Why do you write cozy mysteries?
Cozies appeal to my tidy soul. I grew up on Nancy Drew and Hercule Poirot. I would finish a story and then immediately reread it in order to trace the clues from beginning to the big reveal. Sometimes I even wrote them down, laying them out like a treasure map. But the best part of a cozy is the amateur sleuth. I wanted to be that girl. Mysteries are plot driven, but unlike police procedurals or thrillers, cozies are also very character driven. The flaws, fears and dreams of the amateur detective drive her or his desire to get to the truth and find the killer. This is what I believe makes them so appealing, and what made me want to create my own sleuth and give her a good puzzle to solve.
Please tell us about your book. What ideas or images inspired this novel?
The Book Club Murders is set in my hometown of Oakwood, a small suburb of Dayton, Ohio. It’s the story of desperate housewives, a dysfunctional book club, and a stubborn redheaded club member desperate to find out who’s killing women and arranging their bodies in imitation of books from the club’s mystery reading list.
I was power walking down on the train tracks-turned-bike-trail one day when I realized how remote and isolated it was, despite being just a few hundred yards behind a row of quite normal backyards. If I scream, I thought, would anyone be able to hear me? What a super place for a murder this would be. A crime scene from a book I’d recently read popped into my head as being a good fit for that desolate setting. The literary connection prompted the book club idea, and then it was only a matter of finding more books with suitable scenes for my killer to copy.
Those train tracks became the first crime scene in my novel. Each of the crime scenes are actual places in Oakwood. Once I began writing, I started with that creepy trail and began tracing backward. Who would have the nerve to commit a murder down here? And why would they do it? Would the reason be sufficient to provoke a second murder? A third?
Small towns are full of secrets. This story exposes the seamy underbelly of upper class suburbia. It reveals the innermost fears and desires that drive people to commit desperate acts, motivations many readers will find familiar, whether they live on a farm, in a New York high rise, or in a cozy home on a tidy street in a suburb like Oakwood.
Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you write? If so, please describe that reader.
My ideal reader loves a good puzzle almost as much as she or he loves to read. My reader keeps an open mind about social values, has a good sense of humor, and likes it when the answers don’t come easy.
Please describe your writing routine.
I teach part time and have partial care of an aging parent, so my routine is less than routine. I’ve heard a lot of famous writers talk about putting in two hours every morning like clockwork. What a luxury that would be! I figure they must have secretaries and housekeepers to manage the realities of life.
When I am able to carve out a couple of hours at my desk, I begin by rereading the last few pages I wrote. It’s my habit to end a writing session with a note to myself about where I want to go next. So after rereading to get back into the story, I consult any notes I’ve made and plunge right in. I am a methodical person. Making checklists helps keep me on task. That may sound crazy when you’re talking about a creative process, but it works for me.
What advice do you give new writers just starting out?
First, listen to every piece of constructive criticism you receive. My attitude was that, as a novice, everyone in the industry knew more than I did! I was lucky to get feedback from some agents who rejected me. This allowed me to revise and improve my novel until it was good enough to attract an agent.
Second, you have to do the work. Putting in the time, doing the necessary revisions, going back to the beginning and outlining the plot and characters with notecards or post its — whatever it takes to make your manuscript the absolute best it can be, you must be prepared to put in the time. It took me more than six years from writing the first sentence to signing my first book deal. Most of that was spent doing revisions. There are no shortcuts to success.
More about The Book Club Murders:
Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success — even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among the wealthy elite of Oakwood, Ohio.
Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat — and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.
Intelligent, fearless, and every bit as stubborn as Marc is, Charley soon learns the Agathas aren’t the only ones with secrets to protect. Passions explode as she and Marc must race against time to prevent another murder. And if Charley’s not careful, she may find herself becoming the killer’s next plot twist.
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