Monday, May 01, 2017

CozyCon 2017 at The Poisoned Pen!

As long as The Poisoned Pen has had CozyCons, I've been there, so I left bright and early on Saturday, April 22, and drove across town to my favorite bookstore to make sure that I'd have the best seat in the house. A lot happened, and I have a lot of photos, so I'm not going to waste time setting the scene. Let's get right down to it!

The folks at The Poisoned Pen like to have a little something for everyone at these CozyCons (which Barbara Peters would have preferred to call "Malice in the West" but Malice Domestic is a tad protective), and you can see this by the lineup of authors for this year's event. The fans flocking in got to see, listen, and chat with: Tessa Arlen, C.S. Harris, Renee Patrick, Megan Miranda, Jennifer McMahon, Francine Mathews, Paige Shelton, Hannah Dennison, and Jenn McKinlay. You can see by the cover collage above that those authors represent some mighty fine reading, and there were so many of them that they were brought on in shifts! Let's bring on the first shift: Historical Mysteries....

L to R: Arlen, Harris, Peters, Rosemarie & Vince Keenan (Renee Patrick)

I'm going to warn you now that this was a three-hour event, and even though I wrote as fast as I could, you're only going to get the highlights. Fortunately, there are plenty of highlights.

The Keenans AKA Renee Patrick
The first question asked of the historical panel was about the names they write under. Rosemarie and Vince Keenan are a husband and wife team who write their Lillian Frost and Edith Head mysteries under the name of Renee Patrick. As Vince said, "We were afraid that a book with two authors' names would make people think that it's twice as good." The name they write under is Rosemarie's confirmation name (Renee) and Vince's middle name (Patrick), and we all agreed that "Renee Patrick" does sound like a 1940s Hollywood starlet, which is roughly the time frame in which their series takes place.

L to R: Arlen, Harris
C.S. Harris had written seven historical romances under her real name, Candice Proctor, before writing her Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, and her publisher was concerned that her romance readers would be upset when faced with her historical mysteries, hence the name change. Barbara Peters not only remarked that she "adores" the Sebastian St. Cyr series, she also thinks of it as "Jane Austen Dark."

On the other hand, Tessa Arlen writes her Lady Montfort series under her own name, and she and Hannah Dennison (on a different panel) are the only two who are "authentically English." She went on to tell us that her most recent book, A Death By Any Other Name, takes place in the days leading up to World War I and is all about the cutthroat business of rose growing and the Edwardian moneyed classes. When host Barbara Peters mentioned that Lady Montfort's secret weapon is her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, the conversation led to a short discussion of the fact that, back in those days, cooks and housekeepers were awarded the honorary title of "Mrs." even if they were unmarried (like the single Edith Jackson).

Candice told us that her books are set a century earlier than Arlen's and that in writing she found it difficult to get all the servants out of the way long enough to have someone murdered! Her most recent Sebastian St. Cyr mystery is Where the Dead Lie, and she and Barbara both advised us to read the series in order.

"One of the things I love about Tessa's series is that Lady Montford is happily married," said Barbara, looking at Arlen expectantly. 

"Yes, she is," Arlen said with finality.

"Well, don't just drop it!" Peters laughed, so Arlen picked up the thread once again.

"Her husband decided to see her talent in solving crime as her keen interest in life, and he thinks she'd make a good criminal lawyer if only women were allowed to be so," Arlen said.

Peters giving book recommendations.
Talk then jumped a few decades to the Keenans' Lillian Frost and Edith Head mysteries set in Hollywood in the late 1930s. 

"Edith Head worked all the time, so she needed someone to do the investigating, and that led us to Lillian Frost," Vince Keenan said. "We were quite happy to use the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin formula. We also knew that most books set in Hollywood at this time tended to be dark."

"Your new book Dangerous to Know takes place in Hollywood during the lead-in to World War II," Barbara said.

"Yes," Vince said. "At this time Hollywood was the world capital of classical music because so many composers, conductors, and musicians were among the first to leave Europe."

"There are a lot of interesting people in this book," Peters said. "Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Lamour...."

"And a lot of interesting things going on as well. We had no idea that George Burns and Jack Benny were brought up on smuggling charges in 1938. It was such a big deal that it took Europe out of the headlines for weeks," Vince said. "And then the whole thing just disappeared. Too quickly. One of the things we love about writing this series is that Edith Head knew everyone. We could have anyone show up, and it would be plausible." (And those cameo appearances are one of the fun things about this series!)

"Next year is 1939, the greatest year in the history of movies," Peters observed.

"Yes! The book we're writing now has Lillian being the social secretary of an eccentric millionaire," Vince said. "Edith Head may always be working, but Lillian pulls her weight by meeting all these important people."

C.S. Harris with a fan.
Tessa Arlen's next book will be Death of an Unsung Hero, which takes place in 1916 in a rehabilitation center for shell shock victims.

C.S. Harris's next book, the thirteenth Sebastian St. Cyr mystery, will be Why Kill the Innocent.

The third Lillian Frost and Edith Head mystery will be Script for Scandal, which takes place in 1939. Edith Head will be working on a B-movie which will give the Keenans the chance to show readers what a costume designer actually does. (The couple are currently arguing over the casting of their fictional movie!) 

Then it was time to take a break, head for the refreshment table, and head to the authors for book signing and chat!

L to R: Jennifer McMahon, Megan Miranda, Barbara Peters, Francine Mathews

Jennifer McMahon, Megan Miranda, and Francine Mathews were on the second Contemporary Suspense panel. Barbara Peters started the discussion by saying that "trust no one" is currently a very vibrant subgenre, one in which it seems that "everyone we know and love will try to kill us."

Megan Miranda, author of The Perfect Stranger, told us that she likes "the idea of writing about someone who moves to a new place for a fresh start, knowing that they can present any side of themselves that they choose to." On the other hand, Jennifer McMahon likes to write books-- like her latest Burntown-- in which she confronts her own fears. 

Francine Mathews, author of Death in a Mood Indigo, said, "My Merry Folger books really don't fit in the Trust No One category. Folger is a police officer who lives in a safe and loving environment. As she investigates crimes, her assumptions are constantly challenged. In writing this series, I also wanted to tap into the long history of Nantucket Island with its thousands of incoming tourists.

Francine Mathews
You should've heard the gasps of delighted shock when Barbara Peters told the crowd that Francine also writes the Jane Austen mysteries under the name Stephanie Barron! Then there was a humorous interlude when Peters continually tried to bring up the Merry Folger book that's due out in June when Mathews didn't want to talk about it. After one such attempt, Mathews exclaimed, "You really can't trust anyone!" which made us all laugh.

Peters went on to say that she thinks one of the reasons why "Trust No One" is so popular is because, due to social media, privacy is becoming a thing of the past. 

"No one reads fiction anymore expecting to know the ending," Mathews said. "They're always looking for the hidden narrative."

Mathews wrote her very first book-- the first Merry Folger book Death in the Off-Season-- as a bet with her husband. That was twenty-seven books ago, and a lot has changed. In 1992, she was a CIA analyst who didn't like wearing stockings and longed for the life of Jane Austen. 

Francine said, "Last year Soho approached me, wanting to bring out the four Merry Folger mysteries I'd written in the '90s, and they also wanted a new one. But twenty-five years had passed. I told them, 'Okay... if you let me rewrite those four before writing number five.'

"I sucked as a writer twenty-five years ago! And it's unbelievable how much crime solving has changed in that length of time. Rewriting those books was a very humbling experience that I don't recommend to anyone-- but I certainly benefitted from it." 

"Jennifer, your books are all standalones, aren't they?" Barbara asked.

"Yes, they're creepy psychological thrillers mostly set in Vermont," Jennifer McMahon replied. "Strange things have a habit of making me want to use them in my books. I read something about a telephone that Edison invented which was to be used to speak with the dead. There's a lot of wackadoodle stuff out there. If I don't scare myself while I'm writing, I know I'm not doing a good job."

L to R: McMahon, Miranda
She went on to say, "I've never liked those big-headed characters at Disneyland. One of the first jobs I had was wearing a bunny suit, and you wouldn't believe how trusting those kids were with me! No-- I don't like those big-headed characters. You never know who's in there. Bunny suit... trusting kids... I could've been anyone!"

"We really need to have you come back for Halloween," Barbara quipped.

"When I was young, we'd go every summer to a family place in the woods in the Poconos," Megan Miranda said. "On one trip I had to sleep alone in the living room, and it really creeped me out. In the wee hours, I woke up to the sounds of my aunt barricading the hallway, and I thought, 'But I'm on the other side!' I don't know if it's because of that, but I've always been a worst case scenario type of person, and I think you can see it in my books-- like my latest, The Perfect Stranger.

Francine Mathews (L) chatting with a fan.
Francine told us something that happened to her which gives a bit of insight to what can happen while working with publishers. "I was told that Random House wanted another book in the Merry Folger series. It had to be called Death on Nantucket. They wanted a lighthouse on the cover... and can it be published under the name Stephanie Barron?" They got their way on two out of three. The book is being published under the name Francine Mathews, just like the other Merry Folger books.

Next up for Jennifer is "a scary haunted house book that takes place in the woods. And it has a bog, too!"

Megan told us, "In January 2018, I have a new Young Adult book coming out, and my newest psychological suspense novel which is set in Maine will be out in the summer of 2018." (All of her Young Adult books are published under the name Megan Miranda.)

Mathews told us that she's currently wrapping up a book on Jennie Churchill, Winston Churchill's mother (who is fascinating in her own right).

After another short break, it was time for the third shift: the Cozy authors.

L to R: Paige Shelton, Hannah Dennison, Jenn McKinlay, The Poisoned Pen's John Charles

Before the official start of the last panel, Barbara Peters made an announcement that warmed the cockles of my heart. In September, The Poisoned Pen-- in conjunction with Soho Press-- will have a one-day conference. All the final details have yet to be ironed out, but Craig Johnson will be the luncheon speaker. I told Denis that I'd keep an eye out for those final details so he could see about requesting the day off to join me. I'm really looking forward to it!

When Paige, Hannah, and Jenn got comfy in front of an appreciative audience, John Charles asked them a bit about their road to becoming published.

L to R: Shelton, Dennison. Photo courtesy of Jeff K.
"I decided I was going to be a writer in 1997," Paige Shelton said, "and I was going to be published by the year 2000. My first book was published in 2010. If you're writing-- don't give up!"

Hannah Dennison said, "When I was fifteen, I wrote an article about relationships when I hadn't even had a boyfriend yet, and I sent it to a women's magazine. I wrote obituaries for a local newspaper. I helped someone with a screenplay, and when I moved to California, I decided that that's what I wanted to do: screenplays. I didn't get anywhere with those. Then I tried my hand at mysteries. I've been writing for thirty years now."

Jenn McKinlay can always make us laugh. She started out by telling us, "I really didn't want a day job!" Once the laughter died down, she said, "When I was seven years old, I found my mother's old red portable typewriter, and I became the family court reporter-- which could come in handy when you need some bargaining chips with siblings!"

Jenn McKinlay
John Charles asked the authors about the settings for their series.

"The Library Lovers series is set in Connecticut because that's where I trained as a librarian," Jenn said. "The Hat Shop series is set in London because I wanted a vacation, and the Cupcake Bakery series is set in Scottsdale because I live here.

Hannah said, "The Honeychurch Hall books are set in Devon where I grew up. It's a quiet place that tends to be fifty years behind the times. After the first book was published, I was told that there actually is a place in England called Honeychurch."

Paige said, "When I was setting out to write the Farmers Market series, I needed a place that could have a year-round farmers market, so I went to South Carolina and chose it for the setting. My family is from the area in Missouri where my Country Cooking School series is set. My Dangerous Type series is set in Utah where I lived for twenty-seven years. As for my Scottish Bookshop series, I wanted to go to Scotland and be able to write it off on my taxes!"

Hannah Dennison
Hannah described her latest, Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall, as "Downton Abbey meets Midsomer Murder." The main character's mother writes erotic romances. She doesn't believe in computers, and she never makes a copy of her manuscript. The manuscript is posted to her publisher, but it goes missing. When it's found at the local post office, there are six pages missing. There's also an English Civil War angle.

Dennison actually wrote those six missing pages, which will be published in a special e-version because she "thought of it too late for it to be published in the back of the print version." She had us in stitches when she said, "I think I missed my calling as a writer of erotica. I got quite hot writing those pages!"

John Charles wanted to know: Why multiple series?

Hannah: "When I first started, I didn't intend to write series, but I do like having a story arc. And I absolutely have to have [what writers call] a Bible, because readers will remember every tiny detail!"

Paige: "It's really nice to visit with the characters you've created, but following through with all the series commitments makes it difficult to write anything else."

Jenn: "I have a comment to make about readers remembering every detail. In one of my Cupcake Bakery books, I said that Angie's middle name was Marie. In another book, I said it was Lucia. Lots of people noticed. I think I'll get myself out of it by saying she's Italian, and her full name is Angie Marie Lucia DeLaura!"

John Charles then asked if they had any advice for newbie writers.

Paige: "Don't give up!"

Hannah: "Write every day-- even if it's only for fifteen minutes!"

Jenn: "Join writers groups, go to conferences. Don't be afraid of showing your writing to others!

What's next for these authors' fans to read?

Hannah told us that the fifth Honeychurch Hall mystery will have a love triangle for Kat, and the featured antique will be a World War I pocket bear. "I also have a proposal for a new series about two sisters who inherit a hotel on the Isle of Scilly." Speculation then ran rampant (a good word for someone who missed her calling as a writer of erotica) that this new series could be called "The Scilly Sisters."

Paige said the third Dangerous Type mystery will be out this coming winter, with the third Scottish Bookshop book following in the spring. "And the fourth Scottish Bookshop mystery takes place at Loch Ness."

"I was asked by my publisher to write a romantic comedy," Jenn said, "so About a Dog will be released on May 17." After the applause died down, she continued. "The second book in the series, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, will be released in September, followed by the next Library Lovers in November which is called Death in the Stacks. It was while I was writing Death in the Stacks that I was told the publisher had decided to end the Hat Shop series. [groans from the audience] Since I was feeling a bit vindictive, the Hat Shop characters are going to show up in Death in the Stacks-- and the cupcake folks will be, too!

But wait! There's more!

Jenn's third romantic comedy, Every Dog Has Its Day, will be out in January, "and then I'm out of contract. I may go with a different publisher."

This led to a short discussion about the changes in publishing. Jenn told us that she'd heard that Audible is looking to publish original fiction, since the audiobook market is a rapidly growing percentage of sales.

Barbara Peters, Editor-in-Chief at Poisoned Pen Press, told us that mass market paperbacks are the one form of print books that took the hit from eBook sales. "There have had to be a lot of changes," she said. "When Penguin merged with Random House, two completely different philosophies clashed. Penguin's was to have two or three books from hundreds of authors, while Random House's belief has been lots of books from a handful of authors."

Jenn McKinlay had been visiting her publisher in New York City when she saw a woman crying on her way out of the building. "When I asked why she was crying, I was told that Penguin had had secretaries, but Random House did not, so all the Penguin secretaries had been let go."

The three-hour event ended on a positive note; however, when Jenn told us of libraries-- like one in Mesa, Arizona-- having what they call Maker Space, which is an area in the library where people can find things like 3D printers, sewing machines, and have the capability of checking out rakes, hoes, or seeds. Barbara said, "That sounds like a type of vocational school at your local library."

In this day and age, you have to be flexible and inventive in order to survive.

Now it's time to stop talking and share a few more photos before ending this marathon post! Click on any of the photos if you'd like to see them in their original sizes. They'll automatically open in a new window for you.

Photo courtesy of Jeff K.
The CozyCon authors were the first to use The Poisoned Pen's new Authors' Green Room.

L to R: Mathews, Miranda & McMahon. Photo courtesy of Jeff K.

Jenn McKinlay (with John Charles) making us all laugh. Photo courtesy of Jeff K.

You had to know that I couldn't get out of there without buying something!

I hope you all enjoyed this peek into The Poisoned Pen's CozyCon. Hopefully you can attend one yourself one day!


  1. Oh, Cathy, this sounds like a wonderful time! And what a great idea to make it an event like that! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Thinking I need to watch for this next year. We're skipping AZ in 2017, but suspect it might show up again in 2018. I love Jennifer McMahon's books!

    1. I really think you'd enjoy a CozyCon, Kay-- and I'd certainly love to have your company!


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