Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cozy Authors at the Poisoned Pen

On Sunday, the Poisoned Pen had a wonderful turnout for a program featuring cozy authors.  Rhys Bowen, who acted as host, said now she knows the secret to marketing.  Promise cupcakes.  Bowen, the author of three series, Her Royal Spyness, Molly Murphy, and Evan Evans, was a terrific host.

Left to right - Hannah Dennison, Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle, and Rhys Bowen

Rhys introduced the authors by saying they all are attractive women who kill people for a living.  And, their books make you chuckle and feel good.  She asked each author to introduce their characters.  Kate Carlisle's Brooklyn Wainwright is a bookbinder who does rare book restoration.  Every time she works on a book, someone dies.
Jenn McKinlay's current book features two friends, Mel and Angie, who own a cupcake bakery in Scottsdale's Old Town.  And, Jenn brought the cupcakes for the program.  They came from the cupcake bakery, Butter & Me.  And, Jenn was so pleased because they made the cupcakes look like the cover of her latest book, Buttercream Bump Off.                 

Hannah Dennison is the author of the Vicky Hill mysteries, set in England in Gipping-on-Plym.  And, bodies start off dead in Dennison's books because Vicky is an obituary writer.  Vicky is loosely based on Dennison's life in another century, when she worked as an obituary writer, and stood in church doorways taking down the names of the mourners.  Vicky's parents are criminals, wanted by Interpol, so she's not comfortable falling for policemen. 

Since Dennison's character was loosely based on her, Rhys Bowen asked Jenn and Kate if they were in their books.  Jenn said she and her sons made all the recipes in the back of her books, but a bakery life isn't for her since bakers have to be at work at 4 or 5 in the morning. 

Kate said she took lots of bookbinding classes, and she aspires to other aspects of Brooklyn's life.  She took everything she loves and put it in the books.  Brooklyn lives in San Francisco, and Carlisle loves that city.  Her character was raised in a commune in Sonoma where the members grew grapes, and eventually became wealthy due to their winery.  And, of course, Kate has to do hours of research.  So, her books include wine, San Francisco and books.

Rhys said she loves the research.  The last book in Her Royal Spyness series is set in Nice, so she had to go there and spend two weeks checking out the city and the bistros.  So, Kate's an author after her own heart.

Bowen asked the authors to tell the audience about their latest book.  McKinlay's Buttercream Bump Off is the second book in the series.  She laughed and said one reader complained they knew who the murderer was too soon, and Jenn said she couldn't remember who it was.  She wrote the book a year ago.  It's the second adventure for Mel and Angie.  Mel's mother, Joyce went on a date, and her date dies.  It was her first date in thirty years.  She blamed her dress, but the police suspect Joyce.  So, Mel and Angie have to find out who really killed him.

Hannah Dennison said her books feature unusual British pastimes.  The fourth one is Thieves!  Morris dancing, based on folklore, is important to the plot.  In the book, there is a Morris dancing danceathon, an annual event at the Grange.  Gypsies camp there, and someone dies.  As an aspiring investigative reporter, Vicky Hill works on the case.  (Dennison said she wanted to be an investigative reporter when she was writing obituaries.            

The Lies That Bind is the third book in Kate Carlisle's series.  Brooklyn
Wainwright is back in San Francisco teaching a class in bookbinding.  But, the artistic director of the center is horrible, so she has to die.  There's a book within the book.  Oliver Twist sets the story going.  The center has a Twisted Festival to raise money, and there is a band of thieves as in Oliver Twist.

Rhys Bowen said, oh yes, it's very therapeutic to kill off people you don't like.  Then, she said Kate had a background in TV.  She wrote for The Gong Show.  Bowen asked if Carlisle had thought about writing screenplays.  Kate said she did try to be a screenwriter, but it's much harder.  She needed more stuff to go on than could in a screenplay.  She went to law school, for one year.  Then she started writing and killing off truly evil professors.

Bowen said Jenn McKinlay writes a few series, which is why she has a hard time remembering her killers.  Jenn said she has loads of personalities.  As Lucy Lawrence, she wrote the decoupage series.  The last book in that series will be out in March.  It wraps up the series.  Jenn said that's OK because it was a perfect three book series.  It looks like the cupcake series, written as Jenn McKinlay will be going for a while, at least until people get tired of cupcakes.  And, she's launching the Library Lover's Mystery series, set in Connecticut, where she grew up and got her degree.  As Josie Bill, a third identity, she'll write a thrift series.  Jenn said she's Scottish and cheap, so she loves thrift.  She said there will be thrift tips in the books.

Bowen, like Dennison, was from England, so she asked Hannah if she could only write about England after she left.  Hannah said she couldn't wait to leave England for California.  Then the only stories she could tell were about the place she left.  Devon, where she sets her books, is fifty years behind the world, in a simpler time.  The books have weird backdrops, some her editor discovered.  They've featured snail races and hedgejumping.  Hedgejumping is not done on horseback.  It's a serious hobby.  Hannah learned a lot eavesdropping on a conversation in a bump when a woman told her husband he had to stop stopping the car to jump hedges.  Rhys agreed that there were unusual hobbies there, mentioning the man who was the last mud sled fisherman in England, taking a sled out on mud to catch shrimp.

The authors were all asked how they managed an outside work life and writing.  Carlisle said she quit working in July.  She had worked for lawyers.  She wrote for three hours before going to work at 8:30, and on weekends.  She was determined to keep writing, despite hundreds of rejections.  She said you learn by writing.

Jenn has a part-time job at the Central Library in Phoenix.  She's afraid to leave and lose her material.  When Buttercream Bump Off made the extended New York Times Bestseller list, everyone at the library asked if she was going to leave.  She didn't know where she'd get her material if she left.

Hannah is working for an advertising agency, for the chairman.  She said it's crazy there.  She writes beofre work, and gets up at 4:30.  She wants to transition into writing full-time, but the stories in advertising are so good.

Rhys said the all write cozies, a term she finds insulting.  How did they feel about that term?  Kate answered that she also writes romance, so cozies are a step up for legitimate writing.  She wrote murders for years, and didn't know what a hook is.  Now, she knows what a hook is, and that she's in the right place.  She's happy where she is.

Jenn also came from romance.  She wrote a few Harlequins.  She tells the story that her husband doesn't sleep at night, knowing she's better at writing murders than romance.  She said Agatha Christie is a cozy writer, so I'm fine with it.  She's not a thriller writer.  And, she said, it depends who says "cozy."  If it's one of the boys, it's usually denigrating.  But, a reviewer who says it's a wonderful cozy and the characters kick, means cozy is fine.

Hannah said she's warped.  She really likes murdering people, and she wants to make it funny.  She wants to write an escape from reality, so people can enjoy it with chocolates and cats.

Rhys Bowen said cozy writers see society as a complete whole, and, if murder happens, it disrupts the whole.  The sleuth puts the world back again.  Noir writers see the whole world as warped, and they only put a piece of the world back in place.

They were asked how they manage to maintain their relationships with writing and working.  Jenn had the best answer.  "My husband's a musician, so I look good."  Kate said her husband is supportive, and even does all the shopping.  Hannah said her husband feels as if she's physically not there since she's at work, or mentally not there since she's writing.  He drifts around her orbit.  Actually, he's a copywriter and writes screenplays, so they're permanently tormented together.

Then they were asked how they write such realistic, three dimensional characters.  Jenn said hers are composites.  They are her and every best friend she's had.  She's been lucky to always have a buddy.  Buddies are good because everyone has insecurities and flaws.  It's the buddy that makes everything OK.
Hannah said Vicky is her, young and insecure.  She was a freak at school.  But, she loves watching people.  She takes a character and takes them to the extreme.  Her unusual, quirky characters are based on people who really exist.  Kate said, "Brooklyn is a little younger, taller, small, deeper, and more heroic me."  Kate was a loner whose family moved a lot.  She lived in her own head.  So Brooklyn has friends, and a strong sense of justice.  Carlisle said her books are so character driven that the plot falls by the wayside.  She's all about the character.  When someone asked about Brooklyn's archenemy, Minka, Kate said she's bubonic plague for books.  Carlisle knew someone like that when she was working in TV.

When they were asked who their favorite authors were, Hannah said, "Rhys Bowen, Kate Carlisle, Jenn McKinlay."  Then she said, and of course, Agatha Christie.  Jenn agreed with Agatha Christie, but added that she has eclectic taste since she works in a library.  She doesn't read many mysteries.  Since she's working with young adults, she reads YA books.  She said there's really good stuff there.  Teen is an incredible market, with people open to everything.  They're looking for unique voices and unique stories.  The books are more cutting edge in the YA market.  They're not looking for a hook as much as a unique story.

Kate said she reads, Rhys, Hannah, Nancy Martin's Blackbird Sisters mysteries.  She reads Juliet Blackwell.  She loves her witch books, and the Art Lovers books.  She loves the two men fighting over the character in the Art Lovers mysteries.  Speaking of two men, she reads Janet Evanovich.  Then there are Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, the godmothers of the genre.  Carlisle reads mysteries and romance.

So, Rhys said, OK, speaking of romance; how much sex is in your books?  Jenn's books don't have much sex.  She doesn't like scary or noir.  She likes cozies because they just hint at sex.  Dennison's Vicky will not have sex, and it's unlikely she ever will.  The editor doesn't want her to.  Like Hannah herself, Vicky is a late starter.  Vicky is obsessed with getting a front page scoop, as Dennison was.  If Vicky does have sex, it will just be to get it out of the way, as Hannah's mother advised her to do. 

Kate's Brooklyn met a man, is happy now, and the relationship has progressed.  Mystery readers aren't always interested in seeing everything on the page.  So, Carlisle either closes the door or the couple is interrupted.  But, the fourth book in the series features an antique copy of the Kama Sutra.  Rhys called out, "More research!"

Hannah had mentioned that the Vicky Hill mysteries were probably not going to continue here, but she has sold more books in that series in the U.K.  Asked about more odd hobbies, she said one will feature tar barrel racing.  On Nov. 5, they hold races.  The barrels are filled with tar, and then there are separate races for men, women and children.  They run holding the barrel aloft with one glove, like a cooking mitt.  Rhys and Hannah agreed that when you move away from home, you get nostalgic for the time, not the place, but you never feel at home again.

When Rhys asked what was coming next, Kate Carlisle said the Kama Sutra mystery is called Murder Under Cover.  There's danger between the sheets.  Jenn's next cupcake mystery is Death by the Dozen, scheduled for October.  She was inspired by the Scottsdale Food Festival.  There's a challenge for the chefs, and Mel and Angie enter the desserts competition.  Mel's mentor from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute is murdered, so naturally, they become involved.  Hannah said if she has to tie the series up, she'll make sure Vicky has sex.  Maybe she'll run a quiz, and have people write in and suggest the lucky man.

Rhys Bowen's next book is due out March 1, Bless the Bride.  It's a Molly Murphy mystery.  Molly has promised Daniel she won't investigate cases after the wedding.  But, just before the wedding, she becomes involved in one in New York's Chinatown.  The next book in Her Royal Spyness series is set in Nice.  It will be called Naughty in Nice.  And, it features Coco Chanel, the Duke of Westminster, and jewels that were lent to Queen Mary. 

Once again, the Poisoned Pen presented a fun author program, complete with cupcakes.

Hannah Dennison's website is http://www.hannahdennison.com/

Jenn McKinlay's website is http://www.jennmckinlay.com/

Kate Carlisle's website is http://www.katecarlisle.com/

Rhys Bowen's website is http://www.rhysbowen.com/


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I would have loved to have been there! Great coverage of the event, Lesa, and nice photos! I almost feel as if I *did* go. :)

Lesa said...

Wish you could have been there, Elizabeth. It was a nice event. Nice audience, and the speakers evoked a great deal of laughter.

Laura Alden said...

That must have been so much fun -- and what a kick to have Jenn's book cover cupcakes! Thanks, Lesa, for making me feel as if I'd actually attended :)

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Laura. You would have been right at home there. It was fun. And, the bakery did a great job matching Jenn's book cover with the cupcakes.

Avery Aames said...

Four of my favorites all in the same room. What a treat for Poisoned Pen readers and the audience. Lovely recap, Lesa. And Jenn's cupcakes to boot! Yum!


Lesa said...

Thank you, Avery. It was a fun afternoon. I was really pleased to see the size of the audience, too. Just a terrific program.

Kaye said...

Sounds like so much fun! I absolutely loved Jenn's newest. One of the best cozies I've read in a while. I'm looking forward to Laura Alden's new book coming out. Murder at the PTA was a great story with wonderful characters.

Lesa said...

You're right, Kaye. Jenn's book was one of the best cozies lately. Funny, with a terrific cast of characters. Murder at the PTA was good, wasn't it? Have a good day, Kaye. I'm off to work.

Kay said...

What a great event! I have loved Jenn's cupcake books - especially the latest. I am not caught up on my Molly Murphy reading, but one day. I have Hannah and Kate's books on my TBR. So lovely to have so many choices. And cupcakes - you did sample one didn't you?? LOL

Love the cover on BLESS THE BRIDE.

Jenn said...

Thanks for the lovely write up, Lesa. It was so good to see you and Anna. Rhys was a fabulous moderator. Hannah and I hid two cupcakes so we could have them after the program, and they were yummy! It was fun to be at a standing room only event and we sold out of books, so that rocked!

Lesa said...

Well, Kay, I'll be honest. Last time I went to Jenn's event, I had a hard time balancing a cupcake and my notes. So, I skipped the cupcake. But, Jenn said they were yummy. By the time I was done, there was only one left, and I'd just been to brunch ahead of time, so I didn't take it. Isn't it fun to have book choices? And, Jenn said the books sold out, so it was a successful event.

Lesa said...

Fun event, wasn't it, Jenn? And, that certainly makes it successful - sold out of books, and all the cupcakes went! Congratulations. And, again, a terrific book.

holdenj said...

Thanks for such a comprehensive overview, I wish I could attend something like that, but I sure got the feel for it! I just read Buttercream Bump Off--perfect timing to see all the Jenn M comments. Looking forward to all these new books too!

Lesa said...

I really appreciate it when people tell me they get the feel of a program when I recap it. Thanks, Holdenj, but I wish you could have been there, too.

Kris said...

What a wonderful post Lesa. I often wondered how authors feel about the term "cozy." Sounds like it gets mixed reviews. I can see it being a bit degrading depending on who is saying it (and how).

Lesa said...

And, I even used the word "cozy" in the title of the post, Kris, because it seemed to be an appropriate term for the group of authors. For me, it's a summary of a book that isn't violent. But, then, I'm not one of the "thriller boys" who might not think much of them. I'm a fan of cozies.

Hannah Dennison said...

Chiming in late here .... it's been a murderous week at the advertising agency BUT - gosh ... just have to say a big thank you Lesa for doing such a brilliant job of capturing our wonderful afternoon. Thank you so much! And Jenn ... those cupcakes really are to die for ...

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Hannah. And, a big thank you for a fun afternoon. It was an enjoyable program, and you all worked well together. Thank you. And, good luck!

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

Sounds like a delightful event, Lesa. Wish I could have been there.

Lesa said...

Donna, I wish you could have been there. It was a lot of fun. Going back tomorrow for a totally different type of event, a book release party.