Alex Erickson: When the Not So Cozy Gets Cozy

News Flash: Diana Wunning is Alex’s randomly selected winner. Congrats, Diana! Please check your email. Alex will be contacting you.

Edith here, loving full summer north of Boston. Today I welcome a new guest, fellow Kensington Publishing cozy author Alex Erickson. He and I are going to have Christmas novellas published together in 2019 (along with Carlene O’Connor), so I thought I’d invite him over so we can all get to know him. He writes the Bookstore Cafe Mysteries, and his latest book is Death by Espresso. Don’t you love the cover?

EspressoBookstore-café owner Krissy Hancock has plenty to keep her occupied outside business hours, like preparing for her best friend’s wedding and solving a murder.

Krissy is meeting Vicki’s parents at the Pine Hills, Ohio, airport—it’s the least she can do as maid of honor, even if her relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Patterson is a bit strained. Besides, her own dad is coming in on the same flight. But there are a few additional arrivals, too. Her father’s brought a date—and the Pattersons, both actors, seem to have an entire entourage trailing behind them.

Uninvited guests are a headache—especially when one turns out to be, allegedly at least, the most important wedding planner in all the world. Though Vicki and Krissy have already made arrangements for a small, simple party, Vicki’s snobby drama queen mother has her own ideas. Cathy the wedding planner is raring to go, possibly energized by the chocolate-covered espresso beans she compulsively munches. But while the caffeine keeps her awake, it doesn’t keep her alive—and after Cathy chokes on an espresso bean after being hit in the head, Krissy has to find out who ended her supposedly stellar career . . .

Alex is giving away a copy of the new book to one lucky commenter here today, too (US and Canada only)! Take it away, Alex.

“You’re the wrong sex!”

I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Nearly every event I go to, someone comments on the fact that I’m a man writing cozy mysteries. While it’s not unheard of, some say cozies and men simply don’t go together.

I get it. You look up and down the aisle of authors signing their books, you do find a lot of women. I stand out. And when you sit back and look at my interests, I fit in even less.

BooksI grew up on Stephen King. That’s not exactly cozy reading. I also love my sci-fi and fantasy, both in book form and television. While I watch a lot of mystery and detective shows, many of them are of a darker, bloodier sort. Shows like The Killing. Shows like Dexter. These are not cozy.

And then there’s what I do for fun and to relax (when I’m not reading, of course.) I own a Playstation 4, an Xbox One (two in fact,) a Switch, a gaming PC, and most of them get used every single day. Even my work laptop can run most PC games at max settings. When I’m not reading or writing, I’m often found with a controller in my hands, talking to my friends through a headset.Board Games

While I also like board games, which could fit in with certain cozies, my games are quite a bit different than Monopoly.

Don’t even get me started on my music tastes. Let’s just say it isn’t very cozy.

So, how did someone who is more likely to be found at a Moonspell concert, or who spends hours playing Overwatch, or who watches shows depicting gruesome murders, end up writing cozy mysteries?

Pops

“Pops” mostly from Overwatch

Easy. I love telling stories. I enjoy making people laugh. When so much of what I do resides in the darker realm of entertainment, it’s good to get out and write something that doesn’t dwell on darkness. Sure, there’s murder, but it’s what I like to think of as “light” murder. Happy murder!

And sure, writing a female lead as a man has its challenges. Voice is important to the story. When I write, I focus on what the character would do, not what I would do in any given situation. That helps. I also subscribe to the idea that I don’t make this stuff up on my own; I’m transcribing for my characters.

While I might not spend a lot of time with traditional cozy hobbies, I am an animal person. And when it comes to cozies, sometimes, the animals are all that matters.

Alex_Erickson_8x10_BWReaders: Do you have any hobbies or interests that would surprise the cozy community? Are there any odd hobbies or themes you’d like to see in a cozy? Remember, Alex is giving a copy of Death by Espresso!

Alex Erickson has always wanted to write, even at a young, impressionable age. He’s always had an interest in the motive behind murder, which has led him down his current path. He’s always ready with a witty—at least in his opinion—quip, and tries to keep every conversation light and friendly. Alex lives in Ohio with his family and resident felines, who provide endless amounts of inspiration.

Wicked Wednesday – Favorite First Lines

As writers, we know how important the first line of a book is. It sets the tone for the whole book and pulls you in (or doesn’t). Some are totally unforgettable. Wickeds, I’m wondering, what’s your favorite first line from one of your books?

WickedFirst Lines

Liz: I still get a kick out of the first line from Purring Around the Christmas Tree
“The whole night could’ve been straight from a 
Norman Rockwell painting, if only Santa hadn’t dropped dead in his sleigh as he rode up to light the Frog Ledge Christmas tree.” 

Edith: I love that one, Liz! Here’s mine from Called to Justice: “The day had seemed an unlikely one to include death.” It goes on to show a sunny festive Independence Day parade in 1888. But I think my most favorite is from my Agatha-nominated short story, Just Desserts for Johnny: “She hadn’t planned on killing Johnny Sorbetto that winter. He had promised her so much.”

Julie: My favorite first line from a published book is from Clock and Dagger, which I wrote as Julianne Holmes. “I was running late. Again.” I love that Ruth Clagan, my protagonist in that series, is a clock maker who is always late. That idea came from my editor, and is genius.

Jessie: My favorite first line from any of my books thus far has got to be my very first from Live Free or Die written as Jessie Crockett. “Beulah Price’s body looked like a hotdog that been left on the grill too long.” It is grim but the protagonist’s voice tickles me.

Barb: My favorite first line in one of my novels is from Fogged Inn. “Jule-YA! There’s a dead guy in the walk-in.” From a short story is it “In the Rip,” in Best New England Crime Stories 2012: Dead Calm. “Phil broke up with me on New Year’s morning as if propelled by the force of some terrible resolution.”

Sherry: This is my favorite from my very first book Tagged for DeathA gun shot sounded. I jerked the phone away from my ear. This time I hung up first.

Readers, what’s the best first line you’ve read or written? Tell us below!

For the Love of Reading

By Sherry — Home from a chilly Northern Florida to a freezing Northern Virginia

I have a lot of things to thank my mom for, but probably none more than my love of books. We had lots of books in our house. We made weekly trips to the library from the time I was really little. Then the bookmobile started coming to a park an easy walk from our house once a week.

Mom would read a chapter of a Bobbsey Twin book to my sister and I every night. But she had a devious plan which was to get us to read on our own. I was a bit more of a reluctant reader than my sister. The plan worked because who could stand to wait until the next night to find out what was going to happen next.

There was a large collection of Bobbsey Twin and Nancy Drew books in our house. When there was a book fair at school we were each allowed to pick a few books. Oh, the joy! My second grade teacher wasn’t the best so I fell behind with my reading compared to my peers. Thankfully, I had a third grade teacher who noticed. She took to giving me extra books to take home to read out loud to my mom. And my mom always made time for me to do that. Soon I was back on track and have been a voracious reader ever since.

My dad loved to read too and as we grew up we were always trading around mysteries and thrillers. I remember us all reading the Deadly Sins series by Lawrence Sanders. And books by Sidney Sheldon. There’s an image in one of them I still can’t get out of my head.

My mom is a big fan of cozy mysteries and an avid reader of our blog. She’s introduced me to as many authors and series as I have to her. Years ago it was Lillian Jackson Braun and Dorothy Gilman, more recently Joann Fluke and Diane Mott Davidson. I’ve, of course, introduced the books by all the Wickeds and so many other friends. (A signed book makes a great gift!)

It’s something we will always share.

Readers: Who instilled a love of reading in you?

 

Politics and Sharks

by Sheila Connolly

Happy first Monday of March! Only eight months left until the national election.

Since I write about Ireland, I’ve bookmarked the website for RTE News (that’s Raidió Teilifís Éireann, the sort of semi-public news source for the Republic of Ireland). I read the headlines, which vary from serious to funny, and include a lot of weather reports.

Recently one headline caught my eye: “Shark attacks and democratic elections.” No, this was not written as an election summary, either American or Irish. It’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek commentary on how elections are reported and interpreted.

Shark mapIt begins with a statement by a Trinity College emeritus professor, who wrote that a record number of shark attacks were reported worldwide in the past year. Most were in Florida, no surprise. But then he went on to say that there was a series of shark attacks in New Jersey early in the last century (1916, to be precise)—a first for the state—as reported by two senior professors at Princeton at the time.

What, the author of the RTE article asked, does this have to do with 2016 elections? Apparently the New Jersey attacks occurred in a presidential election year. Evidence shows that the incumbent, Woodrow Wilson, lost in those counties where the shark attacks took place. And somehow, in the press, the president was blamed for the attacks.

Woodrow Wilson

The message seems to be that when unpredictable disasters that no government could possibly control occur, elected officials pay a penalty at the polls.

It’s not logical, but it’s true. And it makes an entertaining story, doesn’t it? Sharks sink president? Which leads me to think about how both campaign personnel and reporters craft a story (albeit from opposite directions)—one that is intended to sell either the candidate or more papers (or digital subscriptions these days). Keep your articles short and sensationalistic and people will pay attention—and believe what they say. The headlines don’t have to be accurate, and few readers are checking the facts.

So it’s all about crafting a story, in both the short and the long term. That often means stringing together a series of “highs” that grab attention and that people will remember (like all those “-gate” titles). Kind of like a thriller novel, right? Something must always be happening, to keep you turning the pages. You the reader don’t even stop to think about the credibility of the event (oh, sure, I believe that character jumped off the Empire State Building and landed on that helicopter strut, grabbing it with one hand while he shot the pilot with the gun he managed to hold on to during his frantic leap, and he then flew the helicopter to safety with the kidnapped wife of a foreign leader and her dog), because you’re so caught up in the story. For a writer, that’s good, but for a politician? Not so much.

Should we as writers be encouraged or depressed? It seems that people are eager to embrace fiction, if it’s exciting enough. As writers we can produce that. We can structure a story to keep the reader turning the pages. But in the real world? Let’s hope that voters can distinguish fact from fiction.

Do you have any favorite political headlines? Like “Thomas Dewey beats Harry S. Truman” from 1948? (If you try your best to ignore all political noise, I don’t blame you!)

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:

Web: http://www.barbaraearly.com

Facebook:  Beverly Allen

Twitter: @BarbEarly

Mystery, friendship, persistence, and lots of laughs at Windsor Locks Public Library

Liz here, and today I’m excited to welcome a very special guest – Eileen Pearce, librarian at Windsor Locks Public Library here in Connecticut. I first met Eileen last year when she invited Edith and me to do an event at the library. You never know how library events are going to go, but we were thrilled – the crowd was plentiful, the interest and enthusiasm were high, and we had such fun! The library has an active mystery book club that really welcomes authors. This past summer, Barb joined me and Edith for a second event, and as long as Eileen will have us, we plan on returning as often as possible! I invited Eileen to tell us about the group, the Christie Capers Book Club. All yours, Eileen!

eileen2015Many of you haven’t heard of the town that I have called home for 30 years.  Windsor Locks, CT is 9.2 square miles and has a population of 12,500.  We are the home of Bradley International Airport, which most people think is in Hartford.  Our Little League team won the World Championship in 1965 and Ella Tambussi Grasso, governor of Connecticut from 1975-1980 (and the first woman in the United States elected governor in her own right) was born here in 1919.  Oh, and our latest claim to fame is that one of the finalists on this year’s version of The Bachelorette is from Windsor Locks!

Christie Capers co-founders Janet Lomba and Eileen

Christie Capers co-founders Janet Lomba and Eileen

I like to think that the Windsor Locks Public Library’s Christie Capers Book Club is another distinctive selling point of our small town.  My good friend Janet, a library volunteer, and I, the Adult Services Librarian, started the group in 2002.   We appropriated the name, Christie Capers, from one of author Carolyn G. Hart’s Death on Demand mysteries, and she was gracious enough to offer a signed copy of one of her novels as a door prize for our first meeting in September 2002.  Our first book was, appropriately, Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library.  Our plan was to read and discuss “traditional” mysteries, which feature a murder, the gathering of clues by a professional or amateur sleuth, and the solution to the crime.  We were thrilled to have a dozen people attend that first meeting, but quickly lost some of our enthusiasm when only a few showed up for our second.  Traditional mysteries, especially cozies, can be difficult to discuss since they all follow a basic formula and don’t usually have intense psychological plotlines or a lot of complex characters.  A couple of our members kept pushing for thrillers over the first few years that we met, so we did read some Harlan Coben and Patricia Cornwell during those early years, but our hearts really weren’t in it. Now we read only traditional mysteries, some cozy and some more “noir,” choosing a different theme each year.  Fortunately there are SO many great mysteries around that that we never want for ideas! We’ve read female sleuths, professional vs. amateur sleuths, mysteries set in different countries, mysteries featuring real people as detectives, and craft-based mysteries, to name a few of our themes. During this past year we’ve been reading novels featuring religious sleuths and our upcoming theme is mysteries featuring a strong sense of place, novels in which the setting is key to the series, like those of Colin Cotterrill, Louise Penny, and Charles Finch.  I’m thinking that it is definitely getting to be time to focus on some culinary series soon!

Christie Capers Tea

Christie Capers Tea

We spent about a decade as a pretty small group, but over the past few years interest in discussing mysteries has apparently exploded here in north central Connecticut!  We now have about 25 members, many from surrounding towns and several from Massachusetts.  We have hosted many wonderful authors, enjoying fascinating discussions with three of the Wicked Cozies, Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, and Barbara Ross.  Laura Bradford (aka Elizabeth Lynn Casey), author of an Amish mystery series and the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries, has visited 5 times and essentially become our library’s mystery mascot.  Sandra Parshall, a wonderful writer based in the D.C. area, donated a whole box of Under the Dog Star, one of her Rachel Goddard mysteries, to our delighted group, all big fans of hers.  Anne Canadeo, author of the Black Sheep Knitting Mysteries has stopped in to see us twice, and we were thrilled to be one of the first libraries to introduce Susannah Hardy, author of the Greek to Me Mysteries, to the world.  We look forward to meeting Roberta Isleib (Lucy Burdette) in August.

Reading and discussing mysteries are always great pastimes and meeting our favorite (and future favorite) authors is a thrill, but the most wonderful things about a book club, even one as big as ours, are the friendship and the laughter.  Every month different combinations of members meet.  Diane is our chocolate martini expert, always a hit at our annual Christmas pot-luck meeting.  Karen, originally from Fall River (or “Fall Rivah”, as she says), and Shirley, from England, add a bit of an exotic flair to our meetings with their accents.  Geri is our deadpan comedienne (“they grilled him like a cheeseburger”) and Terry is an expert at faux-cluelessness.  Janet’s explosive laughter, Mary P’s sweet girlish voice, Nancy’s travel anecdotes…all of these contribute to a wonderful sense of comraderie.  We have sympathized with each other’s losses, worried about illnesses, and expressed joy at marriages, children’s graduations, and new jobs. There might be 12 of us or there might be 24 at a meeting.  When someone doesn’t show up and we haven’t heard from them, we worry about them.  When others, whose active lives, jobs, and varied interests sometimes prevent them from attending, DO show up, we let them know how much we missed them.  Sometimes we love the book and clamor to read more of the series, while at other times Janet and I get the stink-eye for choosing a book that is not to everyone’s taste.  But no matter how we feel about our book, the library’s community room is always filled happy voices and the frequent sound of laughter on the third Wednesday of every month.  This is Christie Capers, still going strong after 13 years, 122 books, 15 author visits, and many, many holiday chocolate martinis.

Mythbusting–Cozies Are Not The Shallow End Of The Fiction Pool

Susannah here, enjoying a cup of joe … and avoiding housework...

So, my Wicked people, today I thought we’d have a Mythbusting session. No, I’m not going to use a magnifying glass and the sun to start a campfire, or investigate the potentially uncomfortable results of combining Pop Rocks and soda. Not that that wouldn’t be fun–er, educational!

I belong to a number of different writers’ email loops, and they are sources of invaluable information. But sometimes they are full of misinformation. Or perhaps I should say misperceptions.

Recently on one of the loops someone mentioned the “fact” that cozies are not “deep” and that she was having trouble connecting with her characters and story. This was her first cozy contract, but she had extensive experience writing in the romance and paranormal genres. A couple of people chimed in that they were writing or reading cozies and either implied or came right out and said that cozies were “light,” the implication being that they were shallow.

I’m going on the record right now to tell you that traditional, cozy mysteries do NOT have to be shallow, devoid of character arcs and development, or plot driven to the point that the characters don’t matter. Certainly no Wicked Cozy or Accomplice is writing books like that! I butted in and emailed the author privately and we brainstormed some ways that she could not only get more into her sleuth’s head, but tie what’s in her head to the plot–both the immediate plot (the murder), and the ongoing plot (the character’s backstory and development over the series). So in case this helps any writer or reader get a better handle on adding or identifying depth in stories–any genre–here are some of the thoughts and techniques I offered:

  •  The key difference between an ongoing series, like a cozy mystery or darker procedural, and a standalone, like a romance, is that the main character’s entire character arc cannot–in fact, MUST not–be revealed in one book. In a romance, you only get one chance. There are two main characters, and they fall in love, overcome obstacles to their relationship, including both external AND internal, and in the end they get together with a promise of a Happily Ever After. The End. These characters may make cameo appearances in later related novels, but their character arcs are essentially completed because subsequent books have new romantic partners as main characters.
  • However, in an ongoing series, if the author reveals everything in the first book, or starts the main character from a place where she’s already settled (already happily married, already has children, already firmly established in a profession, completely secure in her place in the community), the author and the story have nowhere to go in subsequent books. An exception to the above would be if the character starts from a place where she THINKS she’s settled or all her demons are conquered, but then something happens to throw that balance way, way off.
  • Give the main character some family issues.  A mother or father who abandoned her. A sibling with whom she has never gotten along. An interfering grandmother. An awful ex-husband with a new trophy wife. A mother or father who disapproves of what she is doing with her life. A family secret that no one ever talked about, but that suddenly comes to a head, causing strong emotions to come up. This ensures lots of plot and conflict material for future books. And if a relative or someone else from her past gets killed off later, the heroine will have to deal with the guilt that they never reconciled. Or maybe one of these people is accused of murder, and the heroine finds she can use finding the real killer as a means of reconciliation. Does the heroine take some action, thinking she’s doing the right thing, but in the process injures an innocent person and must find a way to deal with her guilt and make things right?
  • Give your heroine a deep-seated reason to want/need to succeed. She could have a need to prove her parents wrong–they wanted her to go to law school, but she wanted to open a bead store and make jewelry. Or she could have had a boss or a teacher who told her she had no talent and would never amount to anything, and she has believed it, limiting her success. Or maybe she grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, so it’s vitally important to her to have roots and financial security. Or maybe she has been working at a job that sucks the life out of her but pays the bills, but her real dream is to drive an ice cream truck. Does she have a physical challenge that she has always been told will prevent her from being what she wants to be, and she needs to change her belief system in order to get there? Help the character find a way or ways over time to move closer to her dream(s).
  • Use secondary characters as foils for the sleuth’s over-time development. Example: a friend falls for a con man, and the heroine knows he’s dishonest because the guy tells the same kind of stories as her own ex. So helping her friend also gives her some closure with her own issues. Or a member of the community or the sleuth’s mentor figure used to be a stockbroker, but gave it all up to come home to her small town to open her dream knitting shop. By example, the heroine sees that living authentically is possible, which could allow her to grow and develop and make strides toward her dream(s).

This cozy stuff is like any other genre fiction–it just happens at a slower rate over a series. The thing is that whatever character issues you choose, they have to be woven in over the framework of the mystery itself. So the character issues should tie in with the heroine’s success–or failure–at solving the mysteries.

It’s your turn, readers and writers. How much character development do you want to see, and how quickly do you want it to happen over a series? What are some examples of series that make character development a priority (whether or not you agree with the direction the author chose to take her/his character, which is another topic entirely)?