Pauwels. Of course, I’ve gotten hooked on thrillers by such greats as Zoe Sharp, Lee Child, and John Gilstrap. For both the mysteries and thrillers, I’ve learned a great deal from these and other authors and study their work carefully, even as I’m following the twists and turn and trying my best to solve the whodunnit.
But I also enjoy history, both novels and nonfiction. Recently I really enjoyed Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick (an absorbing account of the contrasting fates of George Washington and Benedict Arnold), and I’m re-reading my favorite historical novel, Burr by Gore Vidal. I’ve been known to read some science fiction, including The Darkest Time of Night by Jeremy Findley and this year The Sculpted Ship by K. M. O’Brien. From time to time, I’ll venture into a little romantic suspense by such authors as Alexandra Ivy. I’m even reading current political events like The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis and Rage by Bob Woodward. As I mentioned, my reading tastes diverge into a wide range of areas. If the writing is great, it will probably end up on my “to read” list.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer?
Many writers say that writing is a solitary act, just you and the computer. While I can’t argue with that, I need to add that my writing would never have risen above the minimum without help from outside. I’ve participated in several really good writing conferences—Killer Nashville, Midwest Writers’ Conference, Sleuthfest—and have found these experiences invaluable for “priming the pump” and getting me to think beyond my boundaries. Not to mention all the connections I’ve made with fellow writers. But I have found the greatest asset to my writing has been my regular participation in a really great writing group. These fellow writers have been both kind and cruel to my words, and my writing has grown as a result. My advice is that if a new writer is serious about putting out his best work, attending writing conferences and working with other writers in a supportive writers’ group are critical.
Dr. Randy Overbeck is a veteran educator who has served children as a teacher and school leader. For more than three decades, his educational experiences included responsibilities ranging from coach and yearbook advisor to principal and superintendent, and he’s lived the roles of many of the characters in his stories. An accomplished writer, he has been published in trade journals, professional texts and newspapers as well as in fiction, with his third published novel. As a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Dr. Overbeck is an active member of the literary community, contributing to a writers’ critique group, serving as a mentor to emerging writers and participating in writing conferences such as Sleuthfest, Killer Nashville and the Midwest Writers Workshop. When he’s not writing or researching his next exciting novel or sharing his presentation “Things That Go Bump in the Night,” he’s spending time with his incredible family of wife, three children (and their spouses) and seven wonderful grandchildren.
Blurb from Crimson at Cape May
No matter how far you run, you can never really escape a haunted past.
Darrell Henshaw—teacher, coach, and paranormal sensitive—learned this lesson the hard way. With his job gone and few options, he heads for Cape May to coach a summer football camp. The resort town, with gorgeous beaches, rich history and famous Victorian mansions, might just be the getaway he needs. Only, no one told him Cape May is the most haunted seaport on the East Coast. One resident ghost, the Haunted Bride, stalks Darrell, begging for his help.
He can’t refuse.
Joining forces with Cassie, a street-wise teen and another sensitive, he investigates the bride’s death and discovers her murder is connected to a far greater horror. But can Darrell and Cassie expose those behind the crimes before they end up being the killer’s next victims?
Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9nWiaGO-KM&t=13s
Excerpt from Crimson at Cape May
Why would this woman pursue him?
Now a safe distance away, he studied her. She was thin, with a small, drawn face of pasty skin, and he would’ve guessed her to be about his age, mid-twenties. But there was something about her, something that made him shiver. Did she have a black eye? Were those cuts on her cheek? Why hadn’t he noticed those before, when he passed her on the Promenade?
He sped up, the street crowded, congested with tourists. Normally, the jostling bodies would’ve given him the creeps, but today he was grateful for the numbers so he could blend in.
Not sure where he was headed—except away from his boardinghouse—he kept up a brisk pace. He hurried past the legendary Inn of Cape May, with its ornate, white period architecture and four stories of ancient rooms facing the beach. Any other time, he’d be thinking about taking Erin there. The place had an interesting old-time vibe. That is, if she still wanted anything to do with him. But he didn’t have time for that now. He kept moving.
As he turned back onto Beach Avenue again, the sight of the beautiful blue ocean across the road struck him and he stopped for a moment, then chanced a peek back around the corner. No sign of his stalker.
He reduced his pace, easing past a beach shop, and saw his reflection in the store front. That gave him an idea. Ahead, he spied a coffee shop with two long windows facing the street, the panes so sparkling clean he could see the image of the sun hanging over the ocean in the glass. As he walked along, he turned his head to catch his image and, when he was far enough along, he glanced sideways at the window. Trailing behind him, he could make out, reflected in the glass, only two people, a gray-haired couple. No one else. He took a few more steps, watching and slowing a little, and exhaled. He’d lost her.
He turned and studied the man and woman, who’d paused to examine the restaurant menu posted next to the door. A few feet beyond the couple stood the woman. Darrell’s gaze darted. The couple. The woman. The coffee shop window. Back to her. The petite young woman in the tattered white dress stood hunched not more than ten feet away. Darrell searched for her reflection in the glass. There was not even a shimmer.
Oh no. Not again.
The side of the young woman’s face was beaten and bloodied. Her exposed neck bore a long, ugly purple bruise. The torn dress now had blood seeping across her torso and down her right leg. He looked back. Still nothing in the window. The hairs on his neck stood up.
“What do you want?”
In unison, the pair turned, peered behind and then back at Darrell. The man said, “Son, there’s no one there.”
Darrell kept staring and as he watched, the young woman walked through the older couple and stopped in front of him. This close up, her one deep blue eye—the one not blackened—seemed vacant and carried an emptiness that frightened Darrell. She again extended both pale hands, blood now covering them and dripping off her fingertips. Mesmerized, Darrell watched as fat crimson drops splattered red onto the gray sidewalk.
In her soft voice, she said again, “Please, help me. Help us.”
Darrell shook his head violently. “No. Hell, no. Not again.” Last time almost killed him.
Reviewers have been generous in their praise of the work.
“A haunting, yet fast-paced whodunit that captures the reader’s attention from page one. A wonderful book!”—Alexandra Ivy, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
“Delivers an unpredictable mystery along with a powerful look at people…Completely engaged by the intrigue.”—Long and Short Reviews
“With both elements of mystery and suspense, readers across genres will find this second book about Darrell Henshaw intriguing…I highly recommend it.” ★★★★★—Literary Titan
“It’s a ghost/mystery story filled with suspense and action. The plot is so engrossing it had me hooked from the very first page.” ★★★★★—Nana’s Reviews, Greece
“The well-plotted storyline keeps a steady pace through two-thirds of the book and then gradually ups the ante, adds tension, grit, drops more pieces of the puzzle then explodes.”—V. Williams, Rosepoint Publishing
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