Please welcome Mollie Cox Bryan, author of the Cumberland Creek Mysteries (and a forthcoming novella)!
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A day in which none of my family members have any place to go! I’m the mother of two active daughters. So I’m usually running them around—along with juggling my own deadlines. So having a day at home where we are just languishing in time, food, and company sounds perfect to me.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I suppose if there’s one kind of food I’m known for, it’s pie. (I wrote Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies and learned more than anybody every needs to know about pie!) I also make a mean veggie chili.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
So much about creativity is learning to trust yourself, you know? Trusting your own voice. It’s such a long and fragile process that sometimes it’s hard to point to who exactly inspires or influences you. Reaching back to my high school days, I had an excellent English teacher—Theresa Dukovitch. She is probably the first person, outside of my family, who encouraged me to write. And in recent years I’ve had the opportunity to get know writer Elizabeth Massie, who really showed me how to build a life around my writing—just by her example and work ethic. I am also very lucky in that one of my big inspirations happens to be my agent, Sharon Bowers, who led the way for me to have the courage to move from non-fiction and cookbook writing into fiction. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you feel that people believe in you.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Yes. When I write the Cumberland Creek Mysteries, I usually listen to contemporary bluegrass. It helps somehow set the tone for my small town and its characters. Every now and then, I switch to instrumental music if the lyrics start to distract me. I always write to music.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Creamy and sweet milk chocolate on the outside, covering a dark, rich chocolate truffle, laced with chili pepper. My cozies have a bit of an edge to them. I never go over the edge, but some of the issues I explore definitely have bite and depth.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
This book, Scrapped, is the second book in my Cumberland Creek series. When I sat down to write it, I really just wanted to see what my characters were up to. Grin.
I wanted to answer this question (among others): What would happen if I give my circle of scrapbookers another person to welcome at their table? Enter Cookie Crandall, a yoga teacher, vegan, and a practicing witch. She very different from all of them, but they adore her. She’s also very different from most people in Cumberland Creek so when these strange murders happen, people start to point their fingers at her. The bodies of the young women who are killed have runes carved into them. She’s the only one around who knows what they are—that, plus some other evidence points straight at her. So her scrapbooking friends attempt to prove her innocence.
So I think I just wanted to explore this notion of differences—what makes us all the same, or different and so on. How do people react to change? To murder?
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Community, friendship, and family (the good, the bad, and the ugly) are three of my main themes, along with scrapbooking. The scrapbooking in my books is a part of the plot. I think some of the craft cozies are just set in a yarn or fabric shop, for example, which is fine and works well for setting. But I wanted to make my craft a part of the plot.
In the first book, Scrapbook of Secrets, my scrapbookers are putting together scrapbooks for the children of a young mother who shows up dead in her basement. In compiling the books, they discover she had a secret life, and a secret death.
In the second book, Scrapped, my scrapbookers are exploring Cookie’s mysterious scrapbook that they found and learning a good bit about their new friend. So in this book, they are tearing apart a scrapbook and learning about a friend.
I would not have a plot without the scrapbooking element.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Annie Chamovitz was an investigative reporter in Washington DC. She grew up in Bethesda, a tone suburb, with parents who divorced when she was a teenager. She was surrounded by high-achievers her whole youth and of course becomes one for a time. When she meets Mike, her husband, she falls head over heels for him and they marry, have children and try to make it work in DC. But they decide to move to Cumberland Creek, where she is going to stay at home with their boys. They are the only Jewish family in town, which adds a lot of tension and texture to the series.
Annie has an innate sense of justice, which is why she was a good reporter. She’s smart and a bit jaded. But growing up and living in an urban area didn’t prepare her much for the challenges of living in a small southern town.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Annie is like Dr. Sydney Hansen as played by Melina Kanakaredes in the TV show Providence. (Strange, I know. But even though Annie is not a doctor, there are a lot of similarities, here. She’s smart, has heart, and yet is vulnerable and makes mistakes. And Sydney is very much an outsider at the start of the series.)
Annie’s inquisitive and intelligent like Amelia Peabody in Elizabeth Peters series. Plus, she’s married like Amelia, which set her apart from many of the other women sleuths in the genre.
And Annie can be tough as nails, especially when it comes to her reporting, like Tess in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series. Writing and reporting are where she is comfortable—the personal relationships are where she’s challenged.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
This is tough! I’ll just say these are my choice today.
- Agatha Christy
- Louise Penny
- Edgar Allan Poe
- Lee Child
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- Elizabeth Peters
What’s next for you?
My next book will be out in February 2014. Death of an Irish Diva will be the third in the Cumberland Creek series. Shortly after the book’s release, my first e-novella will be published, The Mysterious Red Velvet Pie.
Mollie Cox Bryan is the author of the Cumberland Creek Mysteries. The first in her series, Scrapbook of Secrets, was published by Kensington in February 2012 and was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel; the next one Scrapped, was just published in January 2013. Plans for the series include three more novels and two novellas. She lives in Waynesboro, Va. with her husband and two daughters.