Wednesday, December 12, 2012

@ The Poisoned Pen with Paige Shelton and Jenn McKinlay

Thanks to a tweet from author Jenn McKinlay, I showed up at the Poisoned Pen last Saturday at the right time. (I'm used to Saturday author signings being scheduled for 2 PM, but this special one was at noon.) I showed up early, bought way too many books to haul home, and found a comfy leather wingback chair in which to sit and read while waiting to get a prime viewing seat for the signing.

One of the book clubs that the Poisoned Pen hosts was having their Christmas party, and I have to admit that I was paying just as much attention to their gathering as I was to my book. I hadn't been sitting long when I felt a touch on my arm and looked up to see the welcome sight of Lesa Holstine. Lesa (unfortunately for all of us here in Arizona) has a new job in Evansville, Indiana, and I knew this would be her last signing at the Poisoned Pen. Although I'm sad to see her go, after chatting with her, I'm excited for her, too. Next year Lesa's Book Critiques is going to have some wonderful posts telling of her adventures!

L to R: Jenn McKinlay, Paige Shelton, unidentified foot, Patrick Millikin

I'm going to digress a bit before I get into a short recap of the author signing. Any of you who may not be in the mood for a ramble can just scroll down to the next photo.

When the chairs cleared for the author signing, I grabbed my usual spot in the back row, but this time it meant that Lesa didn't have any place to sit that was within speaking distance, so I moved with her to the front row. Normally I avoid the front row because I take a few dozen photos during an author signing. It's not because I don't know how to operate a camera, it's because authors tend to be very expressive when they're speaking. It's always been my intention to post photos in which eyes are open, mouths are in becoming positions, and hands aren't a blur. With expressive people, this can be nigh on to impossible, so I snap away in hopes that at least three will turn out to be ones that won't make anyone cringe.

Sitting in the back row with my camera means that I can normally get shots that don't look as though they're aimed up the author's nose.  Sitting in the front row with Lesa meant that logistics were a bit trickier. Ah well. Someone I worked with years ago was famous for saying, "Cope and adjust!" So I did. But when authors Jenn McKinlay and Paige Shelton took their seats at the front, there sat Lesa and me, notebooks, pens, and camera at the ready. Those two poor women probably thought they walked into a press conference by mistake!

Host Patrick Millikin asked both women how they got their start writing books.

Paige Shelton
Salt Lake City resident Paige Shelton began writing in 1997, but nothing really happened for the next ten years until she sent a query to literary agent Jessica Faust. She didn't hear anything back, but for some reason Paige decided to send Jessica a second query email. Jessica replied within ten seconds, saying that she hadn't received the first.

The first book Paige wrote was a paranormal romance, and it was not well received. Jessica told her, "You have a good cozy mystery voice." Paige replied, "I love cozy  mysteries!" She then made a quick trip to the bookstore. "What's a cozy mystery?" she asked an employee. When she found out what they were, she was very relieved to know that she hadn't lied to Jessica.

Now Paige is the author of two series: the Farmer's Market series set in rural South Carolina (her latest, A Killer Maize, has just been released), and the Country Cooking School series set in the fictional town of Broken Rope in southern Missouri. The latest in the Cooking School series, If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance was released in October. What's in store for Paige Shelton's readers? If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion will be out next August, and an as-yet-untitled Christmas Farmer's Market book will be out next December.

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn McKinlay has been heard saying that she thought writing a romance novel would be easy. They definitely are not. She wrote a romantic comedy and didn't hear anything for a year. The call from Harlequin came when Jenn was caring for a newborn baby. "What book?" she asked in a fog of exhaustion, babe in arms. "This is usually when most people start screaming with excitement," the caller said. "I'd wake the baby," Jenn replied. Jenn subsequently wrote three romances for Harlequin, then there was a mutual parting of ways.

Jenn's husband is a lover of noir mysteries and thought she should try writing one. Jenn thought she wasn't smart enough to write a mystery, but she loves them, too, so she gave it a shot. Her first mystery didn't sell, but when asked if she'd like to try writing a decoupage mystery, she said yes. She went on to write three decoupage mysteries as Lucy Lawrence, but there wasn't much future in that particular craft. She now has three series: the Cupcake Bakery series set in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Library Lover's series set in Connecticut (Book, Line and Sinker was just released), and the Good Buy Girls series set in Virginia, which she writes as Josie Belle (A Deal to Die For will be released at the end of the month). What's in store for Jenn's readers? The Cupcake Bakery lovers have Going, Going, Ganache out next April, and a brand new hat shop series will debut in August with Cloche and Dagger. Jenn decided to try something a bit harder for her hat shop series. It is written in the first person and is set in England. She sent the book to Rhys Bowen and Deborah Crombie, both of whom loved it. Jenn also let us know that the fourth Library Lover's mystery will be Read It and Weep.

Jenn and Paige
Both these talented writers have a wonderful sense of humor and kept us all laughing. When asked about their writing styles, Jenn told us that it takes her about three months to write a book using a very structured outline. Paige looked at her and then said that it takes her seven to nine months to write a book beginning with just a spark of an idea and no outline. "When I write a book," Paige told us, "I've never guessed my own killer." Jenn looked at her in disbelief. "Now that just makes me want to kill myself," she quipped.

Jenn then went on to say that she always starts with dialogue. "I'm a horrible eavesdropper!" Her husband has vowed more than once that he'll never take her to another restaurant because their own conversation is peppered with such Jenn-like additions as "They're breaking up" or "She's crying".... 

Patrick asked them if there were guidelines for writing cozies because they don't seem to have profanity, sex, or violence-- all the elements he loves. Jenn admitted that it could be difficult because of the way cozy mysteries are marketed. Cozies have been on a surge, but now they've leveled off a bit and are looking for a bump up. Jenn thinks it might be time to turn things up a notch to see if the genre gets the bump that they're looking for. "I wish cozies would bust out a little more because I know there are a lot of people out there who would read them if they did."

Both Jenn and Paige are working on Young Adult paranormal books because that's one genre in which they can push the limits. "Right now YA is the one area where authors can put anything together and do anything."

Jenn often finds herself becoming frustrated with young girls today. Led by folks like the "Kartrashians", young girls are getting such mixed messages. She works with teens at the library. She sees intelligent girls come in looking like pole dancers. Jenn and Paige both think that girls need to read about strong women in books, characters with real backbone. "If I do write a noir, watch out-- it's going to be bad! All this feminist rage will come boiling up!" Jenn exclaimed.

What sort of advice do Paige and Jenn have for aspiring writers? "The best thing you can do," they say, "is to write every day."

What's my advice for readers who love cozies? Two things. One: read the books written by Paige Shelton and Jenn McKinlay. Two: If you have an opportunity to meet either one of them, take advantage of it. You'll enjoy yourself immensely!


  1. Cathy - Oh, thanks for posting about this! So glad you had a good time. And your comment about photographing people made me smile; I feel that way when I'm trying to get good shots of my almost-two-year-old grand-daughter, who is a Perpetual Motion Machine.

  2. Thanks for the recap, Cathy--it was almost as good as being there. Well, that's a lie because it obviously was SO MUCH MORE in person (books, party, clever repartee) but it was still really interesting to read about it. Now all I want to do is curl up beside the Dearborn stove in my library and read a cozy....

  3. Cathy, I'm going to miss catching up with you at the Poisoned Pen or some of their other events. I can still catch up with you and the authors here or on Facebook, though. Thank you for including me in this write up. I agree. Jenn & Paige are terrific. Hugs, my friend. I wish you and Dennis all the best in 2013 - happiness and good health.


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