Sunday, September 23, 2018

Jenn McKinlay & Paige Shelton at The Poisoned Pen!

Denis always enjoys seeing Paige Shelton and Jenn McKinlay when they appear at The Poisoned Pen, but their appearances tend to be on Saturdays when he works, so he was tickled pink to discover that this latest event was on a Thursday. We arrived in plenty of time to reserve our favorite seats, and then we adjourned to the back table to read. I'd wondered if Barbara Peters was going to interview them, but I learned that she and her husband were on a month-long European trip with Laurie R. King. Instead, Paige would be asking the questions. I was really looking forward to the evening, and that seemed to make time fly. Once again, my handy-dandy recorder did its job, so I'm going to don my headphones and start typing. Let's get started!

L to R: Paige Shelton, Jenn McKinlay

Paige: It's great to be here, and it's wonderful to be able to interview Jenn and ask her some questions. Jenn and I kind of know each other; we've hung out a little bit, so I might take a few different angles but I have okayed all the secret questions with her.

Jenn: There are secret questions?

Paige: I'll give you a brief biography of what I know about Jenn and then she can maybe fill in with some extra stuff.

Jenn is a mom; a great mom with two amazing boys-- I adore them. She's a wife; her husband is over there. They are the most creative group of people you will ever be around, and the kindest and the sweetest. So it's truly an honor to know them all. Jenn is also a writer, and-- I'm not just saying this-- she's one of the best writers in the cozy genre. She is unquestionably the funniest. You can have a conversation with her in real life and she is every bit as funny even when you're talking about dark subjects... such as... well, we probably don't talk murder much. She's been a writer for quite a few years. When did you start taking it seriously?

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn: The idea to be a writer came when I was sixteen, but I didn't do anything with it until I was about twenty-five. I graduated college and got a full-time job working in a library; I was the adult services librarian. It was a very small town, and... it was so boring! The people were lovely, the community was lovely, my co-workers were very sweet, but... you know-- you're twenty-two. I went from being a bartender in a rock and roll club to a librarian, and it was like [making a sound of screeching brakes]!

I worked there for three years, and I noticed that I was spending a lot of time in the medical reference book section. 'Oh my god, it's a tumor, I'm going to die! I'm so bored-- I'm going to die!' Then I realized that I wasn't pursuing my dream. I wasn't writing. When you're working full-time it's very difficult to be a writer. Writing takes an incredible amount of time.

I was twenty-five and I quit that job. I moved from Connecticut to Arizona without a job, without benefits. I lived off my savings...

Paige: That's like a life's dream for so many people. Just pick up and go! And it worked out.

Jenn: Sort of... I didn't publish for about seven years.

Paige: That's not bad at all, though.

Jenn: Well, I had to get a job, so...

Paige: But you became a librarian here...

Jenn: I did!

Paige: Which was much more exciting.

Jenn: Oh yes, Phoenix Public-- which is well represented! [in the audience] There was no boredom there. I started out in what was called the Telephone Reference Section. This is before you had voice mail or messaging systems. So you sat in a room with two or four-- depending on the hour of the day and how busy it was, and there were six live lines coming in. And they would ask you anything, from 'What's the S&P today?' to 'Is it a tumor?' [laughter throughout the bookstore]

Paige: Did you ever mess with anyone and say, 'Maybe...'?

Available Now!
Jenn: We did have this one guy... what was his name? My husband might remember... I met my husband in the library... We had this one guy... this is terrible! Don't think poorly of librarians. We were young, we were... not awesome. We used to call him Brain Dead. Because he'd call up and say, 'I need you to look up a word for me'-- literally look up a word in the dictionary-- and then you had to spell it for him, and then you had to spell it for him again, and again, and again. Then you had to read the definition, then read the definition again, and again-- do you see what I'm saying? And he called. Every. Single. Day.

We had these amazing shelves called wheels. We had a tiny wheel which was literally a tiny bookcase, but it was fun. You had to spin the wheel to get the quick reference. Then we had the big wheel which was three massive shelves. This thing was as big as a car. You would have to do a full body you know to get the wheel to move and have the books come flying around.

The best part of this is, there was a shelf at the bottom of the big wheel, and that's where we used to lay out a buffet. Spin it to get a carrot stick or a doughnut...

Paige: Speaking of adventures in libraries, Hitting the Books is the ninth book in the Library Lovers series, and again, guys, it's hard to get to nine books in a series. I'm not saying it's hard to write them, I'm saying it's hard to find publishers who want to publish them. How many more are you contracted for in this series, Jenn?

Jenn: I just turned in the next one called A Word to the Wise...

Paige: So this is book number what for you?

Jenn: This is number thirty-eight, and I have books thirty-nine and forty ready to come out. Those are written. I'm writing forty-one right now.

Paige: Amazing!

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn: Well, you're right up there! Paige is being very sweet and [whispers] she's going to be publishing something new and different!

Paige: We'll see! We'll see how it goes.

Jenn: Well, how many have you written? Cuz you're up there, too.

Paige: Not even twenty!

Jenn: That's awesome. I know people who've written, like, three. Double digits is amazing.

Paige: Talk about looking out the window of your library. Have you ever seen anything outside the window of your library that caused you to jump up and run outside to see what's going on? There might be a reason why I'm asking this that could be tied to this current book...

Jenn: I'm an observer, not a participant! The library I worked at here in Phoenix was the Burton Barr Library. It's a beautiful building, and the people who work there know that the park is a residence for some people, so we did observe a lot of behavior out there. I didn't run out of the building, but I was doing story time in the children's area which is on the ground floor. There were big windows and a ledge running below the windows, and one day a gentleman took a nap on the ledge without his pants on. So I had to hurry and move the puppet theater in front of the dude...

Paige: And you've told me that all sorts of crazy behavior goes on inside the library. [emphatic nod from Jenn]

Jenn: The thing with libraries is that you're free. You're open to everybody. And you get everybody. I never minded the people who needed to come in and cool off, and I never minded the people who needed to get to a quiet place to gather their thoughts.

The ones I minded-- before everything was on the internet-- we had a business department, and we'd have the Standard & Poors and the Value Line and we'd take ID for them, and this is how people would look up their stocks and see how they were doing. This was in the '90s, and we would have businessmen come in suits and literally get into fist fights over the books. I minded them! The rude ones. If you were kind to me, I'd do anything for you. If you were rude...

Paige Shelton
Paige: Your chapters always end at a very good cliffhangery point so you really pull people into the next chapter. And you're very funny at the same time. I know you outline. When you're outlining, how much of your chapter endings are you aware of, or is that a little more organic as you're writing it?

Jenn: When I'm writing, I'm very aware of wanting to keep you up, I want you to lose sleep, I want you to go to work tired, I want you to have OMC-- One More Chapter Syndrome-- I want you to curse me in the morning. Then I know I have done my job.

I'm aware of wanting to do this as I write, but it's organic in that I don't know exactly where it's going to happen. There have been times when I've written through a cliffhanger, realized what I've done, and gone back to cut it in half and make it a cliffhanger.

Paige: Do you laugh at yourself when you're writing?

Jenn: Constantly. I think my family thinks I'm having a fit.

Paige: This probably isn't a fair question. Do you think you're funnier than your readers think you are?

Jenn: Mmm... probably! Humor is so subjective. I've actually had people tell me that I'm not funny. Have you ever met people who don't have a sense of humor? I think they're missing a puzzle piece or something. Honestly, if I thought I wouldn't laugh within the first fifteen or twenty minutes after I woke up, I don't think I'd get out of bed. My house is filled with critters and boys, and there's always something to laugh about.

Paige: Tell us about your next Library Lovers and your next Cupcake one, too. Oh, and your romance! Tell us everything!

Jenn McKinlay
Jenn: I always forget... which one am I working on? Hitting the Books came out this week, that's why we're here... the next one to come out is The Good Ones-- the romance [comes out next February]...

Oh. My. God. Here's trouble! These two are trouble! You're looking at the crackerjack security team for the Burton Barr Library. We're going to have a reading, which is something I never do. [Someone starts looking up the correct pages in Hitting the Books.]

So the next book to come out is The Good Ones which is set in a romance bookstore in North Carolina.

Paige: And there's a cowboy on the cover.

Jenn: And a kitten. A year ago, I rescued a gray kitten that was only a day or two old. I wanted to write him into the book, so I thought-- no problem-- they'd put a gray cat on the cover. He's orange. That's the publishing life; you have no say about your cover. Get used to it.

And then in May, Dying for Devil's Food is the next Cupcake Bakery mystery. And I don't remember the plot. No, wait! I do! Angie and Logan go to their fifteenth high school class reunion and someone dies. Next fall, A Word to the Wise will come out. That's the next Library Lovers.

Here's a question as a writer: How's your sense of time?

Paige: Well...

Jenn: Cuz mine is not good!

Paige: If you want time to fly, get married. If you want time to really fly, have a child. If you don't even want to notice time moving from one year to the next, have writing deadlines. It is just insane. I just can't keep up with it.

Jenn: I can't either. Part of the problem of being a writer is-- it's just hilarious-- people will say, 'Oh, Hitting the Books is out!' and I'm like, 'Did I write that?' I'm over it. I turned that in a year ago! ...HA! [The proper pages in the book have been found, and it's time for a special reading.]

Jenn reading from Hitting the Books.
Small introduction. When I worked at the Burton Barr Central Library, we've talked a little about some of the stuff we'd see looking out the windows. This is a five-story building. Each floor is the size of a football field. It's massive.

When you're at a service desk-- I used to work in Teen-- you'd be alone. Crazy things can happen, and you need to have back-up. You need to be able to hit the panic button and know that someone would come. Two people who are here tonight are two of the guys who-- if they came running-- I was sooo happy because they are just the best. I saw these two, with two other men, take down a guy who was having an 'episode', shall we say, and the four of them were riding this guy like a bronco to bring him to the ground. I think this went viral on Youtube. It was crazy! Needless to say, these two won.

Anyway, for years I've been like I've got to write my two buddies into a book. Leo and I talked, and at first I thought it would be hilarious to make them two dogs. But then I thought the only way I could write them into a book about a small town library was to make them patrons because small town libraries don't have security. So... here we go.

[Jenn then proceeded to read a section of her book, and when you read Hitting the Books and come across two patrons snoozing in the library, you now know that they are based on two security guards at the Burton Barr Library here in Phoenix, Arizona!]

Jenn: I want Paige to tell us what she's doing!

Paige: Oh! I am working on a Scottish Bookshop series and an Alaska thriller series. I've turned the first thriller into my agent, and I'm waiting to hear back from her. I'm terrified that she's going to hate it. Other than that, everything's going well!

Jenn: For the Alaska one, do you have a title yet?

Paige: Thin Ice, which is actually a title that Jenn and Kate Carlisle came up with. It used to be 'Murder on Ice', but now it's Thin Ice. It's set in Glacier Bay National Park. We'll see what happens.

L to R: Paige Shelton, Jenn McKinlay
[Bookseller Pat King then wanted the two to tell us about the twice-yearly writing sessions that Jenn, Paige, and Kate Carlisle have here in town.]

Jenn: Dude! That's top secret! [much laughter] We go to the Valley Ho. We eat a lot. Have you ever had the milkshake at the Valley Ho? It's like pound cake on top of a milkshake-- it's crazy. Kate drinks wine. We drink other things. We like to call Bloody Marys 'salad.' We usually clock in on Friday and work straight through to Sunday.

Paige: And it is real work despite the fun that we do have.

Jenn: The milkshake is like the carrot at the end of a thirteen-hour day of writing.

Paige: Plotting non-stop.

Jenn: And some arguing because Kate's mean!

Paige: She's not only mean, she knows what she's talking about. So irritating!

Jenn: No, we love Kate. Kate and I met in San Francisco at a conference. This is kind of where the whole plot thing started. We thought of all the people we knew, and we both liked Paige, so we decided we were going to make her do this, too. Kate is kind of our butt-kicker: 'This needs more conflict! It has to be real!'

I torture them by making them help me plot out my romances, and then we start talking murder. We worked on Paige's Thin Ice. We show up with one or two pages of notes. Paige told us, 'It's in Alaska. Someone's going to die...

Paige Shelton
Paige:'s not a cozy. So work with that. Tell me where we go from here.'

Jenn: It's just three intense days of work.

Paige: I actually thought it would be more fun. It is fun, but it's hard work. It's exhausting.

Jenn: I'll ask you this and then we'll stop torturing everybody. What's your primary method of murder?

Paige: I have no idea. I never really thought about it. What's yours?

Jenn: I am such a librarian, anal retentive-- I made a pie chart! It's so sad. I'm sitting there. The book isn't writing itself, so I think, 'I'm going to go through all forty books to see how I kill people. It's a really pretty pie chart. I picked complimentary colors; Martha Stewart would really be proud. But come to find out, I am a STABBER! And then I like bludgeoning. Then poisoning. Then I think I had a couple of stranglings, drownings, but so far, only one person has been shot.

Paige: So was this being anal retentive, or were you just avoiding a deadline?

Jenn: [innocent look] I had to take my pie chart one step further to see what percentage of my victims were male or female and what percentage of my killers were male or female. My victims are primarily men, and my killers are primarily women. FYI! So-- you haven't done that?

Paige: No!

Jenn: So next time you have writer's block...

And the next time Jenn and Paige are at The Poisoned Pen, I'll be there! (And after reading this recap, I think you know why!)


  1. Another great time at the PP! I really like that you share these, Cathy, and it's so nice to see how, well, human, authors are.

    1. I think many dedicated readers tend to put authors up on pedestals, so it's nice to see that they're having fun up there!

  2. I loved this! Just like being there. And so funny and engaging, both of them. Bet you guys had a great time. BTW, I'm loving your new recording deal - almost like being there.

    1. Thanks, Kay. I'm glad you're enjoying it, although I'm fighting the tendency to just sit here and type every single thing that's said. If I do that the posts are so incredibly long that no one will want to read them!

  3. So fun! They sound like they enjoy each other's company too! So many new things to be on the look out for as well! Thanks for another great report!

    1. You're welcome! And they do enjoy each other's company. I have had the great good fortune to go to lunch with them a couple of times. Fun, fun, F-U-N!!!


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!