TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery!
Alice: Thank you, I’m thrilled to be here!
TQ: Writing quirks! What are some of yours?
Alice: It’s funny but our New York City mayor fired a city employee for playing solitaire on his work computer—yet that’s how Marc works out writing problems. He plays computer solitaire while mentally going over dialog or the elements of a scene and soon he comes up with a solution. Maybe it’s the simple act of ordering the colors: red, black, red, black, but it helps him organize the next scene in his mind.
As for me, my game is Tetris. (Here’s where I play: http://www.tetrisfriends.com/ ) Quickly fitting those little pieces together as they fall down the screen somehow helps my mind fit the pieces of the mystery together.
Another quirk is our music. Marc and I write in separate rooms. Consequently, we end up listening to our own favorite playlists of movie soundtracks. A reader visiting us might find it odd to see Marc typing away to the music of Forbidden Planet while I’m in another room tapping out text to the soundtrack from Sense and Sensibility.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Alice: The honest answer is both. We like to sketch out our plots with basic roadmaps, but we always allow our imaginations to go off those maps in order to explore unpredictable twists and turns. Overall, we’re plotters because a mystery structure requires certain elements to be in place (i.e., the planting of clues). Scene for scene, however, we’re more pantsters. We often surprise each other with fresh ideas as we’re constructing each scene and moving through the story—and that’s the way we like to write. If we can keep surprising ourselves, then we’re more likely to surprise our readers.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Alice: The physical challenge. While sitting in front of a computer screen is a far cry from training for an Olympic sport, when you sit on your assets for eight to ten hours a day, week after week, it becomes physically taxing.
Marc and I try to take walks, stretch, and do what we can to prevent back strain. As for the mental challenges of writing, our biggest frustration is not having enough time to develop all the ideas we’re periodically scribbling on napkins, reciting into digital recorders, and tucking away into computer files!
TQ: Your most recent Haunted Bookshop Mystery is The Ghost and The Haunted Mansion (A Haunted Bookshop Mystery 5). What inspired you to write mysteries with paranormal/supernatural elements?
Alice: A single, amazing book—The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It’s no secret that this book inspired the premise for the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries. I greatly admire author Josephine Leslie for her novel, which was turned into a Hollywood movie after it became a bestseller in England in 1945.
I often consider the period when she wrote that book, a time when many young widows were grieving over the loss of their vital husbands on the bloody battlefields of World War II. Ms. Leslie’s novel (written under the pen name R.A. Dick) gave these women the story of Mrs. Muir, a young widow like themselves, who found companionship with the ghost of a virile sea captain. Captain Gregg even became Mrs. Muir’s muse in the course of the novel, dictating his adventures as she wrote them into a book.
I can’t think of many better uses for fiction, or any art, than to comfort the grieving; to lift them up with an idea that maybe they really aren’t so alone, that maybe there really are spirits looking after them, even if those spirits reside within themselves—as imagination, passion, or creative abilities that they have yet to tap.
TQ: Do you base your paranormal/supernatural elements on existing lore, make things up or both?
Alice: My own brushes with the paranormal have left me with very strong emotions about the subject, and that’s what I tap into when I write the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries with my husband.
My fascination with death (and what happens after it) started very early. While growing up in Pennsylvania, I spent a lot of time in a small Revolutionary War-era cemetery, reading gravestones and hanging out alone with the dead. I even convinced my girlfriends to have a picnic there. Only later in life did I learn about the Day of the Dead ritual and realized I wasn’t such an odd one after all.
What I call “ghost hunting” is also a favorite pastime of mine and my husband’s, which is what I call visiting places purported to be haunted. I’ve even had my own encounters with ghosts/spirits—one with my husband as a witness, so I assure you that I’m not crackers.
Anyway, now that my mother, my beloved Aunt Mary, and a respected mentor have all passed over, I feel a real connection to people on the other side, so when I write about ghosts, it’s from a genuine perspective. And if anyone reading this thinks the spirits of the dead are a big crock, by all means chock my viewpoint up to my superior imaginative abilities (or my unbalanced creative mind). Either way it works for me when putting specters on paper.
TQ: What sorts of research have you done for the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries? What is the oddest bit of information that you’ve come across in your research.
Alice: Our ghost, Jack Shepard, was gunned down over sixty years ago and sent into a peculiar afterlife—one that trapped him in the mystery bookstore of Penelope Thornton-McClure (our amateur sleuth). When Jack was alive, however, he made his living as a PI in 1940s New York City. So we research that era for every new book, immersing ourselves in the life that Jack likely led. That research almost always produces interesting ideas for subplots or twists and turns in the fiction.
We also research ghosts and paranormal activity, and we’ve come across many interesting stories and individuals working in that arena. You can read my own interview with the actual ghost whisperer who inspired the long-running CBS TV show of the same name. Just click this link: http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com/2009/10/cleo-talk-with-real-ghost-whisperer.html
TQ: Tell us something about The Ghost and The Haunted Mansion that is not in the book description.
Alice: Back in the 1930s “weird menace” was a popular subgenre in the pulp magazines. Weird menace is any story where the events appear supernatural, but aren’t. Fake ghosts, phony spiritualists, and bogus haunted houses populate this genre. What we did with The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion actually fits right into that quirky sub-genre.
TQ: Who are the easiest characters to write in your series and why? The hardest and why?
Alice: The regulars in both of our series are the easiest to write because we’ve gotten to know them so intimately. The villains in our tales are probably the hardest to write because the outlook of murderers, sociopaths, and criminals is so dark and destructive. At heart, Marc and I are positive people. Like our amateur sleuths, we prefer to see good win out, the innocent protected, evil thwarted, and justice served.
TQ: Which character in the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries has surprised you the most?
Alice: Our amateur sleuth, the New England bookseller Penelope Thornton-McClure. She’s much more plucky than we originally envisioned her. In the next book, The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller, readers will see just how resilient and determined she is when she launches a new business venture.
TQ: What's next? /this is where you share anything bookish that you'd like/
Alice: We have two books coming out this year. In August, A BREW TO A KILL goes on sale. This is the 11th title in our long-running, national bestselling Coffeehouse Mystery series, and we’ve gotten some great news on it. The Mystery Guild has selected it as a featured alternate, AudioGo (BBC Audiobooks America) will be producing it as an audiobook, and RT Book Reviews called it “completely entertaining,” and gave it 4-1/2 stars. So we’re off and running.
Later this fall, Penguin Group is releasing HOLIDAY BUZZ, a holiday-special paperback original in our Coffeehouse Mystery series. Then next August, we’ll have another new hardcover in the series, which will bring us up to 13 Coffeehouse Mystery titles.
As for the new book in our Haunted Bookshop Mysteries, The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller has not been published yet, but it will be in the near future. Marc and I are under contract to write several more books in the Haunted Bookshop series, as well, and we look forward to writing them!
We actually started writing and publishing the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries back in 2004, so we’ve been living with the characters a long time, and we expect to continue living with them (yes, even the dead ones) for the foreseeable future!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Alice: Thank you so much for asking!
Haunted Bookshop Mysteries
The Ghost and the Haunted MansionA Hunted Bookshop Mystery 5
Berkley (Prime Crime), January 6, 2009
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
When the local mailman inherits a haunted mansion and demands an exorcism, bookshop owner Pen must act fast to save her favorite ghost—1940s detective Jack Shepard—before it's too late.
The Ghost and the Femme FataleA Hunted Bookshop Mystery 4
Berkley (Prime Crime), May 6, 2008
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 256 pages
With local police on the wrong track, Penelope enlists the help of Jack Shepard, PI. Okay, so Jack hasn't had a heartbeat since 1949, when he was gunned down in what is now Pen's store. But the hard-boiled ghost actually remembers Hedda's dark past and Penelope is sure he can help solve this case—even if he and his license did expire more than fifty years ago...
The Ghost and the Dead Man's LibraryA Hunted Bookshop Mystery 3
Berkley (Prime Crime), September 6, 2006
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 240 pages
Bookshop owner Penelope Thornton-McClure has just received an extremely rare collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works. Rumor has it a secret code, trapped within the books’ leather-bound pages, leads to buried treasure. Well, it looks like they got the buried part right, because as Pen sells off the valuable volumes, everyone who buys...dies.
Once these books go missing from their owners’ cold hands, Pen will need resident ghost and hard-boiled PI Jack Shepard to help crack the case. The police are skeptical that the deaths involved foul play—so it’s up to Pen and Jack to unravel these shocking endings...
The Ghost and the Dead DebA Hunted Bookshop Mystery 2
Berkley (Prime Crime), September 6, 2005
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 240 pages
The spirit is willing...to solve a murder.
Bookshop owner Penelope Thornton-McClure wants her resident sleuth-ghost, Jack, to stop haunting her customers. But when a pretty author is murdered, Jack can't rest in peace.
The Ghost and Mrs. McClureA Hunted Bookshop Mystery 1
Berkley (Prime Crime), February 3, 2004
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 272 pages
Penelope Thornton-McClure manages a Rhode Island bookshop rumored to be haunted. When a bestselling author drops dead signing books, the first clue of foul play comes from the store’s full-time ghost-a PI murdered on the very spot more than fifty years ago.
Is he a figment of Pen’s overactive imagination? Or is the likable, fedora-wearing specter the only hope Pen has to solve the crime?
A Brew to a KillA Coffeehouse Mystery 11
Berkley (Prime Crime), August 7, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
"Coyle's Coffeehouse books are superb" (Library Journal), and now the national bestselling author of Murder by Mocha serves up a hot new Coffeehouse Mystery with A Brew to a Kill.
Coffee. It can get a girl killed.
A shocking hit-and-run in front of her Village Blend coffeehouse spurs Clare Cosi into action. A divorced, single mom in her forties, Clare is also a dedicated sleuth, and she's determined to track down this ruthless driver who ran down an innocent friend and customer. In the meantime, her ex-husband Matt, the shop's globetrotting coffee buyer, sources some amazing new beans from Brazil. But he soon discovers that he's importing more than coffee, and Clare may have been the real target of that deadly driver. Can ex-husband and wife work together to solve this mystery? Or will their newest brew lead to murder? Includes recipes.
Coffeehouse Mysteries 1 - 10
Holiday BuzzA Coffeehouse Mystery 12
Berkley (Prime Crime), December 4, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook
Holiday time is party time in New York City, but after a sparkling winter bash ends with a murder, Village Blend coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi vows to put the killer on ice…
At the Great New York Cookie Swap, pastry chefs bake up their very best for charity. Clare is in charge of the beverage service, and her famous Fa-la-la-la Lattes make the gathering even merrier. But her high spirits come crashing down to earth, when she discovers the battered body of a hard-working baker’s assistant.
Police suspect a serial attacker whose escalating crimes have become known as “The Christmas Stalkings.” Clare’s boyfriend, NYPD detective Mike Quinn, finds reason to believe even more sinister forces are involved. Clare isn’t so sure—and when she finds a second bludgeoned baker, she becomes a target. Now Clare is spending the holiday season pouring over clues, and she’s not going to rest until justice is served.
Includes holiday and cookie recipes!
About Alice Kimberly / Cleo Coyle
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