Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Interview with a Toy Soldier & Review

I'm pleased to welcome Barbara Early to Cozy Up With Kathy. Today is the official release day of DEATH OF A TOY SOLDIER, the first book in her Vintage Toyshop Mystery series.

Kathy: After writing the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series under the name Beverly Allen, you are now able to write under your own name, Barbara Early, for the Vintage Toyshop Mystery series. How has this change impacted your writing?

BE: Boring answer, but I don’t know that it has impacted my writing much at all. Except maybe that I don’t have to keep stopping to look up details about flowers.

I think if readers notice any difference, it’s probably more to do with the personalities of the protagonists. Both Audrey Bloom and Liz McCall are intelligent women, and I hope I’ve instilled in them a measure of common sense and independence. But Audrey is more of a…well, I like to think of her as a frustrated romantic. She loves her flowers and was quite sentimental about a number of things—her grandmother’s cottage and garden, for example. Liz is more playful and very down-to-earth, but also very logical. She’s a board game junkie, you see, and she likes putting puzzles together—both figuratively and literally.

Kathy: Setting plays such an important part in a novel. What makes East Aurora, NY the perfect setting for the Vintage Toyshop series?

BE: I knew starting out I wanted to set my next series in Western New York. It’s a lot easier—and more effective, I think—writing about a familiar area. (Do people drink soda or pop? How do they pronounce pecans?) I did consider a few different small towns, but East Aurora was high on that list. When you read cozy mysteries, you often encounter these idyllic small towns with a variety of thriving mom-and-pop businesses—and those kind of towns are difficult to find in real life. In most places, the small shops can’t compete with the Walmart, and people are lined up for the drive-thrus instead of sitting at little sidewalk cafes. Not true on Main Street in East Aurora. In fact, you can find just about any business there that you read about in cozy mysteries—there’s a yarn shop, a cupcake shop, a pie shop, a tea shop, a general store, and a quirky five-and-dime (Vidlers) that went all the way to the finals in the competition to get a commercial for the Super Bowl. There’s a chocolate shop, an Amish furniture store, a historic theater that sells gourmet popcorn—and yes, even a toyshop. But not a vintage toyshop. And ghost hunters have been to town any number of times. It’s like Cozyville.

Kathy: Was there a specific inspiration for this series?

BE: Once I thought about East Aurora, then I needed to narrow it down. What did my protagonist do for a living? I was looking up the village on the Chamber of Commerce website, and they mentioned that East Aurora was often called Toy Town because of the long history of toy manufacture in the area. And I thought, toys? Has it been done? I couldn’t find any series centered around a toyshop. But that wasn’t quite right, until I added “vintage.” That adds a whole lot of charm and nostalgia. The toys we played with as children are often highly collectible now. Almost folk art.

Kathy: I love toys! What is your favorite vintage toy?

BE: I love toys, too. I had a special fondness for creative toys: building things, making things, even those old paint-by-number kits. I spent a lot of rainy afternoons at the kitchen table breathing in paint fumes. (Which could explain a few things.) If I had to pick one toy, though, I might say Lite-Brite. I’ve been giving some serious thought to finding one online. I found a Lite-Brite app, but it’s just not the same as pushing the pegs into the holes and watching them light up.

Kathy: What distinguishes a vintage toy from a regular one?

BE: Age, primarily. Anything that’s collectable and old, but not old enough to be considered an antique, would be vintage. The shop sells both vintage and antique toys. And sometimes there’s more of a market for vintage toys—especially rare ones—than antiques. Action figures, for example. We’re often drawn to the items we played with as children. Unfortunately those toys were destroyed or our mothers sold them at garage sales. Nostalgia is really what a vintage toy store sells.

Kathy: Liz is known to nibble on some classic candies while she works. Do you enjoy these old time sweets? Which are your favorites?

BE: It’s convenient for her—maybe too easy—because they sell them at the store. And she considers it part of her job to “properly dispose” of anything that that has expired. As for me, Hot Tomales candy, maybe? And Junior Mints.

Kathy: While Liz is a skeptic when it comes to ghosts and the supernatural, even she feels the toyshop is a bit "off" after the murder, while Cathy sees a possible haunting as a boon to business. Where do you fall when it comes to ghosts? Are you a believer? Have you had any unexplained experiences?

BE: I had a little fun with ghosts in the book. For one thing, since Millard Fillmore spent a good amount of time in East Aurora, I thought it would be fun if the businesses on Main were competing a little over where the former president spent his midnight hours. Personally, I’m a skeptic like Liz. I would never discount anyone’s unexplained experiences, though. There’s more going on in the world than we see or know. But for me, I do find the idea of “lost souls,” or people caught between this life and the next to be rather terrifying. I know that Einstein once said that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” It seems to me that He wouldn’t lose track of anybody, either.

Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?

BE: There are three contracted books in this series. I just turned in the second book, and in that one Liz and her father set up a table in a model train and toy show. I’ve been to a few toy shows and they’re a lot of fun. This one should be, too. Well, except for the murder. I just started plotting the third book. After that, we’ll see. Mystery writers are never lacking in fun ideas of how to kill people.



The First Vintage Toyshop Mystery

Liz McCall's life has drastically changed after her father is shot in the line of duty. Although Hank has physically recovered, he sometimes fails to remember that he was forced to retire as Chief of Police and will periodically patrol their small town instead of minding his vintage toyshop. Faced with a forgetful father, Liz has moved back to Western New York permanently to live with her dad and help make a go of the shop; the shop that was Hank's dream as well as the recipient of his pension. When a stranger leaves a box of antique windup toys, Liz sees a big profit, but when that same stranger shows up dead in the shop, her father standing over the body with no memory of what happened, profits are the last thing on her mind!

With a snowy small town setting Early perfectly captures a glimpse of Western New York. I enjoy reading books set in locations with which I'm familiar and East Aurora is right in my back yard. Ordering wings, drinking pop, the Bison Dip container, sponge candy, these are just some of the little touches that add authenticity and give the reader a true sense of place.

In this first book of the Vintage Toyshop Mystery series Early introduces us to some unique characters. While quirky, they are realistic and believable. Each has a purpose in the story, whether it's moving the plot, adding red herrings, or creating a certain atmosphere.

Set in the present time there's still a sense of nostalgia. Perhaps it's the feeling of coming home; old fashioned candies, toys from our childhood and the childhood of our parents and grandparents, a close knit family that cares and people who still take time to play board games.

In DEATH OF A TOY SOLDIER Barbara Early provides a great start to new series. A well crafted mystery resides in a wonderful setting with relatable characters. It's a smart fun read and I can't wait for more!


  1. Great interview.. Congratulations on release day!!

  2. Good interview! My beothers favorite was the erector set. Mine was troll dolls and a fold up cave house for them. I also wish I still had my Beatles change purse that I carried my lunch money in in 1966!

    1. Thanks for your comment. That Beatles change purse sure would be a treasure!

  3. Great interview Kathy!
    Woohoo! Upstate NY! East Aurora is a ways from where I grew up (Ithaca)but I love reading about books that take place in NY! I will have to check this one out!