Monday, June 16, 2014

@ The Poisoned Pen with Lauren Willig and Beatriz Williams!

Last Wednesday, Denis and I found our way back to our favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen, in Scottsdale, Arizona.The evening was a rather feminine one for Denis, since we were going to be seeing authors Lauren Willig and Beatriz Williams, but with the promise of a stop at the Cornish Pasty afterwards, he didn't mind!

When we walked in the store, the staff were as welcoming as ever, but they seemed a bit subdued. "We're running on fumes," Patrick Millikin admitted. They had good reason to be. The Poisoned Pen held the release day party for Diana Gabaldon's Written in My Own Heart's Blood in the Grand Ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore the evening before. Dealing with over 5,000 copies of the book (all those mail orders!) and over 800 attendees meant very tired employees indeed, but I know everything was done with their usual style and enthusiasm.

A few minutes before 7 PM, bookstore owner Barbara Peters walked in and took a seat. "Lauren and Beatriz will be here in a few minutes. I took them out for wine-- which should mean an even better program." Barbara took this time to introduce us to another author in our midst-- Shona Patel. "I was stranded for 20 hours on a sandbank in a river in Burma with nothing but a copy of Shona's book and the boat's cappuccino machine. I didn't mind one bit. Teatime for the Firefly is one of my favorite books of 2014," Barbara enthused. "You should have seen my face when I found out the author lives in Fountain Hills!" [Part of the general Phoenix metropolitan area.]

Peters then talked with us about more of her favorite books: Nicola Upson's historical mystery series featuring author Josephine Tey, and the books of Tey herself.

Right out of Mad Men

L to R: Barbara Peters, Lauren Willig, Beatriz Williams

We'd just wrapped up our chat about Josephine Tey when two young women came to take their seats, looking as though they'd just stepped out of the 1960s. "We decided to dress like we'd just finished filming an episode of Mad Men," Lauren Willig said as she smoothed her skirt. Most people, having seen these two looking so cool and fresh, would never dream that it was a typical June evening in the Valley of the Sun (which means the temperature was well over 100°F). 

Barbara then welcomed everyone in the bookstore-- and everyone who would watch via Livestream-- to what she called Mary Stewart Night. "It's easy to forget that mysteries encompass more than police, detectives, and serial killers," Peters said. "I for one don't care for serial killers, and I intend to focus a bit more on what many people call romantic suspense. I'm very glad Lauren and Beatriz could come this evening."

Lauren Willig is one of the bubbliest, most animated speakers I've seen in a long, long time. She is constantly smiling, and when she speaks, she speaks with the entire upper half of her body-- even her hair. Of all the photos Denis and I took this evening, I lost count of how many showed Lauren with some part of her blurred in perpetual motion. This woman's enthusiasm is infectious!

Lauren Willig
"I grew up on 'house books'-- especially the ones written by Barbara Michaels," Lauren said. "My favorite part of writing That Summer was creating my own Pre-Raphaelite artist, and-- I kid you not-- shortly after I turned in the book... the revisions were done... I saw a headline in the Guardian saying 'Lost Pre-Raphaelite Painting Found Behind Old Wardrobe'. You can't make this stuff up!"

Barbara Peters then said to Beatriz and Lauren, "Your books aren't 'time travel' or 'time slip' like Diana Gabaldon's, but more like 'time jump' because both your books jump back and forth between two storylines in two different time frames." Both women agreed, and then there came a brief scene that would warm the cockles of any book lover's heart. Barbara told them a bit about Shona Patel's Teatime for the Firefly and handed them a copy of the book. Both women grabbed at the book and-- literally-- ooohed and ahhed as they examined the cover and the synopsis on the back.

"More coffee!"

Beatriz Williams
"I didn't consciously set out to write a time jump novel," Beatriz Williams said. The basis of her book is a story from her husband's family. Williams then lapsed into a brief section of sports terms, then laughed and explained that her husband was a big baseball fan so she's gotten used to talking in baseball analogies.

While Lauren's That Summer involves a modern-day woman inheriting a house in London that figured into the life of an unknown Pre-Raphaelite painter, Beatriz's The Secret Life of Violet Grant begins with her main character receiving an old suitcase in the mail from a relative she didn't know she had. The character of Aunt Julie in the book ties into Williams' previous book, A Hundred Summers.

Beatriz and Lauren met five years ago. They've both gotten used to going to a local Starbuck's-- or someplace similar-- to escape the distractions of their homes in order to write. They get together regularly, along with fellow author Karen White ("the three W's!" as Lauren told us), to catch up with each other's lives and to talk writing.

"I can be having a plot problem, or a character may not be behaving herself, and I can ask them 'What do I do?'" Lauren told us. "The answer is usually more coffee!"

"We really don't talk about the books we're writing," Beatriz said, "but in the past couple of years Lauren and I have written books with similar themes."

At this moment, the two thought up an email contest for those of us present, and I took the time to catch up on my notes. Lauren and Beatriz were throwing out so many thoughts and ideas that the end of my pen was smoking!

"... a military operation!"

Available Now!
Lauren told us about popularity contests she sometimes holds on her website. "It's like voting for Prom King and Queen," she laughed. Since she now has a ten-month-old baby at home, getting ready to "come here was like a military operation!"

Lauren's next book will be The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, the eleventh in the Pink Carnation romantic thriller series. It's set in London during the vampire craze, and yes, it's meant to be a spoof of our present-day glittery vampires.

Beatriz's next book is a follow-up to A Hundred Summers. It's set on Cape Cod in 1966, centering on Vivian's sister Tiny. The working title of the book is Tiny Little Thing, although Beatriz doesn't think her publishers are going to allow her to keep it. She also let us know that she writes historical romance novels under the pen name Juliana Gray.

Available Now!
The pair had even more news to share: they are collaborating on a novel that is scheduled for release in 2016. It is set in 1944 in a Gilded Age mansion in New York City that has been converted into a convalescent home for wounded officers. This book also time jumps from a failed romance in the 1890s to a failed romance in the 1920s and back to 1944.

"I really think you two should think about conducting a workshop on collaborative writing," Barbara Peters said. "I also like how the novel is set in the U.S. Gothic doesn't necessarily mean English!"

"When we walk into an old house, we immediately begin making up stories about the people who lived in them," said Beatriz.

Influences and Work Habits

"You've borrowed story lines from Shakespeare for your books..." Barbara began.

Beatriz Williams
"I think I borrowed a bit from Middlemarch and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for That Summer," Lauren said. 

"I've been reading The Fly in the Cathedral about the race to split the atom, and some Victorian pornography called My Secret Life," Beatriz admitted. "The whole time I was reading My Secret Life-- which is supposed to  be a true story-- I couldn't help wondering what on earth was this like for his wife!

All three women-- and many of us in the audience-- knew that the Victorians weren't as strait-laced as some would have us believe. "There's a strange aura of desire and virtue that permeates the entire Victorian era," Lauren said. 

Lauren's next standalone is set in 1927 London. The main character's mother dies of influenza, and when she goes back for the funeral, she finds a scrapbook and learns that her life-- even her own name-- are all a lie. "I listened to a Jeeves and Wooster soundtrack while I was writing about all these bright young things," Lauren said. "This is only the second book I've written that has a single romance within one single timeline."

Willig has had people tell her that her character in the Pink Carnation series is too far-fetched. "I'll have you know that there was a 40-year-old English woman who went undercover as a cabin boy on a French frigate during the Napoleonic Wars. The Pink Carnation series is not all that far-fetched!"

Lauren Willig
"The Night the Clock Struck Death is the first book I ever wrote," Lauren told us. "It had twin sisters as the sleuths because if one Nancy Drew is good, two are even better, right? And the bad guy was my algebra teacher. I was nine when I sent my book to Simon and Schuster."

"I cannot work at home," Williams said. "There's too much to do. I try to spend three or four hours in a local Starbuck's or diner so I can concentrate. Sometimes things can get a little hectic. I have had naked kids running around the house while I was finishing a book. You don't have time to navel gaze or wonder if you're happy when you're busy." 

When asked about the most important part of writing a book was for her, Beatriz said, "It's in finding a hook for a satisfying ending."  

Lauren replied, "For me, it's more about understanding my characters. I do so much dithering, and I rewrite the first three chapters many, many times. I don't believe in plotting far ahead because the characters may not develop in the same way as that plot says they should. I try to stay out of the barn." Seeing our puzzled looks, Willig explained: "I once wrote a scene in which I wanted several of the characters to walk into a barn. No matter what I did, I couldn't figure out how to get them in that barn. When I tried to explain my problem to my little sister, she interrupted me and asked, 'Why the barn?' She made me think about it from a completely different angle, and I could see that there was no reason for anyone to walk in there. So... now I try to stay out of the barn!"

Lauren's routine consists of getting her family ready to start the day, then going to her local Starbuck's when the babysitter arrives. She then stops at the grocery store before returning home to Mommy Duty. 

Shona Patel spoke up at this point-- "It's amazing how many people write at Starbuck's!" and we all laughed. The evening drew to a close with Beatriz and Lauren admitting that they enjoy the times they spend together at Starbuck's. "We meet and gossip about our characters. It's an important part of character development!"

The entire bookstore was filled with a hum of enthusiasm and lightheartedness, and I left with writer's cramp, and a smile on my face. Mary Stewart Night was a success. 


  1. You are so, so lucky to have so many amazing author events in your area. We have none.

    1. And it's all thanks to Barbara Peters, bless her!

  2. Cathy - It sounds as though this was a really fun night. Lively and interesting discussion too! You are lucky to have the PP.

  3. Gosh, the Poisoned Pen, two interesting women authors and Cornish Pastry!
    How lucky are all of you.

    Yes, thanks for Barbara Peters. How I wish she could clone herself and
    open up a Poisoned Pen within walking distance of my building. My
    credit card would suffer, but it would be worth it.

    1. It certainly would be worth it, Kathy. She's a treasure.

  4. Well, at least we have you to think for summarizing these fantastic evenings for mystery fans to enjoy.

    I like the women's sense of humor, and even those dresses. I haven't seen those for years in the Big Apple, but I do remember them from my childhood.

    1. Yes, when I saw their dresses, I got a big smile on my face because it reminded me so much of dresses my mother and grandmother wore.

  5. I am envious of the author events at this bookstore! I love both these ladies' books and look forward to their new ones. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You're very welcome! I'm so glad you enjoyed my recap.

  6. Maybe someday Barbara Peters would consider streaming these authors' events online or else posting a video of them afterwards.

    I think there are a lot of us who'd even pay something for that privilege.

    Hmmm, maybe I should email the Poisoned Pen, although I'm sure
    this has been discussed there already.

    1. She does stream almost all the author events. I've mentioned it in various recaps, posted links on occasion, and recently mentioned that some of the equipment was broken and waiting for replacement parts. (Everything's been up and running for a while now. Click on the word Livestream to check out the events that are available.


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