Character Interview – Tory Benning (Judith Gonda’s MC)
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself--both something we learn from [the story] and something that readers might not guess?
Thanks for having me. I’m Tory Benning, a thirty-three-year-old landscape architect, recently widowed, based in beautiful Santa Sofia, CA, a small coastal town twelve miles north of Santa Barbara. I’ve lived in Santa Sofia most of my life, except when I went to college and grad school at USC in Los Angeles. I live in a Spanish-styled bungalow near the ocean with my Pomeranian, Iris, and black cat, Otis. I plan and design outdoor spaces for both residential and commercial clients, like the twenty-five-acre Hotel Santa Sofia property, a luxurious resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where my wedding and my husband’s disappearance both occurred on the same day in MURDER IN THE SECRET MAZE. My family-owned landscape design company, Benning Brothers, also owns a nursery division. Its tree lot is the scene of the crime in MURDER IN THE CHRISTMAS TREE LOT.
In terms of something that readers might not guess, I’ve recently discovered K-pop and have been fangirling the boy group Stray Kids. Readers will be able to find out more about this when the third book in my series, MURDER IN THE COMMUNITY GARDEN, releases in 2022.
2) How did you first meet your writer? My writer’s older daughter is a landscape architect and my writer just loved the idea that landscape architecture could take a main character to so many interesting settings, from secret mazes to Christmas tree lots, from community gardens to parks and arboretums. So many possibilities for exciting mysteries. Plus, since she’s a pun-lover, she loved all the double meanings for gardening terms that related to a murder mystery, like digging for dirt, plots, and plants.
3) Want to dish about him/her? What I like about my writer, Judith Gonda, is that even though she’s old enough to be my mother, she knows a lot about my generation because she has two daughters around my age, so she’s very young at heart and easy for me to relate to. For example, she also stans the Stray Kids.
4) Why do you think that your life has ended up being in a book? My writer, Judith Gonda, is also a psychologist. She’s really interested in what makes people tick, not only criminals, but also how crime affects victims and their friends and families. She’s interested in how people react to and cope with adversity, like death, divorce, and financial issues and how that affects their behavior and personality. Some people become desperate and break under pressure and others are more resilient and channel their emotions into trying to behave constructively. Like me, for instance, I channel my grief into sleuthing. That’s how I cope with the devastation of loss, I distract myself by focusing on my mission to seek justice. I went through multiple personal disasters at once, the loss of my father and husband, becoming a murder suspect, being the target of a stalker, all while taking over the reins of my family business. So my writer had a lot of areas to show how I coped with adversity, when there was a tunnel with no light. My tendency to use denial as a defense mechanism to handle adversity allows me to deal with grief and stress a little at a time, as I become stronger emotionally and better able to handle it. She showed how there is no right or wrong way to grieve or cope as long as you hang in there until you see some light.
5) Who's your favorite character? My BFF Ashley Payne. Why? She’s super smart, graduated first in her class from USC law school, and has her own successful practice. Yet Ashley and I share a duality in the sense that we both are responsible and serious about our careers but feel comfortable enough with each other to share our feelings about our latest crushes, confess our relationship fears, and to display our silly sides. For example, Ashley is the one who got me interested in the Stray Kids and we both bond over vibing to their music and swooning over their good looks.
6) Who's your least favorite character? I’d have to say Sergeant Ernesto Gomez, of the SSPD, because he was pretty much a sleazeball when he’s introduced in the first book, MURDER IN THE SECRET GARDEN. Although I would ask that readers wait and see how Ernie’s character develops, since events might or might not happen that affect his personality and behavior in a good way. You’ll have to follow my journey to find out.
7) What's next for you? In my third and latest mystery, MURDER IN THE COMMUNITY GARDEN, set in a public garden I designed, both my love life and the body count take an upswing as the plot thickens and I dig for dirt to find the killer before they strike again and I’m the next victim pushing up daisies. It will be released in 2022.
About Murder in the Christmas Tree Lot
Landscape architect Tory Benning returns in a holiday mystery tied up with a bow!
Still struggling with the death of her husband, Tory Benning is doing her best to get into the festive spirit of the holiday season, but when her landscaping company’s email is hacked and there’s a break-in at the office, it’s enough to make her see red. And then the unthinkable happens, when the owner of a specialty food truck is brutally slain at the company’s Christmas tree lot, and Tory finds herself mired in murder once again.
With a long list of suspects—including an untold number of revelers disguised in Santa suits, seasonal employees handling tree sales, and even a vengeful jilted suitor—the police investigation grinds along slowly and methodically. But as Tory begins piecing together clues on her own, she finds she’s the target of a menacing stalker who may be out to do more than just scare her. Refusing to be intimidated, Tory vows to nab the culprit, even if it means that catching a Christmas killer has become her lot in life . . .