An Interview with Braxton’s Brightest Sleuth

Ta-da!  He’s he-ere.  I’m thrilled to have Kellan Ayrwick from Wharton County visit today. In addition to serving as a part-time sleuth and single father, he’s a brilliant Braxton College professor who has also worked in TV.  He’s solved some exciting mysteries in a quaint and quiet part of Pennsylvania, Wharton County, where mob members, mystifying murders, and daunting ghosts are but a few of the challenges he’s encountered.

Without further ado . . . let’s get to know this dynamic sleuth that wee bit better.

Kellan Michael Ayrwick is such a distinguished name.  Would you please share the origins with us?

Absolutely. Thanks for asking. My first name is a bit unusual. I’m the middle child of five siblings. My parents wanted unique, older names for their children. I’ve been told they wanted it to start with that hard “c” or “k” sound, and they like repeated consonants, especially after a trip to Spain; hence, the double l. Just like in most Scottish and Irish families, children’s middle names come from their parents or grandparents. My older brother Hampton got my father’s name as his middle name, so when they chose mine, they went with Grandpa’s. He was Nana D’s husband, Michael Danby.

Ayrwick is a little more of a family story. My relatives originated in the town of Ayr in Scotland. They were candlemakers and, so, when the overseer and tax collector had to enumerate for our town, he’d listed it as Ayr, Wicks. Somehow, it was translated into Ayrwick on the official records when my ancestors immigrated to the United States.

Tell us what it’s like to be a professor, single father, and amateur sleuth.  Which role is the most challenging?  Why?

Being a single father is the most challenging. When I lived in Los Angeles, I relied on my in-laws, who often had their own ways of parenting. Trying to balance their styles with mine, without offending them anytime I’d suggest a different path, was not easy. I thought it’d get better when we moved back to Pennsylvania. Now, I have my parents and Nana D trying to tell me how to raise my daughter. They mean well, and I wouldn’t be able to survive without their help, but poor Emma is already turning into a mini Nana D. The world only needs one of them, right?

I obtained my PhD, but didn’t stay in academia in Los Angeles. I worked in Hollywood and learned all about the film industry. When I moved back to Pennsylvania and took the job as professor to help my dad out, I thought it was temporary. The opportunity to build a new film program at the school was too enticing, so now I’m back in academia full-time. I enjoy being able to work with young adults and new minds who love the entertainment business as much as I do, but I miss the challenge of solving complex puzzles.

I think that’s why I find being an amateur sleuth the most fun. Except for those few times where the killer almost succeeded in knocking me off too. I have high standards. Being able to hold people accountable for their actions is important to me. I obey the laws and dislike when others treat them carelessly.

If you could have pursued any profession, which would it have been?

I think I might have chosen the right one. Research is my expertise. I read people easily, and I know what questions to ask to find the right answers. Sometimes it takes a little longer than I’d like, and at others I am blindsided. But, ultimately, my instincts have been spot-on. If I went with a profession purely for fun and pleasure, I think I should’ve been a baker. I’d weigh three times as much and probably die sooner because I couldn’t stop eating all the time. But there’s a downside to every job, I suppose.

Did you do well in school?  What did you excel at?  What did you like most?

Do I really need to admit the truth here? I was a good student. I did well, but I was also the president of my fraternity and often got into a bit of trouble. I am great at anything that involves thinking and analyzing. I’m unusually smart when it comes to mechanical things, too. I can take almost anything apart and put it back together again. On the flip side, I wasn’t very strong in business classes and foreign languages. I don’t like to travel by plane, so it’s limited the places I can go. I never did have the ability to grasp grammar in other countries.

Who do you look up to?  Why?

Grandpop Michael, my mother’s father. He’s my idol. I love my father, but he focused more on my older brother. Grandpop Michael took me under his wing when I was a teenager, teaching me everything I know today. He was an honest man who understood people. He didn’t believe in acting tough, lying, or being ornery. There wasn’t a soul who disliked my grandpop, and that’s what I aim for every day of my life.

Which has proven your trickiest, most perplexing mystery (thus far)?

This ghost who’s been haunting my house. I can’t tell if (s)he’s real or fake. I never believed in that paranormal side of life, but after my experience in the spooky corn maze, my entire mindset has changed. I can solve a problem when I can talk to a person, ask questions, and get at the core of the situation. When I can’t actually connect with something tangible, I’m at a loss. Hopefully, I’ll solve it soon, as I really want to move into the new house without worrying about a ghost trying to kill me. Did you see the message (s)he left on the basement door?  WPghostgreenspace1DOTme

I did indeed—spoo-ookingly scary!   … Tell us, please, what do you like most about Wharton County?

It’s got the best of everything. Four seasons, even if I dislike the cold. Mountains, valleys, farms, rivers, lakes, forests, and an urban center. It’s only a few hundred square miles, and it’s relatively close to bigger cities like Philadelphia and Buffalo. Then again, you can hide out and never be found for years too. It’s the type of place to raise your children among family and friends who support one another. Up until recently, they had relatively few murders. I’m not sure what happened in the last six months since I returned. Maybe the ghost has been more active than we knew about.

There was quite a bit of hoopla surrounding Francesca’s death—including mobster ties.  Would you share a little about that?

It’s barely been three months. I think we’re all still recovering from that explosive reveal. I’m grateful that Emma has taken the news so well. It’s not every day that your mother comes back from the dead. If I had known my wife was part of a mob family, I might have thought twice before asking her to marry me. I always knew those Castiglianos were trouble, but I couldn’t have predicted this outcome. We lost a family member in that mob war last summer. It doesn’t matter who did what, death is never easy. After it happened, I spent days with my daughter, ensuring she recovered from being kidnapped by that crazed villain. It’s only now that I see shades of my daughter returning back to her innocent youth.

What has been the most precious or special moment in your life?

Definitely the day Emma was born. After her, I think reconnecting with my family after a decade’s absence. We kept in touch and visited once a year, but it never felt the same. It’s taken a few months, but I now feel like we’re ready to trust one another again. It’s not like anything major happened to separate us … just that family is incredibly important. Sometimes you don’t realize something until you almost lose it.

What’s your greatest achievement?

If we’re speaking outside of family events, I think accomplishing so much in such a short-time period. I’ve worked in Hollywood, become a professor who specializes in film studies, joined the team to convert Braxton from a college to a university, and solved seven murders. I couldn’t choose between any of those, but being able to balance all of it together and raise my daughter, now that’s something to be proud of. I never put that all together until just now. Thank you for making me see it was such an achievement.

Do you have any regrets—about anything?

Grandpop Michael always told me not to regret the things I’ve done. Every action has consequences, and if you change even the slightest, the ripple effect is beyond anyone’s understanding. That said, if I could change a few things about the past, I’d probably try to stop Gabriel from leaving Braxton years ago. Too much happened to our family that changed the landscape of our future. I’m glad to have him back, but we lost more than five years of being brothers. That’s a lot of time, especially when we were once so close.

What floats your boat?

Are we talking literally or figuratively? I don’t own a boat, so I’m assuming you mean figuratively. That’s easy. Desserts. I will do anything for dessert. I can’t help it. I have uncontrollable cravings, and since it’s not caused any problems with my health, I will continue to devour any and all desserts. I have noticed my workouts need to happen more frequently, and I am occasionally defying the limits of gravity with my clothing. If for any reason my health or the size of my pants were to change, I’d cut back. I love having a racing horse for a metabolism. Until that time things change, my boat floats to desserts. Got anything new for me to try?

<LOL>  I’ll let you know later.  Last question, Kellan: who is your favorite detective?  Why?

If I don’t say April or Connor, am I in trouble? Please let the record show, they are my favorites. If you torture me to say another name, I’d admit to loving Sherlock Holmes. He’s arrogant but clever. People sometimes think I’m a little too sarcastic, but it’s different when you hear me speak. I’m witty and funny and light about it … I’m never mean-spirited, and I often laugh at myself. A few people have written opinions about me (I won’t name names) that I seem banal or pretentious. Nothing could be further from the truth. I just tend to be a little humorous rather than so serious all the time.

Awesome.  Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and share. 

For those of you not familiar with Kellan’s sleuthing, I highly recommend you check out:

♦  Academic Curveball  ♦  Broken Heart Attack  ♦  Flower Power Trip  ♦  Mistaken Identity Crisis  ♦  Haunted House Ghost

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Curious to learn more?  Please visit these two awesome sites: https://jamesjcudney.com and https://thisismytruthnow.com.

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By the by, Kellan’s charming grandmother and go-getting mayor, Nana D, will be here on the 23rd of this month! 

Review & Interview: James J. Cudney and Academic Curveball

Academic Curveball: A Braxton Campus Mystery is the first cozy from James J. Cudney IV (Jay) . . . a big winding curve from suspenseful family dramas Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure.  While Glass and Father lean toward the poignant and WPJayUseAenthralling, and occasionally dark, Academic successfully captures the feel of a cozy— with subtle humor and the requisite amateur sleuth, quaint settings, curious characters, clues and red herrings.

Jay’s graphic descriptions of Wharton County and Braxton pull us into various locales; we can clearly envision the picturesque campus and dwellings, feel the chilly November air dance across our skin, and experience the ouch-y smack upon accidentally hitting our head on a wooden bedroom beam.  This author has a gift for creating vivid images.

Thirty-something protagonist/narrator Kellan Ayrwick returns to Pennsylvania from California for his crusty father’s retirement from Braxton College.  Leaving his five-year-old daughter Emma with in-laws, he demonstrates the care and concerns of a loving single parent.  It’s easy to like calm and affable Kellan and want to follow his “inadvertent adventures” when a murder occurs.  When his boss requests he remain and cover the dastardly deed for their TV show, he soon discovers that anyone—family and friends included—is a viable suspect.

Before we know it, we’re eagerly ambling along the sleuthing trail with Kellan, attempting to figure out “whodunit” . . . and hoping the one person who didn’t “dunit” is Nana, his wonderfully [hysterically] eccentric grandmother.  This woman is a dynamo, reminiscent of Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur.  (I could see this quirky gal carrying her own cozy series.)

The book leaves a few openings and storyline possibilities for future Braxton mysteries, which we know are [happily] coming.  I’m looking forward to pursuing Kellan’s next “case”.

   Rating: save save save save save

Intrigued by our author’s prolific blogging and writing projects, I felt compelled to conduct a mini—most interesting—interview.

What served as the inspiration for Academic Curveball?

I love cozy mysteries and book series. I’ve been reading them for ~25 years now and find myself always looking for the latest edition or drama in recurring characters’ lives. I think it’s because I am an only child that I love seeing the continuous bond within families and friends in small towns. I’ve always wanted to be a professor, but I waited too long to go to graduate school. I don’t have the energy or time to go back for advanced degrees now, so I wanted a way to feel like I was back on campus. When I combined all of this together, I thought… maybe that should be my new book series! The first plot evolved out of another dream where I pictured the killer and his/her reason for committing murder, then I built an entire story around it.

Did you envision yourself as Kellan during the writing of Academic Curveball—i.e. are you the protagonist putting the pieces of a puzzle together or are you the creator/author providing twists and turns for your main character? 

It’s a combination of both. There are tons of things about Kellan that are 100% me, both in how I speak, my level of sarcasm, and how I analyze situations. I’m not nosy by nature, so I had to push those elements. Someone could say “I think X is so angry with Y, they’ll kill her.” I’d ignore it and not want to get involved in someone else’s drama. Kellan is different. He’d have 100 questions and never stop trying to guess what could happen. Since I draft an outline with scenes described chapter by chapter before I begin writing, I’m definitely creating the twists/turns, but Kellan’s voice surprises me. Sometimes he says things which make me as the author realize I have to alter a scene because he’s smarter than me.

Do characters/characterization come naturally (instinctively) as you write, or do you spend time developing and crafting them?

Both. Each character has 3 or 4 traits (physical and personality) before I write a scene. When they begin to act in the scene, their individual personalities also emerge, then I go back and update prior chapters so it’s consistent. Minor characters never have a look and feel during the outline stage unless I see them as long-term. After the first draft, I read slowly and keep a list of all things I’ve said about a character, then I apply a ratio-formula depending on their number of scenes or future longevity. I want everyone to have enough traits that readers get a good picture but have room to fill in the blanks, too.

Some authors simply go with the flow; their fingers fly furiously across a keyboard.   What’s your writing style?  Do you let the story and characters tell the tale or do you give considerable thought to scenes/scenarios and how they’ll play out?

After writing a one-page summary of the plot and characters, then I write a ~25 page overview outline. It has details about the murders, the suspects, and the cliffhangers. I also have a chapter by chapter and scene by scene bullet list of what needs to happen. Sometimes it only lists one character and then I decide who (s)he interacts with in the scene in order to build the drama or cover the cozy aspects of the town’s life. In this book, I deleted two chapters by merging their content in with others, then I also added six scenes to help with transitions between chapters. It becomes a puzzle trying to figure out what order to make things happen to keep up the mystery.

On a non-professional note, what inspires you, James J. Cudney?

Outside of reading and writing, I love genealogy, cooking, and history. I am an expert in nothing, nor a jack-of-all-trades. I know a lot about a bunch of things, but I still sometimes need the basics to round out what I am interested in. Inspiration usually comes in the form of seeing a beautiful picture, thinking about where I am and where I want to be… generally analyzing people, places, and things. I am very much in trapped my head and often forget to be a social person. Autumn is my favorite season, so I’m thrilled to enter it these days… I hope it sticks around for a few months.

For those unfamiliar with Jay, he’s an amazing—inexhaustible (!)—author and blogger residing in NYC.  The short link for Academic Curveball on Amazon is http://mybook.to/ACurveball while Goodreads’ link is https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41564460-academic-curveballWPJayUseB

The new book Broken Heart Attack will be available December 2018 and is also on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/series/242493-braxton-campus-mysteries (but the cover won’t be added for approximately four weeks).  Last but by no means least, his stand-alone novels, the aforementioned Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can also be purchased on Amazon.

Jay’s what I (and many bloggers/authors) aspire to be.  He’s also a kind and encouraging individual who selflessly offers constructive advice and [much] appreciated support.

Visit his blog (https://thisismytruthnow.com) to find—among other things—reviews and read-a-thons, and the introspective 365 Daily Challenge: “365 days of reflection to discover who I am and what I want out of life.”