Monday, February 09, 2015

Eva Gates and Kate Carlisle at The Poisoned Pen!

You never know what's going to happen when you attend an author event at The Poisoned Pen. At least that's what Denis and I have learned. Tuesday, February 3, just so happened to be one of those events with surprises in store. 

The evening's book haul
At first it started out like any other. I reserved our favorite seats and then gathered up the books I wanted to buy before settling down to read a few pages. 

I got so involved with my book (Elly Griffiths' The Zig Zag Girl, which is fabulous even if it's not a Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery) that I almost lost track of time and everything else around me. Denis was sitting beside me, busy working one of his electronic gizmos. For once I was wearing a watch (a very rare occurrence), and as I turned a page I noticed that it was time to mosey over to the folding chairs. (I don't know about the rest of you, but folding chairs are not meant for extended periods of sitting!)

Jenn and Donis ('s elbow) enjoying a pre-event chat.
I'd barely had enough time to get my camera and note pad out when two of my favorite authors, Jenn McKinlay and Donis Casey, arrived. Jenn declared that she was merely a chauffeur for the evening. After exchanging a few words, Jenn and Donis sat down and began to talk with each other while I checked my camera and sneaked a photo. See? Authors do attend these events just like us "normal" folks! 

I was in for another surprise a few minutes later. In case you weren't aware, "Eva Gates" is really author Vicki Delany in her writer-for-hire disguise. I had included her book, By Book or by Crook, in my February new mystery releases post. (What's not to like about a library in a lighthouse?) When I discovered that Gates was actually Delany, it was icing on the cake for this new book because I really enjoy Delany's Constable Molly Smith mysteries set in Canada. 

When Vicki arrived, she walked up to me and said, "You're Cathy, aren't you?" and shook my hand. I was more than a bit stunned. Vicki and I met once for a few minutes in 2012, and she remembered me! (I can't even say the memory trigger was my hair because we met before I went au naturel.)

"She just wants the night off!"

The evening began with host and bookstore owner Barbara Peters telling us that there will be a Cozy Con on Saturday, May 9, even though she's not sure of the location yet. I've attended both of the previous Cozy Cons, so this was very welcome news to me. Peters added that one of the guests would be author Carolyn Hart, whose last Death on Demand mystery will be published this year. Carolyn's granddaughter will be bringing her for what will probably be her last appearance. I'd barely begun wondering what sort of line-up there will be for this third Cozy Con, when talk at the front quickly switched to an island theme.

One of Vicki's daughters is a paramedic who lived on Turks and Caicos for a year. ("Mom, I've been to concerts with larger populations than Turks and Caicos!") Vicki visited her and decided to write a book set there. No one showed much interest in the book, and Vicki finally showed it to Barbara Peters at her Molly Smith home, Poisoned Pen Press. Barbara said that she'd never seen a series set in the Caribbean that did well-- which immediately led to comments about the upcoming author event for Timothy Williams who writes a mystery series set in (you guessed it) the Caribbean.

Then Barbara informed us that she wanted Jenn McKinlay up there with Vicki and Kate Carlisle so Barbara could sit in the audience and ask the occasional question. The switch was made while Jenn made us all laugh with remarks like "She's such a conniver! She just wants the night off!"

The fearsome funny foursome. L to R: McKinlay, Delany, Carlisle, and Peters.

"Would you be interested...?"

Once the switch was made, Kate Carlisle told us a bit about her latest book, This Old Homicide, the second book in the Fixer-Upper cozy series. The series is set in fictional Lighthouse Cove in northern California, a lovely town that's on the National Register of Historic Places. "It's really a mash-up of Ferndale and Mendicino," Kate told us. She derives most of her main character's expertise in construction and home restoration from her own father. (And this is where I let you know that I've just finished reading the first book in the series, A High-End Finish. I enjoyed it so much that I made sure to pick up this newest book!)

Talk wound back to Vicki. It seems that one of the folks at Penguin had an idea for a new cozy series and was looking for an author to write it. Penguin approached Vicki's agent, who happened to remember Vicki's book set in the Caribbean. "Would you be interested in writing this series for Penguin?" her agent asked. Vicki decided that, yes, she was interested in doing something different from her Constable Molly Smith series. 

Vicki Delany AKA Eva Gates
When asked by someone in the audience, Vicki talked for a minute about her "work for hire" series she's writing as Eva Gates. "Work for hire" means that she's been commissioned to write the series. Penguin owns the idea, the "Eva Gates" name, and the names of the main characters. When Vicki's contract is over, the publisher could decide to go with a different writer if they want the series to continue. This is an old concept in the publishing world. Take for example Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene. These two pen names were used by a variety of different writers to create the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery series.

Kate and Vicki then mentioned the similarity in their book covers. Both feature lighthouses-- Kate's lighthouse being in California and Vicki's in North Carolina. "We have both coasts covered," said Vicki. 

"Write what you want to know."

Vicki had never been to the Outer Banks, where the Lighthouse Library series is set, so she looked forward to a research trip. She drove for two days from her home in Toronto to Nag's Head, North Carolina. There was the Bodie Island Lighthouse standing tall, and Vicki couldn't wait to get inside to see where that fictional library was supposed to be. When she went to open the gate and walk through, she discovered there was a major problem. She'd arrived during our government shutdown, and she couldn't go in.

"One thing you hear over and over again about writing is 'Write what you know,'" Vicki said. "I've never really believed that. I think you should write what you want to know." Vicki drove all the way back to Toronto without seeing the inside of the lighthouse. She wrote By Book or by Crook, and a year later when she went back to the Outer Banks, she could finally take a look inside. "There are 210 steps to the top," Vicki said, "and yes-- I did go all the way up!"

After Barbara made a comment, Vicki did admit that having a library in a lighthouse isn't practical, but on paper it's perfect. We all agreed.

The Cone of Silence

Jenn McKinlay holding At the Drop of a Hat.
Jenn McKinlay had a question for the other two, but first she called for a cone of silence over everyone in the bookstore. "Especially you!" she said, pointing directly at me. I'm pretty sure she then lifted the ban, but if I'm wrong she probably won't let me have a cupcake when I go back to The Poisoned Pen for her party on Valentine's Day.

"This is my twenty-first book," Jenn said, leaning toward the other two writers. "You two have written right around the same number, so tell me... are you finding it harder to kill people?"

Vicki and Kate had to wait to give her their answers until we'd all stopped laughing.

"One of the fun things about writing is trying to find ways to kill people," Kate Carlisle said. "Besides, it's not about the method, it's about the why."

Vicki hasn't really had a problem either. "The problem I am going to have is location, and I think I've found a way around that. I can't have bodies piling up in the lighthouse, but the publisher insists that the major plot points must all occur there. But the main character isn't wearing one of those ankle bracelets, so she's able to get out and about!"

Kate Carlisle
"There appears to be a built-in obsolescence with some of these cozy series," Barbara Peters observed. "I can almost see some writer cycling through a list of concepts and changing the characters' names with each one. Do the publishers insist on having a murder in each book? If they don't, it could provide more flexibility."

The authors said that they thought others had tried to have a crime other than murder feature in books but that it just wasn't as successful.

"I also wanted to mention that all three of you have your roots in romance," Barbara said.

"Yes," Jenn replied. "Kate is the successful one. Vicki and I are failed."

"It's easier to find a body..." 

Jenn told us that she did start out writing by trying romance, but that it's "easier to find a body by page fifty" than writing a scene about two people "gazing across the room at each other."

Vicki agreed with Jenn. "I thought I'd try writing one. I don't know what they're like now, but back when I was going to write one, romance novels contained plenty of graphic sex scenes. When my teenage daughter learned what I was going to do, she said, 'I'm not going to read a sex scene written by my mother!' I thought about it and replied, 'I don't want you to either!'"

There was a powerful chemistry in the room with these three irrepressible writers and the indomitable Barbara Peters. They were making me laugh so hard that not only was I having a hard time taking notes, I was beginning to think that they should take their comedy routine on the road!

Kate Carlisle, who is still in the genre, told us that she's having so much fun with her new Fixer-Upper series that she's put her romance novels on hold to concentrate on her mysteries.

When asked if she still had anything to do with romance novels, Vicki said, "I've read 'em, but I don't care for 'em"-- looking quickly over at Kate-- "but I'm sure yours are excellent!"

Changes at The Poisoned Pen

Barbara introducing new staff member John

Barbara told us, "I am a closet romance reader. You think I only read crime fiction, but you are so wrong! I've memorized Georgette Heyer."

She then introduced us to the newest staff member, John, who will be taking over responsibility for the paperback section of the monthly BookNews. John specializes in romance, and he and Ariel are going to be in charge of the new romance and women's fiction section of the BookNews. (The Poisoned Pen just happens to have a page dedicated to the BookNews along with directions on how to subscribe to their weekly emails. Sign up-- you'll be glad you did!)

We then spent the next few minutes talking about favorite writers in romance and romantic suspense. Mary Stewart's name came up as well as Eleanor Hibbert's, who wrote as Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr, and Jean Plaidy. I wasn't the only person in the room to begin learning about European queens by reading "Jean Plaidy." Barbara really admired Hibbert. "She lived at sea, and when she died, she was buried at sea," Barbara said.

What's Up Next?

Available Now!
Someone in the audience wanted to know what was next for these talented writers, and they were more than happy to tell us.

"The next Lighthouse Library mystery is Booked For Trouble, and it will be out in September," Vicki Delany told us. "I've also started writing another cozy series under my own name. It's the Christmas Town series which takes place in Rudolph, New York, where they celebrate Christmas and solve murders all year round." Her Constable Molly Smith fans in the audience started to frown, so Vicki quickly added, "There will be a new Molly Smith in 2016!"

Kate Carlisle's third Fixer-Upper mystery is titled Crowned and Moldering and will be out in November. In this book, Shannon finally begins work on the lighthouse mansion. This June will see the ninth Bibliophile mystery, Ripped From the Pages, on the shelves.

Available Now!
Jenn McKinlay will be back at The Poisoned Pen on Saturday, February 14, with cupcakes and chocolate to celebrate her newest Hat Shop mystery, At the Drop of the Hat, which is dedicated to Barbara Peters and the staff of the bookstore. (I'll be getting some of their signatures as well as Jenn's on my copy!)

The Zombie Walk in Old Town Scottsdale features in April's release of the newest Cupcake Bakery mystery, Dark Chocolate Demise. (Jenn is still upset with the sales department of Penguin who wouldn't let her have the title she really wanted: "The Baking Dead.") 

September will see the final Good Buy Girls mystery, All Sales Final, which she writes as Josie Belle, and November will see Jenn's first book in hardcover. Yes, the Library Lovers series has gone hardcover, and November will see the release of A Likely Story!

"Is this like junior high school?"

Vicki Delany, who's new to the world of cozy  mysteries, is still a bit mystified about the titles. "How far can you stretch a pun?" she asked us. We all admitted that the punny titles were lots of fun, but little did we know that a can of highly competitive little worms had been opened.

Available Now!
Kate looked out at us and said, "Jenn McKinlay is absolutely ruthless. I don't even tell her my titles anymore since she got Books Can Be Deceiving first. When that happened, I didn't speak to her for weeks!"

Barbara tried to calm the waters with "You can always tell when a series has become successful  because the titles no longer matter. Buyers will say, 'Give me the latest Kate Carlisle.'"

"When the Library Lovers series went to hardcover, I had to ask for my name to be on the top and the title on the bottom," Jenn said. "Kate's books are that way...." She then mentioned different positions on the New York Times Bestseller List, and although I didn't have time to scribble down what she said, I got the idea that the positioning was in her favor and not in Kate's.

Barbara shook her head. "Is this like junior high school?" she asked while we all laughed. Book lovers know that authors are competitive, and it was fun to see that rear its head a bit this evening-- especially since it was done in jest. These women are friends, and it shows.

Back on the subject of titles, Jenn mentioned talking to another author friend Maggie Sefton about how Maggie got her titles. "Oh, let your fans title your books. You'll be good for twenty years!" Maggie told her.

From titles to pets. Kate's brother has a dog he named Brooklyn after Kate's main character in the Bibliophile mysteries. "The dog has now been renamed Shannon for the main character in my Fixer-Upper series," Kate said.

"That dog's going to need to spend some time with a therapist," Vicki deadpanned.

See what I mean? I'd pay good money to watch the wit fly with these women!

When the event ended and Denis and I were on our way home, Denis looked over at me and said, "That was fun!" I couldn't agree more. And I'll let you in on a little secret. Two little secrets. One, he didn't know Jenn was going to be there. (Denis likes Jenn.) Two, he was a bit hesitant about going because Vicki and Kate write cozies-- the one type of mystery that Denis doesn't read. But like a loving husband, he came with me anyway. He sat there. He listened. He laughed. And he had just as much fun as I did.

I had a big old grin on my face as we headed home. (I'm trying to figure out how to disguise a cozy so he'll read one....)


  1. What a fun event! And you are famous, Cathy! I'm still trying to figure out how to make a portal from Central Texas to Scottsdale. One I could just step through and be at the Poisoned Pen. I was amazed to see that Vicki Delany was the new author of BY BOOK OR BY CROOK. I will admit that I have not been reading many cozies for a while. I suspect eventually that will change, but I seem to be on a British crime novel binge. I did read one of Donis' books recently and loved it. Have only one more to catch up on her Alafair series. And I was thinking that I am also behind on my Molly Smith readings. I may read one of those next. Loved your post!!

    1. I love Donis's books, too, but a British crime novel binge isn't bad either. Decisions, decisions!

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Kay!

  2. I love these special reports from the PP, Cathy :-). The events are great, and you do such an effective job of capturing the best quotes and moments.

    1. Thanks, Margot. I'm glad you enjoy them.

  3. Cathy, you and Denis make me laugh. Always delightful to see you both. Thanks for a fabulous write up - it really was a fun evening! Jenn

    1. Looking forward to seeing you Saturday (and snagging a cupcake for Denis)!

  4. How fun! Hope to make one of these events some day, but never hear about any my neck of the woods! (Western NY) ;)

    1. So glad you stopped by, Leni! I know what a problem it is for many readers to attend an event like this. There weren't any at all where I was born and raised, so I know how lucky I am to live so close to such a fabulous bookstore!


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