Saturday, November 28, 2009

MysteryNet... have you joined?

Some days I think the internet has ruined life as I used to know it... the leisurely morning coffee with the newspaper, the radio giving me the local weather before I set out for the day, the sweet oblivion of not knowing what was going on in Hollywood stars' daily lives. It was a more insular, locally-based world, where my city was the most important locale of my life.

But then, I wasn't a published author then. Publication and the internet kind of bisected for me, both happening in my home, coincidentally, around the same time.

And now? Ten years or so later? Now I wonder how we all - as writers and readers - survived without the internet. And the medium is still morphing daily, changing, growing, becoming more pervasive, in a sense. I read my local newspaper online now, with my coffee, at my desk then check the weather and local radar - online - before starting work - at the same desk on the same computer.

One of the best things about it is finding new places that you love, and this one is new to me. Or... I think I may have been there, but I certainly did not take advantage of all the wonderful facets of

At you can read short stories, solve daily 'Get-a-Clue' mysteries or monthly 'Solve-Its', look up every Nancy Drew book ever published, join in the forums or read members' short mystery stories and interact. You can even sign up to have a mini-mystery delivered to your email box!! How is it after more than ten years of being on the Internet I'm still finding new-to-me places? Especially about a topic I'm so passionate about as murder mysteries?

So, for those interested, here is the link!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends,
from your northern pals!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Poll Dance Wednesday results.

How much - or how little - violence do you like in your cozy murder mystery?

Blood and guts don’t bother me… bring on the gore!
2 (20%)
I’m not fond of violence, but it’s part of a murder mystery.
1 (10%)
I don’t need to see how the victim dies, and no autopsy please!
3 (30%)
It really depends on the author’s style and the plot.
4 (40%)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Do you Tweet?

Social networking is now a necessity for writers, but for readers it seems to be more about community, and meeting in cyberspace people who like the same things you do, and want to talk about them. Every interest, no matter how esoteric, has a community, it seems, from hot-air ballooning to origami to sinus-sufferers.

But how is it working for you? Do you blog, do you twitter? Do you stumble, stagger or shelfari? Ten years ago I wouldn't know what the heck I was talking about if I said 'blog' and 'twitter', but now, along with Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Technorati, StumbleUpon and a million other social networking tools and sites, the internet is a bewildering forest of social networking trees... so how do you tell a spruce from a fir? How do you know which will work for you?

No... I don't have any advice, I'm asking!

Do you - any of you in the murder mystery reading and writing community - have tips on what works for you? Do you have a community to which you belong? Do certain social networking sites or methods find pages for you that you have stayed with?

I'm wondering in part because as a reader, I visit several sites and blogs daily or every few days, and as a writer I blog, comment, read and follow many other blogs.
I'm curious about ones other find compelling or informative.

I'm also curious about how your choices in reading matter are informed or changed by social networking. Do you read author posts? Does an author's online presence change how you view him or her? Do you just look for books on, or use publishing house newsletters? SYKM? The 'Cozy Mystery List' blog?

What works for you? Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Death of a Turkey - Review

*Editor's Note: I don't know about anyone else, but I love holiday themed books, both romances and mysteries. Christmas isn't Christmas without a stack of Christmas Regency anthologies and Christmas cozy murder mysteries by my side. Getting to read them during the busiest time of years is sometimes another thing. Thanksgiving presents a dilemma, though, as Canadian Thanksgiving is a good month-and-a-half earlier than the American one. But it's a festive time of year, and I'll celebrate twice! Here, for all to enjoy, is a review of Death of a Turkey... enjoy!

Death of a Turkey

Author: Kate Borden

Copyright: 2005 (Berkley); 224 pgs.

Series: #3 in Peggy Jean Turner Mystery Series

Sensuality: N/A

Main Character: Peggy Jean (PJ) Turner, Mayor of Cobb’s Landing and proprietor of Tom’s Tools.

Setting: Cobb's Landing, a small New England town.

PJ is anticipating her favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. The house across the street from PJ is rented out to an angry woman named Prunella Post who seems to be PJ’s nemesis from the moment she arrived in town. Max, the wealthy financier who turned the economically failing Cobb’s Landing into a colonial-themed tourist town, has decided to turn Thanksgiving into a tourist day with a reenactment. To top it off, Chief of Police Stu McIntyre is coming back to town from time off, but first he needs PJ to tell his impossible mother that he is engaged and bringing his fiancée. The fiancée is hiding a dark past and somehow the obnoxious Prunella knows about it. Prunella Post is then found dead in the town square with a Turkey skewer sticking out of her – just like the kind PJ sells in her store.

PJ is a stronger female main character than many I have read and I liked that. She is an easy to like amateur sleuth who remains very close to her best friend from the age of two, Lavinia, who lives behind her and has a son who is PJ’s son’s best friend. The cozy factor is high in this series and that may appeal to some more than others, so beware. The very small town of Cobb’s Landing nicely comes to life to with details and its own past. The murderer and means were not difficult to deduce after enough information is revealed; it is the journey that is the story.

“The temperature had warmed to slightly above freezing, reducing the once glorious snow to crusty patches on lawns. The air was still, laced with a hint of bone-chilling fog. Peggy felt the damp of the wet concrete sidewalk seep through the soles of her boots and wished she’d worn her thick-soled running shoes. Too late to go back and change. She picked up the pace to keep the blood circulating in her slowly numbing toes. Buster trotted happily alongside, stopping occasionally to sniff a tree or leave his own mark – the canine equivalent of writing his name in the snow.”

The writing style is easy going and highlights PJ’s personality and outlook. All the subplots wrap up nicely f
or an overall enjoyable story and it seems to move along well without dragging. The deep friendship between PJ and Lavinia is well developed and a strong point of the book. If you enjoy your cozy mysteries for the entire cadre of characters becoming your family, as much if not more than the mystery itself, then this series is for you. If you want to delve into the Thanksgiving season before rushing headlong into Christmas, this book will put you into the turkey-day frame of mind.

Three-and-a-half armchairs out of five.


About the reviewer:

A.F. Heart

Ms. Heart is a Colorado gal who does not like snow but loves the low bug population. She has been told she was an odd child for playing Cleopatra with her Barbies and dressing up her poodle. She is taking that active imagination and writing her first novel. She shares her writing progress (and much more) on her blog “Mysteries and My Musings.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poll Dance Wednesday and Cryptograms!!

Wednesday... hump day, dreary, middle of the week yuck day.

Or fun day!

As well as a new poll, I also have a cryptogram puzzle for you to work out. The dates are the clues.

Wednesday, November 4th: JEVMIAS PFMWI XS UVRE UESVR


Tuesday, November 17th: A UABR EG MWGALKALMEW XS D. B. PAPRF

Anyone know the answers? No prize, but a big 'boy, are you smart!' to the first correct answer!

Hint... the key is the same for each of the three puzzles.

Okay, now here are the poll results for last week's poll... don't forget to vote in the new poll!

Poll results: Romance in cozy murder mysteries.

No way, none of that mushy stuff for me! Stick to the death and mayhem.
1 (6%)
Yeah, baby, bring on the kissin' and huggin' and cuddlin'!
4 (26%)
I'm on the fence... and it hurts! Dang barbed wire.
1 (6%)
Only if it's done well and doesn't overwhelm the murder part!
9 (60%)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why I Write Mysteries - W. S. Gager

*Editor's Note: Welcome W. S. (Wendy) Gager today to the irregular Tuesday 'Why I Write Mysteries' column. I identify with her 'why' in part because I, too, imagine things when I'm out and about. Ideas lurk around every corner, as you'll find when you read on. Enjoy!

Why I Write Mysteries

by: W. S. Gager

I have always loved getting lost within the pages of a book, any book. Books fed my own imagination. I always imagined myself as an innocent bystander pulled into some type of intrigue. I, of course, would manage to solve the mystery without the help of the professionals by sheer brainpower alone. That being said, I am no genius, just filled with a fanciful imagination that can picture intrigue around any corner.

Such as:

  • A car in front of you is moving slowly because they are looking for a likely place to dump a body and are hoping you pass them and they can get on with it.
  • A woman is looking frantic at the grocery store and instead of just not having enough time, she is looking for the one clue that will save her husband who is being held by terrorists.
  • A large pile of leaves along the curb begins to move slowly and out pops a man covered in blood left for dead.

These are the crazy things that I think of as I go about my “normal day.” If people only knew, they would cross the street as they come across me or shield their children from my eyes. Lucky for me, they have to buy a book to see how my crazy brain works. In my debut novel, A Case of Infatuation, crime beat reporter Mitch Malone is hoodwinked into helping a small witness escape from the scene of the crime and ends up babysitting, much to his dismay. He must use his reporting skills to get rid of his baggage and win his freedom.

I have always been a voracious reader having read nearly every fiction book in my middle school library (It was a small library). I had a whole set of Nancy Drews at home and they were the ones I pulled out when my library stash was finished and it was a weekend. As I got older, I started reading romance. Figured it would be best to write romance as a first book. After several attempts, I finally finished a full story. I gave my first finished manuscript to a woman in my writer’s group to critic. I will never forget her first words. She reached over and grabbed my hand (mainly so I couldn’t run away). “Honey, you are not a romance writer, you’re a mystery writer. “ I was crushed but thought about what she said and I loved writing the mystery part of my book and struggled with the romantic elements. (My kissing scenes were so bad they were funny!)

That book has never seen the light of day and probably never will because I had so much to learn. But I always will think fondly of it because a mystery writer was born within its pages.

W.S. Gager
A Case of Infatuation-Now Available

Author Bio

W.S. Gager has lived in West Michigan for most of her life except for stints early in her career as a newspaper reporter and editor. Now she enjoys creating villains instead of crossing police lines to get the story. She teaches English at a local college and is a soccer chauffeur for her children. During her driving time she spins webs of intrigue for Mitch Malone's next crime-
solving adventure.

facebook: wsgager

Purchase the book today:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Managing Multiple Viewpoints in a Cozy

*Editor's note: The technical side of writing is something most non-writing readers don't even consider, and unfortunately, too many writers don't consider it either! Here is an interesting behind-the-scenes peek at how one writing duo handles writing multiple viewpoints.

Managing Multiple Viewpoints in a Cozy Mystery

by: Carolyn Rose

One reason I’ve forgotten most of my high school math is that I’ve had to apply so little of it (except for balancing my checkbook, figuring square yardage for carpet, and computing miles per gallon).

But when my husband and I sat down to plot The Big Grabowski, we got a refresher course in the concepts of direct and inverse proportion. With every character we created and tossed into the mix, the plot became more complex and the page count grew. (That’s direct proportion.)

After a few days of brainstorming, it became obvious that this was a book where planning and coordination would be critical to completion. The less work we put in before we got to our keyboards, the more difficult and frustrating the writing process would be. (That’s inverse proportion.) Too much flying by the seats of our collective pants could doom the mission.

So, in addition to the fictional greedy developer we killed off at the beginning of The Big Grabowski, we also sacrificed several hundred index cards. Avid recyclers and the proud owners of two working compost heaps, we didn’t do that without pangs of conscience. But it seemed the only logical way to develop characters and character arcs, keep track of action, and litter the tale with red herrings without getting sidetracked and then stuck in a plotting cul-de-sac.

To allow readers to get to know the suspects better and to give them that smug feeling of knowing things the protagonist didn’t, we created fifteen viewpoint characters in addition to our sleuth. Those fifteen are presented in third persons points of view, while amateur sleuth Molly Donovan speaks in first person. If we’d asked the experts, chances are we would have been warned off, told that we had too many viewpoints, and assured that readers would be confused.

But we didn’t ask. And, in “texting talk,” as we named and developed our characters, we became BFF (Best Friends Forever) with each of them. We found we couldn’t silence a single one, although we did discover that some wouldn’t shut up and others had to be coaxed into talking.

So we forged ahead, using 5x7 index cards to list character attributes—physical descriptions, traits, turns of phrase, and attitudes. 3x5 cards, each labeled with the name of the viewpoint character for that particular scene, listed setting, action, and outcome.

Using the cards allowed us to generate ideas individually and as a team. And, because we knew we’d winnow them later, the sky was the limit when it came to what might happen in the fictional town of Devil’s Harbor, Oregon.

We stashed the 3x5 cards in a plastic recipe box for safekeeping until we felt we’d exhausted our imaginations. Then we laid them out on the dining room table so we could see the big picture.

To my delight, this served two purposes—it allowed us to see all of the events and recognize what was missing, and it made a sit-down dinner impossible. That, in turn, made the process of cooking said dinner pointless. And that made me one happy, dialing-for-take-out, camper.

We laid out the order of scenes for Molly first, then worked the others in around that. By using cards, we were able to recognize when a character hadn’t appeared for a long stretch, or was popping up far too often. We were also able to see where we needed more foundation for specific scenes or where we needed to plant clues and suspicions.

When we had that together, we separated the action into chapters and then created a master calendar, establishing time and date for each scene. That calendar became the roadmap that made the journey less daunting and more manageable.

The calendar enabled us to write from milepost to milepost, scene to scene. Instead of looking ahead hundreds of pages to the final destination—the ending—we were peering down that empty literary road only a few pages at a time. And at the end of that few pages was another character waiting to hitch a ride or, as characters sometimes do around the middle of a book, try to slide behind the wheel and take over.

The system worked so well we used it for the second book in the Devil’s Harbor series (due out in 2010). Last month we went all out, bought cards in a variety of colors, and began plotting a third mystery. We’re not ready to lay those cards down yet, but I’m already collecting take-out menus.


Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.

In addition to The Big Grabowski, she has authored two mysteries with her husband, and three on her own. A sequel to The Big Grabowski will be released in 2010 through Krill Press and a mainstream mystery, Hemlock Lake, will be published by Five Star.

To find Carolyn on the 'net, go to:

Krill Press -

Deadly Duo Mysteries:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Poll Dance

Hey, all,

I've wondered for some time how readers really feel about romance in murder mysteries. I, for one, don't mind it if the author handles it well. It's part of life, after all, and those fictional characters have a right to love, don't they?

So, in the interest of research - and because I'm snoopy - I've added a poll to the left hand column. Pleeeeeeze answer? Pretty please?

Thanks a bunch, in advance.

Oh, and disregard the silliness of the answers; they really are just no, yes, can't decide and maybe.

I am thinking about doing a poll every Wednesday, so keep an eye out! And if you have any burning questions (there's a cream for that, I've heard) shoot them to me so I can add them to the poll!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Marion Moore Hill - On Touring

*Editor's Note: Marion Moore Hill is an inspiration to the small-house-published writer. She doesn't wait at home for the book sales to pile up, she goes out to the book stores and talks and sells. Here is her excellent advice and thoughts on book tours. Enjoy!

Marion Moore Hill

On Touring

I write two series, the Deadly Past Mysteries and the Scrappy Librarian Mysteries, and I'm with a very small publisher called Pemberley Press. Pemberley produces well edited, high-quality trade paperbacks of my novels, with covers that garner compliments from booksellers and readers, and has excellent distribution through Independent Publishers Group, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other companies. (I learned how important good distribution is with my first book, which was from a different publisher. Bookstores don't know that book exists, since it's not in catalogues from any of the major distributors.) The only down side I've found to being with a small publisher is that I'm responsible for most promotion. I have a website ( and speak at conferences, but I also travel to lots of bookstores, libraries, and other venues. This personal connection to potential readers seems necessary since I'm not yet a well-known writer. I organize, schedule, and pay for these book tours myself.

I keep a 'tour bible', which is a loose-leaf notebook divided by tabs for each state I do events in. When I set up an event (bookstore signing, library talk, etc.), I make a page containing all pertinent information (address of venue, phone, name of events coordinator (EC) or contact person, date and time of event, and any other relevant info, such as whether I'm expected to provide copies of my books. Some indies request this.). I file the page behind the appropriate state tab in the bible, alphabetically by name of town. I also note on the page the date I send out promotional pieces: bookmarks to the bookstore (to place by the register), postcards and e-mail announcements to friends in that area, and publicity materials to appropriate news media (typically an e-mailed article about the event, with attached book cover and author photo). After a signing or talk, I note on the bible page how many of each title sold at the event, and any useful comments from customers and ECs. For example, book clubs and bookstores often invite me to come back when my next book comes out. Or sometimes an EC says something like, 'You sold more than some of our local writers do.' These notes are extremely helpful when I plan later trips to that area.

I do signings at both independent and chain bookstores. I love working with indies, which often have deep and lasting relationships with customers, are great at 'hand-selling' books, and work hard to make signings successful. I admire their ability to survive against competition from big-box stores and the internet. All that said, though, I don't feel it's fair to my publisher to sign only at indies, since they often don't get the traffic that chain stores do. Because my publisher took a chance on me as an author, and because Pemberley has invested time and money in my books, I feel I need to sell as many copies as possible.

I drive to several mystery and writer conferences each year, and also visit family and friends at
distances, so I set up bookstore signings along the way, going and coming. (Our hybrid auto gets 47 mpg., and my hubby and I both like road trips.) Using the internet, I find likely bookstores along the route, then contact these by e-mail or phone. Though I've done events with several chains, I mostly go to Barnes & Noble because I find the B&N system fairly easy to navigate. If, for instance, Dayton, Ohio, is (or could be) on my route to a conference, I click on 'Stores & Events' in the top right-hand corner of the B&N home page, then type in the city and state I'm researching. When a list of stores within 50 miles (or sometimes 100 miles) of that city pops up, I check each likely store's calendar for the next couple of months, which tells me whether they do author signings and/or have appropriate clubs meeting there that I might speak to. (To bring up a calendar, click on the 'See more store events' to the right of the store's name and address.) At B&N stores, the events coordinator is called the Community Relations Manager, and his/her e-mail address is 'crm' plus the B&N number for that store (which is four numbers, beginning with '2), for example ''.

If I find a mystery book club, fiction book club, or writers group listed on the store calendar, I note its usual meeting day and time (first Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., for instance). If I can manage to be at that store on the appropriate meeting day for a club, I inquire (when contacting that store for a signing) about the possibility of meeting with a particular group. Sometimes the EC contacts the club's leader for me, sometimes gives me contact into and I approach him/her directly. I love speaking to groups, enjoy the interaction with audience members, and find this an especially good way to sell books.

I initially felt nervous when doing signings, but I've come to enjoy them; I meet lots of nice people in bookstores and have interesting conversations there. But I've found that it's important to strike a balance between being pushy and fading into the woodwork. I hear horror stories from ECs about the two extremes of author behavior: (1) the one who chases customers around a store trying to sell them a book, which might result in a sale that day but will likely lose sales in the long run as the intimidated buyer bad-mouths that author to other potential customers; and (2) the one who spends the signing time reading a book or visiting with friends rather than interacting with potential buyers. One EC told me that an author who sits and reads (apparently assuming people will come up to him and ask about his books, which, trust me, ain't gonna happen) might as well be home writing, for all the good he's doing here. ECs often compliment my friendly but low-key approach to walk-in customers, and one told me on a recent trip, 'You need to teach a class to my young authors about how to sell.'

Ideally, a store seats me at a signing table near the front entry and has copies of several of my novels on it. I greet people as they come in, ask if they like mysteries, say I'm there signing mystery novels and add whatever 'hook' seems appropriate for that area (such as the fact that my latest novel is set nearby, or that it incorporates details about some local event into it). Some people say they're not interested and walk on, which is fine since not everyone likes every type of book. But often people stop to see what my novels are like. I then give a memorized speech about my latest novel, or sometimes about the two series I write (a brief but intriguing talk, trying to sound unrehearsed). As a potential buyer indicates interest in a particular book or series, I follow up with more details about that book or series. I often have buyers thank me for stopping them, since my books 'sound interesting' and they 'probably wouldn't have known about them otherwise.'

Sometimes I find a store has ordered only my latest title, or could only get that one from its warehouse, and then I ask the EC if he/she wishes to buy copies of my other books from me. Many (particularly chain stores) won't do that, but some will, either paying my discounted price or sending me replacements when they later are able to get copies. I sell to bookstores at 40% off retail, and I don't make much per copy on those books, but I'd rather sell them than not, even when my 'take' is small. My reasoning is that, since many mystery buyers like to follow an author through all his/her titles, if I can get one into a buyer's hands, that may lead to future sales. Often I sell both titles in the Deadly Past series to the same individual, since he/she is convinced they'll like both.

Occasionally a store places me in an awful location, some out-of-the-way corner where few customers come by. In such a case, I ask the EC (nicely) if I can be moved, since experience with other signings has shown the importance of being near the store entry. If the store layout is such that I can't be moved, or if the EC refuses to move me (which typically doesn't happen), I smile and do the best I can wherever I am. (But I probably won't go back to that store.)

Having toured several years now, I've developed contacts at a number of venues that are especially good places to sell my books. For instance, I have a standing invitation to sign at the Visitors Center in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and at the College of William and Mary Bookstore in Colonial Williamsburg, whenever I'm going to be in those areas. And sometimes a CRM at one B&N store where my books have sold well suggests I contact another CRM who he/she knows would be open to a signing by me. As with so many other things these days, networking is important!

I welcome questions about my touring experiences ( and will try to answer as helpfully as possible.

Find Marion and her books online at:


Friday, November 6, 2009

Questions and Answers with Cleo Coyle - Part 2

*Editor's Note: Welcome today to Part 2 of our Q&A with Cleo Coyle, whose Coffeehouse Mysteries and Haunted Bookshop Mysteries (written as Alice Kimberly) are enormous successes with lovers of Cozy Murder Mysteries. Cleo Coyle, by the way, is Alice Alfonsi who collaborates with her husband, Marc Cerasini. So, read and enjoy these answers from a respected veteran in the murder mystery field.


Now for the Q&A - Part 2:

Question: The Haunted Bookshop mystery series has the ghost of a hardboiled-type PI as one of its central characters. Do you read the older “hardboiled” private detective books to get the flavor?

CLEO/ALICE: Not just to get the flavor. I honestly enjoy reading Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane as well as those old pulp stories from Black Mask magazine. The noir films of the 1940’s and 50’s are a joy to watch, as well. They not only set the scene, they nourish me as a writer. With so many of today’s filmmakers preoccupied with big, epic tales that require green screens for emotional impact, I find it immensely inspiring to go back to a time when the screenwriter was forced to rely solely on story, dialog, and character choices to hold and "wow" an audience.

Question: I love your culinary mysteries and enjoy the information on coffee buying, roasting, grinding, and brewing. I also like that your website is rich with recipes and giveaways, too. Do you find that revealing the culinary side of your character helps to tell Clare’s story, or are the recipes and tips just a nice little added bonus?

CLEO/ALICE: First of all, thank you for the nice words about my mysteries and website—much appreciated! My amateur sleuth, Clare Cosi, makes her living as a professional barista. She’s also a former food writer for a local paper and has a daughter in culinary school. Given Clare’s intense passion for her lifelong occupation, I view the culinary and coffee information in her Coffeehouse Mysteries as an expression of her voice and character—much the same way mystery writer Dick Francis uses information about the world of horse racing as an “added bonus” for those interested in that particular theme and subject, or thriller writer Tom Clancy uses technical information about advanced weaponry as an “added bonus” for those interested in military tech.

I also enjoy using coffee to evoke setting and employ metaphors, although that idea is nothing new. David Lynch uses coffee and coffee drinking to make visual metaphors in his screen and television writing. Director Ridley Scott also did this in his film American Gangster. Nora Ephron uses food talk to great literary effect in her roman a clef Heartburn—and, yes, her witty, insightful novel about a cookbook writer also includes recipes. One of my favorite films in recent years, Sideways, is a superb movie that uses the minutia of wine making and tasting to explore the sweet and sour sides of modern relationships. I can only hope that my books follow the lead of these accomplished storytellers, who are also inspirations.

Likewise, I view the “extras” at the end of the Coffeehouse Mysteries (recipes, tips, and researched culinary information) as an extension of Clare’s fictional world. I created my official author website with the same concept in mind: is designed and run as a "virtual" Village Blend coffeehouse.

Some critics have questioned the addition of recipes in culinary-themed books, but it seems quite natural to me (and fun for the reader). After all, fantasy authors have long included maps and genealogies in their front and back matter to cleverly broaden their own fictional worlds. I would liken the recipes in the back of every Coffeehouse Mystery to the appendix in a fantasy author’s work: e.g. a map to the Netherworld of Granthea; blueprints to OutLand's Royal Airship; or a chart showing the extended clan of the warlord Sjard Yarborj. (You get the picture!)

Hey, did you know the writer/director Gurinder Chadha includes an instructional cooking video on the DVD of her wonderful film Bend it Like Beckham? Ms. Chadha’s film tells the tale of a young woman who wants to play professional soccer but her family wants her to follow a traditional path—and this includes cooking traditional food. The "Who Wants to Cook Aloo Gobi?" segment is a joyful little extension of Ms. Chadha's fictional world, and I was delighted see that she included this extra on her DVD. The recipe is delicious, too, by the way! I can only hope my readers feel the same about my Coffeehouse Mystery extras.

Question: What is the hardest part – for you - of writing murder mystery novels? (i.e.: plotting, characterization, etc.) And what is the most difficult part of writing a continuing series?

CLEO/ALICE: There is nothing difficult about writing. I love story. I love writing. I have always loved it. It is my “bliss” as Joseph Campbell described bliss: i.e., when I begin the activity, I lose track of time. I look up from my work and I am astonished how many hours have passed since I started. The difficult part is the business side; the marketing and publicity, which is not unimportant in building a lifelong career.

Writing a continuing series is great fun. I can think of only positive after positive. I love the characters that I write with my husband; coming up with their next adventures; exploring their reactions and choices; contemplating their limits.

Question: I notice you refer to your books as 'light amateur sleuth' mysteries... do you prefer that to 'cozy murder mysteries'? If yes, why? (I know some authors worry that 'cozy' sounds a dismissive or encourages critics to not take them seriously as genre fiction; I read a PW article to that effect. Not sure where you stand on that.)

CLEO/ALICE:: There's an old saying: "You can call me anything, just don't call me late for dinner." That's how I feel about these labels people put on the stories writers tell. I think the various communities that gather around genres sometimes get tripped up by things that don't matter to the reading public. Over a century after Charles Dickens' death, I am still entertained, enlightened, and enlivened by his characters. Ditto for Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare. In the end, we are all food for worms and the true test of a story's worth is whether it connects with a new generation of readers. To put it another way: "You can call me anything. If my books are being read, it really doesn't matter."

Finally: For anyone who has his or her own questions for me, I am having an Author Chat for two weeks, starting December 16th at Joining Library Thing is free. Here is the link for the chat:

Great questions, Donna, thank you!

~ Cleo Coyle aka Alice Kimberly (Alice Alfonsi)

On the Web:

Join Cleo at her own website,

And join her at the Mystery Lovers Kitchen:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Questions and Answers with Cleo Coyle - Part 1

*Editor's Note: Welcome today and Friday to Cleo Coyle, whose Coffeehouse Mysteries are an enormous hit with lovers of Cozy Murder Mysteries. Cleo Coyle, by the way, is Alice Alfonsi who collaborates with her husband, Marc Cerasini. So, read and enjoy these answers from a respected veteran in the murder mystery field.


Now for the Q&A - Part 1:

Question: You write Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries and Alice Kimberly’s Haunted Bookshop Mysteries series. Can you tell us a little about both?

CLEO/ALICE: Cleo Coyle is my writing ID for the Coffeehouse Mysteries, a series of light amateur sleuth novels that I began writing in collaboration with my husband in 2002. The first book, On What Grounds, was published by Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime in 2003 and (so far, anyway) the titles have been national bestsellers.

Cleo’s mysteries focus on the misadventures of single-mom, barista, and coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi, a woman who routinely finds herself mixed up in murder. One fan called it Murder She Wrote meets Starbucks—that’s a fair description and a nice one, actually, since I happen to love Murder She Wrote!

There are now nine books in Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse series: On What Grounds, Through the Grinder, Latte Trouble, Murder Most Frothy, Decaffeinated Corpse, French Pressed, Espresso Shot, Holiday Grind, and coming next year, the brand new Coffeehouse Mystery: Roast Mortem. (If the titles make you smile, that’s good; they should. The titles represent the humorous tone of the tales inside. BTW: Did you know the pun was once considered the highest form of humor? William Shakespeare loved them. Not bad company, frankly.)

If you start with book one (On What Grounds) and read the series in order, you’ll see that Clare Cosi moves along on a sort of amateur sleuth learning curve. Your average barista, after all, isn’t going to be ready for a starring role on CSI right out of the starting gate, you know? So during the first novel, an NYPD detective named Mike Quinn becomes one of Clare’s regular coffeehouse customers—not too big a stretch given that cops often down coffee by the gallon during their tours. The more Clare learns from Mike Quinn about detection and crime solving, the better she gets at practicing it.

My second alias is Alice Kimberly. Alice writes the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries (also for Berkley Prime Crime). The amateur sleuth in her series is Penelope Thornton-McClure or “Pen” for short. Pen owns the Rhode Island bookshop of the series title and in the first novel she discovers that her bookshop is haunted by the spirit of a big city private detective named Jack Shepard, who was gunned down on the premises while investigating a murder.

Jack’s ghost is now stuck within the fieldstone walls of Pen’s shop—and, brother, is he bored with his small town afterlife. But then bodies start dropping around Penelope, and Jack livens up. (After all, murder was his business in life.) Jack’s hard-boiled attitude often tries Pen’s patience, but the ghost has a lot more experience with solving homicides than she does. And Pen soon finds the ghost to be an invaluable crime-solving partner, even though he and his license did expire back in 1949.

The Alice Kimberly Haunted Bookshop series was launched in 2004 and there are five titles published thus far: The Ghost and Mrs. McClure; The Ghost and the Dead Deb; The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library; The Ghost and the Femme Fatale; The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion; and a brand new one coming next year (2010), with more signed up beyond it.

Question: The Coffeehouse Mysteries have a very New York vibe; I find that a very attractive part of the novels. You’re not a native New Yorker; is that a help or hindrance to writing the series?

CLEO/ALICE: Good question. Yes, not being a native New Yorker is a help in writing the series because I can see New York the way Clare Cosi does—with a newcomer’s eyes. This city changes people. It has certain changed me over the years. I have paid attention to those changes and layered these ideas into the series. If you want to know “how” New York changes a person, just pay attention as you read. It's in there.

Question: You live in New York now… does the city help come up with plots?

CLEO/ALICE: Another good question. Yes, it absolutely does. And not just plots. Many of the settings, ideas, and elements in the Coffeehouse Mysteries were triggered by real events that occurred here in the Big Apple. Subway and rooftop suicides; a dancer stalked and murdered; a businessman plotting to kill his partner while making it look like a random crime; a detective charming a confession out of a suspect over a cup of diner coffee; the phenomenon of (illegal) underground restaurants; a killer wielding a chef’s knife taken from a restaurant’s kitchen; a drunken businessman unknowingly racking up tens of thousands of dollars in gentleman's club charges...all of these incidents occurred in New York City in recent years and have inspired fictional counterparts in my Coffeehouse Mysteries. Next year’s title, Roast Mortem, was also developed out of true New York City criminal incidents. More to come soon about that one!

That's all for the moment, but join us back here Friday, November 6th for Part 2 of our Q&A with Cleo Coyle/Alice Kimberley

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why I Write Mysteries - Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett

*Editor's Note: I was first introduced to Kathy Lynn Emerson by way of a book I have on my desk right this minute, HOW TO WRITE KILLER HISTORICAL MYSTERIES, a great guide for the would-be mystery writer. But she practices what she preaches in her 'Face down' series and others. Read on and enjoy!

Why I Write Mysteries


Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett

Why do I write mysteries?

There are two answers to that question. The first is that I’ve always loved reading well-written traditional mysteries. They have complex plots, characters who are far more clever than I am at figuring out who dunnit, and endings that solve the crime and wrap up all the loose ends. Readers know that by the end of a traditional mystery novel, wrongs will have been righted, villains will have been caught and punished, and justice will have prevailed. There may have been heart-wrenching moments along the way, the suspense may have been almost unbearable, and the detective will undoubtedly have been faced with great personal danger, but when it is all over, the reader will be wearing a satisfied smile. Unlike real life, mystery novels provide closure.

Such stories are not particularly easy to write, but the process is challenging. That leads me to the second answer to the question. Why do I write mysteries? It’s because I’m easily bored.

I’ve written all sorts of books during the last thirty-plus years. In most of them, even the ones that weren’t published as mysteries, I’ve included mystery elements. If I couldn’t work in a murder, I inserted secrets and intrigue and, in the case of the historical fiction, treason plots or spies. Even the non-mystery historical novels I’m currently writing under the name Kate Emerson are published under the series title “Secrets of the Tudor Court.”

For stories to be interesting, their characters need obstacles to overcome. The higher the stakes, the more invested the reader becomes in the outcome. Add crime to the mix, especially if that places the protagonist in a life-and-death situation, and the book, assuming it is well-written to begin with, goes from merely entertaining straight to page-turner. I’ve written novels without any mystery elements and, as far as I know, readers did not feel they were lacking in entertainment value, but those books are not my favorites. And, if I’m being truthful here, during the writing process I sometimes longed to throw in a body. As I said, I’m easily bored.

I’m never bored when I’m figuring out how to murder someone, or why the killer won’t get away with it. And traditional mysteries have another element that fascinates me, too—creating and solving a puzzle. Traditional mysteries are sometimes called cozies because they often, but not always, feature amateur detectives, small-town settings, and a notable absence of explicit sex and violence. Readers may never even see a body, let alone have to wade through blood and gore. Other elements, such as cats, crafts, and recipes, are optional. The emphasis is on plot, with twists, and on interesting characters and their relationships. Most of these books belong to series rather than being stand-alone titles.

I’ve never been tempted to write suspense novels or police procedurals or make my protagonist a private detective. All of those would require a more extensive knowledge of modern day forensics than I want to acquire. I’d have to learn more about guns, too. I’m happiest writing about an ordinary person who stumbles onto a murder and is pulled, reluctantly, into solving the crime.

People often ask me which I prefer, mysteries with historical settings or those that take place in the here and now. I’ve written both and enjoy both, perhaps because basic human emotions are the same, whatever century people live in.

As Kathy Lynn Emerson I’ve written two historical mystery series. The Face Down novels feature Susanna, Lady Appleton, a sixteenth-century gentlewoman who is an expert on poisonous herbs. There are ten novels, the most recent FACE DOWN O’ER the BORDER, and a collection of short stories (MURDERS AND OTHER CONFUSIONS) in this series, but it is currently on hiatus. The most recent entry was a story (“Any Means Short of Murder”) in the January/February 2009 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. I hope to write more of these, but for the moment I have other writing commitments that just don’t leave me with time enough to do it.

Why did I write these in the first place? Because I’m fascinated with that period in history. Fortunately, I’m still writing about it, just not, at the moment, in the traditional mystery genre.

In my other historical mystery series, a nineteenth-century journalist named Diana Spaulding is the detective. This four-book series was conceived as a quartet from the beginning and all four books (DEADLIER THAN THE PEN, FATAL AS A FALLEN WOMAN, NO MORTAL REASON, and LETHAL LEGEND) take place in various locations in the U.S. in 1888. I chose the late nineteenth century to write about for several reasons. First, early in my career I wrote a biography of reporter Nellie Bly for young readers and I thought at the time that a newspaper reporter would make a good detective. Second, I had already accumulated a great deal of material about the year 1888, making research much easier. And third, I had my grandfather’s memoirs, which gave me special insight into what life was like in those days. The third book is set in the area of New York State where he (and I) grew up. The fourth book is set in Maine, where I live now, and that one was a particular pleasure to write.

It was the desire to do more using a location close to home that led to the launch of my contemporary series, the Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mysteries. My sleuth was a professional Scottish dancer (think Riverdance, only Scottish) until a knee-injury ended her career. In the first book (KILT DEAD), she returns to her home town of Moosetookalook, Maine to recuperate and figure out what she’s going to do with the rest of her life. And, of course, she immediately becomes involved in solving a murder. I write this series under the pseudonym Kaitlyn Dunnett. There’s more humor in these books than in those I write under my real name, more use of quirky characters, and a very different feel to the stories. The third Liss MacCrimmon novel, available just in time for holiday gift giving, is A WEE CHRISTMAS HOMICIDE. I’ve finished #4 and am at the plotting stage of #5.

I still love historical mysteries, even though I’m not writing one at the moment. I was fortunate to be able to combine reading other people’s historical mysteries with writing 2008’s HOW TO WRITE KILLER HISTORICAL MYSTERIES: THE ART AND ADVENTURE OF SLEUTHING THROUGH THE PAST, a book that won the Agatha award and was nominated for both the Anthony and the Macavity. Right now I’m working on the third book in the “Secrets of the Tudor Court” series. The second, BETWEEN TWO QUEENS, which does not contain a murder but does have a nicely complex treason plot, will be out in January 2009.