You're a very mysterious person, Maggie McConnon. I couldn't find an active website under either this name or Maggie Barbieri. Saying that, would you tell us about yourself?
First, thank you, Lesa, for letting me join Lesa’s Book Critiques today. Oh, mysterious! No one has ever called me that. Probably a better description would be “technologically challenged” as I lost my web developer so it has been up to me to update the site. I can assure you that changes are on the way. You’re right: I’m really Maggie Barbieri and I do have a soon-to-be-updated website (www.maggiebarbieri.com) but also an up-to-date Facebook Author page where a good deal of communication happens between me and my friends and readers. By day, I’m a textbook editor and in between reading content on a variety of academic topics – I know a little about a lot of things – I write mysteries. I live in the Hudson Valley of New York State, a place that will be familiar to my readers, as all of my novels have been set in one or another part of this region. My husband and I share our house with our two offspring – 22 and 17 – a neurotic, but lovable, West Highland Terrier and an alpha-male Maine Coon cat who thinks the house really belongs to him and that he just allows us to live there.
Would you introduce us to Belfast (Bel) McGrath?
Belfast McGrath is a former New York City chef, a celebrity in the food scene really, who has fallen on hard times after a plate leaves her kitchen with a meal that nearly kills a former President of the United States. In one fell swoop, she loses her job, her fiancé, and the life she loves. What’s a woman to do when her whole world crumbles like a stale cookie? She goes back home to the family she left behind fifteen years earlier: four brothers, a mother, father, and a host of extended-family members who are just dying to tell Bel what to do with the rest of her life. The town she left was one she never wanted to return to; there are bad memories and a lingering sadness resulting from her best friend having disappeared when she and Bel were just teens. They mystery of what happened to Amy Mitchell that night haunts Bel and coming back to the Landing opens old wounds.
What can you tell us about Wedding Bel Blues, without spoilers?
WEDDING BEL BLUES starts with a wedding, as you might expect. Bel has been back in Foster’s Landing, her hometown, for a little over two months, and during that time, has tried to put together the pieces of her broken life while preparing for her role as maid-of-honor at her cousin Caleigh’s wedding, a not-so-blushing bride who has sown her wild oats with a wedding crasher two nights before. After Caleigh confesses this to Bel, just as she is to walk down the aisle, Bel meets a handsome wedding guest - Caleigh’s paramour - who ends up dead at Bel’s feet just a few hours into the celebration. As luck would have it, the boy-next-door who broke Bel’s heart years ago, Kevin Hanson, is now a Foster’s Landing detective and in charge of the case. As the sole witness to the man’s passing, Bel finds herself smack in the middle of the case and does some digging of her own so that at the very least, she has something to distract and her and just maybe, her life can return to normal.
You wrote the Maeve Conlon thrillers under Maggie Barbieri. What are you enjoying about writing a cozier mystery series?
I love humor and although the Maeve Conlon books did have some humor, it was dark and black and came from a place I don’t often like to go to in my writing or thoughts. The Belfast McGrath books are more openly and obviously humorous and although the humor can be black, it’s not quite as dark as that you would find in one of my thrillers. I like to mine the humor in Bel’s family relationships and the situations she finds herself in because, let’s face it, who doesn’t have an odd duck or two in their family?
What authors influenced you?
My favorite author is Stephen King, hands down. I have read every King book – THE STAND being my all-time favorite – but was particularly influenced by his ON WRITING, which let me in on the fact that most writers have their own style, their own process, their own way of handling the ups and downs of their own creativity. That book gave me permission to fly by the seat of my writing pants and to write what I love, how I love to do it. Prior to reading that book, I thought that aspiring to be a writer was beyond me and my capabilities but King showed me that doubts plague most writers and can be overcome with diligence, practice, and discipline.
Maggie, a few personal questions. What's the most beautiful place you've ever been?
I love Paris. I know it’s a cliché to say that but I have been three times now and each time, I have to pinch myself that I am indeed in the City of Lights and it’s not a dream. Everything about Paris is magical and a little unbelievable in its beauty from the Eiffel Tower to the residential streets of the Marais district. My dream is to take an apartment there for a month and just walk the streets – okay, and eat and drink a little, too – like a native. I speak passable French that I would love to turn that into fluent French at some point.
What's your earliest memory of your Irish heritage?
We’re so Irish that that is a hard question to answer. I had three grandparents growing up – my father’s parents in the Bronx and my mother’s mother in our native Brooklyn – as well as a host of aunts and uncles who all had brogues and those were the first voices I heard. There was always singing and dancing and longing for the “old country” at family get-togethers and every event was steeped in Irish tradition. One memory that has stayed with me all these years is from my first trip to Ireland. I was five and my parents toted me, my three-year-old brother, eighteen-month-old sister and my maternal grandmother back to Ireland so she could visit her surviving siblings – two sisters and a brother. My grandmother had come here as a twenty-year-old in the 1920s and had bought some very lovely homes in Brooklyn throughout the years; she was financially secure and successful after coming here with nothing. Seeing where she had grown up and where one of her sisters and brother still lived – in a cottage at the top of a steep hill that still boasted a dirt floor – was an eye-opening experience for me, even as a child. Although it was beautiful and the vistas from the top of the hill gorgeous, I can now see what made my grandmother leave and the image of her standing by the front door of her childhood home has stayed with me all these years and made me think about the Irish and the immigrant experience in general.
What are you reading right now?
I am in a predominantly male book club and my husband is also a member. This month was his turn to pick and he chose WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas which coincidentally is about three generations an Irish-American family. I’m loving it and looking forward to that discussion.
Without spoilers, what can you tell us about Bel's next adventure?
Belfast McGrath can next be seen in BEL OF THE BRAWL, a story that picks up not too long after WEDDING BEL BLUES. Bel is now happily ensconced as chief cook and bottle washer, as they say, at Shamrock Manor, her family’s catering hall, dating the delicious Brendan Joyce, and about as happy as she has been in a long time. But finding another dead body – this time the result of a groom having had a heart attack – and realizing that one of the waitresses at the Manor has gone missing throws her back into sleuthing, this time with her brother, Cargan, in tow for reasons I cannot disclose here.
And, the question I always end with. I'm a librarian. Tell me a story about a library or librarian in your life.
Until two years ago, my local library boasted one of the most wonderful librarians I had ever known, someone who became a dear friend before she retired. A visit with Mary often included her recommendations for the newest and best cozy mysteries or a recipe or two, as she was a devoted collector of cookbooks. When it came to mysteries, she was a huge fan and as such, supported me by talking to locals about my books and books that I recommended to her and really boosted the library’s collection of new and classic mysteries. She was always a step ahead of me even when it came to the latest and greatest mysteries, mostly cozy, and turned me on to some fabulous writers and series. She moved away and I miss her!
Thank you, Maggie, for taking time for the interview.
Wedding Bel Blues by Maggie McConnon. St. Martin's Press. 2016. ISBN 9781250001894 (paperback), 336p.