Hello, Esri! It’s so nice to have you join our MMC interviews.
Mystery Most Cozy is celebrating its 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?
Reader interaction. Some of the best recommendations on what to read next have come from this group. It also has a mellow yet polite vibe, which I credit to its creator, Jenny Hanahan. She has just the right amount of housemother.
When and how did you discover the Mystery Most Cozy group?
Oh, gosh. Two or three years ago. It may be longer. I’m no good with time.
How did you know you were meant to write?
[Fellow author] Steve Hockensmith and I discussed this, and agreed it was because we’re “slightly crazy, very spoiled, and terrible at all other jobs.” This is only slightly exaggerated.
What fascinates you about mysteries?
Crime almost always stems from strong emotions. Fear, anger, protectiveness. People dealing with that kind of pressure behave in extraordinary ways, and nothing is more interesting than the extraordinary.
What inspired you to write your mysteries?
It’s funny…even though mysteries are almost the only fiction I read, I wrote and published other things first because the form intimidated me. Eventually I realized that while mysteries are rigorous when it comes to plot, there is actually more freedom than in a lot of other genres. You can have romance or not, you can explore any theme and set your story in any time period. Your characters don’t even have to be particularly likeable. Sherlock Holmes is a riveting character, but you wouldn’t invite him to your wedding.
What intrigues you about writing a series?
I love layering my characters’ personalities and including subtle references to past stories. It’s like on TV, when a fleeting reference to something in the past elicits a pained expression on a character’s face. It won’t mean anything to a first-time viewer, but those of us in the know howl with laughter or wince with sympathy.
What is the most challenging facet of writing for you?
Writing fast. I have trouble writing anything if I’m not excited about what comes next. This is a stupid mental block, because I love revising. My number one goal is to learn to be okay with writing crap. Crap can always be improved. Or deleted.
What do you enjoy reading?
Humor, historical mysteries, biographies (Thomas Edison, Houdini, Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker), neuroscience, stories of scams and con men, and those books that go into the surprising history of everyday objects, like salt or eggbeaters.
Which authors have influenced you?
Betty MacDonald, Dave Barry, Terry Pratchett, M.C. Beaton.
How much of a story do you have in mind when you begin a new book?
I have a complete story arc when I begin, but 50 to 100 pages in, I discover that I need more to carry a whole book, or the action happens mostly in the backstory, and I have to rework the whole thing. This happens with every book. Every. Book.
Part of the magic of writing is creating memorable characters. Who are your favorite characters, why, and which of your mysteries feature them?
I love my three sleuths in the Tripping series. Having an ensemble of protagonists gives me more options with dialogue and plotting, and I hope it gives readers more of a chance to find a character they love. Angus MacGregor has the perspective of age when it comes to dealing with people, but age hasn’t stopped him from dreaming big. He wants to achieve fame by finding proof of the supernatural. Michael Abernathy is young and manages to be both a cynic and idealist. That’s not a comfortable mindset, and he uses sarcasm and humor to deal with his discomfort. Then there’s Suki Oota, my half-Japanese photographer. Suki is very female in that she just wants to get whatever it is done and move forward. Some of this urgency comes from knowing that youth and beauty are temporary assets, and they’re burning a hole in her pocket. No one would call Suki a “good girl.” Not if they wanted to keep their teeth.
What would you like to say to your readers & fans?
Thank you so much!
What advice would you offer a beginning writer?
Write because you enjoy it (or because you can’t help yourself, which is more often the case). If you want to be a career writer, ask yourself, “Can I tolerate uncertainty about my success?” Writing is full of uncertainty. It’s hard to tell when you’re writing well. Financial validation is elusive, and you’ll get bad reviews even on your best stuff. The best overall advice I can give is to approach writing as a really involving hobby. You’ll dodge a lot of mental bullets that way.
What do you enjoy most about being an author & what drives you crazy?
The best moments are when I look at something I’ve written and know that it illustrates something funny and true about being human. When that’s confirmed through fan email, I’m overjoyed. I also like that I get to finish things. With so many jobs, you don’t get to say, “Done!” Finally, I have a lot of creative control over what I do, there’s no dress code, and I can put up all the inappropriate cartoons I want.
Things that drive me crazy: The aforementioned uncertainty. Did I tell this story in the most interesting way possible? Have I found the sweet spot where my work is different enough to be appealing, but not so different that only a few people like it? How do I get the attention of those readers who will enjoy me the most? The isolation of working at home can also make you a little odd. My office mates are a Chihuahua and a cat. I love them, but they don’t like to eat out and they suck at discussing the latest episode of The Good Wife.
Do you like a touch of romance woven into your mysteries? Do you add it into your own stories?
I don’t include romance in my stories, and that’s primarily because I approach life from a very irreverent place. My stories aren’t hospitable to romance in the same way that a Seinfeld episode or an Oscar Wilde play isn’t hospitable to romance. Putting romance in that setting is like tying a pink ribbon around a rubber chicken. It’s jarring. As for romance in other people’s mysteries, I can take it or leave it. Romance is very hard to write well. It’s rare that I really feel it in a book.
What are your favorite “writing” clothes?
Whatever I pick up off the floor that’s loose and doesn’t smell. Sad, I know.
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?
Dreams would be a great resource if I wanted to write about overflowing toilets and missed planes, but I think Seth Rogen has that market sewn up. As for how deeply I get into my own fictional worlds, it’s pretty deep. When writing is going well, stopping is like coming out of a movie theater in the middle of the day. Another thing that makes my stories feel real to me is that I set each one in a different tourist town. My husband and I visit, take a ton of pictures and chat up the locals, then I go home and send my sleuths there on assignment. In a way, each book is a record of the emails and phone calls my characters might send from the road. “Interviews going well. Got a picture of a flying saucer, which turned out to be a water tower. Mayor has a crush on Suki. We think he might be a murderer.”
Why did you choose cozy rather than thrillers, intrigue or true crime?
I’m not sure what qualifies as intrigue. It sounds intriguing. I write cozies because they study the subtleties of human interaction. That’s something women are good at, and doubtless it’s why so many cozies incorporate other feminine interests, such as cooking, crafts, and tiny, adorable dogs. I currently have an idea for a series that feels like it needs a harder edge, maybe sort of a noir thing. I think noir is how men see the subtleties of human interaction – murky, confusing, full of traps and unexpected weapons. As a writer, I’m kind of in the middle. Chihuahua noir, that’s me.
Can you read cozies while writing? Or do they influence your own work too much?
As long as the subject matter is different, I’m good. My own voice is so ingrained these days, I’m not influenced.
Do you feel you must write your cozies in a series? If so, why?
I think series are far more satisfying. Readers go to a fair amount of trouble to find books with characters and settings that they like. Once you’ve spent the time and money to find this new set of friends, you want to get some mileage out of them.
What are you writing now?
Critter from the Black Lagoon, book three in the Tripping Magazine mystery series. It involves the possibility of a prehistoric pig beast rampaging through Florida’s Ocala National Forest. It’s basically black-market paleontology meets extreme bacon.
Tell us about your newest mystery:
My most recently published is The Portrait of Doreene Gray. Portrait is about twin sisters in their fifties: one a painter, one a dissolute jet setter. The jet setter doesn’t appear to age, but the portrait her sister painted of her does. The story takes place in Port Townsend, Washington, on Puget Sound. The town’s frozen-in-time Victorian character lends itself to a nice gothic feel. It could have been a very dark book, but my three sleuths come barreling in like the Marx Brothers if the Marx Brothers were an aging Scot, a half-Asian sexpot, and a skeptic, working for a crappy travel magazine.
Where can we find out more about you and your books?
EsriAllbritten.com has big ol’ excerpts of all my current books, so you can try before you buy. If you want an ongoing look at the life of a writer, mostly involving pets and procrastination, then look me up on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/Esri.Allbritten
And for good measure, here’s a link to the free Christmas story I mention.
Visit Mystery Most Cozy to find out how to enter the drawing for one of her mysteries.
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