Debut novel blends Washington County author's jobs, observations

| Monday, April 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Annette Dashofy has worked as an emergency-medical technician, on a farm, as a groom at a thoroughbred racetrack, at a store that sells western gear and as a yoga teacher.

All her vocations — save yoga — play a part in her debut novel, “Circle of Influence” (Henery Books, $15.95).

“I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket,” Dashofy says with a laugh in her log-cabin home in Smith Township, Washington County. “I could have yoga in the next book.”

Dashofy will appear April 26 at the Burgettstown Community Library and April 27 at Sri Yantra Yoga in Houston, Washington County, followed by an appearance May 22 at Barnes & Noble Books at South Hills Village.

Last year, Henery Press, a mystery publisher from Dallas, Texas, offered Dashofy a three-book contract. After two unpublished novels, including one about a veterinarian at a racetrack in West Virginia, the author finally found footing close to home. “Circle of Influence” grew from Dashofy's short story “Signature in Blood,” which was nominated for a 2007 Derringer Award and is set in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The short story featured police Chief Pete Adams, but “Circle of Influence” puts a secondary character, Zoe Chambers, in the spotlight. A paramedic and deputy coroner who also gives horseback-riding lessons on the small farm where she lives, Zoe is bright and inquisitive, although prone to ill-fated relationships.

“Somebody wrote to me and asked if we were ever going to see more of Pete and Zoe,” Dashofy says. “When the racetrack book didn't go anywhere, I decided to see if I could flesh this one out. The short story is so short that it doesn't have a lot of room for character development, so I had to go back and figure out who they were.”

When the husband of Zoe's best friend is killed after a tempestuous council meeting, her life begins to unravel in fictional Vance Township. Adams, Zoe's occasional love interest, eventually becomes a suspect after another murder occurs.

Dashofy is a keen observer of small-town mores and the psychological underpinnings of family. Those powers of observation serve her well, even when she's just doing chores. Once, standing on line at the post office, she heard a woman complaining about her teenage daughter.

“They caught her in her room with this jock, so to punish her, they took her door off the hinges,” Dashofy says, laughing. “Instead of being in a rush, I was just standing there listening. I thought, ‘That's Allison (a teenage girl in the novel). I have to put this in the book.' ”

Dashofy also visited council meetings, sitting quietly in the back of rooms while politicians argued, debated and passed legislation. At one meeting, she heard another gem.

“Somebody at one of the meetings made the comment ‘Somebody should just kill him and put him out of his misery,' ” she says, noting a similar line in the novel.

These scenes might not be observed, or even play well, in traditional mystery stories most often set in larger locales. But Dashofy views her work as being similar to that of writers such as Craig Johnson (Wyoming), Julia Spencer-Fleming (upstate New York) and Aimee and David Thurlow (New Mexico), all of whom find that crime is not solely the province of the larger metropolises.

“Small-town attitudes are different than (those in) big cities, obviously,” she says. “I am drawn to books where the setting is vitally important, but there are shared themes throughout.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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