Feisty Stella Hardesty must rid herself of a blackmailer in Sophie Littlefield's third crime novel, A Bad Day for Scandal.

Where did you get the idea for a 50-year-old widow who runs a sewing shop and also tracks down abusive spouses?

I tend to work out all my issues through my stories, a common affliction among us writers. When I found myself struggling with everything from annoying little physical ailments to feelings of invisibility, I created a badass female character who could act out all my fantasies of regaining control of my life. On a more serious note, my decision to have Stella battle domestic violence stemmed not from personal experience but from a lifelong relationship with a woman I adored who was verbally abused for many decades. My treatment is lighthearted and not at all realistic, but at the heart of it is a recognition that this problem plagues far too many women and a wish that I could do something about it.

A thread of violence runs through your series, often intersecting with the humor.

I have a goofy taste for vigilantism. It's probably not appropriate for the daughter of a constitutional scholar, but I've always loved tales and movies where the underdog prevails in spectacular bursts of righteous ass kicking. When you make the hero middle-aged and female, however, humor somehow always finds its way in. Sneaking up on people is tough when your joints creak; your shooting stance might be hampered by your support garment. But determination and courage can overcome nearly anything, a lesson we learn as we age.

Is there ever a point where you think your readers would no longer sympathize with Stella's brand of justice?

A few people have told me that while they understand Stella's motivations, they can't support the choices she makes. Interestingly, when I submitted the first book, A Bad Day for Sorry, I imagined that Stella would occasionally kill the worst offenders. My editor explained that for the series to succeed, my heroine could resort to killing only when her own life was in danger. I now see that she was right. Stella is much more interesting to me as a character since I had to make her wrestle with her own feelings about vengeance and punishment.

Where do you come up with your eccentric supporting characters?

I'm always on the lookout for strangers' quirks and foibles. I've snapped surreptitious photos of strangers' tattoos, noted waitress's names, memorized whole dialogues between people who never even knew I was listening. When it comes time to create a new character, he or she just clambers out of this stew of stored details like Undine rising from the waters or like the Swamp Thing rising from the quagmire.