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Carolyn Tillery

I’m an award-winning feature writer and have been a journalist for more than 30 years. In addition to working as a newspaper reporter, freelance writer and magazine editor, I’ve served as spokesperson for public safety organizations. I've been a columnist and book reviewer and taught writing at our local community college, as well as fire service certification courses, and conducted media relations training for volunteer fire departments throughout the state.

Texas A&M University is where I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and I hold Advanced Public Information Officer Certification from the National Fire Academy.

I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. I’ve served on the board of directors of The Family Place in Dallas, which provides shelter and hope to families in domestic violence situations and worked with Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas. I believe everyone needs and deserves hope.

My husband and I live in Dallas with our pampered black Labradors, Lizzie and Darcy. I’m working on novels set in the two places I love most. The first is my hometown of Dallas, a fascinating mix of modern, high-tech sophistication, and our state’s ranching and oil heritage. It’s also home to one of the country’s finest fire departments.

The second is Galveston. In 1528, Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca declared it the “Isle of Doom” after shipwrecking there. It’s said that Galveston’s the end of the road, where Interstate 45 ends–and where strange people come to do strange things. As a mystery lover, I find that irresistible.

“Crime fiction confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible, and moral universe.”

– P.D. James

She has questions…

I have answers.

I sat down with my friend and fellow journalist, Glenda Vosburgh, who had a few questions for me.

Glenda: Why did you choose to write mysteries?

Carolyn: I’m a life-long fan of mystery fiction, and I’m fascinated by the psychology and challenge presented by detection. My husband tells people that if a book or movie doesn’t involve a body and a detective of some kind, he’s sure I haven’t read or seen it. Jane Austen is always an exception to that. One of my favorite quotes is from the late P.D. James. When asked if she always wanted to be a mystery writer, James said that the moment she heard Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, she wondered if he fell or if he was pushed.


Glenda: What inspires you?

Carolyn: After more than 30 years as a journalist, I’m a shameless and very effective eavesdropper, and I’ve learned to appreciate the power of an off-the-cuff comment. In my Galveston novel, the wonderful historic Stewart’s Mansion was my greatest inspiration; I was enchanted the first moment I saw it. For my Dallas story, it’s the evil, psychological, and destructive force of arson–and the firefighters and investigators who refuse to tolerate it.


Glenda: Who influenced you?

Carolyn: Three people greatly influenced my writing. The first was my 10th grade English teacher who read my short story aloud in class. As a self-conscious teen, I was mortified, but I was also so proud. The two people who inspired my writing about public safety are my husband, retired DFR Captain Bryant Tillery, and Tom Oney, retired DFR deputy chief of fire investigation. The care and concern Bryant showed the young firefighters under his command in the middle of a disaster scene was incredible to watch. Chief Oney was a wonderful mentor who allowed me to follow him through fire scenes for five years patiently answering my endless questions.


Glenda: Do you outline, or do you just write as it comes?

Carolyn: As I develop a story, I write a series of key scenes. With those done, I have a pretty clear idea where the story is going, and then it’s time for the outline. This helps me ensure nothing, investigation-wise, is out of order.


Glenda: A lot is written about writer’s block. How do you deal with that?

Carolyn: Being a reporter for so long, a deadline is always looming, and writer’s block is a luxury I’ve never had–something’s got to be on that page. Fortunately, I can always rewrite and edit. I do have times when I’ve written everything I’ve thought out. At that point, I find gardening to be great for getting the creative forces churning. Maybe it’s handling sharp tools.


Glenda: You worked for Dallas Fire-Rescue. Are any of your characters real people?

Carolyn: No. However, all the firefighters and investigators I worked with–and the stories they’ve shared–fed my imagination. I drew upon Chief Oney’s professionalism and savvy for inspiration in creating Chief O’Riley, but that’s where the similarities end with that character.


Glenda: Why did you decide to write a separate novel set in Galveston?

Carolyn: My family has been vacationing on the island for almost 30 years, and we’ve grown to love the old seaport town. One day, traffic on the main thoroughfare was backed up, so we decided to cut across using Stewart Road west. We'd continued out of town and into the county when we happened upon this rambling, abandoned old mansion. I fell in love with it at that moment. I immediately began to think about could live there, when, why, and what could happen. It was as simple as a traffic jam. When I discovered it’s situated on the original settlement of pirate Jean Lafitte, my imagination ran wild, and I've not been able to catch it since.


Glenda: Why did you choose to make your protagonist of the Galveston novel a former reporter and not a cop?

Carolyn: I’ve been a journalist my entire career and knew I could write about a reporter with an experienced voice. As a journalist, my protagonist doesn’t have to do things “by the book” as a detective does. This also enables me to write from both the amateur’s and detective’s perspectives, to mix it up a bit.


Glenda: Why did you give your Galveston character two black Labradors?

Carolyn: We love black Labs, so, from the start, she was going to have at least one. Researching the mansion, I discovered the legend of the Campeche Hell Dogs–Jean Lafitte’s pack of black dogs that legend says still roam the property protecting his buried treasure. Once I read about them, I wasn’t about to argue with Captain Lafitte.


Glenda: How are you and protagonists in both the Dallas and Galveston books alike?

Carolyn: We do have a few similarities. For example, I’m also completely and irrationally terrified of snakes, and am obsessive about punctuality. I love mystery novels and French antiques. And, yes, all three of us are tea drinkers. As in the Galveston story, I’m also a former police reporter, and in the Dallas case, I worked for the DFR, but that’s pretty much where it ends.


Glenda: Where do you write?

Carolyn: One of the wonderful things about living in a 100-year-old home is all the natural light from windows originally designed to provide cooling during hot Texas summers. I commandeered an extra bedroom in our home that I filled with antiques and pretty fabrics. If I’m going to probe the darkness of human nature, I want to do it a lovely, bright space. Plus, the work commute is great.

Let’s Get in Touch

I look forward to hearing from you.

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