Go West, Young Woman — Guest Annette Dashofy

nowayhome-cover-front-sm-518x800I met Annette when we were both nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. One might think we’d be bitter rivals but instead became good friends (along with all the other nominees). We welcome Annette back to talk about her fifth book in the Zoe Chambers mystery series!

I grew up with a steady diet of westerns. My dad and I watched them all. Bonanza, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, Big Valley. Later I fell in love with Alias Smith and Jones. Much of my reading material was authored by Zane Grey. My cousin and I used to play cowboys on our horses. In my vivid imagination, our farm buildings were livery stables, saloons, hotels, and the sheriff’s office. The green valleys of Pennsylvania became the rocky canyons of Wyoming in our world.

annettehorseI never lost that love of the Old West. The TV shows faded into obscurity, and I’d almost forgotten them until one day I turned on a retro television network and spotted Hannibal Heyes. The next week, I randomly tuned into the same station and re-discovered Trampas. That long dormant passion flamed back to life.

However, in spite of my romance with the mountains and deserts of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, the farthest west I’d ever been was eastern Indiana.

At some point, I decided, dadgum it, I was going out there. Call it the top of my bucket list or whatever, but it became my mission in life. And it finally happened.

That trip in the summer of 2013 was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation. Not only was I going out West, I was going to finally meet several friends I’d known online but never face-to-face.

In his best “let me get this right” voice, my darling husband said, “We’re going to fly to Colorado and stay with someone you don’t know?”

I said, “I know her.”

Hubby is something of Luddite and distrusts the internet. Distrusted it even more back then. “But you’ve never met her.”

I shrugged.

He went on, “And then we’re going to drive for hours to stay with someone else you don’t know???”

I didn’t see the point in arguing with him.

But that’s exactly what we did. We flew in to the Colorado Springs Airport and jumped into a vehicle with my longtime critique buddy Donnell Bell and her husband, Les. It felt more gardenridelike a wonderful reunion than a first-time meeting.

Almost a week later, we bid a tearful goodbye, and Hubby and I loaded our gear into a rental SUV for a long drive southwest to Aztec, New Mexico, where we “met” my dear friend Leta Burns. There was much schoolgirlish squealing and hugging. Hubby stood back, certain we were all insane. But at least he was finally convinced that my online friends were neither imaginary, nor ax murderers luring hapless victims from across the country with promises of horseback rides and ghost towns.

Anyhow, besides meeting old/new friends, the trip was amazing. I remember looking out of the window of the airplane as it came in for our Colorado landing and crying at my first sight of real mountains. I exclaimed, “Wow!” at every new vista. That drive from Colorado Springs to Aztec took us from snow capped peaks to flat prairies to mesas. We drove through Wolf Creek Pass.

Wow.

After our visit in Aztec, Leta, Hubby, and I drove south nine hours through even more diverse scenery to Silver City. We saw a gazillion prairie dogs and a few elk.

garden-of-the-gods-trail-ride-001-800x612On that once-in-a-lifetime trip, I rode a horse through the Garden of the Gods, I shopped the streets of Durango and ate at the haunted Strater Hotel. We wandered through a ghost town and toured the cabin where Billy the Kid lived…at least in the movie The Missing.

And oh so much more.

What I didn’t realize until I returned to the green rolling hills of Pennsylvania was that the once-in-a-lifetime trip wasn’t once in a lifetime. Like the lyrics from one of my favorite songs, I’d come home to a place I’d never been before. And those online friends had become family. I’ve been back every year.

I also didn’t realize right away that a seed of a story had been sewn. Heck, at that time, Circle of Influence didn’t yet have a publisher. I didn’t know there would be a Zoe Chambers mystery series.

But there is, and by the second book in it, I knew at some point, Zoe would be taking a trip to New Mexico. My exclamations of “Wow!” would come from her lips as well. A Pennsylvania fish out of water in the badlands of the four corners.

No Way Home is the fifth in that series and it does indeed take Zoe someplace she’s never been before.

dashofy-1559-534x800Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2014 and BRIDGES BURNED was nominated for the 2015 Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel. NO WAY HOME, the fifth in the series, hits bookstores March 14.

Readers: Have you ever visited some place that unexpectedly felt like home?