By Ovidia Yu
THE SKELETON HAUNTS A HOUSE is the third in the delightfully quirky Family Skeleton series featuring English professor Georgia Thackery who is a single mom with—literally—a skeleton in her family closet.
Leigh Perry (who also writes as Toni L.P. Kelner) answers some questions about her wisecracking living skeleton, Sid, and her new book.
How would you describe Sid to someone who loves your books but is afraid of skeletons?
Why would anybody be afraid of a skeleton? After all, we’re all skeletons under the skin.
Huh. I just Googled it and found yes, there are people who are afraid of skeletons. Some are actually afraid of their own skeletons. To those people I can say only that they should read another book. Sid is not a metaphor—he’s an actual human skeleton. If it helps, he is a clean skeleton—I’m not fond of nasty ones with bits and pieces still attached. But still, if you don’t like skeletons, this is just not the book for you.
Can you tell us something about THE SKELETON HAUNTS A HOUSE without giving too much away?
It’s Halloween in Pennycross, and Sid can’t wait to go into the town’s haunted house attraction. Then a dead body is found in the haunt—the real kind of dead, not the faux kind—and Sid and his BFF Georgia step in to catch a killer. Along the way, there are family complications, academic anxiety, carnival rides, and romance. (Not for Sid and Georgia. That would be icky.)
Sid dresses in costume again, but I don’t want to give away what he’s wearing.
After Savannah’s father dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, she drops everything to return home to St. Petersburg, Florida, to settle his affairs–including the fate of the beloved, family-owned glass shop. Savannah intends to hand over ownership to her father’s trusted assistant and fellow glass expert, Hugh Trevor, but soon discovers the master craftsman also dead of an apparent heart attack.
As if the coincidence of the two deaths wasn’t suspicious enough, Savannah discovers a note her father left for her in his shop, warning her that she is in danger. With the local police unconvinced, it’s up to Savannah to piece together the encoded clues left behind by her father. And when her father’s apprentice is accused of the murders, Savannah is more desperate than ever to crack the case before the killer seizes a window of opportunity to cut her out of the picture. . .
Jill Gardner—owner of Coffee, Books, and More—has somehow been talked into sponsoring a 5k race along the beautiful California coast. The race is a fundraiser for the local preservation society—but not everyone is feeling so charitable…
The day of the race, everyone hits the ground running…until a local business owner stumbles over a very stationary body. The deceased is the vicious wife of the husband-and-wife team hired to promote the event—and the husband turns to Jill for help in clearing his name. But did he do it? Jill will have to be very careful, because this killer is ready to put her out of the running…forever!
“Murder, dirty politics, pirate lore, and a hot police detective: Guidebook to Murder has it all! A cozy lover’s dream come true.”
—Susan McBride, author of The Debutante Dropout Mysteries
Marla Vail is a hairdresser living in South Florida who gets involved in sleuthing and finding murderers. In PERIL BY PONYTAIL, the twelfth in the Bad Hair Day series of cozy mysteries by Nancy J. Cohen, Marla is on a belated honeymoon with her homicide detective husband Dalton to a large dude ranch in Arizona run by his cousins to help find who is causing malicious mischief there. And then the murders start….
Tell us about the Bad Hair Day series and PERIL BY PONYTAIL, out this month.
The mysteries feature hairstylist Marla Vail née Shore, who first meets Detective Dalton Vail in Permed to Death. Ten books later, they get married in Shear Murder. But there’s no rest for our sleuths. They move into a new home in Hanging by a Hair, where they discover a dead body next door. Finally, Marla and Dalton go on a honeymoon in PERIL BY PONYTAIL
Marla isn’t thrilled about a honeymoon in the desert. She’s dreamed about lying on a lounge chair at a tropical beach with palm fronds swaying overhead. But Dalton has accepted an invitation to stay at his cousin’s ranch where trouble is brewing. The cousin hopes that Dalton, a homicide detective, can help determine the source of sabotage at the dude ranch and at a ghost town Dalton’s uncle is renovating. Things go downhill fast from the moment the newlyweds arrive when a local forest ranger is found dead.
Why did you choose South Florida as your setting? Why Arizona?
I live in South Florida, so it’s easy to do research in my own backyard. Plus Florida has so much diversity in terms of ecology, demographics, history, quaint towns, and more that a wealth of material exists for a mystery series. All I need to do is read the newspaper for ideas.
When Carol Childs is called to the scene of a body dump she has no idea she’s about to uncover a connection to a string of missing girls. Young, attractive women, drawn to the glitz and glamor of Hollywood via an internet promise of stardom and romance, have been disappearing. A judge’s daughter leaves behind a clue and a trip down Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame reveals a connection to a high powered real estate mogul and to a cartel targeting girls for human trafficking.
Old Hollywood has its secrets, its impersonators and backdoor entrances to old speakeasies and clubs where only those with the proper credentials can go. And when Carol Childs gets too close, she finds herself politically at odds with powers that threaten to undue her career and like the very girls she’s seeking, disappear.
“A high-speed chase of a mystery, filled with very likable characters, a timely plot, and writing so compelling that readers will be unable to turn away from the page.” ~Kings River Life Magazine
“This book was a real nail-biter! It kept my attention the entire time. A definite must read. ~Goodreads Review
Susan E. Sagarra’s debut mystery novel, CRACKS IN THE COBBLESTONE, is the story of two vastly different women who have a mutual obsession with the Titanic tragedy. That calamity presents itself to each woman in different ways to help solve a long-forgotten mystery in the quirky river town of Tirtmansic.
Sagarra has always been intrigued with the historic catastrophe. “I have an unexplained fascination with, or connection to, the Titanic disaster, and my lucky number is 12,” she said. “When I set out to write my book, I looked at the calendar the day I started writing and it was April 12, 2010. So I decided to start part of the novel on April 12 . . . of 1912. I did not even think about the year’s significance until I researched important events and realized the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, three days after I had determined my written journey would begin.”
But this was only one of several coincidences along the way. Several years earlier, when Sagarra was the managing editor of a St. Louis, Missouri-based newspaper, she had been invited to see the Titanic exhibit at the Saint Louis Science Center. “At the beginning of the exhibit, they give you a ‘boarding pass’ that depicts a real passenger who was on the ship and you have the opportunity to experience the event as that person,” Sagarra said. “The pass gives details about the person and my passenger, a woman named Mrs. Edward Beane (Ethel Clark), was one of just twelve newlywed brides on the ship. At the end of the exhibit, you find out if ‘you’ survived. She did.”
Sagarra dug out the boarding pass from her trunk of memorabilia and researched Ethel Beane. She ended up paying homage to Mrs. Beane in the book.
The next serendipitous event occurred when she received a gift from her brother. “He gave me a book called I Survived the Titanic, by Lawrence Beesley. Mr. Beesley described how he had survived in lifeboat No. 13, which spooked me. He was in the same boat as Ethel Beane. My brother did not know I describe this woman in my novel when he gave me the present.”
Last September, news of a drug laundering operation in the Los Angeles fashion and textile district hit the airwaves. Officially called Operation Fashion Police by the FBI, the raid resulted in a haul of multi-millions of dollars cash, all in hundred dollar bills. The money was profit from the narcotics trade, most of it discovered in duffle bags and cardboard boxes. Several of the boxes were even conveniently marked “1 million.”
Now that was nice, don’t you think? Criminals labeling their own evidence.
The raid was considered to be the largest in history. Current reports state the combined value of cash and property seized at $140 million. Nine arrests were made. All pled not guilty.
The gist of the laundering operation was this: Mexican drug cartels in the United States gave bags of cash to businesses in the Los Angeles fashion district, who used the money to make or import products that would then be sold to Mexican distributors for pesos. The pesos were returned to the Mexican drug cartel.
Simplified, it would be like me selling drugs and then giving you the money I made to buy widgets. You then sold the widgets to a third party and gave me the money you made. I put the clean—laundered—money in the bank and no one would be the wiser. Seems simple, right?
By Diane Kelly
Readers often want to know where writers find their inspiration. Some writers find inspiration in the headlines. Others find it in the people around them or in experiences they’ve had. In the case of my Paw Enforcement K-9 cop series, inspiration simply licked my ankle. One look down at my black and tan Shepherd mix and I realized a dog like him would make a great character for a mystery series.
Yep, I’m a big animal lover. My husband and I share our home with three dogs and six cats. Being outnumbered more than four-to-one by furry, four-footed creatures qualifies me as a “crazy cat lady” and violates a number of city ordinances. Still, even though I can’t get out of my house without fur on my clothes, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Along with the plastic poop bags and hacked-up hairballs, my dogs and cats bring love and laughter to our lives.
One of the wonderful things about dogs is their emotional honesty. Dogs don’t hide their feelings. If they’re happy, their wagging tail lets you know it. If they’re feeling threatened, the ears go back and the teeth come out. If they don’t want to move from their favorite spot on the couch, they give you a look of unmistakable disdain that says, “I was here first. Buzz off, mere human.”
By Mary Kennedy
Seven Things You Really Want To Know About Dreams
As a practicing psychologist, I find that my clients are fascinated by dreams. Most of them have read a little Freud, who called dreams “the royal road to the unconscious.” Freud believed dreams can help us access our innermost thoughts; our fears, wishes, and desires. Think of dreams as a window into our unconscious life. They can be humorous, erotic, tantalizing or terrifying.
When I came up with the premise of the Dream Club Mysteries, I envisioned a group of Savannah women who would meet once a week to eat some fabulous Southern desserts and talk about their dreams. And of course, they would solve a murder or two in every book. I thought this might be an intriguing plot device and could pave the way for some interesting characterization.
As the women reveal their dreams, they realize that they held hidden clues to the crime scene, usually in symbolic form. Sometimes they even uncover the identity of the murderer. But were these clues really “revelations” from the subconscious or merely coincidences? I remembered Freud’s claim, “There are no coincidence.” I chose to sidestep the question and leave it up to the reader to decide.
When I’m asked to speak on dreams, I find that people have strong beliefs—and sometimes misconceptions—about dreams. Here are a few questions I’ve come across.
You can only dream about things you’ve experienced in real life. Is this true?
No, of course not. Anything can happen in a dream. You can take on a new persona, explore lands both real and imaginary, and have adventures worthy of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Since dreams are not subject to time and space constraints, you can share a plate of marrons with Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake!”) one night and be part of the first space mission (“Houston, we have a problem”) the following evening.
Imagine yourself in a corner of France, with its customs and history, its Armagnac and duck confit. Then add some mystery. That was my world as I translated FLAMBE IN ARMAGNAC, the French title of this latest installment in the Winemaker Detective series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen.
In the heart of Gascony, a fire ravages the warehouse of one of Armagnac’s top estates, killing the master distiller. Wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to estimate the value of the losses. But Cooker and his assistant Virgile want to know more. How did the old alembic explode? Was it really an accident? Why is the estate owner Baron de Castayrac penniless? How legal are his dealings?
The deeper the winemaking detective digs, the more suspicious he becomes. There is more than one disgruntled inhabitant in this small town. As readers are witness to the time-honored process of Armagnac distillation, the day-to-day activities of the hunt, the marketplace, and the struggles for power within the community, they get a glimpse of the traditions of southwestern France. Similarly, they are introduced to characters from all walks of life—landed gentry with noble titles, former aristocrats contriving to hold on to their status, and the working-class salt of the earth. Each has a story to tell, and Cooker has to listen carefully in order to piece together the mystery of the Chateau Blanzac inferno.
One of the colorful characters in the story is the “roving distiller,” a man who inherited the craft of turning wine into Armagnac by way of an intricate yet medieval-looking machine called an alembic that he hauls from estate to estate with his tractor. The transformation of simple alcohol into the highly prized eau-de-vie seems symbolic of complex human relationships the reader encounters in the village.
Reluctant med-school drop-out Mandy Murrin has a new job and a new mission. She will find a way to have a social life in small town Alabama if it kills her. After all, she deserves a little fun after surviving the daily grind as a blue collar working stiff. And she has plenty of time for dating after putting in glamorous shifts as a tow truck operator, earning extra cash as lab technician at B Positive Clinic, and being a caretaker to her younger sister with special needs.
Okay, maybe not “plenty,” but she is more than ready to find a good man. Only, the man she finds just happens to be dead and in the trunk of a car.
When an old friend asks for her help, Mandy knows she must make a dent in solving this puzzle before the killer retires another victim. But will she get to the bottom of it before the culprit can cover his tracks, or will she reach a dead-end of her very own?
ROSES ARE DEAD, MY LOVE is the second book featuring the ever-curious and entertaining sisters, Rose and Daisy Forrest. These cozy mysteries offer a host of plot twists, intrigue, and enjoyable characters, notable among this last group being the sisters’ feisty, quirky, yet insightful mother, Angela Forrest.
In this second instalment of the series, Daisy and Rose have enjoyed a quiet six months until strange things begin happening in Old Towne once again. With a local jogger engaged in obscene indiscretions, mysterious mail mishaps, and a host of other misfortunes, ROSES ARE DEAD, MY LOVE promises to lead the reader on another “Nancy Drew”–type investigation.
“The ladies do have quite a bit of fun breaking and entering, or ‘opening and entering’ as they see it,” says Penny Clover Petersen. “And Angela’s prowess with her new Super-Shooter is rather entertaining.”
Not to mention “the secret Rose’s new boyfriend, Peter Fleming, is hiding,” adds Petersen. “He appears to be a nice, regular sort of man, if a little pretentious, but not all is at it seems.”
Sounds like the start of an excellent adventure, worthy of a cozy chair and a good cocktail, right? Check out Petersen’s website for Forrest-approved recipes. The sisters appear to have a “drink” for everything.
An avid reader and lover of well-written, engaging books, Petersen admits that a run of “bad” books was the primary motivator for her putting pen to paper. “At one point about seven years ago, I had been reading a string of really awful books and complaining loudly that ‘I could write better than this.’ My husband suggested that instead of whining, I should just write one.”
By Ovidia Yu
First, would you tell us something about THE CAT SITTER’S WHISKERS?
Funny you should ask! It just came out last month. It’s the tenth book in The Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series, published by St. Martins/Minotaur and created by my mom, Blaize Clement. It’s my third book. I took over the series after my mom passed away in 2011, just after she’d put the finishing touches on Book #7. The books are all designed to stand alone on their own, but there’s an arc to Dixie’s personal life that started with the very first book, CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT SITTER, and is continuing even as we speak (I’m just now finishing up book #11, which will be out next year).
It’s fascinating how you came to continue the Cat Sitter series. In a previous interview you described your initial response to the suggestion: “I was horrified. My mother was thrilled.” What has been most difficult about taking on Blaize Clement’s legacy—and what most rewarding?
Yeah, I think that’s still a pretty good summation of my feelings at the time. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. She had chemotherapy early on, but eventually decided to end treatment, partially because it wasn’t working very well, but also because she wanted to be in control of her final days and enjoy them—to “die well” as she described it. That decision meant a couple of things: one, she knew with certainty what was going to happen, and two, she had time to plan. It was her long-time editor at St. Martins, Marcia Markland, that suggested I continue the series, and when my mom asked what I thought, I didn’t even hesitate. I said no. I think I might have said hell no. Honestly, I just didn’t think I was capable of writing a full-length book, let alone a series with new installments practically every year. At that point, the longest thing I’d published was a feature for The Chicago Sun Times, not much more than three or four thousand words, plus I didn’t think I could really do the series justice. And I didn’t think the readers would accept it. And blah blah blah. I had a million excuses. Eventually, though, I changed my mind, largely due to my mom’s not-so-subtle reminders that a good son doesn’t say no to his mother, especially at her deathbed.
MAYHEM IN MARGAUX, on sale this month, is the sixth in the Wine Detective series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen. In this cozy series, wine expert Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile become involved in helping solve wine-related mysteries throughout southern France. In MAYHEM the Bordeaux area is in the midst of a summer heat wave threatening the wine grapes when the brash new manager of a Margaux wine estate suffers a fatal accident. We were able to ask the translator, Sally Pane, about the latest volume and the Wine Detective series.
This is the sixth book, out of twenty-three published in France, to be published in English. It doesn’t seem necessary to read the earlier books to enjoy this one but could you give us some background on the earlier books?
Each book in the series can be read as a stand-alone, but they also each round out our understanding of the characters. In Treachery in Bordeaux, wine consultant Benjamin Cooker hires his assistant Virgile. After that, in Grand Cru Heist, Nightmare in Burgundy, Deadly Tasting, Cognac Conspiracies and MAYHEM IN MARGAUX the characters face different mysteries, and as readers we explore different wine regions.
A special charm of the series is the portrayal of quotidian life outside of Paris—in southwestern France—and the insider look at winemaking. In MAYHEM there are enjoyable digressions on summering at a rental villa in Cap Ferrat, the beautiful stones of the Medoc, and corks versus screw tops as well as a touching scene of Benjamin with his daughter visiting from New York. Do each of the books also touch on some current social issue such as gentrification or illegal immigrants?
The authors say themselves that each book is a special homage to a wine, its winemakers and its region, and with each they explore various aspects of everyday winemaking and its struggles: gentrification eating up vineyards, black market trafficking of grand crus, local superstitions, scars from World War II, foreign buyouts, and illegal immigrants being used to cut costs. At the same time, they remain light mysteries, much more about the detail and experience of that part of France.
Iced Chiffon by Duffy Brown
All my life I thought launch was what really smart rocket scientists do to get something into space. Never in all those years did I expect to be involved in one. Yet here I am dong a launch of my very own. Not that I’m putting a rocket in space—though right now that seems like a snap—but I’m launching a book.
“What do you mean launch?” I asked my publisher. “The book comes out on a specific day, booksellers, B&N and Amazon put it up for sale, end of story. Done. Right?”
Wrong. To launch my first cozy mystery, ICED CHIFFON, I though it would be fun to do something different. I’ll have a mystery party at my house, I decided, with a real live mystery for the guests to solve. I have the house and I like parties. A match made in heaven.
Sixty is a nice number and I can just buy one of those interactive mystery party packs online and set up the mystery event based on that. Piece of cake.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? Murphy’s Law on steroids.
First off, there are no mystery party packs for sixty online. They had packs for twelve, but not five times the number. That meant I’d have to write the mystery. And if people are coming to my house I have to serve food and beverages.
Jamie Merrow has been writing since Noah was a boy; her quirky, humorous style is ideally suited to the romances she cut her writing teeth on. She turned to writing crime with the Pressure Head series, of which HEAT TRAP is the third book.
When she isn’t plotting the perfect felony or finding new situations for old complications, she’s adept at extracting money from sponsors as part of her role on the organising team of the author/reader/blogger event “UK Meet.” That has also enabled her to experience being on the acquisitions team for a short story anthology, the ideal opportunity for the poacher to turn gamekeeper and see things from the publisher’s side of the fence. Maybe every author should have that chance, then they’d really understand why following the submission guidelines is so important!
Jamie, I have to ask. How on earth can an English rose like you not drink tea?
With the greatest of pleasure. Vile stuff. You know it makes your insides go brown, right? Now, I’ve nothing against a nice herbal tisane, such as peppermint, ginger, or something fruity with cinnamon. Coffee, it should go without saying, is the nectar of the gods. But Camellia sinensis is not, it’s safe to say, one of my best buds (see what I did there?). Anyway, as you hint, I’m so very English—and so very obviously English—that my dislike of dried leaves boiled in water with milk squirted out of a cow is probably all that saves me from slipping into self-parody.
By John Clement
LADLE TO THE GRAVE is the fourth installment in the Soup Lover’s Mystery Series by Connie Archer. The books follow the story of Lucky Jamieson, whose life was turned upside down when her parents met an untimely death in a car crash on an icy road. Lucky has returned home to the cozy, idyllic town of Snowflake, Vermont, to run her family’s popular soup shop, “By The Spoonful,” but (as is wont to happen in these cozy, idyllic towns) murder is afoot…
The latest book opens in the woods. It’s almost May, and some of Snowflake’s local ladies have organized a celebration to welcome the arrival of spring. But it doesn’t quite go as planned, does it?
Certainly not! It’s a murder mystery after all. I had a lot of fun imagining this scene and it actually turned out a bit more humorous, I think, than I had originally anticipated (that’s if you ignore the death throes of the local woman.)
New England has a rich and fascinating history, but also a dark one. At the time I was working on LADLE TO THE GRAVE, I was reading a very well-researched non-fiction work on the Salem Witchcraft trials of 1691-1692. This book was far more chilling than any horror story I could have imagined. So I think a bit of that concurrent reading inspired the pagan scene. Now, I’m not equating paganism with horror, not at all; however, that’s not how the early Puritan colonists would have viewed it.
Growing up in New England I always felt the shadow of its Puritanical past, its history of witchcraft trials, even its Indian massacres. And I’m reminded of Shirley Jackson, a transplanted Californian, who said she was inspired to write The Lottery and other horror stories after her years of living there. I understood what she meant about the “hauntedness” of that part of the country. That’s one of the reasons it’s been so enjoyable for me to write a series set in Vermont and to juxtapose the comfort and safety of the village against the sense of danger lurking in the woods.
By Dawn Ius
Leslie Budewitz started writing at the age of four—on her father’s desk. Literally. She would scrawl on top of the wood with her crayons, pencils, or whatever she could find.
Thankfully, her parents were understanding, and to this day, Budewitz’s mother, now eighty-nine, buys her daughter notebooks and pens for Christmas, a loving reminder about the concept of paper.
Harriet the Spy inspired Budewitz to use the notebooks, a habit still, but she concedes they’re more of a journal than a secret spy record.
In them, she jots ideas for recipes and stories—both of which are passions she’s combined to write cozy mysteries, such as her latest, ASSAULT AND PEPPER, the first in her new Spice Shop series.
“One challenge of starting a new series—and a big part of the fun—is populating the story and getting to know the characters,” she says.
In ASSAULT AND PEPPER, Pepper Reece is the proud new owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, and by Budewitz’s own description, someone who “totally does not mind being the poster child for the cliché, life begins at forty.”
“After thirteen years of marriage, she discovered her police officer husband and the meter maid in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters,” she says. “She moved out and bought an unfinished loft in a century-old downtown warehouse. Then the law firm where she’d worked imploded in scandal and took her job with it. So naturally, she tossed her office wardrobe, cut her hair, and bought the Spice Shop, a forty-year-old institution that had lost its verve.”
Renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to audit the books. In what he thought was a sleepy provincial town, he is stonewalled, crosses paths with his first love, and stands up to high-level state officials keen on controlling the buyout.
Meanwhile, irresistible Virgile mingles with the local population until a drowning changes the stakes.
Part of the ongoing Winemaker Detective series.
“The Winemaker Detective mystery series is a new obsession.” —Marienella
“The descriptions of cognac and cigar scents and flavors drew me in as if I, too, were a connoisseur.” —4-star librarian review
“This book and its successors will whet appetites of fans of both Iron Chef and Murder, She Wrote.” —Booklist (on Treachery in Bordeaux)
S.L. Ellis’s debut novel hit the streets with attitude! Cassie Cruise wants her life back as a kick-ass P.I. Trouble is, she has zero credibility since bungling a case on reality TV. After a public tantrum, she slinks off to bury her head in the sandy beaches of Southwest Florida.
Just as she starts over as the owner of The Big Prick Tattoo Shop, a body is discovered in the trunk of her burning car. Cassie’s aware there are those who’d get in line for their turn to torch her car. But murder?
You don’t have to like her, but you damn well better respect her. And get out of her way—this is one case she intends to solve, with or without an audience.
Kirkus Reviews called it “A captivating introduction to a cozy female PI series with potential for wide appeal.” Jack Magnus of Readers’ Favorite went further: “Ellis’ hard-boiled detective story, Lane Changes, is a refreshing new take on the private detection genre. Cassie starts working on a mystery . . . she just can’t let go, and it’s a joy to watch her as she digs in with a ‘to hell with the consequences’ attitude. I’m looking forward to reading more stories featuring Cassie Cruise. Lane Changes is good, gutsy and highly recommended.”
S. L. Ellis came from a small-town in Michigan, where life consisted of family and work and too much winter. After a few decades of shoveling and scraping snow, Ellis was ready for a fresh start. A move to Florida and time on the beach improved her disposition a hundred-fold. It’s there that writing became more than a thought. Classes were taken, workshops worked, and a few books written.
By Stacy Mantle
There are cozies for every topic, and that includes baby boomers. Award-winning author Susan Santangelo is the master of taking a lighthearted look at the issues facing the seventy-six million members of the fastest growing market segment in the country: the baby boomers.
Santangelo is a baby boomer herself and has worked as a feature writer, drama critic, and editor for publications throughout New York. Retirement Can Be Murder, the first in the Baby Boomer series, was released in 2009 and she has averaged a new novel in the series each year. Her third novel in the series, Marriage Can Be Murder, was selected as one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Mysteries of 2012.
On top of being an acclaimed author, she is also a breast cancer survivor. Santangelo devotes a percentage of sales of all books to the Breast Cancer Survival Center, a nonprofit organization she co-founded in 1999 to provide post-treatment education and support for cancer survivors.
THE BIG THRILL had the opportunity to connect with her about her newest popular release, FUNERALS CAN BE MURDER.
Most of your books are focused on the baby boomer generation. What is it that fascinates you most about this demographic?
I’m an early member of the baby boomer generation myself. As my husband and I were approaching our own “milestone” years, I began to focus on what issues we were going to have to deal with. Everything I read focused on financial planning for retirement and beyond. But nobody seemed to be dealing with the emotional impact of retirement, particularly as it impacts a marriage. I’ve written for years for magazines and newspapers, and always loved the mystery genre. So I decided to combine retirement with a funny mystery and wrote “Retirement Can Be Murder,” the first in what has morphed into the Baby Boomer mystery series.
Jean Harrington published the first of her series of mysteries featuring interior designer Deva Dunne in 2012. The fifth, THE DESIGN IS MURDER, was published last month. In it Deva, hired by not one but two clients whose wives have suffered suspicious deaths, continues to stumble across bodies and search for answers, much to the annoyance of her fiancé, a detective in the Naples, Florida, police force.
Tell us about your series Murders by Design and the new book THE DESIGN IS MURDER.
The Murders by Design series are tongue-in-cheek cozy mysteries that take a light-hearted look at murder and mayhem. (I love a good oxymoron.) In the first book, Designed for Death, amateur sleuth Deva Dunne is a young widow struggling to climb out of her sorrow and rebuild her life. So the books, over time, show her change and grow as she strives, with wit and humor, to find happiness again and, incidentally, with the help of Lieutenant Rossi, to solve one murder after another.
In the latest release, THE DESIGN IS MURDER, Deva’s client James Stahlman believes Stew Hawkins moved into the house across the street to terrorize him after he became engaged to Kay, Stew’s ex-wife. But Stew is over it. He’s remarried—and to someone much younger. When just days apart, both women are found dead under mysterious circumstances, Deva thinks there’s something afoot on Whiskey Lane. Could the death of these women be coincidence, or were they the victims of foul play?
You were a professor of English literature at Becker College in Worcester, Massachusetts, for sixteen years. What led you to writing your own books?
After talking about fiction for years and dissecting it in the classroom, I longed to try my hand at writing it. So as soon as I stopped teaching, I began to write. The learning curve was much steeper than I anticipated but exciting and fulfilling. Creating people, fleshing them out, giving them personalities, strengths and weaknesses then setting them loose in a believable time and place is great fun. Kind of like world-building really, and where else but in fiction can I get to do that?
By John Clement
My cat Spike could climb clear to the top of a seven-foot Christmas tree without dislodging a single ornament—admittedly not the most useful skill in the world (especially given that his descent produced far less desirable results) but I thought it was a pretty awesome trick nonetheless. I imagine your cat has a similarly awesome gift. In fact, I think I can safely say that everybody in the world thinks their feline mate is extraordinary in one way or another. Kathleen Paulson, however, may have bragging rights on all of us. Her gray tabby, Owen, has the ability to make himself invisible, and her tuxedo cat, Hercules, can walk through walls.
Kathleen and her super-powered cats are the creation of Sofie Kelly, author of the Magical Cat Mysteries set in the fictional town of Mayville Heights, Minnesota. The latest, number six in the series, is A MIDWINTER’S TAIL from Berkley/Signet. It’s early December, and Kathleen is hosting a fundraiser for the town library when the ex-wife of a local businessman dies of an allergic reaction. Kathleen is immediately suspicious, and soon she and her super-powered felines are on the trail of a killer.
Sofie, tell us a little about Mayville Heights. It feels very much like an actual town.
I’m happy to hear that Mayville Heights feels real to you. I grew up in a small town so I suspect that influences my writing. And several observant readers have noticed that Mayville Heights sounds a lot like the real town of Red Wing, Minnesota. That’s not by accident. When the Magical Cats series began, I found a video tour of Red Wing online when I was looking for something else. Something about the town captured my imagination.
How did you come up with the magical powers of Hercules and Owen?
The cats’ magical abilities actually came from a suggestion made by my editor. I’m glad I listened to her.
By John Clement
The phrase “a skeleton in the closet” entered the lexicon of popular culture in the early 19th century with the rise of the Gothic novel—an enduring genre blend of horror and romanticism that’s as beloved today as it was in Victorian England. Here’s Edgar Allen Poe, in his classic short story The Black Cat, first published August 19, 1843, in The Saturday Evening Post:
“Gentlemen, I delight to have allayed your suspicions,” and here, through the mere frenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom. The wall fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators.
Every family has a skeleton in the closet. If yours doesn’t, that just means you don’t know about it… yet. Author Leigh Perry has taken that notion one step further, creating a new mystery series that is as clever as it is entertaining.
The first book in the Family Skeleton Series, A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY, came out last fall. Can you talk a little bit about the main characters? Is there anything unusual about any of them?
The two main characters are best friends Georgia Thackery and Sid. Georgia is an adjunct English professor and the single mother of a teenage daughter who is house sitting for her parents in a small New England town. Sid is single, an avid reader, and lives in the Thackery attic. Nothing all that unusual.
Wait! Did I mention that Sid is a skeleton? An ambulatory skeleton—or osteo-American, which is what he calls himself.
By Duffy Brown
Recently I sat down with Mary Kennedy to discuss NIGHTMARES CAN BE MURDER, her life as a psychologist/novelist, and why Savannah is the perfect setting for a mystery series. NIGHTMARES CAN BE MURDER is the first in her new Dream Club series and is available at stores and online this month.
Like most writers, you’ve had a rather checkered career (and I mean that in a good way!). You’ve been a copywriter for a rock radio station, a television news writer, a spokes-model, a university professor and now you’re a clinical psychologist. Will all these characters appear in your books?
Most of them, at least the interesting ones. I once went for a job interview and the person across the desk said, “Well, you are either the most versatile person I’ve ever met or you show a shocking lack of direction in your life.” Naturally, I asked him if we could go with “the most versatile person he’d ever met” theory. He laughed and gave me the job of PR Director for a major travel company. I haven’t used that character in a series yet, but I may.
I love Dr. Maggie, the psychologist turned radio talk show host in The Talk Radio Mysteries. Now you’ve moved on to the Dream Club Mysteries. Was it much of a stretch, going from psychology to dream interpretation?
No, I think it was a natural progression. Most of my clients love to talk about their dreams and I’ve done quite a bit of research on them. Freud said dreams are the “royal road to the unconscious.” Many psychologists think that dreams give us a unique insight into our thoughts, our fears, and out fantasies. Other people think they are just random firings of the brain as it rests and rehashes the day.
But how did you take the next step and write a whole series about a dream club?
The New York Times did a big piece on the popularity of dream clubs here in the northeast. I’m not sure how far they’ve spread across the rest of the country. The idea is very appealing. It’s like a support group. You meet with a small group of trusted friends every week and talk about your dreams. Of course, in NIGHTMARES CAN BE MURDER, the members not only analyze their dreams, they solve a murder or two.
Since dropping out of medical school, Ovidia Yu has been a copywriter and one of Singapore’s most popular playwrights (thirty plays and slightly fewer awards) with short stories, novellas, and one volume of children’s fiction published in Singapore, Malaysia, and India. AUNTY LEE’S DELIGHTS, her first mystery featuring busybody widow Rosie “Aunty” Lee, was published to good reviews in the United States last year and the next book, AUNTY LEE’S DEADLY SPECIALS will be available from 30 September 2014.
What is the best thing about being a mystery writer?
You get to read mystery books and tell yourself that you’re working. In the name of research, you get to ask people questions that would normally get them mad at you (“What’s the one that that makes you really angry with your husband?” and “If your girlfriend killed your sister by accident what would you do with the body?”). You get to meet all kinds of people you wouldn’t normally—like I was speaking to private investigators to find out what their work is really like. “It’s like going fishing,” one told me. “Only the scenery is not so peaceful. Most of the time you are sitting there for hours doing meditation with your eyes open.”
Apparently in Singapore the police and the PIs get along better than they do in most mystery books. There’s a course you have a take to become a private investigator and part of it covers how to collect and record evidence that can be used. I’m thinking of signing up for the course myself—once I’ve finished the current book. In fact, it could lead to a new job; they told me that if “this book business doesn’t work out you can try working for us” because they need more women. Apparently, one or men look suspicious following people, but a woman or a couple draws no attention.
And another big plus is getting to go to mystery conventions like Bouchercon and Crimefest and talking to other people who love books and reading and writing. And, of course, you can collect more books!
Jessie Crockett’s first cozy mystery, LIVE FREE OR DIE, won the Daphne du Maurier Award for mainstream mystery. Her new series, the Sugar Grove mysteries, features Dani Greene, from a prominent New Hampshire family of maple syrup makers, and a large cast of colorful secondary characters.
Just out now is the second book in this series, MAPLE MAYHEM, in which Dani tries to set up an agricultural cooperative to help smaller sugarhouses, setting off a chain of vandalism and then murder.
Please tell us a little about yourself. You’re a New Hampshire native?
Native might be too strong a word. I’ve lived in New Hampshire since I was eight years old. Both of my parents were born and raised in Maine so I feel very strongly that northern New England is my home.
What can you tell us about your new book, MAPLE MAYHEM?
MAPLE MAYHEM involves maple syrup maker Dani Greene’s thwarted attempts at starting an agricultural cooperative. She finds herself confronted by sabotage and ultimately murder in her quest to help her neighbors and herself to improve the bottom line in their sugaring businesses.
Let me say this straight out. I am not a cozy reader. Hey, this is THE BIG THRILL, and we’re all fans of International Thriller Writers, right? But I met John Clement at ThrillerFest 2013 and I knew that whatever this guy wrote would be something I’d want to read. Not only did John give the funniest sixty second intro ever heard at a Debut Breakfast, but the story behind how John came to be writing turned out to be as meaningful as the books themselves.
The Dixie Hemingway series pushes the envelope in a lot of ways for murder mysteries, and that’s probably because the author tends to push the envelope in his own life as well, seeking to challenge himself, and never backing down even when the prospect might be daunting. I hope you’ll be as impressed as I am by the open, honest answers that follow, and join me in celebrating the release of THE CAT SITTER’S NINE LIVES.
There is a very poignant background to the way you came to write your first Dixie Hemingway mystery, THE CAT SITTER’S CRADLE. Can you tell us something about how it all happened?
It’s funny. Now, looking back on how it unfolded, I can see what a bizarre story it is, but at the time it all seemed perfectly normal… probably because I was still in a bit of shock. My mother, Blaize Clement, published her first mystery, CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT SITTER, back in 2005 with St. Martin’s Press. She then went on to write six more books in the series, which follow the adventures of Dixie Hemingway as she struggles to piece her life back together after the loss of her family. It sounds dark, and at times it is, but it’s also hilarious and witty and has lots of cats so it fully qualifies as a cozy mystery, even if it slightly pushes the boundaries. In 2011, after about a year of battling with cancer, my mother’s doctors told us there was little hope of survival. She elected to discontinue treatments. We moved into a hospice home in Sarasota, Florida, and it was there that she put the finishing touches to her last book, THE CAT SITTER’S PAJAMAS.
Shirley McCann has produced “solve it yourself” mystery stories and a teen mystery, and her writing has appeared in Woman’s World, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery, The Forensic Examiner, and many other publications.
The Springfield, Missouri, resident’s newest release, ANONYMOUSLY YOURS, is a cozy that comes with a whiff of romance, a missing corpse, and the threat of more bodies appearing or disappearing. At the time of this interview, Shirley was working hard on edits for her YA novel. THE SCARRY INN will be released by Black Opal Books but is still cloaked in secrecy, so we focused on ANONYMOUSLY YOURS.
ANONYMOUSLY YOURS started as a YA book and evolved into a cozy mystery. How long did the writing process take and how did you manage the transition?
Considering it started out as something else, the process took quite a while. But once I knew what I wanted to do with it, the re-vamp took very little time. The story line remained the same, but the characters had to grow up, plus I had to incorporate a bit of technology that wasn’t around when I first wrote it.
Can you tell us which elements of the characters and mystery you carried over, and why?
It didn’t work for me as a YA. I wanted the characters grown and planning careers for themselves. And I wanted them to be able to carry weapons legally. The only people who were actually changed were the main characters, Denise and Justin. But I also added a lot of character development and story line to the original.
Previously you produced some very interesting “solve it yourself” mystery stories in the collection GOT TIME? 13 SOLVE IT YOURSELF MYSTERIES and the teen mystery THE NECKLACE. Which is your favorite mystery mode to write in?
I’m not sure I have a favorite. I enjoy the mystery, whether it’s a short story, YA, middle grade, or adult. I’ve recently signed a contract for a YA suspense. I also think a lot of adults read YA, so it’s a very fine line there. I know I still read them. I think it’s just whatever the mood strikes me at the time. I don’t want to limit myself.
And what are your favorite mystery-thriller reads?
Mary Higgins Clark is my favorite. I also enjoy reading her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark. I also can’t get enough of David Baldacci and Harlan Coben.
Two of your lead characters share a love of cop shows. Do you share this love and what are some of your favorite shows?
Of course I do. I still watch reruns of Murder She Wrote and Colombo. Law and Order is another favorite, as are NCIS and Bones.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process? What is a typical day like for you?
I play at a real job part of the week, so sometimes writing is just a hit and miss game. I do enjoy getting up early on my days off and writing when the world around me is quiet and dark. I’m not much of a night person. At home, I have my laptop handy and open so I can sit and jot things down as I think of them.
In ANONYMOUSLY YOURS, Denise Thomas finds a body and runs. What would you do if you found a dead body?
I’d probably scream or faint or both. I definitely wouldn’t remain in the house while I phoned the police. Denise would have if circumstances had been different. She’s braver than I am.
I would really like to see more of Denise (and Justin Banks!). Can you tell us if you are planning more books in this series?
I hadn’t thought about that. I’m getting ready to start the edits on a YA series, which I’m hoping will be released sometime this year. But Justin and Denise together again? I kind of like that possibility. We’ll see.
Shirley McCann’s fiction has appeared in Woman’s World, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The Forensic Examiner, and many other publications. She enjoys reading and writing all genres. She lives in Springfield, Missouri. Her newest release, ANONYMOUSLY YOURS, is a cozy mystery. Her YA Novel, THE SCARRY INN, will soon be released by Black Opal Books.
To learn more about Shirley, please visit her website.
By John Clement
I spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the television in my so-called “formative years,” and two shows in particular wormed their way into my permanent consciousness. One was I Dream of Jeannie. The other was Bewitched. I knew full well both these shows were nothing but pure fantasy, but that didn’t quash the sneaky suspicion lingering in the back of my mind that if I just tried hard enough, I could unlock my own as-yet-unrealized magical powers.
Well, I’m still waiting for those powers to reveal themselves, which is probably why I felt a little rush of excitement when I opened up Dawn Eastman’s latest mystery, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WITCH FOR, the follow-up to her popular debut, PALL IN THE FAMILY. Both books are set in the small Michigan town of Crystal Haven, where an unusually large population of magically gifted (and hilariously eccentric) residents has transformed the town into a kind of Mecca for hopeful tourists. They come from far and wide in search of psychics, healers, spells, and perhaps even a bridge to the spirit world.
Enter Clyde Fortune, who’s left her stormy career as a cop in nearby Ann Arbor for some quiet reflection in her eccentric hometown—only to find that things in Crystal Haven are anything but quiet, and her telepathic relatives are all hoping she’ll rejoin the family business. As it turns out, Clyde’s experience as a police officer, coupled with her long-suppressed psychic abilities, make her particularly well suited for crime-solving.
I had the pleasure of talking with Dawn about some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating the wonderful world of Crystal Haven.