Today, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Lane Stone. She has graciously offered to give one lucky commenter a $10.00 gift card to Starbucks.
Hi Lane, tell us a little about your book. Does your protagonist have a sidekick?
The Collector is my first non-cozy book. Art expert, Emma Kelly, must stop a world war on art while protecting a very big secret. Since she has a secret life, no sidekicks for her. She does have some amazing women friends. Elisa is Director of the Vatican Museums. Bobbi runs an escort service made up of men, which the police overlook because she fights sex trafficking in New York City. Florence is the first woman CEO and president of the Metropolitan Museum.
Who is your favorite sidekick from any cozy mystery?
Umm, if the Lord Peter Whimsey books are cozies, can I call Harriet Vane a sidekick? I’m not sure of either. Harriet has such depth she might be another main character. Here are a few real cozy sidekicks: In Arsenic and Adobo, Mia Mansala’s protag Lila’s best friend, Adeena, is very funny. In Carolyn Rowland’s paranormal Haunted City series, the sidekick is her deceased aunt. In Judy Murray’s Chesapeake Bay Mysteries her sidekick is her daughter. In so many cozies these days, pets are sidekicks. You gotta love that. And I have to say I’m enjoying writing scenes with the sidekick I have in my November book, Dead Men Don’t Decorate. Opal is the only cruise boat captain on the Potomac River.
When did you realize you wanted to write? Have you always enjoyed reading mysteries?
My favorite part of any job I ever had was the writing part. I was in corporate human resources and when I was doing something as mundane as writing a training manual, I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Oh, yes. I’ve always loved reading mysteries.
Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have a favorite snack and/or drink by your side when you write?
Pre-Covid I wrote at Panera almost every day. The white noise worked for me. Now I write mostly in my office in Lewes. I tried writing on the beach and quickly learned that’s what writers on TV or in the movies do – not IRL. The beach is good for plotting, but not the actual putting words on the screen.
Do you remember the first cozy mystery you read?
Of course, they were YA’s. Mystery at Medicine Wheel is the book I still have. The sleuth is Annette Funicello.
Do you have a favorite light house?
The light house I volunteer for! I’m on the board of the Delaware River and Bay Light House Foundation. We own and maintain the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. It sits on a breakwater wall and is still an active aid to navigation.
Lane, it’s a beautiful lighthouse!
Tell us about your dog.
Ah, my favorite subject! Cordy is a three-year-old schnauzer who makes our lives interesting. It’s like she has love running through her veins.
Christina and I have become friends through agency Zoom meetings. I’m excited she agreed to spend time talking sidekicks with us.
There is a truth universally acknowledged, that sidekicks, especially interesting and quirky ones, are a necessary staple of cozy mysteries. A cozy without its sidekicks would be like a hot fudge sundae without the hot fudge. The sidekick(s) give a cozy the pizzazz.
When I was young, in my Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew phase, I was determined to be either a sleuth or a sidekick. On one occasion, I actually set out on my bicycle to solve a mystery, but I got tired halfway to my destination and went to Dairy Queen instead. If only I’d had Trixie by my side to keep me focused.
Let’s review the purpose of a sidekick in a cozy:
They give the MC (main character) someone she can bounce ideas off.
Some of these quirky characters help solve the mystery.
The sidekick provides the MC someone to involve in their hijinks.
Sidekicks can help add some humor to the story.
They can provide information or clues.
A good sidekick can help the MC get into or out of trouble.
They also provide the opportunity for interesting subplots.
There are several sidekicks I particularly enjoy in the many cozy mystery series I read. But one of my absolute favorites is Lance from Ellie Alexander’s Bakeshop Mystery series. He is the artistic director for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and has such a fun and quirky personality. I adore his sarcastic sense of humor. I can see us going for many a yummy beverage at a local coffee shop while he tells me the inside scoop on the town’s inhabitants. I would definitely want him to be my BFF if I lived in Ashland.
Sidekicks come in all shapes and sizes. Some sleuths don’t have one particular individual that helps them solve the crimes, but instead have a small group of characters that collectively help, or hinder, as the case may be. I love Libby Klein’s Poppy McAllister’s senior sidekicks’ shenanigans. J.C. Eaton also have a fabulous set of senior sidekicks in their Sophie Kimball Mystery series. And finally, Jackie Layton’s got a plethora of fun and interesting side characters in her Low Country Dog Walker Mystery series, including a darn cute German shepherd named Sunny.
If I were to advertise for a sidekick it would sound something like this: Seeking sarcastic, funny, adventure loving sidekick over thirty (better make that forty, I’m no spring chicken.) Will even consider furry, four-legged canine over two. Quirky, eccentric, and unconventional traits would be considered an asset.
My upcoming debut novel, A Christmas Candy Killing, also happens to have a cast of quirky sidekicks. My favorite of the bunch is a retired pharmacist and hypochondriac named Drew Fletcher. My sleuth even has a twin sister, Hanna, to help her explore her inner Miss Marple 2.0.
So many people have asked me this question the last few years. I’ve been asked by everyone from a bookstore employee to a friendly lady on a recent flight I took to Texas.
My friend Leah Dobrinska has answered this question on social media recently. I asked her to share here, and she graciously agreed. So, here’s Leah.
Hi everyone! I’m Leah Dobrinska, and I was thrilled when Jackie asked me if I’d be willing to write a guest blog and talk about cozy mysteries. Thanks, Jackie!
As someone who is relatively new to the genre (although I must say, I’ve wanted to be Nancy Drew for as long as I can remember!), I understand how the term “cozy mystery” can trip people up.
For context, I cut my teeth writing small town romance novels (think the Hallmark Channel, but with a little less cringe), but I recently announced that I got a book deal for a cozy mystery series. When I shared the happy news with my family, friends, and followers, I was met with a lot of excitement in response, but also a lot of confusion. Everyone wanted to know: what exactly is a cozy mystery?
Those of us who read and write within this genre understand that “cozy” is not merely an adjective describing the mystery, though in many cases cozy mysteries are, in fact, cozy-feeling books. But, what I’ve had to explain to my people is that cozy mysteries are actually an entire subgenre within the category of mystery, suspense, and thriller books. They are so much fun!
So, what will you find if you grab a cozy mystery off the shelf? First, what you won’t find is graphic details. Cozy authors stick to the tenet that the murder happens off the page. That means cozies are free of explicit descriptions. Yes, the murder is acknowledged and is the catalyst for the entire book, but it becomes almost a jumping off point for the intricacies of the investigation.
And who completes that investigation, you ask? An amateur sleuth, of course! This is one of my favorite aspects of cozy mysteries (again, Nancy Drew forever!). I love the thought of an every-day person bringing a bad guy to justice. An added bonus is that the majority of amateur sleuths in cozy mysteries are women, and I’m all for a strong female protagonist.
Our sleuth is usually in a position within the community to investigate. She’s plugged in in some way that allows her to glean information pertinent to the case. After all, she’s not a professional…the key word in her description is amateur. But she must have a good reason for investigating. Maybe she becomes a suspect and wants to clear her name. Or maybe she’s trying to help out a friend or save her business from going under.
She’s not in this alone, though. Cozy mysteries are also known for their great casts of characters. Fans of cozies have come to expect amazing sidekicks and recurring characters throughout cozy mystery series. In a similar vein, many cozies are set in small towns or close-knit communities. These well-rounded casts and delicious settings make it feel like every time you pick up a book in a particular series, you’re returning to visit a group of friends.
Another thing cozy mysteries are known for is having a hook. The term “hook” can be confusing for those unfamiliar with the genre, but all it means is that a cozy series is typically centered around a particular theme. In most cases, this hook, or theme, is associated with the amateur sleuth’s day job or hobby. There are so many hooks to choose from (truly something for everyone!). Here are a few common ones you’ll see if you’re browsing the cozy mystery shelves:
real estate or home improvement cozies
The list goes on. And the cool thing about cozy mystery hooks is that readers can find something that’s in line with their interests or they can pick up a book with a hook they know nothing about and learn something new in the process of reading.
This is getting to be a longer post than I expected. Clearly, I could talk about cozy mysteries for days! To wrap things up, here are a few other cozy mystery staples you’ll likely run across if you spend any amount of time exploring this genre.
Puns. The title will often be a play on words of the book’s hook or theme. You’ll see clever plays on words within the book’s text, as well.
Furry creatures. There is almost always a dog, cat, or some sort of pet within the pages of a cozy mystery.
A romance subplot. Sometimes, though not always, a love interest for the amateur sleuth gets introduced. Cozies are also known for their love triangles.
Whew! That’s all she wrote for today, folks. If you want to learn more about cozy mysteries, I just finished a series of videos on my Instagram account (@whatleahwrote) and Facebook page (Leah Dobrinska, Author) diving into this question, as well. Take a look if you’re interested.
I’d also love to have you join my newsletter community. You can sign up at leahdobrinska.com/newsletter. Newsletter subscribers get first dibs on all my bookish news, so they’ll see the cover and blurb for my forthcoming cozy mystery, Death Checked Out before anyone else!
Right now, newsletter subscribers will receive a FREE small town romance novella from me, just for signing up to be part of my favorite community of readers. And if you’re into small town romances, you can find my books, Love at On Deck Café and Good To Be Home, available on Amazon and Barnes & Nobel’s website. Happy reading!
Massive thank you to Jackie for inviting me to be featured on her blog! I adore cozy mysteries, and I hope you’ll find one that piques your interest, and give it a try.
Leah, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s fun to visit with a friend who’s also passionate about cozy mysteries.
Malice Domestic began in 1989, and it became an annual fan convention for mystery lovers.
I attended my first Malice Domestic in 2019. Since then I became published, but the pandemic put a stop to Malice the last two years. This was the first time I’ve attended a conference as an author, and I was both excited and scared.
I participated in my first live panel, and we discussed secondary characters and sidekicks.
Toni LP Kelner was the moderator of our panel. Arlene Kay, Libby Klein, Lisa Q, Mathews, and Charlaine Harris were also on my panel, and they were all amazing. They were also very kind to this newbie.
Because the topic of my panel was sidekicks, I plan to invite others to share their favorite sidekicks with us this year.
Today I’m excited to welcome Rhonda Herren Starnes.
Welcome Rhonda. Let’s start with a few questions. Where is your favorite writing spot? Actually, I have a really large, oversize beanbag that actually converts into a queen size floor mattress for company. It’s so large that we don’t really have a good place to story it. So, I tucked it inside the small dormer alcove in my office. It’s the perfect place to sit with my small lap desk and write.
What is a writing day like for you? Do you have a favorite beverage by your side when you write? On a typical writing day, I’ll do three or four, one hour segments of writing. During that time I will write for thirty to fourty-five minutes and spend the remaining time replying to emails or book promotions. If I’m writing in the morning, I drink coffee while I write. However, if it’s past two in the afternoon, I will usually have a cup of honey chamomile tea.
How long does it take you to write a book? It usually takes me a month to write a proposal (synopsis and first three chapters), and then once my editor apporves the book, it takes another three months to finish.
Is it easier to come up with a blurb or a title? Oh, I’m horrible at both. LOL. I would say the blurb is easier though. Titles are hard, but fortunately, my editor is always helpful in that department.
Do you talk to your characters? Have you ever based a character on someone you know? I do not talk to my characters, but I will talk about them to my husband and friends as if they are real, living, breathing people. 🙂 I have named characters after people I know, but I’ve never actually given a character specific personality traits of friends or family.
What’s been your best financial investment in your writing career? Attending conferences and workships. It’s been the best way to make connections and to learn the craft of writing.
Friends, here’s what you need to be looking for.
Perilous Wilderness Escape is about two FBI agents (Randy Ingalls and Katherine Lewis) who are trying to take down the cartel that’s invaded Colorado and Wyoming, bringing with it everything from illegal horse races to drugs and money laundering. Randy and Katherine are closer than ever to finally being able to take them down when Randy is attacked and left wtih amnesia. Now, they have to not only figure out who the mole is who helps the cartel stay a step ahead of them but also Katherine has to help Randy uncover memories of his past even though she doesn’t know everyting about his past.
I‘m delighted to welcome my good friend, Connie Queen.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Good question. Thankfully, I’ve never had amnesia while being hunted in a canyon with two small children by gunmen. But there’s always something about the characters than I can relate to, whether it’s good or bad. In Canyon Survival, there’s things I relate to both Annie and Riggs. That’s the great thing about writing, isn’t it? I can sneak some of my own knowledge/secrets without having to tell anyone how I know such things. 😊
Real settings or fictional towns?
Most of the time I use fictional towns. Canyon Survival is set in Palo Duro Canyon and my characters visit Amarillo, but some of the smaller real towns in the area are not mentioned. I’m always afraid if I get the details wrong, the locals will not appreciate it. So, I’m driven by fear.
Do you include animals in your books?
Yes! Almost all of my stories contain a dog. Canyon Survival has a red Australian Shepherd named Shotgun. I loved him because he’s able to calm the two young children in the times of danger. I think in suspense books it’s great to have a fun or tender moment to give the reader time to breathe, and dogs are an instant reprieve. Spoiler alert* The movie Ghost did a great job giving a break from the sadness of Patrick Swayze dying when he returns to sing, I’m Henry the 8th I Am to Whoopie Goldberg.
Tell us about your new puppy.
Gladly! We just bought a new great Dane puppy that we named Murphy. He’s cute as all get out and has a bunch of energy. (Most Danes are very docile…) It’s been forever since we had a puppy to house train and all, but I love it.
Jackie, I appreciate you hosting me today! Congrats on your next contract. I look forward to reading you next series.
Canyon Survival is available at Amazon and wherever you buy your Love Inspired Suspense books.
Ambushed in the canyon with no memory of why…
Waking on a cliffside with bullets firing and two unknown children at her side, Annie Tillman knows she must run—even if she doesn’t know why. Dashing to the nearest ranch leads her to former FBI agent Riggs Brenner, who just might be their best chance of surviving in the canyon. But can Annie overcome her amnesia and uncover the reason why they’re being chased?
Rose’s book releases March 29, and I’m excited she found time to visit with us.
I saw you graduated in Recreation and Physical Education. What’s your favorite form of exercise?
My dog, Jake, is a Golden Retriever/Husky mix and loves to go out for walks. That’s my preferred exercise. We’ve trimmed back on the length of the walks because she’s 13 now and has some health issues. But the smile on her face when we walk along the Bay of Quinte lets me know she’s happy.
I do yoga to stay flexible, maintain balance, and for peace of mind.
What is your favorite beach?
I don’t have one favorite beach, I have four!
I grew up in Nova Scotia, and our backyard was a beach along St. Mary’s Bay. It was a sandy beach that was perfect for sandcastle making and the walk out to the Bay at low tide seemed to go for miles. I still visit it when I go home to visit my family.
When my husband and I moved to Ontario, we were fortunate to have two parks nearby with sandy beaches along Lake Superior. One was at Neys Provincial Park and the other one in Pukaswa National Park. Our two kids enjoyed playing on the beaches as much as I did when I was growing up.
As an empty nester, my husband and I love the beaches on the Mexican Riviera and hope to get back to them soon.
What’s your favorite sport to watch?
I love watching professional baseball and hockey in person! The Ottawa Senators AHL affiliate team is in our town, so we’re able to watch first rate hockey.
We’re close enough to Toronto to take in some Toronto Blue Jays games. A few years ago, we took a weekend trip to Boston to watch the Red Sox, my husband’s favorite baseball team. We had a lot of fun! We did two tours of Fenway Park and took in two excellent games.
What motivated you to begin writing?
I remember reading an Agatha Christie book when I was a teenager and getting pulled into the story so that I was oblivious to everything around me. That’s when I knew I wanted to be able to do that. Being a writer didn’t seem to be a career that would work out at that time, so I went to University to study Recreation and Physical Education. Life got busy with work and family, but I took creative writing courses and kept reading.
When I was downsized from my last position, my husband suggested I take the opportunity to write. I joined a local writing group, signed up with Sisters in Crime and the Guppies chapter and learned about writing mysteries.
Rose, what inspired you to write about your series?
I worked with adults who were returning to college or university to change careers. This experience helped me see that most people will change careers a few times in their lives. So, I took what I knew and gave my sleuth the opportunity to work in different jobs throughout the series.
I knew I wanted my main character, Brenna Flynn, to be able to solve mysteries without them interfering with her work. I looked at various careers and thought she’d do well as a high school guidance counselor. But I didn’t want the mysteries to revolve around a school, so I decided she would be downsized due to budget cuts. That would lead to her working with a temp agency and working in several places.
In book one, she’s a production assistant on a cooking reality show. In the next book she’s working at a university in the research department, and in book three, she’ll be working with the Parks and Recreation department.
Do you have a pet? Can you tell us about him/her? Yes. We have a female dog named Jake. She’s a rescue. A Golden Retriever/Husky mix. Jake’s my office assistant and keeps the spot in front of my desk warm. She loves chasing after squirrels and loves the snow! We lived in Northern Ontario and our snow would arrive in October and stay until April. She enjoyed playing in the snow in the backyard or running on the skidoo trails. We’ve moved to Southeastern Ontario, where it isn’t as snowy, but she still enjoys being out in it.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I read a lot of cozy mysteries. Some of my recent favorites include Kate Carlisle, Vicky Delany, and your series. I’ve really enjoyed Caught and Collared!
I also read mysteries and thrillers from David Baldacci, Vince Flynn, Jonathan Kellerman, and John Grisham.
Aw, thanks so much for including me.
Friends, here’s a little about Death on the Set.
Death on the Set, A Brenna Flynn Mystery
Former high school guidance counselor, Brenna Flynn, returns home to Bayview City after the sudden death of her husband. Unable to find work in her field, she signs up with a temp agency to find employment. Sent on an interview for a cooking reality show, she aces it and gets the job of a production assistant.
On her second day at work, Brenna discovers a body in the studio. She soon learns she’s the police’s primary suspect. Determined to clear her name, she uses some skills she’s honed as a guidance counselor to learn more about the victim. Drawing people out comes naturally to Brenna, and she becomes a confidante to the cast and crew on the show.
The stakes are raised with threatening notes, poisonings, and blackmail. Can Brenna uncover who the killer is before someone else dies?
Purchase links (pre-order ebook only)
Paperback available March 29th via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores.
Rose Kerr lived most of her adult life in small towns. She and her husband raised their family in a small town on the shores of Lake Superior, in Northern Ontario. The town and surrounding communities provided the scenic setting for Rose’s Brenna Flynn Mystery series. Rose has worked in several administration roles throughout her career. Rose has worked for provincial figure skating and synchronized swimming associations, Northern Options for Women, and Contact North |Contact Nord. Currently, Rose and her husband live in Southern Ontario with their dog, Jake. Rose is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppy Online Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and Crime Writers of Canada. For more info visit www.rosekerr.com
Rose, thanks so much for haning out with us, and congratulations on Death on the Set!
Authors for Ukraine Charity gives readers the opportunity to bid on signed and dedicated books by 150+ authors in a multitude of genres and subgenres. The auction will run from 8am EDT March 29 through 11pm EDT April 12.
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I heard my friend Heather Weidner on a podcast, and she mentioned she is a cop’s kid. I was intrigued and asked her to share her story with us, and she graciously accepted.
I’m a C. K. (Cop’s Kid). Growing up, I thought everyone talked about murder and crime at the dinner table. It wasn’t until I got to college, that I learned this wasn’t always the best conversation.
One of my first jobs was to pick up the shell casings at the range after my dad practiced. My sister and I would “borrow” his nightscope and high-powered binoculars to see what we could see in the backyard in the dark (usually the neighbor’s poodle). I loved the green glow. Way before paintball was popular, he and I melted down my old crayons to made dummy bullets for the SWAT team to practice with.
I can’t count the number of times we went out that he got paged to report to work. One time, we were returning a rented video to the store (that tells you how long ago this was), and a guy ran out of the A&P. He was being chased by the manager and some staff for shop-lifting. My sister and I spent the afternoon waiting for my dad to do the booking paperwork. I learned most of the police ten-codes for the radio by elementary school. That radio’s squawk was just part of our daily lives before cell phones. And I got in trouble once when I was helping wash the police car, and I turned on the siren. I’m pretty sure I startled our neighbors.
He was a superhero to my first grade class on career day. He blasted the siren in his police cruiser, and then the police helicopter landed in the field next door to the school. (It was way cooler than the insurance guy’s presentation.)
My dad always gave interesting gifts. Through the years, I’ve received a DNA kit in case I ever disappeared, and I needed to be identified. One year, he gave us a folding ladder in case of a fire on the second floor. I have lots of containers of heavy duty pepper spray and those little gadgets that will break your car window and cut your seatbelt if you drive off a bridge.
I have loved mysteries since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew, so it was a natural fit to write what I loved to read and watch. My dad is still my best resource. He’s now retired from forty-six years of service on the Virginia Beach police force. He has lots of amazing stories. Plus, there are just some things you don’t want to Google like, “Hey, Dad how long will a body stay submerged, what does a meth lab smell like, or what’s a handy poison that folks have around the house?”
I was so fortunate to have such a great childhood in the 70s and 80s. He put in long hours, and it was scary when he was called out in the middle of the night for emergencies. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I mean, I learned some life skills. How many six-year-olds do you know who can make dummy bullets?
Thanks for sharing these fun memories with us, Heather.
Friends, here’s some information to get to know Heather better.
There is nothing like finding a dead body, clad only in a red satin thong, on your property to jolt you from a quiet routine. Jules Keene, owner of the posh Fern Valley Camping Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is thrust into the world of the Dark Web when one of her guests, Ira Perkins, is found murdered in the woods near her vintage trailers. Jules quickly discovers that the man who claimed to be on a writing retreat was not what he seemed, and someone will go to any length to find what he left at her resort. Jules, along with her Jack Russell Terrier sidekick Bijou, has to put the rest of the missing pieces of a blackmailing scheme together before her glamping business is ruined.
Jules’s resort, set in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville in the quaint town of Fern Valley, offers guests a unique vacation in refurbished and upcycled vintage trailers. Hoping to expand her offerings, she partners with her maintenance/security guy to create a village of tiny houses, the latest home DIY craze, but a second murder of a reporter interrupts Jules’s expansion plans. Curiosity gets the best of her, and she steps up her sleuthing to find out what Ira Perkins was really up to and what he was really hiding at her resort.