Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sunday Salon - Jenn McKinlay at the Poisoned Pen

Was it the cupcakes she brought? No, I don't think so. I think Jenn McKinlay has library groupies. And, her friends from the Phoenix Public Libraries came out in force to support her when she appeared at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore to talk about the first book in her Cupcake Bakery mystery series, Sprinkle with Murder.

Sprinkle with Murder is written under her own name, unlike her other mysteries for Penguin, a decoupage series written as Lucy Lawrence. But, the librarians in the audience were pleased to hear she's been offered a third series, a Library Lovers' series, featuring a library director in Connecticut.

Asked how she manages to keep the books straight, Jenn replied that she doesn't try to write two books at a time. But, halfway through Sprinkle with Murder, she started writing the wrong name for a character, and continued to use it for the rest of the book. She didn't catch it; her editor didn't catch it. The copy editor caught the name change.

She told the story of how she was first published. She said she kept asking, and now she's writing three books a year. She wrote 1600 pages in the last year and half, while working in the library, and having a family life with two kids. She laughed and asked, aren't I awesome. Jenn said she wrote her first mystery, and thought it was good. Her agent thought it was good, and submitted it. They kept submitting, and, after two or three years, Berkley Prime Crime said, we have an idea. Would you want to write it? So, she advised people to keep submitting until you're in.

According to Jenn, Sprinkle with Murder, came about because of three events in one week. A cupcake bakery opened, and a friend reported they had shots of frosting. Another friend was debating whether to have cupcakes for her wedding. And, McKinlay's agent said she looked for cupcake bakeries wherever she went. So, she felt it was time to write a book about a cupcake bakery. And, Jenn said check out her shirt. She made it herself, with a cupcake, and a skull and crossbones.

Jenn said at the moment, her favorite series is the cupcake one because that's her voice. But, she said after twenty years working in libraries, that one should be even better. With a knowing look at the audience, she said there's lots of murder happening in libraries right now. She said she has all kinds of ideas after all those years of holding kids in poopy diapers while reading stories. And, then there are the people we all know at the library. She did say she'd like to keep her name for this series, but they're negotiating on it. All of her books are with Penguin, though, so she hasn't had to keep her various names a secret.

McKinlay said she has written five books, and she just turned in the third book in the decoupage series on deadline. The second cupcake bakery book is already at Penguin. The first book in the library series is due to her publisher in July, and the third cupcake book is due to them in October. And, the second book in the decoupage series, Cut to the Corpse, has an April release date. The first library mystery should be released a year from now.

Jenn did mention that she would be appearing for Authors @ The Teague in May, and at the Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime for their monthly meeting.

When asked about research, McKinlay replied she researched the book at Lulu's Cupcakes. They allowed her in the kitchen, the refrigerator, and let her ask questions about where they bought their ingredients. The baker told her she could call on her anytime with questions. The decoupage books come from when she was growing up back east. She took a class when she was twelve, and she found projects online to help with the book. She's also not afraid to call the police department and ask questions. But,it's the library mystery that's making her nervous. She's a little twitchy because every librarian will be looking at it. She reminded the librarians in the audience that "It's fiction, people, fiction!"

She was asked when she knew she wanted to be a writer. Jenn was a lifelong reader, but her dream of being a writer started when her father took her to see Romancing the Stonewhen she was sixteen. She wanted to be Kathleen Turner, and have her apartment, her career, and her life. So, she went to college, studied lit, and drank, like other college students. McKinlay started writing at twenty-five, and it was really bad. So, she thought she'd write romance because that had to be easy. And, she was really bad at romance. Then, she started romances with mystery. Finally, she started writing mysteries, and kept at Penguin until they tired of her.

Jenn writes every day, ten pages a day. It takes her about two hours. When told that's impressive, she replied, you can do it when there's a gun to your head. She said her schedule begins with getting up at 6, getting the kids to school, going to work at the library, then home, dinner, kids to bed, and she spends two hours at the computer while her husband watches TV. Joseph Wambaugh once said no matter what, he wrote 1,000 words every day. She thought if he was keeping a cop's schedule, and doing that, she could, too.

When asked, she said she does have ideas for a standalone crime novel with a forensic artist. After working in the Youth Department, and reading YA lit, she has an idea for a YA book. That's a big book market right now. When people say young people aren't reading, she disagrees. She sees them reading. She has an idea for an urban paranormal.

Jenn agreed with an audience member who said food mysteries have come back. She began writing her cupcake mystery, sent it in, and five days later it was accepted. She said food mysteries are fun. She said she's part of Mystery Lovers Kitchen, a blog, and she writes on Wednesday. She said the other writers include Julie Hyzy, who just won the Anthony and Barry awards for her White House Chef series. Avery Aames has a cheese shop mystery due out soon. Riley Adams has a BBQ mystery coming out. Cleo Coyle is the author of the Coffeehouse mysteries, and Krista Davis writes the Domestic Diva books. But, Jenn's glad she has a cupcake bakery. She knows of a fried chicken series, a doughnut shop series, and one dealing with blueberries. She and the audience agreed that book mysteries have also taken off, while crafts seem to be ebbing a little. Someone in Texas said quilting will be the next big thing. Cozy mysteries have just exploded. She said they were popular for a while, and then they faded. Berkley was the only publisher who kept them, now, with the rise in popularity, they're throwing a lot into it.

One question was about writers' groups. When she first started writing, she joined RWA, Romance Writers of America, but that didn't help. Then, she signed up with Mystery Writers of America, MWA. The day she received her little Edgar Allan Poe pin was one of the greatest of her life. She looked at her husband in the audience, and said, he knows if there's a fire, and it's a tossup of saving her pin or the engagement ring, it will be a tough choice. She said she'd like to join Sisters in Crime, but they meet on Wednesdays, and she works then.

However, Jenn said groups are important so writers can find out what's going on, what you should be getting paid. You can learn about good and bad agents, contests, and what certain editors are looking for. She said it's almost like taking a course to submit to contests, because you'll get proper criticism.

And, the final question involved the decoupage series, which might be ending. Jenn said she was hoping to give it a proper ending, because, as a mystery reader, that's what she would like to see.

It was a treat to get to meet one of the authors of Mystery Lovers Kitchen. Jenn McKinlay is a funny speaker. Sprinkle with Murder truly does seem to have her voice. If you missed her today, I hope you can join us for Authors @ The Teague on Saturday, May 8 at 2 p.m.

Jenn McKinlay's website is , and you can also catch her at Mystery Lovers Kitchen.

Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2010. ISBN 9780425233429 (paperback), 240p.


Kay said...

Very nice, Lesa! Wish I could have been there. My review of Sprinkle With Murder is up tomorrow. I really enjoyed it. So funny.

I had no idea that Jenn McKinlay worked in a library. I'm really excited hearing about the library series. It is true that people just wouldn't believe what goes on in libraries. :-) I think that librarians will love it, regardless. It's time for another heroine to join Helma Zukas.

Mason Canyon said...

Sounds like it was a wonderful event filled with so much information and lots of fun. With all Jenn is doing I don't see how she has time to sleep. :) The new series sounds exciting. I can only image all the things that go on in and around a library. Great post, thanks for sharing and giving me a chance to feel like I was there.

Dru said...

Sounds like a good time was had. I'm looking forward to reading the books in her new series as well as the continuing ones.

Lesa said...

Kay, I'm glad you enjoyed Sprinkle with Murder as Much as I did. It was funny. And, like you, I'm looking forward to her library lovers' series. It has a built-in audience. (grin)

Lesa said...

You're right, Mason. I don't know how she has time either, particularly with two young sons.

As to libraries, most people think of libraries as nice, quiet places. Hah! Wait until Jenn writes about them.

Lesa said...

Yes, a good time was had, Dru. Cupcakes and a rooting section. It's a good way to make fans.

bermudaonion said...

The first thing I noticed was her cute t-shirt! I don't know how she does it - with all those books out, you'd think she could quit her day job.

Lesa said...

Of course, with a library lovers' series coming out, Kathy, she might want all of the material she can get. Wasn't the tee shirt great?

Jeanne C. said...

Wow... I loved this post! I have Sprinkle With Murder on my TBR shelf. Hopefully I'll get to it soon! And I can't wait to hear more about the library series!

Clea Simon said...

I really enjoy hearing about other writers' process. So often, non-writers ask us how we do it, and the answer is, "we make ourselves do it. We take it as seriously as any other job!" That "gun to the head" comment is one I'll be quoting. Thanks!

Lesa said...

I think you'll enjoy Sprinkle with Murder, Jeanne. It's fun, and, who can resist cupcakes? I'm looking forward to that library series as well.

Lesa said...


I think people think it's so easy to be a writer. I don't think they realize it's a job, and you have to write daily. You don't just sit down and write a 290 page novel. Of course, they think librarians just read at work, too. Some people just don't get it.

Julie Hyzy said...

What a great write-up, Lesa! I always enjoy getting to know my "blog sisters" better. I just picked up my copy of Sprinkle With Murder this week and I can't wait to start reading. Problem is, I know it'll make me hungry for cupcakes ;-)


Lesa said...

It will make you hungry for cupcakes, Julie. Can't help it. But, you'll enjoy the book! It was terrific to get to meet one of you from the blog! And, then when she talked about Mystery Lovers Kitchen, she mentioned each one of you and your books.

Janel said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful evening listening to Jenn! I can't wait to read her cupcake book and I'm really excited to hear that she has a library series in the works.

Lesa said...

It was a very nice afternoon, Janel. And, I'm looking forward to the cupcake book as well. Now, I'm finishing Cara Black's new book, Murder in the Palais Royal, and about to start Clea Simon's Grey Matters. Cara is appearing for Authors @ The Teague on Thursday at 1:30.

Jenn McKinlay said...

Thanks for the lovely write up, Lesa.
It was a pleasure to meet you and I'm looking forward to the Teague
in May! Oh, and thanks for the
compliments on the T-shirt -- it
just seemed appropriate! LOL!

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Jenn. Really enjoyed the book. And, the tee shirt was perfect!

Bonnie said...

I love food mysteries and really need to spend more time reading them. This one definitely sounds like it will make me crave cupcakes! Thanks for sharing this wonderful information about Jenn. She's a talented lady and has a full life! She sounds like she has a lot of passion for writing and she seems to balance it all well. I can't wait to get a copy of this book to read!

Lesa said...

It definitely makes you crave cupcakes, Bonnie, so be prepared when you read it. It can't be easy to balance that busy life, but from the outsider's viewpoint, it looks like she's managing. I'm sure it might feel different from her view.