Joyce and Jim Lavene, also known as J.J. Cook, have returned to Cozy Up With Kathy to talk about names and their recently released book, Death on Eat Street, the first in their new Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mystery series.
Kathy: You write many different series under a few different names. How do you decide which pen name goes with which series...and why so many different ones?
JC: Authors don’t gladly take on pen names – in most cases. It’s seems especially unimportant in our digital society where our signatures are barely dry on a contract before reviewers and websites know what pen name we’re writing under. But publishers still like to use them. Pen names are supposed to give readers a fresh perspective on the author, and separate their books, if they write a lot like we do.
It’s a real problem for authors, who have to promote very hard to tell their readers that this other name belongs to them. While the people involved with the business of writing pick up very quickly, readers are sometimes slow to follow.
Our pen name – J.J. Cook – came about because we write three or four mysteries a year for Berkley Prime Crime. It was a way of distinguishing between those series, and the books we write as Joyce and Jim Lavene.
At Simon and Schuster, it is a way of distinguishing between their mysteries that we write, and the Berkley mysteries (and Harlequin and Amazon mysteries).
J.J. Cook writes the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries and the Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mysteries for Berkley. Ellie Grant writes for Simon and Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint (pie shop mystery).
We’ve also written romance under the names Joye Ames and Elyssa Henry because the publishers wanted us to have one, feminine name.
It’s all part of being a professional writer. It may be confusing for readers sometimes, but websites such as Cozy-mystery.com and Fantasticfiction.co.uk – and an author’s website – can show a reader the many names most writers have written under. Our website, www.joyceandjimlavene.com has all of our books, and all of our names.
Kathy: Zoe decides to work from a food truck since her diner is not fit for customers yet. Food trucks seem to be all the rage these days. There's even a food truck competition show on TV. Are there lots of food trucks in your area?
JC: Yes! We have really good food trucks in the Charlotte, NC area. We were able to visit with several of them – even spend the day with Ollie’s Onions – you’ll see one of our main characters named Ollie in Death on Eat Street. It was very helpful to really experience all the hard, fast work and food prep that goes with running a food truck.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite type of food truck fare?
JC: We really loved Ollie’s Onions because he makes a deep-fried onion as his main dish, just as Zoe makes biscuit bowls. It is surprisingly not greasy and delicious. I wish I could tell you how he makes it, but that is his secret recipe. We found many food trucks have secret ways of preparing their food. Ollie also makes really good fries of almost every variety, and to-die-for hushpuppies.
Kathy: While Zoe is having some issues with her food, her biscuits are spot on. Are you able to make a perfect biscuit?
JC: I am definitely NOT Zoe Chase! I bake a little at Christmas, but otherwise my food is mostly on the go. I had a wonderful aunt who made the best biscuits. I gave her recipe to my son, Christopher, who is a pizza chef and loves to play with food. He improved her recipe, and helped us write the one you’ll find in the back of Death on Eat Street for deep-fried biscuit bowls.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for this series?
JC: Our inspiration for this series was our daughter, Jeni, who said ‘Why don’t you write a food truck mystery?’ We had never been to a food truck until then, but she had, and loves them. We couldn’t have written this series without her!
Kathy: When it comes to writing I understand there are 2 general camps-plotters, who diligently plot their stories, and pansters, who fly by the seat of their pants. Are you a plotter, a panster, or do you fall somewhere in between?
JC: We’re a little of both, and it changes with each book. We have written lengthy outlines and synopses so we both understand what we’re doing. When there are two of you writing together, as my husband and I do, you have to make sure you’re on the same page. Some books seem to need that, while others seem to write themselves. I don’t know what the difference is, but we roll with it.
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?
JC: Our favorite part about marketing our work has always been going out and meeting with readers at bookstores and other events. Writing is a lonely occupation, and you spend a lot of time without feedback. Hitting the road, as we are with Death on Eat Street, is always refreshing. We’re still a little nervous on TV and radio, but we’re working on it!
Kathy: Will you share any other upcoming books?
JC: Of course! In May, the seventh Peggy Lee Garden Mystery – Lethal Lily – will be out. In August, the sixth Missing Pieces Mystery will be out. In November, the next pie shop mystery (Ellie Grant), Murderous Mince, will be out. In December, our new series, the Retired Witch’s Spell book will be out with the title – Spell Booked – under Joyce and Jim Lavene.
Death on Eat Street by J.J. Cook
The First Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mystery
In Mobile, Alabama Zoe Chase has decided to follow her dreams. After
getting passed over for promotion yet again, she cashes in her 401(k),
and buys a run down (although dilapidated may be another word) diner.
The diner is not yet fit for customers so she uses a food truck to sell
her biscuit bowls; food, both savory and sweet, served in her signature
biscuit bowl. Business isn't good, however, and then she finds a fellow
food truck owner, with whom she recently had words, dead in her food
truck. What can make matters worse? Being a "person of interest",
discovering her boyfriend is a louse, overbearing, wealthy
parents...unfortunately for Zoe, the list could go on.
In their latest release Joyce and Jim Lavene, writing as J.J. Cook, bring the food truck into the world of cozy mysteries. Filled with diametrically opposed characters: the overbearing, wealthy parents and the good-hearted, eccentric uncle, the "bad" girl with the good heart, the troubled lawyer, the homeless men who help, and the protagonist herself, the poor little rich girl who decides to live the life she chooses, Death on Eat Street is a solid start to a new series. Zoe is charming, albeit a little naive, or perhaps it's just her rosy, positive outlook. However, I believe we may need her to show us that rosy hue as things are somewhat grim in Zoe's new neighborhood.
This first Biscuit Bowl Food Truck mystery brings the food truck into the realm of the culinary mystery and I'm pleased with its presence, as it joins the diners, B & Bs, and assorted food shops as a place to enjoy food as well as solve murders! I also really want to eat a biscuit bowl, I'm thinking of strawberries and cream for me, what about you?
Recipes are included.
If you'd like a chance to win a print copy of Death on Eat Street
leave a comment here telling us what you think about food trucks or
give us a new dish that Zoe should serve in her biscuit bowls. Be sure
to leave your e-mail address so that I can contact you, should you win.
This is a quick contest too-make sure you leave your comment by 11:59
EST Monday night, April 14, 2014 to qualify.