Marty Eberhardt is a former director of botanical gardens whose poetry and short prose can be found in nearly a dozen publications. In October 2021, Artemesia Publishing released Death in a Desert Garden, Marty’s debut novel and the first of her Bea Rivers cozy mysteries. You’ll find her on her website MartyEberhardt.com and on Facebook and LinkedIn.
What is your elevator pitch for Death in a Desert Garden?
Bea Rivers’ euphoria over her new job at Shandley Gardens is shattered by the death of the Gardens’ founder. When the police determine the death was a murder, Bea is drawn into the investigation, while trying desperately to maintain the life of a committed single parent dating a struggling writer. Every one of the members of the Gardens’ small staff and board are murder suspects. Through the sizzling and beautiful days of a Sonoran Desert summer, someone keeps dropping odd botanical clues. As Bea’s family’s safety is threatened, she discovers just how tangled the relationships at the Gardens really are.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
While I am familiar with the inner workings of public gardens, I haven’t had much to do with the police. I was fortunate to have a few friends in law enforcement who answered questions, and one read the book through.
Tell us how the book came together.
I’m not sure where the story idea came from, but first I imagined the place and the protagonist. The rest of the characters arrived in my brain and decided to do what they wanted to do. I picked a mythical botanical garden in Tucson, because I’m familiar with both public gardens and Tucson. I picked a harried single mother because I well-remember what that felt like, and I think many parents know this stress (even if they’re not single). Work/parenting challenges are front and center during this pandemic!
Who are your protagonists, and what do they have to overcome in the story? Will those who know you recognize you in any of your characters?
Many will see part of me in Bea Rivers. I was a single mom working in a botanical garden. Those in the know will also see the late Tony Edland in the character of Angus. Both of them are lovely guys. As for what Bea has to overcome, she has to be a good parent and a good employee simultaneously. As if that weren’t enough, she needs to solve a murder, because people she cares about are in danger of being accused.
Why did you choose the book’s main setting?
The setting is Shandley Gardens, a public garden in the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson. Using the Rincon foothills location gave me the opportunity to write about the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, which I love deeply. Also, there is no public garden in this location, in case anyone is looking for close comparisons.
What makes Death in a Desert Garden unique in the cozy mystery market?
There are several unique, or nearly unique, parts: the setting in a botanical garden, the Sonoran Desert natural history, and the single parent protagonist.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I’ve heard many authors say this, but it was the way the characters took on a life of their own. I didn’t know until I got to the computer what they were going to say or do. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did plot things out, but how each character reacted to their circumstances was part of the mystery of the mystery.
You also write poems and short prose. Is there one form you’re drawn to the most when you write or read?
My primary reading interest is literary fiction. I also read a bit of nonfiction, especially if it relates to something I’m writing, and I read poetry. But I punctuate the serious stuff with mysteries. I relax with them, and so I tried to write one that would have what I want out of a mystery: a tough puzzle, some quirky characters, and a strong sense of place.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m writing a sequel to Death in a Desert Garden tentatively titled Bones in the Back Forty. A forty-year old skeleton takes a murder investigation from Shandley Gardens to a small town in southern New Mexico, where there’s a history of archaeological looting. I’ve also written an entirely different kind of book, a period piece set in early 1960s Saigon. It’s the story of how family members’ lives are changed by living in South Vietnam during the Diem regime, at the time of Buddhist burnings and multiple coups d’états. It’s tentatively titled American Innocents.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
We humans must all nourish ourselves with what gives us joy, so that we have the strength to do the work of caring for each other and the planet. Much of my joy comes from immersion in the natural world. I try to communicate that in everything I write.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.