Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jenn McKinlay & Paige Shelton at the Poisoned Pen

It's always a treat to see Jenn McKinlay at the Poisoned Pen. She always has funny stories to tell. And, Paige Shelton has quite a sense of humor, too. So, it was a delightful afternoon at the Pen when Patrick Millikin sat down to interview the two authors.

Paige Shelton was on tour to promote her latest book, A Killer Maize. And, Jenn's latest Library Lover's Mystery is Book, Line and Sinker. Patrick started by asking what they'd been up to lately, and then caught himself and said, Jenn almost invariably has just finished a book. So, he started with Paige. She said the most recent book in her Country Cooking School mystery series, If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance, came out in October. A Killer Maize is the most recent one in the Farmer's Market series.

When Millikin turned to McKinlay, he introduced her as Jenn McKinlay, Lucy Lawrence, and Josie Belle. She said as Jenn McKinlay, her real name, she writes the Cupcake Bakery series set in Scottsdale. Going, Going, Ganache will be out in April. She also writes the Library Lover's mysteries, and the Hat Shop series which will be coming out. Lucy Lawrence is finished. Jenn wrote the Decoupage Murder mysteries under that name. And, she writes the Bargain hunter/thrift series as Josie Belle.

Patrick said he often asks about the transition to full-time writing. But, Jenn said she hasn't made that transition. She still works at the public library twenty hours a week, writes three books a year, and is raising two boys. McKinlay said she would have a hard time quitting because there's so much material at the library. Plus, she likes to get a steady paycheck. By working at the library, she knows what's popular. She has a pulse point to people. The library world is changing, and she likes to keep up with it.

Asked how they got their first break, Paige Shelton said she worked a long time to get someone interested. After ten years, she sent a query letter to literary agent Jessica Faust. And, she didn't hear anything. So, she broke rules, and sent a follow-up query. Jessica Faust answered immediately, saying she never received the first query. She signed Paige as a client. That first book, a paranormal mystery romance didn't sell. But, Jessica told her she had a good cozy mystery voice, and would she consider writing a cozy. Shelton answered, "I love them!" The whole time she was talking to her on the phone, Paige was writing "cozy", "cosy". She had never heard of them. During the conversation, Faust mentioned the idea of a Farmer's Market series, and Paige liked that. Afterward, she went to a bookstore, and asked them, "What is a cozy mystery?" And, it turns out she did like them. She just didn't know they were called cozy mysteries. That book sold quickly, and it was Faust's idea. Paige Shelton began writing seriously in 1997, and nothing happened until 2008.

Jenn said a lot of people have heard her say she started writing romances because she thought romances were easy. They're not. She submitted a romantic comedy, and then had her kids, and forgot about it. So, she was surprised one day to get a phone call about her book. She said, what book? She remembers standing there with a baby in her arms, and the person on the other end said this is usually when people start hollering with excitement. Jenn's response? "I'd wake the baby." She wrote three romantic comedies for Harlequin, and there was a mutual parting of the ways.

McKinlay's husband is a big mystery buff. He reads noir. He suggested she try writing mysteries. Jenn is with the same agency as Paige. She tried writing a mystery because she loves them, but the first one didn't sell. Asked if she wanted to try a decoupage mystery, she said yes. That sold, but there wasn't a big future in decoupage. Then, she came up with the idea for the cupcake series, and then the library one, because she didn't want to be left without a series to write.

Patrick asked Jenn to tell her story about the cupcake idea. She said her friend Sheila called her and said Sprinkles had just opened, and they were giving away shots of frosting. She said, "I'm in." Then, a friend had tiers of cupcakes at her wedding. Jenn starting thinking, hmm, cupcakes. She was afraid the cupcake idea would die, but cupcakes haven't died. She was ahead of the curve with that one. And, she said, she didn't think libraries would die, so she had that idea. But, she told the audience to ask me about libraries dying, "Ask Lesa." She's also writing the Hat Shop series, set in London, under Jenn McKinlay. Jenn said when she signed the contract for the thrift shop series, she had a little breakdown (not really), realizing she was writing three a year. So, her latest contract calls for a book a year in each series, which gives her a little more time to write.

Does it help to have a theme to center the books around? Paige answered that it helps her a lot. It's something to hang onto. Jenn said even though she works in a library, she finds that series the most intimidating. She was afraid she'd write it boring, trying to put in too many details. So, with the hat shop series, she decided to write about something harder. She set it in a foreign country, England, and wrote it in first person. She sent it to Rhys Bowen and Deborah Crombie. Neither of them hated it. They blurbed it.

Millikin said Berkley Prime Crime specializes in niche things, and they do it well. If you think it's crazy, someone is writing it. Someone is writing about pizza, doughnuts. Some of the subjects just have a two book arc. One of Paige's series deals with the paranormal, and it's doing well.S

Asked how long it takes to write a book, Jenn said she writes a 70,000 manuscript in two to three months. She uses a structural outline. Paige takes eight to nine months to write 70,000 to 80,000 words. Patrick remarked that all authors seem to have different work methods, but they all agree you have to treat it as a job and write every day. Shelton agreed, saying it's a momentum thing. It's difficult to get back into it if you lay off at all. Paige doesn't outline. She has a spark of an idea, and doesn't know where she's going with the story. She has never guessed her own killer.

Why Connecticut for the library series? Jenn went to library school there, and wanted to set the stories in a small town where the community became involved in the mysteries. Shelton's books are set in Missouri and South Carolina. She picked South Carolina for the Farmer's Market books wanting a location that could host a farmer's market year-round. And, she was born in southern Missouri. Her parents are from there, and that has always been home. She based Broken Rope, the setting for her Country Cooking School mysteries, on Tombstone, Arizona and Rolla, Missouri. Then, she put a lot of her relatives in the books.

Millikin asked if there were guidelines for cozies, what to do and not to do. Patrick said they don't have profanity, sex and violence, all the things he loves. Jenn said it can be difficult because of the way they're marketed. She might be writing a series about cupcakes, but she's killing people in the books. It's a mystery thing, "cozies". She has responded to people who wrote to her. She had a complaint because in one series, a character became pregnant before marriage. Jenn answered she doesn't like to limit her characters. They're HER characters. She likes to push the limits a little. McKinlay said cozies are on a surge. They've hit a level, and now they're looking for a bump up. It might be time to turn it up a notch. Jenn said she's not sure about her demographics.

 Patrick said according to Jenn's husband, she likes to read dark, edgy books. Maybe she'd like to write one? McKinlay answered that she's working on a paranormal YA. She works with teens at the library. She sees intelligent girls come in the library, and they look like pole dancers. What are they thinking? They're getting mixed messages. Shop for a husband; don't offend; keep your mouth shut. Jenn said they need to have stronger women in books, characters with backbone. It's difficult be be a young woman nowadays. She's glad she's raising boys. She's afraid her angry feminist is coming out. What are we doing with girls? Jenn said we can push the limits in YA. Paige is also writing a YA paranormal. Jenn said right now YA is the one area authors can put anything together, and do anything.

Paige Shelton just wrote a short story, "Red Hot Deadly Peppers". She was approached by her publisher. She didn't think she had time to write 20,000 extra words. She didn't know if she could write a short story. It was published as an ebook only. She thinks the publisher is using it to build a price range for ebooks. Jenn said a friend did short stories as ebooks, and then they were put together and sold as a book collection.

What's coming up next for the authors? Paige's next book is If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion, due out in August. In December, she has a Christmas Farmer's Market book, but it doesn't have a title yet.

Jenn has Going, Going, Ganache coming out in April. Cloche and Dagger is due out in August. And, as Josie Belle, her thrift shop mystery, A Deal to Die For, is due out at the end of this month, Dec. 31. The title of the fourth Library Lover's mystery is Read It and Weep. That book wrote itself. She loved it. The third book, Book, Line, and Sinker, was a hard one to write. She had to do so much research on Captain Kidd. In Read It, the community theater is doing Shakespeare. Jenn loves that. Anytime she can put Shakespeare in a book, she's happy.

The program ended with the book signing, and a dessert table filled with cupcakes, and other treats.

Jenn McKinlay's website is www.jennmckinlay.com

Paige Shelton's website is www.paigeshelton.com


Jenn McKinlay, Me, and Paige Shelton


Rosemary said...

Lovely post Lesa, and so encouraging to read about other writers' success, especially when they're writing books I like. We are told to write the book we would like to read, but sometimes you do start to feel that only highbrow stuff is acceptable (my OU course was far too much like that for my liking) - I just don't do highbrow, so it's great to read about these authors.

And it looks like you all had a lot of fun!


Lesa said...

Oh, it was a fun program. They both came prepared to entertain, Rosemary. And, you can tell they have a good time.

Paige said...

Thanks for the recap, Lesa - I sure had a great time. Jenn is fabulous, the Poisoned Pen is a perfect bookstore, and visiting with you and everyone else made for a wonderful day. Thanks to everyone for joining in the fun! And, best of luck to you on your upcoming move.


Jane R said...

What a wonderful evening. Such fun times with two of my favorite authors. Thanks for sharing with us!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Paige! It was a fun afternoon. And, Jane? I'm glad I could recap this program with 2 of your favorite authors!