A Chance Interview with Susan Wittig Albert

Every now and then I go for broke—take a chance that the biggest names in the industry will answer my requests for an interview. I’ve never been disappointed. 😉 Like a few months back when I asked Susan Wittig Albert to sit down at the Cozy Corner and answer a few questions. She quickly responded and was open and candid with my sometimes-nosey questions. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

About Susan Wittig Albert

Susan Wittig Albert

Susan Wittig Albert is the award-winning, NYT bestselling author of Loving Eleanor (2016), about the intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok; and A Wilder Rose (2014), about Rose Wilder Lane and the writing of the Little House books.

Her award-winning fiction also includes mysteries in the China Bayles series, the Darling Dahlias, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries she has written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.

She has written two memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, published by the University of Texas Press.

She is founder and current president (2015-2017) of the Story Circle Network and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

China Bayles | Darling Dahlias | Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter

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Kym: Welcome to the Cozy Corner, Susan! Congratulations on reaching the 25 book milestone with your China Bayles Mysteries. (That doesn’t include the short stories with China that are an added bonus for readers along with all your other novels!) Did you ever think you would write so many books about one character?

Susan: A long-running series wasn’t on my radar back then (1992). I had written Nancy Drew mysteries, and Nancy had been around since 1930. But adult mysteries featuring women sleuths (PIs and amateurs) were a relatively new thing, and I don’t think any writer could have predicted how far they might go.

Kym: On your website, it clearly states that your Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter mystery series was only meant to be eight books. Have you set a stopping point for the China Bayles series as well?

Susan: I chose eight books for the Cottage Tales because I was interested in a particular 8-year period in Beatrix Potter’s life: 1905-1913, from the year she bought her farm in the Lake District to the year she married her country lawyer. But China will go on as long as readers enjoy her adventures and as long as I have the energy to discover new ideas for her mysteries. I can see several new projects on China’s horizon.

Kym: Looking back, what changes in China would you have least expected when you started the series in the early 1990’s?

Susan: Wow. Interesting question! I originally had in mind a character more like Kinsey Milhone, unattached, with no children. But once the series had gone past four books, I had to start thinking about a long-term arc for the characters’ development—and for China, of course, that meant some sort of long-term commitment to McQuaid. In addition, the real region in which the fictional Pecan Springs is located has undergone massive development, which has affected the storylines of the books in important ways.

Another thing I couldn’t predict was the interest in herbs and plants. This seemed like a small niche when I wrote that first book, and I wondered if it was transitory. But readers’ interest in plants has continued to grow, and that has influenced the direction of the series.

A third huge change I could not have predicted in 1992 was the Internet, which completely altered the way the books are researched, written, distributed, marketed, sold, and read. Just one quick example: the Web offers me research resources that expand the development of plot, setting, characters—and make the books deeper and richer and much, much more interesting. This is a truly significant issue that deserves more attention than I can give it here—just want to note that this is major, major.

Kym: In THE LAST CHANCE OLIVE RANCH, you dedicate the book to your husband and talked about your efforts to grow olives in the Texas Hill Country. How are the olives coming?

Susan: Not very well, I’m afraid. We’re just out of a 5-year drought that affected our irrigation here. Now that we have a new, deeper well, I could do a better job with the olives—especially because climate change is producing warmer winters. But my initial plantings didn’t do so well. :-(

Kym: Did your ‘olive ranch’ inspire a little bit of your latest novel, or was there something else?

Susan: My olives, not so much. I was more interested in learning about the fraudulent marketing schemes that produce “bad” (adulterated) olive oil. There were several big stories on that topic in the news at the time I was writing that book. The olive industry in Texas is growing, and that was part of what pushed me into writing the book. It’s predicted that, in a few years, olives will be as important to the Texas economy as grapes/wine. Who knew?

Kym: You wrote two Nancy Drew mystery novels in the 1980’s under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene by yourself and three co-authored with your husband Bill. (I may have to go back and read them!) Can you tell us what that experience was like?

Susan: Bill and I also wrote books in the Hardy Boys series, too. From that experience, I learned what it’s like to write formulaic fiction and to work with editors who want you to stick to the predictable formula, since that is what sells those books. I also had to learn to write quickly and write to editorial expectations. If you don’t, you don’t last long. I also learned quite a bit about the publishing and agenting business—that’s proved helpful later, as I moved into adult fiction and now into indie publishing.

Working with Bill helped me to be a better listener and to be willing to work with ideas that didn’t originate with me. When you’re writing with another person, it helps to check your ego at the door.

Kym: You’ve written countless books in the young adult/middle grades fiction genre. Have you experienced a difference in the reactions of youthful readers/fans compared to fans of your adult-age novels? Do you have fans from your young adult books who’ve graduated to your adult-age novels?

Susan: Back in the day (this was in the late 1980s) there was very little fan interaction with young adult readers. The editors would sometimes forward fan letters, but I worked in about a dozen different series over five or six years, and never once went on tour. And since I was writing under a variety of series pseudonyms (Carolyn Keene, Franklin W. Dixon, Susan Blake, etc), readers then don’t know me now.

I do often meet readers who have been China fans from the beginning, though—and we always share a good laugh at being a whole quarter of a century older now than we were then!

Kym: I know I find it challenging to work alongside my husband for one project on the house, yet you and your husband, Bill, have written as a team under the pseudonyms Robin Paige, Caroly Keene, Susan Blake, Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys), and Nathaniel Payne. How did the two of you make it work? What was the biggest challenge?

Susan: I’ve been writing all my life. When I married Bill, I had already written a dozen books, all of them (except for one Russian translation) written alone. Bill had co-written many computer projects, so he had some background in collaborative work. But both of us had to consciously learn how to make the best of the other writer’s ideas, how to plan the work and manage our team time, and how to deal with the physical text (this was long before Track Changes). Overall, the biggest challenge was learning how to use both our skills to best advantage to make each book better than the one before. As I look back over the 12-year Robin Paige series, I’m glad to say that those books got better (and the work got easier) as the series went on.

Kym: Your research is phenomenal—from your historical mysteries to your historical fiction novels, like your latest—THE GENERAL’S WOMEN, which released March 7th, 2017, I am amazed at the amount of research you put into your work. What book/individual was the hardest to research and why?

Susan: That’s hard to say, really, because each project has been unique and uniquely difficult. But for me, that’s the real payoff—the exciting part of the work. Some examples:

I didn’t know anything about Medicare and hospice fraud when I started BLOOD ORANGE (China Bayles #24), so I had to figure out what the best research sources were and how to find them.

When I began planning THE GENERAL’S WOMEN,, I was intimidated (overwhelmed, really) by the massive amount of material available on Eisenhower; I had to learn what was important and how to whittle it all down. For Kay Summersby’s post-war life, on the other hand, there was very little: I spent a LOT of time doing research in American newspapers (and learning how to access online newspaper archives).

For LOVING ELEANOR, I had to travel to the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library and read selectively through 3,300 letters—plus the biographical material on the Roosevelts.

Kym: What can we look for next from you?

Susan: China will keep on keeping on: #26 (QUEEN ANNE’S LACE ) will be published in April, 2018. The 2019 book (#27) will be DEVIL’S TRUMPET. I’ve decided to move the Dahlias series from my traditional publisher to my own indie imprint, Persevero Press. I’m working on the first of three more books in that series, to be published later this year or early next. In addition, I have two more biographical/historical novels up my sleeve: one of them involves Gertrude Bell, who worked in British intelligence in the Middle East before, during, and after WW1. Another project involves the women around FDR.

Kym: Can you tell our readers how to reach you on social media?

Susan: My website: www.susanalbert.com . You’ll find my links to my other sites (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) there.

Kym: Thank you for joining us at the Cozy Corner!

Susan: Thanks for including me!

Kym: Tell Bill I love his turning!

Susan:He says, “Thank you!”

Until next time, get cozy and read on!

Kym Roberts
Kym Roberts is a retired detective sergeant who looks for passion, mystery and suspense in every book she reads and writes. She can be found on the web kymroberts.com, on Facebook at Kym Roberts (author) and on Twitter @kymroberts911. Fatal Fiction, A Book Barn Mystery is available now and . A Reference to Murder and Perilous Poetry available for Pre-order!

THE LAST CHANCE OLIVE RANCH by Susan Wittig Albert

China Bayles

The Last Chance Olive Ranch

In this exciting new mystery from New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert, China Bayles fears for her husband’s life as an escaped convict targets him…

Max Mantel, the killer McQuaid put away years ago, has busted out of the Huntsville prison and appears to be headed for Pecan Springs. McQuaid knows there’s only one way to stop the vengeful convict—set a trap with himself as bait.

China wants to stay by her husband’s side and keep him from harm. But McQuaid insists that she get out of town and go to the Last Chance Olive Ranch, where she’s agreed to teach a workshop on herbs.

When China and her best friend arrive at the ranch, she learns the owner, Maddie Haskell, has her own troubles. She inherited the ranch and olive oil business from the late matriarch, Eliza Butler, but Eliza’s nephew is contesting the will.

While China throws herself into helping Maddie, McQuaid’s plan backfires when Mantel executes a countermove he never saw coming. Now McQuaid’s life is not the only one at stake—and this time may really be his last chance…

Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: April 4, 2017, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425280034 / eISBN: 9780698190283]

Late night calls always lead to trouble….

Meet Sonia Taitz, author of GREAT WITH CHILD

GREAT WITH CHILD tells the story of ambitious, driven Abigail Thomas. The hard working daughter of immigrants, Abigail is up for partnership at a prestigious law firm. But then she is thrown by an accidental pregnancy that threatens to upend her life. While tempted by a new man she meets, she’s also secretly pining for the man who is the father of her child. Witty, warm, and wise, this novel confronts the true meanings of love, morality, and duty. Below, Taitz shares her thoughts on work, love and motherhood with Writing a Woman’s Life columnist, Yona Zeldis McDonough.

About Sonia Taitz

Sonia Taitz

Sonia Taitz is a playwright, essayist, and author of three novels and two works of non-fiction. An award-winning writer, her work has been praised by The New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, People, Vanity Fair, and many other publications.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | GOODREADS

YZM: You have a law degree from Yale; how did that inform the novel in general and Abigail’s character in particular?

ST: Like my plucky heroine, Abigail Thomas, I was raised as the ambitious daughter of immigrants. My parents came over to this country without a nickel to their name, and I was championed, from an early age, to fulfill the American dream of “making it” through success in a career. Abigail, when we first meet her, also wants to prove herself by reaching what she feels is the highest level of professional achievement. As the novel progresses, these views evolve into something very different.

YZM: What was your path from lawyer to writer?

ST: Most of my growing years were consumed with the goal of getting into a place like Yale Law School. It was only when I got there, at 21, that I realized I didn’t connect with any aspect of being a lawyer. I was always “artsy” in high school and college even as I doggedly collected “A” grades and letters of recommendation. By the time I entered law school, I had written short stories and early drafts of plays. Once I was there, I felt I needed to take time off to continue pursuing a literary path, so I took a leave of absence and went to Oxford. There, I got a degree in 19th century literature, won an award for fiction, and put on several plays. Even after returning to finish law school, I continued to write. But it wasn’t until many years later, when I began doing articles for The New York Times and Off Broadway theatre, that I began to devote myself to writing full time.

YZM: At the beginning of the novel, Abigail feels a conflict between work and motherhood. What is the resolution to that conflict?

ST: There is no one resolution to that conflict. Some will focus on their careers to the exclusion of motherhood, some will do the opposite, and most will try to strike some kind of balance. For Abigail, and for lawyers, it’s particularly hard. The culture is very macho, long hours are expected, ethics are sometimes iffy, and emotionality is shunned. For her, the transition to mother includes a change in her very nature – she begins to be tempered and taught by the love she feels for her daughter. Her practice as a lawyer changes not only quantitatively but qualitatively. Instead of “thinking like a lawyer,” she begins to think like a parent. A great improvement, in my view.

YZM: You’ve also written memoir, non-fiction and plays; can you speak about working in several genres?

ST: I recommend it. Each has its own pleasures. I compare fiction to working with clay – it’s malleable and open-ended. Non-fiction is like working with stone – you cut away what doesn’t belong, and are always responsible to the original material. And plays, for me, are sheer joy – all is language, which I love, and pure dramatic essence.

YZM: Arlie is a fascinating character. Can you talk about her role in the novel?

ST: Like any working mother, I have had help in the home. And I have been fascinated by the women who do the job of caring for other people’s children. Do they actually love the kids? If so, how do they feel when the job ends? Do they envy the parents? What about their own emotional lives? These questions are heightened by what are often class, cultural, and racial divisions. Arlie is an educated Guyanese woman, but at the same time, she takes orders from an ambitious professional. Conflicts arise not only because of differences in the backgrounds of employer and employee, but by the very intimate nature of the job. Who does the child like more? Who knows best what the child needs? And, in this book, the additional tantalizing issue – who is unwittingly attracting the mother’s lover, Tim?

YMZ: What are you working on now?

ST: Slowly and painstakingly, a sequel to my memoir, THE WATCHMAKER’S DAUGHTER.

YZM: What’s the one question I didn’t ask that you wish I had?

ST: I like to be asked which is my favorite book among the five I’ve written. It makes me think about the arduous, sometimes painful, but always rewarding process of letting parts of yourself live on in the world. But in the end, it’s like parenting multiple children – you may have a favorite (and it may well be the one who gave you the most trouble) but it’s probably best not to tell.

GREAT WITH CHILD by Sonia Taitz

Great With Child

Great With Child tells the story of ambitious, driven Abigail Thomas. Up for partnership at a prestigious law firm, she is thrown by an accidental pregnancy that threatens to upend her life. Witty, warm, and wise, this novel confronts the true meanings of love, morality, and duty.

Women’s Fiction | Romance Paranormal | Fantasy [McWitty Press, On Sale: April 11, 2017, Trade Size, ISBN: 9780985222796 / ]

Cozy Corner | Spring is HERE!

It’s almost here! Can you feel it? Can you smell it in the air? Well, you can definitely see it in all the fresh new cozies popping up everywhere! Take a moment in your day to stop and savor the mysteries—they’re bright, they’re charming, and they’ll lead you on an exciting chase for a killer.

AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS by Kylie Logan

League of Literary Ladies #4

And Then There Were Nuns

The national bestselling author of The Legend of
Sleepy Harlow
returns to South Bass Island, where the
League of Literary Ladies has to find out who’s killing off
nuns.

B and B owner Bea Cartwright has taken on
the responsibility of taking meals to ten visiting nuns, who
are on retreat at the Water’s Edge Center for Spirit and
Renewal on picturesque South Bass Island on Lake Erie. But
the peace of the retreat is shattered when one of the nuns
is found at the water’s edge—murdered. And when a second nun
is killed, Bea and the other members of the League of
Literary Ladies—Chandra, Kate, and Luella—start to wonder
about eerie parallels with the Agatha Christie mystery
classic, And Then There Were None.
 
Since Bea has the trust of the sisters,
the local chief of police asks her and the other Literary
Ladies to interview each of them. Expecting a confession may
be asking for a miracle, but Bea hopes she can at least find
the killer before another nun gets crossed off the guest list…

Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: March 1, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425282953 / eISBN: 9780698407282]

KERNEL OF TRUTH by Kristi Abbott

Popcorn Shop Mystery #1

Kernel of Truth

An all-new Popcorn Shop Mystery bursts on the scene,
featuring gourmet popcorn entrepreneur Rebecca Anderson and
her poodle Sprocket.

Opening a gourmet popcorn
shop was never on Rebecca Anderson’s bucket list. But after
a failed marriage to a celebrity chef, she’s ready for her
life to open up and expand. She has returned to her hometown
of Grand Lake, Ohio, with her popcorn-loving poodle Sprocket
to start a new business—naturally called POPS. As a
delicious bonus, Cordelia “Coco” Bittles, a close family
friend who has always been like a grandmother to Rebecca,
owns the chocolate shop next door, and the two are thinking
of combining their businesses.

But when
Coco’s niece, Alice, discovers her on the floor of her
chocolate shop, those dreams go up in smoke. The local
sheriff thinks Coco was the victim of a robbery gone wrong,
but Rebecca isn’t so sure. As suspects start popping up all
over, Rebecca is determined to turn up the heat and bring
the killer to justice in a jiffy!

Mystery Cozy | Mystery Culinary [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: March 1, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425280911 / eISBN: 9780698193857]

Read KERNEL OF TRUTH- you won’t regret it!

MRS. JEFFRIES WINS THE PRIZE by Emily Brightwell

Mrs. Jefferies #34

Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize

Mrs. Jeffries is back in the New York Times
bestselling Victorian series, perfect for fans of Downton
Abbey.

NIPPED IN THE
BUD

The ladies of the Mayfair
Orchid and Exotic Plant Society are known for a bit of
friendly rivalry, but the backstabbing has never been
literal—until now. When Hiram Filmore, an orchid hunter and
supplier, is found dead in Mrs. Helena Rayburn’s
conservatory, Inspector Witherspoon is called in to weed out
a murderer.

When it comes out that Mrs.
Rayburn and her flowery friends knew each other from long
ago, Mrs. Jeffries begins to suspect that there’s more to
unearth about this case than meets the eye. Now she, along
with the rest of Inspector Witherspoon’s household and
friends, will have to dig up the past to figure out which
gardening gentlewoman had a grudge worth killing for…

A Mrs. Jeffries Mystery

She
keeps house for Inspector Witherspoon . . . and keeps him on
his toes. Everyone’s awed by his Scotland Yard successes—but
they don’t know about his secret weapon. No matter how messy
the murder or how dirty the deed, Mrs. Jeffries’ polished
detection skills are up to the task . . . proving that
behind every great man there’s a woman—and that a
crimesolver’s work is never done.

NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED!

Mystery Historical | Mystery Cozy [Berkley, On Sale: March 1, 2016, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425268117 / eISBN: 9781101624357]

RIPE FOR MURDER by Carlene O’Neil

Cypress Cove #2

Ripe for Murder

From the author of One Foot in the Grape—a new
full-bodied Cypress Cove mystery that is certain to delight,
even if one wine lover is about to expire…

Penny Lively loves running her family’s winery, but to keep
business growing, she needs to find a way to attract more
guests. When she’s approached to invest in a new train line
through wine country, Penny and her intoxicating winery
manager, Connor, hightail it to a lavish resort to hear the
details. Unfortunately, her neighbor’s daughter, Chantal, is
also there, swirling up trouble by flirting with the married
investors—and with Connor too.

When one of the investors’ wives is murdered, Chantal, who
was seen fighting with the woman, is the prime suspect.
Chantal may be a sour grape, but she’s no killer. So Penny,
who’s become a sleuthing connoisseur, starts sniffing out
the real suspect—and discovers that her fellow potential
investors have been savoring more than their share of deadly
secrets…

Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: March 1, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425274026 / eISBN: 9780698154346]

Until next time, get cozy and read on!

Kym Roberts is a retired detective sergeant who looks for passion, mystery and suspense in every book she reads and writes. She can be found on the web at kymroberts.com, on Facebook and on Twitter. Look for her newest release, FLIRTING WITH THE DEVIL, A Noble Pass Affaire Novella available now.

Something Sweet with Sandra Bretting

Missy Dubois is the definition of southern charm in the small town of Bleu Bayou, Louisiana. She’s got sass and spunk, with a style everyone wants—and Sandra Bretting has brought her to life in a most entertaining way with her Missy Dubois Mystery series.

I was elated when Ms. Bretting agreed to sit down in our Cozy Corner and chat for a spell.

Kym: Welcome to the Cozy Corner, Sandra!

Sandra: So glad to be here, Kym. I love your blog!

Kym: Your first Missy Dubois Mystery, MURDER AT MORNINGSIDE, was released last summer by Lyrical Press. What captured your attention about Missy?

Sandra: She reminded me of someone I met a long time ago who hailed from Louisiana. Missy is fearless: she follows her heart instead of her head. She’s not always prudent, but she’s always interesting.

Kym: Missy is quite the hatmaker, how did you develop the knowledge about her trade?

Sandra: Books, books and more books. I’ve always loved hats, but now I know how to piece one together. I also visited a hat shop in New Orleans that makes custom hats to order. (I’d use the word “bespoke,” but that word is wwwaaayyy too popular right now.)

Kym: LOL, have you been known to don a few fancy hats? (If so, do you have a pic to share?)

Sandra: I have. One of my favorites is a hat I brought with me on a family trip to Paris. Since we visited in July, I went with a paper straw hat with a pinstriped hatband. Kinda jaunty, don’t you think?

Kym: That’s awesome, I love it! In your second Missy Dubois Mystery, SOMETHING FOUL AT SWEETWATER, our resident hatmaker has outgrown the current location for her store, Crowning Glory. She finds a steal of a deal in the Sweetwater Mansion that’s up for sale. Did you model this mansion after a famous mansion?

Sandra: It’s more an amalgamation of the pretty mansions I’ve seen on the Great River Road. All have grand columns and wraparound porches, and some even have widows’ walks, which I find fascinating.

SOMETHING FOUL AT SWEETWATER by Sandra Bretting

Missy DuBois #2

Something Foul at Sweetwater

Louisiana hat maker Missy DuBois is making a name for herself veiling Southern brides-to-be with her sophisticated designs. She’s also gaining a reputation for unveiling murderers . . .

Missy is shocked when she sees the asking price for the Sweetwater mansion . . . in a good way. With business thriving at Crowning Glory, it would be nice to set up shop surrounded by alabaster columns and gleaming mahogany. The Southern connections only deepen when it turns out the real estate agent is Mellette Babineaux, a college classmate and sorority sister. But when Missy drags her best friend Bo along to the mansion for a second look, they barely make it past the live oaks before they discover Mellette’s dead body in a shed.

Now, for the sake of her college friend, Missy finds herself investigating everyone from a superstitious Cajun caretaker to a Rolls Royce-driving billionaire—and finding that lots of closet space can mean lots of skeletons, too . . .

Mystery Cozy [Kensington, On Sale: December 20, 2016, e-Book, ISBN: 9781601837158 / eISBN: 9781601837158]

Kym: Tell us about Bo. Who would you put in the role as Missy’s best friend?

Sandra: Bo is tall, dark and handsome, but he doesn’t necessarily think so. I’d probably pick someone like Ryan Gosling (I love his crooked smile) and make him dye his hair for the part.

Kym: He would fit perfectly in the role. How did you get comfortable writing with a Cajun accent? It’s one thing to understand it, it’s quite another to put it on a page and have readers unfamiliar with the rhythm and fluidity of the accent be able to actually hear it as they read?

Sandra: I’ve met several people with Cajun accents (I live in Houston, so we’re next-door neighbors with Louisiana Cajun country), and sometimes even they can’t understand each other. It’s a very guttural dialect; almost as if the speaker is swallowing her words. I also watched videos of people on YouTube, which is a great source for anything audiovisual.

Kym: Youtube has become a vast resource center! You grew up on the West coast, went to school in the mid-west, (go Mizzou!) and ended up working in Texas. How has living in the different regions of the United States, developed your writing?

Sandra: I think it’s given me a better ear for how people actually speak. I grew up in Southern California, where every sentence tends to end on the upswing. It’s that sunny California vibe that’s a cliché for a reason. Here in Texas, my friends speak more slowly; they’re not in a rush to get on with it. I think it’s helped me develop characters that are more realistic.

Kym: You’re a reporter by day, and a novelist by night. Is it difficult to switch hats?

Sandra: Not really, because I’m lucky enough to write feature articles for the Houston Chronicle. As with books, there’s a clear beginning, middle and end, and usually an inciting incident that kicks everything off. Working for the paper has exposed me to some very interesting people, while writing books has made my newspaper reporting more lively.

Kym: You’ve written two intriguing stand-alone mysteries, UNHOLY LIES and BLESS THE DYING, two titles that I absolutely love! Can you tell us a bit about them?

Sandra: UNHOLY LIES was my firstborn, so it’ll always hold a special place in my heart. It’s about a small-town reporter (like they say, “Write about what you know”), who investigates the death of a local church organist. Turns out the woman had been having an affair with her pastor, so I got to explore a lot of juicy things about leadership and conscience. BLESS THE DYING takes place in a hospital, and its involves a cop who’s poisoned in a very matter-of-fact way.

Kym: In January, you expanded your family to include, Chance, an adorable rescue from the pound who’s become your series mascot. How has his training gone? Has he brought new challenges to your writing schedule?

Sandra: Ah, Chance. Gotta love him. Here’s a picture of the little guy, since I can’t resist that puppy face. His training has gone…well, let’s just say it’s been interesting. We might have to repeat our puppy class at Petsmart. If anything, he’s helped me as a writer, though, because now I don’t look insane when I take walks and talk to myself about plotlines.

Kym: What can we expect next from you and Missy?

Sandra: The next book in the Missy DuBois Mystery series debuts in May. It’s called SOMEONE’S MAD AT THE HATTER, and this time the danger turns personal for Missy. Thankfully, my publisher wants at least three more books, so I get to hang out with Missy and her friends for a while.

Kym: Where can our readers find you on social media?

Sandra: My website is www.sandrabretting.com and my Facebook page is SandraBrettingBooks/ I love to hear from readers, and I welcome any and all questions.

Kym: Thank you for joining us at The Cozy Corner Sandra!

Sandra: It’s been my pleasure, Kym. Thanks for the interesting questions!

Kym Roberts

Kym Roberts is a retired detective sergeant who looks for passion, mystery and suspense in every book she reads and writes. She can be found on the web kymroberts.com, on Facebook at Kym Roberts (author) and on Twitter @kymroberts911. Look for her cozy mystery release, Fatal Fiction, A Book Barn Mystery available for a limited time for just 99¢. A Reference to Murder and Perilous Poetry available for on Pre-order now!

Meet Wendy Lee, author of THE ART OF CONFIDENCE

Liu Qingwu doesn’t set out to commit a crime. He only wants to sell a painting—something more substantial than the Impressionist knockoffs he flogs to tourists in front of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. But the lucrative commission he receives from a Chelsea art dealer is more complicated than he initially realizes. Liu has been hired to create not an homage to Andrew Cantrell’s modernist masterpiece, Elegy, but a forgery that will sell for millions.

The painting will change the lives of everyone associated with it—Liu, a Chinese immigrant still reeling from his wife’s recent departure; Caroline, a gallery owner intent on saving her aunt’s legacy; Molly, her perceptive assistant; and Harold, a Taiwanese businessman with an ethical dilemma on his hands. Weaving together their stories with that of Cantrell and the inspiration for his masterpiece, Wendy Lee’s intricate, multilayered novel explores the unique fascination of great art and the lengths to which some are driven to create it—and to possess it. Lee e-chats with Writing a Woman’s Life columnist Yona Zeldis McDonough and reveals the ways in which her writing expresses the things she holds dearest.

About Wendy Lee

Wendy Lee

Wendy Lee is the author of the novels Across a Green Ocean and Happy Family, which was named one of the top ten debuts of 2008 by Booklist and received an honorable mention from the Association of Asian American Studies. A graduate of New York University’s Creative Writing Program, she has worked as a book editor and an English teacher in China. She lives in Queens, New York.

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YZM: What drew you to this story?

WL: In 2012 I read an article about an art forgery case in which paintings attributed to modern masters such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock were discovered to be fakes…and the forger turned out to be a Chinese immigrant who worked out of his garage in Queens! It seemed like a colossal joke on the art world. I read more, and most of the stories were about the gallery that sold the forgeries, the woman who ran it, and her art dealer. Less was written about the forger, and I was curious to know why someone like him would commit this crime, as well what motivated everyone involved in it. This definitely was truth being stranger than fiction.

YZM: Did you find many parallels between the lives of artists and those of writers?

WL: I think all creative people have to deal with similar struggles, from the difficulty of translating what’s in your head to the outside world, to the practicality of making a living. Then there are those artists and writers who are larger than life, to the point where their personalities overtake their work, when you’re wondering whether that work has any intrinsic value.

YZM: How was it working from multiple points of view?

WL: While the point of view of the forger, the Chinese immigrant, was the one that interested me the most, I wanted to explore the story from many different angles. My intention was for the five characters—the forger, the galley owner, her assistant, the buyer, and the original artist—to share traits with each other. For example, the assistant is an aspiring artist who might have been the forger starting out as a young painter. The forger and the buyer, who is from Taiwan, both have issues with their national identity. While not all of these characters interact, I wanted them to have more that connected than separated them.

YZM: How do you come up with your ideas?

WL: Almost everything I write about has something to do with the idea of family or belonging. My first novel, Happy Family, was inspired by the transnational adoption of girls from China, as viewed from the perspective of a recent Chinese immigrant who becomes the nanny to one. My second, Across a Green Ocean, which is more autobiographical, involves the story of my great-uncle, who was sent to western China during the intellectual purges of the 1950s. I’m really interested in what is lost due to immigration and the gap between generations.

YZM: Can you talk about your journey as a writer?

WL: My mother is a writer in Chinese, so I grew up with her encouraging me to tell stories. I always wanted to be a “writer,” but while I took writing classes in college, I felt I didn’t have anything interesting to write about. After I graduated, I taught English in China for a couple of years before getting an MFA. Even after three novels, I don’t think of myself as a “writer” so much as someone who enjoys futzing with words, who sometimes gets paid for it and more often does not, and probably spends more time not writing or thinking about writing than actually writing.

YZM: What’s next on your horizon?

WL: I have a toddler and am still figuring out the whole parenting-while-writing thing. Supposedly you start writing again when they go to kindergarten?

THE ART OF CONFIDENCE by Wendy Lee

The Art of Confidence

“I suppose I did it because I wanted something to show for the thirty years—longer than I had lived in my homeland—that I had been here in America. Something that was properly appreciated, even if someone else got all the credit.”

Liu Qingwu doesn’t set out to commit a crime. He only wants to sell a painting—something more substantial than the Impressionist knockoffs he flogs to tourists outside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. But the lucrative commission he receives from a Chelsea art dealer is more complicated than he initially realizes. Liu has been hired to create not an homage to Andrew Cantrell’s modernist masterpiece, Elegy, but a forgery that will sell for millions.

The painting will change the lives of everyone associated with it—Liu, a Chinese immigrant still reeling from his wife’s recent departure; Caroline, a gallery owner intent on saving her aunt’s legacy; Molly, her perceptive assistant; and Harold, a Taiwanese businessman with an ethical dilemma on his hands. Weaving together their stories with that of Cantrell and the inspiration for his masterpiece, Wendy Lee’s intricate, multilayered novel explores the unique fascination of great art and the lengths to which some are driven to create it—and to possess it.

Women’s Fiction [Kensington, On Sale: November 29, 2016, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9781617734892 / eISBN: 9781617734908]

About Yona Zeldis McDonough

Yona Zeldis McDonoughYona Zeldis McDonough is the author of six novels; her seventh, THE HOUSE ON PRIMROSE POND, will be out from New American Library in February, 2016. In addition, she is the editor of the essay collections The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty and All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. Her short fiction, articles and essays have been published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines and newspapers. She is also the award-winning author of twenty-six books for children, including the highly acclaimed chapter books, The Doll Shop Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop. Yona lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two children and two noisy Pomeranians.

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My Mission: Peachy Cozies to Blow You Away

As a reader, book covers catch my eye. As a writer, titles draw me in. My three features this week were complete head-turners that had me hooked at first sight. From the natural born enemies of MISSION IMPAWSIBLE , to cozy southern charm of WAR AND PEACH, to the wispy fresh breezes of the Oregon shore in BLOWN AWAY, I was completely captivated from cover to cover.

Expand your horizons, and get cozy with three winning mysteries.

MISSION IMPAWSIBLE by Krista Davis

Paws and Claws #4

Mission Impawsible

From the New York Times bestselling author of Murder Most Howl comes the fourth Paws & Claws mystery…

In the pet-friendly town of Wagtail, Virginia, there’s no love lost when Holly Miller meets her match in a murderer…

Holly and her grandmother, Oma, are working their tails off to prepare the Sugar Maple Inn for an upcoming matchmaking event for pet owners. While Holly has no interest in pairing up, Oma plans on playing Cupid and finding someone to warm her reluctant granddaughter’s heart.

Unfortunately, one man Holly does meet is cold—dead cold—and he has a personal letter from Oma in his pocket. As suspicion is cast over the inn’s guests, Holly—with the help of her furry friends, Trixie the Jack Russell and Twinkletoes the cat—must fetch the real killer, or she may soon have a date in court.

Delicious recipes for owners and pets included!

Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: February 7, 2017, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781101988565 / eISBN: 9781101988572]

WAR AND PEACH by Susan Furlong

Georgia Peach

War and Peach

The author of Rest in Peach serves up another bite of Southern charm in the latest Georgia Peach mystery.

Nola Mae Harper is too busy restocking the jars of preserves and chutney flying off the shelves of her shop, Peachy Keen, to keep up with all the gossip about the upcoming mayoral election, but she does know the debate is sure to be a real barn burner.

Local farmer Clem Rogers claims he has a bombshell that could take small business owner Margie Price out of the running. But before Clem can reveal his juicy secret at the debate, his actual barn goes up in flames—with him inside of it. The town casts its vote against Margie, but Nola isn’t convinced the hardworking woman is capable of murder. Now to clear Margie’s name Nola will have to work fast under pressure, before Margie gets taken in by the fuzz…

INCLUDES RECIPES!

Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: February 7, 2017, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425278963 / eISBN: 9780698184862]

BLOWN AWAY by Clover Tate

Kite Shop Mystery

Blown Away

In the all-new Kite Shop Mystery series set in the beachside community of Rock Point, Oregon, kite shop owner Emmy Adler gets swept up in a murder investigation.

Emmy is finally living her dream. She’s moved to the coastal town of Rock Point, Oregon, and is starting a kite business. Strings Attached features her own unique designs, inspired by everything from Picasso to Matisse’s colorful cutouts. Her spirits are soaring sky-high the morning of the grand opening—until she stumbles upon a dead man washed up on the beach.

The body belongs to local chef Miles Logan, and the gash across his chest indicates he’s been murdered. The sheriff suspects Emmy’s best friend, Avery, who used to date the chef. Emmy is sure Avery would never hurt anyone, but her pal doesn’t have an alibi for the night of the murder. With Avery’s freedom and the fate of her kite shop up in the air, Emmy takes it upon herself to follow the string of clues and solve the murder before the real killer takes flight.

Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: February 7, 2017, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425283547 / eISBN: 9780698410275]

Until Next time, get cozy and read on!

Kym Roberts

Kym Roberts is a retired detective sergeant who looks for passion, mystery and suspense in every book she reads and writes. She can be found on the web kymroberts.com, on Facebook at Kym Roberts (author) and on Twitter @kymroberts911. Look for her cozy mystery release, Fatal Fiction, A Book Barn Mystery available for a limited time for just 99¢. A Reference to Murder on Pre-order now!

Cozies for the Dead of Winter

January is one of those months I find myself snuggling up in front of the fire with a good book instead of doing my grocery shopping. A good cozy mystery beats bundling up in layers and driving to the grocery store feeling like the Michelin Man stuffed inside a clown car any day. And if it means my family has to eat frozen pizza again, so be it. They’ll survive until the temperature rises, or at least until I’m done with my book.

If you need an excuse to do the same, I have three mysteries that will have you pointing to the freezer when your hubby asks, “What’s for dinner?” Check these out, they’re worth the dirty looks.

ASSAULT AND BERET by Jenn McKinlay

Hat Shop Mystery

Assault and Beret

Allons-y to Paris for more hats and homicide from the New York Times bestselling author of Copy Cap Murder!

London milliner Vivian Tremont and her American cousin and partner, Scarlett Parker, tip their caps to their beloved shop on Portobello Road in Notting Hill and set off for Paris, where Viv can’t wait to teach a hat-making class. But she has another reason to travel to the City of Light: to find the man she impulsively eloped with years ago and have their marriage annulled.

William Graham is not only handsome and charming, but he also has a glamorous job as an insurance investigator who works with priceless pieces of art, most recently a small Renoir that has been discovered in a junk shop. But when both Will and the masterpiece suddenly disappear, it’s up to the ladies from London to follow the trail of clues. They’ll need to hold on to their chapeaux, however, because someone is a master in the art of deception…

Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: January 3, 2017, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425279595 / eISBN: 9780698187818]

BETTER OFF THREAD by Amanda Lee

Embroidery Mystery Series #10

Better Off Thread

Santa finds himself in a stitch of trouble in the tenth in the series from the national bestselling author of The Stitching Hour

Marcy is busy helping her customers make hand-crafted ornaments at her embroidery shop, the Seven-Year Stitch. But despite the yuletide bustle, when her friend Captain Moe asks for her help, she can’t refuse—especially when the favor is to play the elf to his Santa for sick children at a local hospital. Despite the ridiculous outfit, Marcy finds herself enjoying spreading cheer—until the hospital’s administrator is found murdered.

Although the deceased had plenty of people willing to fill her stocking with coal, evidence pins the crime on Moe. Now it’s up to Marcy, with the help of her police officer boyfriend Ted and her Irish Wolfhound Angus, to stitch together the clues to clear Moe’s name—before someone else winds up crossed off Santa’s list for good…

Mystery Cozy [Berkley, On Sale: December 6, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780451473851 / eISBN: 9780698186521]

THIRD TIME’S A CRIME by Diana Orgain

Love or Money Mystery #3

Third Time's a Crime

Ex-detective Georgia Thornton returns to reality TV in the third mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of A Second Chance at Murder

POOL YOUR RESOURCES…

After two hit reality TV shows brought ex-detective Georgia Thornton into America’s living rooms, audiences can’t get enough of her quest for love and justice. Now producers have come up with an all-new show set in a haunted castle in Golden, California. Georgia and nine other contestants will need to solve the mystery of a young woman who disappeared at the castle in 1960.

Except there’s one rather substantial problem waiting for everyone when they arrive: a groundskeeper is found drowned at the bottom of the castle’s empty pool. Now Georgia and the other contestants will need to work together, because there’s a different sort of game afoot—and it’s not one they can afford to lose…

Mystery [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: January 3, 2017, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425271704 / eISBN: 9780698140172]

Until Next time, get cozy and read on!

Kym Roberts

Kym Roberts is a retired detective sergeant who looks for passion, mystery and suspense in every book she reads and writes. She can be found on the web kymroberts.com, on Facebook at Kym Roberts (author) and on Twitter @kymroberts911. Look for her new cozy mystery release, Fatal Fiction, A Book Barn Mystery available now.

Meet Ella Joy Olsen, author of ROOT, PETAL, THORN

Ivy Baygren has two great loves in her life: her husband, Adam, and the bungalow they buy together in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the moment she and Adam lay eyes on the home, Ivy is captivated by its quaint details—the old porch swing, ornate tiles, and especially an heirloom rose bush bursting with snowy white blossoms. Called the Emmeline Rose for the home’s original owner, it seems yet another sign that this place will be Ivy’s happily-ever-after…Until her dreams are shattered by Adam’s unexpected death.

Striving to be strong for her two children, Ivy decides to tackle the home-improvement projects she and Adam once planned. As she attempts to rebuild her house—and her resolve—she uncovers clues about previous inhabitants, from a half-embroidered sampler to buried wine bottles. And as Ivy learns about the women who came before her—the young Mormon torn between her heart and anti-polygamist beliefs, the Greek immigrant during World War II, a troubled single mother in the 1960s—she begins to uncover the lessons of her own journey. Writing a Woman’s Life columnist Yona Zeldis McDonough asks Olsen some questions about how the idea “blossomed” into the finished novel.

About Ella Joy Olsen

Ella Joy Olsen

Ella Joy Olsen lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a century old brick bungalow with her husband and three children. She has spent nearly a decade on the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake City Public Library system (and even more years browsing the stacks), and is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers and the best book club ever, (SLC Bibliophiles).

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YZM: You’re a debut novelist; tell us a bit about your journey to publication day.

EOJ: Well, like most authors, except maybe Stephenie Meyer (Twilight), my journey was a long one. I started writing Root, Petal, Thorn in 2010 with no idea that I was actually writing a book. I thought I was teaching myself to write. But as the characters started to coming to life on the page I wanted a permanent home for them.

I typed THE END for the first time toward the end of 2012. I say “for the first time” because the manuscript had a long way to go. After much critical feedback (and oodles of changes) I started querying. I likely sent over 200 query letters and continued to make edits based on feedback I received from agents, until I signed with Rachel Ekstrom of IGLA in late 2014! The manuscript sold to Kensington in April 2015. It took until September 2016 to land on the shelves. Whew… That’s a lot of years!

YZM: Can you talk about the challenges—and rewards—of using multiple narrators?

EOJ: I have five narrators in my novel and several of my early readers thought this would stop me from selling the manuscript…but I’d written each story separately and I felt like each woman had a place in the hundred-year-old home—and in the book—so I fought for it. However, I knew I must braid the stories in a way readers wouldn’t get lost. A lost reader means a closed book…and that’s the risk. So after each character was written, I started braiding. Smoothing the transitions and creating a cohesive narrative was probably the most challenging part of the whole process. I couldn’t have done it without Scrivner.

YZM: Describe your typical writing day.

EOJ: On a perfect day I get up at 6:30am and start some coffee. I work silently until my coffee is gone and the kids are out of bed. I make them breakfast and get them out the door then I get back to work. My best writing hours end about 10:00am. After that, I’ll mess around on social media, return emails, edit, and so on. If I’m stuck on a plot point, I try to go on a hike. The movement and silence help me sort things out.

YZM: Do you write in longhand or on the computer?

EOJ: Absolutely on the computer. I can’t write a full sentence in longhand. With that said, I do keep an old fashioned calendar where I write tasks for each day and sometimes brainstorm scenes. I love crossing things off a list.

YZM: What kind of historical research did you do for this book?

EOJ: I did a bunch! The story takes place in surroundings very familiar to me: my hometown and my neighborhood (although in a fictional house). However, the book spans a century, so I went to the Utah Historical Society and combed through old photos to see what Sugar House looked like across the decades. I found old newspaper clippings to determine which stores and buildings were in the retail district throughout the years, and what events were making headlines. I studied clothing styles and popular home furnishings. And I did a lot of research on WWI. Although some of what I discovered was cut from the manuscript, I didn’t know much about this war, and it was fascinating! Hopefully, I’ll be able to use the rest of the information in another book.

YZM: Can you talk about the role Salt Lake City played in the novel?

EOJ: I wanted to illustrate the effects of world-wide events on a very personal level. So within the five stories the women live through WWI, WWII, lunar landings, the Great Depression, and so on…but regardless of which world event, each is seen through the lens of home and personal experience. As such, Salt Lake City, the religious environment, and especially the geographical features (particularly the Rocky Mountains) affect each character.

YZM: Your next book, WHERE THE SWEET BIRD SINGS, is described as a companion novel; care to elaborate?

EOJ: Sweet Bird (as I call it) is a companion to ROOT, PETAL, THORN, in that the books have one common character…the stories are linked, but not in a sequel-y way. Each book could be read individually, or in any order. I think the mysteries found in each novel will enhance the other story. I’m really excited for Sweet Bird so here’s the teaser:

Though she has a loving husband, Emma Hazelton is adrift, struggling to rebuild her life after a tragedy. But one day, a simple question and an old black-and-white photograph prompt Emma to untangle the branches of her family tree, where she discovers a legacy of secrets. Where the Sweet Bird Sings explores the meaning of family and identity. What connects us to another? Is it shared history? Is it ancestry? Is it genetics? Or is it love?

ROOT, PETAL, THORN by Ella Joy Olsen

Root, Petal, Thorn

In this beautifully written and powerful debut novel, Ella Joy Olsen traces the stories of five fascinating women who inhabit the same historic home over the course of a century—braided stories of love, heartbreak and courage connect the women, even across generations.

Ivy Baygren has two great loves in her life: her husband, Adam, and the bungalow they buy together in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the moment she and Adam lay eyes on the home, Ivy is captivated by its quaint details—the old porch swing, ornate tiles, and especially an heirloom rose bush bursting with snowy white blossoms. Called the Emmeline Rose for the home’s original owner, it seems yet another sign that this place will be Ivy’s happily-ever-after…Until her dreams are shattered by Adam’s unexpected death.

Striving to be strong for her two children, Ivy decides to tackle the home-improvement projects she and Adam once planned. Day by day, as she attempts to rebuild her house and her resolve, she uncovers clues about previous inhabitants, from a half-embroidered sampler to buried wine bottles. And as Ivy learns about the women who came before her—the young Mormon torn between her heart and anti-polygamist beliefs, the Greek immigrant during World War II, a troubled single mother in the 1960s—she begins to uncover the lessons of her own journey. For every story has its sadness, but there is also the possibility of blooming again, even stronger and more resilient than before…

Women’s Fiction Historical | Saga [Kensington, On Sale: August 30, 2016, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9781496705624 / eISBN: 9781496705631]

About Yona Zeldis McDonough

Yona Zeldis McDonoughYona Zeldis McDonough is the author of six novels; her seventh, THE HOUSE ON PRIMROSE POND, will be out from New American Library in February, 2016. In addition, she is the editor of the essay collections The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty and All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. Her short fiction, articles and essays have been published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines and newspapers. She is also the award-winning author of twenty-six books for children, including the highly acclaimed chapter books, The Doll Shop Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop. Yona lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two children and two noisy Pomeranians.

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Meet Caroline Leavitt, author of CRUEL, BEAUTIFUL WORLD

It’s 1969, and sixteen-year-old Lucy is about to run away to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default caretaker for most of their lives, Charlotte’s youth has been marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into a nightmare. Writing a Woman’s Life columnist Yona Zeldis McDonough catches up with Caroline Leavitt and asks how she found her way to this remarkable story.

About Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of eleven novels, including the New York Times bestsellers Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow. Her essays and stories have been included in New York magazine, Psychology Today, More, Parenting, Redbook, and Salon. She’s a book critic for People, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and she teaches writing online at Stanford and UCLA.

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YZM: How did this novel emerge in your imagination?

CL: I’ve been trying to write this book since I was 17. In the 70s, I sat behind a girl in study hall and we talked, not studied. I wanted to go to Paris and have adventures and love affairs and be a writer, but she was already engaged to a guy who was much older than she was and “a tad controlling.” Once I got to college, I heard the news. She had decided to break it off and her boyfriend had stabbed her 43 times. I was so haunted. I knew I had to write this story, but I couldn’t figure out how until about four years ago.

YZM: Do you feel you have a special affinity for the time period?

CL: Oh definitely, I was too young to do anything in the 1960s, which drove me crazy. I couldn’t go out to San Francisco and “wear flowers in my hair,” but I was lucky enough to have an older sister who took me to the Love-Ins and Be-Ins that were all around Boston and Cambridge. She taught me how to iron my hair, wear lace-up-the-leg sandals and I got her cast-off hippie clothes, the paisley elephant bells, the mini dress with peace signs all over it…

YZM: Can you talk about the differences between Lucy and Charlotte?

CL: Lucy is the wilder, younger sister, and terrified that she may not be smart or good at anything. She’s impulsive, reckless and daring. Charlotte is the more serious, older sister, who feels that she has to be responsible for everyone, that she has to fix things—including her sister. Her lesson is that sometimes, no matter how much you want to, you can’t prevent, heal or fix things. Sometimes you just have to let life wash over you.

YZM: What advice can you give writers who are just starting out?

CL: Never ever give up. Never. My first novel was a sensation and I thought it would always be that way, but my next 7 novels were failures. I sold just about nothing and no one knew who I was. My 9th novel, Pictures of You, was rejected by my then publisher as “not being special enough,” and they made it clear that they didn’t want to see anything else from me. I was sure my career was over and I cried a great deal. But then a friend got me to Algonquin and they took that ‘non-special book” and turned it into a New York Times Bestseller its first month out, and they made my second novel with them, IS THIS TOMORROW, a New York Times Bestseller as well. Both books were on many Best of the Year lists.

The other thing I can say is get on social media. Meet people and interact—but don’t mention your writing at first. You want to get to know people in the business, so if someone posts about chocolate cake, you might want to give a recipe.

And finally, be kind. To EVERYONE. Write thank you notes to people who help you—and even to those who don’t. Carolyn See used to encourage everyone to write one charming note to a writer every month, and I think that’s a fabulous idea.

YZM: What are you working on now?

CL: Yow. Two novels at once. I’m stretched a little thin, but I like it!

CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World

Caroline Leavitt is at her mesmerizing best in this haunting, nuanced portrait of love, sisters, and the impossible legacy of family.

It’s 1969, and sixteen-year-old Lucy is about to run away with a much older man to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default caretaker for most of their lives, Charlotte’s youth has been marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into a nightmare.

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, and explores what happens when you’re responsible for things you cannot make right.

Women’s Fiction Historical [Algonquin Books, On Sale: October 4, 2016, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781616203634 / eISBN: 9781616206055]

About Yona Zeldis McDonough

Yona Zeldis McDonoughYona Zeldis McDonough is the author of six novels; her seventh, THE HOUSE ON PRIMROSE POND, will be out from New American Library in February, 2016. In addition, she is the editor of the essay collections The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty and All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. Her short fiction, articles and essays have been published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines and newspapers. She is also the award-winning author of twenty-six books for children, including the highly acclaimed chapter books, The Doll Shop Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop. Yona lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two children and two noisy Pomeranians.

WEBSITE | GOODREADS | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | PINTEREST

Meet Barbara Claypole White, author of ECHOES OF FAMILY

Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past.

In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family. Writing a Woman’s Life columnist Yona Zeldis McDonough e-chats with Barbara Claypole White to talk about the genesis of this dark, haunting but ultimately uplifting tale.

About Barbara Claypole White

Barbara Claypole White

A Brit living in North Carolina, Barbara Claypole White writes hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness.

Her debut novel, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, won the 2013 Golden Quill for Best First Book; THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR was chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick; and THE PERFECT SON was a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Fiction 2015.

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YZM: What drew you to this story?

BCW: Normally I find my stories hiding in dark what-if moments, but everything about ECHOES OF FAMILY came to me differently. My family and I were visiting my mother in rural England when my mind started playing out an imaginary scene set in my childhood church. I saw the flower ladies twittering over wedding flowers up by the altar while an elegant American woman watched from the back pew, eyes hidden by sunglasses. I felt their rising concern for the stranger and witnessed one of them dash off to fetch the vicar, who was attacking stinging nettles with a weed whacker. When he crouched down to say, “What’s brought you back after all this time, Marianne?” she replied, “I’ve come home to die.” That was it. I knew Marianne’s pain was mental, not physical, and I knew the setting had huge significance for her, but I put the scene aside and returned to a story I would ultimately abandon—about a single dad who ran a recording studio and his teen daughter who had undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Fast forward several years, and I started traveling back and forth to the village more and more frequently to help my mother. Suddenly I was thinking about belonging, going home, and echoes of the past. Somewhere over the Atlantic, all the elements slipped into place. (I love writing on planes.)

YZM: Were the characters of Marianne and Jade difficult to write? If so, why?

BCW: Marianne, my manic-depressive record producer, is the most challenging character I’ve created. After months of research, Marianne’s thought process still overwhelmed me, and being inside her head was exhausting. When one of my early readers pointed out that her voice changed according to her mood, I realized I’d committed my own cardinal writing sin: I had defined a character through her mental illness. Marianne had become a bipolar heroine as opposed to a successful businesswoman, mother, and wife who happens to struggle with mental illness. Once I put the research aside and listened for Marianne’s voice, she lit up.

Jade was the opposite—one of those characters who pop out fully formed. My son is an intern in a local recording studio not unlike the one Marianne owns, and one evening he came home talking about the chief sound engineer, a young woman. I woke up the next morning with Jade front and center in my mind. And then the idea developed of Marianne working with teen girls at risk. Girls no one else wanted. Jade, I realized, had been one of those girls. I knew from the beginning she was a survivor, but it took a while to excavate her backstory.

YZM: How did you get your start as a writer?

BCW: I was five years old when I first said, “I want to be an author,” and even though life intervened, I never lost that dream. I wrote stories and poems as a child, and did lots of promotional writing and journalism in my career. After my marriage, I moved from London to Illinois and started a novel while job hunting. I dabbled with that story for years, but it wasn’t until I became a stay-at-home mom with a child in pre-school that I decided to finish it. My first novel ended up in storage—where it belonged—but it had become my learning curve. I joined writing classes, went to conferences, networked, signed up for workshops, and my husband supported me throughout. I worked hard—failed hard—and landed my first pub deal right before me fiftieth birthday. I think that makes me a late bloomer. ☺

YZM: Do you outline the entire plot first or do you work more from intuition?

BCW: I have a horrible process! I’m an organic, messy writer who loves to rewrite endlessly. Left to my own devices, I would meander down every side road and take endless U-turns. Writing to contract, however, means I’ve had to speed up and streamline. These days I research and throw down a crappy first draft while also creating a storyboard based on screen-writing beats. I’m a visual person, so analyzing a movie makes more sense to me than studying books on how to outline. The storyboard will change and then I’ll abandon it completely, but not before creating a chapter-by-chapter timeline that becomes an important tool.

YZM: Which authors have influenced you most?

BCW: That’s a tough question because every novel I read influences me. The three writers who’ve had the greatest impact are probably Jodi Picoult, Marian Keyes, and Denyse Devlin. Jodi Picoult pushes me outside my comfort zone as a reader, which is where I want to be as a writer. Plus, who doesn’t want to write like Jodi? Marian Keyes taught me you could tackle dark subjects with humor, and Denyse Devlin showed me how to peel back the layers of a relationship. Oh, and I have to give a shout-out to Charlotte Bronte, because in my opinion you can learn everything you need to know about writing fiction by reading JANE EYRE. Best. Novel. Ever.

YZM: What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

BCW: That the challenges never end when you share your family with mental illness. Bipolar is a potentially fatal disease. It demands constant management and vigilance in the same way as diabetes or cancer, and yet most people judge a broken mind very differently to a broken body. The stigma persists, and families are left struggling in secrecy and isolation. Like Marianne, I want to make noise and be heard; I want to do my bit to chip away at the stereotypes and the shame.

YZM: What’s next on your horizon?

BCW: Novel five (gulp) has a release date of January 2018. It’s based on the premise: can you be a good mother if you abandoned your baby? It also highlights a nasty corner of obsessive-compulsive disorder called harm OCD, which often attacks postpartum moms. Harm OCD bombards your mind with intrusive, unwanted images of you committing violent acts, often against people you love. Even though you know you would never do such things, the OCD holds your mind hostage. My heroine, Katie Mack, is a female metal artist with a dark secret: while struggling with undiagnosed harm OCD, she ran away from her baby, believing she was a psychopath. She lived on the streets for several years, and by the time she ended up in treatment, it was too late to return to her family. Through a quirk of fate, Katie crosses paths with her 10-year-old daughter—plus stepmom—and realizes little Maisie MacDonald has untreated OCD. Katie then has to decide whether or not to re-enter her daughter’s life for the same reason she left: to protect her baby girl from monsters.

ECHOES OF FAMILY by Barbara Claypole White

Echoes of Family

Sometimes the only way through darkness is to return to where it began.

Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past.

In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.

Women’s Fiction [Lake Union Publishing, On Sale: September 27, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781503938137 / ]