A sudden and horrifying tragedy turns Isabella’s life upside down. The Texas native ends up in Lodi’s wine country, the new owner of a winery inherited from her aunt and uncle.
For author T. Wells Brown, Isabella’s introduction to Lodi was a way for her to introduce readers enticed by the mystery to the Zinfandel Capital of the World.
“Women of Wine Country: Murder & Mayhem” is the first of a nine-book series set in Lodi. Wells Brown drew on local history and street names, but the businesses and wineries are all figments of her imagination.
Even so, they take inspiration from real locations, and Wells Brown has worked hard to keep all of her portrayals positive.
Well, most of them.
“I do have murders and stuff,” she said with a laugh. “There has to be a bad guy!”
The books — which will center around a cast of nine women in the local area — came out of a difficult situation for Wells Brown.
Up until a couple of years ago, she worked for an almond grower. The job inspired her to start a Facebook group, “Women of Wine Country,” to promote the Lodi area.
The group has more than 1,600 members, who discuss everything from upcoming events at local wineries, to their business endeavors, to the cute, wine-themed items they spot while shopping. (A related Facebook page to promote the new books and a related podcast has already netted 120 followers.)
Then, Wells Brown hit a road bump in life.
“I unfortunately got sick, and spent a couple years in bed — I was bed-bound,” she said.
She’s always been a reader and a writer, but writing became a life-line. She turned to a group of characters she had written about as a child, and began putting them in new stories.
“They’ve grown up with me,” she said.
Wells Brown didn’t have any plans for others to read her stories when she started writing. But as she wrote more and more, her husband encouraged her to consider publishing her work. As her health improved, she decided to go for it.
So far, readers are loving “Murder & Mayhem.”
“It’s been very successful so far,” Wells Brown said, excitement bubbling over.
She asked a group of readers around the world — not her friends at the time, though some have joined that category — to give the book an early look, and they enjoyed it, too. One reader in Spain asked to read “Lawyer & Liar” early, and is now considering a trip to Lodi for the launch of the third book.
The Women of Wine Country Facebook group has been equally enthusiastic, Wells Brown said.
“All of the women feel a little invested,” she said.
Hearing the positive feedback was a bit of a relief, she added. While Wells Brown is mainly writing for fun, sharing that writing can be anxiety-inducing.
“It’s scary! I call writing a naked art form, because you’re really putting yourself out there,” she said.
And for Wells Brown — who serves on the Woodbridge Municipal Advisory Council and plays Mrs. Claus each Christmas season — that sense of building community is vital.
She will celebrate the publication of her new book with a Murder & Mayhem Launch Party this weekend. Guests will enjoy live music by the Sweet Taunts, vendors, women artists, Mary Kay demonstrations, a mimosa bar and shaved ice, and more.
Guests will also have the chance to get unique Trail Beadz made especially for the book launch, and learn about the charms that can be found at several local wineries.
Wells Brown isn’t stopping with the party. She plans to have the second book, “Women of Wine Country: Lawyer & Liar” out this fall, and the third installment around the start of the new year.
She’s also launching “Women of Wine Tasting,” a group that will visit local wineries — complete with a YouTube channel and blog.
If it all goes well, Wells Brown sees herself creating another book series — though she wants to finish the nine planned novels first.
“This has been a fun journey,” she said.