We’ve been talking about mysteries this week, so we turned to author Amanda Lee for insight about writing a cozy mystery. Amanda has two amazing series under her belt: the Embroidery mysteries and the Myrtle Crumb books she’s written as Gayle Trent. Also, hers is our favorite definition of the cozy mystery genre; she calls it: “Desperate Housewives meets Mayberry RFD. Everyone knows everyone, but someone has a deep, dark secret.”
Here, we chat with her about her craft, as well as her most recent Embroidery mystery, CROSS-STITCH BEFORE DYING.
NG: What draws you to writing cozy mystery?
AL: When I was a child, I loved the Nancy Drew books and Enid Blyton’s series, The Secret Seven. As I got older I enjoyed reading Victoria Holt. I was drawn to those types of books–and still am!–because I like to solve puzzles and get caught up in mystery and suspense, but I don’t want to be grossed out with a lot of bloody, gory imagery. I love TV mysteries too. With both venues, I like trying to figure out “whodunit” and why before the big reveal. I like to get it right, but it’s even better if I’m surprised…given that the writers don’t “cheat” the watchers or the readers!
NG: Marcy’s embroidery shop The Seven-Year Stitch is one of the most cozy fictional settings I’ve come across! What’s your secret to setting in the series?
AL: First off, thank you! That’s a wonderful compliment! I feel that readers get involved in the character development and back stories of the various characters. I know I get that way with Marcy and her neighbors, and I also want to know more about characters in my favorite series. I think with series fiction, it’s important to let readers “see” familiar characters. For example, Captain Moe might not be in every book, but we still know he’s there and that he’s a good, caring character. Then, of course, there’s Vera who is in every book. We met her in the very first book–THE QUICK AND THE THREAD–and now, with book number six, we see how far she’s progressed in such a short time. I think it’s good for readers to see this woman who was in a bad situation at the end of the first book bounce back and make the most of her life. And it’s a pleasure for me to watch her story unfold too. It goes to show that no one is ever past the point of realizing his or her dreams.
NG: Planting red herrings to throw readers off their lead is a big part of plotting a good mystery. Can you share any of your writing tips and techniques?
AL: Sometimes it’s as simple as I change my mind! I thought I knew who the killer was, and it turned out to be someone else! Other times, I try to drop subtle clues that it could be this person or that one because that person had a viable motive, means, and opportunity. I definitely try not to be too obvious or too heavy-handed, but I also don’t want readers to feel cheated…like the killer and reason for the murder came out of the blue.
NG: What kind of reader do you imagine when you’re writing?
AL: I would have to say that I pretty much try to get the reader out of my head in order to write the story as honestly as possible. When a reader worms her voice in there, it’s usually that of my editor (either my actual editor or my internal self-editor)! It will say, “You’ve used that word a million times already. Pick another” or something to that effect. When I do imagine a reader, I try to think of someone who loves the series and the characters as much as I do.
NG: I am a big fan of Detective Ted Nash. Can you tell us more about him as the heroine’s sidekick and romantic interest? What is your approach to his characterization?
AL: I loved Ted from the very start. I intended to make him a little more hard-nosed–and he is somewhat in THE QUICK AND THE THREAD–but I started seeing him more and more as having a soft side. Like Marcy, he’s been unlucky in love but is willing to put his heart back out there and trust again. He’s protective, kind, loving…a very strong character. That character arises out of the situations he faces.
For example, in book number seven, THREAD END, Ted’s mother makes her first appearance. Ted had not previously introduced his mother and Marcy, and Marcy wanted to know why. In answering that question, more was revealed about Ted, his past, his personality, his family. So, now that Ted and Marcy’s romance is heating up, we’re going to be learning more about him.
NG: I’m excited! In the most recent installment, CROSS-STITCH BEFORE DYING, murder interrupts a film production. What inspired you to bring Hollywood glamour to Tallulah Falls?
AL: With Marcy’s mom, Beverly, being a Hollywood costume designer, it was simply a logical–and fun!–thing to do. I touched on Beverly and her career briefly in STITCH ME DEADLY, but this allowed me to have a little more fun with the whole Hollywood/Bollywood scene. I think most of us get a little star struck. Marcy doesn’t because she’s been around it all her life, but I enjoyed showing that side of the rest of Tallulah Falls. Even the usually reserved Reggie was excited about taking part in creating a movie!
About Amanda Lee:
Amanda Lee is a pseudonym for cozy mystery writer Gayle Trent. Gayle lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. She’s a full-time writer/editor/mom/wife and chief cook and bottle washer, and she loves every minute of it. Okay, not the bottle washing so much, but the rest of it is great. Follow her on Twitter and stop by her website, www.gayletrent.com.