Interview: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Please welcome Hank Phillippi Ryan, award-winning author of the Charlotte McNally series and the Jane Ryland mysteries–and she’s the president of Sisters in Crime!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
That so depends! Paris is one. Another perfect day: No alarm clock. Coffee. The newspaper (on paper.) Four hours with my manuscript at a point where I’m loving it…and it’s almost done and I can see the finale.. More coffee. A call from  my producetheotherwomanr at Channel 7 saying my story is coming through-I’ll be at work in the morning to do a big interview. Lunch, something lovely. More writing, some emails, some fabulous reviews. (Why not, right? You said perfect.) My dear husband comes home with salmon and roses. And rose’.

I just realized my “perfect” day is all about work.  And you know, that’s true. Is that a good thing?

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Yes. All of the above. Accessory? I’m very fond of purses and shoes. Color? NO question—black. People are always shocked when I wear anything else. Fragrance? 24 Faubourg, always.  Phrase. Oh—I love that question. Ah, maybe…Thank you? It’s a thrill just to be nominated! (!) And my constant: You never know.

Meal: that’s a toughie. Fresh tomatoes and mozzarella and basil. Proseco.  Rack of lamb on the grill. Terrific red wine.  Raspberries.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Oh! Sue Grafton.  Steven Sondheim. Shakespeare. (There are many more…)

Do you listen to music when you write?
Nope. Never. Can’t do it. In the newsroom, with TVs blaring and  people yelling and utter chaos—no problem, I can write an script with no problem. I can bang out a news story at a fire, at a murder, in a raging hurricane.  But my books? Got to be quiet. Funny, huh?

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
The Other Woman…well, that would be something that’s different on the outside than on the inside, right? Something that’s not what it seems. So maybe…peanut M & Ms? Can’t hurt, right?

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Oh, so interesting.  I was in the dentist’s office, waiting to have a root canal. Really! And I read a magazine article about Mark Sanford, the ex-governor of South Carolina, who told the world he was off hiking the Appalachian Trail—when he was actually off with his mistress. I wondered—through my pain—why would someone do that? Why would a person be the other woman? Love? Lust? Revenge? Power? Selfishness?

And then I began to wonder—could there be a reason no one ever thought of? A reason that would lead to murder? A reason I could use as the lynchpin for a thriller?

And then a person in the article was quoted as saying: “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.”

I remember clearly, I got goose bumps. And I thought—my BOOK! My Book!

It made the root canal worth it.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Perception. Vulnerablilty.  The skepticism we have when someone says I didn’t do it. Why don’t we believe them? Desire and deception. The need to be loved, and the constant quest for approval.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Jane Ryland is a reporter, a journalist, who in The Other Woman has just lost her job because she refused to break her word and reveal a source. SO she’s incredibly honorable, incredibly trustworthy, and incredibly driven–and as a result, fired. How would that change you–to do the right thing, but be punished for it?  She takes a low paying job on a  local newspaper—because she needs to get her reputation back—what do we have, you know, as reporters, if not our reputations?

Her father is always critical—when she was fired, he said—you must have done something. And her mother recently died—and Jane learned from her—when one door closes, another door opens.

She’s 33, in love with an off-limits cop, driven to success, and worried about winding up an old maid with two cats—so much so that she refuses to tell people she has a cat.  “But that may be my own problem,” she says.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’ve never thought about that this way, and it’s much more difficult that I would have predicted. Katharine Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn. And …ah, Rosalind Russell.  You know? Not physically. But emotionally and psychologically.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Sue Grafton.  Stephen King. Shakespeare. Edith Wharton. Tom Wolfe. Nora Ephron.

What’s next for you?
Yeah, would that we knew that, right?

I’m still a full-time investigative reporter, still loving that. (I just won two more Emmys, so that make, amazingly, thirty. But then, I’ve been around a long time.)   I’m in the midst of writing Jane’s next adventure (they’re all standalones, so this is the “next” in the series, not the “third.”)

The new Jane Ryland, The Wrong Girl, comes out in hardcover September 10—Jane is on the trail of an adoption agency she suspects may be reuniting birth parents with the wrong children. Creepy, huh?  But it could happen.  So I’m being sent on a big tour for that—and hope to meet all of you on the road! (Check my website for the whole crazy schedule!)

And click here for a couple of wonderful contests!

http://www.hankphillippiryan.com/newsletter-6-13.html

***

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston’s NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 30 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She’s been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone magazine.

A best-selling author of five mystery novels, Ryan has won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards for her crime fiction. She’s on the national board of directors of Mystery Writers of America  and is president of national Sisters in Crime.  Her newest suspense thriller, the best-selling The Other Woman (now in a third printing), is the first in a new series from Forge Books. It’s now listed as a Best Book of 2012 by periodicals nationwide including Suspense Magazine and the Boston Globe, is the winner of the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the only novel nominated for all five top crime fiction awards: the Anthony, Agatha, Macavity, Daphne and Shamus. Her newest suspense thriller, The Wrong Girl, will be published in September 2013.

Website: http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com
Twitter: @hank_phillippi
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hank-Phillippi-Ryan-Author-Page/250706175034817

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Interview: Liz Mugavero

Please welcome Liz Mugavero, author of the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day for me actually starts early. Getting up around six or six thirty is okay if I know have the whole day to do what I lokneadingtodieve. First on the agenda would be taking care of the dogs and cats. What would make THAT perfect is not finding the random “present” from anyone on the floor! Then, my tea, check a few emails and get to writing. When I’m on vacation from my day job I try to get a couple thousand words in right off the bat, then I feel on track enough to stop and either do a workout – I love the Les Mills “Pump” and “Combat” workouts, which I do right at home – or go for a walk on the green with Kim and the dogs. Back for lunch and more writing in the afternoon, and perhaps a short nap, some playing outside with the dogs and snuggling with the cats. Then if I can squeeze a few more words out in the evening before settling in with a great book, excellent! And, an episode of American Horror Story if there’s time would be an added bonus.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Purple is my color – definitely. It’s been my favorite since I was a kid. I even had a framed saying about “Purple People.” It talked about purple being a color of power and creativity, and that always resonated with me.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
When I was in grad school, I read We Were the Mulvaneys, by Joyce Carol Oates. I never cried so much over a book until or since, and I remember that aha moment when I said, “I want my writing to do that to people!” So, she’s one.

I am indebted to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, for providing such an incredible tool to get me out of a vicious personal cycle that was destroying my creativity. I can’t say enough about that book. Anyone who is an artist of any kind must read it – it will change your life. The exercises will get to the bottom of anything holding you back, and put you in touch with the fun side of life again to truly jumpstart that creative process.

And my third is Johnny Rzeznik, singer/songwriter from the Goo Goo Dolls. From the moment I heard the song “Name” back in 1997, his music and his lyrics completely connected with me. He’s one of those songwriters who is inherently able to put words to people’s experiences when you never realized there were words. He inspires me to dig deeper in my own writing and find that connection that others can relate to.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Often, I do. It depends on what I’m writing and the mood I’m in, but I love a variety of music. Sometimes (often, as you may have guessed already) I write with the Goo Goo Dolls. Some days it’s Billy Joel or Alanis Morrisette, others it’s meditative music like crystal healing bowls or yoga CDs. I love the Putomayo World Music CDs too. Music From the Chocolate Lands is awesome!

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
If my latest book were chocolate, it would be finished! No, seriously, I love Lake Champlain chocolates. I recently had a salted caramel bar – I think that would be it. Rich, messy and lots of fun while it lasts.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
When my agent, John Talbot, and I discussed this particular cozy mystery theme as we developed this proposal, I wanted to just drive to his office and do a happy dance. I had always wondered how I could bring my two passions – animals and writing – together to provide a book that people would love to read that was also educational and could inspire people to look at animal issues differently. I saw this series as the way to do that, as long as I got it right. So in Frog Ledge with Stan and her friends, I get to hang out with lots of furries, try new treat recipes, talk to people about the value of nutrition for animals and get my frustrations out by creating murder victims. It’s so much fun it’s hardly even work.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I often find myself writing about mother/daughter relationships. I’ve struggled with  my relationship with my own mother, and I guess I keep trying to write a new ending for it. But depending on the characters I’m writing about, it allows me to explore different drivers for that relationship on both sides, and I find it’s been extremely cathartic. In this book, you’ll see just a touch of the differences between Stan and her mother, but in later books we get a little deeper into that.

And whenever I get a chance, I write about animal rescue and issues involving animals because it’s so important to me. There are so many wonderful animals in shelters all over the country who need our help, and so many people who simply don’t know what challenges these babies are facing.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Stan is interesting because she is living such a different life than the one her mother imagined for her, or even the one she imagined for herself. She grew up in “rich” Rhode Island, with an uptight socialite mother and a bohemian father. She definitely takes after her dad. As a matter of fact, it was her grandmother on her dad’s side that taught her to bake her own treats for the neighborhood animals. Yet she grew up with this view of what makes one “important,” and that belief and those teachings led her straight to corporate America (because she could never be a full-time socialite). She had a good run there, and she was queen of the media relations world. She had a big expense account, she traveled with a lot of “important” people and got to experience all kinds of things.

But corporate America is fickle, and poop, dog or otherwise, always rolls downhill. Stan found herself on the wrong side of a media blitz, and faster than she could say “no comment,” she was out the door. Once she came to terms with it, she realized a lot about the world she was living in, and the world she wanted to inhabit from that day forward. She was always a bit of the anomaly in corporate America, and now she understands why – it was never really her in the first place. She’s much more comfortable in this small town with these quirky people, doing her own thing.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Stan’s a lot like Lorelai Gilmore, from The Gilmore Girls – one of my all time favorite characters. She’s strong, independent, a little socially awkward, smart and she struggles with her relationship with her mother. She’s also got a bit of Ally McBeal in her – that silly side of her that needs theme songs to get through situations and has conversations with imaginary people. And she’s a whiz with money and investments and has a very Dave Ramsey attitude about finances. She knows her stuff and she’s not afraid to tell you when you’re doing something not-so-smart with your money. I hesitate to outright compare her to Dave – I would caveat that by saying she’s Dave’s liberal alter ego!

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Before I started watching The Following, I would’ve said Edgar Allan Poe, definitely! But now I’m too scared (and you have to watch the show to understand why).

My table would be a crazy mish-mash of authors, and six seats wouldn’t be nearly enough! If I had to pick six it would be Carolyn Keene, author of the original Nancy Drew series, because she originally got me into mysteries; Dennis Lehane, because his dark side fascinates me; Hunter S. Thompson, because who wouldn’t want to have Hunter S. Thompson for dinner?; J.D. Salinger; Stephen King – and Hank Phillippi Ryan to keep the conversation going!

What’s next for you?
I just finished book 2 in the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, called A Biscuit, A Casket. I’ll be starting work on book 3, and hopefully talking with my agent about the next books in this series! I’m having a lot of fun writing it, so I hope it continues. I’m also thinking about another cozy series that I’d love to pitch, and I have a darker series in the works that I’m very hopeful about getting out into the world. It features a detective and a reporter, and the first book takes place in an old insane-asylum-turned-school for emotionally and behaviorally challenged students. Lots of crazy stuff going on behind those walls!

***

Liz Mugavero is a marketing and communications professional and animal lover from the Boston, Mass. area, whose canine and feline rescues demand the best organic food and treats around. She’s also a former journalist, marketing and PR specialist, and assistant to a homeopathic veterinarian. Currently based near Hartford, Conn., she’s had plenty of exposure to the small town craziness of the Nutmeg State, and saw numerous opportunities for murder.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Salem State College and a Master of Arts in writing and publishing from Emerson College. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime New England, Mystery Writers of America, and the Cat Writers’ Association. Visit her website, www.lizmugavero.com, or find her on FacebookTwitter and with a bunch of very cool authors at Wicked Cozy Authors.

Interview: Catriona McPherson

Please welcome Catriona McPherson, author of the Dandy Gilver detective series as well as the mystery As She Left It.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Neil brings me coffee in bed (this actually happens every day) then we go to a yard sale where I find a ton of vintage stuff–kitas she left itchenalia, dresses, barkcloth fabric–then have a bicycle ride around the 12 mile Davis bike loop followed by the Sunday New York Times (did I say it was Sunday?) at Mishka’s coffee-house.  I choke when I see my book in the best-seller list, but I don’t need the Heimlich manoeuvre.  Then we go next door to the art-deco Varsity Theatre to watch a great new film, pick up a Woodstock pizza and head home, where I discover that Joe the UPS guy (in my daydream UPS delivers on Sunday) has left a parcel of books on the porch.  These include a new Kate Atkinson, a new Ann Cleeves and a new Lisa Scottoline.  I crack one open after the pizza, as the sun goes down and the frogs start up.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I very often have at least one pair of glasses on my head and a pen behind my ear.  Ooh!  I have a signature pen; does that count?  Bue Bic Cristals–a design classic which is part of the 20thc design exhibit at MOMA in New York.  Partly I use them because I’m left-handed and inky.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Stuart Campbell was my English teacher at Queensferry High School.  He was the first teacher who didn’t care about spelling and neatness but cared a great deal about ideas and excitement. He comes to my UK book launch parties now.  Ronnie Cann was my PhD supervisor at Edinburgh University and, although I was a timid and hopeless academic, still the discussions he and I had about impossible worlds where Captain Kirk dances with the tooth fairy taught me a lot about plotting. He comes to the parties too.  And Her Awesomeness Mary Higgins Clark.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, no, no–with one exception.  When I’m finished a first or final draft I print it out, play music on Youtube and dance around.  ELO’s Mr Blue Sky is a good printing-out song.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
If As She Left It were chocolate it would be dark and bitter with salt crystals but a sweet finish.  (Is that even possible?)  But I wouldn’t eat it.  I don’t like posh, dark, high-cocoa chocolate; I like cheap, creamy muck.  I do love salty chocolate, though.  I put salt on all cakes, chocs and puddings.  Delish.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Oof, this one has been knocking about in its component parts for a long time. I was on holiday in France in the mid-90s and driving to the bread shop in the mornings I listened to Louis Armstrong, which started a daydream about a trumpeter.  Then about ten years ago I bought the bed with a secret that’s featured in the book.  I still sleep in it every night.  Also, one weekend in Leeds, maybe five years ago, two friends and I met the little old lady who’s in this story.  I finally mooshed it all together and started writing in 2010.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I didn’t know this until my beloved agent, Lisa Moylett, said it in a very throw-away line, but then I recognised it to be true.  There is always a lost or missing or mourned child somewhere in everything I write.  Paging Dr Freud!

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Opal Jones is the child of an alcoholic mother whose father left them both when she was small, remarried and had a son.  At twenty-five she’s an orphan who deals with the past by burying it; absolutely refusing to go there.  It’s not a spoiler to say this doesn’t work!  She’s independent–doesn’t like people getting close–but she takes care of people too.  She’s strong and funny as well as vulnerable.  I’m very fond of her.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Okay. Princess Diana x Lisbeth Salander x Roseanne (the one that was married to Dan Connor, not the real one).

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Val McDermid, Jess Lourey, Clare O’Donohue, Mary Higgins Clark, Ruth Rendell and Denise Mina.  That sounds like a fun night.

What’s next for you?
I’m editing and polishing the next Dandy Gilver for its summer 2014 UK release.  My working title is Dandy Gilver and A Regretable Kettle of Herring, but who knows if that’ll stay.  I’ll spend the summer in Scotland, doing Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and research.  Then this coming November  DG & A Bothersome Number of Corpses comes out in the US.  The next new writing will be the third modern stand-alone (the second is finished) which I’ll get stuck into after Bouchercon.  I’ve got a clear plan of the next year in my head even though it sounds like chaos.

***

Catriona is the author of the Dandy Gilver series of 1920s detective stories set in Scotland, where she was born and where she lived until moving to northern California in 2010. Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains launched the series in the US and won the 2012 Macavity award at the Cleveland Bouchercon. Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder won the Bruce Alexander award at Left Coast Crime in 2013 as well as the Historical Agatha at Malice Domestic 25. Her first modern novel, As She Left It, was published on the 8th of June 2013 and earned a Kirkus starred review.  When not writing Catriona is reading mysteries, growing fruit, vegetables and roses, cooking, baking, dumpster-diving, thrifting and hanging out with her two black cats and her scientist husband.

Twitter: @catrionamcp
Facebook: /Catriona-McPherson
Websites:www.catrionamcpherson.com for Opal and www.dandygilver.com for Dandy  Email: catrionamcpherson@gmail.com

Interview: Lorraine Bartlett

Please welcome Lorraine Bartlett, author of the Victoria Square series, the Telenia trilogy, the Booktown Mystery series (as Lorna Barrett), and the Jeff Resnick Mysteries (as L.L. Bartlett).

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Waffles and bacon for breakfast; finding bargains at yard sales; lunch at a bayside restaurant; an afternoon reading in my favorite chair, and happy hour watching the sun set.

murderonthehalfshelfDo you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I wear 13 silver rings, five of which my late father made for me.  Funny thing, I rarely get any comments about them.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Barbara Michaels, Dick Francis, and Constance Faddis, my first editor.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Yes.  Usually I listen to new age or sounds-of-nature music, but today I’m listening to the Superman soundtrack.  Yesterday I had classical music on.  But it’s always something without lyrics.  They’re too distracting.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
I’m not much of a connoisseur.  I’m perfectly happy with Russell Stover or Whitman’s.  I love See’s Chocolates.  I was once given a box of Godiva chocolates, but when I opened them, they were all white, and had melted.  The giver was extremely embarrassed and returned them.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t given a replacement box.  : (

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
My contract. Also, I love that my characters are successful businesswomen.  I love exploring various aspects of how they conduct business, and their successes and failures.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Family relationships.  The one I enjoy the most is the one between my characters Jeff Resnick and his older, half-brother Richard Alpert.  I am never bored by them, and can’t wait until I can devote time to finish my next book in the series, A Leap of Faith.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
If we’re talking about the Booktown Mysteries, Tricia has carried a lot of baggage about the strained relationship she has with her mother.  She’s finally found out why in the next book in the series (Book Clubbed, which will be released a year from now).

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I like to think my characters are original.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’d just as soon have dinner with my blog sisters (7 mystery writers):  Jennifer Stanley (Ellery Adams), Leann Sweeney, Deb Baker, Julie Hyzy, Kate Collins, Heather Webber, and Maggie Sefton.  (And I wouldn’t mind if Mary Jane Maffini joined us, either.)

What’s next for you?
I’m working on VIctoria Square #4, currently untitled.  Then I’ll work on A Leap of Faith, and jump back into the 9th Booktown mystery.  In between, I have several other projects started.  I need more time in the day.

***

The immensely popular Booktown Mystery series is what put Lorraine Bartlett’s pen name Lorna Barrett on the New York Times Bestseller list, but it’s her talent — whether writing as Lorna, or L.L. Bartlett, or Lorraine Bartlett — that keeps her there. This multi-published, Agatha-nominated author pens the exciting Jeff Resnick Mysteries as well as the acclaimed Victoria Square Mystery series and has many short stories and novellas to her name(s). Her next release is Not The Killing Type, under the name Lorna Barrett, on July 2nd.

Check out the links to all her works here: http://www.lorrainebartlett.com.

You can find her on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/LorraineBartlett.author ) Goodreads, and Twitter (@LorraineBartlet).

Interview: Judith Greber/Gillian Roberts

Please welcome Judith Greber, author of many mystery novels, including the Amanda Pepper series (as Gillian Roberts).

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A long walk, ideally near water with husband and dog followed by any combination of the following: working at the computclaireer, playing the piano, playing with watercolors, reading a good book, spending time with friends and family, good food, good wine, and laughing—as long as it includes laughing.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I don’t know that it’s a “signature” to anyone but me, but I’ve been wearing “Paris” by Yves St. Laurent for more than a decade. I think it’s very much out of fashion now, and no longer easy to find, but I love it.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
The first is said only a little tongue in cheek: When we lived in Los Angeles, and I was still afraid even to dream of being a writer, let alone say I was one, I was introduced to a man who proudly told me he was a writer—the first I’d met. “I’ve written two Gilligan’s Islands,” he said. I thought “Wow! I bet I could write that badly!” And so I did. (Write. I hope not that badly.)

My tv, movie, novel, and playwriting friend Jerry DiPego was a real help once I began as a mentor sharing valuable writing ideas, encouragement and as a first reader.

And now I’m going to break the rule about not counting family and say that the most significant and meaningful encouragement was from my husband. My family of origin in no way encouraged me (quite the opposite), but my husband, after years of hearing me say how I was going to write “someday” actually got me started when our youngest entered kindergarten and I was deciding what to do next. He asked me why this wasn’t the “someday” I’d talked about, and when I came up with all manner of reasons (all of which translated into fear of failure) he made up a face-saving “Grant” which promised to feed and shelter me if I’d make “someday” now, and write every day while the children were in school. And so I (finally) began.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. I get too emotionally involved with music to have it be background.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
The book I am finishing right now would be bittersweet chocolate poured over candied ginger. It takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, so it has to have a dark, tart complexity. (Full disclosure: I am crazy mad wild for candied ginger dipped in chocolate and I would probably answer that way no matter what I’d written!)

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Lots of my stories begin with a situation I find upsetting or something I feel I should have known. This time, it was the fact that the Spanish Inquisition was here, in the Americas, in New Spain (now Mexico. Back then only the city was called Mexico)

I learned this about the time of 9-11 and in the interim, the War on Terror, militant Islamism and the increasing cries for less separation of church and state in the U.S. merged into an idea for a novel. This coincided with the decision to wind up the Amanda Pepper series and my desire for a new challenge.

The result of all that is a story about life (and death—there is a murder, and a mystery along with an auto-da-fe and burnings at the stake) when you are an outsider and not allowed to exist. My working title is The Heretic’s Boy, and it’s set in 1649, in Mexico City, New Spain.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I am drawn to injustice, either by the state or ordinary individuals. I’m particularly upset by the abuse of power by designated “helpers”: parents, teachers, medical personal, clerics, etc., etc., etc. One of the joys of writing mysteries has been to vicariously avenge a few of these.

Oh, and secrets. Love them, but doesn’t every mystery writer?

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
I’m going to talk about Francisco Alba rather than Amanda Pepper because he’s on my mind right now. He’s a young man in his twenties whose family has been in New Spain since the Conquistadors. He’s smart and good-looking, raised in privilege with the obligatory Spanish outsized sense of entitlement, excessive pride and over-sensitivity to whether his honor was being respected. All of that was expected of a man in his time.

But when he returns to New Spain after three years in the Philippines dealing with the family import-export business, he learns that his father was arrested by the Inquisition as a converso, a secret Jew, a heretic, and therefore he, too, is in danger. Trying to learn the fate of his family, trying to plan an escape from a country with sealed exits, having no identity, no ability to find employment, constantly worried about being discovered by the Inquisition’s soldiers and spies—all of that plus a relationship with a Spanish-Indian midwife who involves him in a mysterious death—turns him into the man he becomes.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
This is not anything I ever think about (do all the other writers?). I have an image of Francisco, but not in terms of anyone else. However, here are three people who perhaps together come close: the Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal for his intelligent, handsome sexiness, Jean Valjean for recreating himself while being persecuted by an obsessed person, and Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, just because.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Charles Dickens, so he’d tell me the ending of Edwin Drood; his friend Wilkie Collins who wrote the first mystery novel, The Moonstone, which I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed. I think those two men would be great fun as well. Ross MacDonald because I am sure he’d be interesting and I loved what he did with the genre. Agatha Christie, who needs no explanation. And to bring in the living, Kate Atkinson for the way she writes whatever genre intrigues her at the time, and when it’s a mystery, spins seemingly effortless mazes with amazing characters and finally, Ruth Rendell, who is simply the best. I would ply them with the best food and wine possible and expect their writing secrets in return, of course!

What’s next for you?
First, final tweaks to The Heretic’s Boy. And then, because I’ve always hop-scotched from one sort of book to another—so far: contemporary mainstream to historic saga to contemporary mysteries to a historical mystery now—I’d like to continue my crooked career path and return to the present. At the moment, I have two ideas starting to spin—one a stand-alone psychological suspense and the other, a funny (I hope) mystery for middle-graders. And then there’s the idea of another Amanda Pepper. She’s great fun and I love spending time with her, so who knows?

***

Judy Greber and her criminal alter-ego Gillian Roberts grew up right outside of Philadelphia, hometown as well (by amazing coincidence) of Gillian’s series protagonist, Amanda Pepper. Both now live just over the Golden Gate Bridge, in Marin County, California, and spend as much time as possible in a small Mexican town on the Pacific.

Judy published several mainstream novels in which people died, but nobody sleuthed: The Silent Partner, Easy Answers, Mendocino and As Good as It Gets. At some point along the she discovered the joys of murder, and split her person like an amoeba. Gillian was born and took credit for writing the fourteen prize-winning books in the Amanda Pepper series, starting with Caught Dead in Philadelphia plus two other mysteries, a collection of short stories and a how-to: You Can Write a Mystery.

The Amanda Pepper series is being reprinted in e-book format by Untreed Reads and is also available through Audible.com and other audio formats. Visit her at http://www.gillianroberts.com.

Interview: Mollie Cox Bryan

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 tiscrappedme, 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.

Contact:molliebryan@comcast.net.
Website: molliecoxbryan.com.
Twitter: @molliecoxbryan
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/molliecoxbryanauthor

Guest Post: Edith Maxwell

The Mystery of Reviews

Ah, reviews. Authors can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.a tine to live

My first book under my own name just came out. Last week! And it came out from a large publisher, which meant there were lots of Advance Review Copies (ARCs) floating around well in, uh, advance of the publication date. The publisher sent ARCs out to the big review sites, to local newpapers and magazines I had alerted them to, and who know where else. They sent me a box, and I scrounged up as many ways as I could think of to get them into the hands of likely reviewers, including hosting two Goodreads giveaways and sending one to Sister in Crime Gigi Pandian.

So A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die got some reviews. What does an author, particularly a sort of new author, do when she hears her book (that is, her baby, her cherished work, her…, you know what I mean) has been reviewed? More seasoned authors might advise you to Never Read Reviews. Of course, this makes sense. No one will like every book. All you need is enough people to like your book.

But still. As far as I know, I have read every review so far in the public domain. Publishers Weekly liked it. Woot! Library Journal liked it. Awesome news. An independent blogger/reviewer did not like it. Boo. The Goodreads reviews have been great. FB reviewer Dru Ann Love loved it. So far Amazon reviews are batting a straight five star.

Today, though, I opened a review I had been looking forward to. The publisher of The Natural Farmer, a quarterly publication that goes out to 10,000 organic farmers, received an ARC and said he would review it. I used to serve on the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) with him twenty years ago when I operated and co-owned a small certified organic farm. Several other farmers and gardeners had read the book and liked it. I was eager to gain a whole lot of new farmer-reader fans.

The newsletter (a misnomer, as it runs to several dozen large newsprint pages) came in the mail today. I opened it and flipped through to the book reviews.

Jack, the publisher, wrote that this was the first fiction review the newsletter had ever done. And then proceeded to rip apart the willing suspension of disbelief that a mystery relies on. He  stated that no real farmer would ever have time to do all the detecting and romance and socializing my protagonist, Cam Flaherty does, AND run an organic farm in June in the Northeast essentially single handed. Oh. Gulp. Rats. True. He acknowledged that my details about farming, about farm-share programs known as CSAs, about certification were all accurate, but they would not be new and interesting to farmers who would already know all that stuff.

So, I guess this is one to chalk up to, “Oh, well.” I’m still going to go to the big NOFA summer conference (with my 24-year old farmer son!) and sell books. I’ll continue to reach out to readers who are also gardeners and locavores and, yes, organic farmers. I’ll try to make the next book a bit more believable to professional farmers. And I’ll end this post with the Goodreads review that a farmer in California, Darryl Ray of Sunnyslope Family Farm, posted:

“I really enjoyed reading A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die. It is one of those books that once you start it you can’t put it down. The story’s location (a new Massachusetts organic farm) and main character (a novice farmer) are interesting and believable. I am looking forward to more stories involving Cameron and her farm.”

So, there, Jack!

Writers, what have your reactions to negative reviews been, or don’t you read them? Readers, do you write negative reviews? Do you suspend disbelief when you read a mystery?

***

Locavore  Edith Maxwell’s Local Foods mysteries published by Kensington let her  relive her days as an organic farmer in Massachusetts, although murder  in the greenhouse is new. A fourth-generation Californian, she has also  published short stories of murderous revenge, most recently in the Fish Nets and Thin Ice anthologies.

Edith  Maxwell’s pseudonym Tace Baker authored Speaking of Murder, which features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren  Rousseau and campus intrigue after her sexy star student is killed.  Edith is a long-time Quaker and holds a long-unused doctorate in linguistics.

A mother  and former technical writer, Edith lives north of Boston in an antique  house with her beau and three cats. You can find her at @edithmaxwell,  on facebook, and at www.edithmaxwell.com