Restoring Holiday Joy — Welcome Back Guest Barbara Early

If you like holiday reads don’t miss Murder on the Toy Town Express a Vintage Toyshop Mystery by Barbara Early! Barbara is giving away either a paperback of Death of a Toy Soldier or hardcover of Murder on the Toy Town Express to one of our readers! Welcome back to the Wickeds, Barbara!

Something about the holiday season seems to just generate work. Maybe it’s because I’m not at the top of my game right now, recovering from a nasty bout of infections, five courses of antibiotics, and oral surgery. And trying to promote a Christmas book. Or maybe I’m just getting old. But thinking about all that “needs” to be done between now and December 25th makes me want to cuddle up in my warmest pajamas, climb into bed, and hide my head under the covers until January.

Notice the word “needs” in quotes? When I hit that word, I had a personal epiphany—and yes, I know I’m mixing my holidays. How much of my burgeoning to-do list literally “needs” to be done? Do I need to bake cookies? Do I need to put up all my decorations? Do I need to attempt every cute reindeer craft I see on Pinterest? Do I need to kill myself making the holiday just as magical, plus a little more, than any Christmas I remember?

Cue the “Hallelujah Chorus.” I’ve been emancipated from Christmas slavery.

I don’t have to do anything. I suddenly had a glut of free time on my hands. I could spend more with friends and family. Or I could make a cup of instant hot chocolate, prop my feet up, flip on the Hallmark Channel, and watch heartwarming holiday flicks right up until the big day. Or better yet, read a nice Christmas mystery. Sounded good to me.


And when that little voice sounded, I knew I had to put down the remote and the e-reader and listen.

But…decorating the tree can be fun. And it was true. Putting all the decorations on the tree, making it pretty: it can almost become a form of creative play, much like coloring a picture at the kitchen table. I’ve always been a “Spoonful of Sugar” kind of girl, so stepping back and turning work into a game makes sense to me. Before long, the tree was up.

Because of a couple of very naughty cats, we’ve stored all our fragile and heirloom ornaments, and for the past few years I’ve been putting up a fun vintage toy tree, that goes with my Vintage Toyshop Mystery series. Here’s a video if you’d like to see it.

I still haven’t decided if I will do any more decorating, but I’m going to be careful not to put any the trappings (fitting word) of Christmas on my to-do list. I will not mark holiday success by check marks on a piece of paper. Instead, I can declutter my Christmas using the same one-question method people now use to declutter their homes: does it bring me joy?

For example, baking cookies. Does it bring me joy?

Okay, eating cookies brings me joy, so I might need to whip off a batch of my favorites. Seeing my husband’s face when he realizes I’ve made his favorite also brings me joy. And the smell of fresh baked goods in the house is cozy and comforting. But do I need to make all the different kinds I often make? I certainly don’t need to be eating them!

Setting up the Christmas village. Does it bring me joy? Some, but maybe not enough to warrant lugging three huge totes up the stairs, at least not this year. Maybe next year I’ll set them up in the shape of a Christmas tree. Oh, that could be fun!

Readers, what brings you joy during the holidays?

Bio: Barbara Early earned an engineering degree, but after four years of doing nothing but math, developed a sudden allergy to the subject and decided to choose another occupation. Before she settled on murdering fictional people, she was a secretary, a school teacher, a pastor’s wife, and an amateur puppeteer. After several years living elsewhere, she and her husband moved back to her native Western New York State, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, classic movies and campy seventies television, board games, and posting pictures of her four cats on Facebook. She writes the Vintage Toyshop series and the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries (as Beverly Allen).

Pick Yourself Up — Guest Barbara Early

Welcome, Barbara Early! This is Sherry, and I’m so excited about Barbara’s new Vintage Toyshop Mystery series! Thanks for joining us today!

barbaraeupdated-coverBarbara: Now that I’m writing a series set in a vintage toyshop, I find myself using a lot of toy and game analogies. I was recently tasked with making a board game analogy to the writing business.

Now, I wish it were more like Candy Land, skipping from one sweet place to the next, until you arrive safely at the Candy Castle.

And although there’s a lot of being sent back to the start, the writing game doesn’t resemble Sorry. At least when those setbacks happen, it’s not usually caused by fellow writers, who tend to be a fairly supportive group.

Nor does it most resemble Monopoly, where one person gets rich and the rest go bankrupt. Although…

chutesBut the crazy ups and downs of the writing game, to me, most resemble…Chutes and Ladders.

I must confess, it was never my favorite game.

Oh, the ladders are okay. Exhilarating, even. Sometimes the writing life feels like you’re just slogging along, and all of a sudden, you get a big break: An agent asks for a partial. Or maybe offers representation. Or that first book deal. And you go climbing up the ladder, clicking your heels on every rung, so that everyone can hear you. You are on your way up!

I remember feeling that way when I got my first series deal—for the Bridal Bouquet Shop mysteries (written as Beverly Allen). After all those frustrating years of writing and rewriting and learning the craft, climbing those steps felt like the validation of all that effort. And it was followed by a few more ladders. Good reviews. Fan mail. They even put a label that said “national bestselling author” above my name on the bottom of the books.

And then the floor caved in, and down I went. See, for every ladder, there’s a chute. Theoretically, you know they can happen and probably will. But there’s little you can do to prepare yourself for the long ride down, and even less you can do to prevent it from happening. By the time my series was up for renewal, there were a lot of hushed whispers about market saturation and cutbacks. I wasn’t the only author left, sitting at the bottom of that long chute, wondering what, if anything, was coming next.

Sometimes you want to just flip over the board, send all the playing pieces flying, and walk away.

But since I’m an adult, at least according to my birth certificate, temper tantrums and dips into the pool of self-pity are rather frowned upon. And it’s nearly impossible for a writer to give up writing. Here’s a little fun advice:

So what do you do, Readers? You pick yourself up. Start something new. Redefine yourself, yet again?

And you never know. Maybe you’ll come across a ladder one more time.

barbara-early-2-copyBio: The first book in Barbara Early’s Vintage Toyshop Mystery series, DEATH OF A TOY SOLDIER, released on October 11th. She also wrote the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries (as Beverly Allen).

Barbara Early earned an engineering degree, but after four years of doing nothing but math, developed a sudden allergy to the subject and decided to choose another occupation. Before she settled on murdering fictional people,
she was a secretary, a school teacher, a pastor’s wife, and an amateur puppeteer. She and her husband live in her native Western New York State, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, classic movies and campy seventies
television, board games, and posting pictures of her four cats on Facebook.


Pitch Perfect (Or how to interest readers in two minutes or less)

By Sherry in Northern Virginia who’s hoping it warms back up!

This is how I feel when I hear I have to pitch.

This is how I feel when I hear I have to pitch.

Just the word “pitch” strikes terror into my heart. Most of the articles I found on the topic were about pitching to an agent or editor but I’m writing about pitching to readers after your book is written. Creating the perfect pitch is hard. I had two opportunities to pitch at Bouchercon last week, once during speed dating — where two authors go from table to table and each has three minutes to talk about their books — and also at the new authors breakfast where we each had one minute. Both events are timed and both are designed to get readers interested in your writing.

Alice Loweecey and Barbara Early having fun at Malice Go Round.

Alice Loweecey and Barbara Early having fun at Malice Go Round.

Last year at Malice-Go-Round (the Malice Domestic version of speed dating) I listened to about forty authors pitching their books but I only remember two — Barbara Early aka Beverly Allen and Alice Loweecey. They had a routine and were very funny (and again I still remember it!).

So when Barb Goffman and I partnered up for speed dating at Bouchercon I suggested we come up with a joint intro. It went something like this (Barb’s part is in italics):

Hi, I’m Sherry Harris. And I’m Barb Goffman. We’re the long and the short of it. Because I write novels and I write short stories.

It got a laugh every time — It didn’t hurt that I’m tall and Barb, well, isn’t. Even the time keeper told us we were good. (So thank you Alice and Barbara for inspiring me!) I’ve come up with a few tips about pitching your book.

Don’t read — I’ve seen three different types of readers. First up — the nervous Nelly or Ned. I  get it, trust me, I was terrified but reading off a card in a wooden voice isn’t inspiring. What’s the worse thing that can happen — you blank in the middle. If you do, laugh it off and blame it on the early morning hour, the lack of caffeine, or your late night. If using notes helps calm the nerves, use them, but only rely on them in an emergency.

Next is the person who reads their back cover copy — I borrowed a line from the back cover copy — it’s well written, it worked in my pitch, but don’t take your book up and just read. That means you’re looking down, not connecting with your audience.

Last there were the blurb readers. Saying: Bestselling author Joe Blow said: This is a tightly written, action packed, thriller that is a must read and kept me up all night to the very last page — doesn’t really help because that blurb could be on the back of any thriller. It doesn’t tell me why I should read your book.

Don’t talk about your website or how if you buy one book, you’ll get another for free — why should I go to your website if you haven’t piqued my interest?

Don’t tell me what you think your book is about in general terms — it’s a charming, twisted tale of love and death, with a bit of humor. Be specific: who is your protagonist, what is his or her dilemma, what makes your story unique. I started mine like this: Sarah Winston’s happy life as an air force wife crash lands when her husband sleeps with a younger woman. Sarah’s self prescribe therapy is going to lots of yard sales (that’s the line I borrowed from the cover copy).

Wow, that was a lot of things I don’t think should be done in a pitch, so here are some things I think should be done.

Try to be conversational. Think of it as telling a good friend about your book. Practice with someone.

Be enthusiasticand put some pep in your pitch. Because if you tell me about your thriller, suspense or mystery but your voice is blasé or too cool for school, I’m not buying it — your pitch or your book

Look people in the eye and look around the room at different people, it helps engage them, and seeing a friendly face out in the audience helps calm your nerves.

IMG_5806Julie Hennrikus and I practiced on each other and Julie timed our pitches. Hers was only about 30 seconds but she said everything she needed to. I thought she should make it longer but Julie said short was better. And she was right! Being short is so much better than being cut off by the bell or buzzer. But if that does happen in the middle, smile, say thanks, and quit talking instead of continuing on.

Julie Hennrikus pointed out that the men at Bouchercon were much better than women about saying: Buy my book. Say it!

The thing I realized, once I stopped running around thinking and saying, I’m terrible at this, is: I’m really not terrible at the pitch and it doesn’t have to be perfect. And conference organizers — would someone please come up with a new authors cocktail party instead of the new authors breakfast?

Readers: Do you have tips for a good pitch?

Interview with Beverly Allen

Susannah/Sadie/Jane here, just back from a walk in the October sunshine.

Floral DepravityPlease give a Wicked Welcome to Barbara Early a/k/a Beverly Allen, the author of the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries!

Tell us about your series and your new book, Floral Depravity.

The Bridal Bouquet Shop series features a floral designer (and amateur sleuth) named Audrey Bloom. She creates lovely bridal bouquets based on the language of flowers, and all of the brides who have carried one of her signature bouquets down the aisle are still happily married. (One sad twist of this is that not everyone has survived until the wedding day.) FLORAL DEPRAVITY is the third in the series, and we find Audrey preparing the flowers for a medieval themed hand fasting ceremony. Fortunately for this couple, as they literally tie the knot, both bride and groom survive. However, in short order three things happen: an unfortunate dove release incident, the father of the groom bites the dust, and Audrey recognizes the friar performing the ceremony as…well, spoilers.

Sounds intriguing! What actor would make the best Audrey Bloom?

That’s not something I thought about when writing. I know she’s tall. (She’s not exceptionally thin, however, so I don’t know that many actresses would clamor to play the part.) Personality-wise, I suspect Anne Hathaway would probably be a very good choice (but isn’t she always!), in that she plays the idealistic, but slightly sarcastic heroine well, especially one that marches to the beat of a different drummer. And that’s what I think of Audrey.

Barbara Early1Do you have any quirks?

Quirks. I have plenty, but which would I want to admit to? I am a bit of a book hoarder, but many readers are. (I have learned how to build my own book shelves.) I suppose the quirkiest thing about me is that I like to learn new home skills, anything from beginning carpentry to canning to cake decorating. A lot of new skills, so I guess you could say I’m a dabbler. I also love campy television, and am a recent, but somewhat obsessive, Doctor Who fan.

My TBR pile continues to grow. Maybe I should invite you over and you can build ME some bookshelves! Who’s your favorite mystery writer of all time?

I guess the simplest answer is Agatha Christie. But if I had to pick a second, it’s a close tie between Rhys Bowen and Victoria Thompson. With Julie Hyzy and Alan Bradley somewhere in the mix.

Excellent choices! Favorite book (not necessarily a mystery) of all time?

After the Bible, I might say LORD OF THE FLIES. It’s not a pleasant read, but I recall it shaping the way I think of people—and also the way I write mysteries. I think the most interesting (and scariest) villain isn’t the psychopath or serial killer. It’s the person next to us, who, given the right circumstances (or I guess I should say wrong circumstances), rejects law and morality and the fear of punishment to take the life of another person.

Interesting analysis. I may have to reread that one. However, see prior comment about TBR pile, LOL! Who is your most-loved book boyfriend?

Adrian Monk. Yes, another quirk, and I know most people know him from the television show, but I read all the tie-in books too, and couldn’t get enough.

I love Adrian too. What is your writing process like? Early bird or night owl? Do you require special drinks or snacks?

I write best in the morning, but only after I’m sufficiently caffeinated (current Keurig obsession: Southern Pecan, with added chocolate soy milk) and awake. I try not to eat while I write, but on deadline I’ve been known to favor chewy things, like jelly beans and Tootsie Rolls. Or a huge bowl of popcorn, if I have to bribe myself.

Beverly's naughty cat, Nicola

Beverly’s naughty cat, Nicola

Best writing advice you ever heard or read?

Write every day. Just plant your butt in the chair and do it.

Or in the case of your cat Nicola, plant your butt in a box! Tell us about your pets. 

We have four cats. A black cat, two gray tabbies (brother and sister from the same litter), and an orange tabby whose family had to give him up when they moved. They are all very naughty, but survive only because they are equally adorable. Their real-life hijinks inspire my fictional cats to get in all kinds of trouble.


Looking a bit guilty there, Willy...

Looking a bit guilty there, Willy…

Thanks so much for being here, Beverly! Here’s where you can connect with her:


Facebook:  Beverly Allen

Twitter: @BarbEarly

Faking It — Guest Beverly Allen

large_For_Whom_the_Bluebell_TollsWe are happy to welcome author Beverly Allen aka Barbara Early! The second in her Bridal Bouquet Mystery Series, For Whom the Bluebell Tolls, just came out. Beverly has a secret but she shares them with us today.

I’m not a florist, but I play one in fiction…

I get a kick out of a few comments I’ve seen in reviews for the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries. From florists. It seems—or so they say—that I must have worked in the floral industry. Apparently it shows.

And I laugh! NOT at the reviewers! I love them. (Well, most of them.)

See, true confession: I’d never been all that into flowers, thanks to a pretty severe allergy. My husband had even been prohibited from sending me them. My only research, before writing the proposal, was to visit a local florist. I explained what I was doing, and they invited me into their back room. I took notes about the things I saw and heard, asked questions, and just watched them work for a couple of hours. “The best tool a florist has is a really sharp knife.” Can we say murder weapon? Then I went home, popped a Benadryl, and started writing.

flowerarrangeMore research came later: books, You-Tube videos, Pinterest pages, even a hands-on course in floral design. (Yay! More Benadryl!) I practice at home with silk flowers because of the allergy–and because my cats try to eat any live flowers I bring into the house. And a lovely woman at my church, who has since retired from running her own flower shop, reads through all my manuscripts before I send them in. My most treasured compliment came when she told me she wished she could work with Audrey and Liv (My protagonist and her perky sidekick.)

So here’s what I learned about faking an occupation or hobby I might not share. (Most apply even if you do.)

Don’t try too hard to prove it. Sprinkle in details. I’m not sure readers would like pages of nothing but the details of flower arranging. Instead, I let my amateur sleuth think about the murder suspects as she works on her arrangements. Since Audrey Bloom designs her bouquets using the old Victorian language of flowers, sometimes their meanings relate to the case or spark a new idea.

Don’t think you have to include every step. Unless you’re writing a culinary. And even then, those steps don’t have to go in the narrative, just in the enclosed recipes (I love recipes in books!) Those little, detailed sub-tasks also make great dialog attributions (replacing “he said” or “she said”), since my protagonist will often talk about the cases with her coworkers.

Do include sensory details and physical reactions to working hard. What does the working environment look, smell, and feel like? How do your feet, legs, or back feel after a long stretch of working at that occupation and craft?

bloomanddoom150x240px_2Let your sleuth think about and enjoy her occupation or hobby. Audrey Bloom evaluates her environment based on her point of view, and flowers, since they are important to her, color her world. And if this can tie in to the mystery as well? All the better. And it should be upbeat. I’m not sure too many readers want to hear the protagonist grouse about her job, especially if that job was the hook that brought them to the series in the first place.

Remember your audience. Cozies will always have detractors who say that adding these details into a mystery is filler. But if you’ve seen the lovely covers Berkley has designed for my books, you’ll understand that many of the readers who pick up the books enjoy flowers, and they expect to see them displayed prominently in the mystery as well. Will it be too much for some readers? Yeah, well, not everyone will enjoy the same books. But for the most part, readers who read culinaries enjoy the cooking, people who read needlecraft mysteries enjoy their crafts, and people who read books covered with flowers probably like flowers.

I’m beginning to love flowers. In theory. And at a distance.

Barbara_Early1Beverly Allen writes cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance.  The first two books in the bestselling Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series: Bloom and Doom and For Whom the Bluebell Tolls are now available from Berkley Prime Crime, with the third, Floral Depravity, set to release in October.

Beverly grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, crafts, home-improvement projects, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and four naughty, but adorable cats.