Monday, May 26, 2014

@ The Poisoned Pen with Hannah Dennison and Jenn McKinlay!

Early on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon, I left Denis to get himself ready for work, and our trusty Jeep took me over to my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. As I drove, I came to the conclusion that it was better to drive across town during rush hour than it was to take the same trip on a Saturday afternoon. Why? Because people know they have to have at least 50% of their attention on the road during rush hour, while everyone else on the road that Saturday seemed to have forgotten how to drive. A couple of times, I thought about pulling over to check the Jeep for bull's-eyes; I seemed to be a prime target on Indian School Road.

Fortunately the Jeep and I made it over to Scottsdale in one piece, and when I walked into the bookstore, I realized that I'd forgotten that it was the day before Mother's Day-- the place was hopping with customers, and that made me smile. Today was my chance to see two talented writers, Hannah Dennison and Jenn McKinlay. I'd been looking forward to this event, and possibly even the tea and cupcakes that were going to be served.

"For women who aren't interested 
in serial killers..."

Just before host and bookstore owner Barbara Peters came out, I had another treat: Donis Casey, author of the wonderful Alafair Tucker historical mysteries, sat down across the aisle, and I was able to talk with her about her book that's being released in early June. (Hell With the Lid Blown Off-- it's a good'un!)

Before Barbara introduced Dennison and McKinlay, she talked a bit about an upcoming event for two romantic suspense authors, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig, who will be appearing at The Poisoned Pen on June 11. "I wanted to focus a bit on books for women who aren't interested in serial killers," Peters said.

Then it was time for Hannah and Jenn!

L to R: Barbara Peters, Hannah Dennison, Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay recently stopped working as a librarian to devote herself full-time to her writing. "I hate it," she said. "It's been a week and a half, and I haven't even finished writing a book proposal."  Hannah Dennison has her own problems. Her husband's job transferred him to Portland, Oregon, so Hannah now lives in Portland and commutes back to Los Angeles for her work. "I don't have any friends now," she said with a pout and a smile.

"Barbara Cartland in..."

Hannah Dennison
"You have a new series and a new publisher now," Peters remarked.

"Yes," Dennison replied. "The first book is Murder at Honeychurch Hall, and I now know that there is a tiny hamlet called Honeychurch in Devon where the series is set."

The country house, Honeychurch Hall, is based on a house from Dennison's childhood when she used to live in the estate's gatehouse. "Writing the book was great actually," Hannah told us. "I can get revenge on my mother!" She also based her main character, Kat, on her daughter Sarah. "I remember driving Sarah to school once during that sullen teenage period when she turned to me and demanded, 'Do you have to breathe like that?'"

Peters observed that the fictional estate in Dennison's book is marvelous: "It's almost impossible to set a book in a huge old country house and not have a Gothic element to it."

Available Now!
Dennison agreed. "The country house I used as the inspiration for Honeychurch Hall was a party house during the Naughty Nineties [1890s]. The house is 600 years old, and the owner is restoring it back to its former glory. He's also well acquainted with its ghosts."

The main character in Murder at Honeychurch Hall is Kat Stanford, a television celebrity who's quit her program Fakes & Treasures in hopes of opening an antique shop and living above it with her mother. Kat learns a great deal about her mother in the book-- one of the things being the fact that Iris has written steamy romance novels for years. "Yes, she's a bit of a Barbara Cartland in the Attic," quipped Barbara. 

"I am clear-headed; it's the unemployment!"

Barbara Peters then turned to Jenn McKinlay whose latest Hat Shop mystery, Death of a Mad Hatter, has also just been released. In answer to Barbara's question about writing a series that takes place in England, Jenn replied, "The research is fantastic, but I knew I couldn't write a main character who's British. Now American... I can do American!" She then went on to say that she'd found a book of British slang, Knickers in a Twist, that she's found to be very useful.

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn nodded in agreement when Barbara Peters said, "It's almost like writing an historical novel with the research, isn't it?" Hannah also nodded and said, "Two countries divided by a common language!"
Peters looked out at the audience and asked, "Did you know that Scholastic had the Harry Potter books translated for American readers?"  Many of us did, and that reminded me that I would really like to read those books in their original language. (If there are any bits that I don't understand, I can always ask Denis, my in-house translator.)

Before talking about Jenn's latest Hat Shop mystery, Barbara asked her to give us a short synopsis of the first book, Cloche and Dagger. Anyone who's attended one of Jenn's events knows that this woman not only has a husband and two teenage boys, she writes FOUR series. (How did she manage to do it all when she had a job, too?!?) Once she's finished writing a book, it goes completely out of her head because she's already started working on the new one in another series. True to form, Jenn tried valiantly to give us that synopsis, but we had to tell her the main character's name (Scarlett Parker). Everyone in the room was laughing, and Jenn looked at us and asked, "How many of you have read the first one?" When almost every single one of us raised our hands, she said, "Good! I really don't have to talk about that one then!"

She and Barbara then began to talk a bit about the origin of the term "mad hatter" (Lewis Carroll doesn't own it), and Barbara shook her head and said, "I never thought millinery was murderous, but I can see that I was wrong!"

What the future holds...

Fans in the audience then began to ask about future books in her other series. Jenn was scrambling madly to put some facts together, laughing and saying, "I am clear-headed; it's the unemployment! I miss the structure!" Evidently some of the contracts for her series are up for renewal. Her Cupcake series will have eight books (there are six so far); and the Hat Shop five (the second book has just been released). The contract for the Library Lovers series is almost up, and Jenn isn't sure that the series will continue. Groans could be heard all over the bookstore, and Jenn promised to write a wrap-up book if the series ends. Her Good Buy Girls series that she writes as Josie Belle is almost concluded; McKinlay declined a new contract on that one.

"People write me all the time asking 'Will you kill me in a book?' Sure! How do you want to die?" Jenn laughed.

Available Now!
Mentioning fans getting in touch with her turned the talk to Facebook. Hannah Dennison said, "Oh yes... I have so many friends from Nigeria!" Jenn nodded in sympathy. McKinlay had been told that having a Facebook page had a 4% impact on book sales, but responding to everyone was becoming completely unmanageable. Regardless the impact on book sales, Jenn closed down her Facebook page, waited a while, and then came back with a business page for her books, and a personal page just for family. It didn't seem to have any negative effect on her sales, and she finds the two pages a much more organized way to keep in touch with family and fans.

Hannah was asked why she had a new publisher and a new series, to which she replied that her Vicky Hill series had not been renewed by Berkley. This turned the talk to author events, writers, and all sorts of things.

"The book version of 'Friends' or 'Cheers'..."

Barbara told us that some authors simply refuse to do book tours. Dean Koontz is one of them. She described a party Koontz once gave for 100 booksellers where she and the other attendees sat around totting up how much money the author had spent on the party and how many better ways it could have been spent.

Someone mentioned Nora Roberts, whom Peters described as "the only author who writes more than Jenn. I think Roberts finishes a new book every two months or something. She's another author who won't do book tours."

L to R: Dennison, McKinlay
Barbara also thinks that Westerns are on the way back, and with the popularity of Longmire on A&E, I would have to agree. Of course, I'm one of those baby boomers who grew up with dozens of Westerns on television. 

Never leave one of these events early. In the final minutes as they wind down, you can still learn some pretty amazing things. For instance, this afternoon Barbara Peters told us that, as a child growing up in the Chicago area, "Ann-Margret used to wear my clothes." We hadn't even had time for that to completely soak in before she added, "And Rock Hudson was my mother's mailman."

Getting back to the topic of books, Peters described the cozy-- or traditional-- mystery as "the book version of Friends or Cheers," and we agreed. She then turned to Jenn McKinlay and asked her about a story she'd heard about the name of McKinlay's next Cupcake mystery. "Oh yes!" Jenn said. "I thought I had the perfect title: The Baking Dead. Everyone I talked to thought it was perfect, but the Sales Department turned it down flat. So the title has been changed to Dark Chocolate Demise."

Hannah Dennison ended the perfect afternoon by making us all laugh. "I've always wanted to title a book 'I Swore I Set that Donkey Free Before I Left Beijing'!"

If any of you are wondering about Hannah's and Jenn's latest books, you won't have to wait very long to get an opinion. My review of Death of a Mad Hatter will be up and running on Tuesday with Murder at Honeychurch Hall following close behind on Thursday.

Don't forget to join me next Monday on my next trip to The Poisoned Pen!


  1. Cathy - Oh, lovely, another virtual trip to PP. You are so fortunate to have all these great experiences.

  2. What a great post!!

    THANKS for sharing this wonderful adventure you had.


    1. You're welcome, Elizabeth. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Hannah and Jenn are two of my favorite people and their books are tremendous fun to read. (and thanks for the shout out, Cathy)

    1. You're welcome, Donis. They're two of my favorite people as well-- and so are you. Best of luck with your new book. If I had anything to do with it, it would be a NYT bestseller!


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