Please welcome Jennie Bentley, author of the Do It Yourself Home Renovation series (and, as Jenna Bennett, the Cutthroat Business mysteries).
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
That’s a double-edged question, right there. There’s the days when I write and the days when I don’t.
On a perfect writing day, the husband and kiddies are somewhere else, and the words flow easily. I don’t have to take anyone to school or pick them up, the dog isn’t too demanding, and the husband is gone, so I don’t have to listen to him conduct his real estate business six feet away from me. I have no errands to run and nothing to do all day but write, write, write. There’s a goodly supply of Coca-Cola cans and chips in the kitchen, and I don’t gain weight from eating them.
A non-writing day… I don’t have too many of those, but it would have to be on vacation, probably. One of my favorite vacation spots is St. Augustine, Florida. We stay in this townhouse condo just on the edge of the water, overlooking the intracoastal, with manatee and dolphins swimming by, and speedboats slowing down when they pass because of the manatee and dolphins… Sunshine, not too hot, and peace and quiet other than the dolphins chirping and clicking and the wind blowing. And a good book. Can’t forget that. No perfect day is complete without a good book or two.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Not really. My favorite color is purple, and I wear a lot of black and white. I pretty much always carry the same purse, winter and summer. It’s silver and has a long strap so I can loop it over my head and shoulder and keep my hands free. Silver goes with everything. 🙂 Whenever something goes wrong with it, I go out and buy another one. I’m old-fashioned enough to like Shalimar. If I have a signature phrase, it’s probably “But I digress.” I swear I must have an instance of “But I digress,” in every book I’ve ever written, or at least in the first-person ones.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Elizabeth Peters. Never met her, but her books have been an incredible inspiration.
Nancy Drew. Literary character, so I guess maybe I should make that Carolyn Keene— except Carolyn Keene was a whole bunch of people through the years. But how can you be a mystery writer and not be influenced by Nancy Drew?
Tasha Alexander. We met just before her first book was due to be released, and I got to go through the excitement of a book launch with her, and she took me under her wing and taught me everything I know and told me that if she could do it—write a book and get it published—I could do it. I wouldn’t be a writer today if it weren’t for her.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Nope. I need quiet. The words are too distracting, and I’m not really into instrumental music.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
The latest book that was released, as well as the latest book I wrote, were both in the same science fiction romance series. They’d both be dark and bittersweet. That series isn’t as light and funny as the mysteries or the contemporary or paranormal romances.
My current project is the 7th Do It Yourself Home Renovation mystery, and that’s more like chocolate mousse. Light and fluffy, but with enough substance to be satisfying.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’m not sure where the original idea came from, but when you’re writing a series, you always keep an eye out for things that might fit what you’re characters may be doing at some point in the future. In the DIY series, the books always start with Derek and Avery taking on the renovation of a new project. The murder(s) always have something to do with the house they’re working on. I don’t recall specifically where the idea of a baby skeleton in a steamer trunk in the attic came from, but such stories crop up in the news occasionally. The missing Baby Jesus from the manger outside the local church was a news story one year, in a small town near where I live. I guess it’s just one of those ripped-from-the-headlines sort of stories that fit well within the series premise and that I thought would be of interest to my readers.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
A lot of my books deal with opposites attracting and forging relationships against the odds. That’s a big theme in my Cutthroat Business mysteries, as well as to a degree in the science fiction. Two people who have nothing in common and often every reason not to like one another falling in love in spite of it.
In the DIY mysteries, Derek and Avery have been together since the end of the first book. She’s from the big city, he’s from a small town, and she’s all about renovating and modernizing while he’s a restorer at heart, but other than that, they’re like two peas in a pod. There’s never been any question of breaking them up, or of them being too different to make it work.
I’m not sure those books have themes, to be honest. There are a lot of secrets, and a lot of talk about how one never knows what might cause someone else to commit murder—as in, something that may be no big deal to you, could be cause for murder for me… although I guess that’s probably the same for a lot of mystery authors. That particular series is more about unraveling the plot than about deep character studies. When I’m allowed, I do like to push the envelope beyond the scope of the traditional cozy, though. I got to tackle human trafficking in one of the books—#4, Mortar and Murder—and gay marriage in another—#6, Wall to Wall Dead—and now I’m getting to do the baby skeleton in the attic…
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Avery is a New Yorker born and bred. Her father died when she was thirteen, and she grew up with just her mother. They’ve always had a great relationship. She studied design at Parsons School of Design in New York, and when the first book opened, she was working for—and sleeping with—Philippe Aubert, a reproduction furniture maker. Avery’s job, as a textile designer, was to outfit his furniture with suitable fabrics.
She ended up in Maine after inheriting her Aunt Inga’s house—Aunt Inga is more properly a second cousin of some sort; the “aunt” is a courtesy title—and after she hired handyman Derek Ellis to help her renovate the place, she fell in love with both Derek and the town of Waterfield, and decided to stay.
She’s nosy—or curious—and impulsive. She doesn’t always think things through before she acts. (It’s a useful trait for an amateur sleuth, since we have to be able to justify the TSTL somehow.) Up until Derek, she’s always been unlucky in love. She’s a bit insecure, and Derek’s ex-wife, the gorgeous Melissa, brings out every bit of neuroses she has.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
She looks a bit like Kate Hudson, I think. Or Tinkerbell. That’s Derek’s nickname for her. Tinkerbell or Tink. Short, blonde, and with a pout when she doesn’t get her way. Personality-wise she’s a bit like Stephanie Plum, I guess, or maybe that’s just her voice. The comparison has been made, anyway.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Elizabeth Peters, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, Richard Wilson Webb, and Hugh Callingham Wheeler AKA Quentin Patrick.
What’s next for you?
I’m in the middle of writing the seventh DIY mystery. After that, I have a Cutthroat Business mystery to finish, and two more science fiction romances under contract. And a few other stories percolating in the backbrain that I’d like to devote some time to, if and when I have the opportunity. Too many books, not nearly enough time. 🙂
New York Times bestselling author Jennie Bentley/Jenna Bennett writes the Do It Yourself Home Renovation mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and the Cutthroat Business mysteries for her own gratification. She also writes a variety of romance, from contemporary and futuristic to paranormal and romantic suspense. For more information, please visit her online.
Websites: www.jenniebentley.com and www.jennabennett.com
Twitter: @JennieBentley and @Bennett_Jenna