Stirring up trouble...
About the book:
Vintage kitchenware and cookbook collector Jaymie Leighton has been estranged from her high school best friend Kathy Cooper since they were teenagers, but she never knew what turned Kathy against her. After fireworks at a Fourth of July picnic, Jaymie discovers the body of her former friend in the park. On the ground nearby is Jaymie’s own Depression-era glass bowl, broken in two.
With her fingerprints all over the bowl and a troubled history with the victim, Jaymie suddenly finds herself at the top of the list of suspects. Did the killer intend to frame her for the murder? If so, she is ready to mix it up, because solving crimes is vintage Jaymie Leighton…
Interview with Victoria HamiltonVictoria, let's talk cozies! How long have you been writing, and how did you start?
I’ve been writing a long, long time! I wrote several unpublished (unpublishable?) mysteries before finding a publisher for a Regency romance I had written. What followed was about six years of writing Regency romances for Kensington Zebra, then a paranormal historical romance trilogy for Berkley Sensation, then another historical romance mystery trilogy, and finally, (ta-dah!) I found an agent who specializes in cozy mystery, and we signed a deal with Berkeley for my Vintage Kitchen Mystery series. What followed has been amazing. I now have three cozy series with Berkley!
What do you like best about writing?
I love almost everything about writing: working at home and on my own timeline, writing in my pajamas (just kidding, I get dressed...most days) and using my brain. Kinda.
What’s your least favorite thing?
My least favorite part of it all is outlining!!! Grrrr. It’s boring, and I’d rather be writing, but unfortunately I’ve found that with three series, I not only need to come up with a synopsis to satisfy my editor that I know what I’m going to be writing about, but also outlining saves me from the dreaded mid-book slump when I’ve written myself into a corner and can’t think of how to get out.
Did you have any say in your cover art?
I do a fair bit to influence the cover of my books. I provide the setting, and I always include some photos so the artist can see the item they are painting. For A Deadly Grind I sent in photos of my actual kitchen cabinet (it’s not a Hoosier cabinet, but another brand), and except for a minor detail, it is the one you see depicted! For Bowled Over, I described my dream kitchen (it’s Jaymie’s kitchen coincidentally!) and sent in photos of the Depression bowls I portray in the book, the actual murder weapon! The one the artist chose to work with is my small green one, and the set of bowls on the shelf in the window is my Primary colors set!
I have a set just like that! They were handed down from my grandmother. Are you happy with the covers?
I love the covers...the first one had Hoppy, the Yorkie-Poo from the series, on it, and the second has Denver, the crabby tabby. Freezer I’ll Shoot (Book 3 of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, out November 5th) is going to be equally as cute!
What’s your favorite line from a book?
Jane Austen from Emma: “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
I love that. It completely explains the variety of reviews a book gets, don't you think? How do you get to know your characters?
I live with them...no, really! I live with them in my head, and I know how they would react to everyday things. When I see something on TV, I know what Jaymie would think about it, or if I’m shopping and see a particularly heinous sweater with kittens and ribbons and bows, I know Valetta Nibley would love it!
I completely understand. My characters are my imaginary friends too. I hate to ask, but here's Sophie’s choice question: Do you have a favorite of your characters?
Impossible: I always do, (have a favorite character) but if you ask that question on a different day, it would be a different character. I’ve been writing for a long time and have written a lot of books. I think the reason I’ve been able to be prolific is because I have the ability to be enthusiastic about whatever I’m writing to the exclusion of anything else. So, when I’m writing the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, I adore Valetta Nibley. When I’m writing my Merry Muffin Mysteries (Bran New Death – September 3rd, 2013) I have a ball with Doc English. I just recently finished Book 1 of my Teapot Collector series (writing as Amanda Cooper - June 2014) and I empathized so much with cranky, irascible Thelma Mae Earnshaw.
When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?
Not completely. I have a core cast to start with, but sometimes I need a new character to fill a certain role, or to perform some function. Some memorable folk have been born that way!
I troll obituaries and keep a list of possible names when I run across one I like. How do you name your characters?
This has got to be the most fun and yet most torturous ritual of writing, the name search. It’s a balancing act. I have a few rules I go by:
1 - Nothing that makes readers stop because they can’t figure out how to pronounce it.
2 – Nothing so dumb that the reader rolls their eyes, especially if this is a character who is going to be recurring.
3 – It’s good if the name fits the character’s personality, but if it doesn’t, there should be a reason. If I’m going to name a tough girl Muffy, there should be a story behind it.
4 – The name should be logical. I’m never going to name a 90-year-old woman Tiffany.
What would your main character say about you?
Jaymie Leighton would probably say that I have a mean streak, if I’m the reason people are getting bumped off in little old Queensville Michigan, when there hadn’t been a murder there in years! But she’d also probably tell me off for creating two opposite guys for her to mull over: steady, smart, wealthy Daniel Collins, who adores Jaymie and wants to marry her, and sexy, brooding, mysterious Detective Zachary Christian, who makes her heart flutter, but who treats her like a kid.
Are you like any of your characters? How so?
I’m like Jaymie Leighton (protagonist in the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries) in that I am a very settled person. I love my neighborhood and have no desire to leave. I always say, some people are born with wings, but I was born with roots, and they are deep in the earth of my hometown.
What are your favorite books a) as a child b) as a teenager c) as an adult?
Freddy the Pig books by Walter Brooks when I was really young, especially Freddy the Detective.
When I was about twelve or so, my mom handed me an Agatha Christie book, and I was hooked. I read hundreds of traditional, mostly British, mysteries. As a teen I got into science fiction and read Heinlein and Asimov, but then I got interested in classic literature and read all of Jane Austen’s books. I went on to read the Brontes and Dickens.
Now I read a lot of different stuff, from traditional mysteries by my colleagues at Berkley Prime Crime, to historical mysteries by Stephanie Barron (don’t get me started on her novel A Flaw in the Blood...brilliant!!) and anything by Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. For some reason I love tough girl mysteries! I also read pseudo literary works; I adored The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Wish she’d write more.
Well, in that case, allow me to introduce you to a mystery you might like: Murder & Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction. (Sorry. Can't stop promoting.) Which author would you most like to invite to dinner, and what would you fix me? I mean, him. Or her.
LOL! Come on over any time...I love to cook. Well, I would say Sue Grafton, but she has a chef working for her and my cooking wouldn’t measure up! Janet Bolin (Threadville Mysteries) lives pretty close to me; if she came over I’d make my world famous (in my household) spaghetti.
Coincidentally, Sue Grafton doesn't live far from me. I covet her house. But I doubt she'd come for dinner. What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
I am reading Louise Penny’s Dead Cold in trade paperback size. I have never read any of her books, but I was caught immediately by her characterization and am enjoying it so far.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
It used to crush me when someone didn’t like my work, but I have no problem anymore, and I’ll tell you a couple of the ways I got here.
First...years of criticism have left me easy about it; I have a hide like a rhino and that toughmindedness has bled over into my personal life. It’s hard to offend me. I’ve been praised, and I’ve been ripped to shreds, often for the same book. A review is a personal opinion and no two people will take away the same thing from a book, movie, piece of art or song. That is the beauty of art in every form; it stimulates discussion and makes you think. This is a good thing!
But I would advise any writer who has a problem with criticism to go to a review site like Goodreads or Amazon and find their favorite book of all time, then read all of the reviews. You will be astonished at how someone can loathe a book you adore! I did that with both A Flaw in the Blood (Stephanie Barron) and The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) and was astonished at what a different take other readers have on books I love. If that’s true of their books, how can I be upset that it happens with mine?
Exactly. That's what I meant a few minutes ago about Jane Austin's quote. And you're right. Even books that are wildly popular get a few one and two-star ratings and negative reviews. Do you have a routine for writing? Do you work better at night, in the afternoon, or in the morning?
I do have a routine. I get up in the morning, plant my butt in front of my computer and work as long as I can stand. I write best in the morning, then have lunch and do promotion work, answer letters, etc.
Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when it happens?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. Maybe that’s why I never get it. If I am having trouble and the work isn’t going smoothly, then there is something wrong with my approach to the story, or I haven’t thought far enough in advance, and better planning is the solution.
Is there anything in particular that you do to help the writing flow? Music? Acting out the scene? Long showers?
Oddly enough, I have just begun to experiment with music. I put my headphones on and put on Erik Satie’s "Gymnopédie #1" while writing Book 2 of my Merry Muffin Mysteries, Muffin but Murder. I wrote swiftly and perfectly a really emotional scene, one I didn’t even know was in there. It was weird! Rachmaninov’s "The Isle of the Dead" is going to be on my headphones when I write a tense, scary scene. I’ve always had kind of a ‘soundtrack’ in my mind, but now I’m wondering, would readers be interested in me putting together a ‘soundtrack’ to read by?
Very possible. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I have so many hobbies and interests I’m never going to have enough time for everything. I love to collect: I collect kitchen gadgets and vintage bowls, teapots and teacups. I like crafts. I crochet and cross stitch, make jewelry, and cook. I have tried watercolor painting before, but I get so discouraged because I’m not very good. I read as much as I can, and sing!
What are you working on now?
I am writing Book 2 of my Merry Muffin Mysteries, Muffin But Murder. The Merry Muffin Mysteries are written in the first person from the protagonist, Merry Wynter’s viewpoint, and will include two or three recipes in each book. I am so anxious to know what readers think when the first book, Bran New Death, comes out on September 3rd of this year!
I'm looking forward to hearing more about it!
I thought Tess might have more in common with Victoria's Bowled Over main character, Jaymie, so I asked her to do this next interview. I think they hit it off. Read on!
Tess Tremaine talks with Jaymie LeightonI'm not sure if I found Amy or if Amy found me. How did you first meet Victoria?
She found me! I was just living my life in Queensville, Michigan, going about my business (and healing my broken heart) when she plopped a dead body on my sun porch, or so I’ve heard. I don’t think she had anything to do with it; it just happened that way, and she wrote about it!
Did you ever think that your life would end up being in a book?
Never! I am the most boring girl of all time, and if I hadn’t bought that Hoosier cabinet at an auction (A Deadly Grind – May 2012), no one would have heard a word about me.
Lucky for us, you did buy that cabinet. Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
Well, I don’t know if I’d call it my favorite, but there is a scary scene where I am doing my best to avoid being killed! My favorite part is that I made it out alive.
Oh my gosh, tell me about it. Is there a scene you’d like Victoria to write for you?
If anyone else has any pull, could you please tell Victoria to let the detective kiss me, for crying out loud, just so I have something to compare? I really like Daniel, and kissing him is nice, but I don’t think I’m going to get rid of the butterflies in my stomach when Detective Zack is around until I know for sure that he’s not the one.
I hear you, sister. Victoria, do you hear her?! Let the woman kiss the nice detective, please. You're killing us! Jaymie, What do you like to do when you are not being actively read somewhere?
I love love love going to garage sales, thrift stores, auctions, estate sales...anywhere I can find more kitchen stuff and/or cookbooks!
Tell the truth. What do you think of your fellow characters?
I love my sister, Becca, so much, and I’ve been a little surprised to find out that people don’t like her! She may be bossy, but she’s not nasty. For heaven’s sake, hasn’t anyone ever had a sister like that, well meaning but irritating from time to time?
If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
I’d need more than a day, more like a week. If I had the free time, I would head out (probably with Valetta) on a cross state shopping tour and hit every antique mall, garage sale, thrift store and junk yard out there! My real ambition is to rent a U-haul and travel the 127 Sale, the World’s Longest Yard Sale, according to the website! Want to go with us? Check it out here.
Yes, I've heard of that and always thought it would be fun to do. What's the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it?
I’ve been so lucky in my life; my parents are healthy, my sister, too, all my friends, so I have to go back a ways for one of the worst things. It’s hard to talk about, but losing a best friend in high school was awful. Kathy just stopped talking to me one day and wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. Now I know, and it just makes it worse. If you have read Bowled Over, you’ll know what this is all about. I don’t like to talk about it much, and all I can do is try to get past it, since I can’t make it better.
Tell us about your best friend.
Recently I’ve become friends with Anna and Clive Jones, who own and run the bed and breakfast next door, but Anna and I don’t have that much in common. So though I never really thought of her as such, I guess my real best friend is Valetta Nibley. She’s a lot older than I am—-she went to school with my sister Becca, who is fifteen years older than I am--but we both love thrift shops and yard sales and collecting. She’s even snoopier than I am, and she’s smart and fun to be with.
What are you most afraid of?
Losing my parents.
What’s the best trait your author has given you?
I like to think I am responsible for my own traits, thank you very much. I’m curious and adaptable, but I get bored quickly. I guess that’s why I have about five jobs; I like bouncing around from one to the other. No two days are the same, and I like that.
Well, I don't want to burst your bubble, but Amy always reminds me that she gives me my good qualities and she can take them away. What do you like best about your boyfriend, Daniel Collins?
Daniel is a great guy; he’s patient and caring and smart. He’s a great kisser. He’s generous. But there is something there, something I just can’t put my finger on. He’s elusive about his past relationships, and I’m worried he’s just anxious to get married and have a family and sees me as a good woman to do that with, rather than being madly in love with me. I don’t want to be asked to marry someone just because I’m suitable.
Take it from me, darlin': wait for love! How do you feel about your life right now? Is there anything you'd like to change?
I’m good with where I am...I’m excited for the future, and hope one day I’ll get my cookbook finished and published. But I’m so uncertain about my love life. Everyone keeps telling me to jump on Daniel because he’s rich and a really nice guy. But I would never just leap at him because he’s got money. I like him, but is it love? If it isn’t, will it ever be? He wants an answer by Christmas, and I just don’t know what I’m going to tell him. I was burned by Joel, and I’m in no hurry to go down that path again, but Daniel wants to move forward.
Sounds like I’m obsessed with my love life, but that’s not true. Actually, Daniel spends a fair bit of time away, taking care of business, so we don’t’ spend all that much time together. I suppose my life would be perfect if dead bodies would just stop getting in my way!
I'd say move to Goose Pimple Junction, but things aren't much better here. We've had more dead bodies this year than I think they've ever had. Weird. Especially since it's such a nice friendly town. Describe the town where you live.
Queensville, Michigan is a small town on the St. Clair River, right across from Johnsonville, Ontario. We are also partly on Heartbreak Island, a little heart-shaped island in the middle of the St. Clair. It’s a great town, kinda touristy, with a century and a half old general store called the Queensville Emporium where I work part time. The people are good folks, and despite a lot of them being older, they are not as mired in the past as you would expect. I love that there are all kinds of quirky shops in Queensville, more every summer; it’s beginning to get a reputation as a good tourist stop for those who like quiet rather than bustling.
What's an average day in your life like?
There is no average day in my life! I work at the Emporium some days, and fill in at the junk store others. I run my vintage picnic basket business, and rent out our family cottage – Rose Tree Cottage - on Heartbreak Island, which requires cleaning and maintenance between guests.
Will you encourage Victoria to write a sequel?
I guess I don’t have to encourage her! Apparently there is a third book coming out in November called, for some weird reason, Freezer I’ll Shoot, and then there will be at least two more, Victoria says! I’m afraid that means my life is going to stay exciting. You know that ancient curse, ‘may you live in interesting times’? I think that’s my life for the foreseeable future!
Ooops, I have to go! There’s an estate sale in Wolverhampton, and I’ve heard they have a lot of vintage kitchen stuff for sale!
Wait for me! I'm coming too.
About the author:Victoria Hamilton is the pseudonym for nationally bestselling author Donna Lea Simpson. As Victoria, she writes the bestselling Vintage Kitchen Mystery series (Book 1 – A Deadly Grind – May 2012) and the upcoming Merry Muffin Mysteries, also from Berkley (Book 1 – Bran New Murder – September 3rd, 2013). Victoria loves cooking and collecting vintage kitchen utensils, as well as reading and writing mysteries.
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