Mother's Day is the perfect day to recap Jenn McKinlay's appearance for Authors @ The Teague. Jenn is one of those accomplished multi-taskers. She's a wife, mother of two active boys, works part-time as a teen librarian, and, somehow, finds time to write three mystery series.
I introduced Jenn by saying she's a fellow librarian who works at Phoenix's Burton Barr Library. She wrote the Decoupage Mystery series under the name Lucy Lawrence, but her latest book, Sprinkle with Murder, is written under her own name. Jenn responded by saying she can't believe the authors who come through the Velma Teague Library, telling the audience they are very lucky to have all of the authors appear at the library.
Jenn said she works part-time at Burton Barr, and has worked there for seventeen years. She said it's good to work part-time because she's now writing three series. She recently sold the third series. It's set in Connecticut, where Jenn lived at one time, and where she earned her library degree. The first book, Books Can Be Deceiving, will be out next July.
Jenn said her book, Sprinkle with Murder is set in Old Town Scottsdale because Jenn lives nearby. She pointed out her tee shirt, a Mother's Day gift from her mother. She said the tee shirts are done by a man named "Johnny Cupcake." He'd been in various bands, and had a number of nicknames, but Johnny Cupcake is the one that stuck. So, he started selling those tee shirts. The bands never took off, but the tee shirts were popular, and he was selling them on his lunch hour, out of the back of his car. She said it was just perfect for her book.
Sprinkle with Murder has been popular, appearing at #9 on Barnes and Noble's mystery bestseller list. The second book will be out in January, Buttercream Bump Off.
But, it looks like her Decoupage Mysteries will be ending after three. She isn't sure, but it probably will. So she hasn't written the ending yet to the third book.
She's about twenty-five pages short, and she's ready to write the ending either to end the series, or continue it.
Jenn said she wanted to be a mystery writer, but thought she wasn't smart enough to write one. So, she wrote romances. She had three published by Harlequin, but they were really bad. She mentioned her husband probably wasn't happy that she's better at murder than she is at romance.
Finally, she started submitting her mysteries. She received rejection letters, and some would say they loved her characters, but the plot was horrible. Others would say they loved the plot, but hated the characters. She said she submitted millions of proposals, and finally she was told Berkley Prime Crime was looking for someone to write a decoupage mystery series. Asked if she was familiar with decoupage and could write the books, Jenn said well she did it when she was twelve.
Jenn was a sent a copy of Writer for Hire, the five-page bible. It told where the mystery would be set, some of the names of characters, and she could name others. So, she debated whether she wanted to sell her soul as a writer for hire. Jenn decided it would get a foot in the door. Cut to the Corpse is her recently released book in that series, the second one. There will be at least one more book.
Sprinkle with Murder has a cupcake story. Three different people were talking about cupcakes. First was a friend debating whether to have cupcakes for her wedding reception. Then, Jenn's agent wrote that she checks out cupcake bakeries wherever she goes. Finally, a friend called and said Sprinkles had just opened in Scottsdale, and they even sell shots of frosting. So, she submitted a proposal for a series set in a cupcake bakery, and it was accepted in less than five days.
Jenn had the idea to write a mystery series about a book club because she loves her book club. But, when she sent in the proposal, she was told someone was already doing a book club. When asked if she knew anything else to write about, she said well she works in a library. So, she sent that proposal, and it was accepted in a week.
So, she warned people that she made a lot of false starts before she was published. She must have spent ten solid years trying to get published.
I asked Jenn to talk a little about the story for Sprinkle with Murder. She said it's a fun series. Since it's set in a cupcake bakery, with characters who are in their thirties, she decided it could be a little off-the-wall. On the other hand, her library series will be more Gothic.
Sprinkle with Murder has three main characters, Melanie, Angie and Tate. They've been friends since childhood, and they bond over old movies, spending nights together watching them, and challenging each other. Now, Melanie has opened a cupcake bakery with Angie. Tate, who is wealthy, is getting to a fashion designer that neither of the others can stand. She's truly the bride from hell. Jenn commented that she watched Bridezilla a couple times to get pointers. But, Melanie found her dead, and she had some of their cupcakes. So, Mel and Angie are suspects, while Tate admits he had mixed feelings about his bride-to-be. Jenn said this one has potential to be a long series, so she's building a story arc for it because she likes to see changes in series that she reads.
Jenn was asked if she went to Sprinkles to write the book, and she answered that she and her boys went to Lulu's Cupcakes to do research. When she told them what she was doing, she was allowed to work in the kitchen. She got to play with the mixer, and go into the pantry. She checks out cupcakes wherever she is.
Another question was about writing. Does she start with the plot and then create the characters, or does she start with the characters, and come up with the plot? She said with the Cupcake Series, she came up with the bakery as a setting, and then created the characters before the plot. But, with the library series, she came up with the plot first. She knew who she wanted to murder, and why, and then had to create the characters. So, her answer was, a little of both.
Someone asked one of my favorite questions. What do you read when you're not writing? McKinlay began her response by saying bestselling author Randy Wayne White said he stopped reading fiction when he started writing it. Jenn said she was lucky. When she wrote romances, she read mysteries. She started reading the Harry Potter books when she wrote mysteries. Then, she moved on to Percy Jackson. She loves YA (young adult) books. She said they're so wonderful now. Her husband, Chris, said he loved the Hardy Boys books as a kid, but not so much now. That's why Jenn hasn't gone back to read Nancy Drew. But, she said YA books are of such high quality now. It's such a fascinating niche.
Jenn emphasized that she sees teens who are avid readers. People who say kids don't read don't see all the kids reading that Jenn sees. She said she was an Anne of Green Gables fan as a kid. She read all of the books, and wanted to go to Prince Edwards Island. Those books made her want to be a writer. And, she sees kids still reading those books.
Jenn doesn't see adult books that are as good as the YA books. And, she said some adult authors dominate the bestseller lists. If you like Stephen King, there are so many other Stephen King books for you to read. It's the same if you're a fan of Danielle Steel or James Patterson. McKinlay thinks YA books open doors. Teens say, I read all of the Harry Potter books. What do you suggest now? Adult authors close doors. If you like Stephen King, you have a lot of other Stephen King books to read.
She was asked if her teens at the library know she's a writer. She said some know. The younger ones don't care, but some of the older ones ask about it. It's possible to write? You can do that? They tell her they're going to read all of her books.
One question was about her decoupage books. How do you write a book when you know nothing about decoupage? Jenn answered, research. She said that's where it pays to be a librarian. She used piles of books about decoupage. And, YouTube has clips about everything. She watched them about decorating cupcakes and decoupage. And, she found a decoupage expert who answered questions.
What is her writing schedule? Jenn writes every day. You have to write every day. She quoted Walter Mosley as saying that. It's the best way to keep ideas. Jenn said she works part-time, and she can write. She tries to write ten pages a day. On a busy day, she'll try to write five. McKinlay said she does compose on a computer, but she's old school. Then, she prints it out, and takes a red pen to her manuscript. Jenn's not giving that up. She feels bad about printing all those pages, but she's not giving it up. She sees the work better on paper.
Jenn ended the program by discussing the blog, Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. Before Sprinkle with Murder came out, Krista Davis contacted her. Krista writes the Diva series, and some authors were starting a foodie mystery blog, and wanted to know if Jenn wanted to be included. McKinlay jumped at the chance. Each of the authors has a day, and, on Sunday, they have a guest blogger.
The authors at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen include Avery Aames who has a cheese shop series coming out soon and Riley Adams (Elizabeth Spann Craig) whose Memphis Barbeque series is due out in July. Then, there's Julie Hyzy, who recently won Anthony and Barry Awards for her White House Chef series. Cleo Coyle writes the Coffeehouse Mysteries, and Krista writes the Diva books.
Jenn said they a talk a little about writing, but the blog includes recipes and food. The blog will be a year old this summer. It's been written up in the LA Times, and has received some nice promotion. According to Jenn, it's like a little club. You can throw things out at the other authors, and say, how do you do that? They authors work well together. She said Krista Davis is the perfect person to have organized the blog. She's truly like her Diva series. She has wonderful recipes, even how to make your own vanilla. She's detail-oriented, and her ideas are great.
Following Jenn McKinlay's book signing, we treated everyone to treats, mini-bites from Shelley's Specialty Desserts in downtown Glendale. A perfect ending for a program featuring a book about a bakery.
Jenn McKinlay's website is www.jennmckinlay.com , and you can also catch her at Mystery Lovers Kitchen.
Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2010. ISBN 9780425233429 (paperback), 240p.
Cut to the Corpse by Lucy Lawrence. Penguin Group (USA), ©2010. ISBN 9780425233894 (paperback), 240p.