You cannot capture a dream until you reach for it.

by Karen E. Rigley

Welcome, Jennie.   You’re such a multi-faceted writer, we really appreciate you joining our MMC interviews.

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?

All of the above? It’s just a great place for authors and readers to meet and talk, I guess.

When and how did you discover the Mystery Most Cozy group?

I’m pretty sure Jenny Hanahan introduced me to it a couple of years ago.

How did you know you were meant to write?

LOL! I’ve always written. I can remember being about five or six, and sitting on a friend’s living room floor, at the coffee table, writing and illustrating a “book” about a black poodle named Top. (I daresay I probably wanted a poodle, and this was my way of getting one. Partly, that’s the reason I still write. It’s a way to live vicariously through other people, and experience things I’m never likely to experience in life. For good or for bad.)

What fascinates you about mysteries?

Partly I think it’s ego and a healthy sense of competitiveness. The ability to pit myself against the sleuth – and more importantly the writer – and try to figure out whodunit before the sleuth does and before the writer spells it out. I can’t resist the challenge. 🙂

And then there’s the noble answer, which is that in mysteries, good always – or almost always – triumphs over evil, the bad guy gets his comeuppance, and when it’s all said and done at the end of the book, all is right with the world. As someone much smarter than me once said: mysteries aren’t about murder, they’re about justice. I guess I like to know that at least in fiction, justice is served, even if it doesn’t always work out that way in real life.

What inspired you to write your mysteries?

I’ve always read a lot of mysteries. I started with the Bobbsey Twins and Enid Blyton, went on to Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Brains Benton and the Hardy Boys – I was an equal opportunity reader – and then I graduated to Agatha Christie, Quentin Patrick, and Ngaio Marsh in my teens.

More specifically, though, back in 2006 I was reading the Stephanie Plum books and going to real estate school, when I had this idea for a mystery about a brand-new real estate agent who stumbles over a dead body in an empty house. That brainstorm became A Cutthroat Business, which was my first mystery, and which eventually – about a year later – became an opportunity to write the Do It Yourself home renovation mysteries.

What intrigues you about writing a series?

I prefer both reading and writing series to writing standalone books. Once I get to know and like someone, I want to spend more time with them, both as a reader and a writer… and for that matter as a person.

Besides, you can do different things with characters when you have more time to develop them and their personalities. Some characters need more than a single book to get to where they’re going. Characters always have to end the book different than they were when the book started, but sometimes they have more changing to do than can be easily done in one book, either because the change is too big to tackle in just one short span of time, or because the changes are subtle and incremental and need time to develop.

What is the most challenging facet of writing for you?

Sticking to one story, I guess. I always have a few in the backbrain, and they’re always trying to get my attention. Oooh, shiny! So sticking with one manuscript long enough to finish it, while all the others are clamoring in my head, is tough. Other than that, I don’t really have a problem putting the story together or writing it. Although I do not like to edit. If I could write a perfect draft the first time, I’d be a happy camper.

What do you enjoy reading?

Everything, depending on my mood. I don’t usually read horror or BDSM erotica, but other than that, I’ll try pretty much any genre, as long as the book is well written. I read broadly but shallowly. At the moment, for some reason, I’m on a historical kick.

Which authors have influenced you?

Too many to mention, really, and different influences in the different genres I write. I mentioned Janet Evanovich already. Elizabeth Peters. Lois McMaster Bujold. Jennifer Crusie. Suzanne Brockmann. Quentin Patrick. Dorothy L. Sayers. And about a hundred more.

On a more personal level, the fabulous Tasha Alexander. We met in 2005, just before her first book was released, and became fast friends. I got to go through the experience of publishing a first book with her: the first interview, the first TV appearance, the first review, the first signing. She encouraged me to believe that if she could do it – write a book and get it published – then I could do it too. She was the best friend and mentor any girl wanting to write a book could want, and I was incredibly lucky to meet her.

How much of a story do you have in mind when you begin a new book?

Basic idea for the first 3rd to half, and a good idea of who the murderer is and why. I don’t outline or plot anything ahead of time, at least not consciously; it’s more like I “see” the first part of the story clearly, just as one thing growing logically from the next in the situation I set up in the beginning. I hit the wall usually somewhere between page 80 and page 150, depending on the book, and then I have to take a step back and reevaluate where I am and where I’m going. But I’m a pretty dedicated pantser, so if I know too much about the details of the story, I won’t want to write it.

Part of the magic of writing is creating memorable characters. Who are your favorite characters, why, and which of your mysteries feature them?

My own favorite characters? That I wrote? Sheesh.

I do like Rafe and Savannah in the Cutthroat Business books. They’re so different from one another, and she has to grow and change so much over the course of the first five books to get to where she needs to be. She had a pretty epic, if quiet, journey, and it was a real thrill and privilege to be able to record it. And Rafe is just a lot of fun, you know? 🙂

What would you like to say to your readers & fans?

Thanks very much for buying my books. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be able to do what I love to do. If it weren’t for readers, none of us writers would have a job.

What advice would you offer a beginning writer?

Read a lot. Read everything. Read in your genre and out of it. Read bad books as well as good books – it’s the only way to learn the difference. And then write a lot. It takes a lot of time to get good at something, and writing isn’t any different from anything else. And finally, figure out how the business works. Because while writing is an art and a craft, publishing is a business, and if you want to succeed in the business of publishing, you have to understand how it operates.

What do you enjoy most about being an author & what drives you crazy?

I love everything about being an author. The adulation, the respect, the big bucks…

Joking.

I do love everything about being an author, though. I get to spend most of my time in my pajamas, talking to the people in my head, living vicariously through them. What could be better? There’s nothing about it that drives me crazy, other than the fact that other people don’t always understand that it’s actually work, and I’m not available to babysit their kids and walk their dogs and run their errands.

If you could meet three people (living or dead) and chat mysteries with them, who would you select?  What would you discuss?

Elizabeth Peters. Ngaio Marsh. Agatha Christie. And I have no idea what we’d discuss; I think I’d just sit and listen to whatever they said, you know?

Do you like a touch of romance woven into your mysteries?  Do you add it into your own stories?

All my books are romances, pretty much. The ones that don’t have a HEA – a happy ever after – at the end of the first book, are just working toward it later. Love makes the world go round. And one of my favorite classic mysteries is Dorothy L. Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon, about Lord and Lady Peter – Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane – who have just gotten married and are spending their honeymoon at Tallboys, and all they want is some peace and quiet to enjoy married life, but there’s this mystery that keeps intruding. I approach all my mysteries like that.

Or to say it differently, the mysteries are rarely what the books are about. The dead bodies are usually intrusions into the characters’ daily lives. I write amateur sleuths, so catching murderers isn’t their jobs; they stumble into this stuff. They have jobs and careers, families, boyfriends or husbands, friends, commitments… and then this dead body shows up and throws everything into disarray, and they have to deal with the situation before they can get back to their nicely ordered lives, with their love triangles or visiting relatives or houses under renovation. My mysteries are like little slices of the characters’ lives, and since love – romance, relationships – are part of most people’s lives, then yes, they’re there too.

What are your favorite “writing” clothes?

I don’t really care, as long as it’s comfortable. Sweatpants and a T-shirt, I guess. I don’t actually wear pajamas to work, though.

As author you create magic offering readers an escape into your story.  As you write how deeply do you submerge into your own characters, setting and plot? Do you dream any of your scenes?

I think I may have dreamed a scene or two, but it’s not something I regularly do. Both my mystery series are written in first person POV, though, so I have to go pretty deeply into the characters’ heads and do my best to see what they see, feel what they feel, think the way they would. It can be hard to do. The fourth Cutthroat Business book, Close to Home, is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever written. Unconsciously, I set up that whole five book story arc as one long book, with three acts, a dark moment, and a climax and resolution. Book 4 is the dark moment, the whole thing. And it was very, very hard to be in Savannah’s head while her world crumbled around her. I wrote the book – all 90,000 words – in about a month and a half, because I just couldn’t stand living like that any longer than I had to.

Why did you choose cozy rather than thrillers, intrigue or true crime?

I didn’t really choose them, they chose me. A Cutthroat Business, which was the first mystery I wrote, isn’t really a cozy. It has some aspects of cozy – amateur sleuth, light and fairly humorous tone, real estate gimmick – but the subject matter is a bit darker, and the voice a bit sexier. Berkley Prime Crime didn’t want to publish it – because it wasn’t cozy enough, one assumes – but they offered me the opportunity to create a different series for them, and that became the DIY books.

Then again, those aren’t as cozy as some, either, really, although they do fit the definition of the cozy, even if there too the subject matter is sometimes outside the cozy realm.

Can you read cozies while writing? Or do they influence your own too much?

I can’t read much of anything while I’m writing, and I don’t read a lot of cozies under any circumstances, I’m afraid. Traditional mysteries, yes. Cozies, no.

Do you feel you must write your mysteries in a series? If so, why?

Um… I got hired to write a series. There wasn’t really a question about it. I don’t suppose there’d be anything wrong with writing a standalone cozy, although I don’t have any plans of doing so at this time.

What are you writing now?

I’ve got three projects going right now, two of them mysteries and one a science fiction romance or futuristic romantic suspense; take your pick. The 6th Cutthroat Business mystery I’m hoping to have finished by Christmas. The SFR is due to its editor February 1st, and the 7th DIY mystery is due to its editor March 15th.

Tell us about your newest mystery:

I assume we’re talking about one that’s already published? That would be the 6th DIY book, Wall to Wall Dead, which was released in September. Avery and Derek are renovating a small condo in Josh Rasmussen’s building, when one of the neighbors ends up dead. Hilda Shaw was the resident busybody, with a lively interest in everyone and everything, and as it turns out, everyone in the building has a secret they’re trying to hide, including Josh. It’s up to Avery to determine which secrets are harmless and which someone is willing to kill for.

If it’s the next in line but not yet released, that would be the 6th Cutthroat Business mystery, in which Rafe and Savannah are trying, not very successfully, to settle into a normal life together after Rafe stops working for the TBI, and in which Savannah catches Tim Briggs, fellow realtor, washing blood off his hands in the office sink.

The next DIY mystery, incidentally, will feature a Craftsman bungalow, a missing Christ Child from the nativity outside Bartholomew Norton’s church in Waterfield, and a baby skeleton in a steamer trunk in the attic. It’s a Christmas release for 2013.

Where can we find out more about you and your books?

www.jenniebentley.com

www.jennabennett.com

Visit Mystery Most Cozy to find out how to enter the drawing for one of her books.

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Comments on: "Mystery Most Cozy Interviews Jennie Bentley" (3)

  1. Bonnie K. Winn said:

    Excellent interview, Karen. I learned so much about Jennie and her work!

  2. Oh, I loved “Busman’s Honeymoon” and all the Peter Whimsey novels. Dorothy Sayers was an amazing writer! Enjoyed reading your interview!

    ~Nancy Jill

  3. When you find a way to go back in time and meet with those writers, may I come, too?

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