Sunday, December 11, 2016

What Fresh Interview & Giveaway

I'm pleased to welcome Jeffrey Marks to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Jeffrey writes the Marissa Scott Mystery series. WHAT FRESH SMELL is the third book in the series and was released earlier this year.

Kathy: In WHAT FRESH SMELL a daycare teacher is murdered. What makes having a daycare a good center for a mystery?

JM: I wanted to look at the issue of how parents sometimes have a real disconnect with their children. The kids spend 6-8 hours a day at the daycare and in some cases, the parents don’t know who is taking care of the kids. That’s why I chose Pamela as a victim. She was probably not the person that many of these parents would have wanted to watch their children, but they didn’t know.  Aside from that, I work in a school (as my day job) so stories and ideas come into my head frequently. This is probably as close as I’d get to writing about my work.

Kathy: What made you decide to make your protagonist a female instead of a male character?

JM: I had written one series with a male protagonist early on, and I wanted to try something different. (More about that later!) The male series were historical mysteries, and I wanted to do something contemporary. I wrote the first draft of the first novel in just six weeks. For someone who spent 18 months on a historical and five years on a biography, six weeks felt like a whirlwind. I had such fun that I’ve come back to the character when I need a boost in the writing.

What first drew you to cozy mysteries?

I’ve always read mysteries, and most of the authors I read are cozy mystery writers. I’ve been at it since I was 14 when my father brought home THE UNDERDOG AND OTHER STORIES by Agatha Christie and gave it to me to read. As soon as I finished that book, I went out and bought 5 more. It’s been like that ever since.

From Christie I went to many other authors who wrote in the 1940s and 1950s. Back in those days, minimum wage was $2.10. I could buy 1 paperback for $1.99 or multiple books at the used bookstore for $0.25 apiece. Since the books were used, most of them were 20-30 years old, which meant I read a significant number of authors prior to the thriller/espionage/hardboiled detective era. It’s not a surprise that the biographies I write are of the authors I read in my youth. Without exception, they all wrote during the era of the books I read as a teenager.

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?

JM: As I mentioned, I write a historical mystery series set in southern Ohio. They’re very different than this series. I’ve only written three books in that series, because they are extremely time consuming. I work with towns in southern Ohio, and I have to research street names and mayors and policemen and all the rest. I love the books, but I doubt I’d go back to them at any point soon.

I’ve also written a series of biographies of mystery writers, starting with Craig Rice. WHO WAS THAT LADY? was the biography of Craig Rice, and it was nominated for several awards and sold quite well. That encouraged me to write more. The latest is a dual biography of Ellery Queen, the two cousins who collaborated under that name. As you can imagine, it takes a significant amount of time to write the biographies of two men. I’m at about 150 pages in that book and hope to have it completed next year.

Kathy: Tell us about your series.

JM: Marissa Scott is the head of the cosmetics department at a Cincinnati department store, Kantor’s. She’s the single mother of a young son. She’s originally from Columbus, Ohio, but she had moved down here with her husband. They subsequently divorced. She’s trying to make ends meet while trying to be a great mom and a good employee.

My other series is a historical series set just after the war in southern Ohio and features US Grant as the detective. He actually made a victory tour through the Midwest after the war and an attack was made on his life during that tour. THE AMBUSH OF MY NAME is a fictionalized version of that attack, set in Georgetown, Ohio, where Grant grew up (and where I was born.)

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

JM: Ellen, the head of security for Kantor’s, is a favorite character of mine. She’s is her own person. Despite working in a department store and being friends with the head of cosmetics, Ellen doesn’t care. She wears clothes that are comfortable for her work. She’s the current generation of a long line of police officers and this is her part of that tradition. She’s just very comfortable in her skin, and I wish I could be that relaxed about myself some times.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?

JM: Yes, Marissa works at a department store in the cosmetics department. She has a small child. My sister worked in a department store as the head of the cosmetics department and had small children. She’s since out of that line of work, and her children are grown. However, the impetus for the character was fairly clear.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

JM: I submitted the first book in this series, THE SCENT OF MURDER, to the Malice Domestic Grant contest in its first year. Malice Domestic is a conference and organization that promotes cozy mysteries. The book won that grant, which gave me money to attend Malice and to look for an agent and/or publisher. The book was published a short time later.

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?

JM: I think I’m going to stick with dead authors. I know a number of living authors, who I enjoy dining with.

Everyone always assumes that I would invite Agatha Christie, but she was very shy, and I’m not sure she’d appreciate being put in that situation. I think I’d include Fred Dannay, who was half of the Ellery Queen collaboration and had phenomenal understanding of the mystery genre. Craig Rice, who I’ve written about, would be invited, as I’ve never heard her voice. Most of the other authors I’ve profiled I’ve heard speak. Margaret Millar would be invited, because I missed the one chance I had to meet her, and it still is a regret. Finally, I would invite Phoebe Atwood Taylor, because I like lots of lively conversation and wit.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

JM: I am reading Chloe Kendrick’s Maeve Kinkaid series. They’re a series of cozy mysteries set around a food truck. I’m enjoying the camaraderie of the characters and the fun situations. I’m also reading the new biography of Shirley Jackson, who cannot be considered cozy by any means, but the biography is very well done.

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

JM: I am a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, one of the martial arts. I enjoy the workouts and concentration on something more physical and less mental than writing. I also collect Rookwood Pottery; my great-grandmother worked there. So over the years, I’ve inherited a few pieces and purchased many more.

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

JM: Yogurt, cottage cheese, carrots and tomatoes. It’s a rather bland diet, but it works.

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

JM: Yes to both. I’m currently working on a new book in the current series. In it, Marissa is working at a discount facility of the department store, and Gavin shoots an armed gunman – except the police who search the scene cannot find the weapon. It’s a bit of an impossible crime novel combined with headlines that could easily be pulled from today’s headlines.

I’ve been toying with a new series idea as well. In it, the main character would be a former medical examiner who lost her job in a political shuffle. She comes back home to the family knife shop, and since it’s a mystery, I’m sure you can figure out what happens next.

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?

JM: I love to talk about book and specifically mysteries. Being an author gives me a wealth of chances to talk about mysteries and books. I would be happy to talk about such things all day if I could.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What an interesting storyline for a cozy mystery. Looking forward to reading.

  3. What an interesting interview and wonderful feature and giveaway.

  4. I enjoy mysteries and this looks interesting. Thanks for this opportunity.

  5. Excellent interview with a talented writer.

  6. Good interview, lots of interesting detail. I have put this on my TBR list.

  7. I find the setting for this mystery interesting. Thanks for the interview and the giveaway.

  8. Writing biographies of mystery writers must be extremely fascinating.