If I Had a Hammer
by Teresa Trent
May 1-26, 2023 Virtual Book Tour
A new job, a brutal murder, and Camelot has ended.
In 1963, Dot Morgan’s life was changed forever. She witnessed the assassination of John F Kennedy through the lens of her boxy Kodak Instamatic camera, bringing traumatic aftereffects of the brutality that happened as they stood on the parade route in Dallas.
She starts her first real secretarial job with a boss who has no sympathy for her trauma. When Dot’s only work friend has a mysterious accident at a demolition site, she digs around on her own only to find very little love between two brothers and no one hammering out justice to find a murderer.
The suspects are all around Dot and as she tries to sift through their motives, her cousin Ellie is going through PTSD on her own, losing interest in work, and her fiancé all the while quoting some of JFK’s finest speeches.
With so much change in her world, can Dot still tell the difference between good and evil?
Inside the Author of If I Had a Hammer:
I’m so excited to share that Teresa Trent, author of If I Had a Hammer visited with me recently. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Don’t laugh, but I was turning 50. I always wanted to be a writer but life kept getting in the way. I didn’t even know what genre at first, but I decided if I didn’t pursue it, learn about it, and go about it in a disciplined way, I would never know. I started writing every day and using a book on how to write a mystery. I made plenty of mistakes with my first manuscript, A Dash of Murder, but I loved the experience even with the ups and downs. One of my fondest memories was watching Murder She Wrote with my mother. I remember saying to her, Jessica had the ideal job. She was typing up a mystery in her kitchen while baking an apple pie. My mother has passed, but that conversation and the time we shared is always with me whenever I write.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
If I Had a Hammer was one of the easiest books I’ve ever written. It seemed to flow out of me, starting with the assassination scene all the way to the end. Dot and Ellie’s characters kept evolving as they coped with the post traumatic stress of seeing JFK shot. Life at the construction company was fun to research. My husband works in the construction industry so he helped me with the historical aspect of demolishing something in 1963. I also loved dressing Dot up in the elf costume.
Who has impacted your life the most and in what way?
As I write this interview, you are hitting me at a particularly vulnerable time. I have a son with Down syndrome who has just been released from the hospital after a near-death pneumonia. Having a child with a disability changes you. It forces you to stop comparing your family to others and to realize that every milestone, whether it’s according to the doctor’s developmental schedule or not, is a wonderful thing. Having my son has helped me to count my blessings every day, even if it’s not the day I had planned on. This has had an impact on my professional career as well. The New York Times has yet to call me to see if they can put my book on the best seller list, but I’m just happy to be able to write a book and have others read and appreciate it.
What event in your life do you remember first when asked for a humorous story?
When my husband and I were first married, we drove up Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road to get to the top where there is a restaurant and gift shop. I grew up in Loveland, Colorado but it had been awhile since I’d been up Trail Ridge Rd. I thought it took a few minutes, but instead the drive went on and on. We were both starving and it seemed the road would never end. We eyed a small animal at one point and talked about whether we could take it out. Finally, desperately hungry, we stopped at a parking spot, the mountain looming beside it. My husband remembered he had a Chunky Bar in his briefcase in the trunk, so putting aside thoughts of trapping an animal we devoured the chocolate. We felt good about our resourcefulness and got back in the car, resuming our drive. Right around the bend, so close that if we had just breathed deeply we would have smelled the hot dogs cooking, was the restaurant on Trail Ridge. We were only feet away, but couldn’t see it for the mountain. That pretty well set the theme for our marriage. We laughed all the way into the restaurant.
Teresa, thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself. If I hadn’t already had your series on my TBR shortlist, your openness and humor would have skyrocketed it there. We’ll get you on that New York Times list yet!
Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: March 2023
Number of Pages: 230
Series: The Swinging Sixties Mystery Series, Book 2 | Each is a stand alone
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Read an excerpt:
Ellie screamed, making the driver jump. “Right here! Stop here,” Ellie said as she passed bills from the back seat to the front.
I looked up over a light brown building with straight white letters reading Texas School Book Depository. Above it was an ad for Hertz Rent-a-Car with a clock attached to it. It was straight up noon. The crowd was thickening as people found places to stand in a grassy area next to the street. It was almost as if the original landscaper had known this historic day would take place and designed the gradual slope along the road. According to the newspaper, Kennedy’s motorcade would arrive soon, and I felt the excitement building as we prepared to join the crowd. I pulled my arms through my sweater.
Ellie extended a hand to help me out of the yellow Checker cab. “Are you ready?”
“Oh yes. Let’s go over there.” I pointed to one of the few open spots next to the curb. “Hurry, before someone else gets it. I just hope we can hold the spot. There are some pretty big guys who might want to stand in front of us.”
Ellie smirked. “You know what I always say. ‘Knee them in the crotch and they sing a new song.’”
“Seriously, Ellie. I’m not attacking some poor man just so I can stand in front.”
“You’re right. I was trying to sound sophisticated Maybe not here but remember that. It may come in handy someday.”
I had decided to wear a new pair of black heels and felt them wobbling. We crossed the street and grabbed our spot just in time, causing another viewer to crowd in next to us. The smell of cigarette smoke circled us as people fiddled with cameras and readjusted black-rimmed glasses.
“Jack Kennedy is so handsome.” Ellie placed her hand over her heart, popping it on her chest like a heartbeat. “Too bad he’s already taken.”
“Stop.” I laughed. “I believe you’re already taken as well. Didn’t I hear something about you and Al getting married next June?”
Ellie gave a sweet smile as her eyes drifted upward. “I can’t believe that either. June. That’s just a little more than six months away.”
“Well, you deserve the happiness coming your way.” I patted my cousin’s shoulder. Ellie was in her thirties, practically spinsterhood in 1963. Finding Al, the electrician, had been the best thing for her. Love and marriage. It filled me with warmth. We were all living the American dream just like the characters in our favorite movies at the Rialto theater. The lyrics of “Young at Heart” drifted through my mind.
I sang a few lines from the song.
Ellie linked her arm with mine as she watched the street. A few cars drove by, but none that looked like a presidential motorcade. The breeze drifted across my exposed knees. A longer skirt would have shielded my knees, but I would endure the shivers for the sake of fashion.
“Ellie, did you see that picture of Jackie in the paper? She’s gorgeous. I saw her tour of the White House on TV. She’s so classy and looks beautiful in everything she wears.”
“Except she talks funny,” Ellie said, her Texas drawl turning “talks” into “tawks.”
“That’s because she’s from the East. She can’t help it. I’ll bet she thinks Texans talk funny. I’m sure they hear a lot of Texas twang coming from LBJ and Ladybird.”
“But that’s just music to anyone’s ears,” Ellie said. “Be serious.”
I glanced up and down the parade route. “Ben said he was going to be here. Maybe he’s farther down the street.” I pulled out my new Kodak Instamatic and hooked the leather strap around my neck. I raised the camera up to my eyes. “I hope I can get a clear picture of Jackie and John.”
“Listen to you. You talk like you know them,” Ellie laughed. “Jackie and John.”
“Well, in a way, I feel like I do. They’re America’s perfect family. I love them all. Jackie, John, Caroline, John-John.”
Ellie sighed and then drew in an excited breath with her hands clenched in front of her. “This is so exciting.” People continued to crowd up to the curb. A tall man in a brown plaid sport coat, holding binoculars up to his black boxy glasses, elbowed me to move over. I could feel tension in the air that comes when people anticipate witnessing something spectacular.
Just then, a line of shiny black cars came into view, ambling down the street in our direction. The breeze turned into a slight wind. I leaned forward and squinted, trying to identify who was in each vehicle. I felt my heart race as I recognized John and Jackie Kennedy sitting in the back seat as the car was surrounded by men on motorcycles. She was stunning in a pink wool suit and matching hat. I felt special knowing Jackie and I had worn the same color on this memorable day. She, of course, looked so much better. John had a healthy tan and a wide smile on his face.
I raised my camera and willed the man in the brown plaid coat not to step in front of me. This was a moment I was sure we would always remember. I hoped I could wind the film cartridge fast enough to take several pictures. Maybe they would want to use them in the Camden Courier? I wanted a good one of John, and another of Jackie. Just like real people, I thought but really, they looked like royalty, sitting in the open top limousine with policemen on motorcycles riding silently alongside—sort of a mobile palace guard. When the hood of the limousine was directly in front of me, I brought the Instamatic up and clicked to take a picture. I rolled the film to the next frame, took another, and repeated the process. Suddenly, I heard a popping sound somewhere behind me. I rolled the film lever with my thumb, now an automatic action, then turned toward the sound, only to see people scrambling and running to higher ground. The sound I heard wasn’t a pop. It was a gunshot. I looked back toward the motorcade and stood in horror as a man crawled over the back of the open convertible and the thing that caught my attention was the splotches of red invading Jackie’s beautiful pink suit. John Kennedy no longer sat smiling in front of me but was down in the seat on Jackie’s lap.
Excerpt from If I Had a Hammer by Teresa Trent. Copyright 2023 by Teresa Trent. Reproduced with permission from Teresa Trent. All rights reserved.
Teresa Trent is the author of over 15 books. She started writing cozy mysteries with the Pecan Bayou and Piney Woods Mystery Series. She sets her stories in different geographical areas of Texas and The Swinging Sixties historical series is set just north of Dallas, starting in 1962. You might think with so many books set in the Lone Star state, she was born there, but no. She has lived all over the world, thanks to her father’s career in the army. After living in Texas for twenty-five years, she’s finally put down roots.
Teresa is a hybrid author, self-publishing early in her career, which led her to traditional publishing with Level Best Books and Camel Press. She is the author of several short stories that have appeared in a host of anthologies. Teresa publishes the blog and podcast, Books to the Ceiling at https://teresatrent.blog where she loves to read the book excerpts of other writers and share in the writing community.
Teresa is a member of Sisters in Crime and lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son.
Catch Up With Teresa:
Books to the Ceiling Podcast
BookBub – @TeresaTrent
Instagram – @teresatrent_cozymys
Twitter – @ttrent_cozymys
Facebook – @teresatrentmysterywriter
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4 Replies to “Inside the Author of If I Had a Hammer”
Thanks for the fun interview and featuring If I Had a Hammer!
Can’t wait to chat again!
Cute story of you and your husband. 🙂
“Having my son has helped me to count my blessings every day,” – I love this! <3