Monday, May 16, 2016

Cozy Con 2016 at The Poisoned Pen!

Once a year, The Poisoned Pen holds a mini-conference for traditional (AKA cozy) mysteries, and it's an event I'll never miss unless something earth-shattering happens. Nothing did when Saturday, May 7, rolled around, so I journeyed to Scottsdale early to get a prime seat. This year's authors really showed the wide range of traditional mysteries: Paul Charles, C. S. Harris, Jenn McKinlay, Tammy Kaehler, Paige Shelton, Hannah Dennison, Cameron Harvey, and Annette Mahon. They just happen to be sitting in that order in the photo below--

Author Lineup for Cozy Con 2016

In many ways the very best part of a Cozy Con is the chatting. Authors chatting with authors. Authors chatting with staff. Authors chatting with fans. Staff chatting with fans. Fans chatting with fans. You get my drift.  One fan in particular reminded me of me a few years ago. We were both unashamedly eavesdropping on a conversation two authors were having. When all the authors went into the stockroom to sign their mail order books, the other eavesdropper (whom I recognized from attending several of the same events) told me, "I love listening to my favorite authors talk!" I voiced my agreement, but what I was really thinking was, "Start your own conversations with them-- they don't bite!" Then I remembered that I did the exact same thing when I first started going to these things. Now I chat with authors... with everyone... like it's Old Home Week. Not bad for an introvert like me!

Barbara Peters started proceedings by showing us the Hercule Poirot Award she was given at Malice Domestic.

Barbara's Hercule Poirot Award
She also mentioned that she originally didn't want Cozy Con to be called Cozy Con, but... Malice Domestic is a bit proprietary about its name. What did she want to call her mini-conference?

Malice in the West.

Too bad Malice Domestic is so picky!

She then stepped aside and let staff member John Charles assume command. He told us that we would begin with Speed Date an Author, followed by refreshments, and then conclude with a panel discussion and Q&A from those attending. Unfortunately there's no Livestream of this event, and there are times that things moved so quickly that my pen couldn't keep up, but I did the best I could!

Speed Date an Author

Hannah Dennison
Hannah told us that after her first signing, her husband advised her not to wear short skirts at subsequent events. Apparently her knees were knocking so badly that it was easy for everyone to see how nervous she was.

Her series seem to be tied to the jobs she's had in the past. When she was eighteen, she was in the Navy for five days-- any longer and she would have had to sign up for two years. That was followed by a job writing the obituary column for a small newspaper in Devon, England, which proved to be the basis for her Vicky Hill series. 

After working on the newspaper, Hannah worked for an antiques dealer, and that plays a part in her current Honeychurch Hall series. There are also a few family details woven into the books. After Hannah's father died, her mother bought a wing of a country house and lived there quite happily until the money ran out twelve years later. She's now living in a small house-- and Hannah assured us that her mother has never written any torrid romance novels like her character Kat Standford's mother does.

There will be a fourth Honeychurch Hall mystery, and then Hannah may write something completely different.

Cameron Harvey
First-time writer Cameron Harvey is a lawyer from New York, but her book The Evidence Room is set in a Florida bayou. Cameron firmly believes that setting can be inspiring or even considered a character in a book, and when it comes to the writing process, her characters come to mind before the plot.

She's now working on the third book in the series, Where I'm Bound. The second is finished: Smile for Me. The second and third books are also set in the same Florida bayou.

Paige Shelton
Paige Shelton has lived here in the Valley for a year now. Although she found the heat of summer to be cruel, her first winter was wonderful, and she certainly doesn't want to leave Arizona even though she spent twenty-seven years in Salt Lake City.

In 1997 Paige decided to become a serious writer and thought that it would take her three years to be published. Three years turned into thirteen when Farm Fresh Murder was published in 2010.  

She writes the Farmer's Market and Cooking School series, both of which are coming to an end, and her two new series are the Dangerous Type series set in Star City, Utah, and the Scottish Bookshop series set in Edinburgh. 

This "characters first" author has a new Dangerous Type mystery, Bookman Dead Style, coming out next January, and in March the new Scottish Bookshop entry, Of Books and Bagpipes, will be released. Her publishers are so pleased with readers' reaction to the first-- The Cracked Spine-- that they've already ordered two more in the series. Good news for us all!

Annette Mahon
Annette Mahon began her writing career in the 1980s after her third child was born. It took her ten years to get published, and at first her books were in the romance genre. Now she writes the St. Rose Quilting Bee mystery series which is set in Scottsdale, Arizona. 

Writing without an outline, this former children's librarian always begins with her characters, and often finds ways to incorporate local events in her stories. 

Her publisher is one of many who are tightening their belts and deciding to no longer publish certain genres. Having read her mysteries, I certainly hope it doesn't take long for her to find a new publishing home.

Tammy Kaehler
Until twelve years ago, Tammy Kaehler was a technical writer who always said she could write anything but fiction. Then she had a scene get stuck in her head. When it wouldn't leave, she went to Book Passage and  signed up for a four-week class called "Do You Have a Book in You?" Then she took another class, and then she joined a writing group.

When asked about her series featuring race car driver/amateur sleuth Kate Reilly, she says "I'm a sports fan by blood [her father] and a car fan by marriage." What is Tammy's goal? To become the Dick Francis of the auto racing world, although Hallie Ephron had to give her a little advice in the beginning: "Your main character has to be a driver, not a sales rep!"

Each book takes place at a different track in a different state, and in a different city, thus avoiding the dreaded Cabot Cove Syndrome, and the series shows the progression of Kate's career. Kate will be driving in the 24 Hours of LeMans and then transitioning into a different type of race car in preparation for the Indianapolis 500.

Paul Charles
Irishman Paul Charles started out in the music business at the age of fourteen. He had to receive business calls at a red telephone box a couple of streets over from his house. Someone would answer the phone, tell the caller to hang on, and walk to Paul's house to get him. Often the caller had to wait twenty minutes or so because Paul's mother would tell the messenger, "Paul can't come until he finishes his tea."

In 1994, Paul was reading Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse books and thought to himself, "If I did that, what would my detective be like?" Charles' first book was "greeted with a tidal wave of indifference," but Colin Dexter's editor did give him lots of good advice. Paul likes to write novels that read like true crime, and he's currently writing three series: DI Christy Kennedy in Camden, England; Inspector Starrett of County Donegal, Ireland; and retired police officer Brendy McCusker who's forced to return to work in Belfast, Ireland.

Jenn McKinlay
"Wow-- music industry, race cars... me? I was a librarian. I have to go home now!" After that first laugh, Jenn McKinlay polled us to see how many of us like cliffhangers in the books we read. She likes them, but only for personal issues, definitely not for anything concerning the plot. We then learned that there's a cliffhanger at the end of her latest Cupcake Bakery mystery Vanilla Beaned, and she's receiving hate mail. 

When writing, Jenn likes thinking of the hook and then she dives right into the characters. She likes to think of her books as "an Agatha Christie and I Love Lucy mashup."

Her next Library Lovers mystery, Better Late Than Never, will be released in November, the next Hat Shop book, Assault and Beret (set in Paris) is due January 2017; and the next Cupcake Bakery mystery, Caramel Crush will be out in April 2017. After that, it will be something completely different for her-- a book called About a Dog.  

C.S. Harris
it was C.S. Harris's (call her Candy) first visit to The Poisoned Pen, and I could tell by the looks on people's faces that many fans of her Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries were in attendance. Candy began as a history professor specializing in the 1750-1850 time period. She then became a writer of historical romance but then switched to historical mysteries. She rejected the era of the French Revolution for the Regency, and it was her intention to write about the entirety of Regency society so she had to think carefully about her main character's place in the world.

Many writers don't start out with the intention of writing a series, but Candy did. She always saw her books as a series with the overarching story of Sebastian's coming to terms with his parents  and with his war experiences. The only real surprise for her has been its length. Book eleven came out in May. She'd originally thought that there were only going to be eight books in the series. Then that number changed to eighteen, and now she's at twenty-two because she's "tying up loose ends... and adding loose ends." As each successive number grew larger, the smiles on her fans' faces grew bigger.

When asked if her historical romances were going to be reprinted, Candy said that they are considered to be "too intense" and that they "really don't fit into today's historical romance genre." She did say that there's a chance that they may come out as eBooks.

The next book that she has coming out is Good Time Coming, which is a story about the American Civil War through a thirteen-year-old's eyes. The book was picked up by a British publisher because American publishers "wouldn't touch it."

Panel Discussion

After a break to rush over to the refreshment table, grab some goodies, and then then conduct what I call meandering chats, it was time for the panel discussion. The more I see John Charles in action, the more I appreciate his attention to detail, the care he takes in researching visiting authors, and the questions he asks.

When Falcons Fall
Why do you write mysteries?

Kaehler: I like to learn through fiction. Mysteries have a sense of justice and an explanation for why the crime happened that you don't always get in real life.

Mahon: I love solving the puzzle.

Charles: I love to see what happens next, and the process is always rewarding.

Harris: I like to see how a person's life can be impacted by the smallest incident. It all comes down to the character. 

Dennison: I like finding out what normal people are capable of.

Shelton: I love creating the puzzle.

McKinlay: I was a public servant for twenty-two years. I have a lot of rage. (She almost brought down the house, err... bookstore... with that one!)

Vanilla Beaned
What's the most interesting thing you discovered when researching your newest book?

Harris: That there was more depth and nuance to Princess Charlotte and her mother than I'd realized.

Dennison: I was vacationing on Nevis in the Caribbean and was surprised to learn how many Royalists escaping the outcome of the English Civil War came to live on that island.

Charles: Singer Bryan Ferry once tore up his passport because he didn't like the photo, so he couldn't catch a flight to his next concert.

Mahon: The correct way to have a house catch fire after it blows up.

Shelton: That there are very few male calico cats.

Kaehler: I got a ride around the Long Beach racetrack from Mario Andretti. 

The Evidence Room
Which mystery that you've read do you wish you had written?

Kaehler: Anything by Dick Francis!

Shelton: The Eight by Katherine Neville.

Charles: Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter.

Mahon: The early Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich.

Harvey: Anything by Kate Atkinson.

Harris: Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith.

McKinlay: The authors who led me to writing in this genre: the Nancy Drew books, Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt.

The Cracked Spine

Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers?

Everyone said Agatha Christie except my buddy Paige Shelton, who opted for Dorothy L. Sayers (just like I would).     

St. Ernan's Blues
If you weren't a writer, what would you be?

McKinlay: An Elvis impersonator.

Mahon: A librarian.

Dennison: I'd be doing work in historic preservation.

Harvey: An unhappy lawyer.

Shelton: An unpublished writer.

Kaehler: A postal carrier or an event planner.

Charles: A school teacher.

Harris: Is "independently wealthy" an option?

Slay Bells
What are the benefits and what are the drawbacks to writing a series?

Mahon: The benefit is really knowing your characters. A drawback is finding a mistake that has carried over from one book to another.

Kaehler: You can be stuck with things from your first book. You can create a long story arc for your characters.

Dennison: You know your characters, but a series can be restrictive.

Harris: Your cast of characters can be a ball and chain, and you can sometimes wonder "What could I have done instead?"

McKinlay: A publisher will usually buy just two or three books in a series, so I planned four books for my cupcake series. It's now into book ten. One of the benefits in writing a series is knowing my characters so well that I can write faster as a result.

Charles: There are no disadvantages. One of the benefits is being able to drop in a small character role that winds up playing a significant role in the book.

Shelton: The romantic relationships of my characters are some of my biggest challenges.

Red Flags
 Any reading recommendations?

Mahon: A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall!

Harvey: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

Dennison: The King's General by Daphne du Maurier. 

Shelton: Bird Box by Josh Malerman.

Kaehler: Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz.

McKinlay: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

Harris: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence.

Charles: All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall
It had been a wonderful two hours, and as the signing line formed, I had to try to shake the tingling out of my writing hand. These folks sure can talk fast when they've a mind to!

Events like these are fun, and if you ever get to attend one-- and you're an introvert like me-- fight against the urge to be an eavesdropper and nothing more. Join in the chat. You won't regret it! Who knows, you may even be lucky enough to have a favorite author sitting behind you like I did. (It's always a pleasure to see and talk with Donis Casey.)

Now I'm looking forward to seeing the lineup of authors next year!


  1. I love this description. I'm still laughing about various discussion answers, like being a public servant. Also, for cozy writers, their book recommendations aren't so cozy.
    I will reread tomorrow more slowly.
    But a problem arises when I read about cupcakes or anything related -- I want to run out immediately and get one or three of them or whatever sweets are mentioned.
    But I got some book ideas out of the mix.
    Now, I hate hot weather, but maybe I could fly in, land outside the store, rush in and then back out into a/c.
    I sure wish these were streamed, but your summary is wonderful and had me laughing throughout. These writers are so much fun.

    1. Yes, they are fun, and that's the main reason why I will never willingly miss a Cozy Con.

      I forgot to mention in a reply to one of your comments that it looks as though I'll be taking my niece to The Poisoned Pen for an event. I don't know if she's much of a reader, so I hope she can put up with us fanatics for a couple of hours!

  2. I didn't know about this mini-con, Cathy. Or if I did, I'd forgotten. It sounds like a great event, and just a plain good, fun time. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I have been looking forward to your write up of this event. Oh, I wish I could have attended as it looks like so much fun. I wondered about Paige's Country School Cooking series when she started two new series which I quickly purchased and read. The Country Cooking School series made me aware as a reader that I did like some paranormal at times in my reading. It opened up my reading of other authors too such as Juliet Blackwell etc. I love the location of Broken Rope Missouri that the books take place in. I do hope there will be an another book. Thanks for sharing this event with us.

    1. You bring up an interesting thing-- the paranormal aspect of quite a few cozy series. I've learned that I'm much more comfortable when the paranormal is more suggested than in-your-face. I can remember reading the first book in a series in which the "dearly not-departed" was a skeleton clanking around the house. It was impossible for me to get the mental picture and sound effects out of my head enough to enjoy the book!

      I wish you could attend Cozy Con, too, Lynn. I know you'd love it. The Poisoned Pen is having Laura Bradford, Kate Carlisle, and Paige Shelton appear on... June 11, I think. I'm not missing that one, so I'm taking along my niece who'll be visiting from England!

  4. Cool! Thanks for risking losing the feeling in your hand to take notes on that!

    1. You're welcome, Pepper. I was glad that I made sure I had a spare pen! LOL

  5. I think your niece will have fun at The Poisoned Pen. The writers sound so interesting and a lot of fun. She'll have a new experience with humor in the mix. So, she is lucky to be going to this.

    1. I don't think she's into books that much, but she'll be going with me!

  6. Thanks for the write-up, Cathy. I'm so bummed I missed this! (And, I don't know how. I guess I didn't read the newsletters closely enough because I don't remember anything about CozyCon this year.) This is one book event I truly love, my favorite book event of the year. I get to see authors I love and get introduced to new ones and to new series. Barb and the Poisoned Pen always have a great event! The discussions are interesting and questions from the audience insightful. I wish it was posted on LiveStream.

    Seeing your note that Barb didn't want to call it CozyCon makes me wonder what a better name would be. Just as ComicCon covers more than comics, I know this event covers more than just cozy mysteries, but it's so cute. Maybe the tag could be CozyCon - Mysteries and more! Too bad Malice Domestique won't share (Malice West, West of Malice, Just West of Malice...).

    (BTW... now putting a reminder in next year's APRIL calendar/task list to remind me to check for CozyCon 2017. I don't want to miss it again!)

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed my write-up. I attend so many events at The Poisoned Pen that I keep an eagle eye on the calendar on their website, so that's how I knew about CozyCon. Well, that and the fact that "Upcoming Events" is one of The PP's boards on Pinterest. Perhaps I should schedule a blog post to give everyone a heads-up next year?

      Oh! And by the way, there's a mini-Cozy Con on Saturday, June 11 with Laura Bradford, Kate Carlisle and Paige Shelton-- a fabulous line-up! It would be good to see you there if you can make it. I'll be bringing my niece who's visiting from England. :-)

  7. I ran into a friend's sister whom I'm never met before. We bonded talking about mysteries. Her teenage daughter didn't join in, but listened to us and smiled and nodded. I think she enjoyed us but didn't participate.
    So your niece may enjoy the PP event, but not join in.


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