Interview with Lila Dare

tressed to kill
This month, I’m thrilled to welcome the debut author of TRESSED TO KILL: The Southern Beauty Shop Mysteries, Lila Dare.

Tapping into the sassy and brassy attributes of the southern belles of St. Elizabeth, Georgia, Dare introduces readers to a lively cast of gals who don’t let a little thing like murder keep them from looking good!

Life in a small Southern town like St. Elizabeth, Georgia can be slow and lazy as a summer breeze, but it can also be as hot and exciting as a summer storm when a murderer is on the loose!

Grace Tenhune has returned home to work in her mother’s beauty shop, just when the town diva Constance Dubois is threatening to close Violetta’s down. All over a tiny little thing like bright orange highlights. But when Constance is found stabbed to death, the police seem to think Grace’s momma is the culprit.

Well, Grace ain’t having none of that, and with the help of her co-workers at the salon, and handsome Georgia Bureau of Investigation detective John Dillon, she soon begins to trim the list of suspects like a good shag haircut.

Lila Dare’s TRESSED TO KILL is a full of Southern charm and spunk, and will be a delight for cozy mystery fans to enjoy.

I was pleased to have Lila sit down for a few questions in the midst of the excitement of releasing a new book!

Sharon: At what age did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Lila DareLila: I have always written, from the time I was old enough to make up stories about Viking princesses and horses. I completed my first novel-length manuscript (a romance) for a college creative writing course and actually got some encouraging rejections from Silhouette and Harlequin, only I was too ignorant about the business to recognize them as positive. (It may sound like an oxymoron, but there are such things as a “positive rejection.”) I wrote three more books before getting married—a Regency romance and two mysteries—and then let my writing take a back seat to career, marriage and children until about five years ago.

Sharon: How did you get interested in writing “cozy” mysteries? What appealed to you about the genre of cozy mysteries as opposed to hardcore mysteries or suspense stories?

Lila: After I had my two daughters (now 10 and 12), I found I couldn’t stomach serial killer mysteries or suspense novels/thrillers with a high level of violence anymore. I don’t know why becoming a mother made me more uneasy about violence, but it did. (It also made me more nervous about flying, but that’s a different interview.) I found myself more drawn to traditional mysteries where the puzzle of whodunit and the relationships between the series characters were paramount. I also enjoy a lot of humor in my mysteries, so cozies/traditional seemed like a perfect fit when I began writing full time.

Sharon: What inspired the Southern Beauty Shop theme of your series?

Lila: I was born in Georgia and have lived in Alabama , Mississippi , and Virginia . The pace of life in the Deep South —not the big cities, so much, but in the towns and rural areas—seems slower somehow, with family and friends having a high priority. I wanted that kind of atmosphere for my series. Also, there’s something about the climate and the geography of the South, not to mention the historical context of antebellum plantations, the Civil War, and southern belles, that makes a rich and appealing backdrop for a series. As an added bonus, I like re-connecting with my childhood and relatives when I return to Georgia for research trips.

Sharon: Your main character Grace is a beautician along with her mother – where did you gather your inspiration for these characters?

Lila: I’ve never been a hair stylist, but I’ve spent plenty of time in a salon chair! My inspiration came from all the talented and talkative stylists who have kept my hair looking good through the years and have happily helped me re-invent my look when I wanted to try something new. The mother-daughter relationship between Violetta Terhune and her daughter Grace is more timeless, I think, and transcends the beauty parlor. Most of us mothers and daughters have struggled with the relationship from time to time but still find great joy in it. I’m hoping that’s what readers see in this series.

Sharon: With more and more series coming out in the cozy genre, do you see the competition for readership becoming more fierce? What do you do to keep your readers coming back for more?

Lila: Cozy lovers, luckily, are voracious readers, so I don’t see more series as a problem. The ones that hit a chord with readers will survive and the others will fade away. I think having a well-plotted mystery is key to retaining readers, as is creating characters that readers relate to. I read some mystery series not so much for the plot-du-jour as to find out what’s going on in the lives of characters I’ve grown attached to. Characters that people relate to, who have real problems and career issues and relationship ups and downs are so important. That’s what I like to read and that’s what I try to write.

Sharon: The cover art on your books is just gorgeous – very eye- catching! Who does the artwork for each book, and are you consulted as to how it will look?

Lila: Annette Fiore DeFex designed the cover and Brandon Dorman was the artist. Berkley coordinates all that with their in-house and contract artists. They very graciously asked my opinion before designing the cover and I sent some suggestions, but relied on them to get it right since they’re the experts. I agree with you that they did a fabulous job.

Sharon: Who are some of your favorite authors? Who inspires you?

Lila: I hate this question because I have so many authors I enjoy and admire that naming just a few is impossible. Here are some (in no particular order): Elizabeth George, Carolyn Hart, Rick Riordan, Jayne Anne Phillips, Chris Grabenstein, Cornelia Read, Georgette Heyer, Dick Francis, John Sandford, Margaret Maron, Marilynne Robinson, S.J. Rozan, David Liss, Sue Grafton, Louise Penny. The list could go on and on. I read 2-3 books a week and try to mix it up, reading a variety of mystery, suspense, thriller, mainstream and women’s fiction. Anyone who tries to lead an ethical life, who perseveres in the face of rejection and difficulty, inspires me, but I’ll name Stephen King as a writing role model. His book On Writing not only helped me improve my craft, it made me laugh out loud and provided me the 2,000 words per day framework that I use when writing a book.

Sharon: What do you have coming up in the future?

TITLELila: The next two books in the Southern Beauty Shop series, POLISHED OFF and A DEADLY SHADE are written and awaiting my editor’s tender ministrations. My first book as Laura DiSilverio, SWIFT JUSTICE, comes out from St. Martin’s Minotaur this October. It’s the start of a humorous PI series. I’m currently working on the first book in my Mall Cop series for Berkley, DIE BUYING, and will start the first in my Ballroom Dance mysteries, QUICKSTEP TO MURDER, this summer. Sometimes it feels like I’m surgically joined to my computer keyboard, but I love every minute I spend writing and feel blessed to be able to make my living doing something I’m passionate about.

Sharon: What advice would you have for anyone wanting to break into the “cozy mystery” genre?

Lila: I have the same advice for writers who want to write traditional mysteries as I do for other writers: Write what you want to write and worry about categorizing it later. Don’t take up roof thatching or puppet making just because you think they’re good “hooks” for cozy series and haven’t been done to death. Write what’s in your heart, what you’re passionate about, and tinker with the language and levels of sex/violence when you’re done, if you want to target the traditional market. Read and analyze lots and lots of cozies (especially mine). :-)

Many thanks to Lila Dare for stopping by the Cozy Corner and sharing her love of writing with us! Check out her website at www.liladare.com for more information on her books and appearances.

Be sure to come back next month for my interview with Sara Rosett, author of the “Ellie Avery Mystery” series. Until then, happy reading ya’ll!

Sharon Galligar Chance

Jen’s Jewels | Interview with Gil McNeil

Gil McNeillI can only imagine what it’s like being a single parent. Trying to work full-time while coordinating the children’s school and extra-curricular activities would be a Herculean task to say the least. Unfortunately, many women find themselves in this role due to the unexpected death of a spouse. No matter what the circumstances, it is a role no woman (or man) ever wants to play.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Gil McNeil tackles that very question in her latest release, NEEDLES AND PEARLS. The sequel to her highly popular book, THE BEACH STREET KNITTING SOCIETY AND YARN CLUB, she picks up a year after the death of Jo Mackenzie’s husband as Jo struggles to adjust to her new life raising two sons all alone. With Gil’s British wit and sensational storyline, she welcomes the reader into the zany lives of a hilarious cast of unforgettable characters. As a side note, you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy the sequel. Although, it is a great read!

As part of this interview, Hyperion Books has generously donated 5 copies for you, my lucky readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

NEEDLES and PEARLSJen: As a British author, your audience across the pond in the U.S. may not be as familiar with your work as your fellow countrymen. So that we may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Gil: After University, where I studied History, I worked in an art gallery, film production and a literary agency before moving into publishing. After building up a range of publishing clients, I expanded my freelance work and moved into working with charities I’m currently Director of the children’s charity PiggyBankKids.

Jen: At what juncture in your life did you decide to take the plunge and pursue a career in writing? And, what was the most challenging part of the process?

Gil: I’ve always written, or been involved with writing, so I was in the lucky position of having good friends in the publishing business who encouraged me to write my first novel, in 2001. The Only Boy for Me was such a joy to write I was keen to carry on, and happily so were my publishers Bloomsbury, so I wrote my second novel Stand by your Man, and then In the Wee Small Hours (which continues on from The Only Boy for Me) before I wrote my fourth and fifth novels DIVAS DON’T KNIT (published in the US as THE BEACH STREET KNITTING SOCIETY) and NEEDLES AND PEARLS.

I’ve also edited seven fundraising anthologies for the charity PiggyBankKids, which have been a real treat to work on since I’ve been able to include some of my favourite authors, who have all generously written stories for us to raise funds to support our work to improve children’s lives, and support our groundbreaking research into pregnancy difficulties and help save newborn lives (www.piggybankkids.org/)

The most challenging part of the process of the writing for me is finding the time – I carry around cards and notebooks and jot down snatches of conversation, ideas, and sometimes scribbles that I can’t actually read when I get home…

Jen: Your latest endeavor is the sequel to THE BEACH STREET KNITTING SOCIETY AND YARN CLUB which received starred reviews. For my readers who are unfamiliar with this novel, please give us a brief overview of the premise.

Gil: Jo Mackenzie needs a new start. Newly widowed with two young sons and a perilous bank balance she has leave London to take over her grandmother’s wool shop in a small seaside town. They arrive in the pouring rain, but with a shop full of dusty wool in horrible colours, two lively sons, an A list actress moving into the local mansion, Trevor the loony Wonder Dog, and a knitting group addicted to cake it’s not going to be easy.

Jen: In NEEDLES AND PEARLS, the story picks up one year after the tragic death of Jo’s husband. Having relocated to a quiet, small-town, Jo is now a single parent, manager of a yarn shop, and a young widow trying to make peace with the circumstances surrounding her husband’s demise. Which one of the three is the most difficult for her to fulfill and why?

Gil: Like most of us, Jo struggles with combining everything – doing her best by her boys and her business, and still trying to find time for herself somewhere in the middle of all the chaos. But I think she’d say the most important thing for her, by a million miles, are her children.

Jen: The story centers around Jo’s grandmother’s yarn shop. A question I just have to ask, is knitting a passion of yours? If so, what is your favorite type of project and yarn?

Gil: Yes, all the women in my family knit. My grandmother was a champion knitter, and knew a whole range of patterns off by heart. She had a tough life, with six children and very little money, so she’d unpick a sweater belonging to one of her older kids, wash the wool and reknit it for one of the little ones. By the time she was knitting for her grandchildren things were easier, and she’d spend ages with my knitting for my dolls. We’d all sit knitting by the fire, with my mum and my aunts swapping patterns and working out complicated stitches and I’d sit cross legged on the floor and they’d forget I was there, so I got to hear all sorts of family gossip usually reserved for child-free moments. It was fabulous.

Jen: Jo’s relationship with her grandmother is one of true admiration and respect. However, the one with her mother is not. What has caused the rift between mother and daughter? Who, if anyone, is to blame?

Gil: I think mothers and daughters can be tricky, and in the past I’ve written about mothers who are wonderful (a bit like my mum) so I wanted to have some fun writing a mum who is selfish and hopeless. Jo’s mother is searching for an artistic life where she feels central, and finds her children’s lack of enthusiasm for taking part in her Me Me Me dramas annoying. And after years being dragged round art galleries with their mother in unusual floaty outfits they just find her exasperating. I think there is a definite stage where however you much you want to wear kaftans and beads, or very short skirts and high heels, your children just want you to blend into the background, keep quiet, and make lovely suppers… One of the nicest things about being a mum is perfecting the art of hovering in the background. I’m rather partial to a bit of hovering, I find it can be quite relaxing, as long as you mix in the occasional shocking moment, just to remind small people you have not actually morphed into a household appliance …

Jen: Every woman needs loyal girlfriends to help her get through the good as well as the bad times. Jo is no exception. Let’s start with her best friend, Ellen. As a famous Newscaster, the world is her oyster yet she is quite envious of Jo’s simplistic lifestyle. In what ways do these two women compliment each other?

Gil: Like all good girlfriends they trust each other implicitly. They can be honest, know each others strengths and weaknesses, and will stick up for each other when times get tough. They also share the same sense of humour – a vital ingredient in any good friendship.

Jen: Unbeknownst to Jo, her movie star friend, Grace, plays a significant role in her life. In what ways does Grace’s exuberant wealth serve as a subtle reminder for Jo of the importance of accepting people for who they truly are rather than judging them on appearances only? Why does Grace include Jo within her inner circle?

Gil: Jo is dazzled by Grace, and also touched by how vulnerable she is, despite all her wealth and power, especially when she is pregnant and feeling nervous. She also understands, from her background working in television news, how important it is not be grabbing at people, not to ask questions and turn yourself into yet another person who wants something, a snippet of gossip to trade at a dinner party, or even sell to a newspaper… And Grace recognises this. And with Jo as her knitting coach she can find some calm and relaxation, and feel like a proper mum, knitting for her baby, instead of a movie star always in performance mode. When I was doing some of the research for the novel I was interested to see how many actresses are knitting on set – from Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Cameron Diaz to Sarah Jessica Parker and Madonna – and having spent a fair amount of time on film sets, which sound exciting but actually involve huge amounts of time hanging around while nothing much happens, I could see how something calm and repetitive like knitting would be a great antidote to nerves and drama.

Jen: Elsie, Jo’s co-worker at the shop, is a peculiar lady who just can’t seem to make up her mind about Jo. On one hand, she disapproves of Jo’s choices in life; however, she has a special fondness for her as well. Why does Jo choose to accept her gruffness rather than confronting her?

Gil: Elsie has a heart of gold, but she keep sit well hidden, and Jo knows that a few packets of biscuits and a cheery manner are the best way to get her on side in the shop.

Jen: A question I just have to ask, will there be a sequel? (I hope so!) And if yes, what can you share with us?

Gil: I’ll have to talk to my publishers about that – I’m not working on anything at the moment, but I do have lots of ideas on what might happen next, so maybe…

Jen: Do you have a website? Do you have any patterns or knitting materials available for readers?

Gil: I’ve put some patterns on the McKnits website – www.mcknits.co.uk – so that readers can see examples of the things Jo talks about in the book.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking time of your busy schedule to stop by and chat with my readers. I truly enjoyed NEEDLES AND PEARLS. Best of luck with your book tour!

Gil: Thank you for asking such great questions. It has been such a treat getting so many letters from readers in the US telling me how much they loved the first book; one woman told me she laughed so much people started giving her odd looks on the train. So if you see anyone giggling on a train, it might just be my fault…

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Gil McNeil. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of NEEDLES AND PEARLS today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Answers the following triva quetion and you could be one of five winners.

Where can you find samples of knitting patterns mentioned in NEEDLES AND PEARLS?

Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Ellen Block, author THE LANGUAGE OF SAND. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…

Jen

Jen’s Jewels | Interview with Holly LeCraw

Holly LeCrawTHE SWIMMING POOLHave you ever wondered what your parents were like as a newly married couple before they had kids?  Sure, we’ve all seen the photographs from their pre-parenthood days and have heard the story of how they met, but that doesn’t really tell us anything. Was theirs a whirlwind romance that would make you swoon? Or, was it filled with tumultuous times that tested the strength of their love?

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Holly LeCraw explores a sister and brother’s intense struggle to come to terms with the haunting revelations from their parents’ past in her debut novel, THE SWIMMING POOL.  Splashing on the scene with her expertly written book of dives and dips and twists and turns, this psychological tale will keep you up until the wee hours of the morning.  Mark my words…Holly LeCraw is the new IT girl in the publishing world!

As part of this interview, Doubleday, a division of Random House, has generously donated 5 copies for you, my lucky readers, to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: As a debut novelist, the story behind the path that led to publication can be just as fascinating as the novel itself.  So that my readers may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Holly: I don’t know about fascinating….the path has consisted of working hard, alone, in little rooms, for a long time.  Also, battling myself for a long time–that is, learning how to get out of my own way, and to trust the results.

I have a degree in English from Duke and a master’s in English from Tufts–an M.A., not an MFA.  My original intent was to get a Ph.D. and go into academia, but I realized that was the wrong place for me.  I did go to writing workshops at Bennington (back when it was a summer program), the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and a few other places.

When I first got out of school, I worked briefly in publishing, but once I realized I wanted to write, I started waitressing and temping and things like that.  In retrospect I’m not sure that was the best route, but at the time I couldn’t envision putting my creative energies into both a job and writing.  Then I started having kids and became a stay-at-home mom, and fit writing in wherever I could.

Jen: Describe for us your “Ah! Ha!” moment when the decision to pursue a career in writing became a reality.

Holly: For a long time I didn’t think of it as a career–because “career” connotes “money,” which I definitely was not making from writing.  And, also, a sense of legitimacy that took a long time for me to feel.  But one answer to your question is that there were a series of moments when I proved to myself, over and over again, that I was miserable if I wasn’t writing.  I thought that in order to be a grownup you had to work in an office and wear high heels and be otherwise respectable, but whenever I tried to be that person I failed miserably, so I finally threw in the towel.

The first true artistic “ah-ha” moment I had was when I was writing a story called “August,” about seven or eight years ago.  This was after I had spent years writing a not-very-good novel, and had finally put it aside.  I had three little children and not much time; I was pretty discouraged.  But I had started this story, and I guess because I figured I had nothing to lose, I was being freer about it–I didn’t know where it was going at all.  I had some images in my head, and I was just swimming from one to the next.

One afternoon I was working and realized I just had a few minutes before I had to leave to pick up kids.  Normally I would have stopped, but I decided to press on, what the hell–and then, all the sudden, I had finished the story.  I hadn’t even known I was near the end.  And the end was a complete surprise to me; but it was perfect.  That was the first time that I really got out of my own way–that I had not tried to control every word before it came out.

That story was nominated for a Pushcart, and led to some wonderful things.  And I remember that moment, sitting at my desk, looking at those words I had just written, going, “Oh.  So that’s how it works.”

Jen: Your debut novel entitled THE SWIMMING POOL has made a definite splash in the publishing world.  An intricate storyline layered with emotionally charged characters makes this book a must-read.  I could not put it down. Bravo! How did you arrive at the premise?

Holly: It started with Jed and Callie, the brother and sister.  I knew their mother had died, and they didn’t know who had killed her.  I thought it was a short story.  And then my husband took the kids away for a weekend, and in that lovely quiet the basic outline of the book appeared.  The key was Marcella; she was a very small, ancillary character for about three minutes, and then I realized she was major.

Jen: As I mentioned, your book is a story within a story. Let’s start by dissecting its parts. Betsy and Cecil McClatchey have a typical country club marriage. From the outside, it looks as if they lead an idyllic life. Yet, one day Cecil dares to cross the line and has an affair. What is the catalyst that leads him towards the path of self-destruction?

Holly: I don’t want to say it’s a garden-variety midlife crisis–although maybe it is.  Actually, I think midlife crises aren’t garden-variety all the time.  I think they can be profound existential crises.  You’re confronting the idea of mortality and realizing it might be too late to reinvent yourself, and realizing all the decisions you made that you didn’t even realize were decisions at the time.  Some people panic and throw everything away.  I’ve seen it.  I don’t want to play to stereotypes, but it seems like men panic much more easily.

I have to confess that I have the least sympathy for Cecil of any of my characters.  I had to work hard to understand him–because Marcella falls in love with him, and I had to respect that, and respect him.  People have affairs all the time, and usually they’re not evil people.  But a betrayal like that, especially in what is a good, solid marriage, is just incomprehensible to me personally.  So I had to work very hard to try and figure it out.  I think Cecil just decided he hadn’t taken enough risks.  He had always played by the rules, and he began to wonder what would happen if he didn’t.  I think Betsy could also sometimes be rather closed; she is almost frighteningly self-sufficient.  I think he was attracted to Marcella’s vulnerability, because it was so different from Betsy, and made him feel useful, and powerful.

Jen: Why does Betsy choose not to confront Cecil even though she is well aware of his indiscretion?

Holly: Well, she’s aware, in an intuitive way, but she doesn’t have any concrete evidence.  And it’s really only right before the end of her life that she admits to herself that she knows.  This just occurred to me, but I think she’s like Elizabeth Edwards was for a long time (or the public perception of her, anyway)–she’s just going to rise above, and hope this bad thing goes away.  Betsy is a very orderly person; this is the ultimate disorder, and she is just not prepared to face it head on.

Jen: Within a blink of an eye, everything changes when Betsy is brutally murdered by an intruder in her own home.  How does Cecil’s decision to not expose his affair, even though it would prove his innocence, affect his relation with his daughter, Callie? And, with his son, Jed?

Holly: I think Cecil is so shattered he is not thinking clearly.  He can’t connect A to B.  He assumes that his children will know he’s innocent, and by the time he realizes that maybe that isn’t the case, he feels powerless to do anything about it.  His feelings for Marcella are completely eclipsed by what has happened to Betsy; he decided at the beginning not to tell anyone, because it seemed irrelevant to him and because it seemed like a betrayal of Betsy, and later he doesn’t have the wherewithal to revisit that decision.  He traps himself.  And when he dies, he leaves Callie and Jed in the trap.

Jen: Years later, Callie and Jed are still suffering due to the circumstances surrounding both of their parents’ deaths.  (Cecil dies not long after Betsy’s murder.) When Jed accidentally finds an old bathing suit hidden in their summer home, what makes him search out the owner? Or, is it simply a subconscious effort to bring the past back into the present?

Holly: The book takes place, as books do, when the characters are at a crisis point.  Their parents died seven years ago, but the premature birth of Callie’s daughter has pushed Callie to the brink.  Jed senses this, and he is ready to join her there–ready to shake himself out of his emotional paralysis.  The bathing suit reminds him of a time when he still felt life held endless possibility–and, incidentally, when he was attracted to someone, which he hasn’t truly been in a long time.

Jen: Marcella is a troubled woman whose life has been a series of disappointing events that have stripped her of all semblance of self-worth. Quite simply, she is an empty shell yearning for love.  When Jed shows up on her doorstep looking for answers, why does she choose to open Pandora’s Box?

Holly: That is a very, very good question.  Maybe a bit of a chicken and egg situation.  The first answer is that they have a powerful sexual attraction from the beginning–but why?  Honestly, it is something I didn’t want to examine in too analytical a way when I was writing it.  It holds a magic that I didn’t want to parse away.  Their relationship is taboo, definitely; it has quite an Oedipal tinge.  Jed has lost his mother (who, however, was nothing at all like Marcella), and Marcella never had the son she longed for so desperately.  She doesn’t think of him as a son, but that suggestion is there.

But at the same time, they’re equals.  They’re mourning the same person, the same situation, and they’re both so broken.  It’s possible that each was the only one that could have brought the other forward.

I think Marcella also might initially give in to Jed partially out of guilt.  She feels she has helped to wound him, and so wants to comfort him.  Which she does.  He hasn’t been able to love anyone, really, since his parents died, until he reconnects with her.

Jen: When Marcella reveals the details of her relationship with Cecil, how does Jed’s opinion of his dad change? Or, does it? Is he more sympathetic or critical of his father’s imperfections?

Holly: I think Jed hasn’t been able to mourn either of his parents fully, because of the ways he lost them–that’s why he is so stuck.  With his father, he has been stuck in rage.  When Jed finds out about his father’s affair, in an odd way it re-humanizes Cecil for him.  Jed is disgusted and devastated, but his father also becomes less monolithic in his mind, and that is the beginning of being able to really see what he lost.

Jen: The wounded soul in this story is poor Callie.  Unable to accept the fact that her parents are dead, she barely exists in a world that has shown her no mercy. How is her relationship with her husband Billy a direct correlation to the way in which she views the atrocities in her life?

Holly: That’s a very interesting question.  In some ways she has been much more functional than Jed since they lost their parents–she’s gotten married, had children.  I think though that her relationship with Billy is quite shallow–just as probably all her relationships are shallow at this point, except with Jed.  She is a great one for soldiering on, like Betsy, and what happens during this book is that she finally cracks under the pressure.  Being a trouper like that requires a lot of energy directed outward and not much inward, and that’s not sustainable for Callie.

Jen: Without giving too much away, how does Marcella’s new relationship with her ex-husband Anthony help her to reconnect with her daughter?

Holly: I don’t think it’s her relationship with Anthony so much as the fruits of her relationship with Jed–she begins to wake up, to be able to see other people, to feel some agency.  She begins to dwell less on her losses and the things she never had, and to look instead at the things she does–namely, her daughter.  She’s also able to reconsider her relationship with her own mother, who died when she was about Toni’s age, and which had never been very functional; and that helps her to see herself as a mother and to think more clearly about how she and Toni relate.  It goes the other way too–as Marcella begins to thaw, their relationship becomes vital again, to each of them.

When I was writing the book, I was very conscious of the beauty of these people’s lives.  That might sound crazy, given all the tragedy and drama in the book.  But their connections are profound, and they all begin to sense the wonder and depth of their love for each other, both the people they have lost and the people they still have.  I hope that in the end readers feel it is a hopeful story.

Jen: I wish we could talk about the shocking ending, but we can’t. Suffice it to say, my readers will not be disappointed.  So, let’s switch gears and discuss your promotional plans. First of all, do you have a website? If so, please take us on a brief tour.

Holly: I do have a website– www.hollylecraw.com.  All the info about the book’s promotion is there, and more about me, and writing the book.  And there are links to friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

Jen: Are you planning a book tour? Also, will you be participating in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Holly: I am going on tour–I’ll be in Atlanta (where I was born and raised); Seattle; Washington, DC; Nashville; Durham, NC; and Oxford and Jackson, MS.  And I’ll be at a bunch of stores here in New England and also on the Cape, where the book is mostly set.

I’d love to do phone chats and book group visits!  The contact info is also on my website.

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you tell us about it?

Holly: Right now it’s called THE SWEETNESS OF HONEY.  It’s a bit of a Cain-and-Abel story–there are two half-brothers, one middle-aged and one just out of college, and they are both teachers at a prep school in New England.  They each fall in love with the wrong people–and, just to make things interesting, the same people.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by and chat with my readers. What a powerful and well-written novel! I do believe this is only the beginning of a long, successful career. Best of luck!

Holly: Thank you so much.  You asked wonderful questions.  And I certainly hope you’re right.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Holly. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of THE SWIMMING POOL today. Better yet, would you like to win one instead?

Okay, FIVE readers who enter the Fresh Fiction contest regarding this interview with the correct answer to the following trivia question will be winners! Good luck!

What is the working title of Holly’s next book?

Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Gil McNeil, author of NEEDLES AND PEARLS.  You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…

Jen

Sharon’s Cozy Corner | Author Interview with Elizabeth Lynn Casey

Sharon ChanceSharon’s Cozy Corner
All about the cozy mysteries: interviews, reviews, books

When women have a common interest, it is a delight to gather and discuss elements of that interest with each other. Book clubs, knitting groups, and sewing circles are just a few examples of these types of groups that encourage friendship and companionship.

DEATH THREADSSEW DEADLYElizabeth Lynn Casey is the author of a delightful new series of cozy mysteries , the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries, that features a close-knit of vivacious ladies who stitch and solve crimes when they put their heads together! Elizabeth’s first book, SEW DEADLY, came out in August, 2009 to rave reviews. Her second novel, DEATH THREADS, is due to be released in May, 2010.

Elizabeth Lynn graciously agreed to be interview for this humble column as she was hurrying to the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and we talked about her books, her writing, and her influences.

Sharon: At what age did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

ElizabethLynn CaseyElizabeth: I was just ten-years-old when I got bitten by the writing bug. And by bitten, I mean BITTEN. I was playing at a friend’s house on a rainy day. We’d run out of things to do and so she brought a stack of white paper to the kitchen table and said we were going to write children’s books. An hour or so later, I was hooked. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be (other than a mom) since.

Sharon. How did you get interested in writing “cozy” mysteries?

Elizabeth: While I’d read Nancy Drew and the like as a child, I truly fell in love with the mystery genre compliments of Mary Higgins Clark. I think I was 14 when I read, WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN. I remember reading that book at my desk and nearly jumping out of my skin when someone tapped me on the shoulder. A CRY IN THE NIGHT sealed my fate as a mystery writer.

Now even though Mary Higgins Clark isn’t a “cozy” writer, she wrote about real people, people I could identify with…and imagine.

Then, when it came time for me to actually give fiction a try, I guess I gravitated towards cozies because that’s what I like. I like the puzzle of figuring out whodunit rather than the gore. I don’t need to see the murder, I just like to figure out who/why.

Sharon: What inspired the theme of your series, and is “Victoria “Tori” Sinclair” (the heroine/sleuth in the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries) based on anyone you know?

Elizabeth: While there are many “craft-related mysteries” on the shelves these days, what intrigued me about this series was the “circle” aspect. People flock together over common interests all across the country—bunko, knitting, sewing, writing, you name it. And these kinds of commonalities bringing together people that might not necessarily gravitate towards each other otherwise. Having such wide age ranges and backgrounds together in one place makes for great stories!

As for Tori, no, she’s not based on anyone I know.

Sharon: What appealed to you about the genre of cozy mysteries as opposed to hardcore mysteries or suspense stories?

Elizabeth: The puzzle aspect. I like the focus being on who/why. I think it calls to that former journalist in me.

Though, I have to admit, suspense calls to me. In fact, I have a suspense story living in my computer right now, waiting for a little time and attention from me.

Sharon: Your main character, Tori, is an accomplished seamstress – do you sew? And she is a librarian – did you want to be a librarian growing up?

Elizabeth: I don’t sew. In fact, I liken myself more to “Leona Elkin”—the lone member of the Sweet Briar Ladies Society Sewing Circle who doesn’t sew…though she’s learning (and so am I)…

I never considered being a librarian (probably because the writing bug took over so early), but I have always loved libraries and librarians. I mean, really, what’s better than a building devoted to nothing but books…and filled with people who love books as much as I do.

Sharon: With more and more series coming out in the cozy genre, do you see the competition for readership becoming more fierce? What do you do to keep your readers coming back for more?

Elizabeth: I guess I just hope that readers give my series a shot…and that I intrigue them enough (via fun stories) to keep coming back for more!! I’ve tried to create a cast of characters that people enjoy. Sure, there may be a member of the circle they don’t like (that’s life, isn’t it?), but whether you love, like, or even dislike someone, you tend to know what happens to them. And, eventually, as this series continues, all of the characters will have their time in the spotlight.

Sharon: The cover art on your books is just gorgeous – very eye-catching! Who does the artwork for each book, and are you consulted as to how it will look?

Elizabeth: I know! I am in love with both the artist and the designer Berkley has working on this series. They just get it. Every time I think I have a favorite, they come up with another one I like even more (wait until you see the artwork for PINNED FOR MURDER – due out in October)!

Sharon: Who are some of your favorite authors? Who inspires you?

Elizabeth: Mary Higgins Clark is my all-time favorite author—the one who made me turn my writing aspirations towards Mystery. Now that I’m there, I enjoy Harlan Coben, Hannah Dennison, Susan McBride, and many others!

Sharon: What do you have coming up in the future?

Elizabeth: Lots! PINNED FOR MURDER (the third in the Southern Sewing Circle Mystery Series) will be out October, 5th and this book will focus on Rose (the oldest member of the circle). DEADLY NOTIONS (the fourth book) will be out next spring. There will also be a # 5 and a # 6…and hopefully more!

I also recently started writing romance (under the name my real name, Laura Bradford). A MOM FOR CALLIE will debut with Harlequin American in July and MIRACLE BABY will follow in November.

Sharon: What advise would you have for anyone wanting to break into the “cozy mystery” genre?

Elizabeth: Write every day (even if it’s just 30 minutes). Read, read, read. And trust your gut (which is different than your pride).

Elizabeth has a lovely website (www.elizabethlynncasey.com) where she maintains a daily blog on the site (and it’s a hoot sometimes!). She also has a Facebook Fan Page under Elizabeth Lynn Casey as well as a website for alter-ego (real-life), the romantic Laura Bradford (www.laurabradford.com)

In celebration of the release of DEATH THREADS, Elizabeth will be holding a special launch-week contest at her website, starting May 3rd, so be sure to check it out!

Many thanks to Elizabeth Lynn Casey for stopping by the Cozy Corner and sharing her love of writing with us! Watch for my review of DEATH THREADS here on Fresh Fiction in May!

Be sure to come back next month for my interview with Lila Dare, author of TRESSED TO KILL: A Southern Beauty Shop Mystery.


Sharon Chance has been a freelance entertainment journalist for the past fourteen years. As a regular contributor to the Wichita Falls Times Record News, she has written well over 1,600 articles covering everything from concert and movie reviews to museum openings to interviewing some of the top musicians performing today, including members of Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses.

But her true love lies in the world of books. A voracious reader from a young age, Sharon began reviewing books at the urging of her sister-in-law, who was a big fan of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. What began as a simple fun attempt at sharing her views of books she enjoyed has developed into a work of passion for Sharon. In addition to being a senior book reviewer for the Times Record News, Sharon is also a regular guest contributor for the Las Vegas Review Journal’s Book Nook, as well as having written for several other publications.

A distant relative of the great Edgar Allan Poe, Sharon has a fondness for mysteries, especially those of the cozy kind. In her new column, Sharon’s Cozy Corner, Sharon hopes to bring news of the latest in the cozy mystery genre, as well as insightful interviews with the authors who write them.

To Comment

Interview with Alafair Burke

AUTHORTITLE
The Internet can be a valuable resource. Whether researching a topic for school or keeping abreast of the latest political news, we always seem to be connected in one way or another. It’s hard to remember what our lives were like before its conception! Nowadays, we even have Face Book and Twitter. The advances in technology are truly amazing.

Just as we have embraced this new movement comes the alarming reality of the dangers associated with these networking sites, especially for our youth. The number of predators lurking in cyberspace is disheartening. From prostitution rings to drug trafficking, the Internet has become a very nefarious place.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Alafair Burke tackles this very controversial topic in her latest release, 212. The third installment of her highly popular The Ellie Hatchet Series, Alafair takes us through the streets of New York in search of a cyber killer. Fast-paced and brutally honest, she exposes the secret lives of women caught up in the Internet sex industry.

As part of this interview, Harper, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: Without a doubt, the headlines are the spark that ignites your suspenseful stories that keep your readers on the edge of their seats. So that we may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Alfair BurkeAlafair: I’m a law professor at Hofstra Law School outside of New York City, where I teach criminal law and procedure. Prior to that, I was a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon and a law clerk to a federal appellate court judge. I graduated from Reed College and Stanford Law School.

Jen: I think it would be fair to say that your legal career gives you a leg up for writing in this genre since your experience lends credibility to your plot. At what juncture in your life did you decide that writing needed to be part of the equation? And, how do you manage to balance a law career with writing full-time?

Alafair: I came to writing as a reader. I’d always been an avid reader of the genre. After five years of working at the District Attorney’s Office in Portland, I felt like I was ready to contribute. By then, I could imagine the kinds of settings, characters, and dialogue that would color a series set in the Portland prosecutor’s office. I also had a plot, inspired by two actual cases that arose while I was in the office. That idea became my first novel, Judgment Calls.

As for the balance, I have to be diligent. I’m always working on something whether a book, or a law review article that no one will ever read, or teaching. It pretty much means I work a lot, but it’s all stuff I love. I know I’m lucky.

Jen: Your latest release is the third book in your highly acclaimed The Ellie Hatcher Series. 212 is a riveting novel that delves into the clandestine world of the sex industry. For those readers unfamiliar with your books, please give us a brief overview of the series and its main characters.

Alafair: Ellie Hatcher is a detective in the NYPD, relatively new to homicide cases. Her father was a cop whose mysterious death plays a big part of her back story, but because she was raised in that atmosphere, she has good instincts about human motivations. She and her partner, JJ Rogan, are still finding their way, but they’re a good team.

Ellie was raised in Wichita, but she’s been in New York for over ten years after initially following her big brother, Jess, there. Jess is a terrific character, a struggling musician who crashes on her couch during frequent bouts of unemployment.

Jen: Ellie Hatcher is not your typical detective. Hard-nosed but sensitive, she runs the gamut with her emotions. Yet, with every step she takes, she inches closer to the killer. What is the driving force behind her desire to succeed?

Alafair: There’s no question that Ellie is always looking for approval from her dead father. She also has an overriding desire for justice. She wants to do what’s right, even when it puts her in peril.

Jen: Ellie’s partner J.J. is a rough and tough kind of guy who definitely has a soft-spot for her. Like a protective older brother, he’s got her back. What makes these two such formidable partners? And, are they truly equals in each other’s eyes? Why or why not?

Alafair: JJ’s got the experience, but he’s careful not to use that against her. He started out partnering with her when other detectives were skeptical after Ellie’s rapid movement in the department. I love the comfort they’ve managed to find in each other after a pretty short relationship. I’ve also been careful to steer clear of the usual romantic sparks. Their relationship is absolutely platonic.

Jen: The suspect in 212 is Sam Sparks. A Donald Trumpish kind of character who believes himself to be above the law, he irks Ellie from the get-go. If this character were Samantha Sparks, would Ellie have reacted in the same way? Why or why not?

Alafair: What a terrific question. It recognizes that women are often their harshest critics. In this case, however, I think Ellie would have reacted the same. Sparks gets under her skin not because he’s a man, but because he’s part of an extremely elite class that she knows does not accept her kind and that she’ll never be a part of. I don’t want to say too much, but Sparks turns out to be more than he appears.

Jen: Without giving too much away, the essence of the plot centers on some girls getting caught up in a prostitution ring via the Internet. I was shocked by my own sense of naiveté when it came to this topic. How are social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Craig’s List a crucial part of the mainstreaming of the sex industry?

Alafair: What the book explores (in an entertaining way, I hope) is the mainstreaming of today’s sex industry. Walking on corners has been replaced by ads in Craig’s List, and ads on Craig’s List don’t seem so different to some young women from social networking sites. At the same time, the dating world has become courser, as many girls routinely “hook up” with free-spending guys on the assumption that there’s no future, just an expensive night. As Eliot Spitzer’s escort has since explained, she didn’t see a big difference between hooking and what she and her friends had already been doing.

Jen: In terms of the storyline how does the role of technology help as well as hinder Ellie’s investigation? With prepaid, disposable phones and unidentifiable IP addresses, how can today’s law enforcement effectively protect our citizens? In your opinion, are they able to remain one step ahead of the criminals? Or, are they constantly just trying to keep up?

Alafair: Technology has become a part of the cat and mouse game between police and criminals. Johns no longer have to circle a high vice area in their car to pick up a prostitute; they can go online, making it much less likely they’ll be stopped in advance. On the other hand, internet use leaves more of a fingerprint than people realize. If the trick goes wrong and police are looking for the person who hired the victim for the night, chances are they’ll be able to track the person down through technology. That, in turn, causes more sophisticated criminals to hide their tracks, using public cyber cafes and downloading programs that block their identifying information. I find it all fascinating. So much has changed even since I was a prosecutor.

Jen: In 212, the character Katie Battle is a real estate agent who turns tricks at night to make ends meet. Nowadays, celebrity news magazines seem to glorify these types of women making their pursuits a desirable profession. How do you think this will affect future generations of young women? And, what can we do to stop it?

Alafair: Oh, if only I knew. As a writer, it’s much easier to point out and fictionalize social ills than to fix them. I do think we have created a culture in which young women think it’s normal to see Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears dance on stripper poles, for women to engage in girl-on-girl flirtations not because they want to but to titillate men, and even for them to sell their bodies for money if the price is right.

Jen: Of course, every leading lady must have a strong, sexy man to share her bed. Max Donovan is definitely hooked by Ellie’s charms. Why then is she so reluctant to just let herself go and fall deep in love with this super guy?

Alafair: I try to leave that for the reader to figure out. It could be that Max just isn’t the right guy. More likely, she’s so used to being the one who has to take care of everyone that she’s just not able to need another person. She’s getting better, though. It’s part of her journey.

Jen: What’s next for Ellie now that she has closed this case? And, when can we expect to see it in bookstores? (I will be the first in line!)

Alafair: I’m working on a standalone right now, also set in New York City, but a little different for me. The main character’s not in law enforcement. Then it’s back to Ellie. I’m pretty much on a book-a-year schedule.

Jen: Let’s switch gears and talk about your promotional plans. Will you be going on a book tour?

Alafair: I’m already on the road! I launched in NYC last week, then went to Pittsburgh over the weekend and Houston today. This week I’ll be doing a joint event with Harlan Coben in Phoenix, and then I’m off to Seattle and Portland. The full schedule is at www.alafairburke.com/events

Jen: Please take us on a brief tour of your website. Do you e-mail notification of upcoming releases? Do you give away signed bookplates?

Alafair: I have a newsletter than people can subscribe to on the website. I also have a blog that I update regularly with videos, interviews, announcements, and, yes, giveaways.

Jen: Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Alafair: I have been experimenting with Ustream, which allows me to do live video chats. The first one was a great success. Sign up for my newsletter for notice of future chats.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to stop by and chat with my readers. I absolutely loved 212. I look forward to seeing it at the top of the bestsellers lists! Best of luck!

Alafair: Thank you so much for including me in your interview series. I’m proud of 212, so really hope your readers will enjoy it.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Alafair. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, would you like to win one instead?

Click here and answer the following triva question and you could be one of five winners.

Name the lead character in 212.

Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with debut novelist Holly LeCraw. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…

Jen

Sharon’s Cozy Corner | Interview with Laura Childs

HUNTING GROUNDDo you remember who wrote the first “cozy mystery” you ever read? I do – it was by the late, great southern author Anne George, who wrote the sassy Southern Sisters Mystery series. It was after enjoying her delightful writing style that I began to seek out more books in this genre.

I was thrilled to discover there were “cozies” written using all types of settings – catering businesses, bakeries, flower shops – and then, be still my heart – I found a series set in one of my all-time favorite towns, Charleston, South Carolina, and in one of my favorite types of places – a tea shop!

And so I was introduced to the wonderful mystery world of author Laura Childs – it was love at first read!

Gerry Schmitt, who writes as Laura Childs, is the author of the Tea Shop Mystery series which features Theodosia Browning, the owner of the Indigo Tea Shop in Charleston. She also writes the Scrapbooking Mystery series, in which Carmela Betrand is the owner of the Memory Mine scrapbook shop in New Orleans, Louisiana.

And if those series weren’t enough to keep her busy, Childs’ has recently introduced a new series, the Cackleberry Club Mysteries, which features not one, but three lovely ladies, Suzanne, Toni and Petra, who manage to solve a crime or two while running a delightful café/book shop/knitting shop.

Needless to say, Gerry/Laura Childs is one busy lady. So I was honored when she accepted my request to be my very first author interview here at the Cozy Corner.

Sharon: At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Laura: I wrote a short story, George, the Ghost, at age 7. I’ve been writing (advertising, screenplays, novels) ever since!

Sharon: How did you get interested in writing “cozy” mysteries?

Laura: My first thriller received a fairly lukewarm reception, but when I submitted a cozy, things took off like a rocket. I guess I just found my calling.

Sharon: What inspired the themes of your series? The Tea Shop Mysteries, the Scrapbooking Mysteries, and your new series, the Cackleberry Club Mysteries?

Laura: All are part of the “Mystery and . . .” genre, which is so popular right now and is exactly what publishers drool over. Also, my characters and story ideas just seemed to drive these concepts.

Sharon: What appealed to you about the genre of cozy mysteries as opposed to hardcore mysteries or suspense stories?

Laura: Oh, I like all kind of mysteries. And my deep, dark little secret is that I really don’t write classic cozies. I write a hybrid cozy- thriller that I call a “thrillzy.”

Sharon: You write three separate series – is it hard to keep all your characters in their places?

Laura: No problem there. When I was CEO of my marketing firm, I had 20 to 30 clients at any given time, so I was used to juggling different concepts and broadcast campaigns.

Sharon: Have you ever thought of combining characters from say, the Tea Shop Mysteries and the Scrapbook Mysteries into one story.

Laura: I’ve already touched on that. Theodosia, from the Tea Shop Mysteries, has ordered bags and stickers from Carmela in the Scrapbook Mysteries. And, of course, Carmela ordered tea from Theo. All very simpatico.

Sharon: What do you do to keep your readers coming back for more?

Laura: Try to combine well-written prose with a carefully thought out plot and then sprinkle in lots of twists and tension. Also, I try to make my books extremely character-driven. I want readers to think of my characters as dear friends they want to stay in touch with.

Sharon: Who are some of your favorite authors? Who inspires you?

Laura: R.D. Zimmerman and Mary Higgins Clark helped me get started. Stephen King for sure sets the bar for plot twists. John Sandford just tells a whopping good story.

Sharon: What do you have coming up in the future?

Laura: My 11th Tea Shop Mystery, THE TEABERRY STRANGLER, will be out in March 2010, and (Scrapbooking Mystery) FIBER & BRIMSTONE and (Cackleberry Club) BEDEVILED EGGS will follow. Plus 9 more mysteries are in the works, so I guess I’ll be staying busy!

Many thanks to Laura for taking time out of her busy schedule to allow us to get to know her a little better.

Next up for the Cozy Corner – December releases (Dec.1st) and an interview with Joanne Fluke, author of the Hannah Swenson Mystery series. Until then, cozy reading ya’ll!

Sharon Galligar Chance