Beverly Allen joins the blog today. Her first mystery, Bloom and Doom, will be published April 1st. It's the first in the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series.
BA: I've always been a sucker for a good rose. My wedding bouquet was mainly white roses with ivy, which I was pleased to later learn the meanings of. (White rose is innocence and ivy is fidelity.) But after delving into the language of flowers as research for the books, choosing a favorite becomes more difficult. It's like choosing a favorite word. I love lily of the valley, both for its delicate white flowers, but also its meaning: happiness restored. It's hard to look at flowers the same way.
Kathy: I've always been interested in the language of flowers and so was pleased to see you using it...especially with bridal bouquets. How did you discover the hidden messages of flowers?
BA: The language of flowers can be a little tricky to navigate, in part because there's no universal agreement on what certain flowers mean. To complicate matters, modern florists have redefined most of the flowers to their advantage. For example, how many orange lilies can they sell if people think they mean, "I hate you"? So they change it to something like, "I burn for you." But I found a lovely reprint of an old Victorian guide and try to use that as often as I can. (I think Audrey Bloom might have found a tattered copy of the original, but she'll use the reprint when working with customers.)
Kathy: We're both Western New Yorkers. What made you decide to set your series in Virginia?
BA: That started out as the publisher's idea. I think it has to do with cozies being extremely popular in the South. That's not to say I don't have a connection with the area. I do get down there a bit. My husband has regular business in Chantilly, Virginia, and all my in-laws live in North Carolina. When I was drafting the first book, I really wanted to find and visit a small town about the size of my fictional town of Ramble, VA. To save money, I could combine it with my husband's business trip and just drive there for a day. That was the plan, anyway. Only the trip kept getting delayed, so I researched the best I could online, created the rest, and kept writing. About two weeks before the book was due I was finally able to make the trip. In Berryville, Virginia, I drove slowly down an almost idyllic Main Street, then parked in the lot of their new municipal building. I dropped unannounced into the police station, where they proceeded to give me a tour and answer a bunch of questions. (Ramble's building is much older, by the way. Probably before the upgrade!) The next building over was the county visitor's center. Talked there for over an hour about the culture and history of the area. A block away (through a park with a gazebo eerily similar to the one I'd already written into the book) was the flower shop. I'm still friends on Facebook with the florist I talked with. I had lunch at a delightful little cafe and walked up and down Main Street, taking pictures. It was amazing how close I'd come, for example, in the number of employees in the flower shop and police officers for a town that size. I only changed a few details, mainly because the police don't house their own prisoners (Andy Griffith style). They're all kept at a larger regional facility. But it was a fabulous trip. While Ramble isn't Berryville, I think it has the same small-town Virginia feel.
Kathy: Authors are required to do a lot of their own marketing, especially for a new release. What's your favorite part of marketing your work? What do you dislike about marketing?
BA: In a lot of ways, authors are the least well-equipped to market well. We're an introverted lot. But I have discovered that I love to talk about writing. Even more about my own, so that's not really a problem.
The one thing I'm dreading, however, are the negative reviews cozies sometimes generate. I'm not talking about honest reviews--they're fair game. (Not everybody likes every book.) But I've read enough cozy reviews to notice that some mystery readers are extremely bad at picking out books. And some don't have a clue what a cozy is. So they pick up a book with a punny title and teacups and kittens on the cover, and then rant because they're not getting James Patterson, saying things like "the whole idea of an amateur sleuth is ridiculous" or "how many murders can you have in the same small town"? I won't respond to those, of course. Publically, that is. But it does illustrate how important reviews are to writers.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
BA: Loved Nancy Drew. Graduated to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers back in junior high and high school. But that was back in the 80s before the modern cozy really erupted onto the scene. So when I looked for mysteries beyond those, they were darker and grittier. And then when two high school classmates were murdered, I lost my interest in reading about murder. For a long time. I read biographies and classics. When my daughter was growing up, I read quite a bit of award-winning middle grade and YA. It might have been Monk that pulled me back to the cozy--that juxtaposition of mystery and humor. Even when cozies are overtly funny, there's something inherently humorous about an amateur solving mysteries.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
BA: I started writing inspirational. In fact, the first thing I wrote that was published was released as an inspirational romance. But people kept dying. (It was really a cozy mystery with a romance arc.) I tried romantic suspense, but it kept becoming a cozy. I think I'm a one-trick pony.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
BA: Audrey Bloom is the wedding coordinator for the Rose in Bloom, the flower shop she owns with her cousin Liv. Audrey loves creating custom bouquets for her customers, based on the language of flowers, and all of the brides who have carried her bouquets down the aisle are still living happily-ever-after with their spouses. It remains to be seen if everyone will survive the wedding...
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
BA: That's a tough one. Audrey Bloom is probably the one who's most like me, but I have to say I've fallen in love with her memories of her beloved Grandma Mae. She really had an impact on the kind of person Audrey became. And Audrey's cat, Chester, is a live wire.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
BA: For parts of it. For example, Audrey Bloom grew up spending summers with her Grandma Mae and her cousin Liv. I grew up in a rich extended family, with my Grandma Bea and my cousin Lisa. Like Audrey, I have fond memories of that time to draw from.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
BA: I'd be delusional (and probably very disappointed) if I said I became a writer to become rich and famous. Somewhere along the line, I fell in love with the craft of writing. For a lot of years, I gave it away, mostly writing puppet shows and church programs. Then I tried my hand at fan fiction. (I had fans in the literal dozens.) During that time I read a blog post, very disapproving of fan fiction, suggesting that if writers thought they were so good, they should try to write something original. I'd never considered doing that. But somehow the idea stuck--almost became a challenge. Publishing to me is a lot like galleries must be to artists--an chance to get their work seen and enjoyed (and criticized). It's really a scary thing. But scary like a roller coaster.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
BA: Ugh. That's a tough one. Well, I'd have to invite the dead ones, since it's not often that I get that opportunity, right? Agatha Christie would be good. Maybe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, if he promises to come sober. Mark Twain (ditto), to liven things up a bit. Then I'm not sure. I'm waffling between Dickens, Hawthorne, Poe, and John Bunyan.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
BA: I'm currently reading the Agatha nominees. Right now it's Kneading to Die, by Liz Mugavero.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
BA: Too many of them. I used to do a lot of needlework--cross stitch and embroidery, but carpel tunnel kind of killed that. I enjoy cooking and baking. I've made a few wedding cakes and planned (and catered) more than one church dinner. I like crafts of all kinds and garden, although sporadically. I've decided I really don't like gardening. I just like having one. I'm also very fond of board games and word games, and I'm a complete Disneyholic. True confessions: I've only done a little flower arranging, mainly because of severe allergies--which kind of inspired a character for the book.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
BA: Sugary kids' cereal, chocolate, coffee, milk.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
BA: Bloom and Doom is the first book. The second, For Whom the Bluebell Tolls is with the copyeditor. In it, Audrey Bloom designs a special bouquet for a bride participating in a reality TV show. I had a lot of fun writing it and it will be out next January. The third, Floral Depravity will come out later in 2015. That book centers around a murder at a medieval-themed wedding.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
BA: I get a thrill thinking about people reading and hopefully enjoying what I wrote. I also love conferences. I'll be at Malice Domestic this year, and Bouchercon. I love meeting other writers and readers. At this point, I hope to earn enough to cover my conference habit.
Thanks to the generosity of the author one lucky person will receive an autographed copy of Bloom and Doom. In order to qualify, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite flower. I'll use random.org to pick a winner from those that comment before midnight next Monday, March 31st EST. Be sure to leave me your e-mail address so that I'm able to contact you, should you win!