I'm pleased to welcome Anna Celeste Burke to the blog today. Anna writes the Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery series. Gnarly New Year is the second book in the series and was released earlier this summer.
Kathy: Setting is very important to a story. What makes California the perfect setting for Kim and Brien?
ACB: Cue the surf music! When I sit down to write the Corsario Cove mysteries, the Beach Boys or some other surf band starts playing in my head. The three cozy mystery series I write are all set in California—the sunny blue skies an inspiration to write about murder and mayhem while keeping it light. My upbringing in San Diego wasn’t always easy, but the natural beauty and upbeat culture of the Golden State always helped put trouble in perspective. At age ten, biking to the beach and taking in the surf culture on weekends was a great escape.
Fun, even zany spirit seemed to be everywhere. Maybe it’s all that California Dreamin’ about becoming the next big thing in Hollywood or making it as a rock star. Of course, not all those dreams can come true, but it sure can be fun trying. Why not have “fun, fun, fun ‘til her daddy takes the T-Bird away” or some more serious mishap befalls you?
My characters, Kim and Brien, are young and in love. That’s a great surprise to the cynical, streetwise Kim who has not had an easy life. They’re filled with an almost reckless “can do” spirit. It’s reminiscent of my teenage years when love inspired me to throw caution to the wind and run off with a lead guitarist in a rock band. Underage, I got picked up as a runaway but managed to end up a few months later with the man of my dreams. Somehow, it all worked out for us, and we’re still together more than 40 years later. What the heck? According to Brien, “Love is the most excellent adventure after all, isn’t it?”
Kathy: The Sanctuary Resort and Spa at Corsario Cove has everything, including murder. Is this swanky resort based on a real one, sans murders, of course, or is it purely fictional?
ACB: The resort and Corsario Cove are fictional settings, inspired by real places. For a few years, I worked as a chef at Walt Disney World where I got my first introduction to resorts. After completing the Walt Disney World University’s chef training, I worked for several years at the Polynesian Hotel and spent time at other resorts. The resort and spa in my Corsario Cove mysteries have amenities like those you’d find in five-star resorts. Luxurious suites and lavish amenities like you’ll find at the Grand Wailea in Maui or the Mauna Lani resort on the Big Island. High-end resorts are known for the attention they pay to detail, including efforts to anticipate your likes and dislikes. I've tried to portray that realistically in their mystery adventures.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
ACB: I have always loved cozy mysteries—especially if you include classics in the mystery genre, like Agatha Christie’s tales, as cozies. I devoured Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and The Hardy Boys as a child. Since then, I’ve read thousands of cozy and not-so-cozy mysteries. I love film noir starring hard-boiled PIs like Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, Hammett’s Sam Spade, or Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. Perhaps, part of their appeal is that many of their tales are set in California, too.
Their hardboiled female counterparts, like Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, are intriguing. What’s not to like? An independent woman who can take a punch and give as good as she gets, while still harboring affection for a pair of fabulous stiletto heels. Wow!
Still, for me, there’s nothing quite like an accidental or amateur sleuth who finds herself pulled into figuring out whodunit by circumstances and a bit too much curiosity. Maybe we haven’t been faced with murder, but life puts us to the test in less dramatic but similarly challenging ways all the time. I love light and breezy mysteries that have a befuddled, but clever and determined woman at the center. I like to write series because I have the luxury of watching the protagonist grow and develop as a sleuth, so she’s not the amateur for long!
One of my all-time favorite mystery series combines the two types of sleuths—professional and amateur. Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man series pairs up Nick and Nora Charles for wonderful cozy mysteries that blend mystery and romance with a big dose of humor. I think of Kim and Brien as a kind of millennials’ take on Nick and Nora. The humor in Cowabunga Christmas & Gnarly New Year ranges from droll to slapstick, like that Thin Man series, too. I hope the chemistry between Kim and Brien is as loving and playful as that between Nick and Nora.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
ACB: I write books in three series. The Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery Series set in the Coachella Valley, in and around Palm Springs; The Corsario Cove Cosy Mystery Series that, as I’ve said, takes place in a fictional location on California's Central Coast; and The Georgie Shaw Cosy Mystery Series set in Orange County, California—the OC. As I say on the homepage for my website, all my books involve "Snooping into life's mysteries with fun, fiction, & food--California style!" Murder and mayhem, weighty subjects I write about under the influence of sunny skies and blue Pacific waters. Before I was a stuffy professor, I “worked for the Mouse” at Walt Disney World as a chef, so my characters always eat well as they fight off evildoers and figure out whodunit.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
ACB: I do have a 4th series I’d like to write. The Misadventures of Betsy Stark would be more to the thriller end of the continuum than the cozy end. Betsy’s an interesting character. Born and raised in the Coachella Valley but in the bleakest parts of this playground of the presidents. Betsy even spent time in “The Slabs.” I’ve introduced Betsy Stark, briefly, in A Dead Daughter. An enormous woman, over 6 feet tall, she’s physically strong and can bench press her body weight! Her early childhood was chaotic, and her best memories are of her Cahuilla grandmother. The real departure for me with this series stems from the fact that Betsy has some unique skills—is it a 6th sense, second sight, or an odd way her brain has of processing information? I still haven’t quite decided, but telling the story from her point of view flirts with the boundaries around what we regard as “real” vs. fantastical or magic. I’ve experimented a bit with magical realism once before. Love a Foot Above the Ground, the prequel to the Jessica Huntington series dabbles in that genre. The Betsy Stark series will push me back in that direction, I think.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
ACB: That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child or pet. I enjoy them all—even the snarky, nasty bad guys. I do have a special place in my heart for Jessica Huntington since she’s the lead character in the first series I wrote.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
ACB: The inspiration to write the Corsario Cove series came about while sitting at dinner with friends. They had asked us to meet them in Santa Barbara at a beachside restaurant up on a small slope overlooking this perfect little cove. The waves danced, the light sparkled, people played along the beach. I left that night with surf music playing in my head and a story about Kim and Brien—an unlikely pairing—on their honeymoon with a bigger, more upscale version of that little cove as their playground.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
ACB: Initially, I just wanted to hold the book in my hands. Now, I’m hooked—writing is a passion!
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
ACB: Agatha Christie, of course. She is one of the most prolific and best-selling authors of all times. A fascinating woman, too, with some secrets of her own—like her disappearance when confronted by the loss of her mother and revelations about an unfaithful husband. Dashiell Hammett because he created such a diverse mix of interesting stories and characters. In addition to the Thin Man series that I adore, The Maltese Falcon is another of my all-time favorite mysteries. I’d love to have Janet Evanovich at the table because of her use of humor and romance in the mystery genre with her long-running Stephany Plum series. Maybe David Balducci to have a thriller writer at the table. Technically, they’re more mavens of cinema than authors, but the Hitchcocks, both Alfred and Alma, would be interesting dinner companions.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
ACB: I read a lot of things at once, these days. I always have a cozy mystery I’m reading. Right now I’m reading Dianne Harman’s latest book, Murder on the East Coast. I have also started a Baldacci thriller, and I am reading a couple of historical fiction books—Ludwika, by Christoph Fischer and Rise to Power by Uvi Poznansky. I enjoy nonfiction too and am working my way through The Cloud of Unknowing, a spiritual guide written by an anonymous monk in the middle ages.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
ACB: I love hiking in the desert and mountains surrounding the Coachella Valley. Trips to the beach are still favorite activities, although I prefer walking along the beach rather than swimming these days. I love reading and enjoy watching television series that feature mysteries, thrillers, and historical fiction. I also spend time each day in meditation, contemplating the big mysteries of life.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
ACB: Lots of fresh fruit and veggies—not sexy, I know, but dietary staples. Whole fresh-roasted coffee beans—right now I’m crazy about Mystic Monk coffee. Yeah, it’s roasted by monks. Spices—all sorts of spices. I love to open the pantry door and get that rush they provide—especially first thing in the morning when I grab the bag of coffee beans. Think Thin gluten free, high protein bars. I start everyday with chocolate and caffeine and a word or two of gratitude for both!
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
ACB: Yes. The third novella in the Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery series, All Hallows’ Eve Heist, was just released August 29th. I have an idea for the fourth book in that series. Although it’s still sketchy, the story will involve murder and mayhem surrounding a Christmas wedding. I’m currently working on the fourth book in the Jessica Huntington series, A Dead Mother. There’s still a lot of work to do to finish that book, but I’d like to get it out by the end of 2016. Kim and Brien will be back in Corsario Cove for an Epic Easter. They’re going to follow up on an interesting discovery they made while trying to escape the bad guys in Gnarly New Year. I can hear Brien’s voice talking to Kim with his high-energy, enthusiastic way: “It’s going to be epic, Kim!”
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
ACB: Getting my characters into awkward situations and watching them “Macgyver” their way out of them.
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