Waynesboro comes alive in murder mystery series by Rosemary Willhide  

Brownie poses with a copy of Rosemary Willhide's latest book. PROVIDED PHOTO

It may be possible to take the woman out of Waynesboro, but Waynesboro is never truly gone from the woman.  

That is definitely true with writer Rosemary Willhide, who based her most recent trilogy of mystery books on Waynesboro.

Willhide now lives in Las Vegas, NV, but she was born and raised in Waynesboro and graduated from WASHS in 1984.

“I graduated with Bill Kohler who runs Main Street Waynesboro and the revitalization of Main Street was something that played a big part in the series that I wrote,” Willhide said.

Willhide’s three latest books, “Killer Fiction, Killer Deception” and “Killer Revenge” all take place in the town of Hope Ridge, which she based on Waynesboro.

Before she became a writer, though, she had a career in acting.

“I was in a musical in 1984 before I graduated,” Willhide remembered. “I was in ‘Oklahoma’.”

After graduating, Willhide attended Point Park College in Pittsburgh where she studied theater and received a degree.

“I had the best time,” she said. “I learned a lot. I got a lot of shows and I wasn’t really willing to do the starving artist thing in New York or LA. I just wanted to work and I worked consistently until I turned 40.”

Willhide traveled the United States as an actress.

“I did a lot of shows all over the country,” Willhide said. “And I somehow landed in Vegas. My first gig in Vegas, I played Betty Boop.”

She and her husband, Bill Johnson, moved to Nevada in 1996 because Johnson got a job at Caesar’s Magical Empire (which has been closed for 20 years). Willhide was also eventually part of the cast of Caesar’s Magical Empire.

As the years passed, it became tougher to land acting gigs, so Willhide looked into teaching fitness.

“I have a pretty good dance background,” she said. “I was doing Zumba and now that I’m in my 50s I can only teach cycling because there’s no impact. I have all my original parts, so I don’t want to do any knee replacements. I love teaching. If I want to try out a joke that I think is funny for a book, I’ll say it in class and see if it gets a laugh.”

She said she teaches six times a week and really enjoys her students.

“That cardio is the only thing that helps me turn the page in my head if something not great is going on,” Willhide admitted. “You can forget about it for a while and that’s how I do it.”

The writing came a lot later in her life, particularly after reading ‘50 Shades of Grey.’

“I was always a reader,” Willhide said. “I always read biographies and memoirs. It had been so long since I had gotten swept away with a fiction book. I just devoured those books.”

She then got into the “Crossfire” series by Sylvia Day.

“I was kind of like, hang on a second, I’ve been writing dialogue and sketches my whole life,” Willhide said. “It just happened to be at the same time that “True Blood” was really popular and Alexander Skarsgård was on it. I kept having this dream that he was coming to my spin class that I teach, which wouldn’t be crazy that there would be a celebrity there.”

The recurring dream gave her the idea for a story and she started writing.

“When someone tells me they read my first series, I get a little cringy,” Willhide admitted. “Because I don’t think it’s my best work. Obviously, I was a novice.”

She wrote the first book, planning on having it be a series and she shopped it around, fully expecting to get rejected.

“Chapter by chapter I was sharing it with girlfriends,” Willhide said. “And they would be coming to my classes going, ‘When are you writing the rest of these chapters?’ So, I thought I had something.”

There were a number of automatic rejections, but she did have enough interest in publishers asking to see more.

“In the middle of that, I was trying to get to know what the book world was all about,” Willhide remembered. “Someone said something to me like it doesn’t matter how many no’s you get. You only need one yes. I could have self-published because a lot of people do that, but I didn’t know enough about the business to do that.”

Eventually, she found Kate Miles and Luminosity Publishing, a small publisher in the United Kingdom.

“Without Kate Miles and Luminosity Publishing I don’t think I would have 10 novels right now,” Willhide said. “I would have just said this is too hard. If I knew then what I know now, I’m actually kind of surprised I kept pushing forward because it is all your time. It’s all your heart, your blood, your sweat, your tears. Some books sell and some books don’t, but I always know I have Kate in my corner and she will give the notes and make that book the best it will be. My books are better because of her.”

Her writing turned to murder mystery after a few more romances.

“I wasn’t really planning on doing a fourth ‘Hope Ridge’ book,” Willhide admitted. “But apparently the people in Waynesboro in particular are telling me, ‘You better write a fourth book.’”

She is so incredibly grateful for the support she has received from Waynesboro for her “Hope Ridge” series.

In terms of her writing process, Willhide has a general plan and a structure in her head, but she tries not to get too tied to one idea.

 “I have to have a really good jumping off point,” she said. “And know where it’s eventually going to go, but sometimes what I like to do is I love to write dialogue. I think that’s probably one of my strengths as an author. Every once-in-a-while one of those characters will say something and I’ll type something out that I wasn’t really planning, the dialogue isn’t really planned, but they’ll say something and I’ll be like, Ohh, well I didn’t think that was going to happen.”

She believes some of the best things can happen during the unplanned moments.

“I’m also a weirdo because I love editing,” Willhide admitted. “That back and forth is really fun. I love it. I absolutely love it. There are days that I can’t wait to sit down and there are days that I think oh no, you have to sit down. It’s like working out, really. Sometimes my students are a little cranky when they first come in and then by the end of class, they’re great.”

She writes a few hours every day in the afternoon when the house is quiet.

Willhide also loves to rescue dogs and canines feature in every book she has written.

“I usually take the most complicated, troubled souls,” she said. “I’ve had dogs that don’t like people, don’t like other dogs. The first dog we ever got only liked me and that was it. They were all a little difficult in different ways.”

Currently, she and her husband have Brownie, a Shepherd/Rottweiler mix.

“We did the DNA on her and she’s just such a Heinz 57,” Willhide said. “She had a family and she actually had a litter of puppies. I’m guessing there must have been a divorce or a breakup of some kind. They didn’t take Brownie with them.”

Brownie lived by herself in a home and people just stopped by to feed her. When the family was going to move and sell the home, someone asked what would happen with Brownie and the family said they didn’t want her.

So, someone took her to Vegas.

“She got posted to the Retriever Rescue of Las Vegas Facebook page,” Wilhide remembered. “I saw her and in her face she looked a lot like Cleo, the Shepherd/Lab mix that I had. I knew I had to meet this Brownie. Bill was like, well she’s 8. I said I don’t care. I know what it feels like to be tossed aside because you get old with acting. I was like maybe she just needs a second chance.”

She definitely found one with Willhide and her husband.

When it comes to advice for aspiring writers, she said it’s important to love writing.

“I wouldn’t set out to write a book unless there was a book in you that you just had to get down on your laptop,” Willhide said. “If the story’s just in your head all the time and you see scenes like a movie in your head and you think you have something to say then, yes. Do it.”

It takes a lot of work to write a book and as much as a person thinks their words are perfect, an editor might not see it that way.

“You have to be flexible, take direction,” Willhide suggested.

There are a lot of ways to publish from self-publishing to finding an agent or a small press.

Willhide added, “It’s also important to remember authors don’t make a lot of money. So if they’re thinking they’re going to get rich, they’re probably writing for the wrong reason. I always say, it’s not that I want to write, I have to write. It’s how I’m wired. Only two percent of authors make a living at writing.”

That’s one of the major reasons she is so appreciative of the support from Waynesboro for her Killer series.

“Anyone who buys a book by an indie author is supporting a dream,” Willhide said. “I’m so grateful to also have the support of my husband, Bill Johnson. He works extra hard because he believes in my dream. We’ve been married for more than 25 years and I couldn’t do this without him.”

Willhide’s family still lives in Waynesboro and she tries to get home to visit.

“My family, especially my dad, Charles Willhide, is also a big cheerleader of mine,” she grinned. “I’ve always been the family weirdo. Ha! Somehow through this series, I think my family might understand me a little more.

“I’ve had a lot of jobs and gigs. I’ve never had a normal nine to five job. So, I’m kind of the weird one living in Vegas and talking to my imaginary friends in my head,” she laughed.

One lesson that Willhide has learned in her life is to believe in yourself.

“Know that you’re not perfect, whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve and be open,” she said. “But also, stick up for yourself. Have the courage of your convictions.”

Ultimately, she is incredibly grateful to her readers.

Wilhide said, “My goal in telling stories is to provide an escape, a little break from your troubles, and to entertain. Whether it’s an unexpected laugh, or tapping into your emotions, I hope I’ve provided you with a story that made you feel something. Thank you to the readers who take a chance on an author they never heard of and got swept away in one of the worlds I created.”

Rosemary Willhide grew up in Waynesboro and based her book on our town.
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