I'm pleased to welcome Michelle Bennington to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Michelle writes the Small Batch Mystery series. Devil's Kiss is the first book in the series and will be released May 31, 2022.
Kathy: In Devil's Kiss we meet Rook Campbell who just started
working at the Four Wild Horses Distillery. I love a variety of spirits
with bourbon being a big favorite. Are you a bourbon fan?
MB: I am a bourbon fan, though I rarely drink. When I do drink bourbon it's neat and straight and either Woodford Reserve or Buffalo Trace. And I'm slowly making my way through the bourbon trail, so I might find one I like more. But there's a host of sauces and foods with bourbon in them that I really enjoy. I espeically love bourbon candy. Bourbon balls are a Kentucky specialty and it's tradition in many homes every Christmas (I make a mean bourbon ball, if I do say so myself!). Rebecca Ruth's in Kentucky (the inventor of the bourbon ball) has several types of bourbon candy.
Kathy: What made you decide to set your mystery series at a distillery in Kentucky?
MB: I was born and raised in Kentucky and I love my home state and its rugged beauty. I don't see many stories set in Kentucky or even many mentions of Kentucky. I just really wanted to highlight my home state. And when I tried to think of something distinctly "Kentucky" that most people would recognize, it was either bourbon or horses. And I think there was already a KY Derby series, so I chose bourbon. Also, I wanted to write a cozy that had nothing to do with bakeries, knitting, animals or the other usual topics. Those are fun, of course. I have nothing against those. I just wanted something a little different.
Kathy: I've been lucky to visit a few distilleries. Years ago I saw some while on vacation in Kentucky and more recently here in Western New York and the Finger Lakes. Is the Four Wild Horses Distillery based on a real distillery, or did it come purely from your imagination?
MB: I love visiting distilleries. The process is so fascinating to me. The main one in the book is an amalgamation in both name and description. I took bits from Four Roses and Wild Turkey and since horses are a staple livestock in Kentucky, I just had to have that in the title too! The landscape of the distillery in the book is based loosely on Buffalo Trace, mixed with my imagination.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
MB: I don't like consuming media with a lot of gratuitous sex, violence, and cursing. I do occasionally watch certain shows that have that stuff--Outlander, Game of Thrones, and Ozark come immediately to mind--but the overall story must be amazing for me to stick with it and even then it's sometimes just overwhelming. I also wanted to write books that my mom would enjoy. So I went in search of such books to read and stumbled upon the cozy genre. I admittedly am not widely read in the cozy genre. But I started with The Aurora Teagarden series, which I love, and decided to start there because I had already read Charlaine Harris' True Blood series. Then I started Susan M. Boyer's Liz Talbot series, which is great. And I'm hooked. The great thing about cozies is that they are just great mysteries without all the "junk." I really don't see myself quitting them.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
MB: I write historical fiction as well. I have a historical mystery series that was just picked up by Level Best Books and I'm currently researching a historical fiction based on a true crime.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
MB: The Small Batch Mysteries is a series of three books so far. The first is Devil's Kiss where Rook lands a job at a distillery and becomes embroiled with helping solve the murder of her friend and discovering who stole the rare Devil's Kiss bourbon.
The second book, Mermaid Cove, is loosely based on a real distillery in Kentucky that is all female owned and operated (Jeptha Creed)--a rarity in the bourbon world. In this book, the mother of Rook's best friend, is a co-owner of Mermaid Cove and goes missing when her bourbon is poised to win a prestigious award and Rook is determined to find her friend's mother.
In the third book, Unbridled Spirits, Rook and the Four Wild Horses Distillery team are working a special Halloween event at a restored historical home of a former bourbon baron when people begin to die. Rook once again set out to help find the killer.
And the historical mystery series I mentioned earlier is called the Widows and Shadows series and begins with book one, Widow's Blush. Set in 1803 England on the cusp of a second war with France, a young widow, Ravenna, Lady Birchfield becomes entangled in finding who is killing the foreign secretaries and threatening England's balance of power.
Widow's Fire is the second book and centers around a mysterious black opal, called Widow's Fire. Legend has it that the keeper of the opal will have immense power and never be conquered, making widows of their enemies wives. When the guardian of the opal is killed and the gem goes missing, Ravenna is determined to discover who has stolen it before it falls into the wrong hands.
In Widow's Peak Ravenna follows her runaway niece to the European Continent to convince her to come home. During the journey, Ravenna meets with a two-time widower and fortune hunter embarking on his third marriage. Ravenna suspects him of fortune hunting in a most despicable manner.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
MB: I think Prim from Devil's Kiss is my favorite character, so far. She's a grandmother who has seen hard times and has come through with strength and resilience. She's wise, bold, and takes no guff.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
MB: My primary inspiration was the real-life Pappy VanWinkle heist in Kentucky in 2014, which rocked the bourbon world. And then I attended a ghost tour at the Buffalo Trace distillery one evening and that was a light bulb moment for me. I thought, "What if someone was found murdered at the distillery?" So I wove the two ideas together into Devil's Kiss.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
MB: I've wanted to be a published writer since the age of 13. I had many years of self-doubt and veering off the path, but since 2014 I have doggedly pursued my goal. I want to tell stories and entertain people. And, if for a moment, I can provide enjoyment or relief or escape to a reader, then I count myself successful.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
MB: Oh gosh, there are so many authors. I can't hardly choose. Jane Austen for sure, Charlotte Bronte, CS Lewis, and Lord Byron, though he'd most assuredly drink all the wine, cause a ruckus, and be asked to leave.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
MB: Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
MB: I'm a member of a belly dance troupe and have danced belly dance and fusion style belly dance for over ten years. I also love to crochet and paint. I love anything artsy and craftsy so I'm always looking to try my hand at something new. I also like to travel and see new places though I don't get to do it nearly enough. And I LOVE going on ghost tours, which is really just a history tour in disguise, but as a history buff, it's one of my favorite things to do. So anytime I visit a new place, a ghost tour is usually part of the adventure.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
MB: Coffee, tea, eggs, apples
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
MB: I do. I've already written the Mermaid Cove manuscript (book 2 in the Small Batch Mysteries) and am working on book 2 of the Widows and Shadows historical mystery. And I'll be plotting book 3 for both series very soon. In the meantime, I'm also working on a Southern Gothic cozy called Dumpster Dying. About a hoarder, Biridie Harper, who lives with a ghost and solves crimes. I plan on self-publishing that book and I envision it will be a short series. I'm really close to having the second draft of that book done. And then I have a manuscript of a historical fiction that I'll work on revising this year as well as researching and writing another historical fiction. So there's a lot of work on my plate! But I wouldn't have it any other way.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
MB: Creating a fictional universe and filling it full of people and trying to figure out how to get those characters in and out of their problems.
Rook Campbell is broke, divorced, jobless, and in desperate need of steady employment, which is hard to come by in the small town of Rothdale, Kentucky. With the help of her friend and neighbor Bryan, she lands a good job at the Four Wild Horses Distillery and meets an attractive co-worker with lots of dating potential. Her life is finally headed in the right direction until a co-worker dies under suspicious circumstances and a shipment of rare small-batch bourbon goes missing. Worse, her personal life begins to unravel as her beloved grandmother falls ill. Normally she can depend on her ex, Cam, for help, but his new fiancée’s jealousy is getting in the way. As the body count rises, Rook becomes ensnared in discovering who’s committing the crimes—or she might be the next to die.
Stay tuned for my review of Devil's Kiss coming July 1, 2022.