By Dawn Ius
Reading Garfield comics as a kid wasn’t just an ongoing source of entertainment for Jennifer J. Chow—fighting over them with her brother taught her an important life skill: reading upside down so they could look at them at the same time.
Okay, it might not be a skill she uses every day, but those old Garfield books have impacted Chow’s writing in a big way, particularly in relation to her new series starter, MIMI LEE GETS A CLUE. In it, pet groomer Mimi Lee is already overwhelmed running her business, thwarting her match-making mother, and tending to her—uh, catty—talking cat, Marshmallow. But things go really awry when she gets involved in trying to solve the murder of a local breeder…without landing herself on the top of the suspect list.
While Mimi doesn’t come by sleuthing naturally, Marshmallow is all about the sass. Together, they’ll get the job done—if they don’t kill each other first.
“Garfield’s sarcasm definitely comes through in Marshmallow,” Chow says. “Along with a hearty love of food (though, sadly, not lasagna).”
In this exclusive The Big Thrill interview, Chow shares more insight into Marshmallow, Mimi, and where she plans to take the series next.
MIMI LEE GETS A CLUE kicks off a new series. What can you tell us about the inspiration for the series, and this book in particular?
There are a lot of cozies with pets, but I was intrigued with exploring the pet-owner connection and having a telepathic cat. I decided to set it in Los Angeles since I live here, and it’s such a fun place. I’m excited that Mimi Lee is Asian American; I really enjoyed weaving culture into my writing.
What are some of the challenges—and some of the highlights—of writing a series?
My first series, the Winston Wong Cozy Mysteries, helped me understand how to write multiple books in the same world. I’m still learning how to balance providing backstory to new readers without being too repetitive for others. I do enjoy the continuity of main and side characters which happens in a series. It’s great to see them grow and change—and it’s plain fun to write familiar characters with their unique traits and quirks.
Why do you enjoy the cozy mystery genre?
The cozy genre is like a toasty mystery blanket. It feels comforting to wrap myself in these novels. I like how they challenge the mind by presenting a whodunit, but they also provide closure and justice—which doesn’t happen as often as we’d like in the real world. (Plus, I enjoy a good dose of humor now and then!)
I’ve often seen cozies get dismissed. It’s a struggle to promote a breezy read like mine, particularly now. I am, however, encouraged by initiatives that have cropped up during this time to highlight authors and reading in general. I hope people will give cozies a chance and realize there’s room for all types of books at the mystery table.
In the past, you’ve written other series, as well as young adult books—will you be returning to YA or these series at some point?
Series-wise, I’m focusing on the Sassy Cat mysteries for now. I’d love to do more YA at some point because I like switching creative gears. I feel like it keeps my material fresh, and I’d be receptive if the right opportunity presented itself.
Please share a little about what you’re working on next.
I’m revising Book 2 in the series: Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines. This time around, Mimi’s sister, Alice, is in trouble. There are new eccentric suspects, a few cameos from previous characters, and a cute kitty!
There seems to be a lot of pressure for authors to write during this time. What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?
I think high expectations can be a roadblock. I would say to do the best you can, whether that’s being able to write a paragraph or just one sentence. Even taking a break is fine. Sometimes a breather helps you to refresh. Besides, it’s not really worth it if there’s no joy experienced while writing.
Jennifer J. Chow writes the #ownvoices Sassy Cat mystery series (Berkley/Penguin Random House). She also published the Winston Wong Cozy Mysteries under J. J. Chow. Her short fiction has been featured in Over My Dead Body! magazine.
Learn more about Jennifer and her work on her website.