Monday, August 19, 2013

@ The Poisoned Pen with Author Jenn McKinlay!

Late Thursday afternoon on August 8, my non-cozy reading husband and I hopped in the Jeep and headed over to The Poisoned Pen to see Jenn McKinlay. To be honest, Denis had asked me several times why we were going to see her. After all, he hadn't heard of her (he'd forgotten the times I talked about her after the CozyCons), and he really wasn't interested in reading cozies. I'd wager more than a few of you cozy readers have heard the same sort of thing from your husbands and boyfriends, right?  Each time he'd asked, I just smiled and told him, "It doesn't matter if you've read her books or even if you never intend to read them, you're going to like her!"

When we walked in the bookstore, a table loaded with Jenn's books and a selection of hats was front and center. Lea was behind the desk and saw me grab a copy of Cloche and Dagger off the table. "I'm supposed to tell everyone that the hats are not for sale," she told me. "They're safe from me. I hate wearing hats!" I replied. If Lea wondered why I was buying the first book in Jenn's new Hat Shop series, she kept it to herself.

"What's up with that hat?"

Jenn McKinlay and David Hunenberg
By the time Jenn and events coordinator David Hunenberg sat down to get things started, the room was filled-- and Denis wasn't the only male there. Jenn started by thanking Deborah Crombie for the blurb she'd written for Cloche and Dagger, and that she'd felt honored when Deborah had asked her to blog for Jungle Red Writers.

The inspiration for her new Hat Shop series was the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Jenn watched all of the wedding that was televised, and especially liked seeing the milliners' confections perched on the women's heads. When she saw Princess Beatrice's hat, she exclaimed, "What is up with that hat?!?" All the while Jenn was also thinking, "I need to set a book in London so I can visit." She's now a fan of Google Earth because that's where she found Portobello Road in London, and where she "walked" it many times before her trip last June. "I kinda wrote my own travel itinerary before I ever started writing the book," Jenn admits.

When she did begin work on Cloche and Dagger, she wondered if she would be able to write a believable British character, but decided that she couldn't pull it off. Then she had a brainstorm: "I know! I'll make her an 'idiot American'-- I can do that!" Besides being an American the main character, Scarlett Parker, is also a beginner at millinery which fits perfectly with Jenn's level of expertise.

While in London in June, Jenn was window shopping somewhere close to Kensington Palace when she spied a wonderful hat in a shop window. When asked if she was going to buy it, Jenn saw the $400 price tag and exclaimed, "No! I write the Bargain Hunters series, remember?"

The second book in the Hat Shop series titled Death of a Mad Hatter will be out next spring, and since I enjoyed Cloche and Dagger so much, I know I'll have to get my hands on that one. Besides, who could resist that title?

"Deborah Crombie is Masterpiece Theater. 
Me? I'm..."

Jenn McKinlay
We then talked about Jenn's other series. Jenn is a "hometown author." She lives in Scottsdale and works at the Burton Barr Library in Phoenix. A few of her friends and co-workers were there, as well as people like me who'd met and spoken with her before, and readers who were new to her books. But I'm pretty confident in believing that Jenn McKinlay would make a group of total strangers feel completely comfortable. She is a people person. She looks out at everyone in the audience, asks them questions, asks for their opinions... she engages people and makes them feel like they're an important part of what's going on. It creates a very special author event.

Jenn writes four different series: the  Cupcake Bakery series, the Library Lovers series, the Hat Shop series, and the Good Buy Girls series (as Josie Belle).  She considers it a break to write about different characters-- although she did turn in half a manuscript once where she'd used the wrong character's name.

She likes to write up a ten-page outline, one paragraph per chapter, for each book. "I need some kind of frame, but within that frame, I like to be constantly surprised." It takes her roughly two months to write a book "when you overschedule yourself," as Jenn says. When asked whom she writes for, Jenn said, "I write for me. If I read it and get bored, I know that it's bad." (Hopefully she laughs as often as I do whenever I read one of her books.)

Many of the librarians she works with are convinced that they're characters in Jenn's books-- especially the Library Lovers series. One character in that particular series was mentioned, and she told us all that Mrs. Cole (the librarian you love to hate) is a composite of several different people. On a personal note, I don't care if Mrs. Cole is a composite or not, I'm just miffed at Jenn's choice of surname for the eminently hate-able woman! And where does she get all those characters' names? She gets them from the phone book and then tries first names with them until something clicks.

When David Hunenberg told Jenn that Barbara Peters (owner of The Poisoned Pen) believes that "Jenn McKinlay is going to be big," I could've sworn that the writer blushed a bit. "Ah, Deborah Crombie is 'Masterpiece Theater'," she said. "Me? I'm 'Friends'... if they killed people."

"Did you want it personalized?"

Available Now!
As the evening drew to a close, Jenn asked us if we'd heard of the death of Barbara Mertz, a writer known to millions of fans as Elizabeth Peters and/or Barbara Michaels. "Barbara Mertz is one of the reasons why I became a writer," she said.

Jenn also told us that Dennis Lehane is another strong influence. Having the chance to meet him, she bought a copy of his latest book, stood in line, and when she got up to the man himself, her mind went completely blank. Ever the gentleman, Lehane waited patiently for the synapses in her brain to begin firing again, but finally had to ask her, "Did you want it personalized?"  Even then, Jenn couldn't think of many coherent things to say.

When she let us know that she's working on a novel featuring a private detective ("with bad language and sex"), I could feel a thrum of excitement in the room. "I know how to do a cozy. I want to push it a little." Everyone in the room is looking forward to reading the result. We all know how talented Jenn McKinlay is, and it is time for her to push it a little.

And what was Denis's opinion of the evening? "I really enjoyed myself," he said. "I wonder if Cloche and Dagger is out on audio?"


  1. Cathy - Oh, it sounds like a great time!! I so wish I lived closer to PP.

    1. So do I-- Denis and I would save a seat for you!

  2. So sorry about the surname, Cathy - I picked it before I met you :)
    Thanks for the best event write up - EVER!

    1. I'll survive, Jenn. ;-) Back where I was born and raised, Cole was an extremely common surname. Here in Arizona, not so much. I think it was the former librarian in me that objected the most!

  3. Like Margot, I'm jealous that you get to attend so many great events like this. I don't think authors and/or publishers ever heard of Binghamton, NY.

    1. To be honest, I hadn't heard of it either until you entered my life, Barbara! LOL If I still lived where I grew up, I know I'd be singing the blues. I don't even think Decatur has a bookstore anymore. :-(


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