BC playwright instructor launches new mystery novel

Bellevue College’s playwright professor Elena Hartwell celebrated the launch of her novel, “One Dead, Two to Go,” at the Stop Gap Theatre on Saturday, May 28. The launch party was an open event that invited the BC community and local artists for live music and theater-style readings of the novel. Hartwell’s books were also sold during the party and will continue to be on sale at the BC bookstore.

Having a launch party at BC was important for Hartwell. “To have my fellow faculty, students – past and present – and my friends and family all together to officially launch my first novel into the world was a dream come true,” explained Hartwell.

Elena Hartwell
Elena Hartwell with her book

The launch party was also atypical. Hartwell had theatrical readings of her novel instead of a traditional bookstore event. This allowed Hartwell to incorporate her background as playwright into the launch of her novel. “It meant multiple aspects of my life could come together in one place,” said Hartwell. “It worked better than I could have imagined.”

“One Dead, Two to Go” is the first book of a mystery series that was officially launched on April 15 this year.  The novel, set in Bellingham, WA, follows private investigator Edwina “Eddie Shoes” Schultz as she solves a murder mystery with the help from her adrenaline and gambling addicted mother, Chava. Also participating in the investigation is Detective Chance Parker, new to Bellingham’s crime unit but an old lover of Eddie’s. Throughout the novel, Eddie, who prefers to avoid any violent altercations, finds herself in dangerous situations – some brought on by her mother who was kicked out of Vegas – as she tries to solve the murder.

Inspiration for the novel struck three years ago while Hartwell was on a road trip with her husband. “He came up with the name ‘Eddie Shoes.’ I thought to myself – that sounds like the name of a private investigator,” explained Hartwell, “So I started creating a character, I knew she was a woman, and that she lived in the Pacific Northwest. I also knew she didn’t usually investigate a homicide, but she had been sucked into investigating one. That’s where the story started.”

Hartwell finished the story in a year and a few months later, she received the book deal with Camel Press. From there, Hartwell worked with her publisher to release pre-publishing work, which took roughly a year and a half.

As a seasoned playwright, Hartwell found difficulties transitioning into writing novels. “I’m good with dialogue and character development, but I never had to think about detailed and specific locations,” said Hartwell, “One of the hardest things for me to get good at in writing fiction was to be clear and specific about how places looked, sounded or smelled.”

“One Dead, Two to Go” marks the beginning of her mystery series, the precise length of which Hartwell is unsure of, but she has already started writing book three, which she hopes will launch in 2018. The main characters will persist throughout the series, but new murders will continue to develop the relationships of the characters. Writing a series of mystery novels is important for attracting readers to the character development, according to Hartwell.

“A series allows a writer to develop characters and their relationships over a longer period of time. So readers can get invested in not just the individual mysteries of each book, but in the lives of these characters over multiple books,” expressed Hartwell.

In addition, throughout the series, Hartwell will continue to explore “the gray area between ‘good’ and ‘bad.’” Hartwell said that through the series, “I’m also interested in giving voices to people who may not have a voice in our culture.”

The second installment of Hartwell’s Eddie Shoes mystery series will be released on April 15, 2017. Because of the success of the launch party for the first book in the series. Hartwell plans to hold a similar event during the launch of her second book, “Two Dead Are Better Than One.” The second book will also foreshadow the story for book four of the series.

“One Dead, Two to Go” is available at the BC bookstore and on Amazon in paper, electronic and audio editions.