Monday, August 31, 2009

Cozying up to... Jim and Joyce Lavene - Part 1

Today I'm launching my new Question and Answer feature "Cozying Up To..." First up, I will be Cozying Up To... Jim and Joyce Lavene, authors of several murder mystery series.

Good Morning, Jim and Joyce. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this Q&A. You’re my very first blog guests! I understand you have several murder mystery series. Could you tell me a little about each?

J&J – Here is a brief explanation of each of our series.

Peggy Lee Garden Mysteries – Peggy Lee owns a garden shop in Charlotte, NC and teaches botany at Queen’s University. She uses her special knowledge of plants, especially poisonous plants, to help the Charlotte Police solve murder mysteries.

Renaissance Faire Mysteries – This series is set in a Renaissance Faire in Myrtle Beach, SC. Our protagonist is Jessie Morton who is working on her dissertation that involves being apprenticed to different craft people in each book. We’ve tried to capture the crazy, fun atmosphere of going to a Renaissance Faire in these books.

Pet Psychic Mystery – Our pet psychic is Mary Catherine, a Wilmington, NC radio talk show host, who can communicate with animals of all sorts. They frequently cause more trouble than they are worth! Mary Catherine hears the cry of a turtle whose owner has been killed in The Telltale Turtle and she helps catch the killer.

Stockcar Mysteries – Glad and Ruby have been called the Nora and Nick of the racing circuit. Glad is a retired Chicago cop and Ruby is a small town southern hairdresser. They travel from race to race in the NASCAR circuit solving mysteries.

Sharyn Howard Mysteries – This is our first mystery series. It is set in the Uwharrie Mountains in North Carolina. We wrote it about the first woman ever elected as a sheriff here. Our protagonist, Sharyn Howard, becomes the sheriff when her father is killed. She finds she likes the job and is very good at it. There are 12 books in this series. Each book has a historical mystery, some from as far back as the Civil War, that links to a present day mystery Sharyn solves.

We have a new series beginning May 2010. It’s called the Missing Pieces Mysteries. It’s set in Duck, NC on the Outer Banks. It’s about Dae O’Donnell, mayor of Duck, and a finder of lost things. In the first book, Death Watch, Dae finds a wristwatch on the arm of a dead woman and helps solve the crime.

Donna - You are a husband and wife team who work very closely in a multitude of ways. How do you split up the writing work?

J&J - We don’t split up writing the books. We sit down and take an idea that we think will work, collected through the year. Then we write a long synopsis that details what we think the story will be like. Our final stage is sitting down together at our large desk with back to back computer monitors. We talk out the story as we type it in. Then when the story is all in the computer, we begin revisions. That is our process.

Donna - How do you resolve disputes about the books you write?

J&J - We have one rule in working together; we have to agree or it doesn’t make it into the book. If we don’t agree about something, we get up and go out for a drive or a walk and talk it out until we come up with something else. Or until Joyce convinces Jim that she’s right!

Donna (laughing) - I like that Joyce convinces Jim she's right! How did you decide on the central idea of each series; for example, how did the idea for a pet psychic murder mystery series come about?

J&J - We came up with the idea for Sharyn Howard because we loved the Uwharrie Mountains and wanted to write about what it would be like for the first elected woman sheriff. The history part came in because we love history.

Our next mystery was the Peggy Lee series. We are both Master Gardeners and Berkley was looking for a garden mystery series. We wrote it in Charlotte because people in that town love their gardens and we thought urban gardening would be fun.

We did the NASCAR books for our racing crazy relatives who wanted to see mysteries written about the real life of stock car fans who camp out and go wild during races.

The Pet Psychic was an offshoot of a Peggy Lee book. Mary Catherine was actually in Fruit of the Poisoned Tree, the second Peggy Lee book. She helped Peggy with her Great Dane. We wanted to write a whole book about the character. We met a pet psychic that the book is based on.

We love Renaissance Faires and Festivals! We thought it would be a great place to kill people (in a book, of course) and wanted everyone to be able to experience the fun. We put it in Myrtle Beach because we thought that area could sustain an all-year faire. We put it in the old Air Force base there and we have had a great time writing it! Our newest book is the second in the series, GHASTLY GLASS, out September 1 from Berkley Prime Crime.

We visited the Outer Banks last year and loved the spooky, foggy area. We thought it would be fun to write something there with all the folklore, pirates and ghosts that haunt the area. Our protagonist is able to find things by touching the people who own them. Missing Pieces is the name of her thrift store in Duck where she sells some of the things she finds.

Donna - Thank you so much, Jim and Joyce, for the fascinating answers... but you've answered a whole lot more, and Part 2 and Part 3 of this wonderful interview is coming up on Wednesday and Friday!

*Note to my readers... I am sooo not a technical person, so I'm having a little trouble with the funky things blogger is trying to do with the font. I can't get it to stay all in one font! Until I get it sorted out... have fun reading everything from Courier to Arial with a little stop at Verdana somewhere in the middle!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jim & Joyce Lavene

I am thrilled to introduce my first Cozy Murder Mysteries interviewee(s), Jim and Joyce Lavene, authors of several murder mystery series - including a series centered on stock car racing, gardening and a pet psychic, among other things - for Murder Ink and Berkley Prime Crime.

Jim and Joyce, a long-time married couple who not only write together but seem to enjoy doing everything together, have this to say in their bio on their website:

(Jim and Joyce) ...currently write four mystery series and work for a small newspaper in Stanly County, North Carolina. When they aren't promoting their books, coming up with new ideas for books, or taking photos of sweet potatoes that look like guinea pigs and congressmen who look like sweet potatoes, they spend time with their family (3 children, 5 grandchildren) and their cat, Quincy who ‘helps’ them write.

They have been gracious enough to answer all my questions, and beginning Monday, I will host a three-part series on them and their books.

For now, visit them at:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fun with Writing

Today is my day to blog at my publishers blog site, Casablanca, so come on over and visit! It's not just for romance readers; my post is fun for all!

Visit me today at:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Inside the Writer's Mind

In case you didn't know, I am a huuuuuge Sue Grafton fan. I've read every book, got my mother hooked, and now I am eagerly awaiting December's release of U is for Undertow. Her website is great, with the complete series listed, reviews, everything you could possibly want to know about Sue and her life.

As well, there are her journal notes for the writing of each book. Wow. I am so impressed! She keeps stuff like that? I could shriek and shriek on like the little fangirl I am, however, I come to you today with something else interesting.

She never lets go of a good idea.

I was looking at L is for Lawless for yesterday's entry, and read the journal entries that go with the book. I came across these parts:

A woman in her late sixties... ...goes to work for an old man in ill health.... The old man dies in his sleep, helped along by his faithful companion.

I wondered where she was going with this, because it sure wasn't L is for Lawless as I remembered it, then I read on...

The companion moves from patient to patient.
She always works for the rich.
How many such stories could she run across?
How many ways could she work this scam?

And I got the chills. I recognized this!

Then Sue wrote...

I have too many misgivings about a woman who connects up with a dying patient and takes advantage of her past. Suppose she's a con artist who's scammed people in one way or another for years.

I'm resisting this one.

As far as I know, she did not use this stuff in L is for Lawless, but she did use it many years later. It is some of the basic outline for her latest novel, T is for Trespass.

Cool, cool, cool!!

Remind me sometime to relate the never-before-told story of how I got an email from Sara Paretsky, and why I've never spoken about it before!!!

*These bits of Sue Grafton's writing journal for L is for Lawless are excerpted from:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Online Writing Classes

Over at Women of Mystery (see my blogroll in the sidebar) Elaine Sparber posted last Thursday about the opportunity for would-be authors to take online writing classes.

What a great idea! It's a wonderful opportunity for anyone who has ever thought "I wonder if I could write a book..." to find out!

But here's the kicker for me. Just a few days ago I posted a blog entry entitled 'Cozy Is as Cozy Does'. Original, right? Not so much! Turns out one of the workshops mentioned in the linked blog has the very same title, and I swear I didn't read it there first!

This reminds me of a true and very personal story: I wrote a novel several years ago called 'A Trail of Keys', which featured an old guy worried about murder and a trail of keys that leads the protagonist, a freelance writer, on a wild goose chase to some supposed treasure. And then after I was done and was just about ready to submit it to every house I could think of - I didn't have an agent in those days - I picked up a Sue Grafton novel (L is for Lawless, I think) and what do I come up against? Kinsey Millhone with a couple of elderly fellows following a trail of keys on some wild goose chase.

Well. What was I to do with the mansucript now? Anyone I sent it to was going to think I was cribbing from the Sue Grafton playbook.


And yet I hadn't even seen a description for L is for Lawless before, during, or after I wrote A Trail of Keys.

I'm just sayin'... sometimes coincidence is a bitch called 'it ain't never gonna get published'.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Coming soon!

Within the next few days I will be featuring my first ever question and answer interview with a husband and wife team of writers, Jim and Joyce Lavene.

I'm so excited! This is what the online world is all about.

So, stay tuned!!