Author Joanne C. Parsons of Harwich has just won a 2021 Genre Fiction Award given by the Independent Publishers of New England for her novel “Predator in the House” (Bowker, 2020).
With the novel, Parsons aims to raise awareness of the signs of child trafficking. “The book is especially timely during this pandemic with so many kids spending hours on social media, messaging apps, and playing online games,” she says.
Several years ago, while Parsons was working at Covenant Health, the Catholic Health Association decided to focus on child trafficking.
“So profoundly affected by the notion of children being abused in such a vile manner, I vowed to do something to raise awareness,” Parsons said in an email interview last week. At that time she was raising a family and working. After she retired and had more free time, she turned to writing fiction. She describes “Predator in the House” as “a good mystery suspense novel, laced with lots of humor and embedded with the signs of child trafficking.”
She currently serves as a member of the task force for the Cape Cod People Against Trafficking Humans, which raises awareness through education, outreach and collaboration.
“Predator in the House” opens with detective Karl Shea of the Boston Police Sex Crimes Unit learning he has a short time to live. This offers him a license to go rogue, which he interprets as a license to kill known sex offenders. But things take a twist when his wife Shirley learns what he is doing and “she wants in on a kill,” Parsons says.
Parsons grew up in Cambridge. As a married mother of two daughters, she completed her bachelor’s degree and worked in the field of hospital management. For the final nine years of her career she worked as the CEO of Youville Assisted Living Residences in Cambridge and Lexington, both owned by Covenant Health.
In the late 1990s Parsons and her husband bought a second home in Dennis. They planned to retire to the Cape, but sadly, her husband died in July 2014. Eighteen months later, Parsons retired. She now lives in Harwich with her second husband.
At this point she joined a writers’ group at a retirement community in Florida. The other people in the group were writing fiction — either short stories or novels. This, then, was the genesis of Parsons’ first book, “Kitchen Canary” set in the late 19th century and based on a family story.
“The book received three fiction and/or historical fiction awards,” she says. “It was so well received — locally — I wrote the sequel, ‘Through the Open Door.’” She has now written four novels.
“I’m a 73-year-old pickle ball playing grandmother who writes books. Until COVID, I loved meeting with book clubs, giving talks at libraries, and meeting people at book and craft fairs. I look forward to doing it again – Zoom or in person,” she says. “I’ve realized that once your mind clears from the stresses and challenges of raising a family and working long days, there’s potential for new endeavors, like writing books, poetry, journaling, singing, painting, woodworking or yoga. I say, ‘it’s your time, find your passion.’”
Writing her first novel, Parsons did little planning. She spent hours researching, “writing notes on backs of old envelopes and then losing them,” she says. “I’d go to bed early at night and think about what my characters were going to do the next day or what they should wear. Now I am more of a plotter, trying to use a notebook to record research notes, but I still write on scraps of paper and lose them. I always plot out my story on an Excel spreadsheet with the major plot points and then add sub plots. I’ve learned by experience, reading, and the advice of others.
“I develop my characters on paper, including their physical characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Are they naïve, controlling, greedy, sympathetic, manipulative? I also find images from stock photos so I can envision my characters as I write,” she says. “I’m in a writers’ group now through the Cape Cod Writers Center and writing a new novel. My writer’s group is reminding me to slow down and really tell the story.”
Parsons finds her ideas all around her. “Her Family’s Secrets” (2021) was inspired by a drive past an old cemetery in Harwich after a tornado hit. In this novel, a young woman in a fragile marriage inherits a 200-year-old home on Cape Cod. She eventually decides to leave her husband and renovate the home of relatives she never knew. Up in the attic she finds a trove of artifacts and photographs kept by a great-great-great grandmother. The family artifacts turn out to have a strange pertinence to her own life.
Right now Parsons is working on another piece of historical fiction with the working title “The Agreement.” She has again turned to the late 19th century when a rich whaling fleet owner is looking for a husband for her eldest daughter.
“Predator in the House” and Parsons’ other novels are available through Below the Brine Bookshop, 554 Route 28 in Harwich Port.