Monday, May 07, 2012

Cozy Con Recap

It was a long, terrific day at Cozy Con, the first convention for cozy mystery writers and fans, held at the Phoenix Public Library's Burton Barr, and sponsored by the Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

Before the paid program, there was a one hour panel open to the public. The authors participating were Donis Casey, Carolyn Hart, Hannah Dennison, Earlene Fowler, Avery Aames, Jane Cleland, Beth Kendrick, Kate Carlisle, Betty Webb, Jenn McKinlay, Paige Shelton and Rebecca M. Hale. Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, introduced the authors, then asked Rebecca to kick it off by introducing herself and her series. Each author had five minutes, but the women made it through introductions with fifteen minutes to spare.

Rebecca M. Hale
Rebecca introduced herself as the author of the Cats and Curios series, beginning with How to Wash a Cat.She is also the author of the Mystery in the Islands series. In those books, the cast of characters shift. The islands are unique. Adrift on St. John was the first one, and Afoot on St. Croix will be the next one published.

Paige Shelton
Paige Shelton also writes two series. The fourth book in the Farmer's Market series, A Killer Maize, will be out in December. Those books are set in South Carolina at Bailey's Farmer's Market. The Country Cooking School mysteries feature funny titles such as If Fried Chicken Could Fly. If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance will be out in October, followed by If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion. These are paranormal cooking school mysteries. Paige said she started out trying to write romances, but she's not good at romance. So, she tried to write what she's read for years, mysteries.

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn McKinlay told Paige she just has too much fun with her titles. Jenn writes the Cupcake Bakery series, the Library Lover's mysteries, and will have a London Hat Shop series starting in 2013 with Cloche and Dagger. Under the name Josie Belle, she channels her thrifty self, and wrote 50% Off Murder. She also wrote the Decoupage Mysteries under the name Lucy Lawrence.

Betty Webb
Betty Webb's Lena Jones mysteries are not cozy. Those books are set in Scottsdale and other places in Arizona. They're fairly dark. It's her Zoo Mysteries that are lighter, with titles such as The Anteater of Death and The Koala of Death. The Llama of Death will be out in January. Those books are set in coastal California at Moss Landing where her character, a zookeeper named Teddy lives on a boat. Her next book will be called The Puffin of Death, and she's just going to have to go to Iceland to do research.

Kate Carlisle
Kate Carlisle's Bibliophile Mysteries feature Brooklyn Wainwright, a restorer of rare books. Unfortunately, her debut, Homicide in Hardcover came out in paperback, so if people ask for Homicide in Hardcover, they're not always understood. The latest book is One Book in the Grave. Brooklyn lives in San Francisco, and grew up in a commune in Sonoma, so, for tax purposes, Kate has to travel to San Francisco and wine country. Her next book, Peril in Paperback, is a locked room mystery that will be an homage to the old house parties in mysteries. In A Cookbook Conspiracy, Brooklyn will be restoring an old cookbook.

Beth Kendrick
Beth Kendrick informed us she was an interloper. She doesn't write mysteries; she writes mainstream women's fiction. But, she's local. And, she always learns new things from mystery writers. Her most recent book, The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service is an homage to rescue dogs. The protagonist helps people find their canine soulmate. And, she gets to fly to Vancouver in June because her book, Nearlyweds will be filming for the Hallmark Channel. It's about three women in the first year of marriage who discover marriage isn't what they expected.

Jane Cleland
Jane Cleland writes the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries. Dolled Up for Murder is the seventh book in the series. Her character uses her knowledge of antiques to solve mysteries. Josie was a whistleblower working at an auction house. She moved to Rocky Point, New Hampshire. In Deadly Threads, Jane crossed the Rubicon and introduced a cat, Hank. Since Jane really writes about community, Hank fills a spot in that community.

Avery Aames won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for The Long Quiche Goodbye. Avery writes the Cheese Shop Mysteries set in Providence, Ohio, a fictional town in Holmes County. Charlotte Bessette is the owner of Fromagerie Bessette, or as the locals call it, the cheese shop. She's fixer, like Avery herself. Charlotte likes to fix things for her friends. These books are about family. Clobbered by Camembert is the most recent one, and To Brie or Not to Brie will be out in February.
Under her real name, Daryl Gerber, she'll be writing the Cookbook Nook mysteries, featuring a foodie and a cookbook reader.

At this point, Barbara Peters stepped in to say, speaking of Agatha Award winners, Earlene Fowler and Carolyn Hart were both winners, and Barbara thought Carolyn had won more teapots than anyone. The teapots for Agatha Award winners are given out at Malice Domestic. Barbara Mertz who writes as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, was one of the authors who started that conference. Barbara Peters said Malice is always held in the east, so she's hoping that Cozy Con can become a west coast Malice.

Earlene Fowler
Earlene Fowler is the author of the Benni Harper quilt series. Number fifteen, Spider Web, is out in paperback now. She said she has the dubious honor of having been the one who started these craft mysteries with her quilt series when it came out in the early '90s. Earlene also writes mainstream books. The sequel to The Saddlemaker's Wife will be out in January. It's coming out from Berkley Prime Crime even though it's not a mystery. Earlene said she had to go back and reread The Saddlemaker's Wife to write the sequel to a book she had written seven years earlier.

Hannah Dennison
Hannah Dennison's Vicky Hill mysteries are set in England. They're based on Hannah's experiences as a newspaper reporter. She was the obituaries writer who attended funerals, and longed to write front page exclusives. Vicky is her alter-ego, but Vicky's parents are criminals, and Hannah's aren't. The characters are eccentric because there's lots of inbreeding in England. She likes to introduce something educational in each book, such as Morris dancing. Hannah will have a mother/daughter sleuth series coming out, contemporary books set in a country house.

Carolyn Hart
It's always a pleasure to see Carolyn Hart, one of the first of the second generation of respected women mystery authors. Carolyn said she started out writing children's mysteries. Her first came out in 1964. Death Comes Silently, her latest book, is the twenty-second in her Death on Demand series. That's her 47th published novel. She wrote several juvenile books, three YA, and adult suspense. Her books weren't selling, though, and, when she was told mysteries weren't selling; romance was, she tried her hand at a mystery and disguised it as a romance. An editor told her she must increase the sexual tension. So, she asked a romance writer friend, what does that mean. And, the friend told her to write a mystery. Carolyn didn't think anything would come of it, so she decided to make one more try, writing the book she wanted to read because it probably wouldn't sell. So, she set it in a bookstore with a protagonist, Annie, who was in love with Max Darling. And, she had fun mentioning all the mysteries she liked to read. It sold.

Carolyn said she, and all the other authors in the room, are indebted to three women, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller. Until they came along, New York publishers only recognized two types of mystery authors, male authors who wrote about male detectives in hardboiled mysteries, and dead English ladies. But, Grafton, Paretsky and Muller were published because they wrote PI books, even though they were written by women with women protagonists. Carolyn considers herself one of the lucky ones to follow them. Death on Demand, her first published adult mystery, was actually her fourteenth book.

Barbara Peters behind Donis Casey & Carolyn Hart
Donis Casey writes a historical mystery series featuring Alafair Tucker, a wife and mother of ten children on a prosperous horse farm in eastern Oklahoma. Donis says Alafair is her, if she was totally different. She has virtues and strengths that Donis would like to have, and she's well-adjusted. She takes action. Alafair is definitely an amateur sleuth. She lives the life that Donis couldn't live. There are five books in the series so far. The Old Buzzard Had It Coming was the first. Her new one, The Wrong Hill to Die On, will be out in the fall. That sixth book will be set in Arizona. Alafair travels to Arizona about the time of Pancho Villa's raid across the border.

Barbara Peters wanted to discuss the traditional mystery, in which ordinary people with special skills take action to solve a murder mystery. So, naturally, she turned to Carolyn Hart to discuss the term "cozy". What does cozy mean? Carolyn said it's a well-meant term, unless men are saying it, and then it's not well-meant. The better term is traditional mystery. You're writing about people you know, people down the street, your uncle, your neighbors. The stories are about human beings. The traditional mystery is a testament to goodness. Readers want the world to be fair, just, decent. The stories are about people you understand. You have a strong connection to them. They can also be seen as parables. This is how people are, and this is the distress that follows when violence occurs.

Jane thinks the traditional mystery has four parameters. 1. The victim and killer are known to each other. It's not a random killing. 2. The motive is domestic. It's not a crazy person killing someone. 3. There's no or little onstage violence, cussing or sex. 4. No forensics. The solution depends on the deductive ability of the sleuth.

Earlene said she's always wanted to be on a panel with hardboiled or thriller authors who think cozies are totally not believable. She'd like to take it point by point to discuss reality in hardboiled and thriller books vs. cozies. Authors of hardboiled mysteries say cozies are not believable. But, traditional mysteries are for intelligent readers. Readers and writers of traditional mysteries are much more open-minded. We'll read both traditional and hardboiled mysteries, but hardboiled authors and fans won't read traditional mysteries. She quoted Rhys Bowen in saying cozy writers believe in a normal world in which the dark comes in. Thriller writers find the world a dark and scary place.

With Earlene Fowler
Barbara Peters said she took that as a challenge that Earlene said she can't get anyone to put that panel together. Earlene said it would force the thriller writers to read a cozy. She told me afterward that she thinks it should be three traditional mystery authors and three hardboiled authors, and they could discuss it. And, they'd each have to read a book in the other area.

Donis asked why we think of women as better writers. She said it takes a great deal of intellect to write this kind of book. It doesn't necessarily make it better. But, Alafair is the mother of ten kids, and she has to find time to solve mysteries. So, traditional writers have to find a way that makes sense for the amateur sleuth to solve mysteries. The author has to use their brains and intellect to find a way for the sleuth to make it work. They're dealing with humanity.

Asked how difficult it is for her to come up with a different situation for amateur sleuths to run into a murder, Carolyn said each of her books are independent. Murder isn't the point of the book. Murder is an exaggeration of what happens in real life. Quarrels affect lives forever. In a mystery, the murder is an exaggeration of something that goes wrong. The detective must find out what went wrong in people's lives. What fractured the relationship?

One question was addressed to Hannah from a librarian. How should she handle people who only want to read British or American authors. Hannah said believe it or not, although she's British, she has had to struggle to make her books set in England acceptable in the UK. It's hard to sell books in the UK that were written for American audiences. Americans view British cozies as eccentric, such as the hedgejumping in one of Dennison's books. Her book comes out in England next week. In the U.S., hedgejumping is viewed as fascinating. She'll see how the book is accepted in the Britain.

Asked about men writing cozies, Earlene and others said men do write cozies. They all mentioned Dean James, Tim Myers, Jeff Cohen. But, Earlene said they don't get the same respect as male thriller writers. For instance, the Edgar Awards, voted on by only five people from Mystery Writers of America, is skewed toward hardboiled mysteries. And, the Edgar means sales. Sales mean more money. So, the male writer who makes a choice to write traditional mysteries makes a choice to take less money and get less respect. And, why? Women buy 80% of books.

Avery was asked about populating books. She said she has to get rid of some. On the other hand, there's the Cabot Cove Syndrome. You can't kill off everyone in town. So, she has to bring in new suspects from out of town, introducing new characters. She said her characters talk to her. Tyanne was one who wanted a bigger role. She became more of a catalyst. She wanted a role in the cheese shop. Charlotte need some part-timers in the shop, so she hired Tyanne. And, Avery wanted to add a quote from Margaret Maron, who just won the Agatha for Best Novel for Three-Day Town. Asked if she'd do anything differently, she said she'd give Deborah Knott six brothers rather than eleven.

When asked which came first, antiques or writing books, Jane said she had a rare book and antique store at one time, so she did know something about antiques. But, she wanted to expand from just rare books to antiques in order to enable her sleuth to do research. On her website,, under Fun, she has a section called What's it Worth. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers appraised items, and you can play a game and guess the appraisal value, then read the professional appraisal. While researching Dolled Up for Murder, she read about dolls uWsed for smuggling. Jane finds that distasteful, not just legally, but because it's a betrayal of innocence. She looks not just at the facts, but also the meaning.

Beth Kendrick was asked about writing, and she said she likes solid structure. She views her scenes in rich, cinematic ways. There's lots of room for negotiation with her characters. They make their own decisions. She lets them run with that, particularly in the early drafts. Her books are about relationships and community.

Kate Carlisle fielded a question about picking names for her characters. She said Brooklyn Wainwright was the daughter of Grateful Deadheads who traveled around, following the band. Each of their six children were named for the city where they were conceived or born when their parents were at a Grateful Dead concert. Her British security agent needed a hunky British name. Kate feels names are important, and they must feel right.

How much of Betty Webb is in Lena Jones? Betty said she wasn't shot and parceled out in foster care. She remembers her parents. There is much more of Betty in the Gunn Zoo mysteries. The boat is based on one she lived on in Santa Barbara. Betty's parents are her zookeeper's parents, ramped up. Betty's father was a little on the shady side, while Teddy's father is on the run from the law. Betty's mother was a beautiful woman who won beauty contests. She was also a fashion snob, as Teddy's is.Teddy rebelled against her parents. Betty is everything her parents are not. Betty's parents adored and rescued injured animals, and her mother even stole animals from homes where they were abused. In the Lena Jones books, Betty is most like Lena's favorite foster mother, the artist. She mirrors Betty. Teddy's interest in rescuing animals and working with animals comes from Betty, who is a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo. Betty's zoo mysteries even allowed her to tell the first and last chapter of The Anteater of Death from the anteater's point of view. That last chapter was the toughest Betty ever wrote because the anteater is telling it as she gives birth.

Jenn was asked if it's hard to switch from her personal life to her writing life. She said her mom's a librarian, so she's in the family business. She learned early that when you read books you could be other characters. She could be Nancy Drew or Hercule Poirot. At sixteen, she and her father went to see Romancing the Stone. It was the first time she realized that she could actually write books for a living. She wanted to be Kathleen Turner. That didin't quite work out, but she gets the same feeling of escaping when writing as she did when reading those books. She thinks she's a better writer because she has a life as a wife, mother and librarian, and vice versa.

Asked about the difficulty in writing multiple series, Paige Shelton said both of hers are young series.She's just started the Cooking School books. She thought there would be only four books in the Farmer's Market series, but opportunities open up. That series is about relationships.She writes the mysteries aspect by the seat of her pants, but she wrote the relationships in that series with a specific path in mind. She's nowhere near being tired of her characters. She's still discovering where they can go next.

Rebecca was asked how she decided to use her real name or a pseudonym. She said she uses her own because she gets confused enough without adding a second identity. Sometimes authors switch names when they go from one genre to the next. Sometimes the publisher weighs in. But, she has the same style for both her series, so she kept the same name.

Barbara Peters took that question as well, saying the publishers will decide the title of the book. They will determine the cover art, and they will sometimes even choose the name the author uses. She ended the first hour of the day by answering a question about cozy mysteries. She said cozy mystery sales are up. Book sales are up at the Poisoned Pen, and they had their best year ever last year.

After time for book sales and signings, as well as lunch, the afternoon panels started. The title for the first panel, featuring Avery Aames, Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle and Donis Casey, was "Book/culinary-centric mysteries". Barbara Peters moderated every panel, and she began by asking the women about the importance of humor in their books. Jenn said all of hers are humor based. If she's not laughing, she's not reading. She was that generation raised on TV, expecting laughs every few minutes. She writes humor.

Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle, Avery Aames, Donis Casey

Kate has a hard time writing funny. She's not a funny person, so it's hard for her to write humor. She usually writes in her dialogue.The romance in her book isn't funny. There's conflict, tension, worry, pain. So humor is just in her dialogue.

Avery said she writes fun and funny situations. She wrote for TV at one time. She enjoys her titles, thinking they're fun. Humor comes from situations in her books. What would make the situation fun and funny? Food isn't funny in itself. In her first book, The Long Quiche Goodbye, she introduced Rebecca, who had left the Amish religion. Rebecca loves the Internet, and mysteries on TV. She thinks she knows how to solve mysteries because of TV. Fun moments result because of her ideas. In one scene she talks Charlotte into looking in a dumpster for a clue. It becomes an awkward moment when the local police chief, who likes Charlotte, comes across her, in a short skirt, trying to get in a dumpster.

Donis has input as to her titles. She hopes she writes eye-catching titles. She called her first book The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. It's ethnic, and would indicate where it's set. She hoped people would look at the title, and that it would catch an editor's eye. Fortunately, it did. (Barbara Peters is her editor at Poisoned Pen Press.) Other titles have been harder to come up with. Casey writes situational humor. That's one reason she has little kids and animals in her books. Like Donis' parents, her couple, Alafair and Shaw, have fun with their kids.

Does the title come first or later? Avery starts with the cheese. How can I use that cheese in the title and the plot? For her, the cheese title comes first. She likes to know who did the murder, and why. She sees the book cinematically. The title spurs her on.

Jenn finds amazing jokes in her Cupcake Bakery mysteries. Red Velvet Revenge will be the fourth. Oz is based on a real person that Jenn met on the fourth floor of the library. In Red Velvet Revenge, Oz gets an ice cream truck to use as a mobile cupcake truck. And, Olivia the arch-enemy has a delivery truck. The book opens with him drag racing with Olivia.

Kate's titles are based on books or book binding. Her editor loved Murder Under Cover because the book involved was the Kama Sutra. The editor loved the double entendre there. Kate and Jenn fight over titles for their mysteries involving books.

Donis has a lot of dialect in her books. The next book, The Wrong Hill to Die On, comes from something she overheard a woman say about her son. "He wanted sympathy from me, but he picked the wrong hill to die on." Alafair says it in the book about a woman who won't get sympathy from her. Casey gets the titles from something her characters say, so she's grateful to them. Hornswoggled is Barbara's favorite. It means fooled or led astray.

How do they separate the humor while writing about the true tragedy of murder. Kate said Brooklyn has found enough dead bodies now that she's truly distressed. Why does she always find bodies? In One Book in the Grave, she even consults her guru about it. It's that Jessica Fletcher syndrome. The humor comes about because it's getting a little bizarre that it keeps happening to her. There's that gallows humor that police have. You can't dwell on the murder and injustice. You have to alleviate it.

Avery said murder is a serious subject, and she doesn't make light of it. Someone Charlotte knows is involved. The small town is invaded by evil, and that strikes Charlotte hard. What's going on with her town? The lightness is to break the reader away. If it's just murder, it's a drama. Aames knows she's writing for a particular audience who is looking for hope at the end.

Donis said life isn't totally grim. She's creating a whole new world in her books. There's more to a person's life than just that one incident. Life has ups and downs, funny and horrifying moments. The point of her book is the human relations, not the murder, as Carolyn Hart said earlier. Jenn McKinlay said she just kills off people she doesn't like.

Barbara Peters pointed out that recipes in cozies are very serious subjects. There's a liability if something is wrong with a recipe. It's dangerous to publish cookbooks. Donis Casey said that's why she writes about how people used to cook. She knows the food is important in the books. There are ten kids and a farm, so Alafair and Shaw raise their own food to eat. One of her books had an extensive section about hog butchering and making sausage. She covers food lore, what people eat and how. She had one scene when the family ate beans and cornbread, and everyone had a different way of eating it. How that fits in shows the ethnicity.In the back of Donis' books, she writes about how to prepare the food and eat it.

Avery likes to cook. She was a caterer and worked in restaurants. But, she didn't know how much she would have to cook to write a cheese shop series. She blogs on a site called Mystery Lovers' Kitchen with other writers of food mysteries. She has had over 200 recipes with cheese on the site. In one book, she mentioned a dish on page 73, and her friend, Krista Davis, said even if she wasn't including the recipe, she better make sure she cooked everything in the book because she would be asked about it. So, she told her husband she had to make a five cheese mac and cheese. He loves it! That recipe went viral after someone asked for it. So, you better make them right. It's labor intensive to do all that cooking. Avery didn't know she needed to be a cook when she started writing mysteries. But, she tries to make her own recipes. Did you know you can't copyright recipes? You can copyright the steps needed, but not the recipe itself. Aames is cooking all the time, and she got into it because she wanted to write.

Jenn asked people if they knew there was an ATM outside Sprinkles, the cupcake bakery in LA, and you can get cupcakes out of the machine. She said she did a lot of research for her buttercream recipe in Buttercream Bump Off, and people say it's their go-to recipe for icing.

Asked if she already had the book lore, Kate Carlisle said she'd been making books for years. She has friends who wrote books when they were little. She would make books, but didn't write them. She was always drawn to books. She took book arts classes and bookbinding. Her character doesn't cook.

Barbara Peters said you always get to learn cool things when reading books. When Kate was asked if there was any rare book she would like to own, she said there is a set of Jane Austen books, navy blue, bound in Moroccan leather, with miniature paintings enclosed in glass. Each miniature is of a character. She's a total geek, and would like to own that set.

An audience member asked Donis Casey what kind of cook stove Alafair used, or did she cook over a fire. Donis told us the books are set in the 1910s, so she has a woodburning stove. It even has a water receptacle with a spigot so she can get hot water.

The final question of this session went to Jenn McKinlay. How does she pick the craft the women will work on in the Library Lover's series? Jenn said lots of them are book-based. Her whole life is a rip-off. She worked with teen librarians, and they would get together, drink a lot, and do crafts. Those librarians have moved on, but she uses that as her Crafternoons in the book. Jenn knits, so she used knitting. She used to crochet. And, the third book will probably have subversive cross stitch in it.

The second panel of the afternoon was "The Writing Process." Jane Cleland, Betty Webb, Donis Casey and Carolyn Hart were the participants.Barbara told us that she didn't pick the topics. The authors suggested panel topics. She started by asking the authors if they did an outline or synopsis or not.
Carolyn Hart, Donis Casey, Betty Webb, Jane Cleland

Carolyn said she was on a panel once with the wonderful Bob Crais. And, he told how he did a complete outline, chapter by chapter. And, Carolyn sat there feeling diminished because she doesn't outline. Then, before she could speak, Bob Crais' wife, who was in the audience, said, "Ask Bob if he follows his outline."

Carolyn Hart signing stock for Will Hanisko from the Poisoned Pen
Carolyn said Margaret Maron makes her feel bad, too. Margaret has three-book arcs, and knows where her books are going. Carolyn knows the identity of her protagonist, and everything comes down to that. Max and Annie in the Death on Demand series will not be involved in drug running. She knows the victim, and the cast of characters surrounding that victim will become the suspects. She knows who the killer is, and why they killed the victim. She has a working title. And, on page one, that's all she knows. That's the magic of writing. She knows the problem, starts writing, and things happen.

Donis mentioned that Norman Mailer wrote a book on writing called The Spooky Art. She thinks it is spooky. You have to know your craft. She knows who her characters are. She knows who is murdered. She knows whodunnit, although she's flexible about that, and why they did it. She said Alafair just goes, and she follows. She doesn't outline. She sometimes gets lost and confused while she's writing. By that time, she turns it over to Barbara, and Barbara tells her what to do. (Barbara said she's always right, too.) Donis calls it a miracle.

Betty Webb outlines in detail, taking the Robert Crais approach. She outlines her chapters, knows where the scenes are, where the characters appear. She doesn't like two indoor scenes in a row, so she'll write an outdoor scene. When she goes to write it, though, by the third chapter, she is no longer following her detailed chapters. She spends three months on an outline she doesn't use. Betty's characters take over the books. It was only two times in nine books that the killer she planned turned out to be the killer. Sometimes her characters just refuse to be killers. Her Lena Jones books have a ten book arc.In each book, there are clues to Lena's background. In the tenth book, all will be revealed. Betty said she gets up at 4 a.m. to write because she was a reporter for years, and wrote fiction from 4-8 a.m. before going to work.

Jane Cleland writes from a synopsis. She went to lunch with her editor at book three. And her editor said, "You know what your problem is?" (That was the first time Jane knew there was a problem.) "You don't know you're writing cozies." It was painful to fix it. Her editor told her to send her a synopsis, and she'd fix it. She said the books were a reflection of her own life at the time. Now, she refers to the synopsis when she's writing.

To start her books, first Jane finds the antique. Josie has to have a knowledge of antiques to solve the crimes. Sometimes she researches antiques that don't work out for the books. The subject for her next book, Lethal Treasure, is going to be silent movie posters. Those will be the pivotal antiques. Theaters used to hire artists to do the posters, and then they were thrown away after the movie was no longer showing. But, Jane's first idea was to use cruise ship menus because they were beautiful. But, they have no value, so that didn't work as the antique. That happens a lot. Once she  picks the antique, she follows how that antique would result in murder. It has to be real, and the emotions festering have to be believable. In her first fifty pages, her characters don't yet have voices, and then the writing begins to move faster.

Carolyn complimented Jane saying she is always impressed with the those highly intelligent authors who know where they're going. She said Agatha Christie was once walking in the garden with a friend, and they weren't talking. Then, Christie said, "I finished the book." Her friend said, I've always wanted to read one of your books in manuscript. Christie replied, "Oh, I haven't written it yet." Carolyn writes old-fashioned books just with emotions among the characters. Her books celebrate mysteries.

With Donis Casey
Donis said one author once told her his outlines were almost as long as a book. Of course, he was a lawyer. And, that never varied. Donis said she knows mystery readers are savvy. It's hard to fool them. It's a smart audience. And, she has to misdirect them.

Betty likes puzzles. She sees the average mystery reader as smarter than other readers. If Betty's fooled while she's writing the book, the reader may be too. She leaves false clues to the character she originally thought was the killer, and when that person turns out not to be the killer, the reader is already misdirected. She has to go back and put in other clues.

Jane is active in the Wolfe Pack. It's  literary society that celebrates Nero Wolfe. They present the Nero Award. Literary society sounds better than fan club. Rex Stout used to spend eight months thinking about his book, and then wrote it in about 39 days.

According to Barbara Peters, it just shows that style varies from person to person. Now, how important is rewriting?

Kate Carlisle and Avery Aames listening
Carolyn Hart loves revisions. It's the only time she finds it fun to write. She has the book, and now she can relax. She looks at every bit of it to improve it. She doesn't take things out because she writes sparely. She writes in scenes. And, they're interconnected. She tries to find the right phrase.

Donis does quite a bit of revision. Each book has its own personality. She has a tendency to just get it down. Then, she takes things out. Sometimes her characters make wrong choices, and sometimes Barbara has to tell her that.

Betty's first draft is bad. She just gets the mess down. You can't fix a blank page. Fixing it is fun. She does four drafts per book. Then, she does additions. She adds narrative since she loves to write dialogue. Her final addition is the addition of senses.

 Jane agreed, saying her first draft is lean. She just gets the plot down. Then she needs to add in emotion, dialogue, and reaction, and the choices the characters make. She revises all the time. And, she integrates Wolfean trivia into the books.

Barbara asked Betty to talk about what happened with her latest book, Desert Wind. Betty said she had a ghost who wandered into her book, and she panicked. She doesn't write woo woo books. But, Barbara liked the ghost of John Wayne. Betty thought it was tragic that this ghost of the dead John Wayne appeared in a prison cell scene. And, he wouldn't go away. He insisted on appearing all the way through the book.

Carolyn said she even has a ghost as a protagonist. She wanted to say that was deliberate in defense of ghosts. She doesn't feel as if she's writing paranormal books, though. The protagonist happens to be dead. She was a real person with a real life, and she comes back to earth to help someone in trouble. She's applying her intellect when she comes back. It's not just fortuitous. But, Carolyn gets to write that series from an omniscient viewpoint.

Barbara said she has read the latest books from Jane, Betty, and Donis, and all three of them have upped their games in each book. She said it was a big commitment for a publisher to make to take on a ten-book series, as she did with Betty Webb's Lena Jones books. And, Barbara knows what happens in book ten. She feels she has a moral obligation to the fans to know what happens, in case something happens, and Betty can't finish the series.

Donis' next book is set in Tempe in 1916. That will be out at the end of the summer. Carolyn's next book is Death Comes Silently. The Death on Demand series is still alive and vibrant. She's working on number 23.

Although Earlene Fowler was in the audience for this panel, Barbara asked her about her series. She's on number 15, and it might be her last, although she'll never say never. She never had a story arc. The books were about Benni and Gabe, and she followed their marriage. Earlene told her readers Benni and Gabe would remain together. The prologue to the sixth book, Mariner's Compass, is told from Benni's point of view at 75, and she's still married to Gabe. Earlene wanted readers to know they'd be OK. And, in her standalone, Love Mercy, readers see them as characters eleven years in the future. After fifteen books, she's taking a vacation. She always wrote each book as if it would be the last.

Jane already had a little arc in mind when she wrote her first mystery, Consigned to Death. Josie had just opened her business, and Gretchen showed up asking for a job. It was totally unlike Josie, but she hired Gretchen on the spot. All along, Jane knew she would someday reveal the story of Gretchen. That happened in Killer Keepsakes.

Asked if writing is a solitary profession, Carolyn admitted she doesn't share what she writes.Her first draft is for theme. Then it goes to her agent and editor. She's solitary. She doesn't belong to a writing club or class. Donis is also a solitary writer. She's a very private person. Her husband reads her first draft. Donis agreed with Carolyn's comment that the editor can see the forest when you see trees. Barbara is a good editor for her. Donis doesn't belong to a writing group either.

Jane loves meeting readers. The hours spent writing are painful for her. She recently finished her MFA, and has accepted a tenure track position. While working on her book, she was teaching five courses as an adjunct. She learned to write in ten minute increments. It made her writing leaner and meaner, and it increased her confidence. Barbara said that's why Dolled Up for Murder was her best book.

Barbara ended that panel by saying an editor responds to your voice, not to that of a committee. The only thing an editor can't fix is your voice. An editor can't make you interesting.

The third panel of the day, "Romantic subplots in mysteries," was made up of Kate Carlisle, Earlene Fowler and Beth Kendrick. Kate started out by saying Brooklyn Wainwright's love interest came from her own personal fantasy.  He's a James Bond man, with everything in the book that Kate wanted. Brooklyn is thirty-two years old, and a hot man accuses her of murder.

Kate Carlisle, Beth Kendrick, Earlene Fowler

Beth Kendrick studied psychology, but that didn't work out for her. However, it goes well with writing. Why romances? She's interested in romantic relationships. These are the men we choose. We have chemistry with some and not with others. She likes to see who her characters are attracted to at the beginning, and how she changes by the end of the book.

Earlene had no intention of writing a romance with her first book. She was writing a mystery. She was thirty-seven years old. Her mother did have a twenty romances a week habit, though, so it was in her DNA. She was thirty-seven, working part-time as a clerk in the children's department at the Huntington Beach Public Library. Working in the children's department made her want to write murder mysteries, as anyone who has ever worked with a summer reading program would understand. And, they say write what you know. All she knew about was being married. She had married at nineteen, to a boy she met when she was fifteen. When she started writing, the stories were going to be about Benni and her husband, Jack, solving mysteries together. And, that didn't work. It just wouldn't work right.

So, they say write about what scares you the most. What scared Earlene the most was the thought of her husband dying. And, writers are superstitious. She thought if she'd write that, her husband was going to die. But, she tried writing the chapter again, with Benni as a widow, and that was right. And, Benni was curating a quilt show when someone was murdered. Gabe came in, and he was the police chief. Suddenly, it was Benni and Gave. Earlene never planned that. She intended Gabe to be with Benni's best friend. But, there was tension between Gabe and Benni, and Earlene decided to write about their marriage, what she knew.

In that first book, there was no sex. And, she didn't want them to have sex until after marriage. Her editor said there would be no sexual tension after they were married, so they could have sex in the second book. From the very beginning, Earlene was stubborn, and said no. They'd be married by the end of the second book, and she could promise there would be sexual tension for the rest of the series.

When an audience member mentioned that Benni still mourns Jack into the series, Earlene said you don't forget your first love. And, people change in the course of a marriage. When Earlene's husband married her when she was nineteen, he had no idea he married a writer. Earlene does tell Jack's story in one of the books. She couldn't think of the name of it, saying it was the one with the red cover. She said when you work in libraries, people ask for the book that's red, about so big, and sometimes good librarians can actually find it from the vague description. The book is Sunshine and Shadow. It tells Jack's story, and it's Fowler's one woo woo story.

It's common for the protagonist to have a boyfriend in law enforcement. Kate said from the beginning she knew Brooklyn's boyfriend would have some job in law enforcement. In the first book, Derek is a member of the security team guarding rare books. But, his team provides security all over the world. She said what usually happens if they get married, though, is one of the partners goes out of town, and she gets in trouble. Kate doesn't want that to happen in her books.

Earlene finds cops fascinating. She's ridden along with a lot of cops, and knows a lot of them. But, it's the good ones she finds fascinating, the ones who stay good despite twenty or thirty years seeing the evil in society, working with the dregs of society. They get so much abuse.

Beth said in her genre when it comes to the issue of marriage, it's considered a romance killer. That's why she writes women's fiction, and not romance. Marriage is viewed as boring, and nothing more happens after marriage. In her book, Nearlyweds, three couples have been married less than a year, and the women have discovered things about their spouses and their families. It turns out there was a paperwork problem when they got married though. Now, would they do it all over again? She has one book with a love triangle. The woman had a starter marriage when she was young that turned out to be a trainwreck. Now, she's thirty, marrying her dream man. A week before the wedding, her ex shows up. Marriage is an endpoint in these books.

Earlene said when she first introduced Gabe, readers complained he was a cliched Hispanic, macho, good-looking character. And, they saw more of Gabe's bad side. But, Benni had issues, too. And, Gabe is a Vietnam vet. This is a real marriage, a second marriage for both of them. They're trying to make it work with both of them having faults. What readers often don't realize is that Benni comes from a ranching culture. The men are traditional and macho, just like Gabe's Hispanic character.

For Earlene, the hardest part of writing these books was creating the mystery. She had a deal that she would write two books with murder, and then one with no murder. She finds it hard to work murder into these stories about a marriage. She admitted she's one of those readers who reads the last chapter first when she reads mysteries. She wants to know who did it. Then once she knows the ending, she can go back and watch the mystery unfold. She hates listening to books on tape, as she did when driving to Phoenix. She hates not knowing the ending.

The authors discussed sex in books, and other men. Kate did introduce Gabriel in a book, and he's gorgeous. She thought Brooklyn might get together with Gabriel, but Derek spoke up. So, Brooklyn can't be with Gabriel.

Beth said she's been asked how can her character be thinking of another guy a week before her wedding? She thought she'd start the book with a flashback of them kissing, but, no. They're having sex. Her character said this is what I'm doing. She was wild then, and now she's really mature. She's showing the duality of her character.

Earlene said Gabe and Benni have been married a while. But, Gabe worked undercover in narcotics at one time. And, Earlene knows enough cops to know they've had affairs with their partners while working in undercover relationships. Someone Gabe knew then comes back in his life. And, Ford Hudson, a Texas sheriff shows up. Earlene thought it was funny to name him after two cars. Benni is attracted to him. And, she and Gabe are going through a rough time with Gabe's ex-lover back in town. Benni admits if she had met Ford before Gabe, they might have had a relationship. There's sexual tension there for three or four books before Benni and Ford just become friends. It's an answer to that question, can men and women be friends. Earlene says yes, as they are more mature.

Barbara said here's what's funny. Her mother, who died in her nineties, had been married to Barbara's father for sixty years. She was a big fan of Earlene's, and she wrote to her and said, "You ought to ditch Gabe in a New York minute."

There was a great deal of discussion about the difference in writing about women who had several partners, and the different in writing male characters, such as Travis McGee and James Bond. Earlene said she remembers Time magazine discussing the results of years of study that said men and women are different. Years of study, money spent by the government. Men and women have different expectations for relationships and what they want from them. Times change, though, and so do expectations.

Earlene said she's written a long series, and she's moved away from the recurrence of Gabe getting made when Benni is sleuthing. There are other issues. In Spider Web, the latest book, Gabe is dealing with PTSD, and Benni is living with that. How much more is there to write about in the series? Earlene doesn't want to repeat herself.

She also said she decided early on that Benni and Gabe would not have kids, despite readers who wrote and asked when Benni and Gabe were going to have kids. Where do you put the kids while sleuthing? She didn't want kids in the book. It was bad enough that she put a dog in one book. Benni was taking care of it, and she had to remember to have her feed the dog, and take care of it. Earlene swears "If you don't feed kids, people wouldn't notice, but if you don't feed dogs, you'll hear about it."

Perfect ending to the third panel.

The final panel of the day was made up of Earlene Fowler, Carolyn Hart, Rebecca M. Hale and Hannah Dennison. That was a panel on the sleuths.

Carolyn Hart, Rebecca Hale, Hannah Dennison, Earlene Fowler

Hannah's protagonist is a newspaper sleuth, an amateur who just wants to investigate. Her next series involves an antiques collector whose mother gets involved. They are definitely amateurs.

So, Barbara threw out the question, "Can a PI novel be classified as a cozy? Can Sue Grafton?" It took a while to get to an answer. Rebecca said she didn't come to mysteries from the traditional route, so she didn't have cozy/not cozy mysteries in her head. Her broadest definition is that the books need to be clean enough so her mother can read it. There's not often a murder in her books.

Carolyn answered that Ngaio Marsh wrote about Inspector Roderick Alleyn, but they were traditional mysteries. Traditional mysteries are characterized by personal relationships and families unlike the crime novels Sara Paretsky writes that deal with social problems.

Earlene's opinion is that the publisher decides where you're going to be.There are the really light cozies that are just fun. There are ones that are half comedy, half tragedy. Earlene has serious issues in her books. It was the hardboiled authors who put all the traditional mystery writers in one lump, and lumped everyone together. Sue Grafton isn't classified as cozy, and the difference is, she makes a lot more money.

Barbara said she blames James Patterson, who came from a marketing background for some of this. He brought that marketing idea to publishing, and everything had to be branded. She said Poisoned Pen Press publishes traditional mysteries. Ingram and Amazon want everything assigned to a category. Poisoned Pen Press has a book called Face of the Enemy, and she knows Ingram and Amazon want subtitles and numbers assigned to the book so they can classify it.

Sophie Littlefield and Cornelia Read were mentioned as authors who write about amateur sleuths, but their books are very dark. The covers define them. Cornelia's books have dark covers.

Hannah said they don't define cozies in the same way in England, so she didn't know what was meant by defining her books as cozies. The two different countries market books very diffeer crently.

Earlene said she likes the covers of her large type books better than those of her regular books. They have more mainstream covers. She has a large male audience, but they hide the books because they look too feminine.

Barbara mentioned that historical mysteries are traditional mysteries. Historicals sell better than any other Poisoned Press titles.Covers, blurbs, it's all code. It's due to Patterson and branding again.

Earlene's publisher thought she could only write Benni Harper books. Sometimes your brand can work against you. Some of Earlene's readers didn't want to read a book if it wasn't a Benni book.

How and why does the ordinary person become involved in mystery, and what expertise do they need to have? Carolyn's answer was curiosity. Her characters, Annie or Henrie O., have some personal reason to sleuth. That's why they become involved. Or, they think some injustice is being done.

Earlene said amateur sleuths are like some writers. They're the ones who, as kids, said, let's do this! They were the person who has an idea how to do something. They were the instigator. Just like writers. Get a bunch of writers together, and it could be dangerous. Carolyn and Earlene then recounted a story of the hotel at Malice Domestic being invaded by a number of large thugs who drank the coffee intended for the convention goers. The women faced them down, and had ideas as to how to handle the men.

So, the ending of the conference? An amateur is willing to instigate things.

And, the ending to a fun day was dinner for seven at Cheuvront, across the street from the library. Avery Aames summed dinner up. "We talked about mystery conferences, and mysteries, and the mystery of life." So, here's a toast to the women of traditional mysteries.

Avery Aames, Me, Rebecca M. Hale, Hannah Dennison, Chantelle Aimee Osman, Kate Carlisle, and Jenn McKinlay


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Lesa, you've outdone yourself! This is your longest and most detailed event wrap-up yet, I think. And I'm so glad you did because I'd have loved to have been at Cozy Con. Thanks for this. Great pictures, too!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. Now, how many authors do you think we can entice to come to Cozy Con next year if Poisoned Pen does it again? Thank you!

Kay said...

Lesa, this was just lovely. I enjoyed this post so much. Almost as much as if I had been there. However, if you guys have it again next year, I'm going to do my best to be there. What a treat!!! And, I know you got to meet Cathy, which is great too.

Lesa said...

Kay, I hope they do it again next year. It was so much fun. I not only got to meet Cathy, I sat with her all day. It was such a fun day.

Hannah Dennison said...

Lesa - what a terrific and detailed account of such a fabulous day. You have a memory like a steel trap. It was great fun and I learned a lot too. Let's hope it's an ongoing event.

Lesa said...

Hannah, I remember nothing. It's the ability to take good notes & be able to read my handwriting afterward. Thank you, though! And, I'm with you. I hope it becomes an annual event.

Cleo Coyle said...

This is an outstanding recap, Lesa, thank you. Every one of these talented authors had valuable comments, and I very much enjoyed reading about their unique approaches to the traditional mystery.

Carolyn Hart said it so beautifully: "The stories are about human beings. The traditional mystery is a testament to goodness. Readers want the world to be fair, just, decent. The stories are about people you understand. You have a strong connection to them. They can also be seen as parables. This is how people are, and this is the distress that follows when violence occurs."

Lovely. Perfect. Thanks again for the fabulous post.

~ Cleo

Lesa said...

The authors provided do much information as to their views of writing and the world of traditional mysteries. Cleo, Carolyn Hart is a true treasure. I'm always so much in awe of her.

Paige said...

Wow, Lesa, this is fantastic! Thank you so much for writing this post.

The event was really fun and it was such an honor to be included. I look forward to many more Poisoned Pen Cozy Cons.

And - it was great to meet you!

Paige Shelton

Lynn in Texas said...

What a great re-cap, Lesa! I almost felt like I was there in the audience. Thanks for being such a good note-taker!

Lesa said...

I'm so glad I got to meet you, Paige. I enjoy your books, and my sister is a fan as well. I'm sorry you had to leave for that wedding, but I hope you were able to catch up on the subject via my blog. I hope you'll be back if Poisoned Pen continues these events!

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Lynn. Definitely my pleasure for that event! I loved it.

Gigi Pandian said...

Oh, what fun! Thanks for the detailed report. I had a great time at Malice, but your write-up makes me wish I'd been able to make it to this conference as well!

Avery Aames a.k.a. Daryl Wood Gerber said...

Wow, Lesa, what a fabulous recap! Minute by minute. What a great "secretary" for a con you are.

Loved seeing you. Hope some of the tips help future writers...and please the readers.

All my best,

Avery a.k.a. Daryl

Avery Aames a.k.a. Daryl Wood Gerber said...

Wow, Lesa, what a fabulous recap! Minute by minute. What a great "secretary" for a con you are.

Loved seeing you. Hope some of the tips help future writers...and please the readers.

All my best,

Avery a.k.a. Daryl

Judith Starkston said...

Wow, Lesa! You are the best at summing up a conference. Now I know where to go if I'm trying to remember something that was said. It was one of the best conferences I've been to. Many thanks to Barbara for bringing so many great writers together. I kept thinking all day, these women are so smart!

Lesa said...


I'm sorry everyone couldn't make this conference. It was so good. And, all the authors were terrific.

Lesa said...

That's so funny, Avery. I did make a good secretary for the Con. What's funny is, I make a lousy secretary when it comes to taking notes for any other type of meeting. Maybe because I find them boring and never bother to transcribe the notes.

I think there are a number of good tips there. And, it's always good to see you!

Lesa said...

You're right, Judith. Wasn't it great to hear those women talk about their areas of expertise? I always enjoy hearing knowledgeable people. I'm with you, glad Barbara was able to put that all together.

Jane R said...

OK, I am totally pea green with envy. Some of my most favorite authors all in the same room. At the same time. Sigh.... What a wonderful convention! Thank you for sharing it will all of us!

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Jane. Me, too. Some of my favorite authors all in the same room. That was a stellar line-up, thanks to Barbara Peters and the Poisoned Pen.

Melissa Embry said...

A cozy con -- what a great idea. Thanks to Carolyn Hart who sent me the link!

Lesa said...

I'm glad Carolyn sent you the link, Melissa. Welcome!

Beth F said...

What an awesome event! Wow.

Lesa said...

It was so much fun, Beth! Wish you could have been there.

Char Bishop said...

Lesa, thank you for your excellent recap of the event.
Almost felt like I was there.
I hope there's a repeat next year. PLEASE, PLEASE.

Char Bishop

Lesa said...

Char, There have been follow-up events. Unfortunately, I'm no longer in Arizona to participate. I'm sorry about that myself.