Welcome, Barbara Ross and Liz Mugavero, to the Kingdom Books review blog today! It's December 27, release day for the latest New England mysteries for each of you. Congratulations! Yesterday (scroll down, readers ...) we were excited to share reviews of your new titles, ICED UNDER (Barbara Ross) and CUSTOM BAKED MURDER (Liz Mugavero). Now let's settle in for a some post-holiday hot chocolate or a cappuccino together, and do some author chatting.
Your mysteries are releasing on the same date this year, December 27 -- just two days after the merriment of Christmas. You have the same publisher, Kensington, but you live in very different parts of New England. How on earth did you meet each other? Any memories from your early writer-to-writer friendship?
Barb: We met at Seascape, a lovely and instructional writing retreat run on the Long Island Sound in Connecticut by Roberta Isleib (Lucy Burdette), Hallie Ephron, and S. W. Hubbard. After that we kept in touch via Sisters in Crime New England and the New England Crime Bake. Find your tribe, is my best advice for new writers.
Liz: Before Seascape, I remember seeing Barb at many Crime Bakes over the years. She was one of The Published - a real author! And it’s so true - finding your tribe is the most important thing for a writer to do.
What are the special challenges of writing a mystery series? How do you cope with them?
Liz: There are so many! Understanding how my main character needs to grow in a way that makes sense based on where she’s been and what she’s experienced is something that’s top of mind for me. Also, making sure my plot has no holes, that the mystery makes sense and the clues are strategically placed - that keeps me up at night.
Barb: Argh—for me it is first drafts, letting my imagination flow and not judging myself too harshly. And because we both write amateur sleuths, there’s the ever-present problem of “why is she investigating this time?”
What made you choose to write in the "cozy" subgenre of mysteries? Or do you prefer to talk about your book as an "amateur sleuth" mystery, or a "traditional"?
Barb: I have fully embraced the word “cozy,” even though I know other writers shy away from it. It’s true that cozy mysteries never get the big awards or reviews, but they do have a dedicated following. And, it suits me. I don’t go to my desk everyday thinking, “Drat! Another day when I can’t torture animals or children.”
Liz: I’ve embraced it also. As long as I feel like I’ve done a good job with the story, the mystery is solid and the book has a deeper message despite the lighter feel to it, I’m happy.
Your mysteries all take place in and around one small town. Do you think of this place as fictional, or do you rehearse in your mind the layout of the actual New England town you already had in the back of your mind when you started your series?
Liz: My town is fictional, but it’s a hybrid of a couple of towns. I picked and chose the parts of each that worked for me, then added what else I needed to make it a town I would want to spend time it. But I keep the general location real - it’s eastern Connecticut.
Barb: Sort of half and half. Busman’s Harbor is a highly, highly fictionalized version of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where my husband and I own a home. I’ve moved a lot of things around, but whenever my sleuth, Julia Snowden, leaves Busman’s Harbor, I Google map the distance from the real Boothbay Harbor.
People across the world, I discover, have a Normal Rockwellian, Currier & Ives archetype of New England in their heads. Those of us who live here know it’s a real place with real crime and real problems, but the classic New England-based cozy both plays into and against that archetype.
Readers of this kind of mystery series need to bond with the sleuth and celebrate the person's changes -- and the solving of the crime somehow affects those changes. Do you have a long-term arc of character development in mind for your series? Or do you feel you are "reading along" with the rest of us, discovering your protagonist's growth as you write?
Liz: I usually try to think about the character arc in a 3-book span, since that’s usually the length of the contracts. I know what’s happening in the immediate book, then based on that I think about where it would make sense to take Stan’s growth next.
Barb: I had a definite, planned arc for the first three books in the series. The fourth through sixth have been more book to book, and I haven’t enjoyed that as much. So if I’m lucky enough to get three more, I’ll go back to an overall arc for the three.
Don't spoil the suspense for us -- but tell us one "device" of plot or location or clue in your new book that especially tickles you as the author ... so we can watch for it and enjoy it from your perspective as well as our own!
Barb: Fantastic question! In Iced Under, the detective investigating the murder keeps asking one question over and over. It turns out to be the right question in the end.
Liz: Oh, this is a tough one! I would say it’s important to really pay attention to the people around you and not take everything they say or do at face value. If someone is suffering they sometimes try to hide it, but if you look closely you might be able to pick up on a cry for help.
What's the most important thing we readers should pick up on from your latest book -- whether it's handling a challenging romance, or dealing with a dead body?
Barb: Iced Under is a book about family—how it’s complicated and operatically difficult, but ultimately worth the effort.
Liz: There’s a few things going on in Custom Baked Murder. Family is definitely a key component, and how to deal with them. If you don’t typically have a great relationship, murder can make it worse! Also, dealing with serious issues that sometimes people don’t think will surface in a small, cozy town where everyone knows everyone—or thinks they do.
We know you must be partway through the next book in your series. Any hints or draft title that you'd like to share with us?
Liz: Purring Around the Christmas Tree, the sixth Pawsitively Organic Mystery, will be out in late 2017.
Barb: Stowed Away, the sixth Maine Clambake Mystery will be out sometime in late 2017, assuming I make my deadline of March 1. (Ulp.)
Thanks, Barb and Liz! This has been great fun -- and getting to know you and your writing process makes it even more enjoyable to read your newest books.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.