Cox’s first novel, The Man on the Washing Machine, won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.

You certainly started off with a bang.

Being a mystery novelist has always been my dream. I tried to combine work and writing (I had a demanding job as a fund-raiser), but I couldn’t make it work. I was quivering like Jell-O inside, but I gave myself 18 months. After six months, I saw the deadline for the contest and entered it just to have something to look forward to. I didn’t honestly think the book would get anywhere. But I was proud of it and would have shopped it around. I have wanted this my whole life, and it happened in this sudden unexpected way; what can be better than this? Agents, everyone, called me back.

Where did your story come from?

I was working on a master’s degree program, and my thesis project was the basis for The Man on the Washing Machine. I thought of writing about a woman who flees a troubled history only to be entangled in new and far more dangerous secrets in the city she hoped would be her safe haven. She’s a loner, but she has made friends and built a substitute family to replace the one she lost. It was to be about murder among friends in a close-knit community. But in all honesty, the characters came out of whole cloth, out of nowhere.

Even Theo Bogart, the book’s heroine?

I used to freelance for a scandalous tabloid newspaper. Theo is a former paparazzo, and I knew several members of that tribe at one time.

San Francisco seems almost another character.

I wanted to write a San Francisco murder mystery. The city has historically taken in strangers with no questions asked, allowing them to keep their secrets and make new lives while shedding the burden of their past. It’s one of the city’s many virtues. I learned quickly in San Francisco that everyone comes with baggage and nobody cares. It’s very open and people let it all hang out.

How do you spend your time, other than working on a sequel?

I’m English, and I like all the English things—dogs, horses, gardens, tea, fog. I also enjoy gardening and hiking. I’m a Star Trek geek. So far I’ve resisted attending a convention in costume, but I have a Starfleet Academy decal on my car. I also collect royal commemorative mugs, which are produced for the births, christenings, marriages, and coronations of the English royals.