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.

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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

Interview: Beth Groundwater

Please welcome Beth Groundwater, author of the Claire Hanover Gift Basket Designer series and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
One spent outdoors with people whose company I enjoy, engaging in a fun active sport such as skiing, snowshoeing, whitewafataldescentter rafting, hiking or biking. Follow that up with a soak in the hot tub and a glass of good wine, a scrumptious dinner and a blockbuster movie.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Since I have wide, large, flat feet, I wear men’s shoes when I’m not dressed up. My athletic shoes, hiking shoes, and snow boots are all from the men’s department. I don’t wear much makeup, except lipstick and concealer for under-eye circles, and rarely wear perfume. My most common accessories are sunglasses (my contact lenses make my eyes more sensitive to sunlight) and earrings (I have pierced ears). My favorite colors are purple and green. I’m very eclectic in my language and my eating, so I don’t have a signature phrase or meal.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
My third grade teacher instilled a love of reading in me that is still going strong. I try to read at least a book a week. Mother Teresa inspired me to be of service to humanity whenever I can and to focus on the needs of others instead of my own. It’s very hard to pick the name of just one writer who influenced my creativity because so many helped me on my path to publication, but if pressed, I would name fellow mystery author Robert Spiller. He and I have been in the same critique group from the very beginning of my writing career, and his advice has always made my writing better.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to hear my characters talking.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate infused with chili. That’s because Fatal Descent is a pure locked-room style murder mystery (more on that later) not watered down with milky side plots, and it’s chock full of kick ass adventure. By “locked-room style,” I mean that my whitewater rafting guide Mandy Tanner and her co-leader and love-interest, Rob Juarez, are stuck in Cataract Canyon with a dead body and a killer among their rafting group and no way out other than to continue down the Colorado River. So, they have to solve whodunnit themselves. The “adventure” includes whitewater rafting and climbing scenes.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to write this kind of plot, where all the suspects and the sleuth are stuck together in a remote setting, so the sleuth has to solve the mystery on her own and is under constant threat of death herself from the unknown killer. So, I asked my river ranger consultant, Stew Pappenfort, Head Ranger of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, what was the most remote whitewater river canyon in the Western United States. He told me Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah was my best bet. So, my husband and I ran it ourselves with an outfitting company, much like Mandy and Rob’s RM Outdoor Adventures company, to check it out ourselves.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Loss is a recurring theme. How the death of someone close to you affects your character, your goals in life, and how you react to death again. My brother died of a sudden massive heart attack when he was in his early thirties, and that loss in my own life probably drives me to repeatedly explore the theme in my fiction. And, writing murder mysteries gives me plenty of opportunities to do so! Unlike in many cozies, where the victim is someone who everyone hates and no one misses, most of my victims are deeply mourned by those who were close to them, as murder victims are in real-life.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Mandy suffered a devastating loss the summer before her senior year in high school—both of her parents were killed in a car accident. This forces her to become more independent and self-sufficient, even though she moves in with her uncle, whose whitewater rafting outfitting business she was working for that summer. It also gives her a fragility when she experiences subsequent losses. And, her fierce independence hinders her in forming a strong love relationship with Rob Juarez. Through the series, Mandy has to work on these issues. Mandy also loves being in the outdoors and on the river. Communing with nature relieves her stress and grounds her, and running whitewater rapids focuses her concentration and thrills her. So, working as a whitewater rafting guide and as a river ranger are a natural choice of occupations for her. Mandy doesn’t make much money at either profession, but money is not important to her.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Susan Butcher (Alaska dog musher who won the Iditarod race multiple times), Anna Pigeon (Nevada Barr’s ranger protagonist), and Meryl Streep (who played a rafting guide in the movie The River Wild, but who is also known for the risks she takes in her acting and how hard she works on her roles).

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Sharyn McCrumb, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sara Paretsky, and Dorothy L Sayers.

What’s next for you?
The third books in both of my mystery series will be released this year, so I will be busy promoting them. Fatal Descent, the third in the RM Outdoor Adventures series, comes out this month, and A Basket of Trouble, the third in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, comes out in November.

***

Bestselling mystery author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A Real Basket Case, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (Deadly Currents, an Amazon #3 overall bestseller, and Wicked Eddies, finalist for the Rocky Award). The third books in both series will appear in 2013. Beth enjoys Colorado’s many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs.

Website: http://bethgroundwater.com/
Blog: http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/beth.groundwater
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/471598.Beth_Groundwater

Interview: Lucy Burdette

Please welcome Lucy Burdette, author of the Key West mysteries and other works.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Mmmm, that’s not so easy, but I’ll try. Let’s say we’re in Key West, ok? We’ll get up and walk Tonka the Australian Shepherd to the Ctoppedchefuban Coffee Queen. There we’ll order a large cafe con leche (with steamed milk and one sugar) and Tonka will get a little piece of ham. Back home, I’ll go to work and whip out five good pages of the new book in under two hours while my husband plays tennis. Oh, and my agent will call to say they’ve gone back for another printing on the first three Key West mysteries.

After pilates class, we’ll pick up chicken burritos and freshly-squeezed limeaid at Bad Boy burrito and bike over the Fort Zachary Taylor Beach to eat it. A few hours spent reading Barbara O’Neal’s new novel, and we’ll head home. Then a quick spin through the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square to see the Cat Man and his flying house cats perform, and off to dinner. Maybe we’ll choose tapas at Santiago’s Bodega, with a glass of Spanish Albarino? Finally, we’ll catch up on the latest episode of Nashville on TV and hit the hay!

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I don’t suppose I should admit to the blue yoga sweatpants…

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
I’ve had teachers, Mrs. Covey in fifth grade, Gabriel Asfar in college, and Roger Blashfield in graduate school, who told me I was a good writer. None of us imagined I’d end up writing fiction, but feeling encouraged about writing anything was so important! An aspiring writer hears so many negative voices (and lots in her own head), that hearing positive feedback makes a huge difference.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Oh no! Absolute quiet unless someone is purring…

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Topped Chef is the third Key West food critic mystery featuring Hayley Snow. She’s starting to settle into her job and her life in Key West, but she’s still a little uncertain about her abilities as a food critic–and her romantic prospects. This story about a reality TV cooking competition explores her growing confidence in her own judgment and her writing. I had a lot of fun exploring how I would show the personalities and tastes of the characters through what they chose to cook and eat!

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
In the end, it’s always about family–how important they are, how they can drive you crazy, how they mean more than anything in the world. And food, of course, as a way of showing love and making connections.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
As the series begins (An Appetite for Murder), Hayley Snow has impulsively followed a man from New Jersey to Key West. He dumps her (of course) but by now she’s fallen in love with the island and will do anything to stay. She starts out the series a little impulsive, but that gives her lots of room to grow. Like her mom, she’s a fabulous cook and foodie, with a great sense of humor.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Off the top of my head, let’s try Diane Mott Davidson’s catering character Goldy for her food and her nose for righting wrongs, Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle for the soft heart and charming dizziness, and a little dash of Julie Powell/Amy Adams in Julie and Julia–for the passion for food and cooking.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Last summer, I actually had a dream dinner party with my blog sisters at Jungle Red Writers–Hallie Ephron, Hank Ryan, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, and Rosemary Harris. We interact every day online, so it was so much fun to eat and gab together. Although, actually Debs couldn’t be there in person so we dialed her up on Skype and included her that way!

I blog with another group of mystery writers at Mystery Lovers Kitchen–I would LOVE to have dinner with them. The food would be amazing! Krista Davis, Avery Aames, Cleo Coyle, Sheila Connolly, Victoria Abbott, and Peg Cochran.

What’s next for you?
I’m almost finished with Murder with Ganache, which will be out in February 2014. ALL of Hayley’s family has arrived on the island for her best friend’s wedding. Mayhem ensues…I love this story!

***

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib is the author of eleven mysteries, including her latest, Topped Chef. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a past president of Sisters in Crime.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/lucyburdette
Twitter: @lucyburdette
Website: www.lucyburdette.com

Interview: Marilyn Levinson

Please welcome Marilyn Levinson, author of the Twin Lakes mystery series and the forthcoming Murder a la Christie, as well several YA and children’s books.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day would be a day in June—my birth month—that’s warm and sunny, but not blazing hot. I would write some pages in the morning, go to a museum or for a walk in the park with a friend, receive word in the afternoon that I’ve sold a book, tgettingbackhen go out to dinner with loved ones at a beautiful, sedate restaurant on the water where we would drink good wine, enjoy a delicious meal, and partake in stimulating conversation.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Not really. I love fragrances that are floral but not too sweet, like Dolce & Gabbana’s The One and Davidoff’s Cool Water. I love good food (see above), especially seafood and fish. I enjoy many ethnic cuisines: Thai, Argentinian, Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian, French, Belgian, and of course Chinese and Italian.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
First to come to mind is my dear friend and fellow writer, Roberta Gellis, with whom I took a writing course many, many years ago. Roberta helped me complete my first novel and has been my greatest supporter. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me. I remember her sending me to another class to read a composition. Last but not least, I’d have to say my dearly departed husband, Bernie, because he was always proud of my being a writer.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, I don’t, unless you count the birds chirping outside my open window.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark Belgian chocolate, my favorite, with veins of white chocolate running through it. Murder a la Christie takes place in an upscale community called Old Cadfield, which is a closed community like the small village settings in Agatha Christie’s novels. My sleuth, Professor Lexie Driscoll who facilitates the Golden Age of Mystery book club, finds herself housesitting in Old Cadfield, and living in a home she could never afford. She is an outsider observing the suspects that include her best friend who’s married to one of Lexie’s castoff college boyfriends. Though the residents of Old Cadfield are wealthy, they all have secrets and problems their money can’t resolve. The white veins are the happy elements that appear in Lexie’s life: an unexpected inheritance and two very different men she finds appealing.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’m a former high school teacher, and I’ve taught literature, which is probably why I occasionally write novels in which my characters discuss classic short stories and novels. In Murder a la Christie, the book club members discuss some of Dame Agatha’s novels. I had her books in mind when I created the setting and wrote the dénouement of Murder a la Christie.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Relationships. Human nature fascinates me, and I love writing about diverse three-dimensional characters. People are most interesting when they’re relating to one another. Every character has a secret that may implicate him or her in the murders. Romance always makes an appearance in my mysteries. In fact, Lexie has two admirers in Murder a la Christie. I also explore her relationship with her best friend, Rosie. For the first time since college, they’re living in the same community. Lexie sees a different side of Rosie.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
I love Lexie because of her quirks. She is an intelligent, independent woman, but she hasn’t been wise when it comes to choosing men. Her first husband left her when she was pregnant with their son. Her second husband proved unstable. When Lexie told him the marriage was over, he burned down her house and failed to escape the fire. Lexie is left homeless and with very little savings. She finds herself housesitting in Old Cadfield, where her college roommate now lives with her husband, a boyfriend Lexie once rejected. Lexie muses she could be living the good life if she hadn’t broken up with Hal.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I really can’t think of 3 people Rosie is like. Perhaps Addison in Family Practice would be one of them. Addison is beautiful, intelligent, but with human failings.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Agatha Christie
  • Josephine Tey
  • Sue Grafton
  • Ross Macdonald
  • John Macdonald

What’s next for you?
I need to go over three novels: a YA horror called The Devil’s Pawn, a sequel to Rufus and Magic Run Amok called Rufus and the Witch’s Slave, and a romantic suspense called Come Home to Death. Then I intend to either write a new mystery in my Twin Lakes mysteries series or write a proposal for a new series.

***

I was born in Brooklyn, New York. When I was fourteen, my family moved to Long Island where I’ve lived ever since, except for the four years I spent at Syracuse University studying to become a Spanish teacher. When my two sons were very young, I wrote YA and children’s books. Rufus and Magic Run Amok was an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice.” Now I also write mysteries and romantic suspense. A Murderer Among Us, the first in my Twin Lakes mysteries was awarded a Best Indie of 2011 by Suspense Magazine. I’ve two new books coming out in the next few months: Murder a la Christie, a mystery, with L&L Dreamspell, and a young YA novel, Getting Back to Normal, with Untreed Reads.

I am co-founder and past-president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Please visit my website: www.marilynlevinson.com or my Amazon page: http://amzn.to/K6Md1O  for a list of all my titles. You can also find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.levinson.10?ref=ts&fref=ts  and Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarilynLevinson

Interview: Elaine Viets

Please welcome Elaine Viets, author of the Dead-End Job series and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Breakfast in bed, long walk on the beach, lunch by the water with friends, a good mystery to read icar-photo1n the afternoon and dinner at a favorite restaurant with my husband, Don Crinklaw.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Does a black ’86 Jaguar with a red leather interior count? Black Beauty is the other love of my life.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Mark Twain, the best humorist America ever produced, and a Missourian. His writing is still graceful and timely.

Sister St. Bernard, a nun at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, who let me writer a column for the school paper called “Under the Influence of Brandy.” Brandy was a school mascot — a St. Bernard. It was a god awful column, but I was bitten by the writing bug.

Agatha Christie. Still the Queen of Mystery.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, just the sounds of the boats and the water. I live on the Intracoastal Waterway.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate, with nuts. I savor the deliciously dark craziness of South Florida.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to boardstiff2write about Florida’s tourist industry. Not the big beach hotels that look like the tombs of the pharaohs, but the small companies that rent the jet skis, the parasails, and the paddleboards. I saw a story in the Sun-Sentinel about how the competition is so cutthroat some of these companies sabotage one another, especially before spring break. It was just a show step from cutthroat to murder in my book.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Adultery, blackmail and betrayal.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Helen Hawthorne made six figures in human resources at a corporation. She was a corporate nun who worked long hours. One day she came home early and her husband, who was supposed to be working on their back deck, nailing their neighbor, Sandy.

Helen trashed his Land Cruiser with a crow bar, then divorced him. The judge awarded him half of her future income. Helen vowed the man who betrayed her would never see another nickel and took off for South Florida, where she worked low-paying jobs for cash under the table.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Janet Evanovich meets “The Fugitive”

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

  • Agatha Christie
  • Conan Doyle
  • Michael Connelly
  • Harlan Coben
  • Harley Jane Kozak
  • Charlaine Harris

What’s next for you?
More of the work I love. I signed a contract with Penguin for two more Dead-End Job mysteries and two more Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries.

I also host a weekly half-hour talk show — the Dead-End Jobs Show — on Radio Ear Network (radioearnetwork.com). REN is Internet radio in 148 countries.

***

Board Stiff, Elaine Viets’ new hardcover mystery, is the ultimate beach book, set in the cutthroat world of catering to tourists. The New York Times Review of Books praises her “quick-witted mysteries.” Elaine’s bestselling Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Her character, Helen Hawthorne, works a different low-paying job each book. Elaine’s second series features mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Elaine won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards.

Website: www.elaineviets.com
Twitter: @evmysterywriter
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ElaineVietsMysteryWriter
Book trailer: BOARD STIFF http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppzz6vX8jvU
Dead-End Jobs Radio Show archives: http://www.mixcloud.com/tag/elaine-viets/