Ann Arbor's Linda Cotton Jeffries keeps readers in suspense with her new mystery novel, "Seeing in the Quiet"


Linda Cotton Jeffries and her book Seeing in the Quiet

Two suspected murders 20 years apart, one of a child and another the death of an old woman. An observant photographer who was a child at the scene of the first murder and documented the second. A killer with a grudge. A kind-hearted detective who is a growing love interest. 

These situations lay the foundation for Seeing in the Quiet, a new mystery novel by Ann Arbor author Linda Cotton Jeffries. At just under 200 pages, the plot-driven book moves quickly while the characters try to unravel what happened at each of the potential murders set in Pittsburgh. 

Main character Audrey Markum lives with hearing loss, but her sense of sight has sharpened to the point that Detective Rod Rodriguez calls her “Scout” when she is called in to photograph crime scenes. She also is launching her wedding photography business. One case of a suspicious death brings Rod and Audrey closer and closer. 

While all of this is happening, Gary Adams, the killer of his son who was the childhood friend of Audrey, is getting released from prison. He knows Audrey’s role in discovering his crime. Audrey finds herself facing multiple dizzying situations: the threat of a known killer, an unsolved murder, and the budding of a promising new romance. 

Jeffries has published two other books with AADL's Fifth Avenue Press. I interviewed her about Seeing in the Quiet and writing life. 

Q: You were a special education teacher for more than 30 years and now you are a writer. How did you start writing? 
A: I feel as though I’ve been writing all my life. In high school, I won a writing award and burdened a teacher with a handwritten 30-pager when he asked for a short story. The first novel I completed has not yet been published, but I finished writing it nearly 20 years ago. As my children grew older and more independent, I found I had more time to spend on my writing. Then, once I retired, that door opened up even more.

Q: Your first two novels were published by Fifth Avenue Press, and your latest novel, Seeing in the Quiet, is published by Sunbury Press. How did you go about publishing with a new publisher? What was unique about the publishing experience? 
A: To be honest, I had given up completely. I started my website, sent the book out to all sorts of contests and publishers, and pitched it to three different agents at a virtual writer’s conference. After receiving nothing but rejections, a year later, during a particularly deep Covid funk, I gave up and shut everything down. Then I got an email from Sunbury saying they’d chosen to publish it. Frankly, I was shocked and thrilled.

Sunbury is a small press located in Pennsylvania, so between the physical distance and the effects of the pandemic, the publishing experience has been a lot more hands-off in comparison to the supportive, hands-on approach that Fifth Avenue provided. I think I was spoiled!

Q: You grew up in Pennsylvania and now live in Ann Arbor. What drew you to setting your book in Pittsburgh?
A: I wanted a city the size of Pittsburgh and there just aren’t any in Michigan. I lived in central Pennsylvania but my father was from Pittsburgh, so we visited often as a child. My husband and I also took a research trip there which was wonderful. It’s a great city, not too big, not too small, with lots of very distinct areas of interest. We had a wonderful culinary tour of the Brookline neighborhood where I chose to locate the character Rod’s house. (If you’ve never had Pittsburgh’s burnt almond tort, you are missing out on an amazing confection!)

Q: Character Audrey Markum has the skill of noticing details, sharpened by her hearing loss. She even earns the nickname of “DLR girl” from her father, an acronym for when she says that something “doesn’t look right.” How did you develop this character? 
A: I was watching an episode of a medical show, and it opened with a young woman who had a cochlear implant. She was sitting on a park bench with the noise of the city around her both incomprehensible and deafening. It made me think of the comfort and ease that can be found in silence. I am not familiar with the details of the deaf experience and deaf culture, but I did have professional and personal experience with other forms of hearing loss and the benefits/limitations of hearing aids. I wanted Audrey’s hearing loss to be a part of her life but not the focus of the story. I chose to open the book with her as a young woman so that we could see her gift for noticing details at the same time that we saw her losing much of her hearing and having her world go quiet. 

Q: The novel itself hinges on details, and there are many thorough descriptions to convey what is happening. Do you spend a lot of time imagining your characters and plot? 
A: I love being inside my stories with my characters. I find that I’m there with them when I’m writing but also when I’m lying in bed trying to fall asleep. I sort of wander around in their world imagining their conversations and reactions to each other. Rather than writing long, descriptive sections, I’m more inclined to see a scene through the character’s eyes instead of a distant reader’s eyes. So, I might describe the details of Audrey having a cup of coffee rather than telling you what the coffee shop looks like.

Q: Gary Adams is a convicted criminal and pursues Audrey. As a reader, I wished that I could jump into some scenes to tell Audrey to watch out. What do you like about writing a suspense novel? 
A: I love the situation where a character doesn’t know what another character is doing or when a character sees themself one way, and then through another character’s eyes, we get a different perspective. Gary Adams has such contempt and disdain for Audrey that it contrasts with the other characters who have a very different impression of her. Plus, I wanted to put Audrey in a difficult situation because I always knew she’d be tough enough to handle it.

Q: Speaking of suspense novels, what books are on your nightstand to read?
A: Two books that I read recently are Write My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O’Neal and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. I have read O’Neal’s books for decades and took an online writing course from her when I was starting to get more involved in my writing. This book has a great example of characters seeing themselves and each other very differently and then having to work their way toward a common understanding. Doerr’s book was especially masterful at twining different storylines and timelines around each other. I thought it was wonderful. I’ll also make a quick plug and say that I recently read the first half of a book that my son is writing and that was terrific too!

Q: Your website mentions a second book about Audrey’s adventures. Tell us about your next book. Do you anticipate more books about Audrey? 
A: The sequel I’ve written is called Finding Rosey and in this book her friend’s infant is kidnapped, a young daycare worker disappears, and Audrey is struggling with panic attacks as the trial for her attacker, Gary Adams, approaches. Rod and his partner Smitty are on the missing persons cases, and Audrey is eager to help. Her keen eye for detail comes into play once again as does that inner strength. I’m not sure yet whether there will be another Audrey story. The Covid pandemic has changed so much about our daily lives that I haven’t figured out yet how to move forward in this different environment. We shall see!

Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.

➥ "Interview: Linda Cotton Jeffries on 'We Thought We Knew You'" [Pulp, October 30, 2018]
➥ "Interview: Linda Cotton Jeffries on 'Who We Might Be'" [Pulp, April 18, 2019]