by Barb. Packing madly. Leaving tomorrow for Key West.
My friend Liz Mugavero and I are celebrating a double book birthday today. Not only do we have the same agent (John Talbot) and the same editor (John Scognamiglio at Kensington Books), we are also both launching the fifth book in our respective series. Before the craziness of the holidays was upon us, I sat down with Liz to talk about this experience.
Barb: Five books! I can believe we made it. Custom Baked Murder is the fifth in your Pawsitively Organic Pet Food Mystery series, and Iced Under is the fifth in my Maine Clambake Mystery series. So, I’m asking you. What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?
Liz: It’s crazy, right? We’ve written a lot of books in the last few years. To answer your question, wow, I don’t think I knew anything! Besides the fact that I knew I could write a book, I didn’t know if I could write a good one. I didn’t know how crazy the publishing world was. And I didn’t know how the heck I was going to juggle a day job with my deadlines.
I also didn’t know what an amazing experience it would be to become part of the Wicked Cozy Authors, and to meet so many readers who enjoy my books, and how much fun it would be to write this series – and also how challenging to make sure I can continue to provide quality entertainment with each story. Which brings up my question to you, Barb. How do you keep your stories and characters fresh?
Barb: Argh. Great question and something I think about all the time. Despite what some people think, there is no formula for writing cozy mysteries. (Believe me, there are days, when I’m struggling, when I wish there were.) I keep the stories fresh by changing them up. For example, in the fourth book, Fogged Inn, we discover the body in the very first line. “Julia, there’s a dead guy in the walk-in!” In the new book, Iced Under, we don’t learn about the death until page 106, and we never see the body. These changes give an entirely different structure to the narrative. As for the characters, I keep them moving forward. My protagonist Julia’s life has changed profoundly with her return to Busman’s Harbor, Maine. She’s building new relationships and figuring out her life, for good and for ill, just like all of us. So tell me, five books in, is there anything you regret? Would you change any characters, situations or places if you had to do it again?
Liz: Hmmm. Regrets are so easy to find, aren’t they? That said, there isn’t anything major I wish I could change in these books. I was thinking the other day about Stan’s family. When I wrote the first book, it was sort of an impulse to give her a snobby, rich mother who tried to interfere in certain areas of Stan’s life. That could’ve gone either way as I got deeper into the series, but it turned out to be a good choice. I’ve had a lot of fun working with Stan’s family and her relationship with them, and her mother ended being more of a permanent character than I think I ever intended. And now her sister has snuck in to the narratives too, which is another opportunity for some fun interactions. It’s also all part of Stan’s character arc.
I do think I could’ve sketched out the town a little better in the first two books. I’m forever trying to make sure things make sense as the town’s grown and I’ve added storefronts, etc. But I think it works. So with all that in mind, Barb, do you find it easier to write the books the further into the series you get, or were the earlier books easier?
Barb: As you know, Liz, first drafts are my bete noire and they don’t get any easier to write. But I guess, as I gain experience, it does get easier to let go of at least some of the gnawing anxiety and believe it’s all going to come together in the end.
But that’s been replaced by a new anxiety. With the first book in this series, I had no idea if it was going to be good. I was determined to write the best book I could, but if it wasn’t good, it wasn’t good. Now I have fans, who have expectations for quality. Disappointing them has become my new anxiety.
I guess you can’t win for losing!
Best of luck with Custom Baked Murder, Liz. I’ve read it and I loved it.
Liz: Same to you! And good luck with book six.
Both: Happy New Year, everyone!
About Custom Baked Murder: Summer is winding down in Frog Ledge, Connecticut, but Stan’s love life and career are both heating up nicely. In between planning her new pet patisserie and café, Stan is settling into living-in-bliss with sexy pub owner Jake McGee. Love’s on the menu for Stan’s mom, Patricia, too, who’s engaged to Frog Ledge’s mayor, Tony Falco. When Mayor Falco’s executive coach, Eleanor Chang, is found dead, there’s a whole pack of suspects to choose from. But finding out who forced her to take a fatal plunge off the corporate ladder means unearthing some shady secrets…and a killer who’s too close for comfort. Includes Gourmet Pet Food Recipes!
About Iced Under: The snow is deep in Maine’s Busman’s Harbor and the mighty rivers are covered in ice. Snowden Family Clambake Company proprietor Julia Snowden and her mother, Jacqueline, are hunkered down for the winter when a mysterious package arrives—heating up February with an unexpected case of murder . .