Vanessa Gray Bartal is an avid reader who also loves to write. After a few years working as a 911 dispatcher, she quit her job and began writing full time. She has written over fifty novels. While she considers herself primarily a romance author, she also likes to dabble in other genres, including mystery and fantasy.
TDBW: When did you start writing?
Vanessa: I don’t ever remember not writing. It was always one of my favorite hobbies.
TDBW: What was the first story you remember writing?
Vanessa: I remember being in fourth grade and trying to write a book about child psychology. I was out to cure the world.
TDBW: What genre is your most preferred?
Vanessa: The thing I love about self-publishing is that you don’t have to be pigeonholed into one genre. I started out writing YA, moved to coming-of-age stories, then Western romances, and on to mysteries. I also
dabbled in some fantasy, but I would have to say that writing romance is my first love.
TDBW: What challenges you the most in your writing?
Vanessa: When I first started, my biggest challenge used to be learning the proper mechanics of storytelling. Now I would say it is finding the time and discipline to write. With two small children and another on the way, time and energy are luxuries.
TDBW: What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Vanessa: Without a doubt it is connecting with readers. They have been so kind and encouraging to me. It’s helpful to know that the characters you create in your head engage with other people and seem real to them, too.
TDBW: What do you like least about being an author?
Vanessa: Being vulnerable to other people and receiving harsh criticism. Sometimes constructive feedback (even if it’s negative) can be helpful and instructive. Sometimes it’s hurtful and discouraging.
TDBW: How many books do you currently have available?
Vanessa: 50, but I’ve written over a hundred. Many of my earlier books are YA and were written as I was learning to write. They would need a lot of editing before they could be available to purchase..
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Visit Vanessa Gray Bartal’s Amazon author page for more exciting books
TDBW: What projects are you currently working on?
Vanessa: I always have multiple series going. Right now I’m working on the next Lacy Steele book, the next Sadie Cooper book, and the next Paradise, Montana book. I also have a few other books I’m dabbling in that may never come to fruition. In the future, I would also like to add some audio books to my collection.
TDBW: Do you have any books coming out soon?
Vanessa: Hopefully the next Sadie Cooper and Paradise, Montana books will arrive before my baby does (in October.)
TDBW: Which book, or series, is your favorite?
Vanessa: One of my favorite series is probably one of my least-read. I did some military books about four marines. Researching all that they have to go through gave me an even greater respect for our soldiers. And I always love the books where my characters take me by surprise. Usually that happens when I’m trying to write an unlikable character and end up liking him/her.
TDBW: Who are some of your favorite authors?
Vanessa: As a teen, I loved Ellen Conford and Paula Danzinger. Their books were so funny. As a young adult I read all of Janette Oke and Mary Higgins Clark. Currently I’ve been reading Betty MacDonald (The Egg and I), M.C. Beaton (The Hamish MacBeth series), J.K. Rowling (Her Robert Galbraith series), and whatever looks good that I can find a review for. (Gone are the days of perusing the library for hours. Now I have to take what I can get when I can get it.)
TDBW: Which book(s) inspire you the most?
Vanessa: I always come back to Jane Austen. Her books are timeless. But as a literature minor, I feel like there are little bits and pieces of everything that have stuck with me through the years—Jane Eyre, Shakespeare, Louisa May Alcott, Langston Hughes, and Emerson, to name a few.
TDBW: Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what band(s) do you play?
Vanessa: When I first began writing, I would try to pick a certain song to represent each book. I listened to it on repeat and felt inspired. For my Vigilante series, for instance, I liked “Secrets” by One Republic. But now I generally listen to classical music in the background. (I especially love cello music.) My days have become filled with so much kid noise that peaceful melodies seem to help my brain settle and focus.
TDBW: Any hobbies?
Vanessa: Cooking and baking. I love to peruse recipes, read cookbooks, and try out new things. Lately I’ve been branching into Indian cuisine (butter chicken is outstanding!) And I always try to pick one recipe and perfect it, like chocolate cake or chocolate chip cookies or croissants. I would love to say that I am crafty and do other things but I fail at all attempts at crafting, especially knitting and crochet.
TDBW: Tell us some more about yourself including your website and where we can find you on social media sites:
Vanessa: At this time I don’t have a website, but it’s always in the back of my mind. I do have an author page on Facebook and try to update regularly. I’m on Twitter, but mostly there to read news. I’m terrible at self-promotion and marketing. It’s something I’m trying to work on.
TDBW: Care to share a bit of one of your books with us?
Vanessa: Here is a preview of the upcoming (still unfinished and unnamed) Sadie Cooper book. (Sadie Cooper is a former pageant contestant who returned home in disgrace and is now trying to pull her life together. The daughter of a cop, she became a private investigator by necessity.)
As she turned to make the short walk up the driveway, she noticed a man sitting on the front porch, a glass of sweet tea in his hand. He stood as she approached and offered a courtly little bow. He was dressed in a purple velour jacket with tails. Beneath poked a white shirt with frilly pirate sleeves and oversized collar. Sadie knew him by sight, even if they had never been introduced.
“Good day, Miss Sadie,” he said, drawing out each vowel as if tasting them. He might look like he had escaped from Alice in Wonderland, but he sounded as if he had just stepped off a plantation in the Louisiana Bayou.
“Hello,” Sadie said. She couldn’t imagine what he was doing on her front porch.
“My name is Rube Saunders, but you may call me The Colonel. I am delighted to make your acquaintance.” He held out his hand to shake. Sadie thought she could have done a load of laundry in the time it took him to finish saying the brief sentence. Any interaction between them could last all day if she didn’t cut to the chase.
“May I help you?” she asked.
“I understand from some mutual friends that you have recently become a private investigator. I find myself in dire need of your services,” he said.
Sadie wanted to scream at the slowness of his speech, especially because she thought it was an affectation. No one who wasn’t trying could possibly speak that slowly. She also knew that the man standing before her wasn’t a real colonel. Instead it was a title he had given himself, one to ensure his image as an authentic southern gentleman.
“What can I do for you?” She motioned toward the wicker. “Please, have a seat.”
Ever the gentleman, he waited for her to sit before he sat. He picked up the iced tea and rolled it gently between his palms. Clearing his throat, he finally began his tale.
“I understand that you were previously involved in the pageant circuit. You may know that is my domain, as well.”
That was an understatement. Not only was he in charge of several pageants, he was also a judge and financial backer. In the pageant world, no one was bigger than Rube “The Colonel” Saunders. At one time Sadie had hoped to meet him in person and draw his favor. Now he was sitting on her porch about to ask a favor for himself. Life was funny sometimes.
“Mm,” Sadie said, nodding sympathetically. Meanwhile she bit her cheek to keep from hurrying him along. She had always leaned more north than south, much to Abby’s chagrin. Sadie preferred things quick and efficient. She wasn’t one for mulling or lingering, as were so many of her Virginia neighbors. To her the thought of sitting on the porch all day nursing a glass of tea sounded like a punishment. She would much rather be doing something.
“Anyway, it seems I find myself in need of your assistance, which is why I am here today.”
Spit it out, man, Sadie wanted to say. Instead she smiled. “What can I do for you?”
“As you know, there have been some recent rumblings against our flag,” he said.
“The Confederate Flag, the Southern Cross.”
Sadie had never owned or pledged allegiance to a confederate flag, but she didn’t dare interrupt to contradict when he was finally getting somewhere. She nodded encouragingly and he continued.
“Each year the highlight of my season is The Miss Civil War pageant. It’s the nearest and dearest to my heart, a veritable celebration of our proud southern heritage. But it’s not without its controversy. Increasingly in the last few years, it has become politically incorrect to have any remembrance of the War Between the States. Unfortunately this year some blackguard has taken it upon himself to do something about it. There have been threats.”
“Someone threatened you?”
He shook his head, sadly and slowly. “Not me. Jefferson Davis.”
Sadie blinked. Unless her memory of history was sorely lacking, Jefferson Davis had been gone a long time. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“It wasn’t safe to bring him along. I brought a picture.” He picked up a satchel from the seat beside him. It was a hand-stitched leather bag some might refer to as a man-purse. From it he withdrew an old-fashioned photo album, also trimmed in leather, flipped to a page, and handed it over.
A hound dog stared back at her. She knew enough from Gideon’s hunting friends to know it was a bloodhound.
“Someone threatened your dog?” she asked.
“Yes. Someone has written quite nefarious, ugly things about him. Then three days ago I received this in the mail.” He pulled out an envelope, opened it and dumped the contents into her hand.
She stared at her palm. “Someone mailed you some old orange seeds?”
The Colonel nodded. “I can barely sleep at night for worrying.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“Are you not familiar with the old traditions? They date back from the War Between the States. When a man is marked, he receives five orange pips. Soon after, he meets his demise. Clearly someone is sending a warning to Jefferson Davis.”
Sadie handed him the picture and the seeds. “What would you like me to do?”
“I would like to hire you to protect Jefferson Davis,” he said.
“You want me to guard your dog,” she said.
“Yes, but not just that. I want the person caught. I want him to go to prison for a long, long time. Maybe forever.”
Sadie doubted anyone would go to prison for threatening a dog, but she didn’t say so. It sounded like an easy job, and she needed the money.
“Do you have any idea who is doing this?”
“A man doesn’t get to my position without making a few enemies. I don’t have to tell you how competitive the pageant circuit has become. Money and titles are on the line.”
To the outside observer, sending a threatening letter over a beauty pageant was ludicrous. Sadie had enough perspective to agree it was ludicrous, but at least she understood the venom and vitriol behind it. You don’t mess with a woman who can handle a bikini wax without flinching and live to tell about it. “When do I start?”
“That’s the tricky part. The threats have been specific to the Miss Civil War pageant. So specific, in fact, that I begin to believe it must be an insider, much as it pains me to admit it. I want you to infiltrate the ranks and out this heinous criminal.”
“You want me to go undercover in the pageant,” she said.
“That’s why I came to you instead of one of the big name security firms. I need someone with your particular skill set,” he said.
Someone who could walk a runway in four-inch heels and still smile, he meant. “Okay. I’ll dust off my body tape and be ready.”
“There’s one more catch,” he said…