Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until immigrating to the US in 2010.
She writes historical detective stories set in the old country in the 1930s, featuring gently-born lady sleuth, Dandy Gilver. The latest of these is 2021’s THE MIRROR DANCE. After eight years in the new country, she kicked off the comic Last Ditch Motel series, which takes a wry but affectionate look at California life from the POV of a displaced Scot (where do we get our ideas, eh?). Book 4, SCOT MIST, came out in January. She also writes a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers. The latest of these is last year’s A GINGERBREAD HOUSE.
Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA, Society of Authors, a proud lifetime member, and former national president of Sisters in Crime. www.catrionamcpherson.com
Scot Mist: March 2020, California is locking down, and the wagons are circled at the Last Ditch Motel when Lexy Campbell discovers a message scrawled on the front fence in human blood. Are they under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have a study, and I’ve been working in it non-stop for a while, what with one thing and another. In normal times, I tried hard to break the association between place and productivity, and I got to the point where I could work in airports, on planes, in coffee shops, in hotel rooms, on the beach. I wonder if I’ll have to build that up again? I look forward to finding out.
Who’s your favorite author? Well now. Living? Stephen King. Of all time? Jane Austen. And if I’m going to follow the rule of three, I need one more. Dorothy Whipple. She was a bizarrely forgotten writer of domestic drama from between the wars. She is now a triumphantly rediscovered joy, published by Persephone Press. One of my treasured memories is of answering this question after a library talk and having a very posh, very elderly lady say: “My word, I adored Dorothy Whipple when I was a girl. I shall try Stephen King now, I think.” I hope she did. They have the same big heart and effortlessly confident style.
How do you come up with character names? Urgh. It’s a perennial problem, and it got worse when I left Scotland and stopped hearing Scottish names every day. Scottish names are tough anyway because you can’t have as many Mcs and Macs in a book as you get in real life. It looks terrible on the page. Whenever I hear a good (non Mc/Mac) Scottish name, I write it on my hand in Sharpie and transfer it to my master list when I get home. First names can be a struggle too. I tried three times to have a heroine called Tash. The first became Gloria. The next ended up as Jude. Tash finally appeared in A Gingerbread House last year. But even then, she had three aliases in the course of the book.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I do, but only out of love and usually, once the person in question is gone. I had my Aunty Doreen McPherson win a bonny baby competition in my (and her) hometown in 1923, in The Burry Man’s Day. And Miss Drumm in The Child Garden was based on my beloved late step-granny-in-law, Laura McRoberts. Todd, the fabulous gay best friend in the Last Ditch, is rooted in my FGBF Alex MacLeod. (See what I mean about the Mcs and Macs?)
What is the best book you have ever read? Blimey. That’s a tough question. And I’m not going to answer it. What I will say is that in my study – I’m looking at them right now – I’ve got a wee pile of five books which are the books that made me a writer. I discovered them as a teenager, and each one showed me something new that a novel could be, that a writer could do. They are – in order of my finding them – Pride and Prejudice, Gone With The Wind, Catch-22, The Water-method Man (John Irving), and I Capture The Castle (Dodie Smith).
Do you have any advice for new writers? Nothing earth-shattering or original, to be honest. Finish the book! When you’re disheartened, keep going. When you think of a better story, leave it aside and plough on. Finish. The. Book. Charlaine Harris said it best when she said, “Anyone can start fifteen novels; it takes a writer to finish one.”
Find Catriona on Facebook or Twitter, and at catrionamcpherson.com
I’m Sue Pepper, and I write not so cozy mysteries for millennials. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my two kids, a fuzzy yellow dog, and a real-life action hero husband. I’m a former resident of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, pushed out by the billionaire-caused housing crisis, and I enjoy writing revenge and redemption for the fictional residents of my Jackson Hole Moose’s Bakery Not So Cozy Mystery series.
My newest book, Hot Springs Murder, is the second in the series and is set in snowy Jackson Hole winter. In it, my second-generation bakery owner protagonist Sadie Moose is enjoying a romantic evening in a moonlit hot spring with her new boyfriend when a dead body floating in the pool interrupts their steamy interlude.
Yes. Another dead body. But she is absolutely not getting involved this time. She has enough to do with a business expansion underway, her new renters, and her new relationship.
Except the chief suspect is the troubled grandson of one of the regulars at her bakery. She promises she’ll ask some questions to keep him out of jail. And then her new barista is a neighbor of the deceased, and she’s having a hard time sleeping, thinking someone in her tight-knit neighborhood is a murderer. So, Sadie asks a few more questions.
Soon, she’s embroiled in the investigation, with danger lurking around every snowy corner. With help from her sexy boyfriend, rowdy bakery crew, a maybe-mob-princess, and her trusty canine companion, Tyrone, Sadie must clear the mist surrounding this mystery before the killer boils her, too.
I’m excited to answer some questions today!
What is a not so cozy mystery? Cozy mysteries are defined by an amateur sleuth, unlikable victims, quirky characters, and a cozy setting. Death and violence happen off-page. My not so cozy mysteries have all those hallmarks, with the added spice of salty language and steamy scenes. They’re cozy mysteries for spicy romance readers, for everyone that’s watched a Hallmark movie and wished the characters acted more like real people. While my series has romantic elements, each book doesn’t have a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now, so they don’t qualify as romance. There will be an HEA within the series arc, though!
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I knew Jackson Hole was the perfect backdrop when I started writing this series. The tension between the strained local workforce, billionaire second and third homeowners, developers, tourists, wildlife, and conservationists was too delicious to pass up! We lived in Jackson for three years, and we miss it dearly. Setting my series there helped me reconnect with it and our memories of the place.
Most of the specific establishments are based on actual businesses, but renamed, moved, and tweaked for my purposes. Moose’s Bakery, Sadie’s family business, is inspired by three Jackson Hole coffee houses. It has the vibe of Cowboy Coffee Co, the location of Persephone Bakery, and the knotty pine look of Jackson Hole Roasters. Get Rich or Thai Tryin’, the Thai food truck my characters frequent, is imaginary, but how fun would it be if it was real? In Hot Springs Murder, the book is set at two different hot springs. Pritchard, which is based on the real Granite Hot Springs, just moved for my convenience and renamed, and Astoria Hot Springs, which are real and located just where I said in the book. I think taking author’s license to make things the way I wish they were is one of the most enjoyable things about writing!
Do you have subplots? How do you weave them into the series arc? My goal for this series is twelve full-length books with interstitial short stories between each, so my books are ripe with subplots! The lives loves, and adventures of each of the characters, not just my main character, will be explored throughout the series. Sadie’s crusade against developers and the ongoing workforce housing crisis is also an overarching plot. In book one, Mountain Town Murder, Sadie’s childhood home is under threat of being razed to make way for pricey condos the workforce can’t afford. I won’t spoil the ending, but the decision she makes about her home will play out for the series. I love writing my interstitial short stories, which occur between full-length novels and handle a smaller mystery, but flesh out subplots I don’t have room for in the main books. I have two of those out, Escape From the North Pole #1.5 and A Deadly Secret Admirer #2.5.
What brought you to writing? I’m the stereotypical “I’ve been writing all my life” person! Since I can remember, I’ve been scrawling ideas down in notebooks and hoarding them under my bed where no one could read them. I’ve plotted out dozens of books but never could get past the beginnings. I’d almost given up, but the pandemic brought me home with my kids, and over time, I started carving out time to research self-publishing and the business of writing. Last year, the idea for this series hit me, and I decided to write it, put it out on Wattpad, and stop worrying about what people would think. While I didn’t build much of an audience on that platform with only one story, I completed a book! After lots of tweaks, I published Mountain Town Murder in November 2021, and the floodgates opened. Now I can’t stop writing, and I plan to release four full-length novels in the series this year.
What are the challenges of being an indie author? I find being an indie author challenging but also so freeing. Whatever the problems I have are, it’s up to me to fix them. I get to set my priorities, and the limit to what I can learn and what I can earn are on me! The biggest challenge is balancing time between writing and marketing, as well as building funds to invest in editing, cover design, and more. I’ve found great self-publishing communities online that have taught me so much!
When’s your next book coming out? Book three in the series releases 4/26/22! Boss Babe Murder is set at a multi-level marketing retreat cut off from the world and is my first locked-room mystery. Sadie’s on her way to a hard-earned all-inclusive beach vacation, but she needs to make just one stop before she heads to the airport. When the road closes behind her, she finds herself stranded with the leaders of a pyramid scheme and their acolytes, including her in-to-deep friend from college and a mysterious man from her past who’s hiding his true identity. When one of the company leaders is murdered, and help can’t reach them, Sadie must solve the mystery to clear her friend’s name and discover the killer before they strike again.
Thanks for having me, George!
Find Sue Pepper online at www.suepepperauthor.com, on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
KEITH FINNEY – Trained as a carpenter, ran his own furniture-making business by age twenty-two, and later became a college lecturer. His career highlight (to date) involved travelling the world on ocean liners, teaching supervisory staff, and being seasick on every voyage – Following further promotions, Keith retired from his post as an assistant principal of a large college several years ago and is now an author and proud grandad to five adorable kids.
A Deadly Mistake: Vicar’s daughter Anna Grix and American Lieutenant Eddie Elsner investigate a suspicious death. Before they’re done, others will die, changing Anna and Eddie’s life forever.
There’s something about writing that I find incredibly motivating. To start the day with a blank computer screen, create stuff that didn’t exist before. Then a few months later, push the ‘publish’ button on a distribution platform and see readers buying your creation. How cool is that?
I wrote my first book over thirty-five years ago. Handwritten, it’s still in the (much faded) blue folder I placed it in around 1985. I’ll occasionally peek at it, although my handwriting has changed so much over the years, I can hardly read it now! The thing is, I hadn’t a clue what to do with it at the time and soon went into teaching. It’s languished in a variety of cupboards over the years as I moved around England, building my college career.
In 2013, I discovered Amazon KDP and decided to have another go. I wrote a series of short stories under a pen name (I wasn’t brave enough to use my own!). One of those books immediately became a best seller in its category and remained so for eighteen months. ‘This is easy,’ I thought. Of course, that was nonsense, and repeating my early success proved elusive, to say the least.
Move forward a year or so, and I published a trilogy of books in a different genre under a new pen name (see, still not confident to use my real name) – and paid the price of not getting a development editor to look over the manuscripts. I also made a crucial error in tinkering with the text after my chosen proofreader corrected the original manuscript. As all authors know, Amazon reviewers can be a ruthless lot. Disheartened, I unpublished the series and stopped writing for a couple of years.
In 2017, I decided to make a final attempt, but this time be better prepared. I spent time reverse engineering the books of several best-sellers in my chosen genre, then subscribed to a training programme put together by a UK/US best-selling author and trainer (he still is) and basically learned how to put an engaging book together.
The result? The creation of my ‘Norfolk Cozy Mystery’ series, with six published to date and more planned this year. The success of that series (in the UK at least!) led to an email from London publishing house, Lume Books. They commissioned me to write a three-book series of cozy mysteries set in WWII, England, which features vicar’s daughter, Anna Grix, and American Lieutenant Eddie Elsner. And so, the ‘Lipton St Faith’ mysteries were born, the final title, ‘A Deadly Mistake,’ is published this very day (20th Jan 2022).
My new self-published series, ‘Rex and the Dowager, is now live with the first book, ‘A Posh Murder‘ remaining popular and second title, ‘A Spiffing Murder,’ slated for publication in early April. Set in 1920’s England, the cozy crime novels revolve around the interaction of the three lead protagonists, the Dowager Duchess of Drakeford (esteemed amateur sleuth in aristocratic circles), her young ward, Rex Sutherland, and wily old Detective Inspector Whipple of Scotland Yard. I adore the historical aspect of the tales and using a form of language that has mostly disappeared from everyday usage.
Tell us about your writing process. I’m very much a morning person, so I aim to get my word count in by lunch. When I’m in full flow, I aim for around 3,000 words a day, although I don’t beat myself up if it’s less.
Do you outline, or are you a punster? In the main, I prefer to outline. The issue is that I tend to put too much detail into the plotting. While this makes writing each chapter relatively quick, the downside is that plotting a new novel can go on for weeks and weeks, which drives me nuts. So, I generally start by plotting the first few chapters in detail but then allow the characters to drive the mystery – now we’re in the tricky realm of plotting and pansterism running side by side! However, I make sure to pin down who the main antagonist is, the red-herring characters, and the means by which the bodies are ‘bumped off’ so that I don’t drift too much and can resolve all the story lines by the time I type ‘END.’
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? It’s not just the people. I like to include real locations/events. I use these to ‘anchor’ the mystery in terms of time and place. I love doing the research but have to be disciplined in not turning a light-hearted cozy mystery into a treatise on English history! There’s also a real danger that my readers know more about the subject than I do. For example, I outlined a train journey in my first ‘Rex and the Dowager’ book, only for a reader to inform me that in 1922 the train route did not exist… and told me how to correct the passage!
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’ve just commissioned a narrator for ‘A Posh Murder’ and am excited by what I’ve heard so far. If it goes well, there will be more audiobooks as the year progresses. My other focus for 2022 is to write at least one additional title in my ‘Norfolk Cozy Mysteries’ series and books two and three featuring Rex, the Dowager, and Whipple of the Yard!
Do you have any advice for new writers? I’m hesitant to give advice to budding authors, so what follows is simply borne from my own experience.
Don’t spend money on every ‘new shiny object.’ If you need help with self-publishing, jump in and invest in Mark Dawson’s 101training (not an affiliate link!). It’s expensive, but you can pay monthly. The modules teach you all you need to know – and hopefully stop you from making the expensive mistakes I’ve made over the years.
Self-publishing does not offer ‘the cheap option’ in getting yourself ‘out there,’ but it is the most democratic. Write about something you like, use a pen name if you’re nervous about revealing yourself to the world, and upload to Amazon KDP or one of the other platforms. The learning curve is steep but to use an old cliche (which, of course, we never employ in our writing!) ‘You can’t start until you start.’
Spirits and Sourdough is tenth in the Magical Bakery Mystery series. When hedgewitch Katie Lightfoot takes a ghost tour in Savannah, Georgia, the psychic tour guide tells her that she’s being followed by the spirit of a recently murdered woman. Katie knew the victim and understands she must bring the killer to justice.
Bailey Cates writes the New York Times bestselling Magical Bakery Mysteries. As Bailey Cattrell, she also writes the Enchanted Garden Mysteries featuring aromatherapist Elliana Allbright. Bailey writes, gardens, cooks, and hikes in northern Colorado, where she lives with her guy and Cheesecat the Orange.
Don’t Do What I Do: Confessions of an Outlining Pantster – Sort of.
Thank you for inviting me to your blog, George!
One of the most asked questions authors receive is about writing process. We are always seeking that perfect process to plug our creativity into, and heaven knows there are plenty of books offering the right way to do it.
This is not the right way to do it.
After twenty books, I’ve honed my writing process into a weird jumble of techniques that I don’t recommend to anyone. I honestly wish I could make one of the many logical methods out there work for me. But: nope. Mine goes like this.
First, I either already know or develop the main character. In the series, I write I know her and her cohort pretty well by now. So next, I play around with the circumstances around the murder, the reason the protagonist will get involved, who the victim is, and who the suspects might be. Usually, I don’t have names at this point, except for the recurring characters, but occasionally I know the victim’s name right off. That’s usually a good sign because it tells me more of the story than usual is lurking around in the back of my brain.
Then, I stew a bit. I take walks and clean the house and garden … and stew. What theme might distill out of this situation? What subplots might fit, and how could they connect to the main plot? How can the protagonist grow in this story? And perhaps most importantly, what are the characters’ secrets – victim, killer, and suspects. I take a bunch of notes at this stage, and there is a blizzard of post-its around my desk, so at some point, I collate everything and map out the first third of the book on index cards stuck to a twelve-foot length of craft paper tacked on my office wall. Higher tension scenes are physically higher on this storyboard, so I can judge pacing. I keep track of each day in the book on this storyboard, color code subplots, and plug in things I know about later in the book – like if I know where the climax will take place, or what the subclimax will involve – and at the edge of the board, I keep a running list of loose ends that must be resolved by the end of the book. By this time, I’ve figured out how to start the book, usually during a nice long walk. I start writing, even though I only have the first third of the book worked out in any detail.
As I write, I mark places where I need to research with xxx. On days when the writing feels like throwing bricks at the computer screen, I’ll take a break and peruse books, make calls, and search the Internet to fill in all those details.
As I approach the end of the first third of the book, what comes next, or things that need follow up, make their way into the gradually fleshed-out second act on the storyboard. That act usually ends a bit more than two-thirds through the book. It culminates with some kind of excitement/threat/revelation that serves as a sub-climax before a brief rest in the pace before ramping up for the final climax and capture of the murderer.
By the time I get to the climax, I’m not even bothering to put more index cards on the storyboard – my tidy storyboard just kind of trails off as I get toward the end. I know what’s coming, at least in a general sense, and ride that momentum.
Sometimes I know who the killer is right off, in the very first stages of putting the story elements together in my mind. However, there are times when I don’t know for sure who did it, only that there are some very good suspects to sift through. As I get to know them better – and their secrets – I figure out who the killer is.
As unorganized and random as that method sounds, I approach scenes in a similar way. Only, perhaps a bit more organized. I cluster, or mind map, each scene before I write it. The scene concept goes in the middle, and I start adding bubbles around it. I note the setting, any descriptions, cause, and effect, working it all out in a nonlinear way. Then, I make it linear by taking a highlighter and connecting the bubbles in the order I want to use them in the scene. So, it’s kind of a scene outline, albeit a weird one, and I do it for nearly all scenes after I get the first twenty pages of the book down.
Finally, I have a few rules I try to stick by for each book.
- At least two subplots.
- Each subplot has at least three scenes (those scenes might involve the main plot as well).
- If a character has a name, they have to appear, or be referenced, at least three times.
- The baking/cooking and magic are sprinkled liberally and deliberately throughout each book. I keep track of their regularity on the storyboard, adding wherever those elements seem light.
- I try not to have character names that start with the same letter, especially if they are going to be in several scenes together because it can be confusing to the reader.
- Of course, you can only have so many Zoes or Zacks or Yvonnes, so I sometimes mine unusual names that will stick in the reader’s mind as distinct. My best source is old movie credits.
- At least one recipe at the back of the book reflects the pastry in the title of the book.
However, as I write this, I realize I didn’t put a recipe for sourdough in the back of Spirits and Sourdough! The blood-orange thyme cake is to die for, though.
You can find out more about me, my books, and the recipes in the back of them at www.baileycates.com.
Harini Nagendra is a Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India, and has written several non-fiction books, including the award-winning Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities. The Bangalore Detectives Club, the first book in the Detective Kaveri mysteries, is her first novel. She lives in Bangalore with her family.
The Bangalore Detectives Club is the first in a charming, joyful, cozy crime series set in 1920s Bangalore, featuring sari-wearing detective Kaveri and her husband, Ramu. Solving crimes isn’t easy. Add a new marriage and a jealous mother-in-law into the mix, and you’ve got a problem. But Kaveri finds nothing is too difficult – not when you have a talent for math, a head for logic, and a doctor for a husband.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes, I have written several popular non-fiction books on nature and the environment – part of my day job as an ecologist and university professor. I also write a regular monthly Sunday newspaper column. Writing non-fiction is a very different process – I write tight, to a specified word count, and need to make every word count. I need to switch off my non-fiction voice very firmly in order to write fiction, or else I can never get going!
What brought you to writing? From when I can remember, I’ve always written – at first, short stories for school newsletters, then a small ‘book’ for my father when he was living in a different city for a while. Writing is a huge stress-buster for me and one of the things I love doing the most.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write anywhere and everywhere, but my favourite writing spot is on an old couch in my bedroom. I drink copious amounts of tea as I write – Indian masala tea, or chai, with milk and many spoons of sugar. When I’m especially stuck, I ask Alexa to play old Indian movie songs – period music, for inspiration.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America, have been of huge help. I’m beginning a career in fiction writing late in life – my first book will be published in the same month I turn fifty. I’m also based in India, thousands of miles from where my books are being published in the US and UK. Thanks to SinC and MWA, I have met so many incredibly supportive authors, attended virtual happy hours, and made some good friends – and lucked out on blog opportunities such as this one!
How long did it take you to write your first book? The Bangalore Detectives Club is my first fiction book. I wrote a number of short stories when I was younger. And I have written non-fiction books, but that’s always been easy, as they are largely based on my research as a career academic. I never thought I could write a full-length novel.
Sometime in 2007, the main protagonist, Kaveri, apparated into my mind and demanded that I write about her. In my innocence, I thought it would take me a few months at most – I was then pregnant with my daughter. I believed I could churn out the book in the few months that I planned to take slow with my new baby, rocking her with one hand while typing with the other. Boy, was I naïve. It took me fourteen years to complete the book and bring it to publication. The best part of the long journey is that my daughter, now a teen, is one of my best beta-readers (the other is my husband)! With a three-book series in hand, I can’t afford to take fourteen years for each new book. I need to write a new book every year and shift gear into a different mode. My day job is hectic – I teach, lead a research centre, and do quite a bit of research administration, so finding time to write is not easy. But thanks to my long experience with writing non-fiction, I’m used to squeezing time out to write in brief chunks – it all adds up.
How long to get it published? I was very fortunate. My agent, Priya Doraswamy of Lotus Lane Literary, is an old school friend from Bangalore. She really ‘got’ the book from the start and was a great help in pushing me to the finish line and helping me edit and revise the book into shape. That took about six months. Then things moved very quickly. Within a few weeks, Priya found a terrific publisher in Little Brown UK’s Constable and Robinson imprint, which specializes in crime fiction. Later, Pegasus Books acquired the US rights.
How do you come up with character names? That’s relatively easy. I look for common Indian names of the era I’m writing, which are specific to the community I’m writing about – I try and make sure they’re relatively easy for a foreign audience to pronounce, but that’s about it. I did make a blooper when I realized (just before the book was going into copy-editing) that one of my main characters, who had a very common name – think Mike or Anne in the US – shared her name with at least two close family members, and one friend, any of whom might take offence. I quickly changed her name to a less common one. Now I try to make sure that I select names of people that I do not know personally.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? My characters certainly run the show. Two new characters – Inspector Ismail and a woman in trouble, Mala – were not part of my original plot. Still, they turned up one day, inserted themselves onto the page, and insisted on taking the story in a different direction. They’re terrific, and I have enjoyed getting to know them – I guess I just need to get comfortable with giving up control.
What kind of research do you do? My series is set in 1920s Bangalore, during the British colonial era, and I need to get the setting right. I’m fortunate to have a large amount of archival material on Bangalore history, which I’ve collected over the years as part of my work on Bangalore’s ecological history, but I do need to re-read to gather details on the architecture, weather, traffic conditions, and other important aspects that determine the setting. I read old newspapers to get the little details, such as a notice of a flower exhibition or a workers’ strike. And to understand the social milieu, I talk to my mom, who is in her 80s. Her grandmothers came of age in the same era that my protagonists did. The stories my mom tells, passed on from her grandmothers, give me an intimate glimpse into women’s domestic lives in 1920s Bangalore and help me to understand their daily joys and obstacles in a way that historical documents simply cannot match.
How do our readers contact you?