by Karen E. Rigley
Welcome, Sherry. You and I go way back to before your first mystery, so it’s such a treat to interview you on behalf of Mystery Most Cozy.
Mystery Most Cozy is celebrating their tenth anniversary. What is your favorite thing about the group: reader interaction, fan support, being able to connect with fellow authors or what and why?
I think my favorite thing about the group is the reader interaction. I like hearing how other readers react to the books I read, what they liked that I didn’t, what they didn’t like that I did. As part of that, I also learn about authors and books I may not have heard about from any other source.
When and how did you discover the Mystery Most Cozy group?
Oh, goodness! I joined about a year after Jenny started the group, and I’m pretty sure I heard about this group on some other mystery-related yahoo group or on DOROTHYL. It’s been nearly 10 years, though, and the details have escaped me.
How did you know you were meant to write?
I always knew I was meant to write. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t thinking about writing – and it was always books. I never wanted to write short stories or magazine articles. I just wanted to write books. I devoured the Bobbsey Twins books, tore through Nancy Drew, and then moved on to Victoria Holt when I was very young. I have a clear memory of saying to my mother, “Someday, when I’m a world-famous novelist…” while standing in the sandbox in the backyard of our Billings, Montana home. I moved from there when I was 11, so I must have known what I wanted to do well before then.
What fascinates you about mysteries?
I love the variety of books available in the mystery genre. I love pitting myself against the author and trying to puzzle out the mystery before s/he reveals the answers to me. I love the way a gifted author can put all the clues in plain sight and still misdirect my attention and send me racing off in the wrong direction.
What inspired you to write your mysteries?
Well, like I said before, I loved mysteries when I was young, and at one point in my life I wanted to be Carolyn Keene. Then for a while, the romance genre and family sagas claimed my attention. When I started writing seriously, the only writing group I could find in my local area was a chapter of Romance Writers of America. I joined, just wanting the interaction with other writers and tried to write a romance, but soon discovered that if I put a man and a woman in the same room, one of them would kill the other, and I was right back to my original love of the cozy mystery genre. I later wrote romances, too, but I started with mysteries.
What intrigues you about writing a series?
When I sold my first mystery novel 20 years ago, I had no intention of making it into a series. I loved reading other writers’ series but I didn’t think I was smart enough to write one of my own. I submitted that first mystery and got a 3-book contract offer from Berkley Prime Crime and freaked out. I wasn’t about to say no but I didn’t know what to do after I said yes.
At about the same time, my book club was reading Bootlegger’s Daughter by Margaret Maron. I was supposed to lead the discussion, so I got very bold and wrote to ask about her experience of writing the book. She was very gracious and wrote about character arcs and other terms I understood instinctively after many years of nursing a reading addiction, but didn’t understand from a writer’s perspective. Her letter prompted me to think about things I hadn’t even considered before then, and now it’s the character arc for the entire series that fascinates me most when I work on a mystery series.
What is the most challenging facet of writing for you?
Oh, goodness! What isn’t challenging? I’ve had many jobs in my lifetime, but this is hands’ down the hardest of them all. It’s also the most rewarding. I think the most challenging facet is overcoming self-doubt. Even after 30-something published books, I’m still convinced that this book is the one that will expose me as a fraud.
What do you enjoy reading?
Just about anything and everything. There are some genres I like better than others, but if a book is well-written, I’ll bury myself in it and keep turning the pages. I love cozy mysteries, of course. I love hard-boiled mysteries. I love spy thrillers. I love a good romance novel. I love romantic suspense. I love family sagas. I love historical novels. I still have a dream of writing The Great American Novel set around the American Revolution. One of these days …
Which authors have influenced you?
How much time do you have??? Of course Margaret Maron was a huge influence, as was every person who ever put on the Carolyn Keene hat. Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney were very strong early influences. I can still recall images I created in my head as I read some of their books. I loved Dorothy Cannell’s Ellie Haskell series and Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone books. I think that Susan Howatch is brilliant, and I’ve been itching to read Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers again. Anne Rivers Siddons’ Colony is an all-time favorite book. Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series were a great influence on me, as were Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.
How much of a story do you have in mind when you begin a new book?
That depends on the book. Very often, I have what I think is a big chunk of an idea, only to find out that my protagonist has absolutely no interest in the perfectly good mystery I’ve thought up for him or her. There are a few books on my backlist (including my current work-in-progress) that I’ve started over at least half a dozen times trying to find something my protagonist will actually care about.
Other times, I have one tiny thing – the sound of a gunshot, perhaps, or a character I see standing on the side of the road – and then I write to find out what or who it is.
Part of the magic of writing is creating memorable characters. Who are your favorite characters, why, and which of your mysteries feature them?
I still have a soft spot for the characters in my very first mystery series, especially Fred Vickery, my 70-something protagonist. He appeared on page one of my very first serious work-in-progress, and at that time I thought he was going to be a walk-on character who found a dead body and then got shot later in the book. But Fred came to life and demanded a starring role, and I’ve never regretted giving it to him.
What would you like to say to your readers & fans?
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your reactions to my books and your support of my career.
What advice would you offer a beginning writer?
Learn discipline. Don’t wait for the muse to strike, just write. Write when you want to write. Write when you don’t want to write. Write when the words are flowing and write when the voices in your head are silent. Write when life is going well, and write when it’s not. This is much easier said than done, but there will be times in years to come when the ability to write in spite of it all will save your career.
What do you enjoy most about being an author & what drives you crazy?
I enjoy being my own boss, for the most part, and the incredible freedom that comes from doing what I love to do most and getting paid for it. What drives me crazy? Probably the number of people who, when they find out what I do for a living, say, “You ought to write about my life. It would be a bestseller for sure, and we could split the money.”
Do you like a touch of romance woven into your mysteries? Do you add it into your own stories?
I don’t mind a touch of romance in my mysteries, but seriously just a touch. That might sound strange coming from someone who has also written romance novels for a living, but there you have it. I do add a touch to my own stories, but only just a touch.
What are your favorite “writing” clothes?
My pajamas. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as productive if I spend all day in my PJs, so I have to make myself get dressed, usually in jeans and a T-shirt, and go to work.
Why did you choose cozy rather than thrillers, intrigue or true crime?
Mostly because I’m not a spy or a police officer, so I think that I can probably write an amateur sleuth with more authority than I could a police detective or an FBI agent. I find that I’m quite uncomfortable with true crime thanks to several brushes with violence in my own life. Cozy mysteries offer me the fun of the puzzle without the gore and graphic violence.
Can you read cozies while writing? Or do they influence your own too much? (tone, voice, etc.)
Yes, I can and I do. In fact, what I find I have to avoid reading is romance since the language and rhythm that makes a good romance is so different from what I need in my head when I’m writing a mystery.
Do you enjoy “stand alone” cozies that are not part of a series if written well?
What are you writing now?
I’m currently working on the fourth book in the Piece of Cake Mystery series which I write as Jacklyn Brady.
Tell us about your newest mystery:
Business is going stale at Zydeco Cakes and Rita Lucero has plenty to worry about. But when the blind trumpet player Old Dog Leg Magee asks for a favor, she can’t say no. His brother Monroe disappeared forty years ago, and now someone has shown up claiming to be him. Old Dog Leg needs Rita to be his eyes—and see if it’s really his brother. Old Dog Leg asks Rita and the sexy Cajun bartender, Gabriel Broussard, to check into the Love Nest Bed and Breakfast and pose as newlyweds to check out the man who calls himself Monroe. Then another guest at the Love Nest turns up dead and it seems that the mystery man might also be a mysteryer…
Arsenic and Old Cake will be released on November 6.
Where can we find out more about you and your books?
If you’re looking for Sherry Lewis:
If you’re looking for Jacklyn Brady:
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jacklyn-Brady/180151502006968
Visit Mystery Most Cozy to find out how to enter the drawing for one of her mysteries.
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