Monday, May 13, 2013

Second Verse As Good As the First: CozyCon 2013

After having such a fabulous time at the very first CozyCon last year, I was one of the first to sign up to attend this year at the Burton Barr main branch of the Phoenix Public Library. I drove all the way from my house to the library stopping only once at a light, and I took that as a sign of good things to come. Then I walked into the conference room and sighed. I'd forgotten how rotten the lighting is in this room. Oh well. I may not take many decent photos, but as long as my ears work and I don't forget how to write, I'm still in good shape!

I found a prime spot, set down my stuff, and introduced myself to the other folks at the table before heading back to sign in. Back at the table, I chatted with the others while I indulged in my favorite past time: people watching. I really went into high gear when the authors headed on up to the stage. The authors attending this year (in alphabetical order):

  • Juliet Blackwell, author of the Witchcraft and Haunted Home Renovation series set in California.
  • Deborah Coonts, author of the Lucky O'Toole series set in Las Vegas.
  • Ashley Gardner, author of the Captain Lacey series set in Regency England.
  • Carolyn Haines, author of the Southern Belle series featuring Sarah Booth Delaney and set in Mississippi.
  • Beth Kendrick, author of The Week Before the Wedding and The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service.
  • Victoria Laurie, author of the Abby Cooper Psychic Eye series as well as the Ghost Hunter mysteries.
  • Jenn McKinlay, author of these series: Cupcake Bakery, Library Lovers, Hat Shop, Decoupage Murder, and the Good Buy Girls. (How does she find time to work at the library?!?)
  • Jenny Milchman, author of Cover of Snow.
  • Michael Robertson, author of the Baker Street Brothers mysteries.
Author Frederick Ramsay, who's written two mysteries set in Botswana as well as the Ike Schwartz and Jerusalem mystery series, was scheduled to attend but couldn't make it because he was in the hospital. (Hope he's okay!)

L to R: Deborah Coonts, Juliet Blackwell, Victoria Laurie, Beth Kendrick, Jenn McKinlay

CozyCon started out with each author spending about five minutes introducing themselves and telling us a bit about their books. Jenn McKinlay (who works at the Burton Barr Library) was most excited about her new Hat Shop series which is set in London-- especially since she'll be visiting there in June. This lady comes up with some of the best titles in the business; the first two books in her new series are Cloche and Dagger (due in August) and Death of a Mad Hatter. She called the series an "I Love Lucy - Agatha Christie mash-up."

Beth Kendrick, who teaches adults at Phoenix College, told us that she thinks research is the best part of writing and called her book The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service "Sweet Home Alabama and Dirty Dancing with a dog."

When Barbara Peters asked Victoria Laurie if this was her first time at CozyCon, Laurie replied with a twinkle in her eye, "Yes. I was a virgin before." Laurie then told us about being in Lexington, Massachusetts, where the Revolutionary War began, when she kept hearing musket fire that no one else could hear. This incident gave her the idea for her Ghost Hunter series.

Juliet Blackwell told us of fans coming up to her at signings and asking specific questions about one of her books. Since she writes more than one series and she's already writing another book, the details can become fuzzy about the previous ones. "Now I try to read my own book before I go on a tour." The Haunted Home Renovation series is dear to her heart because "Mel's dad is my dad." (And is it any wonder that this particular series is Juliet's father's favorite?)

Deborah Coonts
Deborah Coonts (whom Barbara Peters described as "kickass") told us, "I love writing in Las Vegas because if you can't find a story in Vegas, then you're asleep under a bridge." Coonts had us all laughing when she told us about the snob she met who condescendingly told her that he only read literary fiction and then asked who she was. "I'm a shallow commercial fiction hack," she replied. Nonplussed, the snob asked her what she'd written. "Wanna Get Lucky?" was her answer. The snob began to resemble a deer caught in the headlights as she told him the titles of the other books she's written: "Lucky Stiff... So Damn Lucky... and my latest book is Lucky Bastard." The snob looked at her for a couple of seconds and said, "You do know there is some innuendo in those titles?" As Deborah said-- Ya think?

Jenny Milchman kept telling us that she has no sense of humor, but she kept making us laugh. None of us believed her. Cover of Snow is her debut novel, but it's actually the eighth book she's written. When she submitted a 180,000-word manuscript to one agent, he told her that "I did not want to spend that much time in your neurotic protagonist's head." Once Jenny had calmed down, she cut 60,000 words out of the manuscript... and got a publisher. Milchman told us of all the rejections she'd received, and that "if you start getting rejected by famous people, you think 'I'm close!'" We were especially touched when Jenny told us about the help and support she's been given by fellow author Nancy Pickard.

When author Carolyn Haines was growing up in a small Mississippi town, she wanted to be Nancy Drew... and she wanted to be a cowgirl. Now she writes mysteries and runs a non profit animal rescue organization. "It's taken me thirteen years to get to Phoenix because I'm the sole animal caregiver," Haines told us. She not only writes and takes care of animals, she also teaches at the University of South Alabama. Her latest book, The Darkling, is a departure from her Sarah Booth Delaney series, and... "I hope it scares you!"

In 1981, Michael Robertson first wrote The Baker Street Letters as a screenplay, but he was told "I don't think you have a film here, I think you have a series of novels." This is something Robertson didn't want to hear because "it wouldn't fit my dream of having a Hollywood lifestyle." When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the two hundred block of Baker Street did not exist. In the 1930s, Baker Street was extended, and the business that occupied the new block-- Abbey House-- started receiving mail addressed to the famous detective. This fact fired Robertson's imagination, and now there are three books in the series.

Ashley Gardner
Ashley Gardner is also known as bestselling romance writer Jennifer Ashley. Her Regency mystery series features Captain Gabriel Lacey, a hero who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and clinical depression. "I was younger than Lacey when I started writing this series, and now I'm older than he is. Somehow I don't think that's fair," Jennifer told us.

She's written 50 books under three different names and has turned to self-publishing her work, which has turned out to be very successful.

Author Jenn McKinlay had put together several dozen swag bags for us, so when we broke for lunch, I headed back to get a swag bag and a bottle of water. When I returned to  my table, McKinlay came over and sat with me. She'd been following my updates on Facebook the entire time Denis and I were in the UK, so we sat and chatted away about England.

Before the first panel began, Barbara Peters took the time to fill us in on some of the things that have been happening in the publishing industry. Publishers were geared up for all the big box stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble. Railroad cars filled with James Patterson novels (for example) began the journey to Barnes and Noble, never even stopped at one of the stores, and headed straight to the recyclers. Then the eBook craze began. Where there were 89 large publishing houses in the US, now there are only 5... and all but one of them are foreign-owned. "What does this mean?" Barbara asked us. "Now there is room for small publishers." We just need to see what format the books will be published in.

Ashley Gardner then told us about her experience with digital publishing. She got the rights to all her Captain Lacey books before her editor left. At the time chick-lit mysteries were the only books selling, and another editor suggested that she kill Captain Lacey and focus on a female character in subsequent books. She disagreed. She rewrote all the books and spent $100 to have them digitally published, and through hard work and a good head for business, she's never looked back.

Peters told us that Dana Stabenow had her first nine out of print books published digitally, and sales allowed the author to pay off her mortgage. Furthermore, according to Barbara, historical novels have the best sales in digital format. Who knew?

L to R: Barbara Peters, Deborah Coonts, Jenny Milchman, Beth Kendrick, Jenn McKinlay

On the Nothing Like a Dame panel (photo above), the authors piqued our interest by telling us bits and pieces about some of the fan mail they've received. Jenn McKinlay said, "Cozy readers tend not to like any kerfluffle in their characters' relationships, so I've been getting a lot of hate mail this year." Deborah Coonts had a fan write to tell her that "Lucky would never wear turquoise." They all knew of authors who'd received letters saying that the writer would commit suicide if their favorite characters didn't get together and stay together. (Seems to me that's taking your reading just a mite too seriously....)

L to R: Peters, Robertson, Gardner
One of the interesting facts brought up during the Historical Mystery panel with Barbara Peters, Michael Robertson and Ashley Gardner was how all sorts of typical crime fiction scenes have changed in the past decade with the onslaught of TSA airport regulations, cell phones, and tweeting, among other things.

Both authors then stressed the importance of getting both the physical and historical landscapes correct in their books.

L to R: Peters, Haines, Laurie, Blackwell
The Paranormal and Psychic panel was manned by Barbara Peters, Carolyn Haines, Victoria Laurie, and Juliet Blackwell.

Carolyn Haines, who grew up in a creepy old house and had a family who liked to scare each other to death, told us, "What you believe is your reality." The author once bought a pickup truck at auction, not realizing until afterwards that the truck came complete with a ghost that Haines could see. The ghost kept trying to talk to her, and she just couldn't face the thoughts of getting in that truck.

Victoria Laurie
Victoria Laurie is an actual psychic, and she told us a bit about growing up with this ability. As a teenager, she would blurt things out and then think that what she said was causing things to happen. As a result she became introverted and happier with books than with people. It wasn't until a woman recognized the fact that Victoria was psychic that things began to slowly straighten themselves out. Victoria told us, "Psychic ability is nothing but listening to your intuition and putting it into words." Friend and fellow author Juliet Blackwell told us that she can attest to Laurie's "uncanny abilities. It makes her hard to hang out with at times."

Time flew by at this year's CozyCon, and I couldn't believe it when we were told that time was up. If there's a CozyCon III, I'm in. I'll even try to be the first to sign up instead of number 8. I wouldn't miss the chance to meet and talk with so many authors whose books I've had the pleasure of reading. Had I read books by all the authors at this year's CozyCon? No... but I now have additions to my to-be-read shelves so that I can rectify that!

If you ever get the chance to attend something similar, by all means take it. It's so much fun to meet other people who share your passions, and it's a blast to Writer Watch... to see how authors interact with each other and with their fans. To see which authors pay close attention to the fans seated at the tables, or which ones seem camera shy, or nervous, or the ones who are outspoken or have the best sense of humor. Writer Watching (and listening) is a wonderful thing to do. Almost as wonderful as reading their books.


  1. What an awesome event! You are so lucky to have been able to see such a great group of authors.

    1. Don't I know it! I'm extremely fortunate to live in the same metropolitan area as Barbara Peters, the mastermind behind it all!

  2. I so wish I had been there. I could have plopped down alongside ya and we could have people watched and chatted the day away....Are you on for the conference in July??

    Thanks for the play-by-play. It was not QUITE as good as being there---but I'll take it! Thanks a bazillion for keeping me updated.

    1. I'm still on the fence about the Conference in July, Gaye.

  3. Oh how fun! I love Deborah Coonts' Lucky O'Toole series and have read a couple of Victoria Laurie's Abby Cooper series. Next I'd love to try one of Beth Kendrick's books.

    1. I have yet to read any of Deborah Coonts' books, but after CozyCon, I certainly bought the first book in the series in a hurry!


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